Trekking through the desert: Hot, dry and full of great beauty
It’s early afternoon and I’ve already been walking for about six hours. The temperature has risen from a cool 70 degrees to a sweltering 100+. The sun beats down relentlessly and combining with the wind it saps every drop of moisture from any living thing that happens to be in its way. The ground is so hot that it burns the soles of my feet through my shoes causing blisters to form behind the toes.
Stopping for a moment to catch my breath I pull a handkerchief from my pocket to attempt to blow out all the dust that has collected in my nose, but only a gob of fresh blood shows in the cloth. I stare at my surroundings and find nothing but sand, dried up bushes no more than a couple of feet tall, and mountains stretching into the distance. No shade for miles, no break from the heat of any kind … no water. I fold the now crimsoned rag and place it back in my pocket; a single fly buzzes around my head, confused it wonders how something can smell as ripe as I do and, yet, still be alive. I walk on.
This is the real desert. This isn’t a family vacation where you get to camp at a synthetic oasis with imported grass and shade trees and the swimming pool for the kids. There are no breaks during the day with a cold Mai Tai.
We carry a minimum of 4 liters (8lbs) of water and often the distance between two reliable sources will be more than 20 miles apart. As we walk, thirsty beyond anything either my brother or myself has ever experienced, we hear the constant swish of the elixir of life in the bottles tucked inside our packs, yet we must ration it out appropriately. The feeling of elation experienced when finally coming in sight of a source of the glorious liquid is, I’m certain, only matched by winning the lottery or being a child and finding the true residence of Santa Claus. Every once in a while we come to a road crossing where some saint has dropped off a few gallons of water for people refill their bottles. It’s amazing how wonderful water that has been sitting in direct sunlight for days can still taste like a piece of heaven.
For the past month, this has been part of our daily routine. Wake up around 5 a.m. and walk until the sun starts to set. We cover around 20-25+ miles a day. At the end of the day we’re often so exhausted that even cooking dinner seems to take more energy than we have left. However, the desert has not been all bad. Often our sweat and fatigue are rewarded with a view from some desert mountain peak, the valley, maybe 8,000 feet below us, stretches on into the distance until it meets with the curve of the Earth and disappears.
The desert is still a place of great beauty and wonder, even though it is a brutally harsh climate. The past 700 miles have been filled with many wonderful experiences such as meeting new and friendly persons, many of whom opened their homes to us without charge and treated us like family. Therefore, it is not without some small amount of sorrow that we take our final steps in southern California. It is, however, with great joy that we stand at the southern terminus of the monolithic Sierra Nevada Mountains. A land full of green trees, shade and water.
Aaron and Andy Agnew are using this hike as a means of raising awareness to the efforts of the Faith in Action Food Pantry of Keyser. They will be posting weekly to their website www.pct4hunger.com and monthly through Graffiti.