Windmills (PCT Days 38-40)

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Noisy… That’s what I think about windmills… They’re noisy! The wind whipping through the desert or whipping through the trees over my head is noisy enough, but when you add turbines to the equation the noise levels get even higher.

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Mile after mile, day after day, windmills stretched as far as the eye could see. For the first couple of days I thought it was kind of cool hiking through the fields of giant windmills. They made me feel like I was in a Miyazaki movie.

After a while I started paying attention to the different sizes and designs of the windmills and was fascinated by the way they rotated as the direction of the winds changed. I also learned that when the windmills stopped, that’s when I was really in trouble.

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When the windmills stop it means that the wind speeds are high, very high. So high that hiking in them starts to be a real challenge. After hiking through the unusually high Santa Ana winds a couple of weeks ago (clocked at around 85mph in the area I was in), I thought that I’d been through the worst winds that I was going to have to face. I was wrong.

With the Santa Ana winds it had been the crazy gusts at 85 mph that forced me to stop hiking, take a break, and wait for the gusts to end. Sometimes I had no choice but to sit down in the middle of the trail and watch the petals get ripped off of the flowers by the wind as I waited for the gusts to die down, but they did die down, which allowed me to keep making forward progress up the trail… The only thing required was the patience to sit and wait them out.

The winds I was facing as I walked through the fields of turbines were between 45 and 55 mph constantly blowing in the background, with gusts up to 65 mph. Hiking for hours with those winds as headwinds was a real challenge. It felt a little bit like riding my motorcycle, I had to lean strongly into the turns to make any progress.

I rounded the bend at one point to find one of my friends hiking south down the trail towards me. I was very confused since I knew that she was a northbound thru-hiker like me. When I asked her what was going she said that she had tried hiking north, but the headwinds at the next switchback were so strong that she couldn’t make it around the corner.

It had been really hard for me to make forward progress as well, and I wasn’t sure if I would do much better against the wind than she did, but I told her she should try to draft behind me and I’d see if I could get us through.

As we rounded the corner I was hit by a blast of wind with tiny ice particles in it. It felt like each little ice fragment was a dagger whipping into my face. I pulled up my neck guard to protect my face, bent my head down, and ever so slowly forced my way against the massive, unrelenting headwind with my friend following close behind.

Drafting behind me seemed to be working, and we were both making forward progress. Every once in a while we would get a break on the lee side of the mountain and marvel at the snow falling on us in the middle of the Mojave desert. It seemed almost comical, but then we’d round the bend and go back to fighting the headwinds and crosswinds and occasionally trying to stay on the trail as the tailwinds tried to direct us to new trails.

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After fighting to hike in the winds all day, we then had to fight the winds to pitch our tents. So far the only people I know that haven’t had their tents blow down on them in the middle of the night are people with free standing tents like my Big Agnes Flycreek UL2. Even with my tent staked with the tail into the primary direction of the wind, I had to weight the inside of my tent and use heavy rocks (or make rock cairns) placed on top of each stake to prevent them from pulling out. I’m not sure how much wind my tent can take, but it was getting slammed with 65mph crosswinds, which certainly torqued it (and made a lot of noise) but it bounced back!

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Snug in my tent I tried to ignore the wind and stop worrying about whether or not my tent could handle it. It would be fine. What I was worried about was all the dust blowing up and into my tent. I’ve had bad luck with dust and asthma in the past!

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3 thoughts on “Windmills (PCT Days 38-40)

  1. And . . and . . . way to peak my interest! Did you have an asthma attack? Did your tent blow over? Did the dust bury your sleeping bag? Can’t wait to read the next installment!

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    • The dust storms I encountered going through the windmills did lead to my first asthma attack on the PCT. I had to get up in the night to add more rocks tothe rock cairns, but the tent didn’t blow over :)

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  2. Wow! The wind can be so aggravating to the point where you feel like your going crazy. Glad your tent held. Thanks for blogging… You met Lori and I on the trail a few weeks ago as you and your mom were exiting angeles NF at Soledad canyon. Your probably pushing toward Kennedy Meadows now. It was beautiful up there 2 weeks ago, and barely any snow even visible in the distant mountains. Enjoy!!

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