The Desert Goes Up in Flames & The Kennedy Meadows Experience

Day: 66

Location: Mammoth Lakes Library, CA

Cumulative Miles: 906.6

Avocados Consumed: 33

Showers Taken: 16 (yikes)

Rewinddddddddddddd….

The last 50 miles of desert. 2.5 more days. The snowy Sierra await us at the end of this week. We ended a great Memorial Day Weekend with an American BBQ at the campground with the Brit Family Robinson. The kids (Captain Obvious and Pippy) challenged me to a game of horseshoes. I would like to say I kicked their little hiker butts, but that was not the case. They won. That’s all I’d like to say about THAT.

When two families merge!

When two families merge!

The Brits named all their water bottles after us, I got the Mt. Dew one! hah!

The Brits named all their water bottles after us, I got the Mt. Dew one! hah!

The following morning, Centerfold and I hitched the 38 miles back up to the trail at Walker Pass. Being a tough hitch, we did really well. A lady in a beat-up 1980’s Honda picked us up within 10 minutes. When we loaded her trunk with our packs and our bodies, I thought we were going to bottom out. Her 6-year-old daughter was in the back, so we became buds. We talked about life, played “Pet Rescue,” and she told me how beautiful I was. Automatic Best Friend. She drove us as far as she had time for, then dropped us on the side of the road. It was probably 90 degrees out, and we stood at this pull-out for about 20 minutes before someone else stopped to take us the final 10 miles. In that time, the owner of the land we were standing in front of came out with cold water and Gatorade. Such a nice guy, and within the next 5 minutes a professional mountain biker picked us up in his ‘suped-up’ extremely nice truck. He told us some crazy stories about how he got shot and lost a lung, which is why he had to retire so early. But it’s okay, because things happen for a reason and now he has a rad little kid who races bikes. He dropped us off and BAM we began climbing for the next 2.5 days. It was the last section of desert and it was brutally rewarding. I fell back in love with it. Super hot, dry, and mountainous.

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For our last night in the desert, I wanted to find a really sweet spot. I wanted to watch the sunset, make dinner, journal, and keep my rain-fly in its bag and stare at the desert stars until my eyes were forced shut. It took a few extra miles of hiking, but I finally found the perfect spot on a ridge. All goals accomplished (with an added surprise swig of whiskey from a group of hikers who stopped by) and I slept like a baby under the brightest, clearest, most beautifully calm sky. The perfect send-off.

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Chuckles, Spoon, and I hiked the last 10 miles into Kennedy Meadows together the next morning. I was definitely struggling a bit from dehydration, just couldn’t get my mind right. I fought it so hard because I knew how big of a milestone it is to walk into the iconic Kennedy Meadows (and how excited Chuckles and Spoon were, so I was trying realllyyyy hard not to be a debbie). ┬áMy spirits rocketed the second we touched the parking lot. Kennedy Meadows is a “town” of 200, basically it’s just a general store with a big deck hikers drink and eat burgers on. It’s the Gateway to the Sierra, so it’s filled with very excitable hikers, the energy being completely contagious. WELL, as new hikers arrive, the fellow hikers hangin’ on the deck start clapping for them! So we walked up to probably 30 hikers applauding us in. I couldn’t stop myself, I ate it up. I bet everyone who knows me well is NOT surprised by this. I started doing my toe-touch dance and yelling “ohhh stop it! just stop it! noooo YOU guys! it’s all YOU guys! awww shucks!” We got up to the deck and a few guys were like “holy sh*t! she’s got a f$#kin signature move man! that’s awesome!” I introduced myself as Toe Touch, said screw this dehydration thing, and we got beers and burgers and became part of the crowd clapping in other hikers. Such a silly, stupid, weird life. I love it.

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Good friends send cheap whiskey you can't possibly fit in a backpack

Good friends send cheap whiskey you can’t possibly fit in a back-pack

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We all had several packages waiting for us. Ice axes, micro-spikes, warmer clothes, tons of food, letters from friends etc. My favorite was a box of MRS. HACK cookie squares! Growing up she always made our soccer team cookie squares, and then continued to bake me them every time I was home from college. I’ve been in contact with them and knew they were coming, I was SO excited. They were as fresh as if she just took them out of the oven in NY. I ate a ton, packed up 8 (one for dessert every night, what a treat! except the last 4 days were sad), and then gave the rest to the Brit Family Robinson. Hysterically, Anya (the mom) took a bite and ran over to me on the other side of the deck, mouth full of cookie exclaiming “what IS this, it’s NOT a cookie, it’s NOT cake, what IS IT?!?” Smiling and equipped with a arm swing I yelled, “it’s a cookie square!” So proud of them, I was so proud of those cookie squares, as if we just bridged a huge cultural gap. The little things. So THANK YOU HACK family, for always being such a great support system for me, and for putting huge smiles on our faces.

We felt really, really lucky. As we sat on the deck that night, we watched a cloud of smoke fill the area we just hiked in from. There was a fire at a campground just a mile off the PCT, and it shut down the trail to Kennedy Meadows. The next day hikers were getting dropped off at Kennedy Meadows, and they didn’t get an applause. I felt really bad for them, they had to miss the last 50 miles of desert, and then get driven into Kennedy Meadows, nothing any hiker wants to happen. That also sealed it for us, we were getting out of there. We sat and drank whiskey, sang songs, made fun of each other, swigged wine with Beyonce, and watched the desert burn behind us. It was surreal, the desert literally went up in flames the day after we completed it. And in that moment, I found Jesus.

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After a very casual effort of organization and consolidation (aka putting all items into sandwich bags), I had managed to fit 12 days worth of food into my newly purchased bear canister (required for the next 400ish miles). The others only had to fit 6 days worth, which was even difficult for them. Good thing I have a healthy relationship with hunger (kidding), because as it seems, I eat half as much as they do. But if I didn’t, if I didn’t train my body to do A LOT on a little (to put it simply) then I wouldn’t be able to have been in the Sierra for 12 days straight, and give it all my focus and energy. We all make choices, and mine seem to be on the higher spectrum of masochism. I’m aware. And I’ve embraced it.

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My pack weighed around 35lbs with no water

So that was it, our final farewell to the desert, to Kennedy Meadows, and to hikers we were very uncertain we’d ever see again. After a cuppa tea with the Brits, and finally SHOVING everything into every area of our packs, we set out for the mountains. We hiked a huge 2 miles that night, ate snacks for dinner, and lay awake excited for the next chapter. The chapter that is most talked about. The chapter that would surely change us in the most beneficial ways. The chapter that would challenge even the most poised hiker. The chapter entitled, The Sierra Nevada. DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN

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