Farewell to Sand
The desert is over. The thought crossed my mind as I walked next to a flush river amid pine trees. It was still hot, but the Joshua trees were long gone.
There was always doubt about whether I’d make it this far. But as I pushed out the last 50 miles of desert, I knew just how much I was capable of. And who knows how much more I can do.
We left Lake Isabella with full stomachs and full packs. The lodge we had stayed at was wonderful, but as always I was ready to be back on trail.
We rolled up to the trailhead to find the same trail magic we had left behind three days ago. Hobofest, as they call it, was in full swing. After about 5 minutes there, though, Monk, Sheriff Woody and I ditched our original plan to camp there and decided to hike out.
We decided to meet at a creek in about 12 miles to camp for the night, and we all left at our separate paces. We usually hike alone, so this was normal. I didn’t see too many faces this day, but it was a beautiful section.
I listened briefly to podcasts and music, but mostly just enjoyed my time looking at the views. I also had to adjust to having my feet enclosed in shoes instead of the sandals that had brought me over 650 miles. No new blistered appeared, but the extra material made me feel clunky and off balance.
I was the first one to roll into the creek, so I filled my smart water bottle with the possibly Uranium filled water. My maps warned me about this, but other hikers had been filling up there so I decided I’d be fine. The five-legged frogs were easily ignored.
When the rest of our slightly diminished crew showed up (Pavlov was staying one more night in town) we setup our cowboy camps and let the light slowly fade to night. Crickets serenaded us to sleep as satellites and stars zoomed above us.
With plans of a short day, I didn’t leave camp until 8. Full of uranium water, I hiked over the first climb of the day. I passed by stones marking out “1/4”, so I guess I’ve made it a quarter of the way!
Hit the first water source early, so I filled my stomach and my bottles for the next stretch. About 10 miles with a big climb. During this about 20 mosquitoes found a meal from my body, but I was once again hydrated.
Not thinking about the itching, I climbed another 1500 feet. Many people were out and about, a lot of new faces, all of them thru-hikers.
I blew past our planned camp site for the day before 1, and pushed on to the next water. Once I got there, I decided to wait for one of my crew. I filled my water and chatted with other hikers. I ate large amounts of food, and before I knew it 2 hours had gone by.
Eventually he rounded the corner, and a few minutes later I convinced him to do the last big climb before Kennedy Meadows, a 2500 foot mountain over 6 miles. The hike went fast, and before I knew it I was eating gnocchi and pesto I had packed out and enjoying a pink sunset at 8000 feet.
The next morning we woke up early enough to leave before seven. Kennedy meadows was a half day away, and sodas and food were calling our names. The day went fast as we fell the 2500 feet we climbed the day before.
Things began to look like the pictures of the Sierra Nevada mountains I’ve been pining over for the past year. Kennedy Meadows greeted me with open arms and a stone 700 mile marker.
As is tradition, when I walked up to the general store I got a round of applause and cheers from other hikers. I picked up my packages and bought a soda and ice cream, and basked in the fact that I’d officially finished the desert.
This section has been a hot topic this year, as the snow pack is huge. Avalanche danger is a real threat right now, and as that snow melts the creeks and rivers become swollen with dangerous, fast water.
A lot of debate has gone into this, and right now the plan is to push on. The first 50 miles are pretty tame, and it will be a good taste of the snow. There’s a bail out point 50 miles in, so if things feel sketchy we’ll head into Lone Pine and reassess.
Right now I’m picking up micro spikes, an ice axe, extra layers, and the required bear canister in Kennedy Meadows. We’ll be pushing on in the morning.
Nerves are high here, but I’m excited for the challenge. We’re bringing enough food to get us the almost 8 days to Kearsage Pass, in case we decide to push on past Lone Pine. No one said this would be easy, but it feels as though with the desert under my hip belt, the challenge is about to begin.
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