Done with the Desert(!!): Hiker Town to Kennedy Meadows on the PCT
I have learned many lessons these past couple of weeks. The most important being patience. Like most hikers, I consider myself invincible. Sprained ankle? That would never happen to me. But yet, it did. Stubborn me refused to accept it and made plans to hike out with my tramily (trail family) after our day off in town. I woke up that morning feeling good, however, my first steps in the morning were extremely painful. Crap. I knew what I had to do (rest, duh), but everything in me was pulling me back to the trail.
After many tears, I made the decision to stay in town another day to rest. I watched my tramily hike out of town as I sat with my foot elevated and compressed. This story repeated itself for two more days with different trail groups before I accepted the fact that I needed proper rest to heal. Patience is a virtue, they say. Thankfully, yet also unfortunately, my friend, Goose, was also injured and we booked a hotel in the nearest city for a few days for recovery.
I am extremely thankful to have had a friend during these days. My mind tended to wander and form different “what if” scenarios. My heart was yearning for the trail and my legs were restless to walk again. However, Goose and I distracted ourselves with movies, conversations, and junk food. Each day I had to learn the practice of patience. In the end, it was worth it.
After 5 long days, Goose and I were mostly healed and ready to hit the trail full of energy. My Great Aunt Sue and her husband, Richard (whom we dubbed the trail name Fiji —he either summited Mt. Fiji or was drinking fancy Fiji water at the time, you can decide), picked us up and drove us up the trail to meet back with our friends at a strange yet amazing place called Hiker Town. As the truck rolled to a stop at the western-style village in the middle of the desert, our tramily ran over to greet us.
The reunion was a special moment. We quickly came up with a plan to night hike the next section: the LA aqueduct, a 20 mile stretch known for the relentless heat and no water (despite ironically following a pipe full of water). Goose and I, nervous for our first steps back on trail but eager all the same, set off with the group down the endless aqueduct as the sun was setting. Slow but steady, we completed this section and made it to the next water source before the heat.
The next couple of days winded around the never-ending wind farms of Tehachapi, one of the windiest places in the world (so the locals say). I would agree. The wind was relentless. For every switchback of tailwind helping to push you up the mountain, there would be another switchback trying to push you back down. Then the wind would change directions and try to knock you off the side of the mountain.
Thank God for trekking poles. Stay low, maintain three points of contact, don’t look down. Also, I had taken silence for granted. The wind was so loud, I could not hear my own thoughts. I could not talk to my friends. I could not listen to music or books. Just one foot in front of the other for two days straight. We made it to Tehachapi and enjoyed a day in town, eating and eating some more. Hiker hunger is real, OK?
The next day’s trail brought beautiful stretches of Joshua trees mixed with stretches of pine forests. The trail found its way up mountains, along crests, and back down. The desert continues to bring long stretches with no water. Shout out to trail angels for filling water caches to prevent a 40-mile water carry. We are forever grateful! The cold front kept the temperatures down and made for longer, easier miles. That night we camped at a place that resembled The Shire from The Lord of the Rings.
The next morning I awoke with the sound of snow pellets tapping on my tent. People ask me, what’s the hardest part of your day? Getting out of my sleeping bag, I say. So warm, so cozy. I dragged myself out of the tent, packed up, and drank my protein shake for breakfast on the go to warm up. Why is it snowing in the desert? However, as the day went on, the temperature quickly rose. This day brought steep, hot, sandy inclines. The mountains became grander and more vast with 360-degree views. We must be getting closer to the Sierra Mountains. I wrote in my journal, “This was the most beautiful day yet.”
Yet, the next day I wrote, “Never mind, this is actually the most beautiful day yet.” Another day of the trail following ridgelines. Cactus and brush slowly changing to pines and firs. Anticipation of the Sierras building.
After a quick resupply in Ridgecrest, we had 50 miles to get to Kennedy Meadows, the mark that ends the desert section and begins the Sierra section. Our tramily planned on getting there in 2.5 days. However, Goose and I were feeling good and energized. We decided to hike through the night and hiked 35 miles on the second day to get to town a day early. It was the perfect night for hiking.
The moon shone so brightly there was no need for headlamps to guide our steps. The trail was easy as it flowed through the valley of Kennedy meadows, the moon outlining the mountains all around us. My feet were heavy and hurting, but my heart was exhilarated. Late at night, we wandered into the hiker oasis near the general store and set up camp. I felt all of the emotions as I lay in my tent that night: victorious, exhausted, accomplished, anxious for what’s to come. Done with the desert. 702 miles. Sierras, I’m coming for ya!
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