The Desert in Review
Over the past 33 days, I have found myself traversing through the blistering heat of the desert floor and ascending high mountain ridges. The first 702 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail have really surprised me. I would not consider myself to be a desert person, but I have been blown away by the beauty of this landscape. Each day there is something different to see, whether it’s a new plant, a change of scenery, different wildlife, or more hikers. If you get lost in thought for too long, you may find yourself in a totally different world by the time you become aware of your surroundings once again.
I would be lying if I said the PCT was all sunshine and unicorns every day. There have definitely been some days when I question every step I take and have to convince myself to keep going. Last week, when I was in an uphill battle with my brain, I found myself considering sitting on the side of the trail with my thumb out in an attempt to hitchhike to the next campsite. I look back at this moment of misery and laugh, but at the time I truly had no clue if I could carry on. Somehow I made it, even without a piggyback ride from a fellow hiker. Mental toughness is definitely the name of the game out here. There are days when hiking feels effortless and there are days when you feel like you are walking through a sea of peanut butter.
Since leaving Big Bear (mile 266), I have been grinding away at the miles. Seventeen days of pushing with no rest for the weary in between. In these days, my hiker legs truly kicked in and I found myself walking nearly a marathon a day. I was motivated by the mountains and the hope of cooler temperatures. After departing Tehachapi (mile 566), I could feel the spirit of the mountains pushing me forward. This stretch was a bit of a roller coaster, with steep ascents into the conifers, followed by rapid descents back to the Joshua trees. The desert was holding on, but the strength of the mountains soon overpowered the prickly plants of the desert.
When I made my final descent into the valley of Kennedy Meadows, I was drawn to tears. It became real the distance I had walked to reach this magnificent place. In a valley of steep granite spires and lush flora, I knew I had arrived in the Sierra. Soon, the sound of running water was audible—a sound that has truly been missing from the desert. After coming through a 42-mile dry stretch and running out of water for the first time during this journey, the sound of the rushing Kern River was a relief. After a refreshing soak in the river and filling up on water, I was off to hike the last five miles into Kennedy Meadows. Despite the growing sense of an alpine environment, a few cacti still stuck around as a reminder of the rigors of the desert.
At last the road to Kennedy Meadows was in sight and I was only minutes away from a big, greasy burger and an ice cold drink. When I rolled into the general store, I was greeted by a horde of hikers and a huge round of applause. This was an incredible and unexpected greeting, but it really made me realize how far I have come. I’ve battled long, grueling days and feet covered in blisters, the magnitude of the sun, and the strength of the wind, and have overcome the mental game to arrive at Kennedy Meadows a day earlier than planned. I was greeted by people I haven’t seen in days and by people I have never met before.
The reward of arriving at Kennedy Meadows in such good time: a big, greasy burger, cold beer, five packages, and a visit from my sister Jenna. Talk about hiker Christmas! The relief of making it so far sunk in when I was face first in a burger while eating homemade regatta cookies from Annapolis, and reading words of encouragement from my lovely aunts and the Pitches from Annapolis Rowing Club—thank you for the incredible care packages!
The hours ticked by and the conversation kept flowing, and before I knew it, Jenna was rolling into the general store. She brought a delicious charcuterie of fresh foods. I rolled out the red carpet for her and set up my tent for the first time on this trip. The following morning we ate pancakes bigger than our faces and lounged in the river. It was so great to have a familiar face in this crazy sea of hikers. As I waved her off at the end of the day, I was overwhelmed by the support of my family. I am truly grateful for everyone who has made this crazy dream a reality. The love and support that all of you have shown me in the last weeks has been incredible and it keeps me going on the hard days.
Now, as I prepare to hike into the High Sierra, I think about how this hike is going to change. I’m trading in carrying six liters of water for a bear canister and I’m actually going to be carrying a tent and rain gear. This last night was my first on the trail to sleep in my tent. The simplicity of cowgirl camping has been lovely in the desert, but it’s also nice having a tiny home along the way. Even though the streak is over, it doesn’t mean I won’t continue to sleep under the stars.
The mountains are my happy place and my excitement is growing. In the moment, though, I have to hold myself back. Over the past 33 days, I have only taken one rest day. My time in Kennedy Meadows is to be spent resting and preparing for the grueling climbs ahead. In the words of John Muir, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” This saying is accurate and I will be on my way tomorrow.
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