Trail Tales #5 – Kennedy Meadows South, the New Terminus

Taking your first few steps on the PCT is full of emotions. Feelings range from nervous to excited and everything else in between all at once. As you move away from the California-Mexico border, you feel like you’re leaving the safety of imagination and stepping into the reality of the complete unknown. Will the snow be bad? Are the water carries that far? What if I get lost? How do I avoid fire closures if they happen? The internet research you’ve done and the stories you’ve read suddenly come to life. This is likely what happens each year as bright-eyed hikers hit the PCT, but 2023 was an exceptionally challenging time to toe the line.

Reflecting now on my 2023 PCT hike, all of these concerns were valid. There is absolutely no way to know what the trail will throw at you on any given day and to make it to the end required physical strength as well as mental grit, flexibility, and an absolute love for the game. But what I can tell you now is that everything we endured was more than worth it. Similar to the first steps, the last few steps on the PCT are full of emotions beyond what you have ever experienced and wow, is it worth it.


Let’s dive a bit more into why 2023 was a tough year to hit the trail.

Snow was one of the bigger online topics leading up to our hike. The Sierra Nevada was experiencing record-breaking snowstorms and people were not afraid to speculate about what this might mean. On Day Two of our hike, my hiking partner, Puffy, and I got to experience a snowstorm in the desert leading up to Mt. Laguna. Many hikers chose to wait out the weather at Lake Morena and tried to convince us to do the same. Yet, we made the decision to carry on knowing that in the coming months we would find ourselves in more intense situations — this was the perfect trial. This decision ended with us clawing our way through slush and snow until we reached our hostel in Mt. Laguna for an early zero to recover. Moments like these were difficult but as we progressed through the trail, we knew that our communication and willingness to push the limits would serve us well.

Exhausted after trekking through snow and slush all morning, I took a quick break on the sidewalk on our way into Mt. Laguna.

Living in the American West, Puffy and I were also aware that fires could impact our hike at any time. However, when we watched the first fire of the season plume across the freeway near Cajon Pass, we knew that we would be in for a wild ride. Months later, we watched the same smoke plumes grow in the distance as we barely escaped closures to tag the Canadian border.

Flooding and drought, fire and ice, organismal migration and emigration — all of these things were obvious in 2023 and climate change will only continue to impact the trail as we know it.

Getting to trail

One of the main things making me nervous as I stood at the monument in Campo was a piece of nylon thread and some screws that were recently installed in my left ankle. Mentally, I knew that I would do anything possible to make it to the end, but my fresh surgical scars said otherwise.

In October 2022, I got the unfortunate news that a high school injury had come back to haunt me. On runs in the mountains near my home, I would often find myself shocked and confused on the ground. One time, I had tripped and fallen so hard, that I ended up with gravel buried deep in my palm. Why was I falling so much? Suspecting that it may be a weakness in my ankle, I headed to physical therapy to work on a solution.

During my first visit to PT, I was advised to see an orthopedic surgeon. My world came crashing down around me. My ankle was barely functional and strength exercises wouldn’t be enough to fix it. An MRI confirmed the bad news – walking 2650 miles on a few pieces of ligament thread would likely end in injury. To make matters worse, the operating room was booked out for months, leaving me with a pit in my stomach and shattered dreams. Hearing my goals and my story, my surgeon worked hard to make my timeline work and before I could blink, I was carried into deep sleep by anesthetic.

I had surgery a few days before Thanksgiving and flew home to be with family less than 24 hours later. Would not recommend having surgery and then getting on a plane, but it worked out for me in the long run.

Recovery was hard. The clock started ticking less than four months before hitting the trail. For the first two weeks post-op, I was unable to walk. When I finally did walk, it was in a boot and I was frustrated. In a matter of weeks, I went from ultra runner to boot walker, all the while, my countdown to the PCT moved at a steady pace. December to March were a blur. Long hours were spent in PT and slowly, 30 minutes of daily standing turned into 30 minutes of walking around the block. Leaving to head out to trail, I had reached the point where I was able to run my first 20 minutes and walk for over an hour. I may not have been in the best shape of my life, but I was approved by my medical team to give the hike a go.

A year later, I am able to look back on this chaotic time with a deep sense of gratitude. For all of the times that I rolled my ankle on trail, I thought about how I could’ve ended up back at home rather than continuing the hike. For this, I’d like to thank my surgeon, two physical therapists, PT tech, and all of the nurses and other staff that were involved in this process, a million times over.

The final miles

Coming down from Mt. Whitney, we knew that the final miles had arrived. After being on trail for just shy of 6 months our hike would be over in just 3.5 days. To be completely honest, we were ready. Two days prior to our arrival at KMS, I had almost passed out in camp before starting our last full day of hiking– my body was tired.

Despite being tired, the last few days were full of fun. The evening after our sunrise summit of Whitney, we celebrated the end of the hike for our tramily members Scraps and Dilly Dally by making “Megatent.” We giggled like kids at a sleepover as we combined three, two-person tents and opened all of the doors to make an indoor cowboy line. That night we also continued our Whitney Summit Bachelorette Party for Puffy with tattoos, Pink Whitney tiny shots, and freeze-dried meals for the bride. Dilly’s friend visiting from off-trail even got his trail name “Bachelor Party” for shaving his leg to put on a temporary tattoo with a typo (it said “Bachelor Party” rather than “Bachelorette”).

The morning following our party, Puffy and I left our friends for our final miles knowing that they would be there upon our arrival at KMS. The two full days of hiking prior to KMS were normal but full of “lasts” including the last trash and microplastic surveys for No Trace Trails. In this time, I reflected on the hike in its entirety and mused about what returning to the real world might look like. Our last night on trail, Puffy and I went out the same way that we started – with a sleep over.

The last night on trail, I cried as the sun set over the Kern River. In May, the Kern was our welcoming committee to the Sierra Nevada. After skipping around, seeing this river on our last night felt like returning home.

Kennedy Meadows South Squared

Waking up for our last 14 miles felt like any other town day. Puffy and I hiked together the entire way into KMS, reflecting with each other along the way. When we finally saw the road to KMS, we cried. After all of this time, we finally connected the footpath that we had broken back in May. We were finally home. Puffy cried a little but I cried A LOT. Walking up to the General Store, we were greeted by our friends and spent the evening celebrating this bittersweet moment.

Puffy and I standing on the road in KMS. It took us 2,650 miles and about 5.5 months to get to this point (for the second time).

After our celebration, we decided to leave KMS and head into Ridgecrest. Once we were in town, I cried aggressively in a Thai restaurant, and we got a hotel room for our last night together. The next morning, Puffy, Scraps, and I left for Los Angeles with Puffy’s fiancé, Big W. Going their separate way, Dilly and Bachelor Party left for San Francisco. It was hard to say goodbye, but we knew that this wouldn’t be the last time we would all be together.

Scraps and I saying our last goodbye to the PCT and the Kennedy Meadows General Store. Legend says that my tan will last a lifetime.

For the next few days, the three of us in LA adjusted to loud noises and lots of people, together. We went thrifting, spent time at the beach, and even braved the bar! However, all good times must come to an end and soon, we were all on planes and trains heading back to our normal lives.

An Ode to the PCT People

My journey on the PCT was nothing without the wonderful people that we met along the way. From those who I met once to others that I spent nearly 6 months with, you all made my time on trail nothing short of magic. A special shoutout goes to Dumb’n’Tough, B Team, Dittly Daddies, and Girls Room (+ Joe) for being people that I plan to keep around for life.

In all of this, Puffy (who I never actually called Puffy but just by her first name, Tori) was the ultimate partner in crime. When I called crying about my ankle in November, she supported my decision to go under the knife and trusted my judgement without thinking twice. As we worked on writing grants for No Trace Trails and met weekly via zoom, we built this dream together. From day one to day 100 we walked, cried, picked up trash, ate, slept, and celebrated together time after time. Without her, I would have never found the PCT and without the PCT, I would’ve missed out on a friend of a lifetime. The upcoming year will be full of processing results from the NTT project, so she (and her now husband, the coolest guy I know, Big W) won’t be getting rid of me just yet.

We have so many pics together, but this one in the bus on the way to the Stehekin bakery is one of my favorites.

For the people I love off trail, thank you for the continued encouragement throughout this journey. I definitely couldn’t have set out on this adventure without unwavering support from my partner, friends, family, and Oz.

If you ever met me on trail, you’ve probably seen this exact picture of Oz. His fat ~butt~ is a fan favorite.

A final goodbye

With that, I close my time as a PCT thru-hiker and wrap up my blogging on The Trek. Due to my poor trail computer access, you may notice an additional blog or two from Christmas Past (i.e. I might want to talk about Oregon). Otherwise for all intents and purposes, this is my last relevant blog. Although, who knows, maybe you’ll hear from me in the future as I prep to head out on another thru-hike.

I’d like to thank you all for reading my sometimes ramble-y and always late posts. I hope that in some way, my adventures encouraged you to go out and pursue your own.

As I signed in each trail register…

xoxo Mini P 🙂

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Comments 4

  • Tandi : Nov 29th

    I have soo enjoyed all of your writings n your pictures n am so very glad that your surgeon worked so well with you n that your surgery went so well!!
    Is there someplace that I can see your writings about the trash n microplastic survey that you guys did while on trail??
    I will definitely be looking forward to more of your hikes n writings in the future🙂
    Hope you remain safe, well, & have an enjoyable holiday season.

    • Macy Gustavus : Dec 8th

      Hey, thanks for following along! We’re currently working on getting the results together but check our website ( in late January and we might have something up there. Happy Trails 🙂

  • David Odell : Nov 29th

    Congratulations on finishing your PCT hike. Enjoyed your excellent journal. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77.

    • Macy Gustavus : Dec 8th

      Hi! Thank you so much, it still feels so crazy that we got to do it. I feel lucky every day!


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