We’ve Reached Kennedy Meadows and the Stoke Level Is High
Reaching Kennedy Meadows has been the biggest milestone of the trail so far; it means the end of the desert and start of the Sierra. It felt awesome to walk down the road to the general store while the hikers on the patio clapped to welcome and congratulate us.
Yesterday we reached the Kern River a few miles before town, and got to go for a dip. After being so hot for so long, it felt fantastic to be cold. That river was the most water we had seen for hundreds of miles.
The section of the trail from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows was the toughest for me so far. I’ve been lucky to get through the desert with relatively few issues – either physical injuries or significant mental low points.
My lowest point happened a few days ago. I got a small blister on the descent into Tehachapi – where my big toe and second toe meet my foot. I think it happened because my socks were so dirty and my shoes were starting to wear out. Anyway, I thought it had healed during our time in town.
The day after we left town was a roller coaster. I woke up with super stiff feet and legs – I was hobbling around like crazy at the start of the day. I had a nap during our lunch break and then I felt fantastic all afternoon. With two miles to go until camp, two blisters (the previously mentioned one plus one on my heel) sprang up out of nowhere and were really painful. I was frustrated that I had to stop, patch the blisters, get new socks out of the bottom of my pack – all while being so close to camp. After all that effort to deal with them properly, it still hurt a lot to walk on them and I was definitely limping. I got to camp and I cried. I appreciated the support from Flamingo Sunrise and Hot Tuna. It would have been a rougher evening without them – even though it was super windy and I woke up at 4:30 a.m. with my tent collapsed on top of me.
For the first three weeks of the trail, I had pain and soreness that would rotate around different body parts, usually somewhere in my feet or legs, but the pain wouldn’t persist. My left ankle would hurt for 15 minutes, then my right hip for ten, then my right heel for 20 – and it would would go on like that all day. I’d wake up with some stiffness, but most of it would go away after the first 15 or so minutes of morning hiking.
Now, almost a month and a half in, I rarely experience that rotating pain. In the morning I wake up a bit stiff, but I feel better than I did in those first few weeks. It’s amazing to experience what our bodies can do when we attempt something as physically taxing as a thru-hike. I try to stretch each morning and evening and I now carry a tennis ball so I can roll out the bottoms of my feet, which has been helpful so far.
When I started the trail I had no idea how my body would handle so much hiking. When I first heard about thru-hiking, the thought of hiking 20ish miles (32 km) every day sounded crazy. I knew that this hike was going to be a huge challenge and be seriously difficult at times. I’m really proud of myself for getting through the 702 miles of desert. I’ve been managing to have a great time about 75 percent of the time. The other 25 percent of the time has been “character building” because of the heat, long water carries, pain, always being filthy, or being so tired at the end of the day but having to grind out more miles. Boy do those moments that suck make the great ones feel that much sweeter.
Kennedy Meadows is also a significant stop because it’s where most people get warmer clothes, a bear canister, and possibly snow gear. I now have new shoes, socks, a toque (courtesy of my dear bicycle touring friend Loz), rain pants (stretchy Black Diamond ones I’m stoked about), a bunch of food, my bear canister, and some Microspikes for the snow.
For the Sierra section from Lone Pine onward, hikers must carry their food in a bear canister. In an awesome act of generosity, a 2017 PCT hiker named Alex mailed me his BearVault BV500 after I asked if I could borrow one on the PCT Class of 2017 Facebook page. It’s already stickered up and there are lots of quotes and ideas written on it with Sharpie, which I love.
The other night I was reflecting on how, at 45 days so far, this is my longest backpacking trip. My previous longest trip was three days in Kokanee Glacier Park near Nelson, BC. Before the trail lots of people asked about my previous experience. While I’ve done quite a few weekend hiking trips, the most relevant experience I had was probably bike touring.
I thought that I might as well jump in and do the PCT while I have the time and resources for a thru-hike, rather than delaying it for the sake of gaining experience doing shorter hikes. Many people asked, with good reason, if I’d done the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, the Berg Lake Trail, or another popular trail in Western Canada. I’m excited to experience those trails in the future, and now I’ll have a lot more confidence in my hiking after my time on the PCT.
I continue to be amazed by the support and interest that everyone has shown so far – whether it’s my family, friends, other thru-hikers, or people I’ve never met. I appreciate you and the encouragement makes the hard days easier. I’ve been enjoying writing and sharing my photos and I am grateful to have the opportunity to share some of the PCT experience.
I want to wrap up this post with a shout-out to my friend Jackie from Toronto, ON, whom I met on my Pacific Coast bike tour. One of the things I learned from her is that the best way to get experience doing something is to start doing it. I kept that in mind when deciding to hike the PCT and I’ve thought about it often during my time out here.
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