Southern California: Mojave to Kennedy Meadows

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June 5, 2003
Five thirty rolled around very early this morning. I scheduled a ride out of town with the White's Motel people for 6:30 and wanted to get another shower in before leaving. I was not the only one wanting to get out of town early and up into the hills before it got too hot. There was a fifteen mile waterless stretch coming out of HWY 58, followed by another long one. There was a large crew of hikers ready to go as well: Special Agent, Marko, Gretzky, Northerner, Team France, and Pinetar. Pinetar had taken a day off in town, but was going back to Tehachapi-Willow Springs road rather than HWY 58. I'm unsure how Team France got ahead of me, but I suspect that it had something to do with motorized transportation. Two vehicles had to be employed to drop off everyone back at the trailhead.

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Hikers were soon strung out along the trail on the climb into the mountains and I had some peace and quiet and felt like I was home again. The day began to heat up as I crested out and started walking along the old roads that comprise the trail in these parts. While there were no long stretches of elevation gain, the multiple small up and downs did tire me out and when I found Special Agent and Marko resting under a tree, I did the same. Talking with other hikers was always a treat, and these two were better than usual. Conversation continued after the break, at least when we were close enough to afford it, and the fifteen miles to Golden Oak spring passed quickly. The spring was piped and water was coming out at a very slow rate: It took 15 minutes to fill up a 2.4 liter water bag. The three of us collected water, and shortly Team France and Gretzky showed up. A long, leisurely break ensued, caused partially by the slow water. It was a long way to the next water, and after that there was a 35 mile waterless stretch. After almost 2 hours, I convinced myself that it was time to go. The rest of the hikers were dozing quietly as I said my goodbyes to those still awake and left the little oasis. I would never see any of them again.

Geologically, I was in the Sierra Nevada mountains and I pretended that I could tell that I had left the desert. Southern California was not the pure desert that I had imagined it to be, but rather was a sequence of mountain chains with desert separating them. This was a very dry environment, but it certainly wasn't what I imagined a desert to be. I loved it. The land had taken on more of a mountainous aspect, and I knew that I should be able to glimpse the High Sierra in a day or so, even though Kennedy Meadows, the real start of the High Sierra for PCT hikers, would not be reached for another five days.

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As the afternoon progressed on, a new phenomenon appeared: Afternoon rain clouds. Since the start of the hike, each and every day was sunny and pleasant. Now, I was getting the afternoon storm clouds that grace so many mountain chains around the world. The Sierra Nevada are freakish in that it does not storm in the afternoons in the summer. But, I was approaching early in the season. Perhaps they would give me a beating in a few weeks, but for now they provided some welcome shade during the hottest part of the day. The trail continued with its small up and downs and I began to tire slightly, even without the heat and sun. But, as usual, after a short break in a large, grassy meadow and a little food, my strength returned for the last leg of my hiking day. The guidebook had described the upcoming climb as ferocious, but I found it to be easy going. It wasn't steep or rocky, just up and a nice, constant angle. Nearing the top, I spotted a small break in the live oak and stepped in. Camped here were two other thruhikers: Filthy and Bandanna. I decided on camping here to see what they had to say. Not too much, as things turned out. Mostly, there was a lot of complaining about how hard the climbs were or how dry the land was. Silently, I contrasted their image of Southern California with my own. I had absolutely loved the hike out here, whereas they seemed to be just passing through. They wanted to get to the Sierra Nevada and enter what they thought was the real land. The real trail. While we each have our own desires and our own ideas as to what is beautiful, I did pity them slightly for traversing terrain that they did not appreciate simply because a trail ran through it. It seemed like it would be a lot wiser to simply start at Kennedy Meadows and move north from here. Wiser for them, at least. The sun set and no stars came out. The clouds were still out and I felt cheated out of my evening star show. No matter, I would surely get them tomorrow.

I was gone early this morning, with Filthy barely stiring and Bandanna not yet awake. The early morning is prime hiking time, equaled only by dusk. The light is perfect, the air is cool, and creatures are out and moving. Today I would enter a 35 mile waterless stretch, the longest on the trail. There was supposed to be a cache in Kelso Valley, which would break up the stretch into two manageable parts. But, I could not rely upon the cache being there: There were many hikers just in front of me and it could be cleaned out. Just before the last water, two new things happened to me. The first was a bear sighting near Cottonwood Creek. A large black bear feeding in the undergrowth took off like a rocket when came through some trees. The second was that I got lost for the first time. I crossed a creek a bit early and bushwhacked a few yards to a road crossing. There was a trail sign on the other side, which was labeled (nothing unusual about that). After twenty minutes of walking, I realized I was seeing far too many bike tracks for this to be the PCT. When I forded a creek and found a trail sign clearly indicating that motorbikes were allowed, I knew I had gone astray. I retraced my steps to the road, walked 20 yards along it, and found the actual trail. Almost 600 miles of hiking, and this was the first time that I had gotten lost. Not bad, I thought.

While eating lunch at the last water source, Filthy appeared without Bandanna. She was going to count on the cache at Kelso Valley being full, which wasn't a wise bet, I thought. If it wasn't there, she would face a very long and hot hike to the next water. My ramen noodles were quite good, but the star of the lunch break was the little rain that fell out of the skies marking the first precipitation of the trip. The rain continued for the first few minutes of my hike out of lunch and then stopped. Of all the places to get rain, it seemed most improbably that it would happen here, on the fringe of the Mojave.

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Even though the rain had ceased, the clouds that it sprung from were still in the air, blocking out the sun, which kept the air comparatively cool. I passed Bandanna taking a break by the side of the trail, drinking down the last of her water. After all, we were only a few miles from the cache. She might as well finish it off. I lumbered on down the trail with 7.2 liters of water strapped to my pack, never to see her again. Just as I arrived at the cache in Kelso Valley, a car came rumbling up the dirt access road and two men piled out. One was the cacher, the other a PCT hiker who was getting off the trail to go home to England. The 55 gallon cache was about 1/3 full, which shocked the cacher. He had filled it two days ago! They refilled the cache and left while I sat under a bush, hiding from the sun which had finally battled off the clouds. I did take an additional liter for safety and pushed on through the dry, hot land. Kelso Valley was one of the most beautiful parts of the trail, I thought. Even though it had many challengers, I could not help but think it the best. It reminded me a lot of the Anza-Borrego, so many miles ago, but on a larger scale. The colors and shapes that the land was took provided much mental energy to feed on, and I felt my mind drifting off into that place where there are no worries about water or the sun or rattlesnakes. My body was moving with my mind, absorbing all that we traveled through for future use and present enjoyment.

My trance was broken several hours later, as my body finally tired and I spotted a hiker, far off in the distance. Out here you can see for miles and distance is easily misjudged. I wanted to find out who was in front of me, as it could be someone like Sharon, who I was hoping to track down before Kennedy Meadows. While I was completely prepared to cross the Sierra alone, and more than confident that I could do it safely, I liked talking with Sharon and seeing her from time to time. I slowly gained ground on the unknown hiker, but it took me another hour to get withing fifty yards of them. With my poor eyes, I had to get this close before I could tell who it was: Hooter. A bit of shade was thrown on the trail by a bush, just enough to hide in if I laid down on the trail. This was the first shade that I had found large enough for me, and I was not about to pass it up. I stopped for it, and let Hooter push on, knowing full well that I would catch him in not too much time. The sun was moving down and in an hour it would be dusk. The heat would pass and it would be easy to move about again. I rested for a good thirty minutes, listening to the chirping of the insects. Something had been making a rattlesnake sound for the past few miles, and I supposed this to be an excellent defense against predators: Sound like something that can hurt a predator, and maybe they won't come looking for you.

The trail lifted and dived, bent into gullies and emerged onto ridges. Easy, open, beautiful hiking that gives you a sense of the true scale of the land. It was immense and I would have wagered that most of it had not been explored well, save for a few miners looking for a large deposit of something they could dig out of the earth and sell, or maybe a few vagabonds that just liked the desert. I was on BLM land and few people bothered with BLM land, except ranchers and miners, that is. Hooter was resting at a dirt road junction, unsure of how far he was going to hike today. My watch said 7:30, which meant I was hiking for another 45 minutes. I didn't like setting a destination for my camp preferring, instead, to walk to a certain time and then find a nice spot. We didn't even bother to say goodbye, knowing full well that he would pass me sometime during the night.

The sun faded and the temperature began to drop more than it had in many days. By 8:30, I still had not found a good campsite and it was into the mid 50s, which was down right cold for southern California. Light began to fade and I began to worry a bit. I couldn't find something flat and unobstructed and large enough for me to fit in. I passed an old school bus down in a ravine and was momentarily tempted to go down to it and sleep inside. The temptation was only momentary, though, as I realized that it would also be a good place for rattlesnakes to hole up: The Mojave Green was out here and it could kill a healthy male, unlike its kin further south. As usual, providence provided the perfect spot: In a wash off the trail, there was a grove of Joshua trees, waving to me to come down. Obliging them, I found a comfortable, clear spot in the sand underneath them in which to camp. It was dark by the time I got my ground cloth out and sleeping bag set and the stars were out. Hooter walked by, but declined to stop. I could completely understand. A place like this was best savored alone. I nestled into my sleeping bag out of the chill night air and drank down 2.4 liters of lemonade flavored water, along with several cookies, while watching the stars. Nothing fast happens with the stars, but it is fun to see the differences between them, to watch new ones come out. I was glad to be out here, under the stars and the Joshua trees, far from anywhere that people would generally call civilized. I thought about the other hikers strung out on the trail. Will was probably in Kennedy Meadows now, Sharon and Glory not too much ahead of me. The people behind me, impatient with southern California and wanting nothing more than to start in the Sierra. It seemed like a poor vacation, when you spent a large part of it wishing you were somewhere else. I wanted to be right here, in this exact spot, at this moment. It was so perfect, even though I knew that tomorrow morning it would not look so good. It would only be a patch of sand under some trees; a place to leave as quickly as possible, before the sun got too high in the sky.

I was awake and moving well before the sun came up over the mountains, hiking in the purple light that is just enough to see by, but not enough to make out details. Hiking through the darkness involves a certain amount of faith: My mind told me that all snakes would be burrowed deep within the ground, that it would be too cold for them to be out on the surface. My heart told be to beware, that stepping on, or coming close to, a Mojave Green would end my trip. My fabulous summer would come to an end prematurely. I passed Hooter, completely asleep, a mile past my camp in the Joshua trees. I would not see him again. With the coming of the sun, though, my heart was again peaceful, but my mind turned to the turbulent subject of the coming heat. With my body and soul opposed, I rounded a corner to find a small water cache. Inspecting it, I found it empty. No worries, I had plenty of water, but I might be a bit thirsty by time I got to the next water source in the early afternoon. Directly around the corner, I came within two feet of stepping on a big, fat, lazy Mojave Green.

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The snake was sunning himself in the early morning rays, trying to regain the heat that was lost overnight. Lethargic, the snake barely moved. I backed up quickly and sat on a rock to look at it. It was certainly the largest snake I'd ever seen, with a midsection the thickness of my upper arm. Perhaps 4-5 feet in length. After admiring the snake, I casually walked around and above it on some rocks, keeping my eyes peeled for more snakes in the underbrush. A quarter of a mile later, I intersected a dirt road where there was a large, mostly full water cache. Nestling down in the shade next to the cache, I had a sumptuous midmorning breakfast of Nutella burritos and took a liter out of the cache for safety. A hiker approached, and joined me in the shade. His name was Mercury and he had hiked the trail the previous summer. This summer, he was back out, taking a slower pace and enjoying the comfort that familiarity brings. He set off a few minutes before I did, but I soon passed him on an uphill portion of trail and would not see him again.

The mountainous terrain continued, although the hiking was gentle. The heat of the day, though, meant that no hiking was entirely easy. Clambering up a ridge, I was rewarded with my first view of the Sierra: White, gleaming, jagged peaks were ahead. My trip would soon take on a new aspect, I thought. I would no longer have to worry about a lack of water or the heat, and instead have to deal with too much water, snowy passes, route finding, and bears. The trail moved through a burned out area; a place where a firestorm had reduced the land to what looked like a wasteland. The fearsome aspect of the trail touched at my heart as I walked through black, scarred forests without shade. Without life, it seemed. A terrible land that needed time to recover. And recover it would. The trail climbed to an old road, which I then followed a mile or two before turning off, back onto actual trail. I, however, continued on the road, for there was a cabin with a water source ahead. I was rewarded for my efforts by being passed in a dust cloud by a jeep, driven by a father with three young suns piled in around him. It was the weekend, I recalled.

The cabin had a nice, shady porch, a good piped water source, and a privy. My lunch spot, indeed. I put on a double portion of Lipton's Cheddar and Broccoli Rice and Sauce and went to work on drinking down 2.4 liters of iced tea flavored water. A dutch woman named Apple Pie arrived. Another thruhiker moving north. She was going to meet her husband at the Walker Pass campground in a couple of days, which meant she would be there by herself for a while: I was going past Walker Pass today. I didn't feel like talking much and we passed most of our time together in silence. She left as I was eating my lunch and the cabin was mine again. Sharon and Glory had signed in at the cabin late yesterday, so they were not too far ahead. Yogi had signed in as well, which made me happy as I was hoping to track her down. She had hiked from Mexico to Quincy in 2001, Mexico to Canada in 2002, and was back out this summer. She had provided a lot of information about resupplying, water, and logistics to a mailing list that I was on and I wanted to thank her for it in person.

On my way back to the trail, I passed Apple Pie wandering around. Since she had left thirty minutes ago, I was a bit surprised. It turned out that she had missed the trail turnoff and walked well down the road before she turned back. Although we set off down the trail together, I left her behind quickly and would not see her again. With a belly full of food and water, my energy level was very high, and I cruised along the terrain, even though it proved challenging at times. By the time I neared Walker Pass, I was tiring quickly, looking for a place to camp. I surprised a bear close to the Walker Pass campground and it quickly ran into the underbrush. A perfect encounter for me. Near the campground, a cooler full of Gatorade appeared, courtesy of Onebreath and Tapeworm, two hikers that I had met in Agua Dulce and were apparently out auto touring with Onebreath's parents. The Gatorade gave me enough punch to get to Walker Pass itself, cross the highway,and collapse in a heap in the dirt just off the road. A sign told me that this was one of the first passes discovered that led through the Sierra.

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Within a few minutes of arriving, I saw a Subaru Outback cruise by. It seemed familiar, in some way, but I could not place it. The Subaru did a U-turn and came back to where I was, pulling off onto the side of the road. I stood up, and was slightly embarrassed by the large damp spot I had created in the dirt and dust. I was still unsure who the occupants of the Subaru were as I approached. Popping out of the car were Jeff and Donna Saufley! They had been in the area for a weekend romp and were now out trawling for thruhikers. The had met several in the Walker Pass campground and had spotted me laying about. Donna was rather upset at what I had done to my shirt in the week since I left Agua Dulce. She had transformed my filthy, stinking hiking shirt back into its pristine, white, fresh smelling normal state when I was in Agua Dulce. It was again looking terrible and she wanted to know how I could have done such a thing. Grinning, I knew that she knew the answer. That she knew my secret. They gave me Gatorade and headed off to Agua Dulce and I returned to my damp spot.

It was now nearing 8:00 and I wanted to make the climb up into the mountains on the other side of Walker Pass. On last climb for the day and I would be able to start on level ground tomorrow. Up, up into the mountains I went, winding my way along the switchbacks snaked up onto the ridge above me. The beauty of the land was staggering and I had it all to myself. The light at this time of day, here in the dry mountains of the South Sierra, inspires and enlivens. The land, colored in a mild orange, mixed with a tint of purple, brought out an artistic feeling in me. This, I imagined, was the same thing the great poets or painters must feel when they work, when they create. I wish I had could capture this feeling on a more regular basis when I was at home. I wanted the feeling to be independent of the land, to be able to feel like this while sitting on a comfortable futon at home. Perhaps I was asking for too much, but I knew that I would have made significant progress as a spiritual being when I would be able to recapture this feeling in a mundane setting.

A top the ridge the wind was blowing hard and I sought a protected campsite. The land provided me with a perfect one. Sheltered by a large rock on one side and a pinyon pine on the other, there lay a small, slightly unlevel site between the two. It even allowed for a view of the land and the sunset without having to get up and into the wind. Munching on some cookies, I was again struck by how fortunate I was to be out here. I could be stuck working in an office, or anywhere else for that matter, but I wasn't. I was out doing exactly what I wanted to do, seeing and experiencing things that would change my life for ever and generate memories that would last throughout my days. I wasn't at a retreat or spa or spiritual camp. I was out on public lands with a pack on my back and shoes on my feet, living a simple life outdoors: Eating, drinking, walking, and sleeping. Nothing more, nothing less. I slept deeply, soundly, waking only occasionally to roll over. Of course, I'd look at the stars for a few minutes before returning to my slumber. I could not pass up a single opportunity at gazing up at the heavens and imaging what was out there, what was yet to be discovered and experienced.

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Each day is different out here. Each day brings changes, some subtle, others overt. I was moving in the early morning light, as usual, and quickly came across four hikers that I took to be weekenders. They had bags of potato chips strapped to their oversized packs, water bottles dangling here and there, sandals swaying with the rhythm of their steps, and were moving slow. I passed on by, not thinking much of them, but giving a casual hello in passing. A few minutes later I took a break and actually saw them from the front side. It occurred to me that it was not a weekend, so they probably were not out for a weekend stroll. The area I was in was not overly popular, so I couldn't imagine people coming out here to spend a couple days of their precious, and limited, vacation time. No, the only people who would be out here would be thruhikers. But, these four certainly didn't look like thruhikers. And who were they anyways? The land was now a full mountain range, not the partial desert-mountain mix of the previous days. I was entering the land of granite, and had hope in my heart for what the near future would bring. The desert seemed to force an introspection upon me, where as the mountains brought hope and fear. And, what else?

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Around noon I began to get close to the first of the two water sources I would hit today. A small trickle was stepped over, followed, around the corner, by a deep, shaded gully through which ran a respectable flow. Sitting around the water source were the four mystery hikers and I sat down to find out who they were, as well as cook my daily meal. I had learned coming out of Agua Dulce, that it was best to cook water when at a water source, rather than hauling water and cooking in the evening. There were two women and two men and one of the women introduced herself as Yogi. I was a little startled and introduced myself. They knew I was coming, having been passed by Sharon and Glory not too long ago. The others were Cupcake, whose bandanna I was wearing (he and others made up a large number of them for hikers this year) and whose journal from last year I had read. He hiked end-to-end, many times with Yogi, and his photos had appeared on the cover the PCT magazine. He was out to hike with Yogi from Walker Pass to South Lake Tahoe or Sierra City, a distance of 550-650 miles. The other two were Kimber and Yucca, whose journal at Trail Journals I had read before setting out. They began several weeks before me and posted a few messages before I left. We talked for a while during my lunch break and all set out together. They took far more, and longer, breaks than I did and generally stopped earlier to cook. It was nice chatting with them, but as the trail steepened into a switchbacked climb, I left then behind to go at their own pace. As I approached the top, my feet began to hurt, and not in the familiar foot-sore mode. Rather, small, sharp pains. The views opened up as I passed through a small notch in the mountains, found some shade, and sat down to ogle the land once more. The others showed up and we chatted for a while, the memory of my foot pain vanished.

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When I started moving again, before the others, it was back with a vengeance. Worse than before by a large margin. In fact, I took my shoes off a few times before I was sure that I had some sort of gravel in them. No, the pain was inside and it was bad. I limped forward, at a slow pace, trying not to think about my feet and just enjoy the walk. Such a goal was rather silly, but I tried none-the-less. Maybe this is what sets animals apart from humans. Late in the day I hit my second water source, a large, flowing river near Canebreak Road. I filled up with water and rested and the others eventually arrived. It was only 7 and I had only walked 26 miles today, but I had to stop: The feet were just too bad. The five of us found a nice clearing on the other side of the road and called it good.

Everyone set up a tent or tarp, except for me, and began to cook while I lazed about, eating cookies or writing. Kimber started a small forest fire which he was eventually able to extinguish, and Cupcake fell off his stool, which doubled as his bear cannister. Yogi got some $1 root beers (12 oz, Sam's Club variety) from the campground host. He drove up the road on his ATV looking for us so that he could sell some overpriced sodas. It was semi comical and would have been very funny indeed if I hadn't been worried about my feet. The soles were purplish-red and smelled terrible. I knew the smell to that of some sort of out of control fungus growing on them. I smeared some antibiotics on them and hoped for the best in the morning. Tomorrow I would reach Kennedy Meadows and probably have a reunion with Sharon and Glory. Will, no doubt, was at the base of Whitney or beyond by now. Tomorrow I would be able to take a shower and wash clothes and have to sort through and repackage all the food that I sent myself from Agua Dulce. My mother mailed my ice axe to me and the package also contained some food. I was unsure how I was going to stuff 9 days of supplies into my little pack, but in they must go. These logistical thoughts were passing through my head, rather than anything profound or at least meaningful. It occurred to me that a distinct pattern was forming, and it was a pattern than I did not like. In order to really think and focus, I had to separate myself from other humans; to be alone. I didn't like the idea that in order to develop as a human, I had to isolate myself from other humans. No, not one little bit did I like it.

Last night, just before going to be, Yogi asserted that, referring to the fact that we would all get to Kennedy Meadows tomorrow, it was just like the night before Christmas. I was up far earlier than the others, full of anticipation for the day. Cupcake got up as I was leaving and I waved goodbye as I started a long climb up into the mountains again. Today should be an easy 20 miles or so, once this initial climb was over. While I have absolutely loved Southern California, a new phase of my trip is beginning and I am anxious to see how it will affect me. The cold night had turned my Snickers bars into solid lumps of metal and I placed them in my pants pocket to try to warm them up to an edible state. This was the exact opposite of my routine for the past 680 miles, where I had to eat my Snickers bars before 10, after which the heat turned them into goo. Already my routine was changing, I chuckled to myself, plowing up the hill like I would on flat pavement. My feet were feeling fine and I was charged full with energy after a shorter day before and the promise of the Kennedy Meadows general store and my friends ahead.

Topping out came faster than expected and I was rewarded with the stunning Sierra, their white peaks thrust into the air, seeming impassable. Song came from me and I felt like skipping. The trail ran the sides of a mountain, with a valley below, from which arose the most marvelous scent I have ever smelled. It was a combination of floral and pine, sweet and spicy, with something like the ocean tossed in. Not really the ocean, but rather that pure scent that screams freedom and begs you to follow. Dropping into the valley I entered the Dome Lands wilderness, which consisted of many interesting rock formations. The trail ran flat through a valley filled with flowers and ringed by the odd granite growths.

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I was hunting for the Kern river: Its appearance would tell me I was almost to Kennedy Meadows. As fast as time went during the initial part of the hike, so did it pass slowly now. Perhaps there is some law of conservation of time. I'd walk what I thought was for 30 minutes and would look at my watch to find only 5 had gone by. My mind was racing and my heart fluttering as I neared the end of the first main section of the PCT. The Kern appeared, deep with water. More water, in fact, than I had seen in any river thus far. Green grasses and plants grew by its banks and my heart told me to swim, to frolic in the luxury. But, no, I had to go. The Kern runs right by Kennedy Meadows and I would have plenty of time to bathe later, if I so chose. The trail moved away from the Kern and opened into the broad valley comprising, so I assume, Kennedy Meadows.

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A minute passed, and then two. I had looked at my watch four times in the three minute span. I forced myself to take a break in the shade, to slow down. Little good it did, as I spent most of the time swatting yellow biting flies and trying to figure out if I would hit the road to the general store in 10 minutes or 12. The store was more than a mile down the road, which I should be able to walk in 18 minutes. Maybe I could get to the store in less than 30? All metaphysical and spiritual pretensions had vanished in the face of Kennedy Meadows. I picked myself up out of the dirt, inspected the damp mark that I had left, and pushed on. Hard.

I was at the road in less than 10 minutes, thanks to a miscalculation on my part during the last break. A car was waiting with a driver and he waved me over. He was a sometimes hiker named Paw out doing some good: Giving tired hikers a classy way to reach the store, rather than a dusty walk. Thanking him profusely, I lept out of the car and toward the store, who outer porch was packed with hikers. I hadn't seen so many hikers since the first night in Agua Dulce, and most of the faces here were new. Except for two. I found Sharon lazying about, drinking a soda. Many happy cheers were exchanged. Next to her was Will, much to my surprise. He had arrived four days earlier in a very bad state. Some sort of disease, for which an ambulance had to come up from Ridgecrest and fetch. He spent a long day in the hospital and a night in a hotel in town, and then came back up. He was still recovering from his illness but was going to try to hike out tomorrow. The doctors had given him medicine that caused him to become more sensitive to light and hence he needed to get a long sleeve shirt to hike in. The only thing he could find in town was a white, button down dress shirt. Quite humorous, I thought. But, I couldn't laugh too much at my sick friend. Glory was out eating, and she too was planning on leaving tomorrow.

The chores began: Shower, laundry, picking up food, sorting food, packing food. Many of the hikers seemed quite jealous when I pulled out my 10 King Size Snickers bars and Nutella and I thought for a moment I might have to defend my food with my new, shiny ice axe. Glory returned and Yogi showed up, with Kimber and Yucca a ways back. Cupcake was still adjusting to the heat and the hiking, however, and only showed up much later. New hikers abounded and I struggled trying to remember everyone's name. I got my pack fully loaded: Every bit of capacity was in use, with the extension collar fully deployed and not fully shut. I had 9 days of supplies in it and the pack, without water, weighed on the order of 40 lbs. Brian Frankle, the co-owner of ULA, and the designer of my pack, had warned me to keep the loads under 25 lbs. With 9 days of food, it was a pig: Unstable and a bit painful. It would take me three or four days to eat it down to a manageable level again.

A large truck appeared, towing a large, flat bed trailer, in which were rows of chairs. The dinner taxi had arrived. Twenty or more hungry hikers piled into the chairs in the trailer and off we went, riding in style. Along the way we picked up a hitch hiker: Cupcake had gotten lost in the Dome Lands and wandered about until he found the road. It was perfect timing. Dinner was at the Grumpy Bear and satisfied most, I think. Jokes were made, particularly when a camcorder came out. Catching up with Sharon and Glory took a while, but it wasn't really necessary. We were all hiking out tomorrow and, although no one had said anything, it was certain that we would link up into a group tomorrow. As much as I relished my time alone, I thought it best to cross the Sierra with others. Sharon was capable as was Will, but Glory had never been in actual mountains before and had no idea how to use an ice axe. She had also failed to bring sunglasses.

Back at the bridge over the Kern, from which I got my ride to the store, hikers were settling down into various spots in the grass, with one bank of the river reserved for those who wanted to stay up next to a campfire and drink and talk. Many people had been waiting in Kennedy Meadows for the snow conditions in the Sierras to improve, or were just resting. Many people were staying here tomorrow, including Yogi and Cupcake, which meant I would not see them again. Although Kennedy Meadows seemed like a nice place to take a day off, I simply could not do it. Yogi was wrong, in what she said the previous night. Tonight was like the night before Christmas: Tomorrow, I enter the Sierra. Tomorrow a whole new trip with a entirely new set of challenges and rewards begins. I slept little, as I did the night in San Diego, thirty days ago, in Bob Riess' mobile home.