Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows (Pictures!)

Hey everyone!  I got my images uploaded finally and will be posting them to my page.  Wohoo!  Picture time is my second favorite time in the world, vomiting words all over my computer screen describing them is my first.  I decided to type up a quick overview of each section since I don’t have time to do full write-ups.  I swear I will get the hang of this next time, but for now I think I messed up big time in keeping my blog current.  Something I think I’ve lamented over quite a few times already.

This was the hardest section of the trail, hands fucking down. Probably the hardest moment of my life. I hit the trail and meandered along a freeway feeling great for a while, then it shot up into a mountain range. I only made maybe 6 miles that day since I got back pretty late. Not a big deal, I had a great spot sheltered from the wind and a great view of the city lights below. On I went and found myself in a forest eventually with a huge campground and the last water source for 40 miles, carrying out 10 liters of water was unfortunately necessary. People left water caches along the way for hikers but I don’t rely on them because if they forget to restock it or can’t, you’re absolutely fucked. The forest melted behind me and the most barren and exposed section of desert I’ve seen so far greeted me.  A heatwave had been brewing the last few days and seemed to hit the height of its fury here.

I hopped down off one mountain range and into the hell beyond. It was hot. It was really, really hot. There was no shade at all except some meager shade under some Joshua trees if you got lucky. But you can’t sit too close to them without getting impaled by their rock hard spines, I had a near miss with one stabbing my eye at one point.  Impaling aside, as I got up one mountain I learned very fast that it wasn’t going to get any easier. Every day after that I was going up and down at least four different mountains in the intense heat carrying all this water on my back that sloshed around as I walked which was complete torture. I just want to drink it, I want to drink all of it, but I have to ration it. My backpack is rubbing my shoulders raw, my spine is radiating in agony protesting with every step. At some point I hit the loosest sand ever and every step was a struggle.  Loose sand is kind of like this extra “Hey, fuck you for wanting to walk around here” from the desert, it doesn’t happen often but when it does it’s at the worst moments. I made my way through it totally exhausted, sat under a Joshua Tree, and cried for a good hour. I didn’t want to do this anymore, every moment here is pain and muscle tearing effort. I knew it’d be hard but I had no clue that it would get to a point like this.  I sat there for a good while, back aching, shoulders screaming, legs locked up.  I started sympathizing with people who quit in this section and entertained doing the same, but even if I wanted to quit right now – I couldn’t.  I’m in the middle of nowhere on a very limited water supply, I have to keep going.  I’ll get to the next town and think about quitting there.

I made it to an absolutely stunning canyon overlooking the vast emptiness of the desert around me paired with the best sunset I’ve ever sat around for and felt a little better after relaxing for a bit. I hiked out the next day and made my way up yet another mountain, down it, up another, repeat etc. I eventually got to Walker Pass where I had access to a town. I didn’t need to go there, but every fiber of my being wanted to get a room and chill and think about going home. I camped at a campground near the road for the night and met up with an old trail buddy. The next day I hitched a ride into town with another hiker and headed straight for the motel, got a room, took a shower, and gorged on shitty fast food all day looking at bus tickets back home. On one of these days I started to pep-talk myself into going back out there since I’m so close to finishing the desert. 3 days away maximum. I turned on the TV later and heard about the mass shooting in Florida and had an idea to put the name of the victims on individual rainbow flags, take pictures of it in awesome locations, and send them to the victims families. I don’t want to go too much into this, I’m just including it to explain the flags in the image galleries.

I had a new attitude and a new purpose to get back onto the trail, so away I went. I got back to Walker Pass from a sympathetic punk woman who just offered to take me, I didn’t even need to stick out my thumb.  She got me halfway there, and a group of PCT hikers who had rented a car took me the rest of the way back to the pass.  Determined, I hit the trail and hiked up a mountain (surprise!) and found myself in a gross, tangled, overgrown ‘forest’ thing with more windmills swooshing about.  The scenery here put me in a horrible mood, overgrowth is not my thing, not in the desert. I want to get the hell through this. I pushed high miles to get out and the scenery chilled out a bit going back to typical desert terrain. Eventually I found myself in a giant meadow and I know exactly what’s ahead: Kennedy Meadows, the end of the desert at mile 702. I charged ahead and passed mile 700 without feeling much. I thought this would be some profound moment for me where I’d be like “Oh my god I survived the desert”, but I just sat there and stared at it for a while and felt the weight of the rest of the trip on my shoulders. I’ve barely scratched the surface here. I’m going to be doing this for a long time.

I made my way up to a paved road and walked along it to the general store which is where a lot of hikers rest for a couple days and get new supplies sent to them for the Sierra: Bear canister, crampons, ice axe, food, etc. And also party. And party we did. I ran into a couple hiker friends who were already a few beers in. The store was closed so they gave me some warm beer which was amazing. We went down to a local’s house who had an outdoor theater set up and watched the Princess Bride with a resident dog running around begging for attention. I stumbled away from the theater when the movie was over and tried to find somewhere to camp behind the store in the tangled quasi-desert brush. All I could find in the dark without waking anyone up was a slope, so my tent was a no-go. I laid out my sleeping mat and sleeping quilt and passed out. I woke up the next day at the bottom of the slope tangled up in a bush, but at least I slept good. I hung out there for a couple days waiting for my gear to show up and it was hot. The heatwave was in full swing at this point so I mostly spent the day hiding in the shade napping, coming out at night to drink a few beers.

Pictures

Hindsight

This was the hardest section of trail for me, but I love looking back on it and in a weird way, it’s be come my favorite and the embodiment of why I came out here.  As much as I grew to hate the desert in the end, I look back on it fondly for the most part though I joke with other people about it by saying “Fuck the desert” anytime someone brings it up.  Part of me wants to hike the trail again next year just to see the desert again.  The trail after the desert became physically hard but the mental and emotional challenge wasn’t nearly as strong aside from feeling a little stretched thin from doing this every single day.  I grew more as a person in the desert than I have doing anything else in my life, and I’ll always be appreciative of that.

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