Day 46: Kennedy Meadows

Day 46
Miles: 20
From Fox Mill Spring to Kennedy Meadows General Store
June 16, 2014

Twenty miles waiting for us – twenty miles to Kennedy Meadows. Kennedy Meadows is the official entry to the Sierras for the PCT, at least pyschologically. It’s our last chance to resupply before the real big hills, to pick up extra gear (ice axes, microspikes, bug-nets, whatever you think you need for high country), the last chance to rest. It means the end of the desert, the end of twenty/thirty/forty mile water carries, the end of the punishing heat, the end of the goshdurned hillsides of thornbushes. First, I have to get there.

J and I are moseying through our morning chores, when another hiker comes rustling through the willows by the spring. “Teal!” We haven’t seen Teal since Agua Dulce and the Saufleys’. “Where’s Tess?” I ask. Tess, his partner, was supposed to joining him on the trail after getting her knee rehabbed.
“She’s out,” says Teal. “No knee problems, turns out she just doesn’t like thru-hiking. She didn’t want to give up for body issues, she wanted to give it a fair shot. Still hates it.”
“Well, the point isn’t to be miserable,” I reply. (I mean, at least for me it isn’t. A little pain, sure, but not misery. Ok, maybe a lot of pain. But not misery.)

Teal is going to be continuing on solo. He’s hiked the PCT before, and he’s doing it again. He also tells us that Bluesman is right behind him. We’ve been wondering where Bluesman has been – we’ve been crossing paths with him since Warner Springs (mile 110). He’s faster than us, so it was strange that he hadn’t caught us yet. Well, he finally will. I write him a note telling him to catch up, but he catches up before he gets to the note. We can tell it’s Bluesman coming through the trees by the loud, off-tune rendition of a pearl jam song we can hear filtering in on the morning breeze. He pops out his headphones, “Gizmo and Dirtnap! I’ve been behind you guys for days! I’ve seen your name in the trail registers right before me every time! You need to write down the time you guys sign the register, dammit!”
“Bluesman!” I reply. “I left you a note!” Of all the hikers to catch up with us, I couldn’t be happier about running into Teal and Bluesman.

We head out, leaving Bluesman at the spring to get his water, and start an uphill climb right into a big burn area. I thought I was used to burn areas, coming from Arizona. I don’t think there’s a stretch of forest in the entire state that doesn’t have big black burns running through it – that’s just how forests are. Turns out that the burn areas become downright depressing after a while. Sun, when you’re expecting shade, heat, instead of cool pines, black char instead of green. We stop to look at some old mining scars and Bluesman catches us again. He’s having shoulder problems, so he often wears his pack over just one shoulder, with his hand on his hip, a big man trotting down the trail like a little teapot.

A spot of pink in the gray.

Old mine – we’re guessing for gold.

Burn, burn, burn, then into the valley with the South Fork of the Kern River. We can see the Domelands out to the west, a taste of the big granite we’re looking forward to, although we won’t make it there. The South Fork is a green ribbon of willows through a big burned valley, grown back with sagebrush. Sagebrush can shove it. I’m ready for some trees!

We meet up with the South Fork where it necks out of a little canyon. I’m walking painful and blister-hot, limping hard. Teal and Bluesman are far ahead as I slow from a power-hiker, to a tired-hiker, to a limping trudger. J and I stop and sit awhile. There are beaver here – the beaver dams on the river have made huge blue pools out of this little tributary, and the cool blue water is a thing of beauty to our desert-scorched eyeballs. Birds swoop and call, I drain the juice out of my heel blisters, and the beaver himself makes an appearance in the pool.

“If I must feel bad,” I think to myself, “couldn’t find a better place than here.” I do feel bad, and as I limp out the rest of my miles, I think that again and again. “If I must feel bad…” I wouldn’t trade brand new feet in a city for my old dogs barking through the PCT. 700 miles crossed today.

Last stretch to Kennedy Meadows

We walk into the tiny tiny town of Kennedy Meadows and it’s as silent as the sagebrush. We turn a corner and there’s the general store, with a porch packed with hikers, and they strike up an applause as we walk in. We’ve made it. Bob and the three Canadians are here, and Teal and Bluesman, and scores of hikers we’ve never met. Let the next section begin!