Total distance: 704.6
Camp tonight is at Kennedy Meadows Campground. There is a soft wind whispering in the trees and crickets chirping near the creek. The sky is turning to a dark blue and the moon is glowing brighter than the night before. My stomach is full of burger and Gatorade and I am oh so happy to be closing my eyes soon.
I didn’t sleep very well last night. I woke up many times because of the wind and the cold temperatures. I was up high on a peak cowboy camping and freezing my ass off. It’s good to know I can handle it and survive, but I’m thinking I may want more warmth to be comfortable. I was in a cacoon when I poked my head through my bag to see that it was bright and sunny outside. It was 6:45 and I was still tired. I wanted to be in Kennedy meadows quickly so I got my things together in a hurry and started down the mountain.
The first 6 miles were easy going and smooth in my descent off the peak and then the trail spilled out into and open meadow at 6,000 feet of elevation. Black sage covered the earth and various pines were scattered around the valley. Essentially the meadow was a bowl and the trail worked its way around the eastern edge and eventually dropped down to the South Fork Kern River. I could hear the water from a mile away as it was rushing through a valley and a smile stayed on my face until I reached it.
When I got to the river I met three guys who gave me a swig of Bacardi and I immersed myself in the icy waters. My socks turned the water brown and the drips of sweat from my face made the water do that thing when you pour oil in water and it gets all rainbow like. Probably the sunscreen. I cleaned my body and laid in the sun on a rock with sublime playing on a jam box close by.
Finally I got my things together and made my way through the rest of the meadow in high spirits until I reached Sherman Pass to head toward Kennedy meadows. I walked into the general store and about 50 hikers applauded me upon my arrival. It’s a tradition supposedly. I smiled and raised my poles to the sky and bought an ice cold ipa to rest on the porch.
I sat for a long time eating everything I owned with my feet up talking with a few hikers. One of which hiked the AT northbound the same year I went south. Super cool to talk the trail with her. There were hikers everywhere! We had taken over the general store and the smell was just incredible. There were hikers sleeping, drinking, eating, pooping, stretching, opening boxes, testing new gear and anything you’d imagine a hiker doing. I have caught the bubble! Some had been there for a week and some for only an hour. It was hilarious to sit there with a few hikers and watch all that was happening. I love the people who choose to thru-hike and find myself at home with the individuals I meet. So. Real.
After a while a truck came and took about 15 of us to a restaurant to get burgers and I sat for a long time drinking a beer and attempting to upload pictures to Instagram, but the wifi was incredibly weak. I could hardly send a text. I sat for a long time trying to tell my family and Molly I’d be out of reach for the next few days and then devoured my burger before heading back to the general store where another 50ish hikers were living it up.
As soon as we got back I grabbed my bag and started down the road to the trail. As I was leaving I turned around to snap a photo of all the hikers and all the memories that have been made at Kennedy Meadows general store. I was sad to leave. I wanted to stay and make friends, but I figured it was already 8 and most people would be sleeping soon and if not it would be a late night drinking and the morning would be difficult to do big miles. So I walked solo into the sunset down a single laned road and watched the glow of the sun sparkle the sage in the meadow. The Rays were blasting through the pines and forcing me to crinkle my face as I walked.
That feeling of loneliness crept up on me during the two miles I hiked to the camp ground. The massive amount of people I was just surrounded by made me feel even more removed from any connection. Everyone was in a group or had a hiking partner and were paired up in circles laughing and drinking. I mean I didn’t like sit in a corner and wallow in solitude or anything. I talked to a lot of people, but it’s like that thing were less is more. Sometimes I think the more people the less potential for depth. I know that’s not always true and I’d hate to put a definite on something like that, but with all that was going on I knew I’d be walking to the trail alone and carrying on into the sierras without another person who I know and can rely on, but that’s a part of why I’m out here. There is a lot of room for independence to grow in my life and this trail has already made that happen and will only do so more as time goes on. I feel fueled by the joy all of the hikers shared and the laughs that I heard. The happiness they carry has spread to me without most of them even knowing it. There are a ton of more people to come and a lot more to experience and I’m overwhelmed with peace lying in my bag for another night under the stars thinking about the trail ahead and the desert behind me.