Day 54: Kennedy Meadows!

If you’d arrived by car today at the Kennedy Meadows General Store, perhaps the first thing you’d notice on the way in is, well, that there isn’t much to notice. Kennedy Meadows itself is a burgeoning metropolis of two hundred people, stuck on a back road in the southeastern Sierra Nevada. It doesn’t even have its own post office — addresses here are for Inyokern, a very different town in the middle of the desert some miles east — and really only has one intersection, a big T. And on one side of that T is about the only business in town — the General Store.

The General Store itself is

Day 53: Please, Please Let Us Go, Desert

These past few days have, unquestionably, been the most miserable hiking of our entire trip. It’s as if the California desert, deciding that it hadn’t been sufficiently desert-like for us so far, decided to pack all the heat it could muster into these last few days before we climb into the mountains. It was in the 80s by 8 AM, and in the 90s by 10:30 AM — and today we couldn’t escape by resting midday, because we had someplace to be.

Having said all that, as we hiked along today, the scenery became more and more

Day 52: Beating the Heat

Ninety-five degrees is not what you want to see on the thermometer when you’re out here, pretty much any time at all. It’s especially not what you want to see when you have to hike, and doubly so if you have to climb. Today was the first day we made a pretty major modification to our plans just because of the heat. We’re in the middle of a pretty intense heat wave, and just about everybody on the trail has been affected in one way or another.

This morning, we hit the trail by 6:15 AM, which meant the climb we had first thing wasn’t too bad. We were up to the top just about the time it started to get seriously hot (which is around 8:00 or 8:30 AM), and walking on the flats or downhill is hugely better than having to go up. Even so, it got so hot today that we were pretty miserable even going downhill, and we were incredibly glad to make it to the campground that sat about twelve miles into today’s hike.

Along the way, we met quite a character.

Day 51: Yeah, It’s Definitely Warmer Out There

Today, we finally managed to escape force ourselves to leave Lake Isabella…not an easy thing to do, given how unbelievably nice it’s been to relax for a few days — but this is actually called “hiking the Pacific Crest Trail”, not “a tour of Southern California hottubs”, after all. So after waking at 5 AM, we got one last giant breakfast at the Dam Korner Café with everybody, and hit the road.

Getting out of town was much easier than hitching in — because we had a captive ride: Dylan, who is Clint’s nephew (and Clint is Rally’s husband), had

Day 49: Pool Party on the PCT

So, on Saturday, while everyone was getting ready for Memorial Day barbecues, I was hiking through crazy heat and sand and intense wind. I’m hoping that this makes it feel slightly more balanced when I tell you that today, when everybody was at work, I was basking in a pool on top of an inflatable orca, drinking beer and relaxing in the sun. I promise the PCT isn’t all like this…but it sure is pretty awesome when it is.

Now that

Day 48: Avoiding the Winter Wonderland (And an Awesome Care Package!)

We started our PCT hike really, really early this year — April 8 is nearly three weeks before the traditional start date for through-hikers. We could do this because of the snow, or rather the lack thereof: usually, if you start too early, you’ll hit the High Sierra before the snowpack has melted, and find them impassable. But this year, with the massive drought affecting California (check out the crazy snow surveys for this year), we knew there’d be no problem at all.

Or so we thought. We’d heard rumors of

Day 47: It Sucks to Hike In Sand

We woke up early this morning, safely ensconced behind our natural windblock, ready for a long day of hiking. When we got in last night, we eyed the steep, huge mountain directly across from our campground: our maps told us we were basically going to go straight up the damn thing this morning, and we wanted to get an early start. The difference between hiking in the desert at 6:00 AM and at 10:00 AM can be enormous, particularly if you’re generating a ton of heat by climbing. We also knew that if we made it far enough today, we could make it all the way to town, and that was a pretty big motivating factor, too.

And you know what? It paid off, too. I’m not remotely going to claim that

Day 46: After 600 Miles, We Finally Found the Desert

Sometimes I think of my coworkers, perhaps reading my blog on a Monday as they get to work, hearing about how I hung out in the hot tub all day yesterday. But then sometimes I think of my coworkers, perhaps headed out to a Memorial Day party of barbecue and beer, looking outside at beautiful weather, as I struggle to carry a 50-pound pack up a steep, sandy hill with insane wind at my face. After that, I don’t feel bad for my coworkers any more. 😉

Today was the day we truly found the desert:

Day 45: On Average, We Were Just Fine

I have never seen such extremes of weather in a single day of hiking. All morning long, it was in the upper 30s (i.e., really cold), so foggy every tree we passed under would drench us with the slightest provocation, and so cloudy that we had no idea where the sun was. This afternoon, we were suddenly hiking in our very lightest gear, sweating on the uphills and wishing the sun would get covered up again. Talk about changeable. And dressing for this kind of weather is just about impossible — you’re adding or removing layers constantly.

I’ve only ever seen wet weather like this

Day 44: When Cold, Grey Days Are Awesome

We’re on the single driest stretch of the entire PCT right now, which means it’s actually wonderful when it’s cold, grey, and foggy all day long — it keeps you from sweating too much, which means you don’t have to carry as much water. We’ve had two nineteen-mile stretches in a row between water sources, and there’s a 31-mile stretch coming up in another day or so that will push our water carrying capacity to the limit — for me, that means 8.5 liters of water, which weighs something north of eighteen pounds. Believe me, you can feel how much that adds to your pack…every single step of the way.

Apparently this is also one of the least

Day 43: We Finally Escape the Vortex

We thought we were going to get an early start this morning…but that was before we looked at the bus schedule to take us back to the trail and found the only bus before 9 AM was at 5 AM. (Shockingly, East Kern Regional Transit does not have an incredibly thorough or frequent bus network.) Fortunately, Dilly and Dally and their wonderful car came to our rescue — after we’d demolished enough hotel breakfast for nine people, the three of us hopped in the back of their car and he drove us out to the highway, exactly where we’d left off the day before from our slack-packing adventure.

Today begins the single driest stretch of the PCT: we’re crossing the Mojave Desert, and water is even harder to come by than normal. We’ve heard tales of 35-mile stretches without water, and we’re really dreading that if they’re true, because it’ll mean carrying something like twenty pounds of water each. Even this morning, the combination of seventeen miles from the trailhead until water plus five days’ worth of food in our packs meant they were heavy. After spending three days in town, sleeping in a bed and soaking in a hot tub, it was really, really painful to hoist all that weight onto our backs and head down the trail once more. It didn’t help that our late start meant it was already hot, either. It was the kind of start that lets you see exactly how hikers get stuck in the vortex of a town and never leave — even if you love hiking and want to be out there, those first few steps are just so painful, like jumping in a really cold swimming pool first thing in the morning.

The mountains out here remind me of

Day 42: Slack-Packing Is Progress, Right?

So, after admitting that we’ve gotten sucked into a bit of a vortex in Tehachapi, we think we found a way to have our cake and eat it, too. (At least for today.) There are actually two “exits” from the PCT to Tehachapi — it first crosses Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road, which is where we hitchhiked in, and then, about eight miles later, it crosses CA–58, a much bigger highway, which is apparently just about impossible to hitchhike from. Also, once you pass the first road, there’s no water on the trail for over 25 miles, which is awful (because you have to carry a lot of water, which weighs a ton) — so anything we can do to reduce that stretch would be wonderful.

The solution? Slack-packing! Slack-packing is

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

You probably just saw a whole bunch of updates come through on this blog, after a long period of silence. I’m writing new blog entries every day. But it can take 10-20 minutes to post each one, once I have cell service again. This means that I can only post when I both have good cell-phone service and enough free time to be able to do it.

I know a few folks got a little worried for me since this blog hadn’t been updated in a while. I really appreciate the concern, but don’t want people to worry needlessly. It might well be as long as a couple of weeks or more at times between updates, if I’m really busy and/or there just isn’t much cell-phone service around — which is likely to become the case more and more as we head into the Sierra.

Please don’t worry about me just because it’s been a while since you’ve heard. In many cases, it might be literally impossible for me to communicate — without cell service, I have no line out. In others, I just might not have had the time.

In either case, we’ll be just fine. One thing that’s already become clear is that we’re more prepared (and/or more conservative, depending on how you look at it) than about 80% of the people on the trail — and they all make it just fine. We have two cell phones with us. We also have a satellite beacon that works absolutely anywhere in the world, and, when activated, literally calls in the helicopters to rescue us. That turns a whole ton of situations from “grave danger” into “merely deeply humiliating”…and we’re very experienced hikers who both have the gear and the experience not to end up in those situations in the first place.

So, all in all: know that if you don’t hear from me for a long time, it most likely means we’re just deep in the mountains, enjoying the spectacular beauty, still writing, but unable to communicate out for a while. And, when we emerge, you’ll get lots more updates to this blog…and lots more pretty pictures.

And, in the mean time: onward!

Day 41: Resupply, Friends, and…Mad Max!

After doing absolutely nothing yesterday, today we had to, annoyingly, do something. In our case, that something was resupplying. Instead of mailing a box to Tehachapi, we’d decided we’d pick up food at the local supermarket…so off we went to Albertson’s (only after eating a very large breakfast with our friends), preparing ourselves.

Our previous resupply felt

Day 40: We Did Nothing, Absolutely All Day Long

Today was a real zero. The most effort we expended all day long was to walk about five blocks across this town — and that was to get to a restaurant for dinner. (And, oh man, was it ever worth it!) The rest of the day we basically spent either eating huge amounts of food, taking long naps, or soaking in the hot tub. And it was amazing.

We do actually have a few things to do in this town — most notably, buy enough food for an upcoming five-day stretch on the trail. (This is another one of our few “buy” resupply stops, rather than having boxes mailed to us that we put together before the trip.) How can we not have done this today? We’ve already decided to take a second, luxurious, wonderful zero here tomorrow, and we can do it then. How can we do that? Well, it’s complicated.

Part of that is because we’ve heard

Day 39: Four Walls, Here We Come!

The one thing that made last night’s windstorm tolerable was the knowledge that, tonight, we’d be staying in a hotel somewhere in Tehachapi, CA, snug and sound and completely impervious from however damn fast the wind wanted to blow. And, as we’re finding ourselves wont to do, we woke up early, at 5:00 AM, eager to get on the trail so that we could end up at showers — and laundry, and beds, and food, and food, and food — as early as possible.

The day’s hiking was

Day 38: Aqueducts, Windmills, and Wind — Oh My!

At the start of the day, I watched millions of gallons of water flow right by me in a concrete canal; at the end of the day, I nearly got blown off my feet by the wind, and I’m not sure which one is stranger. When the trail heads out from Hikertown, it pretty rapidly comes across the California Aqueduct.

You could live in California for a very long time and

Day 37: I Would Walk 500 Miles (To Hikertown)!

When we woke up this morning, it was 36° outside. That’s not uncommon in the desert, but what is uncommon is that it stayed 36° — and foggy, and windy, and wet — for the entire morning. Even with the (impressive) body heat generated by hiking, that is seriously cold. We were basically walking through a cloud all morning: you couldn’t see further than a couple of hundred feet, and, when the wind blew a little, you’d get showered on if you were anywhere near a tall tree. It was beautiful, although it would’ve been somewhat easier to appreciate had we felt at all warm. It’s not that we don’t have good, warm clothes along — we certainly do — it’s that any layering you achieve that makes hiking comfortable makes stopping way, way too cold, and anything that keeps you comfortable stopped becomes sweltering the moment you move. It’s a hard balance to achieve.

We had a major achievement this morning, too: