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 unquestionably like the Sierras, too. It’s exciting to me: I dream of granite domes, streams and lakes, cold morning air, and those beautiful mountain views when we wake up. We aren’t quite there yet, but we’re getting close. We’re clearly in a transition zone, where parts of our hike look and feel like the desert still, and parts look and feel like the mountains.

We hiked all morning long today, starting early so that we could get up and over our one big ascent of the day before it got hot, and then just kept slugging away. By 1 PM or so, we were just dripping with sweat, and even mopping it up with a bandana only lasted for a few minutes. The amount of water we were going through was prodigious, too; I’ve never drunk anything like that amount of water while hiking before.

And then, midday, we came upon pretty much the first true river of our entire trip so far. Hallelujah! Most “rivers” so far, while sometimes sufficient to get drinking water from, have been maybe a foot across and several inches deep — something you’d probably call a brook or a stream. This was a real river: at least twenty feet across in places, feet deep, and flowing rapidly. There’s little that made me feel like I was in the mountains more than that, seeing real mountain water from snowmelt. We stopped by the side of it, got plenty of drinking water out, and ate lunch, suffering once more from the heat.

As I’ve mentioned before, we’d promised our friends Treeman and Hedgehog that we’d get to Kennedy Meadows today, so, alas, instead of waiting there for several hours for the heat to die down, we pressed on. Looking back on it, we were probably some of the few hikers hiking in the middle of the day just because it was so hot. We just pressed on, knowing that some civilization awaited us, trying our best to ignore the heat.

Along the way, we passed the 700-mile mark — once again, stones arranged by the side of the trail marked the location (and our GPS confirmed it). It’s impressive how these markers come more and more quickly to us. The 600-mile mark just wasn’t all that long ago, and 800 will come up fast, too, I’m sure. It feels good to be putting major miles behind us.

Finally, we reached the road to Kennedy Meadows…hooray! Kennedy Meadows is a tiny, tiny town, and really only has one thing you’d want to stop for: the General Store. It’s not even a place you can really resupply with food, as their selection is pretty limited, but they do have ice cream, soda, beer, snacks — and a huge porch to sit out on and enjoy them. (They also have power, a precious commodity in this smartphone world, with extension cords swarming with phone chargers.)

We each made a pint of ice cream disappear pretty damn fast, along with a soda and a bottle of Gatorade. Oh, the world was suddenly so much better. We tried to get showers (closed until tomorrow morning) and laundry (sign up on the list, there are about 35 people ahead of you) to no avail, but just being able to sit down and drink something cold made all the difference in the world.

But where were Treeman and Hedgehog? We looked all around the deck, I searched the entire huge camping area behind the store, we looked at the board of notes…nothing. We waited and waited, but no sign of them. There’s no cell-phone service here or even WiFi, so we can’t contact them electronically. Alas! Sometimes hiking is like this — you miss people and there’s nothing you can do about it, no way to know where they are. Perhaps they felt the call of the mountains and moved on, or perhaps they’d just had enough of Kennedy Meadows; we aren’t sure. All I know is that I really hope to see them soon.

However, a couple of hours after we showed up, Rally and Clint arrived, making us happy! We got to sit on the porch and enjoy beer with them, relaxing and talking for a while…until the length of the days caught up with us and we went to bed early. Being able to get some actual sleep tonight is going to be very, very precious to me. I can’t wait.

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