Miles: 19 +.8 to the store
Water: From last night; gatorade, beer, tap at the store
I stop at the intersection of two roads and check my maps. The store should be just ahead, but I can’t see it. Though I have passed the “Welcome to Kennedy Meadows Population 200” sign, there are only a few buildings here and there, and lost of private property signs. There are no cars passing or people (hikers or otherwise) around to ask, so I just keep walking.
I round the bend and there it is, the most famous patio of the PCT. There are hikers everywhere, more than I have seen together before, and the crowd breaks out in enthusiastic cheers as soon as I am in sight. “I Will Survive” plays in the background. I am overwhelmed, almost to tears.
I get a a second extra enthusiastic greeting when friends I have not seen in a week recognize me as the newest arrival. Bad Camper, Double Step, Shenanigans, Soccer Mom, Rooster and CrunchBerry are all here. And probably 50 others, some familiar, others not.
Though I have been walking the foothills, the geological beginning of the Sierra for most of the past week, Kennedy Meadows is the cultural start, and arriving here feels like a monumental achievement. Surviving the desert. Walking over 700 miles.
Anticipation made the miles crawl by this morning, despite rewarding scenery. A first view of the High Sierra; the South Fork of the Kern river, the first flowing body of water big enough to sit in since I cannot remember when. Hikers sit on rocks in the slightly mucky water, washing away the desert.
Still, I am so incredibly filthy when I arrive at the store. Layers of dust and sunscreen, bits of sand ground into my toes; and smelling like I have never smelled before. It’s been six hot days of walking since last shower and laundry. Flies flock to Greg’s shirt as if it is a dead animal.
The showers are blissfully warm. And even have shampoo. Afterwards, I take census of the damage. My feet have taken a beating this last section. Impossible to keep them or socks clean, shoes filled with sand. The right foot is swollen to the point where my shoe no longer fits. A downhill stretch this morning had me considering barefoot hiking. And it looks like I have athlete’s foot. Excellent.
My clothing is battered too. Holes growing in my sun gloves; gaiters with a gaping wound in one side; old base layer bottom not quite in tatters, but with elastic fraying out of the fabric, and runs streaking down here and there. An incredible amount of dust and grime is ground into my formerly white shirt, more dirt than any photo can convey. At least I have managed not to lose any weight so far.
The afternoon brings thunderclouds and a double rainbow, confirmation that the desert is done.
At Kennedy Meadows we trade water weight for bear canisters. The water report, which I have consulted multiple times each day for the last six weeks, only continues for a few more miles. I leave one of my water bladders in a growing pile in the hiker box.
I add my shelter to the city of tiny tents tucked among trees, and surprisingly trash. Rusting barrels and oversized satellite dish; trailers I have been told not to go inside. Guitar and singing drifts across from the campfire by the teepee, happy hikers celebrating and resting before the next stretch.