The 144 miles from Tehachapi emptied me out. We entered one of the driest sections of the desert section during the first big heat wave of the year. Temperatures were close to 110°, often with no shade for miles at a time. We had some long water carries, I was carrying 7 liters (15+ extra lbs) at one point. It was brutally hot from 10-6, making hiking nearly impossible. We would try to sleep during the day, but it was too hot to sleep. We were left with 6 pm- 10 am each day to do everything…hiking, eating, sleeping… the rest of the time was just spent existing. Claire and I tried to make our own shade by setting up my rainfly, like a fort. It was cool in the sense that it was fort-like…but really we just created a human oven. The fly didn’t block that much sun, and really just insulated our little bubble with hot air. While it was a hilarious bonding experience, I don’t think either of us wants to repeat it.
Needless to say, I was so so excited to reach Kennedy Meadows (KM), the official/unofficial end of the desert, mile 702. The last 5 miles before reaching KM were weirdly emotional. I hiked those miles alone, it was a perfect warm morning. Those 5 miles were a great chance to reflect on how far I’ve walked and how it’s still just the beginning. It felt really final in some ways, the end of this significant chapter in this weird journey. The first real destination.
Hikers great you with applause and cheering as you walk into KM, a mutual recognition of “we did it!”. There are boxes and ice axes, gear, snacks, and beer everywhere. You can instantly tell the hikers have simply taken over.
There are 3 things in KM…The general store, the cafe, and a tiny outfitter. We had the chance to meet Yogi (a PCT legend and owner of the outfitter), eat a milkeshake, do laundry, and visit with tons of other pct hikers, past and present. We spent two nights celebrating our journey thus far with plenty of beer and snacks. While not having cell service is mildly irritating, it’s also an unapologetic reason to live in moment and enjoy time with the people you’re with.
Like I’ve mentioned before, the desert was relatively kind to us. It was consistent, all I had to do was adapt. It was easy enough to learn to hide from the sun and carry lots of water, I got used to being super sweaty and dusty and having sharp things poking me all the time.
That being said, 702 miles was plenty. I was so eager for something different, the treacherous Sierras looming ahead, still snow covered and gushing with water.