The End of the Desert: From Big Bear to Kennedy Meadows
Over 400 miles have passed since my last blog post. After leaving Big Bear I started putting in bigger miles, eventually logging up to 20-25 miles each day. That said, my hiking pace hasn’t been much faster, which means I’m hiking many more hours a day, leaving me little time to write.
The desert ends
A few days ago I walked into Kennedy Meadows, one of the most iconic moments of any PCT hike. This stop signifies the end of the 700 mile desert section and the start of the Sierra – one of the most beautiful and challenging sections of the trail. When hikers make their way to the general store from the trail, everyone at the store erupts in applause – every time. I knew about this tradition and it was everything I had imagined. Even if I don’t do another step, I still feel a huge sense of accomplishment for completing the entire desert section and getting this far.
Thirst was a dominant theme for me throughout the desert section on a level I had never experienced before in my life. Especially in a drought year, water is scarce in this section and over 20 miles of water haul is the norm. The stretch between Tehachapi and Walker Pass was particularly brutal when temperatures soared to 100 degrees in the Mojave Desert and there was little shelter from the sun except for the occasional Joshua Tree . One particularly hot day, I miscalculated how much water I was carrying and cut it off too close, forcing myself to aggressively ration water. I don’t ever want to be as thirsty as I was that day. It is no coincidence that people use the word “thirst” to describe the deepest desires of all kinds.
Chronic thirst has led me to have elaborate fantasies about drinks while on the trail. Gatorade, kombucha, and margaritas dominate my thoughts, but nothing consumes my mind more than Sprite and ginger ale. Before trail running, I hadn’t had a soda for years, but now I’m obsessed with it. Although on most trial days none of these drinks are available, occasionally the trail passes through civilization. On a hot day while driving through Silverwood Lake, we discovered there was a railroad crossing that accepted pizza delivery from Uber Eats. For miles, all I could think of was the 2 liter bottle of Sprite I had ordered. Then, when the driver arrived, she brought everything except the Sprite. I immediately burst into tears – the first time in over a month on the trail – too upset to even eat my pizza. 10 minutes later we saw the driver’s car back up and I ran to meet her, turning to tears of joy as she removed the missing Sprite. I then started crushing my first 20+ mile day fueled by the sugary liquids.
Kindness of strangers
Along the trail I marveled at the incredibly kind things strangers have done to make the hike possible. In Wrightwood, my friend and I were spontaneously invited to stay at two different strangers’ houses. Trail Angels maintain critical caches of water during particularly long dry stretches. While hiking through Vasquez Rocks on a particularly hot day in the midday sun, just when I thought I couldn’t hold out a second longer, a day hiker offered me an ice cold can from Sprite! Stops in town to resupply usually require hitchhiking 10-20 miles or more. Almost every time I stuck my thumb out for less than two minutes before someone stopped me. One hitch had a driver who went out of his way to get us on the trail and offered to braid my hair before leaving – such amazing trail magic!
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