10.5 miles (691.7 to 702.2)
My alarm wakes me at 5am, over an hour later than usual because today will be a short day: only 10 miles to Kennedy Meadows! The temperature has dropped. I hike out in my fleece hoody. We continue our traverse across the slope. On the way down to Manter Creek, I flush a family of American Kestrels out of a tree. There are at least three birds, possibly four.
We enter a gorgeous valley where views of rocky peaks temp me to take picture after picture, then we enter a pine forest with a sage understory.
Only a few miles later, we descend to the South Fork of the Kern River. The river is brown and flowing fast. So much water. More water than I’ve seen in months. The trail parallels the river for awhile. We find a sandy spot and sit beside the water. The sound of it nearly lulls me to sleep. I’d stay here for hours if I wasn’t so hungry. I want to reach Kennedy Meadows and my resupply box.
We keep hiking. Suddenly there’s a giant 700 spelled out in rocks beside the trail. Wow. Mile 700. This is the first time a century mark has taken me by surprise. Usually I check the app and am well aware when I’m getting close so I can keep an eye out for the marker. Not this time. This time my brain is overwhelmed by reaching the end of the desert, by the river, by thoughts of food.
Two miles later, we reach the paved road that leads to Kennedy Meadows and the general store. This is a milestone, and a big one. We’ve reached the end of the desert.
We arrive to applause at the general store. We order hamburgers. I collect the box Mom sent, which is full of snack foods. Cucumber is here, and Gilbert (now Rooster), and a few other hikers I recognize. My friend Dave arrives with my resupply box and all of my Sierra gear, including an ice axe, crampons, bear canister, and warmer jacket. Unfortunately, my brain is still overwhelmed, and I neglect to take a photo with my personal trail angel.
I spend the afternoon at a picnic table chatting with Cucumber, Stake, Shark Bait, and Sap Happy. Dad hikes two miles up the trail to pick up his car from the campground, where it’s been parked since his foot-testing hike with Pete, then he drives back to the store.
By 5pm, hikers are shouting, drinking, and puking on the store’s porch. The folks who own the store generously let us camp here free of charge, and this is how my fellow hikers behave. I don’t want to be associated with these hikers.
Cucumber, Dad, and I drive down to Grumpy Bears for dinner. I order a basket of fries and am shocked to be served fresh house-cut, house-fried potatoes. What a treat! A woman comes in and sits down next to us. After a few minutes, I recognize her. It’s Yogi of Yogi’s guide books. We chat with her for a bit, then drive back to the general store.
I’ve set up my tent in the camping area on the hill above the store. Dad opts to sleep in the back of his pickup. I find my tent and go inside to clean myself with a rag. Nighthawks call overhead. Other hikers pitch their tents near mine. It’s a packed campground. As before, I don’t like spending the night with so many hikers. They’re noisy. They walk close to other people’s tents. They walk around wearing headlamps. They talk loudly until after dark. The port-a-potties are full. I worry about sanitation. I’d planned to zero here tomorrow and possibly the next day to get some solid rest before entering the Sierra, but now I’m rethinking the options. I don’t think I’ll stay here another night.