Ending the Desert; Starting the Sierra!

 

This previous stretch was one of our longest without a break. Nine days without a shower, man oh man! It’s a good thing Level and I smell equally bad because around each other we think we smell normal. Leaving Tehachapi was tough because it was an amazing stay and we heard some nerve wracking stories about conditions in the Sierras. But we knew we wanted to get out of the desert sooner than later. When we got back on trail around 5pm we knew we only had a couple hours of hiking so we cruised up to the saddle of the mountain pretty quickly. The wind was crazy, knocking me every which way as we wound around the mountain. I was thankful for my trekking poles as they kept me from tumbling down. When we found a flat area we quickly made the decision to do our first cowboy camping (sleeping without a tent). We were afraid our tent wouldn’t hold against the wind. Luckily we found a nice spot in between the bushes and tried getting a good nights sleep.

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In the morning we were a little cranky as no one had slept very well and I awoke with some mysterious looking bites on my arms and neck. Birdie was up and out first, seemingly excited to be done with cowboy camping. Level followed shortly after him and I headed out last. The trail was busy that morning as most hikers were coming back from Tehachapi as well. I had a frustrating day as the shoes I had traded out were becoming a blister nightmare for my feet.

The whole day was an emotional roller coaster, but by the end of the day I felt great. I had come to terms with the difficulties I was encountering. Instead of being miserable I looked around and felt so much love. There’s many times I feel a bit like a loony toon out here because I tend to talk out loud. I talk to the wind, the sun, the universe in general. It’s those times that I feel connected to the moment.
The next day I woke up early and let Level sleep in while I ate a hearty breakfast of granola, milk, with a chocolate breakfast essential mixed in. The trail was so nice, mixing up the views with beautiful meadows, desert ridges, then woodsy pines. My feet continued to get more blisters but I just took that as an opportunity to take more breaks and air them out.

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We found a nice early lunch spot right off the trail on big boulders you have to climb up to. We felt like mountain lions because most of the hikers that passed us didn’t even realize we were up there. It was fun to watch them go by and see the ‘true’ hiker persona when they think no one is watching. That evening we looked at the water report and realized there was a 43 mile stretch of no water coming up. So much for the thoughts of light packs.
We woke up at 6 and did a short 4 miles to the last reliable source for the next stretch. There was word of water caches, which are when trail angels leave water near the trail for hikers to refill. The thing about water caches are they can’t be counted on, sometimes they are empty depending how many hikers go through in a day. We decided to eat our spaghetti that morning at the water source and eat no cook meals later when we had less water. We got 5 and a half liters each and hoped that the caches would be there. During the day we barely sipped on water, ready to conserve. Lucky for us, the cache was filled!

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We drank a couple liters there and looked around for some shade. No shade to be found so we sat in the sun and luckily after a bit it became much shadier. We watched as the storm clouds moved closer and decided we better pack up quickly.

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My feet were in rough condition so I decided to wear my camp shoes (Crocs) for a bit. We thought we could out run the rain so we speedily set out. About 200 yards from us we saw a group of bulls racing down the trail. The bulls knew the rain was coming, so we took a tip from them and put on our rain gear. As we looked back at the trail we saw a herd of hikers marching down the trail, it was a sight to be seen. I counted around 20 hikers all one after another. A few minutes later the rain and hail started up. My feet would only allow me to go so fast so I took it step by step, uphill in the soft sand. The trail smelled fresh as the rain slowly came to a stop and the fog faded away.

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Because there were so many hikers that had hiked ahead of us, finding a camp spot was tough that night. I had Level go ahead of me and speed hike to find us a spot as I kept breaking for my feet and switching from boots to crocs. The trail was perfect for Level to go ahead of me because I could still see him as he wound around the desert trail. I had the luxury of slowly hiking and enjoying the sun setting in the desert. We ended up in a busy little campsite after 19.5 miles that day. It was a great spot, tucked in the valley away from the wind.
In the morning I decided it would be best for my feet to take a lot of mini breaks throughout the day. In doing that I had said, “No long breaks…” Luckily a hiker gave me some of his better foot care products to try out so my morning hike was pretty smooth. We did take a couple mini breaks in the morning. Level had ample energy so he was climbing up rocks in his down time.

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We got to the next potential water cache and again got lucky as there was lots of water. This time we did find shade under a big Joshua Tree and decided to have a feast of all the extra food I had. While we were there a guy pulled up with trail magic. Earlier we had been kidding around and asking each other what the perfect trail magic would be. I talked about a spa where I could have my feet taken care of, along with cheese and chocolate fondue, Gatorade, and beer. Well low and behold at this trail magic that actually did appear we had, Gatorade, beer, and foot care! I was so happy as I washed and re-bandaged my feet. He talked about a BBQ later that evening, but it was only noon and we knew we should keep on chugging along. I was just thrilled that my trail magic dreams had come to life.

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Later that day we stopped to chat with some hikers.
Level recognized the shoes that one of them was wearing and realized they had been his first pair that he left in a hiker box. He had to trade them out so early in the trail because they gave him so many foot problems, but he had hoped someone else would appreciate them. The hiker that now has them, loves them! He was so excited he wanted his picture taken with Level.

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The next day was beautiful hiking, we kept stopping to take pictures of the flowers blooming alongside the trail. Knowing that the desert was coming to an end we didn’t mind hiking the dry, hot ridges.

That day we decided we needed a few more days of food before we hit Kennedy Meadows. We went down the trail to hitch a ride to Lake Isabella, a town that was about 30 miles away. Luckily we got a hitch and only spent 2 hours in town, stocking up on food and stuffing ourselves with Burger King before we left. We decided to take the bus which ended up being a VERY long ride. Locals & hikers alike stuffed onto the bus like sardines. The hiker stink was potent and the bus driver had little patience for anyone. It was over an hour bus ride of getting tossed around, making me more excited than ever to hit the trail. We got off the bus at about 6:30pm and hiked two more hours to the first campsite we saw. I was so happy we ended up hiking that late because the sky was unbelievably beautiful.

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The next day we did quite a few long uphill climbs. Level loves hiking uphill as he sees the top and doesn’t stop until he gets there. I enjoy them as well, though I take my time and usually arrive to the top about 30 minutes after Level. The last climb Level raced up and when I arrived he had the tent all set up and we celebrated the long day with some wine we had brought on trail.

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We had slept with our rain fly off and awoke to quite the sight. Campers nearby us must not have seen where we were camping because one of them dropped his trousers only 30 feet away from our tent. We weren’t sure if we should let him know we were right there, but it seemed too late so we looked away as he did his morning business. It was Memorial Day Weekend so we saw a lot of day hikers and they told us that there were burgers up ahead.

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When we got to the trail magic, we saw there were sandwich fixings so we got some of those. The burgers were coming later that evening, but it was early afternoon when we arrived. We sat down and did a puzzle, one of my favorite past-times and after we finished we decided that sandwiches and puzzles were plenty to keep us hiking.

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Trail Angel!

That night we had to keep hiking and hiking because there were no camp spots available. When we finally saw a flat spot we quickly took it. It wasn’t until after we set up that we noticed bear poop was everywhere. We had a bit of a restless night… but we heard no bears thankfully.

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The next morning was Kennedy Meadows! We only had to hike 10 more miles, 10 more desert miles!! We were thrilled. No offense to the desert but 700 miles was plenty long enough. We got to a river about 3 miles short of town and decided to eat lunch and soak our feet in the most water we had seen since starting. When we got to the trail junction we walked .5 mile down to the General Store. Birdie had told us that everyone would clap for us upon arrival, but I didn’t believe him. But as we walked up the parking lot, we got a round of applause. It was a great feeling to have such encouragement from fellow hikers. Kennedy Meadows is a tiny little town with a General Store, a restaurant, and Yogi’s Outfitter store. We visited all of them within the two days that we were there, getting our bear canisters, packages of food, and town food. The first day we had arrived I was feeling overwhelmed because of the nerve-wracking transitions that were coming up. The bear canister itself adds on 3 pounds, plus all the food we need to fit in there. Somehow though, I did it. Level is a packing machine and helped me use every free space available to make it all fit. They didn’t have any micro spikes for our shoes to help with the snowy Sierras so I knew we’d have to make another stop in Lone Pine a few days later. We’ve been getting used to no service for long stretches now and I was looking forward to having Wifi at Kennedy Meadows but the system was down while we were there. IMG_1791

We left after spending a whole day off there and started into the Southern Sierra Boundary. It felt like we were stepping into a whole new trail and the feeling was amazing. IMG_1290

Water everywhere throughout the day, no more carrying 5 liters! Since I have to pack my bag differently because of the bear canister it took a bit to get used to but I remind myself that change is good. The trail is absolutely stunning already, just as hikers had said. The hiking is harder but not yet as hard as I pictured, I’m sure that is to come in a few days. We reached just over 10,000 feet and we saw the snow covered peaks that we will be summiting in the next couple weeks.

We have been sleeping in, making our coffee in the mornings again. We are hiking slowly and enjoying the views as we know the Sierras won’t last very long.

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