Trail Miles: 566.5-746.5; then flipped to 1,332.4-1,719.8
Hiked Miles: 566.5-1,010.8
Current Location: Ashland, OR
Hi all, and especially dear Kay,
So much has happened in the last few weeks: the end of The Desert, getting to Kennedy Meadows, the beginning of The Sierra, flipping up to Northern California, nursing an injury and so so much transition and change.
The end of The Desert
I last wrote from Tehachapi, 135 miles from the end of the first section of the PCT, going northbound. Sections are measured partly by geography/ecosystem and partly by the individual sections of FarOut, the app we all use to navigate the trail. In FarOut, the “Southern California” section (aka The Desert) ends at Tehachapi but the real border between The Desert and the next section, The Sierra, is Kennedy Meadows South. Kennedy Meadows sits at about mile 700 and it’s the first really big milestone NOBOs reach.
I’ve been so lucky to be hiking with the same big tramily since pretty much the beginning, but that doesn’t mean we’re all together every day. To me, “hiking with” could mean literally walking next to or it could mean being within a day or two of someone and keeping in close touch with them. We’re all moving along the same line, and we all pass information back and ahead on conditions, water, sights, trail angels, etc. so, to me, even if we’re not exactly physically together we’re all still together. So anyway that is context to say that I’d actually mostly been one day ahead of my OG group for hundreds of miles by the time we got to Tehachapi. In town we’d all stay together or just cross paths for a bit, but on trail I’d gone ahead one day back around Big Bear and kinda stayed there; primarily walking on a daily basis with Firefly and two others of the extended tramily – a Swiss couple, Fanboy and Skinny Lizard.
Leaving Tehachapi was the first time I’d walked and camped with Amanda, Cassie, Nardina and Joey in a while but it was hard to even enjoy the time together because the only thing anyone was talking about, or thinking about, as we got closer to Kennedy Meadows was: what’s going to happen next? Would we go into the Sierra, snowy and dangerous this year after the record snowfall? Would we skip the Sierra and flip up north, coming back later in the season after more snow had melted to hike it when it’s (hopefully) less risky? If we flipped, where to? Northern California to continue hiking north or the Canadian border to start hiking south or somewhere in the middle where snow had already melted? Also factor in wanting to keep the group together but also everyone encouraging each other to make their own decisions; and trying to get info on where there is and isn’t snow as it was actively melting; and planning the logistics of driving, bussing or hitchhiking hundred of miles…..the whole thing felt super stressful and emotional.
I’d decided a few weeks back that I couldn’t deal with all of the speculation and scenario planning so wasn’t going to make a decision until I got to Kennedy Meadows. Maybe it was that mindset, and dreading having to finally commit to the “what’s next,” but I started to get super angsty as we got closer to KM, so Firefly and I hauled a$$ there and got in a day before the rest of the group.
It’s tradition to clap in all hikers as they reach the Kennedy Meadows General Store, to celebrate the accomplishment. The General Store is a store, restaurant, campground, and rest stop so hikers are typically there for at least a day hanging out, prepping for their next sections, and resting – and the perennial hang spot is the General Store’s large porch, from where you can see the hikers as they walk up the road to the store. Being clapped in at KM by strangers and friends who had been ahead of us lived up to all the hype; I almost cried. (Firefly and I actually got clapped out too when we left to hike into the Sierra, and I was definitely tearing up then, but more on that later.)
Once at KM though, I was kind of an anxious wreck with all of the decision making and anticipation of splitting up from many of my friends. Long story short, however, and after much back and forth, in the end as I’m writing this a few weeks later I’m still with almost all my friends as most of us decided to flip up to Chester, CA to continue hiking north. (Amanda, who I started the trail with, decided instead to go all the way north to Canada to hike southbound from there.) When I left KM with Firefly, though, I didn’t know it would work out like that, hence the sad “goodbye forever” crying.
I hiked the first section of the Sierra with Firefly, the Swiss couple Fanboy and Skinny Lizard, and another Swiss friend, Flamingo. Definitely go into the Sierra with people who have a high comfort level in cold and elevation and casually talk about having gone to “snow school” as children. I was absolutely the weakest link, but I was grateful to be in a group with people I really know and trust.
Some of my stress in KM was around a package that contained my microspikes and borrowed ice axe that hadn’t arrived yet. I ended up borrowing spikes and forgoing the axe, and going in with my friends rather than wait. We hiked just the first 45 miles from KM to Lone Pine and it was hard but great, fun and so beautiful. We didn’t see anyone else until the third day, and got to get just a taste of what the Sierra in a high snow year is like, including lots of not knowing where the trail was, snow bridges, bushwhacking, slow going and one river crossing. We’ll be back to tackle this section in September when hopefully much of the snow, or at least more of the snow, will have melted.
Coming off the trail at Horseshoe Meadows Campground we met a day hiker, Richard, who not only drove us the 20 miles into Lone Pine, but also gifted us a hotel room for the night! Once in town we also found out the rest of our OG tramily – minus Amanda – had decided to hop up to northern CA with us. So we all took a bus up to Reno where we went to REI, resupplied, stayed the night at a casino for the fun of it, found a speakeasy and then got back on trail 590 miles north in Chester.
Northern CA and OR
The last 400-ish miles have kind of all blurred together now and it’s late as I’m writing this so I’m not going to go into too much detail, but I’ve really enjoyed Northern California. It’s been beautiful, relatively cool, wooded, and full of water and majestic views; and the little mountain towns – mainly Shasta and Etna – have been super cute and hiker friendly. In short, it feels like the AT with better views. We get to swim in creeks and lakes now! We have shade! We made it to 1,000 miles! There are bears! We crossed the CA/OR border! Yes there are bugs but really what’s not to love?
Unfortunately I’ve been dealing with shin pain for the last week and a half, and have had to get off trail twice for unexpected rest days. Ironically other than this I’ve been feeling absolutely great out here – so strong, happy, healthy and fulfilled.
Here’s hoping I’m over the worst of it and back on trail feeling good shortly… 🤞
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