Reunions with Friends – Day 59: 10500′ Foot Tent Site to Lone Pine

PCT miles: 735.1 to 745.3 + 2ish miles on Trail Pass
Miles: 12ish

In my dream I see my mother. We are in the kitchen and she is cooking and I am washing dishes but she’s talking to someone like I’m not there. “Colleen needs to go back to the trail,” she’s saying. “What is she going to do here?”
I wake up and my head doesn’t hurt and the sun is rising and I watch it from my tent as I pack my things. Today I am going to Lone Pine – the rest of my group is camping at Horseshoe Meadow to avoid paying for an extra night in town, but I don’t like rushing and I also know I have a lot of phone calls to make so I’ll be trying to hitch.
The hike is uneventful. In my head I bitch and moan about a short climb, but really it’s my head and not the trail. I am leapfrogging with a German hiker named Jon who plans to leave the trail in Lone Pine. I am trying to be positive and supportive of other peoples hiking choices – leaving for good, skipping, hitching, whatever. There can be some noisy hikers, online especially but even on trail, who seem to look down on what other people are doing. But I don’t know that I’ll be a perfect hiker, and I hope someone is kind to me about whatever choices I have to make. 

We talk about his trip to LA that he’ll take after the trail and how he has a job to go back to. We hike on and come to Horseshoe Meadow, which is stunning, and I ask him to take a picture of me which he does. Then we get to the Trailhead. It’s mostly empty but a few cars. It’s Monday, not a popular day for dayhikers and campers. We come across two Asian hikers I’ve been bumping into who say they have been waiting four hours. Four hours!! I see a comment saying that if you walk a ways down the road, there is at&t service. So I start walking. Almost immediately a car heading to town says he can give me a ride – but I don’t have my pack. And why did he pass by the four hikers sitting at the road? There is one girl in the back with a backpack but he seems to think there isn’t room for both me and my pack. He offers to drive me until I have service, but I don’t like the idea of being away from my pack. We have an awkward exchange and he continued down the road.
Soon the road got steep and still no service. I hadn’t brought my pack or water. Boo. So I sit in the shade to gather myself when I hear a car coming and I stick out my thumb – I know this likely won’t be a hitch to town, but I’m hoping at least for a hitch back to my pack. Inside is a man name Mark who had gone mountain biking in the morning and was coming to see if any hikers needed rides. Did we ever! I jumped in and he took me back to my pack, Jon jumped in and the two Asian hikers were jumping in a hitch of their own. On the way down we picked up another hiker, too. 

Mark told us about the history of Lone Pine and the dried up Owen’s Lake. It was a long, winding drive and a drop of over 5000 feet in elevation. Which also meant: Lone Pine is hot. 111 degrees. Luckily it’s a short strip of amenities. Unluckily much of the air conditioning in the stores is sub par. 
Mark dropped us off and I went to the Whitney Portal Hostel. I’d just gotten my room key code when who do I bump into by Cadi and Hobo! They tell me about their bear encounter outside of Kennedy Meadows and that they have decided to leave the trail and complete it next year instead. I am sad they’re leaving but happy they’re making the right choice for them and a little jealous of the road trip they’ve planned around the area. 

The view from the hostel doesn’t suck 

I put my stuff in the hostel room and shower. I get lunch and call my family and spend about four hours on the phone, and then it’s bedtime and my head hurts and I go to sleep. 

Fire on the Mountain – Day 60 + 61: Zeroing in Lone Pine

Time off in Lone Pine was the usual – food, resupply, naps. I got my first real intense wave of hiker hunger and no matter how much I ate my brain wanted more. 

The road to Bishop after Kearsarge Pass is currently closed – that’s our next resupply after this Sierra stretch. The group I’m with has resupply there so they’re determined to get there, which could mean up to a 15 mile road walk. No fun. Hopefully the road will open again by the time we get there, as it’s closed right now for potential flooding and damage from the snowmelt. 
I also bumped into Karma and Nirvana in town. It was so good to see them again. 
Right now I’m at a trail angels house with Sole Sister, Co, LiterBit and Diggs. I spent the last two nights at the hostel and had expected we would leave today, but the group thinks we might be better to stay another night because of the high temperatures and high snow melt. Fine with me! And then not even an hour after we decided, we went outside to see a fire on the mountain and learned the road back to the trail and the trail itself has been closed for fire personnel and we would have had to stay anyway.
That said, between some stuff going on with family and not hiking, my anxiety is definitely spiking. I hadn’t even thought about anxiety since I’d been out here because the trail manages it so well. But it’s there, humming. 
If the trail is going to be closed tomorrow, too, we might try to hike Mt Whitney while we wait. I’m a little sad we aren’t on trail today for Hike Naked Day (June 21st.) But the group has mentioned skinny dipping, so maybe I’ll get to be naked in the wilderness anyway. 
Tonight I am grateful for the trail angel who is generously letting more than ten hikers crash in her air conditioned home, and to be with a group, and for hiking, where I can remember to breathe and that all I need is to take one step, then another. 

Getting High – Day 58: Cow Creek Tentsite to 10500′ Tentsite

PCT miles: 719.2 to 735.1
Miles: 15.9

I wake and am on the trail by 6:20. It is still strange to me that in this group I am the earliest riser. I only get a mile or so before my body makes me stop and eat breakfast, half a Biscuits and Gravy Mountain House that Natalie sent me. Still, I am happy to be hungry again. I eat and half heartedly wave away mosquitos and then continue up the climb, the first of the day, which goes to 10,600 feet – the highest I’ve ever been. I feel sleepier than usual and I’m not sure if it was poor sleep, too little food, the altitude, or a head cold coming, but it doesn’t especially slow me down. The group’s goal is Death Canyon Creek for lunch, but I keep finding myself stopping to eat and drink and rest. I reach Gomez Meadow, a short and flat 2 miles from the planned lunch spot, and it is too pretty and I am too tired to pass it up. I lay my Tyvek down and put my feet up. My group passes – “are you just going to stay here?” They ask. No. I’m just going to grab a nap first.
So I do. It’s the perfect temperature and I stay there for about 20 minutes and then I pack up and go. I feel a lot better after the nap and get to the water source quickly and chat with the group – Ko, Sole Sister, Couscous Balls, LiterBit, Fizzy, Whoopie and Thirsty Detour. I make half a package of mashed potatoes for lunch and eat them with bacon bits. These mountains are making me hungry and I make a note to prepare for that in the next section. 

We still have a 2000 foot climb before our planned camp spot at the top of the next mountain at 10,600 feet. I am the second one to leave because I like to get to camp and rest and go to bed earlier than the rest. I am making good progress when I run into Thirsty Detour. We’ve been watching big, fluffy clouds start to get darker all afternoon. 
“It looks like it might rain,” he says. 
“It can rain, just no lightning,” I say.
Rain it does, a steady sprinkle that is honestly super refreshing. I catch some cell service a mile from the top and call my dad to wish him happy Father’s Day and respond to some texts. I’m hoping there might be service at the top, too.
I finish the climb and I should be scouting for a good camp spot for us all but instead I hang out at the ridge and call Mark. The mosquitos are plentiful and Mark is stressed and upset and it is not a good conversation. There is a lot going on at home and I feel both guilty for not being there and glad that, for some of the first months of my life, I am trying not to jump in and save the day. It is also hard to translate the sense I have of the world out here to the problems of the “real” world – the trail rarely lets me worry about more than what is immediately an issue, and back home there are a series of hypothetical possibilities that may present themselves that everyone seems eager to turn over and over. 
I get off the phone and walk around with out my pack trying to find the best view. This isn’t something I normally do – I usually prefer to take the first viable option. Turns out the first viable option was the best view anyway and I set up camp. I’m starting to get a little worried that I’ll be camping alone (Thirst Detour continued on to meet his group and camp near water) – it’s taking them way longer than I imagined, especially Whoopie and Fizzy who are faster than I am and supposedly were leaving right behind me. But then I hear Whoopie and Couscous and eventually the whole gang is there. Couscous finds a great spot to watch the sunset and we bundle up in our rain gear and head nets to try to keep the mosquitos away. This is the strange mercy of the trail – worries about home rambling in my gut but sitting with new friends watching a sunset over a beautiful valley. 

I go back to my tent. My head hurts – is it the altitude, my pack straining my neck, a head cold, stress? I’m not sure. Some of the others cook dinner and chat, but I put in my earplugs and pull my buff over my eyes and wish a goodnight to the world. “Let us know if we’re too loud,” Sole Sister tells me. But I find their company soothing up here on this mountain, and I fall asleep. 

Building a Sierra Tramily – Day 57: Kennedy Meadows Campground to Cow Creek Tentsite

PCT miles: 704.6 to 719.2
Miles: 14.6

I’m the first one of the group on trail at 6am – it sounds like they tend to start between 7 and 730, but I’m slow and afraid they’ll get far ahead and I also prefer the cool morning hours. I wish I was brave enough to get on trail at first morning light, but my brain goes crazy imagining the sleepy animals still wandering the trail so I don’t ever leave that early. And anyway, today I need the extra time because I have to pack my pack differently than I’m used to because of the 2 lb 9 oz bear can I am now carrying for the Sierra. 

The morning is beautiful and I’m walking under the trees next to the river. It’s so pretty that I think: this is like a day hike. My brain has decided that thruhiking is mostly business, rarely pretty, but somehow rewarding anyway. Dayhiking, on the other hand, is usually packed with pretty if lacking other rewards. So, what I mean to say is, the morning was so packed with pretty I could almost forget what I was doing. 

As the morning continued it started getting warm. The trail goes through several burn areas and meadows in this area which means lack of shade. I was sweating hard and happy I didn’t have to worry about carrying too much water since it was so readily accessible in the creek next to me. 

I was in one of these shade-less stretches when I saw the head of a snake in front of me. It didn’t notice me or was still too cold to care and didn’t seem interested in moving. I think it may have been a rattlesnake – the head seemed a little triangular and there seemed to be a diamond pattern on the back – but I couldn’t see its tail. Better safe than sorry, I walked a wide path around it. 

There was a bit of a climb and then the shade of trees and then I walked out into a meadow with a view of snow covered mountains in the distance. I felt so, so lucky and grateful for the change in scenery, for something so beautiful. The desert tends to be stunning at sunrise and sunset, but the in between can be rather harsh and one-tone. Here this meadow was in broad daylight looking as stunning as ever. 

I spotted Co sitting in the shade and joined her and shortly after LiterBit joined us too. We snacked and rested. I am really bad about packing too few snacks for the trail. I have plenty of meals but few things that are easy to grab. I think this every time but I’m still messing it up. 
We continued on, hiking similar paces, for the next few miles until we arrived at the Kern River. I found a shade spot but they found a better one, so after I ate my (big) lunch, I moved my pack to sit with them. They had a pretty view of the river and tons of hikers were there, floating in the water. Megaphone blew up his air mattress and floated which worked surprisingly well. We watched for a few hours before deciding it was too good to pass up and jumped in ourselves. Plus I hadn’t had a shower in 60 miles and it was good to rinse off. 

We’re showing off our armpit hair 

I got on trail first to head to our planned campsite. Again with walking through stunning meadows. It was still warm but not too bad. I got to the campsite quickly and set up and then the rest of the group trickled in. The mosquitos were bad and Whoopie built a fire and we sat on our bear cans, which was remarkably uncomfortable. I went to bed first and was happy to be among a big group of hikers again, their voices drifting in the background. 

Nero at Kennedy Meadows – Day 56: Kennedy Meadows General Store to Kennedy Meadows Campground 

PCT miles: 702 to 704

Miles: 2

I woke up and tried to get my blogs posted while fewer people were on the wifi. Legend was in the parking lot pouring coffee so I chatted with him and some hikers and then Legend drove us down the street to Grumpy Bear’s for breakfast. Grumpy Bear’s has one breakfast option: Eggs, bacon, potatoes, and a massive (“all you can eat”) pancake that was about the size of a medium pizza and about four quarters stacked thick. I barely finished a fourth of my pancake, but the breakfast was delicious. Right down the road from the restaurant is thru-hiking legend Yogi (of Yogi’s PCT guide) and her online (and in her home) gear shop Triple Crown Adventures so I walked over. Yogi and her partner Worldwide were so welcoming and helpful and cheerful. I got a second headlamp (a lot of early morning hiking likely in the Sierra), fuel, a dry bag for my sleeping bag and puffy for the stream crossings and a handful of other stuff. 

I went back to the restaurant where a hiker named Neon was trying to complete the Pancake Challenge – eating a pancake that was about the size of an extra large pizza. I hitched back with Thirsty Detour to the General Store and got my packages from the store – an ice axe and a bear can and food and a headnet. A lot of hikers also got new shoes. I’d told myself I didn’t need them because I’d “only” gotten them in Big Bear – but I’m realizing that was nearly 400 miles ago. Still, they’re holding up okay and I might try to take them to Bishop and have replacements sent there. I’d sent myself some peremethrin and sprayed down my clothes to try to keep the coming mosquitos at bay.
At Kennedy Meadows I tried to talk to several groups I’d hiked with before to see if I could start hiking with them, in preparation for the Sierra. It was a really weird feeling – people have already often established their groups and seemed hesitant to add another person, though they were trying to be polite about it. I saw one guy who seemed to be in a similar position (he hikes faster than me so grouping with him wouldn’t work) get straight up turned down by someone after he asked about joining them. It was a really lonely feeling to realize I was group-less, and I was honestly feeling afraid I might not be able to find a group that goes my speed or near it that would be going to the Sierra.
So I was hemming and hawing about whether to hike out tonight – one group who had seemed willing to hike with me said they were heading out this evening – or tomorrow, when some other people I knew were headed out. I’d basically decided to leave the next day when I saw tonight’s group – LiterBit and Co (and Sole Sister, who was elsewhere packing) – waiting to leave and I decided to grab my pack and join them.
That turned out to be an awesome decision. Sole Sister even seemed a little excited to have me come, which was sweet and a relief from the hesitation I was feeling from other groups. Not to mention, they knew about some trail magic by the trail head, so we all headed there and were fed barbecue, fruit salad, bread, veggies and brownies by hiker Megaphone’s (who I’d never met before) parents. 
From there I hiked out with another girl who was walking with the group, Hikepedia, and we hiked the 2.5 miles to the Kennedy Meadows Campground. It was a beautiful night and dark and we heard strange noises in the distance and I was glad not to be alone. At camp we giggled as camping children in the distance tried to scare each other and would scream. 
The group has shorter days planned for the next three days into towns, which I appreciate because there are some big climbs to 10500 feet. After that we’ll be in Lone Pine for a day or so before going back to trail to tackle Mt Whitney and enter the real (gulp) Sierra. I’m hopeful this will be a good group to hike with.

And Then the Desert Was Over – Day 55: Fox Mill Creek to Kennedy Meadows

PCT Miles: 683.1 to 702.2 (+.7 to the general store)
I have intentions of getting up at first light and setting out, but it’s chilly which makes me slow. Instead Nobody and I head out around 6. We have 19-something miles to cover to get to Kennedy Meadows today and it feels like it’s going to be a warm day. Luckily (and unluckily) much of the day is downhill or flat. Lucky, because hot is easier downhill, unlucky, because miles of downhill (at least six today) is brutal on the feet.
But first there is an uphill, and even with two poles I am not as energetic as I was the day before. It is slow going. At the top, I’m desperate for some shade and I stop. Nobody decides to look for shade a little ahead and I say I’ll catch up – I don’t. Later, he tells me he waited for me 3 separate times and I never caught him. He says my trial name should be Putter, because I just putter along. I don’t hate it, but it reminds me of golf, so I decline.
I do catch him again at the water source, Manter Creek, where yesterday there were reports of a rogue bear. We don’t see a bear, but I’m not able to relax in the way I’d like because the ants are insane. The good news is: my hunger is back, loud and consistent. Mark brought me yogurt covered pretzels and I eat them with enthusiasm with every meal. 
We get hiking again but it’s hot and a burn area and by the time we reach the trees I need another break. It’s like the desert really wants to have one last hurrah. Nobody says he’ll meet me at the water 2 miles ahead but when I get there there’s no shade and I don’t see him and I stop under the first shade I see just off the trail. Later he tells me he waited for me several times again, likely right ahead of where I stopped. Oops!
After the water I stop to quite literally pick my nose and look to see a big snake hiding in the shade. Yikes! But it doesn’t look like a rattler so I take a picture.
And then I hit the 700 mile mark. I missed the 600 mile mark, and 60 miles, but it still feels big.
And then I arrive at Kennedy Meadows. There is a round of applause which makes me happy and I see a group I’d chatted with before, Soul Sister and LiterBit and Ko and they wave me over and I sit and chat with them. They let me know the store is closing so I run inside for a Snapple and a fresh, cold water. The grill is closed which means I have to eat the beans and rice in my food bag for dinner. I find some tortillas in the hiker box and add them to the plan. 
Around 8 I head to my tent and cook dinner. I manage to spill most of the cooked rice on the ground which is a huge bummer, so I cooked some more and added beans and ate and it was actually pretty tasty. I am just happy to be hungry again.
Now I have to figure out when and who with to hit the Sierra. Wish me luck!

Seeking a Sierra Trail Family – Day 54: Spanish Needle Creek to Fox Mill Spring

PCT Miles: 668.7 to 683.1

Miles: 14.4

I wake up this morning and don’t want to get up at all. My motivation is still missing. I look at the map and decide to hike 14.7 miles today, which will let me camp by water, and will only leave me with 18 or 19 miles to Kennedy Meadows. Hopefully the promise of getting to Kennedy Meadows will wake my motivation back up.
I finally get up and walking around 7. I decide to try walking with two poles today – Mark has brought me one from home because I thought I might want both for the Sierra. I’m surprised how not annoying it is to use two (it was super annoying the last time I tried, before I started the PCT) and I feel like they help power me up the climb. 
At the top of the climb I’m hungry, so I sit down for a break and make myself half of a Mountain House meal that my friend Natalie sent me for my birthday. As I’m sitting a hiker who was close behind me the last section of the climb sits down. His name is Nobody, I met him at the water yesterday – he’s section hiking from Tehachapi to Lone Pine. 
“You have a really nice pace,” he says. “Can I hike with you?” I say sure and we chat about the trail. It’s good to have someone to talk to and it gets my head in a better space. Once we get moving I feel pretty sure he’ll want to go faster soon, but instead he keeps pace with me all day, even when I take breaks in the shade shortly after we’d already taken a break. 
We’re 2 miles from water when a south bound hiker tells us there’s trail magic ahead. Sure enough, he’s right. Saunter, a hiker who’d done the trail last year and was looking to do it again but had to stop because of a hurt foot, and another hiker who is off trail named Bethany, had sodas and hot dogs. We sat in the shade and talked about the Sierra and I chatted with a group of hikers I like. 
We stayed there for a few hours, waiting out the heat. Then Nobody and I hiked the last 2 miles to camp. It was warm and uphill and I was quickly drenched in sweat, but I was also moving fast – the two pole thing might be a game changer. At camp I had to take off my shirt and set up in my bra I was so sweaty. I climbed inside my tent and continued to try to cool down. I ate a pop tart and brushed my teeth and then sat with the group I’d chatted with earlier, Bird Dog, Mishap, Keith, Moon Burn, and Clara. Then Moon Burn kicked us out of the space, because it was her tent space, so she could set up camp. It’s 7:45. I’m hoping I can get up early and feel motivated so I can get the 19 miles to Kennedy Meadows done efficiently. 
After that, I don’t really know. I hope to find a group that has some experience and some realistic mileage goals. I found out Twerk has headed north to Redding (his family lives there) to continue hiking north. I should be able to get to Lone Pine no problem. After that is a question mark.