Day 48 – Thoughts (June 13)

Darrell will be up around 2pm, so I had time to kill in the morning. Checked out the camp area. This place is huge. There are spots between the trees for 100+ tents. I never found the end of the prepared area.

Interestingly, I’d guess there were <75 folks camped here last night. Given all the Sierra anxiety, I bet that a lot are doing the next 50 mile segment, exiting Horseshoe Meadows, and chilling in Lone Pine.

There was a helicopter flying around last night. Heard it pulling a long hover/warm landing. Found out someone had to be rescued due to a fall in the Kern river North of here. The rescue guys are going to be busy this season.

Caught a ride with a bunch of folks to Grumpy’s for breakfast. We lined up and answered the following: Coffee? How do you like your eggs? A gigantic pancake eventually arrived with eggs, hashbrowns, and bacon. Too bad I wasn’t sitting with some vegetarians for some free bacon.

There is a ridiculous pancake eating challenge. One guy tried it. If you can eat this

That Looks Rather Big
Mulling it Over

Then your breakfast is free. Else $20. Last report was that he was halfway through, but slowing down.

Spent the rest of the morning drinking some leftover beer, writing notes for the blog and chit-chatting with Capt Underpants.  I don’t have proof this is the REAL Capt Underpants.    He offered to show me, but I took his word for it. 

How do you Verify if this is the REAL Captain Underpants?

Darrell turned up early and carted my smelly ass back home. He kept offering to setup his portable shower for me. I wonder why.

The Sierra is full of snow. It was nearly a record snowfall and the melt has come late. The snow line is 9k feet right now. Even lower on North facing slopes. Above the snow line it can reach depths of 20 feet or more. Had I been earlier, going in while it was all frozen was an option.  Now with the heat wave coming in, all that snow is going to get rotten. Lot of post holing, unexpected voids near trees and rocks, and unmapped hidden watershed to fall into. Couple that with very high river crossings.

My risk tolerance is pretty high, but this is just too much. I’ve talked with a couple of folks who have done the first 75 miles recently. Almost to the individual, they are now either waiting or bailing North. So it will be for me. Plan is to take a couple weeks off, then hit the trail somewhere above Truckee around July 1st. I’ll come back to the Sierra when misery and injury is a little less likely.

700 miles of hiking. The last segment of ~150 miles was my longest single stretch.  Until now, I was hesitant to call myself a thru-hiker. I think many declare it too early only to bail out after a few hundred miles.

Our numbers have shrunk the further North we have traveled. When I stop to camp now, all I see are hardened backpackers. Some are faster (20-30 milers), some slower (12-20). For various reasons the rest have been filtered out.

Physically, most of us are stiff in the mornings. Sore feet, blisters, weak ankles, tendonitis, leg muscle strains, pulled back muscles, etc. Rising from a long break during the day sometimes takes 5 or 10 minutes for the joints and muscles to start working again. Most of us, especially my age group, walk with a stiff limp around town.

Current events seem so insignificant. Bomb going off somewhere, Trump’s latest tweet, an election in France, some piece of legislation.  This stuff seems trivial.  I have experimented stirring up folks about some political debate. They will engage in debate but frankly there is no passion. I feel weird even attempting it. The things that matter most are the hikers around you, location of the next water/town stop, rumors of trail magic, a funny story, and family and friends in the real world. Beer also seems important to most of us.

We share a some common traits now, but is it a common bond? No. I think that term is used too loosely. More like a common experience and, temporary, outlook. Everyone I have met recently….everyone…is strongly independent. Some need the small confidence boost a group offers, but all have operated alone. If one hiker encounters another in need of help, we stop and offer it. These offers are predicated on the environment we are in….food, water, bandage, or humping some of their pack weight. The rest is on you. SOS to the rescue helicopter is an option, but nobody wants to do that. I believe we are experiencing some of the most basic and positive aspects of humanity in this setting.

One of the guys I was talking to a few days back had a funny story. He asked his buddy “How you feeling?”. His buddy responded: “Well if I felt like this in the real world, I’d be in the hospital.  But out here….I’d say I feel pretty good.”

There is a reason backpacker arrive at Kennedy Meadows store to applause. They are Thru-Hikers.

I am a Thru-Hiker.


Day 47 – The Sierra ! (June 12)

Early rise today. I’m so pumped to get into Kennedy Meadows and end this segment.

Ate a breakfast of “fun size” snickers bars and butterfingers. It would be more “fun” if they were a little bigger. The world needs some cynical marketing. I propose “Starvation Size”.

Found some Tang powder at the bottom of my bag. One of the gals woke up and threw me a melted Kind bar. I’m down to one package of Ramen noodles for the day. At least my pack is a lot lighter.

The girl group was just getting up when I dropped my tent. One of them was playing this goofy song called “Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords. Too much estrogen in this campsite. Packed, strapped, and hit the trail at 6 am.

Go Get It Salty J !

I decided to rack my trekking poles today. Felling more confident in my leg and I want knock down the miles. First thing was a climb from 6.5k to 8k over a couple of miles. Had my music on and was in the zone, trying to keep my pace under control so I making miles but not breaking a sweat. Looked back at my trace and saw I was averaging 3+ mph uphill. Looming starvation is a good motivator.

Somewhere along the way Espresso said “Hi”. Scared the crap out of me. She wanted to pass, then later I caught up with her. We hiked together for 3 hours.

Don’t Start this Desert Shit Again

Espresso is a Corporate over-achiever who used to run a patient survey organization in a large midwestern hospital group. She’s also run 9 (I think) marathons. Was fascinating getting into the business of Medicare/Medical reimbursement incentives (really a penalty) based on patient survey results.

The deal is that a hospital is required to request a patient’s response on a standard set of questions following their discharge. Stuff about attention from the medical staff, pain management (which I think is bullshit), how clearly the medical options were explained, etc. If the annual results fall below some threshold, then the Government claws back 2% of their hospitalization payments.

There are all sorts of strategies they have applied to improve these scores which include time logs requiring hourly visits to the patient and even scripting the words the staff uses with the patient so they more closely match the words in the survey. That one is called “scripting”. Sounded to me like yet another misguided corporate initiative that dehumanizes the way we treat staff and patients. The other side of this is the patient. What if they guy is a meth addict responding to the survey vs a rational law abiding farmer. They each get the same vote, but one is much more likely to be a douchebag. If I was a nurse, I’d hate this system.

It was interesting that she said most dramatic improvement came when they started asking the staff what they needed instead of telling what to say/do. Suggested some interesting reading in a book called “Patients Come Second”. That is going on reading list.

Anyway, we hit a bunch of other topics. She was a great hiking partner. We were both surprised how much mileage we knocked down. Espresso’s wife is driving an RV supporting her as she goes up the trail. They are going to reunite in Lone Pine. Hopefully I’ll run into them some time up the trail.

Landed at Manter Creek around 10 am. 10 miles before 10. Back in the groove. Sat down and made my last meal of Ramen. I just dumped everything I had left in my condiments baggie. Hot sauce, soy sauce, some parmesan packets, and a beef bullion cube. Espresso gave me some kind of squirt bottle flavoring with caffeine. That was a win.

Move It !!

Others started showing up ready to rest for the last segment. Rise and Shine, Snakebite, Cake, Land Mammal, Sinatra, bunch of others. Espresso took of with some of them and I pulled out a few minutes later.

Trail continued to drop after Manter. The highlight of the day was turning a corner and seeing the South Fork of Kern River. Soooooo much water. After drinking out of trickling streams and plastic pipes, this is the finally the real deal.


Hell Ya

Passed Rise, Shine, and Snakebite sitting on a rock. Probably thinking the same thing. A mile later I ran into a gal south bounding. She was from Mammoth and told me about a recent storm that dropped another 4 to 8 inches of snow. Snowing in June.  FML.  My hike is cursed with snow.

Rise, Shine, and Snakebit caught up with me and we hiked together for a while. One of them does promotional work for various equipment brands of which one was Gregory. My backpack is a Gregory and it is rare to see this pack on the PCT since it is designed for heavier loads. She took some pics from behind me. Maybe Salty J’s backside will show up in a promotional brochure some day.

Crossed mile 700! The gals wanted a picture so they just flopped down in the dirt while I took it for them. I got one as well. They all stand up covered in dirt from neck to foot. Then Snakebite walks a couple feet away to pee behind/beside a 2 foot bush while her friends sit back down in the dirt. I’m impressed. Frankly I can’t stand to be that dirty and I’m even a little more modest on my peeing venues. Women are going to dominate the world soon.

A Salty Selfie With 700

I left them and walked the rest of the way to Kennedy Meadows Camp ground. It was so gratifying walking up to the store at 2 PM. Folks there applaud each hiker as they come in. We all know this is a big milestone. Did 21 miles in 8 hours.

What a Sad Sign
Walking up to Kennedy Camp Ground

I ran into Bottom, the German guy I met before Big Bear. He was out on an injury for a while. Got to know him a bit. He was born in East Germany before the wall came down and has since relocated to Munich. I wanted to probe that some more, but I kept getting distracted by his goofy trail stories. What a character.

Met some others I knew, Juniper, Unicorn, Capt Underpants, Murphy’s Law, and others. I bought a couple of 12 packs over course of the day and left them on my table. Cans of beer are friend magnets.

There is no cell service and the internet connection is useless. But plenty of food if you have the coin. Ate several burgers, a bag of chips, a bunch of chocolate, and drank way too many beers. Setup the tent at 9 and just before I went to sleep I checked my InReach for messages. Have a family emergency.

My buddy Darrell offered to pick me up and bring me home tomorrow. I didn’t get much sleep that night….

Day 46 – In Sync Again (June 11)

It is nice to wake among the trees again. First there is the twilight which gets me half awake. Then the birds start their racket. Then the early hiking crowd starts shuffling by. No point trying to sleep through all that.

I left a respectable deposit for the forest before I left.  That should get the ecosystem going.

Zach’s crew left ahead of me.

The terrain is definitely improving. The trail never dips below 5k now. Also the trail is following some rugged mountains with steep drops and lots of exposed granite. It might sound odd, but I can feel the Sierras seeping in. These trails feel more and more like what I’m used to there. The winds can be nasty, but only over the peaks. There is a nice chill in the air. I’m crossing streams that have decent flow, versus the pathetic springs over the last 200 miles. I’m almost home….I can feel it.

Water Stop
I’m Feeling the Sierra

Ran into various hikers on the way up. I am now in sync with a group running for the next logical campground (Fox Mill ). On the way up I ran into Zach’s crew taking an early lunch. Here is a pic of Zach in his ideal resting pose. Face down with his hands tucked into a special warm place.

Zach The Explorer

The highlight today was this exposed ridge line at 676. Coming up to it is fairly protected, but I could tell it was going to be a nasty crossing. Took this video before I got into the exposed section.

Blow Me

The ridge is a saddle between two taller peaks. All the wind is being compressed by a huge valley to the west and then getting pushed up and through through this narrow section. Just looking at the trees, you could tell this place is often a wind tunnel. To the east, it is a straight down drop…so if you get picked up by the wind something bad is going to happen when gravity takes over.

Sure enough, crossing did not disappoint. The wind was a constant 40 mph with nasty gusts of who knows what speed. I was crouched down, leaning west into the wind running from tree to tree trying to time the gusts. Most of the time I had my hands touching the ground scrambling. Cold and scary. Got to the other side and below the worst of the wind I stopped to put on my gloves and warm up.

Others popped out while I was there. We were all coming off an adrenaline high. Shaking either from the cold, the fear, or a combination of both. Wish I could have taken a video of some folks going through.

Anyway, after that it was a pleasant downhill run to Chimney Creek. Zach’s crew was there with Sinatra and a few others. I managed to Yogi some Ramen and a bag of crushed cheeseits from a gal (Monarch) who had food to spare. Sinatra borrowed a couple handfuls of the Cheeseits to spread over a flour tortilla covered in mustard. It seems gross writing about it, but at the time I thought it genius.

After a bit, most of us loaded up and took off. Zach and Seabiscuit stayed to rest for a bit but that rest turned into an overnight stay for them. Last I saw Zach he was face down in his classic resting pose.

Hauled ass up to Fox Mill Spring and joined one of 3 large groups of tents. Sinatra was setup next to me. Finally ran into a gal named Unicorn. Been waiting for weeks to find someone named Unicorn so I could tear off a piece of my unicorn duct tape to stick on his/her pack. Turns out she already had some…..figures.

Unbeknownst to me, the group of tents I parked next to was giggling girlville. Apparently they call themselves the hobo’s and every night someone reads a chapter from Harry Potter to the group. Sinatra volunteered for that and was doing his best to imitate the voices of the characters.  Oh how lame cute.

It was cold, I was tired, and could care less about Harry Potter’s ass. I zipped up and went to sleep to Sinatra’s poor attempt at Dumbledore’s voice.

Did a 20 today. I’m at 683. Tomorrow it is 20 more miles to Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the Sierra !


Day 45 – Reunion (June 10)

Woke to this

The Third Circle

The wind just never stops man. I feel like I’m in one of the circles of Hell. F@#$ this wind. F#$% this desert. I’m sick of all this burned out terrain.

Packed my wet sleeping bag, did all my morning stretches, and bugged out. It was 7 miles to Walker Pass. Most folks hitch into Lake Isabella for a day, but I plan to push through.

For the last 5 days, I’ve been really missing my hiking bubble. While I never really hooked up with a group, I have been hiking among the same group of people. I miss them. Bam Bam, Joe Dirt, Trash Panda, Hiker Daddy, Manny Pack, and all the rest. Not sure what to call this. Bubble-Displacement? Bubble-Envy?

I’ve been checking the trail registers to see how far my group is ahead of me. Started out I was 6 days behind. I’ve been making up some time. If I skip the Isabella stop, I’ll be 4 days back. One positive is that I’ve noticed Bottom (one of my favorite German dudes) is only a few days ahead of me. Maybe I’ll catch them in Kennedy.

Going Down

Anyway, made Walker at 9:30. Trail angels have been busy here. They left us a ton of sodas in ice chests, a dozen loaves of bread (almost expired, who cares), Nutella, and peanut butter. Ran into a nice group of folks hiking together: Land Mammal, Cake, twin girls named Rise and Shine (heh), and Snakebite. Sinatra rolled up to join in. We all hung out together for a couple hours picking through the snacks.

Hikers keep rolling in and there are angels shuttling in more goodies. Donuts!!! Later Land Mammal turns up with pizzas for his group and I manage to yogi a couple slices.

Then my old buddies Zach (Sizzle) and Austin (Seabiscuit) show up! Finally some faces I recognize. We spend some time catching up. They are now hiking with two gals, one Danish and the other Dutch. They are full of stories. One of them is that they took a zero at some town, visited a thrift store and bought a vcr/tv combo + the lord of the rings trilogy on VCR tape for $20. They watched one or two of them, then left the lot at the hotel. Funny dudes.

I’m looking at my meager food bag and finding that I’m running short. Got a couple mountain house meals, some candy bars, a tuna packet, some instant oatmeal, and a single serving of peanut butter to last me for 3 days and 50 miles.

Slim Pickins

Back on the trail around 12:30 for some climbing. 5k to 7.5k over 7 miles. Back up in the trees and mostly protected from the wind. It was a pleasant section.

Seabiscuit and I hiked together for a while. Ran into Jan (a german dude) staring at the owen valley below. Said it reminded him of Germany. Dunno, all I saw was brown misery. Guess the guy is getting homesick.

Wait, Is That Germany?

After that it was back down to 5.5k to Joshua Tree Spring at mile 664. Nice and protected. Plenty of water. Zach’s crew was camped in the heavily wooded area next to the creek.

I threw my pack down in a potential tent site and walked down to chat with the crew. While we were chatting it dawned on me that one gal’s voice was not matching any of the participants. Turns out it was the Dutch girl….she was 30 feet above me in a tree. Hmm… To each their own, I suppose.

Anyway, I climbed back up the hill to setup and saw ants covering my bag. Bad spot. Brushed them off and setup a few hundred yards away by myself. Finally a good night’s sleep.

Day 44 – The Desert, Always the Desert (June 9)

Dusted off the sleeping bag and packed the ground sheet after a couple hours of sleep. Back on the trail at 7:30.

The Wolf Laid Here


This wind just never stops. I really, really hate it. Sand keeps pelting me in the face.

Walking in a Hot Sandbox

The Windy, Sucky, Desert

I ate my last pop tart on the go, then started feeding on a family size bag of peanut M and M’s. Passed a couple hiking together after a little chat. They caught up with me a couple miles later when I was taking a break. Said they have been finding peanut M&M’s on the trail which they were picking up and eating. Turns out I was leaking a slow dribble. 🙂

The Crappy Desert
Nap Time

Woke up around 3:30 for the next segment. Given the boost from last night, I figured I could take down some big miles. Hit the water cache for a reload and ran into Indigo (the tree counting gal) and Kara again. Sinatra was there stocking up on free food. Some other gal rolled up, sat down in the dirt, and stuck her face into a single serving Nutella cup that our trail angel left us.

Looking Back from 6k

Next came a mega climb from 5.3 to 7k over 3 miles. The youngsters passed me on the way up. I’m getting used to that. After this climb I was rewarded with mile after mile of burned out terrain. Used to be a nice forest here. Now it is a bush filled sadness.

Bush Filled Sadness

This wind will just not stop. I got on some dirt road and started scouting for a camp spot around 8pm. Found some hikers cowboying it in a dismal spot. Moved on. By 9 I was getting a little desperate and settled on a spot under a lone tree around mile 642.

Stopped, and started setting up the tent in this nasty wind. Lost a tent stake when the wind tore the tent out of my hand. Finally got it up. Blew up my air matress, pillow, took off shoes, changed into my sleep clothes and buttoned up.

Laying there the wind is relentless. I can hear the tree crackling. For some reason, the wind is whipping around and hitting my tent violently from opposite sides every 30 seconds to a minute. First it blows from the left and the sides deform to hit me in the face. Then the other side which deforms and hits me in the back of the head. Face…Head….Face….Head…. Screw this.

At 10:30 I reversed the whole process. Deflate the mattress, pillow, change back into hiking clothes, put on my shoes. Take the tent down, put on my puffy, look around for my missing tent stake (never found), pack everything up into my bag, throw a rock at a couple kangaroo mice who I have decided to blame for this mess. I turned my tracker back on and started walking.

Left the dirt road and got back on the trail. I was stumbling around, super tired. Finally I got on the East side of a hill which was blocking some of the wind. Kept looking for spots, but nothing good. Around midnight I finally found a narrow spot that was semi-level between some bushes. Threw down my ground sheet, pad, and fell asleep in my bag.

I figure I’m camping around mile 645. That makes it a ~20 mile day, so I guess that’s good. I need to get back into sync tomorrow. Will this desert shit ever end?