Day 2.29-35: Learning To Fly

Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows
Mile 566.4 – Mile 702.4

“A soul in tension that’s learning to fly, condition grounded but determined to try” –Pink Floyd

The segment of the PCT between Tehachapi and Kennedy Meadows presents hikers with a final exam of sorts before entering the Sierra. The trail runs some 136 miles through remote hills and desert with no nearby towns, scant network coverage, and the scarcest water of the entire trail. Most people plan to tackle it without resupply which means carrying a week’s worth of food for the first time.

Many calories crammed here before the test

So it was with a heavy pack that I prepared to leave the comforts of Tehachapi. As my luck would have it, I ran into MudFoots, SafetyChute, YourHighness, and MilkShake all gorging themselves at the hotel’s free breakfast buffet. MudFoots was giving MilkShake a ride back to the trailhead and offered me a ride too. I powered through an embarrassing amount of food and we were soon on our way back to the trail.
I was not looking forward to the climb that starts immediately after the trail crosses Highway 58 but falling into step with MilkShake, we proceeded to have the most uplifting conversation! She graduated from Missouri State two years ago, had never been further west than Texas, works with troubled teens, and hiked the Appalachian Trail southbound last year. Between all the shared stories and her way of speaking that reminded me of my Kayla Bear, the uphill failed to register as hardship.

Tilting at more windmills

Itend to eat on the go so after MilkShake stopped for lunch, I was back to my lonesome for the walk to first water source, Golden Oak Spring roughly 12 miles ahead.
As I have started to do whenever possible, I loaded up with extra water for my camp shower and continued on several more miles before stopping for the night amid yet another wind farm. By now, making and breaking camp have become second nature and I enjoy the efficient routine of it all. An economy of motion with everything in its place and all tasks completed in turn satisfies me. Having everything I need to be safe and comfortable (and nothing more) provides a sense of well-being. Life has become very simple.

Tent life selfie by request

Easy to remember these

Clouds obscured most of the next morning and I was challenged again to remember the trail I had walked less than a year ago. I recalled bits and pieces, the 600 mile mark, where Santa’s Helper was doing magic, the stream where I collected water, where I camped, but last year’s heat must have addled me a bit because other parts were vague at best. The relative cool weather has held and I was able to cruise through what can be very challenging piece of trail though I went a good 24+ hours without seeing another soul.

Peaceful solitudeThe only instruction, follow these

A month in to my hike I have also noticed the sun rising earlier each day. My practice of rising when the sky begins to lighten means I’m walking earlier and consequently longer each day. If nothing else, it makes for good progress.
One of the last desert stretches starts with a trail register at a place called Kelso Road. I remember it well because it was there I started tracking SilverFox last year. As an early riser I am often the first to sign in the morning but suddenly there was someone named SilverFox signed there before me and a fresh set of footprints leading away. It took me a day and a half to track him down finally at the aptly named Walker Pass where he was munching gleaned bakery items someone had left for hikers. “Let me see your shoes… SilverFox I presume?” (Shout out to Campbell River, BC!)

Not much shade or water to be found

This year I wandered into a deserted Walker Pass Campground that thankfully held plenty of cached water and less exciting, a loaf of days old bread. SkunkBear and Sashay soon joined me and just as I regaling them with the tale of last year’s delicious stale donuts, a white pickup truck rolled up and we heard a friendly hail of “Anyone hungry?”

Carlos, Ann, me, and Mike

Carlos, Ann, and Mike had driven up from Bakersfield and set a new high bar when it comes to trail magic. Dropping the truck’s tailgate, a flood of deliciousness came forth- coolers full of soda and beer, chips, Mike’s homemade smoked beef with all the fixings, baked potatoes, cantaloupe, rice crispie treats, candy- it was heaven on wheels. I enjoyed visiting with them and answering questions about the trail. Carlos and Ann were making noises like they too may someday make their way to Campo for a trek north. Should that happen, they can be assured their large karmic credit balance with the hiking community will serve them well. They were anxious to meet more hikers and I assured them more were on their way. Lady MeowMeow, GoodKarma and two more angels from nearby Lake Isabella soon joined and the party was well underway with more hikers arriving by the time I said my goodbyes around noon. I had about 50 miles left in the exam, about two and a half days, that included a fair bit of up and down before I could declare Southern California complete.

Carry water! (it says below this sign)

The rewards of climbing
You can’t hear them but the wildflowers were cheering

Suffice it to say the trail asked its questions and I answered as best I could. Armed with notes cribbed from last year, Momma’s whispered help, the encouragement of the wildflowers, and a terrific run of weather, it almost felt liked cheating. I flew through the last days and landed in Kennedy Meadows.

A proctor for my examEnd of the beginning!

I plan to take a zero day to prepare and plan my return to the Sierra. After last year’s disappointment, I am super stoked to have another chance (and ‘I’m not throwin’ away my shot!’)If all goes well, the next leg will be a ~10 day jaunt, about 190 miles without resupply, and include a summit of Mount Whitney. I won’t be able to post anything for maybe two weeks so don’t be alarmed at a lack of updates. The ‘Where’s Johnny’ tracking will continue to provide real-time progress.
The Sierra are calling and I must go!

12 Replies to “Day 2.29-35: Learning To Fly”

  1. Way to go brother!!! Your turbo ways of smashing through tough terrain should bode well for you on the next segment! I am excited to hear about the trail conditions as you head up high, and I know I will wait patiently until you can post again. I saw that a few groups headed out north several days ago… maybe you will get some recent recon before you leave Kennedy Meadows. I do see that there have been people on top of Whitney… so there you go!! I wish I could join.

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  2. I’ll be waiting to see the Mount Whitney summit photo! With the requisite pose by the stone shelter of course. And I can’t help but think that some of the trail magic you encounter is your karmic reward for so much unselfish generosity over the years. It is only because I was the recipient of such a gift that I caught the Hamilton reference in your post. Very apropos.

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  3. In your youth there was a song. It had to do with a wall. On the wall were many, then fewer, then none at all. You sang it well as we traversed southern Canada in our Chevelle Station Wagon with the woodgrained panels and the orange tarp covering cargo on top. Just don’t sing yourself thirsty on the dry trail. Safe travel, son. Love, Dad

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    1. I recall singing that song several times through… there was a lot of passing it around… don’t recall any drinking though…😉 I think that was for you at the end of the day. I remember that car well

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  4. Love the big smiles, John! Thanks. The line that caught me, after hearing of your many conversations with trail folk and their unique names…. “24+ hours and didn’t see a single soul.” My image of the trail must’ve had more people than your real life! Sounds peaceful, soulful, vast…

    Beautiful pictures. Appreciating your simple satisfactions and sense of well-being with you. I’m really thankful for your smooth journey so far. Almost “cheating” huh? You have walked hundreds o miles, and “cheating” comes to mind? Wow. I’m surprised! I’ve never followed someone on the PCT. I’m still in huge awe of your determination and stamina.

    I also read your final entry from last year. All you’ve learned is helping make the steps lighter too, wise man.

    Cheering from the bleachers,
    Chris

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  5. Hey there AppleJack. Really enjoying your PCT ver2 account. Be safe in the mountains and enjoy the relative snow free bliss that we missed last year.

    SilvetFox

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