June 1, 2022
Campsite on the South Fork of the Kern River at mile 698.3 to Kennedy Meadows at mile 702.2
We talk about it for weeks and months. For so long we say, “When we get to Kennedy…” and “At Kennedy Meadows we will…” For days in the desert we fantasize about the gateway to the Sierras, we fear long food carries, we worry about snow and elevation and water crossings. In the imaginary book that is the PCT, Kennedy is the end of Part 1 and the start of Part 2. Kennedy is to the PCT as Harpers Ferry is to the AT—not in terms of mileage or terrain, per se, but in terms of hushed awe, the feeling of really Getting Somewhere, when the trail starts to feel real.
Catless, DLT, and I don’t wake up early. Nothing opens until 9 anyway, so we don’t see the point in rushing to Kennedy Meadows. Instead, we take a long time getting up (me especially, as usual). We eat breakfast (me in my sleeping bag, getting oatmeal all over it like the creature I am), pack up, and say gooodbye to this most beautiful river and campsite: our last in the desert.
It’s not a long walk this morning. We take it slow. There are vestiges of desert all around us: sand, rocks, cacti, scrub brush. But ahead, all is huge towering mountain. We go over a few small climbs and drop down. In a field by a barbed wire fence, we pass the 700 mile marker. This is a famous one because it means we are almost at mile 702: Kennedy Meadows and the Sierras. We take photos, and then when the Belgians and Christopher roll up, we take a mega-photo with them. The energy is so high. There’s so much excitement and anticipation. We’re doing it! We’re so close to those mountains!
But first, Kennedy. We walk the two more miles to the road crossing, then turn right and walk towards the General Store. DLT is very excited about the tradition of people applauding for hikers as they come into the parking lot, and we are all savoring the thought of breakfast. We take a photo with the green Kennedy Meadows road sign, then before long, we are arriving at the General Store. Sure enough, a wave of clapping and cheering erupts as we walk up. It feels so surreal. We made it out of the desert!
Honestly, the General Store is… not that impressive. I’m surprised how wiped out their stock is. There’s a huge line, and the guy working the register is so over it, he barely talks to anyone as they come up. I get it. They’re understaffed, and there are tons of hikers this year. It would not be the most fun job in the world. But it’s a little surprising considering how legendary this stop is. I buy a Pepsi (because they didn’t have coke), a coffee, and a fruit cup. There’s not really any breakfast being offered, and DLT goes from sad-hungry to cranky-hungry in a matter of minutes. We decide immediately to take the shuttle down the road to Grumpy Bear’s Retreat, the only other lodging-slash-food option in this valley. It takes a long time, though, and DLT saltily eats peanut butter right out of the container while we wait.
The line at Grumpy’s is equally long, and we have missed breakfast. By the time we get through line, it’s lunch time. I get a double cheeseburger and a beer and then go outside and sit with Petra. She pulled a 30-miler and then a 31-miler to get here yesterday morning, for some reason. She’s excited because she was given a PCT class of 2022 patch by a hiker who makes them, and she sits and sews on the patch while we wait for our lunch.
After lunch, we do various phone-based tasks, then try to go to Triple Crown Outfitters next door, but there are so many people waiting to go into the tiny store that they say the wait will probably be over an hour. I check the tracking on my two boxes and realize that they’re both at the General Store, so we catch the shuttle back there. I pick up my packages, which contain my ice axe, packed bear can, and, as an extremely exciting bonus, a container of homemade oatmeal raisin cookies and a sweet card from my mom! I’m so thrilled. I tear into the cookies immediately and smile when I read the card. Ah, a little bit of home here in the middle of nowhere.
I realized after we resupplied in Ridgecrest that I would be in the Sierras for my birthday on June 8. On the AT, I bought birthday decorations for my tramily, both of whom had birthdays within a week of mine, and I’d wanted to get some kind of hat or crown or badge or something that I could wear on my birthday this year. I forgot to get something there, though, so now that I have two hours until the next shuttle gets here, I decide to get a little crafty and make one. I try to use the boxes, but the cardboard is too thick. Then I have the idea to take all the ditched Sawyer Squeeze bags from the hiker box, cut them up, and tape them together into a crown. Then I cut it so that it has peaks and write on a piece of paper “IT IS MY BIRTHDAY,” all caps, with a period, Dwight Schrute-style. I am extremely pleased with my work. As an added bonus, there’s also some Mardi Gras beads in the box. Heck yeah. Now I’m ready to turn 29 in the mountains.
After I complete my arts and crafts project, I have a few moments left over until the shuttle, so I go down to the Two Foot Adventures popup. It’s so cool! There are two Airstream trailers turned into the most perfect little gear shop. I get a few goodies that I need and some that I don’t. Then I go back to DLT and Catless and we get in line for the shuttle. We have to pile in, which is very uncomfortable because I didn’t have time to pee and I very much need to, but we make it back to Grumpy’s safely enough.
Once there, we finally see Andy for the first time today. I give him a big hug, then feel bad because I haven’t showered yet. Gross. Then DLT, Catless, and I set up our tents in the campground behind the buildings. It’s not ideal; it’s dusty and far away from everything, but it’s free. Then I take a shower, which might be one of the best showers on the trail because the temperature is perfect and the water pressure is choice and there are SO many bottles of nice body wash. I feel like a new person after that. Then we put our clothes into the wash, which is also free, and get in line for dinner, which takes forever. Queues are just the way of things here at Kennedy.
I get a medium Hawaiian pizza that I can’t finish, but luckily, DLT is a human garbage can, and he helps me out. I accidentally knock half a pint of beer all over Spice and her fanny pack that contains her passport, wallet, and notebook (so sorry, Spice). Later Catless orders a margarita pitcher and we all proceed to get very wobbly. I go to the bathroom, and when I get out, only DLT is still there. We walk back to the campground, following the little lights lining the path. I’m clean and sleepy and it feels like magic when I lay down on my thermarest. Kennedy Meadows. I can’t believe we’re here.