May 13, 2018
The next day, I put in my earbuds and happily blasted music into my ears as I climbed up and over an unnamed pass. The trail was well maintained and open, and the sky was overcast, so I made good time in the moderate heat. At one point my trekking pole brushed swiftly against the thin reeds of a dead, dried-up plant, and the sound it made was like the sudden, angry rattle of a snake! I gave a little cry of shock and jumped back, nearly tumbling over the side of the trail and down the ravine. Once I realized what had happened, and once my heart rate slowed back down a bit, I hiked on.
When I got down off the mountain, I was rewarded with a beautiful little stream of clear running water surrounded by a wide expanse of flat, sandy tent sites. This must have been where Sparky and Ghosthiker had camped last night. I decided to take a break here to eat some breakfast and then hike on. While I cammeled up on water and ate some snacks, who should appear but Gently Used and Breaker! I hadn’t seen them since Warner Springs! We sat chatting for a bit, but I’d already been there for a while so I told them I’d see them in a few hours and headed off toward Kennedy Meadows.
This was where the terrain suddenly (finally) began to change. As soon as I’d come off the mountain there seemed to be more greenery everywhere. There were familiar desert shrubs but they were becoming fewer and eventually started disappearing altogether, replaced quite suddenly by pine trees! I actually have a photo of the trail disappearing into a forest of tall pines, leaving the desert sands in its wake. It was like something out of a C.S. Lewis book. I took a commemorative photo of a very tiny cactus that was trying desperately to grow amid the pines.
“Sorry little buddy,” I said rather unsympathetically, “You don’t belong here!”
I’d made it to the Sierra Nevada at last.
I was so excited and encouraged by this change that I completely missed the turnoff for the road to Grumpy Bears and ended up hiking another 4ish miles to Sherman Pass Road. Thankfully, it only took me a few minutes to catch a ride with a local who was heading to Grumpy Bears. He was a local to Kennedy Meadows and lead climbing teams up in the mountains, and we chatted about that on the way to Grumpy Bears. I wish I could remember his name. I’m rubbish with names.
In Kennedy Meadows there are two places you can go: The general store or Grumpy Bears. Both have space for camping and good food. I wasn’t sure exactly where Sparky and Ghosthiker would be, but it sounded like more people were going to Grumpy Bears than the general store so I opted to go there.
When I arrived I found Oats outside packing up her tent in the wide, flat space next to the parking area. She greeted me warmly and said she’d just seen Sparky and Ghosthiker, but she wasn’t sure where they were now. I decided to try the restaurant. The front porch was full of hikers and abandoned packs and gear, so I assumed I was headed in the right direction. When I entered and peered around a corner, an entire table of hikers cheered when they saw me. It was like being a rockstar! I knew them all and was ecstatic to see that so many of my friends had made it to Kennedy Meadows.
One hiker I didn’t recognize jumped up from her seat to greet me.
“It’s me, Heather!” She exclaimed in her thick Australian accent.
Heather! My friend from Facebook who I never thought I’d actually get to meet! I think we actually hugged on the spot. I was anxious to chat with her, but I heard someone call my name and saw Sparky and Ghosthiker sitting at the bar with a pizza, so I told Heather (AKA River) we’d need to catch up later. I didn’t want to pull her away from her group and there was a pizza calling my name at the bar! We were both camping there that night anyway.
Sparky and Ghosthiker were so happy to see me, it was kind of a relief. A small part of me had started to worry that maybe they were getting a little tired of my slowness. On the contrary, they felt terrible for leaving me behind. They handed me a slice of pizza, which I gratefully accepted.
While we sat chatting and catching up (after a day, haha!), Ghosthiker’s face suddenly lit up and she pointed at the door. I turned to see a tall, dark-haired hiker with an impressive beard just entering the restaurant. I didn’t recognize him and felt bad. Should I have?
Ghosthiker put a hand on my shoulder and whispered excitedly, “That’s Darwin!”
“Is it?” I had no idea.
Apparently, Darwin is a famous hiker who has completed several thru-hikes and has a very successful YouTube channel called Darwin on the Trail. I knew him by reputation but I’d never watched any of his videos. In an effort to prepare for my hike, I’d concentrated my YouTube time on Homemade Wanderlust, a channel owned and operated by another famous hiker named Dixie. I’d wanted to get a good female perspective on long-distance hiking, and since I didn’t have time to watch two full sets of PCT vlogs, I opted for Dixie’s because I figured it’d be more relatable. She was also my age, which helped.
Ghosthiker, meanwhile, was fangirling pretty hard. She’d had a chance to meet Darwin earlier that day and so was perfectly comfortable waving him over to us so I could meet him. He was a pretty cool guy, very laid back. Ghosthiker insisted on taking a picture of the two of us and Darwin pointed at me like I was the famous one in the shot. This was classic Darwin behavior, I came to learn.
When we were done with a few beers and the pizza, my trail family and I walked across the road to Triple Crown Outfitters, a great little store run by a fantastic hiker named Yogi, who knew exactly what thru-hikers were going to need for the upcoming trek through the Sierra. We made our purchases and headed back to Grumpy Bears to set up camp. I spied a large stump and set up my tent up right next to it so I’d have somewhere to sit other than the ground. Once my tent was up, the first thing I did was pull out my food bag. I was starving. Naturally, as I sat there stuffing my face, who should walk up to finish packing up her things but Oats! She took one look at me with my mouth full of tuna salad bagel and started laughing.
“You’re always eating!” She said, laughing.
“I’m always hungry!”
She used my phone and took a few photos of me, for posterity. She hiked out shortly after that, but not without looking back at me and laughing again. It was a good-natured laugh, and I loved her smile.
They have showers and laundry at Grumpy Bears for $3 each, but it was only two days to Lone Pine, so I decided to hold off on doing laundry. Beside me, a fellow hiker and his wife were gathering their things to start a load and they graciously let me toss in a few socks. I decided to forego a shower as well. It had only been a few days since my last shower and I could wait a few days more. I needed to start cutting back costs as much as possible and I was getting pretty good at tent bathing.
I’d been hoping to contact my family while I was in Kennedy Meadows, but the WiFi costs $10 for a day, so I opted to use my Garmin and send a quick text to my mom. I totally understand why they charge for internet usage, though. I’d heard from other hikers that even with the cost, it was pretty slow because there were so many hikers using it. I figured one less hiker connected would leave more bandwidth for others.
I opted to cook my own dinner and eat in my tent rather than go up and eat at the restaurant. I felt pretty guilty about it because they were letting us camp on their property for free, but I had more than enough food to get me to Lone Pine and was eager to lighten my load any way I could. That, and my budget. I decided I’d make it up to them by heading up later to have a beer and mingle with other hikers. At first, we sat in the restaurant or at the bar, and I moved from group to group, so happy to see so many familiar faces in one place. Sparky and Ghosthiker retired to their tents fairly early, around 6 or 7pm, and I was just starting to think that was a good idea.
“Well, I guess it’s bed time,” I was saying.
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s beer time.” Piss Puff said, laughing, and she and 4am convinced me to stay. The whole place had the feeling of a low-key celebration all day and showed no signs of dying down anytime soon. We decided to take the party out onto the patio.
We gathered around a little bonfire that had been set outside. There was a DJ playing music and we enjoyed some beer, wine, and excellent conversation. There was also some dancing when certain songs came on, but nothing crazy, mostly just people grooving in their chairs.
When it got too cold, I bid them all a “for real this time” goodnight and retreated to my tent. They tried to entice me to stay with wine but it didn’t work. I wanted to stay, but my eyes were becoming heavy and I was having trouble following conversations, so I knew it was time for sleep.
I could tell the celebrating wasn’t going to let up anytime soon so once I was ready for sleep I put in my earplugs and popped a melatonin just for good measure. It was imperative that I get a solid nights’ sleep, for tomorrow we’d be hiking out and into the mountains.