May 14, 2018
I woke around 3:00am to a strange sound that was muffled by my earplugs, so I took them out. Coyotes! They were howling and yipping back and forth to each other somewhere not very far from Grumpy Bears. I lay there listening for quite some, awed by the beautiful sound until I eventually fell back asleep. I didn’t wake up again until 5:30am.
The restaurant wouldn’t open for breakfast until 8:00am, so it was a nice, slow morning. I made coffee with some added chai latte mix and one of the little packs of coconut oil (Thanks, Mom!) and just sat in my tent enjoying the rich, creamy caffeine. After that, I went about the business of organizing my things a little more in-depth in preparation for the Sierra. I did lots of good stretches, bandaged up my feet where necessary, and waited until the sun hit my tent before I climbed out.
Everyone had ice and heavy condensation on their tents, including me. It had been dripping on me all morning and I’d been wiping it off with a bandana. Now I removed the tent fly and hung it over a bush to dry in the sun and laid my sleeping quilt on top of my tent to do the same since the bottom portion had gotten damp in the night. Because I’m so tall and my tent is so tiny, there are only a few inches of space on either end once I lay down. Until that point, I hadn’t had to worry much about condensation getting in because the desert was so dry. Over the next few nights I’d learn that in order to keep my quilt dry at night, I’d need to sleep with my head basically touching the top of my tent, leaving lots of space between the end of my sleeping quilt and the end of my tent. I also needed to lay more in the center of the tent to try and keep my quilt from touching the tent walls. It was a trial, but I made it work.
There was a line of hikers waiting outside the restaurant by the time they finally opened the doors at 8:00am. Sparky, Ghosthiker, and I were among the first ones inside and immediately lined up at the counter to order the Hiker Special: two eggs cooked to order, bacon, hash browns, coffee, and all-you-can-eat pancakes! Earlier that morning I’d found an enormous, partially used jar of extra crunchy Jiff peanut butter in one of the hiker boxes. The previous owner had obviously been using his or her finger to scoop out the peanut buttery goodness, but that didn’t stop me from scooping that tainted layer off and into a trash can so I could use the rest. Like I said, it was an extra-large jar and when I’d finished scooping out the “used” top layer I still had half a jar of peanut butter left! When my pancake came, it was so big it hung over the sides of the plate, and I covered it with a very generous layer of my nice, clean peanut butter. It was absolutely delicious. I ate the whole thing.
During breakfast, two hikers named Sporty Bastard and Carmen San Diego sat with us. Carmen San Diego and I discovered that we are both named after Sarah Jane Smith from classic Doctor Who! Not only that, but one of the Aussie girls’ names was Sarah Jayne, and apparently Ninja Fabrics’ name is Sarah, too! The poor waitress had a hard time finding the right Sarah to give food to!
While eating breakfast, we discussed our options for the coming weeks. A storm had recently rolled through the Sierra Nevada, covering it in fresh snow and freezing temperatures, so we decided we were going to hike as far as Lone Pine and then probably rent a car and take a week off to let the snow melt and harden a little. Microspikes and an ice ax are pretty useless if the snow is too fresh. Sparky thought it’d be fun to go to Disney or something, sort of like a vacation from the trail. A Trailcation!
“Well, as long as we’re renting a car, why don’t we go south and pick up the miles we missed?” I suggested. We all had little sections that we’d skipped for one reason or another. Mine was the 32 miles from Hikertown to Tehachapi. Ghosthiker’s face lit up.
“Trooper, that’s brilliant!”
“Hey, why didn’t we think of that before?” Sparky said, equally enthusiastic about the idea.
I was pretty proud of myself for thinking up such a great scheme until it suddenly dawned on me that I’d just lost my chance to finally go to Disney. Idiot.
We finished breakfast and started packing up our gear. Up until that point I’d been sporting a very bright pair of Dirty Girl gaiters, white with bright red cherries, and during the last several days I’d been pulling them over the heel of my shoe because there was no velcro there to hold them in place. Now they were destroyed, so I reluctantly put them in the trash and bought a new pair at Triple Crown Outfitters. These were just flat black. I didn’t really like any of the other options and I figured black would match the rest of my hiking clothes better anyway. I also picked up a pack of tenacious tape for my tent and down gear, just in case.
Yogi gave us a ride to Sherman Pass road and we were back on the trail by 11:30am – a super-late start for us, but that was OK. We were all so pent up with excitement about finally being in the Sierra that we made pretty good time. We hiked 4.5 miles along the South Fork Kern River, which felt like the first real river we’d encountered on this hike and not just a tiny desert creek. It was wide and flat and pretty clear. Just a small sign of things to come! I was giddy with joy the whole day.
We took a break at a large wooden bridge that crossed the S.F. Kern and then it was mostly uphill from there. We’d hoped to cover 15 miles but we only covered about 11 by 5:00pm and it was starting to sprinkle. We’d just come to a nice 5-tent campsite near Crag Creek at mile 712.7. It was an excellent site with lots of tree coverage and flat tent spots covered in thick blankets of pine needles, so we decided to stop.
My shoes had been serving me really well but I was starting to feel pain and fatigue earlier in the day in areas not related to blisters, more like the joints and muscles being strained by a lack of cushioning and arch support. It’s always something, I thought wryly. Oh well, these poor tennis shoes were not designed for this kind of activity, and yet they’d carried me quite a ways with no trouble, and I was grateful for that.
We cooked and ate our dinner together in a little circle and then Ghosthiker and I hung our food bags. Sparky had already picked up his bear can. It had started sprinkling toward the end of dinner so we quickly did our evening chores and crawled into our tents, shivering.
Welcome to The Sierra Nevada!