This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
I have an awful first day in Tehachapi. But, as always, my trail family is there for me. We resupply and hang out drinking beer and wine. One day stretches in to two, and we leave to slack pack the eight miles between the two highways leading to Tehachapi. I only take a litre of water and my phone, feeling reckless without a backpack.
Then we are back in town, burning another day waiting for a friend’s package. We’re about to head out of town when we hear about a wildfire burning on the trail between Walker Pass and Kennedy Meadows. Guess we’re staying for another day. The next day, the news is good- they are reevaluating the closure and will make an announcement that night. We decide to head out. It’s a long climb, but I’m happy to be back on the trail. Within the first few feet of elevation gain I feel lighter than I have in days. We camp nestled under some trees, stars winking between the branches. It’s a push to a water source the next day - a game we will play for several days. We siesta hard there. Shake’nBake and I leave before most other people, itchy to be on the trail as always. Then, after a mile or so, my left foot slips off the trail. My ankle rolls and I go down hard. I sit for a second, then get up. No pain - good. My first real fall on the trail and it only took six weeks. We eat dinner and push on without our friends as the sun sets and we turn our head lamps on. We are walking through a creepy burn and Shake’nBake is a jumpy night hiker. He sees movement, when nothing is there, then eyes in a log. Then, almost casually, he says “But that is something!” Yellow green eyes look up at us from 100 ft off trail, and as we shine our lights down, we can see a dun yellow shape. It is utterly uninterested in us, so we sneak past. Later, two separate groups of people will tell us they saw it, and it was definitely a mountain lion. In the morning, I roll over and my ankle shrieks at me. Great, it’s going to be one of those days. Walking funny on my ankle gives me foot pain, and then I am so slow. We miss the water and have to back track, and then trail magic too. I collapse at the campsite exhausted. Only 17 miles but one of my hardest days on the trail. And then we are in a 45 mile waterless stretch. There’s rumors of caches, but I don’t want to rely on them. With eight litres of water and six days of food, my bag must weigh 40 pounds. We hike starting at 4 am and it is so hot by 10. We shade hop as best we can, then the shade runs out. This is the desert we’ve been expecting and fearing since the start. It’s 22 miles to a cache, where I grab a few litres and lay down to sleep under the Joshua trees. And then we are running for Walker Pass and the end of the waterless stretch. We see Coppertone’s white van coming down a hill and I am so busy focussing on trying to make sure he is there that I walk inches from a rattlesnake. He sticks his tongue out at me, but doesn’t even bother to rattle. The next day is hot. We climb up, then drop down, then up again. Coming down to water, I see a sleepy rattlesnake lying across the trail. There is no way to get around him. Shake’nBake is less then ten minutes behind me and I decide to wait and see if the snake will move. He doesn’t. We shake our trekking poles and spit water at him. He doesn’t care. We’re about to give up and go rock climbing to get around, when Storyteller comes along, grabs a pole and deftly flips the snake off the trail. Later, I am by the water eating dinner with Storyteller and the new bubble we are in. I hear Shake’nBake talking to someone or himself. Then, a ferocious rattle and “Guys, I seem to have pissed off a rattlesnake…” Storyteller doesn’t even hesitate, grabbing one of my poles and going to the rescue. And then we are climbing again, to camp on a ridge top. Then we drop down to Chimney Creek. The recent wildfire is evident, with trees painted red by retardant next to the burn area. We climb up through an old burn, and across the top of a hillside, when the landscape changes. The desert gives way to true mountains, spaced apart by green meadows. A river rushes past. And then, Kennedy Meadows. That famed place we have heard so much about. After 702 miles, it marks the start of the Sierra and a new adventure.