The nice thing about skipping the southernmost 450 miles of the trail is that I get just enough time in the desert to get a good understanding of what desert hiking is like and how to approach it but not so much that I get bored with it. Ah, but I didn’t leave off with hiking, did I? I had just fallen asleep in town.
I woke up at a reasonably early hour in my motel room, unwilling to emerge from cover thanks to the efficacy of the swamp cooler. So I just got up and turned it off.
As soon as I had myself put together enough to go out, I walked across the highway to Dam Korner Cafe (the other side of Dick Weed’s, where breakfast is served) and had two full glasses of orange juice with my breakfast. Then back to the motel to pack up. Check-out was 11am, but I left at 10 because I had errands to run. The lady who operated the motel let me leave my pack in her office.
I had three goals for the day, the first of which was straightforward: pick up my package at the post office, get my new maps out, and bounce it forward. The second was to get access to a computer to put more audiobooks on my mp3 player. Unfortunately, the library was closed and the motel didn’t have one.
So I decided to continue with my third goal: to catch the bus to Kernville to have lunch at the Kern River Brewery. The motel lady gave me and my pack a lift to the bus stop, where I waited 20 minutes past the posted time without an arrival. So I called the bus company. They informed me that that route was no longer operating, but they could schedule me via dial-a-ride. Turns out the next bus that could take me to Kernville wouldn’t go for most of an hour, and the only one that could get me back in time to catch the bus to the trail would leave as soon as I arrived. So I gave up on the lunch in Kernville idea. This is how life works when you go to rural towns without a car–no such thing as Uber out that way.
So back to goal 2: walk through town looking for a computer. Strangely enough, the same company that screwed me out of a brewery visit solved my computer problem for me. A man who worked in the local office for the bus company offered to let me come inside and use his computer. I thought it would not take long, but their internet was so slow that I ended up staying over an hour downloading using my phone’s LTE then transferring to the mp3 player using the computer. The two guys that worked there were really chill and the work was light, so they chatted with me about everything from diet and exercise to current events while I waited on the downloads.
Finally, just before 4, I thanked them and left to return to Dick Weed’s for my last town food and a parting beer. One of the waitresses was the same that had served me breakfast. I had 3 pork sliders and half an order of fried green beans–even the appetizer portions were way too big–so that I was busting at the seams when I walked back to the bus stop just before the bus to Walker Pass left.
The bus driver clearly wanted to be a race car driver because I tried to work on my last blog post only to very rapidly become motion sick as she tried to throw me from my seat around every turn. I gave up and spent the rest of the trip staring at the horizon, gripping the edge of the seat, and breathing deeply. I was grateful when she finally dropped me off, and spent the next few minutes just sitting on the roadside and breathing.
I hit the trail around 6 with a plan to hike up the hill and camp at the campsite 4 miles in, at which I expected to arrive around the middle of civil twilight. 3.5 miles in, the huge lunch I’d stuffed myself with on the way out decided it needed some more room in my intestines, so my arrival at the campsite as soon as possible became an emergency. I barely managed to hold on long enough to reach the spot and dig the hole. (Yes, Jimmy, I know, but this event is actually significant.) A couple of minutes later, I had finished, cleaned myself up and was about to put my shorts back on when a pair of headlamps came spinning into the campsite.
“Hello?” I called.
“Hi there,” one answered.
So I hurried to put my shorts back on and go introduce myself more properly to the main other dramatis personae of this post: Benroy and his wife Segolene. He was from all over, including Japan, Washington, Texas, and, most recently, St. Louis. She was from France. Following her passing the bar and his quitting his job, they decided to head off on a string of adventures, the most recent of which would be a large section of the PCT. It was their very first night out. We both made dinner and camp. I offered them each a wedge of one of the limes I packed out and we traded apple cider for hot chocolate. Total distance: 4 miles
Looked like it would be a hot day so we all got up as early as we could to do the 7 miles to the first available water source. After filling up, I went down to Joshua Tree Spring to have a bath in the water trough. About 2 feet deep, 3 feet wide, and 25 feet long, it was perfect for a private skinny dipping soak on a hot day. Just me and the water skimmers. Best idea I had that day. (The worst was leaving and hiking on just as the day was reaching its hottest.)
It was so hot (110 in the sun, so I am told) that I decided to stop at the bottom of the next hill for a snack and a siesta under a Joshua Tree. Around 3, wanting to make it to my intended campsite before dark, I climbed the hill to find B&S hiding in the shade of a bush at the top. Just beyond them was another rattlesnake, this one more peaceful.
B&S caught up to me again at the next creek 5 miles on where I was having a late lunch and had already finished collecting water. Told them I was planning to camp at the next tentsite and left them to finish their collection. Walked another 1.3 miles, found the spot big enough for just one tent, set up, cooked, went to bed. B&S woke me when they came through an hour or two after dark, paused, then continued up the hill. Total distance: 14 miles
I got up as soon as I woke up the next morning, hoping for an early start for what would be a very hot day, and the first 3 miles was a hill climb I very much wanted to do while the sun was on the other side of the hill. I succeeded. I left camp just after 6 and reached the top of the climb by 7:30. I continued around the ridge 4 miles before stopping for lunch. Another 4 miles downhill to the next water source, Chimney Creek, caught me up to B&S who had already finished with their collection. Also, there had been a man who came by to pay Hiker Taxi signs and handed out Bud Lights. Benroy had saved me one. I squeezed one of my limes into it and drank it with my feet in the creek. B&S apologized for waking me–explained they didn’t make camp until midnight the night before, but felt very accomplished with their nearly 17 mile day/night. For this reason, I will now refer to them as the Midnight Crew, or MC for short. After I did my collection and MC left, took my shorts off and took a seat in the creek and scrubbed my legs, then just lay in the water with my shirt on and everything, both on my front and back.
Caught up with MC at the next spring. They had eaten so I stopped to eat too. I figured I had enough water still and skipped collecting any more. Intended to hike on with B&S for another 3 miles or so, but couldn’t keep up with them, started losing my balance (not dizzy, just random balance), found a random flat spot way off the trail and made camp. Total distance: 14 miles
Got up early and out. I had almost run out of water making dinner and such the night before and it was nearly 10 miles to the next water source (all downhill thankfully). Blew right past MC’s campsite and cruised into Manter Creek by noon, having hiked the last three miles completely dry. Had already eaten lunch (including a lime, of course), bathed, and collected water by the time MC showed up. Turns out Segolene had twisted her foot, so they would spend the next several hours at the creek deciding whether to hike on.
It was just a few miles down to South Fork Kern River and I was eager to get there quickly. I found an easy access about a half mile up from where the trail started following it, which turned out to have a nice, deep hole for a dip. So I stripped and plunged into the cold water and chilled for an hour or so. Then I collected some water, ate some lunch and hiked on.
A few miles later, the trail passed an even better section of the trail for swimming: a beaver pond! So I stopped for another hour long swim.
Finally, I got moving and got to the shortcut to Grumpy Bear’s Retreat and sent a text for a ride as soon as I found a shady spot. I must have gotten the wrong number because I never got a reply. Around 6:30, I decided to start walking again, and just as I got to the main road, Wayne drove by in his truck looking for people like me and gave me a ride in. I got in at 7, just as the restaurant was closing, but that was no problem because I still had some food (as the previous section had been shorter than expected).
Taylor was already sitting in front of Triple Crown Outfitters trying to download maps on the slow satellite wifi. He had camped at Manter Creek the night before and arrived before me and already set up a tent. I made dinner and chatted with him. There was a scale there and I weighed in as 20 pounds lighter than when I started. I didn’t believe it, but someone later confirmed the scale’s accuracy. Then I found it alarming. I do have the weight to lose, but 20 pounds in three weeks would seem to indicate I should be eating more. It’s just hard to want to eat most things in that dry heat. A signal to mix up my food options.
Eventually, MC arrived as well, having delayed a long time at Manter Creek owing to Segolene having injured her foot and their considering spending the day there to recover. We all set up tents around TCO as well and then toured the area around Grumpy Bear’s as the sun set to locate the shower and bathroom. I ended the evening with a hot tea and a lot of rearranging of gear, ready to hit the ground running on acquiring permits during my zero day. Total distance on trail: 17 miles
I woke up at sunrise and went over to Grumpy Bear’s to plug in my devices. My main concern was figuring out how to get permits for the next section. Much floundering was done on the web looking for information and no conclusions were reached.
At 8, Grumpy Bear’s opened, and it was time for a Hiker Breakfast. The eggs weren’t great, but the pancakes were truly cake sized. Or pan sized. They were all-you-can-eat pancakes, and for any normal person, all you can eat is two.
Then came showering (one at a time–MC went first) and laundry (free at Grumpy Bear’s including soap).
Finally, TCO opened at 10 and I got my shopping done. Got some sun gloves. Got some new shoes and socks that would clear up my blistering issues over the course of the next week. And even got information from Yogi about which permits I would need.
Several more hikers arrived in the afternoon, including Jeff, who was taking a trail vacation when his wife arrived that night, and who was having eating issues because he seemed to be losing weight he didn’t have to lose. Meanwhile, I ordered a small case of beer and ice to put in a bucket and carry up to TCO to share with the other hikers while we passed the hot part of the day under the awning.
A trail angel from Ridgecrest (Paula?) brought in some hikers and later took me over to the General Store, which didn’t seem to have much to offer compared to Grumpy Bear’s or TCO, but I got a turkey wrap there for lunch. When she drove me back to Grumpy Bear’s, MC had a pizza they’d just been gifted and offered a slice. I took it, of course, even though I’d just eaten, and ordered a margarita on the rocks to sip while I uploaded pictures for this blog.
Later, just before they closed the kitchen, I ordered a half dozen chicken wings for dinner. The whole restaurant closed soon after and the hikers moved onto the deck. After my blog post was posted, Taylor and I moved back to TCO to continue finishing off my bucket. When the darkness had fully settled, we started getting ready for bed, leaving one beer in the bucket for the next day.
I went to bed with no permits as yet and still no idea about how to continue my hike. Everyone else had PCTA long distance permits and would certainly be leaving the next day. Taylor said I should just hike on and risk it without a permit. Yogi said the rangers had been known to turn hikers around and make them walk back to Kennedy Meadows for having no permit. So, needless to say, I was buzzed but uneasy as I went to sleep around 11pm.