Today was my first full zero. We spent the day lounging around the Lake Isabella RV Park Campground.
Cosmo, Utah Aaron, Sweetfeet, Chopstick, and me. We went for a 1 mile walk to "town", hung out in the air conditioned grocery store, and indulged in vegan ice cream.
Later that night the owner of the RV park let us come into his home to pick out some movies to watch. We chose the seemingly appropriate, A Walk In The Woods, based on the book by Bill Bryson about his journey along the Appalachian Trail. While the movie played, I fell asleep and when I woke up most of my friends has gone back to their tents. It was a slow movie.
We remained in town another day while waiting for Ya Ya who is in Los Angeles taking care of her gear and her swollen knee.
I woke up hot and craving some adventure, there is only so much "relaxation" I can take. We decided to check out a local diner before jumping in the Kern River. After Neldas Diner, our bellies were full of the hashbrowns, sourdough toast and avocado that had once consumed our desert thoughts. We caught a ride up the canyon with Olav, a Danish man who has been living in Lake Isabella. He is passionate about the town and loves sharing his local knowledge with hikers.
The Kern River was flowing high and fast with the latest snow melt, and we sat on its banks wondering how comparable these rapids would be to the crossings in the Sierra. Across the way we found a slower section of the river and spent the afternoon taking dips to escape the heat.
Another slow zero day. I spent most of the morning napping by the Kern River. By mid afternoon Ya Ya returned from Los Angeles, and we slowly made our plans to get back to trail.
The four of us walked to a "hitchable" section of road, put out our thumbs, and waited about an hour before finally getting a ride all the way from Lake Isabella to The Walker Pass Campground.
After 3 full zero days ( "zero" means no trail miles) we woke up at Walker Pass and got back to the trail. Our day started with a climb out of the dry desolate desert and into a more vegetative environment. Trees lined the trail and the massive peaks of the Sierra filled in the landscape around us.
As the day went on, the scenery continued to change. The trail skirted around the canyons within Owens Peak Wilderness, mountains on one side and the 395 highway off in the distance on the other. Around one such canyon the rocky mountains turned to jagged granite spears, a reminder that we have indeed entered the Sierra Nevada mountain range. These mountains are beautiful, majestic, and must be respected. Within this range are some of California's tallest peaks, as well as Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.
Our day went up and down this beautiful landscape. Finally the weather wasn't so hot and we were able to jump back into our "normal" routine, ending the day after 21 miles.
My appetite is coming back to normal. This morning for breakfast I had plantain chips, macadamia nuts, a vegan protein cookie, coffee with coconut oil, and a green powder + crystal light drink combo.
We started our day with an 8 mile descent to water. It's nice when the morning miles fly by. After lunch we climbed 3,000 ft over six miles, maintaining a manageable and gentle grade, as is common on this red carpet of trails.
Along the climb a few day-hikers stopped us to give warning of a forest fire up ahead. We could see smoke in the distance but smelled nothing, and nearby looked safe.
At the top of a nameless pass the view was overtaken by various peaks and the snow-covered summits we would soon be getting into. The snow on Mt. Whitney looked patchy and a little less intimidating than I'd been imagining. Still...only time will tell.
Dinner tonight included a ramen noodle appetizer, split pea soup main course, and a side of pretzels. Yes, my appetite is returning.
Throughout the night we could smell smoke from the fire, but still never saw any flames or signs that it was too close.
Our morning hike was mellow with very little climbing up or down. We spent most of the day hiking through a scenic valley surrounded by large granite rocks that seemed otherworldly.
After a few miles we hit the South Fork of the Kern River, and treated ourselves to an hour of leisure. During this time LA Aaron scurried by us, running down the trail. We yelled for him and he turned around to meet us. Having LA Aaron accompany for the remaining 5 miles to Kennedy Meadows South was a welcomed surprise. I was in much better shape (and spirits) than the last time he saw me.
Kennedy Meadows is infamous on the PCT. For many people it's the last stop before the biggest mountains of the Sierra. It's a place where hikers rest up to prepare, wait for the snow to melt, and (unfortunately) its a place where many people quit the trail altogether. Earlier in the season there were rumors of hundreds of hikers here just waiting for the sierra to be passable. Now there are maybe 20-30 tents scattered around the premises. This place is a vortex.
When I got to the Kennedy Meadows General Store it felt like Christmas. I had three different packages from different people. My dear friend Cari made sure my feet would be okay. One of my best friends, Jeff, shared some of his favorite vegan treats and a card to keep me going. And then there's Danielle and Bill. I met Danielle and Bill when we were volunteering for Comfort Zone Camp, a non profit free camp for kids who have lost a parent or sibling. Danielle and Bill have hearts of gold...and a knack for putting together resupply boxes! One of the KM employees could see a bottle sticking out of my bag and said, "please hurry up and open it so I can see what else is in there!!"
Surrounding the all too nice bottle of Jameson were a variety of vegan treats. All three packages were incredibly thoughtful and contained stuff I didn't already have and was excited to try!
Once all the resupply had been dealt with we headed to Grumpy Bears Cafe/Tavern for air conditioning and French fries.
Over the past few days one of my eyes has become irritated and red, and no one is sure why (it's not pink eye). Having the luxury of LA Aaron around we decided to drive 50 miles to Ridgecrest, the closest town, and pick up a few things at the pharmacy.
It was nice to finally be alone with LA Aaron and to spend quality time catching up with him. Before leaving for trail he was my main ultra running, kale eating, adventure buddy. We had a beautiful sunset drive down a up and down the windy mountain road. Once we reached the bottom of the road we were in the foothills of the Sierra. From down there I could see the scope of this mountain range. Canyon after canyon, jagged rocks, and the highest peaks we've seen so far. The light of the setting sun shone between mountains like a spot light. It was a beautiful evening.
I bought eye wash, redness drops, rewetting drops and tried all the things at once.
Back at the top, at Kennedy Meadows some hikers were sleeping, some sitting around and chatting, and others were down the road at Toms Place watching a movie. Tom is a local with a big screen and projector set up in his backyard for entertaining hikers.
I opted for a quiet evening in my tent. The trail, the length of this journey, it all started to catch up to me. Maybe it's the upcoming challenge of the Sierra, maybe it's exhaustion, but I felt depleted. It was harder than normal for me to say goodbye to LA Aaron (even though I'll see him in two and a half days), it was harder than normal for me to transition back to camp life. I felt a little homesick.
After a good nights rest I felt much better. Sun is shining, hashbrowns have been eaten, and I feel ready to walk.