Miles 685.6 – 702.2
We all woke up with a little pep in our step on this day, because today we would be arriving in Kennedy Meadows (KM) . . a very special place for a thru-hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail. KM signifies that you have officially hiked the entire desert section, all 702 miles of it and you are about to embark upon the most challenging yet exciting portion of the trail, the Sierra Mountains. Seventeen miles to go and we’ll be hanging out on the KM General Store’s porch around dozens of hikers drinking icy beers and eating burgers.
The day was pretty mellow, a short climb to the top of Chimney Peak followed by a long downhill that leads you to Manter Creek. On our way down we ran across a man who looked to be in his 70’s, he warned us of a bear that had been stalking hikers around where the trail crosses the creek. We didn’t think much of it and continued on. Once we got to the crossing, Lt. Dan and I saw that we were about a mile ahead of the rest of our group, so we dropped our packs and decided to relax and wait. Lt. Dan walked around a tree and out of sight for reasons unbeknownst to me, and I needed to take a leak so I went around a different tree. As I was relieving myself I heard a rustle in the bushes near the trail – I figured it was our group and casually glanced over my left shoulder, real quick . . it was a bear. I looked forward not having registered what I had just seen and instantly did a double take back to the bear and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Bear!” “BEAR!!!” This average sized black bear could not be less intimidated by the sight of humans as it walked from one end of the campsite to the other, peering at us through the trees and waiting for the perfect time to get at our packs and into our food supply. This definitely wasn’t his first rodeo. After a few hundred pictures and some laughs we continued on.
I decided that I wanted to hike the remaining nine miles into KM by myself. I had been dreaming of the moment I’d be walking into this iconic spot, and in all of these fantasies I was alone. I pushed on at a pretty quick pace, losing my group within a few minutes. Just about two miles before arriving I decided to stop and eat a quick snack sitting in the shade on some medium-sized boulders right alongside the South Fork Kern River at mile 698.2. As I was eating and staring off into this roaring river a rattlesnake casually came out from the rocks I was sitting on, just about three feet to my left. I had counted that this rattler was the 20th one I had come across on the trail to date. To say I was sick of them would be a vast understatement.
If you are unaware of the Kennedy Meadows tradition it goes like this: Every hiker sitting up on the porch must applaud and cheer on incoming hikers. It’s a right of passage having gone the seven hundred miles through the hot desert landscape, you’ve now earned not only the cooler climate and extreme beauty that the Sierra has to offer but mainly you’ve gained the respect of your peers. It felt really good to know that all of these people, most of whom I had never met, were cheering me on as I walked up that day. A feeling I can’t remember having felt in my previous thirty years of life.
That night we drank plentiful, we ate til we could not eat any longer, and I think each of us realized that we weren’t just existing. We were living. We were breathing in that divine air no longer asking existential questions about our roles in life.