Kennedy Meadows. The end of the desert. A magical place that marks the beginning of “the Sierras” as we all call them. When you arrive at Kennedy Meadows an entire porch of hikers gives you a standing ovation. No, I’m serious, everyone cheers for you as you walk in, and the later in the day that you arrive, the more raucous the applause gets as more and more beers are consumed.
We arrived at Kennedy Meadows very early in the morning. We had camped a mere four miles out next to the South Fork of the Kern River. It was the first real river we had seen… Well, I think in the entire desert. But it is hard to remember. Regardless, it seemed like a godsend at the end of another twenty two mile day through hot dry hills. It was dinner time when we arrived and we knew the store at Kennedy Meadows closed at 5pm, so rather than head into a closed store and no hot food, we decided to spend one more night out and hit Kennedy Meadows in the morning when they opened. We had a lovely dip in the river and slept soundly. The four miles in the morning chugged on by, each of us having to stop to take a poop. Finally, we were turning onto the road, and walking in to applause and joining the ranks of probably fifty other thruhikers that were currently camped outside the general store, waiting for it to open. We planned on staying the night and heading out in the morning, plus there was a restaurant down the way called Grumpy Bears that ran a shuttle and served all you can eat pancakes, along with a side of bacon, potatoes, and two eggs. We had to get in on that.
As we milled about we recognized no one. That has been part of our lives lately, moving through bubbles of people that we have never met before, while our bubble lags a day or so behind. Thanks to the night hiking. Once the store opened people rushed in. Kennedy Meadows seems a little overwhelmed with the number of hikers they are having to service these days. A couple runs the operation there, the wife is very close to having a baby, their young son is emptying trash cans twice his size, and the husband is busy finding packages all day long. In order to receive your mail drop you add your name to a list and then check back in regularly to see if they have put it out yet. We added ours to the list, we were expecting boxes with food in them and another one with our warm clothes, bears cans, crampons, and ice axes. We also got greedy and bought snacks, unsure of when the next shuttle to Grumpy Bears would arrive, and were thwarted when it arrived immediately upon finishing two bags of chips, a muffin a piece, and a banana dipped in peanut butter. Significantly less hungry but never one to pass up AYCE anything we hopped in the back of the truck anyway. When we arrived we discovered two of the girls we have been hiking around sprawled out at a table, surrounded by the biggest half eaten pancakes I have ever seen. They were attempting to accomplish things on the extremely slow wifi, but had been waiting hours for one page to load and were near giving up. We got our food and joined them, working out a plan for the next couple of days that had us getting into Independence after six days of hiking. We also used the limited internet to do useful things like look up the NATO alphabet so we could fill in the gaps that were plaguing us while we hiked. Eventually the kid driving the shuttle announced it was leaving soon for Kennedy Meadows so we jumped aboard, ready to get our packages and get to organizing our food so we could head out in the morning.
When we got back our two boxes containing food had been placed out in the store, but the box containing our extra gear was no where to be seen. Getting a little worried I managed to weasel my way back to where the mail was sorted and the box was no where to be seen. Then I got very worried. Kennedy Meadows has no cell phone service of any kind, so Kyle and I had to get back on the shuttle to Grumpy Bears and use their wifi and a phone with a calling card to get in touch with my mom. She supplied us with the tracking number and got on the phone with USPS, who could tell her nothing more than when the package had shipped. When we tracked the package USPS claimed it should be arriving that very day. Mission somewhat accomplished we had to wait another hour to get back to Kennedy Meadows. When we arrived there was still no package and the man who deals with all the mail informed me that all the different carriers had already delivered for the day. Pardon my French, but fuck. He told me that I was lucky it was shipped USPS because they did deliver on Saturdays (the next day) and they usually delivered somewhere between 12pm and 2pm. I was delighted to hear that USPS delivered on Saturdays, because that meant we wouldn’t have to wait around until Monday, but a potential 2pm delivery meant we needed to change our plans. We had planned on doing a twenty mile day out of Kennedy Meadows but with such a late start that wouldn’t be possible. Back to the drawing board, which eventually resulted in a plan that got us to Independence one day later.
With nothing to do and our early start thwarted we proceeded to drink beer and eat burgers with Leah and Robin until the point at which we all needed headlamps. As we were heading to bed I could see that someone was still working in the store, mopping the floors, which broke my heart for some reason. Such a long day to help so many people, I hope the are making a killing off of us.
The next morning I actually got up and took a shower, something I had failed to do the day before because they only have a certain amount of water available per day and the first time I got in the shower line it was too long and I was too antsy, and the second time I went to check the water was off. We had managed to get our laundry done the day before, which was apparently a miracle considering some people had had their name on the laundry list for two days. You also had to make sure you filled up your water early or the water spigot would slow to a trickle and then a drip. You also had to be careful which portapotty you used, some of the urinals were overflowing, something I hadn’t seen yet. People had been up late screaming and shouting in the giant teepee located by the bathroom, so not a lot of people were awake when we got up that morning. Wes packed up our stuff and headed down to the porch to wait for the USPS truck. We were ready to get the heck out of Kennedy Meadows, it was too crowded. Our bubble began to arrive that day, and it was lovely to see so many familiar faces, including Michael, someone who we started with but had gotten off trail for a week due to family matters. We milled around, until finally, at 11am, it became apparent that the USPS truck had come and gone. We started checking for our packages every couple of minutes, making sure that our names were still on the lists. The two packages we had forwarded from Onyx arrived and that was when I knew our big package wasn’t going to make it. We were in panic mode.
We had two options, stay at Kennedy Meadows the rest of Saturday, all of Sunday, and Monday until the post arrived or buy bear cans from the store and say screw it to the rest of our gear. Most people we knew were heading into the mountains without crampons and ice axes, and we had an okay amount of clothing layers to begin with. Luckily for us a hot spell was about to hit anyway. The biggest bummer was our bear cans, especially ours which we spent an arm and a leg on because it is the lightest one on the market for its size. In the end none of us could stomach another two days of sitting around, plus the potential risk of the package not arriving on Monday either. We had to get out of there. So we went on a very painful shopping spree at the store, packed up our now very heavy packs and got the heck out of dodge.
Once we left Kennedy Meadows we felt immediately better, but the feeling was short lived. We only planned on doing seven miles that night, but adjusting to so much new weight in our packs was hard, and we were definitely all grumpy bears. We spent the hike discussing names for our bear cans, possible options included Lil’ Shit, and Fart Eater. When Cameron’s bear can made a bid for freedom and fell off the bottom of his pack about a half a mile out from camp, he carried it the rest of the way and played it like a drum, earning it the name Bongo. Mine is a half size can, so I settled on Short Stack, and Kyle stuck with his original choice: Lil’ Shit. When we finally arrived at camp we spent some time kicking them around, just to get some aggression out. I won myself an imaginary PCT patch by fixing Cameron’s broken zipper on his tent and Kyle fell asleep on the first page of his book. First night out of the desert: check.