Thursday, June 12, 2008

They Finally Make it to Kennedy Meadows

(Ben and Rosie arrived a Kennedy Meadows yesterday, the last stop before heading up into the Sierras. Kennedy Meadows marks the end of the desert, 700 miles into their hike to Canada. Here is the first part of Ben's massive Pocketmail journal entry. Most of what he is describing happened several weeks ago).

So that night at Hikertown we slept amongst shelves of old World War II hats, fuzzy Russian bombardier hats, old sheets, and a plethora of old Thrift Store clothes probably once used as props in various movies. It definitely felt like the actor's closet that time forgot. We woke up and said goodbye to the curiously intriguing sites of Hikertown into the winds of a desert filled with incredible Joshua Trees. So, we were off onto the famed aqueduct. Basically it was 20 miles of a flat, almost perfectly straight road walk that traversed the major supply of Los Angeles' water as it ran off the Sierras and was pumped to the suburban, congested metropolis south of us. As I mentioned before, this section was the subject of many a hiker story. In fact, this was supposed to be one of the hardest, hottest sections of trail, which could only be walked by night because that was the only time it was cool enough to pass through the desert safely without risking heat stroke. I recall, even, seeing a picture of some hikers (who had been brave enough to hike it under the full blazing afternoon sun) taking a mid-day nap under the only meager shade available for many miles: a small cement box that was raised above the aqueduct to allow access to the water system. For the small band of shade no bigger than a foot that the box provided, those guys were just plain desperate! Fortunately, everything we had seen and heard about the hot aqueduct walk was totally turned upside down as we sauntered along during a cold front in 70-degree temps with a nice breeze! There was even a guy who drove along on his day off and handed out cold sodas. I suppose he did that thinking that that stretch was going to be hotter than it was. So thank God for the unusual grace. We may very well have been the most spoiled, comfortable hikers to have ever crossed that aqueduct! As we passed the aqueduct and stepped off the flat road back onto the trail, it felt good to get back on a narrow path again. Somehow, walking on a road just feels a little unnatural and its nice to get back into what feels like wilderness again. So we walked along some rolling windswept hills and then bunkered down for a night in a teeny nook of the mountain where the wind wasn't beating us too much. Though the cold front brought with it cooler weather, it also brought pounding 60 mph winds - winds that we'd find over the next week were often hard to walk in as our bodies braced against them to try to maintain our balance without getting blown around like wind sails. So we got up from our niche in the valley the next morn, and from there walked into a mind-blowing section of the trail. Now we knew that the first 700 miles of the trail was desert. But up until this moment the desert had at least had some cactus blooms or Joshua trees or yucca - signs that even in a dry climate that received less than 10 inches of rain a year still gave some hints of green and life around us. But that morning we were walking through an entirely brown landscape. We walked over and through giant sand dunes that had traces of dead, twisted wood lying around that had been burnt and bleached by the hot sun. With not a single trace of green, this was a desolate place that felt like we were walking on an endlessly rolling beach, but there was no water or sea to be found anywhere around us. Only sultry, hot sand. The only trace of life in this area was the mountain bike tracks that ran willy-nilly across the PCT every now and again. Apparently these sand dunes were a playground for dirt bikes that plummeted down the mountainside. In fact, because the dirt bike trails cris-crossed the PCT so many times it was hard to distinguish the actual footpath at times, except that one could see the faint footprints in the loose sand. For this reason we actually came upon a girl who was hiking a section of the PCT and she had been lost for the last 4 or 5 hours all around the dunes. She had spent that morning wondering around the desert, confused and unable to find the trail after she had accidentally taken a path that was not the PCT and had aimlessly walked some 10 miles across these sandy mountains. It was very understandable that she could've gotten a bit turned around because there were no trees or rocks here and the whole place was just a vast expanse of desert that looked exactly the same. This was truly divine providence that we saw our lost friend, Quill. First of all, we had spent a good deal of the day playing around in the san dunes. This was unlike any other thing we'd ever seen and we spent a good deal of time taking photos, writing and drawing in the sand, and taking lots of breaks and naps on the soft sand. So because we spent a lot of time lollygagging around all our friends we were hiking with had gotten several hours behind us. This meant that they had all gotten ahead of Quill, although they thought she was ahead of them. You see, Quill had left camp first that morning trying to get a head start. But when she got lost off the trail all her hiking partners had unknowingly gotten ahead of her. In fact, when they got to the road to hitch into town, there was no sign of Quill and, as we later found out, had called Search And Rescue to go out and find her in the desert expanse. So had we not been taking it slow that day we would have never found Quill wondering near the PCT without even knowing that she was so close to the trail. Literally, had it been 2 minutes earlier or later, Rose and I would have never seen her.

No comments: