This post was originally penned a week ago. I'm now standing atop Mt. Whitney watching the sunrise at 14,505' the highest point in the lower 48 and only cell service for miles. More on that later.
The temperature was in the 90s, there was no shade for miles and I hadn't seen a cloud in a week.
The next water stop was forty-four miles down the trail, unless the water cache set up by some trail angels 20 miles in still had water. 120 gallons was reportedly there 5 days prior.
Unlike some others hikers, I'd planned to not rely on the cached water, but in order to do so I had to ration my 8 liter capacity over two days and those 44 miles of scorching heat.
As I approached the cache around 7pm I was tired and thirsty. 24 miles hiked through temps in the 90s and absolutely no shade. It was hot. Damn hot. I was thirsty. Damn thirsty.
I passed three hikers going the other direction - back the way we'd all come. The cache was empty. They had relied on it to provide a much needed refill and when it turned up dry they had to hike back 10 miles each way in the dark to a spring that was two miles off the trail.
I had about 3 liters of water left to hike the next 21 miles to a cistern at a USFS campground that would almost assuredly have water. The strategy that worked in the heart of the Mojave desert would be tried again - the 3am departure to beat the heat.
Hiking that early in the morning is quite peaceful. I liked to play a game with myself as I kept my eyes peeled in the 6' lit diameter of my headlamp: Stick, Shadow or Snake.
The shadows were always the scariest cuz they appeared to be moving as my light bounced along the terrain. Tonight there would be no snakes.
The best part of early morning hiking is watching the unfolding of a desert sunrise and this one timed out perfectly as I topped out after a long climb.
But after that all I could think of was slowly rationing my water and favoring each small sip by rolling it around in my mouth in an attempt to get the most out of every drop.
This was the terrain...
And this is what still lie ahead...
After trudging along at a sluggish 2mph pace the magic happened. As I approached the camp where the cistern was supposed to be located, I heard some clapping. It started out slow and then it grew. It was a slow clap, the mark of other hikers welcoming me to the trail magic of pop-up party tents (shade!), chairs and food!
It was glorious. A 10-yr old kid came up to me with an ice cold can of Pepsi. Despite not caring for sugared soda for the past few years I chugged that can in under 5 seconds. So good.
These are the wonderful folks who provided me with 4 meals, water, Gatorade and a wonderful rest spot...
Fast forward two more days of desert hiking as I approach Kennedy Meadows which marks the end of the desert and the start of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Hold the phone...
Could it be...real actual flowing water?
I haven't seen real water in 250 miles.
Hallelujah! A river!
Felt sooooo good to soak my feet in the cold water of the Kern River.
A few miles later I arrived at Kennedy Meadows and their General Store where 30 hikers greeted me with another slow clap.
And here is The Grumpy Bear Saloon down the road where a bunch of us had breakfast...
...and drinks later that night.
War stories are flowing. Beer is flowing. Gonna take a full day off here to do laundry, take a shower and rest up my feet.
The Thrill of Vic-toe-ry
When last we spoke about my feet I was battling through blisters. Thanks to some suggestions I crafted a solution that's been working for a week so far. First, I got Vaseline to rub into the balls of my feet in order to ease the friction. Then I got a pair of compression socks to use as liners. Vaseline + 2 pair of socks is doing the trick. My feet are still getting tired and sore after 20+ mile days, but overall they're in very good shape. Rest days are also helping a lot.