Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Kennedy Meadows, Mile 697, May 30

Kennedy Meadows - You would not believe how hard it was to put our packs back on our backs and turn our sights back to the trail. We had taken 48 hours off the trail and gone into Bakersfield (where Scott lived for most of his life) to visit with some friends. After sleeping in a bed for two nights, having a couple of showers each, getting into clean clothes, and generally slipping back into a "normal" life for two days, it was difficult to leave it behind.

The return to the trail was made even harder by the knowledge that we probably had a 24-mile segment before we reached our first water source. Weather forecasts had been calling for a warming trend (although they were still tolerable, in the mid 80's) and we knew that we would be having a dry camp our first night out and would thus need extra water. Our water report indicated that there was a 16 gallon cache at Highway 58, about 8 miles into the segment, but that news was a month old. Thirty-two thirsty hikers passing through ahead of us could have easily polished that off. So, to be on the safe side, we loaded our packs with eight liters of water each, seven days worth of food (our longest leg to date) and we looked at each other with dread in our eyes as we prepared to pick up our heavy packs.

Ah, but we get ahead of ourselves. We last left off, sitting comfortably in Bakersfield, enjoying the comforts of Rob and Jana's home while they were off working. It was our first day off and we had spent much of the morning pouring over the computer (one of us on our handheld, while the other worked on Rob's) catching up on emails, journals, and financial matters. (The good news was that somebody had sent us an email saying that they had found our lost guidebook map from the last segment. We were thrilled. As it turned out, Rachel had left it in the restaurant, where she hitched for water, and somebody who was working in the kitchen found it sitting on the bar. He managed to contact us because Rachel had happened to talk to a customer sitting out on the patio, and she had given him our web page address. As he said in his email, perhaps we just weren't meant to lose it.) The mail had been delivered and our re-supply box was not with it. That just added to the list of things that we would have to attend to before heading back to the trail the following day.

By early afternoon we were ready to venture out of the house to run a few errands, so we grabbed Rob and Jana's bikes out of the garage and headed into town (what at trip it was to move so quickly! 15 miles per hour, rather than 20 miles a day, and it felt to good to use a different set of muscles). We had to drop Rachel's hiking boots off at the cobblers, as the stitching has come undone on one of them (we tried to find a Lowa retailer in town so that she could take them back and get a new pair, but to our dismay, not one of the sporting good stores in town carried Lowa shoes). After, we were on a quest to find somewhere good for lunch (what self-respecting hiker wouldn't want a good meal out at every and any possible opportunity?) and then we had to go to the library so that we could borrow the PCT guidebook so that we could photocopy the next section of the trail that would have been in our re-supply box, had it arrived. As you can probably imagine, we had a bit of a hard time borrowing the guidebook, as we did not have a California address to put on the library card application. The man at the checkout went off to check with his supervisor to see if he could issue us a card with a Canadian driver's license. Then, when we explained our situation to the supervisor, she just checked the book out for us on her own card. It was very nice of her, and we thanked her profusely.

With the guidebook in hand, we headed back to Rob and Jana's where we began to sort through our float box and respond to more emails, while we were waiting for them to return from work. When Rob got home, he prepared us a delicious meal of baked salmon, served with mushrooms and bot choy. It was really tasty and true to our form, there was nothing left by the time dinner was finished. After supper, it was time to get busy again. Rob drove us to Trader Joe's and the grocery store, so that we could purchase food for the next segment of the trail, while he went to work to photo copy the relevant sections of the guidebook. He met us back at the grocery store where we were finishing up our shopping. (The customers in the line behind us at that checkout thought that we were junk-food junkies until they heard WHY we were buying 28 candy bars, a box of pop-tarts, cookies and other goodies.) By the time it was all done, we had spent over $100. Let's hope that the postal service doesn't let us down like t hat again. From now on, everything will be sent priority mail.

By the time we got back to the house it was nearing 10 PM.. We sat down on the living room floor with our groceries spread around us and began to de-package and re-package: cold cereal into zip-lock bags with some powdered milk; couscous out of the box and into a zip-lock; tortellini out of it's bag and packaged with the soup mix that it will be served with; and then the candy bars, Kool Aid, and other goodies distributed between the two of us. The whole time that we were going through this process, Rob and Jana sat by, watching in amazement at how we managed to get five grocery bags worth of food into three stuff sacks. Despite reducing the overall packaging, we still groaned at the size and weight of our bags. This would be our longest leg yet; a bad time to not get our supplies.

At last it was time for bed - much later than our usual bedtime, but it was good to see friends and have the opportunity to spend some time with them.

The next morning we managed to sleep in until 8 AM (which pleased Rachel greatly). We woke up with a start, as we were being picked up by another friend of Scott's to go out for breakfast at 8:30. We quickly showered and dressed and then went to wait in the front room. Louie arrived right on time and, after sharing greetings with Rob, we were off. We went to Carroll's restaurant and were met by the rest of the Bakersfield Chevron Geophysics Department (Bill). The four of us had a great breakfast. Scott caught up on all the gossip in the Bakersfield Petroleum industry, and Louie and Bill heard many details about our hike. Bill seemed a little envious of our trip, but Louie readily admitted that his idea of "roughing it" is staying at a Motel 6.

After breakfast it was time to say our good-byes and head back to Rob and Jana's so that we could finish packing, which brings us back to that look we were giving each other: the thought of putting those packs on our backs with 8 liters of water (about 16 lbs.) and 7 days of food was not a pleasant one. Nonetheless, we loaded our packs into the back of Rob's truck, and we headed out to run some last-minute errands and return to the trail. First we stopped to pick up Rachel's hiking shoes, then to the Post Office to mail our float box a couple of stops ahead to Red's Meadow, and a second box home with Rachel's old trekking pole (now that she has a pair of Leki Super Makalus), then to the mini-mart and finally to Jack-in-the-Box for a greasy burger and fries before heading up the hill to Tehachapi.

We pulled into the dirt parking lot where the PCT crosses the Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road and we unloaded our gear. It wasn't too late to change our mind and head back down to Bakersfield with Rob and Jana, but we managed to overcome the temptation and at last we pulled on our heavy packs and ventured across the road to the resumption of the trail. We started across the dry, dusty grasslands dotted with sagebrush, and made our way up a hillside headed towards another large wind-turbine facility. Each time we reached a summit, there was another one to follow. We climbed slowly, suffering under the weight of our packs and lamenting the lack of wind in this area that is renowned for the wind. We stopped every couple of miles to take a short break, shove another candy bar into our mouths, and then push on. At last we reached the ridge and enjoyed sweeping panoramas over Cameron Canyon to the west, the Mojave desert to the east and south, and then Highway 58 and the beginning of the Sierras to the north. We gradually made our way down the dusty trail and descended to Cameron Road, which we walked along for 1.3 miles to the overpass over Highway 58. From there we began a mile-long segment of trail that paralleled the highway and as we walked along, we were amazed at how many vehicles drove by, honking and waving, cheering us on in their own way.

After veering away from the road a little bit, we began to search for a camp spot. It was another three miles, and a 1700-foot climb to the good camp spot mentioned on the guidebook, but as we had already done 9.8 miles and it was almost 7 PM. We had to look for something closer. We eventually picked a spot right up against a 10 foot high flood control berm which would provide us a little shelter should the wind pick up. We bunked down for the night under the light of a Gibbons moon and listened to the whirl of the wind turbines from across the pass.

Darkness fell upon us only briefly between the setting of the moon and the rising of the sun, and then all of a sudden it was 5 AM. and time to get up. It was a warm morning, so we packed up camp and hit the trail before 6 AM, as we had that climb ahead of us and we wanted to make the most of the cool temperatures. Despite our early start, we didn't manage to beat the heat. There was no breeze to keep us cool (go figure, and we are in Tehachapi) as we climbed through the sagebrush and scrubby junipers to the wide open ridge. We climbed and climbed until we had gained about 2000 feet and then we finally began to descend to another ridge line and more wind turbines converting wind power into electricity. It was in that portion of the trail, up on the ridgeline, that Scott saw our first deer leap across the trail. Unfortunately Rachel's view was obstructed and she didn't get to see our first glimpse of game.

We made our way across the maze of access roads leading to the wind farm. This was the newest wind farm constructed, about 12 trail miles away from Tehachapi. We stopped for a quick break at the first row of turbines and surveyed the map. It was just after noon and we had hiked 11.5 miles (not bad for a morning's work) and we decided to stop for lunch another 3.5 miles down the trail at Golden Oak Spring, our first water source.

Perhaps we were a little over confident after those first 11 miles, because by the time we pulled into Golden Oak Spring, we were dragging our feet and feeling like we were long overdue for lunch. It was after 2 PM, so we stopped in the shade of the oak trees and devoured a peanut-butter sandwich each, along with a wedge of cheese and half a dozen Chips Ahoy cookies (chocolate chip are definitely our favorite, but we prefer the homemade kind - hint, hint). The spring was running slowly, so we took our time lounging in the sunshine while we filled up our water bags. With sixteen liters loaded into our packs, we set out onto the trail.

We got about half a mile down the trail when Scott realized that he had forgotten something back at the spring, so we dropped our packs and back he went. By the time he returned, it was 4:30 PM. We hiked for another hour or so before looking for a suitable camp. Traversing under the ridgelines with wind turbines making their constant whirring sound above us, we reached a spot that was level enough to make camp on top of a small ridge saddle. We had our homemade "MEX-i-CAN" meal for dinner and then prepared for sleep under a moon-lit sky.

It was another bright night with a full moon, but this time when we woke, the moon was still in the sky and we didn't even have any darkness before we were up again at 5 AM. It was a little colder that morning (about 6 C or 42 F) than it had been the previous one (a balmy 10 C), but we got up and were on the move by 6 AM. We carried on, traversing the hillside, but now we were finally leaving the last of the wind turbines behind. (The guidebooks indicates that some people complain about the visual pollution that these turbines cause, but in our opinion, they are beautiful and elegant contraptions that remind us of pin-wheels. While we can appreciate that some people would rather not see them, we reckon that they are much nicer to look at than so many of man's other attempts to capture energy such as oil wells and nuclear power plants.)

We dropped down into a large grassy savannah studded with large Blue Oaks. We stopped for a bit of a break and watched as all of the ground squirrels ducked into their holes for cover. Continuing down the trail, we climbed steeply up the next ridge, enjoying great vistas out over the valley down below. We were walking through hillside grasslands that were full of tiny wildflowers which adding lots of color to our path. There were lots of lupines, baby blue eyes, popcorn flowers, a few poppies and many more that we do not know to name. The grasslands eventually led to another climb through a forested area. We were starting to make our way into pine forests, but there were still lots of oaks around to cover the trail with their crunchy leaves. We took another break in a shady saddle before beginning our next climb. The guidebook had described these climbs as "steep by PCT standards", but they were eased by a few switchbacks. At last, we rounded Weldon Peak and began our gentle descent towards Jawbone Canyon Road. We made it down to a private dirt road and then had a hot and steep mile climb up the road to where the trail tread resumed.

At last we made it to our next water source, Robin Bird Springs. As we walked down the spur road to get to the spring, we found half-a-dozen range cattle lounging in the shade of an oak tree. We shooed them off, and then hopped the fence (used to keep the cattle from contaminating the spring) to refill our water bags. Once again, we set out down the trail carrying about 8 liters of water each. The guidebook talks about water at different places further along the trail, but our water report either doesn't mention them or it indicates that they are polluted. Because we didn't want to take chances either way, we decided that it would be better to be safe than sorry, so we loaded up with water.

We had set our sights on making it another 5 miles past Robin Bird Springs before we would camp, and we almost made it. We meandered our way along the trail, keeping just below Jawbone Canyon Road and following Cottonwood Creek. We couldn't resist when the trail passed by a lovely little pocket meadow, sheltered by the Jeffery pines and covered in lush green grass. We were only a mile or so short from making it to the trail camp that we had thought about camping at, so we decided to break early and stay at the meadow instead. We had to seek out a spot that wasn't totally covered with cow pies, but once that was done we made ourselves a nice little camp.

Speaking of cows and cow pies, we have seen a lot more cows on and in the area of the trail this past segment. A couple of times we have come around a bend and found ourselves faced off with a couple of large cows. Fortunately for us, they are range cattle and aren't used to hikers coming up on them so they are easy to scare off. The previous night, Scott had woken up in the middle of the night because he heard rustling off to the side. In the light of the moon he saw two large black animals nearby, which he originally thought were bears, but they turned out to be grazing cows. Rachel has learned to distinguish between dried cow pies and nearly dried ones. Unfortunately, the learning process involved stepping and sliding in a couple of the later variety before her eye became a little more discerning.

As we lay in our tent, giving each other our nightly foot rubs, we saw Sherry and Ardie (hikers we had met in Agua Dulce, from Atlanta, Georgia) walk down the trail. We called out to them and then they came down to talk to us. We got the update from them on what everyone else had been doing while we were off in Bakersfield and where people were on the trail, either ahead or behind us. They also told us that there have been reports of bears in the area, so we should be cautious. After ten minutes or so, they moved on and we returned to our foot rubs before going to sleep.

We were up early the following morning and on the trail by 5:45 AM. The first five miles of the day were spent hiking on the ridgeline, walking through pine forests, on relatively flat terrain. We stopped for breakfast just before we reached our second crossing of Piute Mountain Road, amid some large boulders that made for nice seating. After we had finished our breakfast, when we were repacking our packs, Rachel looked down and saw rattlesnake #7 slithering away from us, about four feet away. It gave us a real scare as we had no idea where he had been while we had been moving around our packs for the last minute or so. The whole thing was a little close for comfort, but, fortunately for us, the rattlesnake did not appear to be bothered, he was more concerned about moving into a cool, shaded place to escape the already warming sun.

Back on the trail again, we began our steady descent to Kelso Valley Road. We walked for another mile or so in the lovely shade of the pinyon pine trees before we found ourselves back in dry, desert-like terrain, with no shade to protect us. Had we known what was to come while we were walking in the shade of those pines, we would have been much more appreciative of them. Once in the desert, we soon realized that we were going to be in it for quite some time, and it was going to be a hot day.

We made our way down to Kelso Valley Road where we were rewarded with a water cache provided by Mary Barcik of Welden (thank you). Our water report had told us about this cache and out of necessity, we were depending upon it (if it had not been here, like the one at Hwy 58, we would have been in serious trouble because the next natural, on-trail water was not for another 36 miles and a 'possible' water cache another 15 miles down the trail). We filled our bags, and then headed into these hot, dry hills that define of the Sierra Crest in this area.

We hiked another two miles and then stopped in a small canyon to take a well deserved rest and drink some water. As we were preparing to leave, Scott helped Rachel on with her pack (which we often do when our packs are fully laden with water) and, as it went on, she felt something hard sticking into her left shoulder blade. Upon further investigation, we were shocked to find that her pack frame had snapped in two. (We knew that we carry a heavier load than most people, but we didn't think it was that heavy.) The frame had snapped in a weak spot: the aluminum tube had been factory bent to fit the contours of the body; it had a hole drilled through it to take a pin; and, the bar that holds open the bag was anchored to that pin. All-in-all, it seemed like a poor design, but what were we to do now, 39 trail-miles from the next town?

Rachel put the pack on again, and this time Scott tried to position the two ends of the tube together so that the top one would not dig into Rachel's back. It worked pretty well, for a while, until the pack frame shifted again. Nonetheless, the discomfort was tolerable and we decided to keep going and postpone the field repair until we were in camp.

Four more miles up the sandy hill and we at last came to a crest saddle, where we stopped for a lunch break on the fallen carcass of a Joshua tree. The sun was still beating down on us with all of its intensity, but up on the crest, we were getting a bit of a breeze that helped keep us cooler. In light of the pack failure, we revised our plan for the day and decided to try and push for about 22 miles so that we would be in striking distance for Walkers Pass and the road into Onyx the next day (thinking that we could hitch into town and order a replacement pack and have it over-nighted to Kennedy Meadows, our next resupply point).

The next 6.2 miles led us from saddle to saddle, junction to junction, along the Sierra crest. We were slogging through sand the whole way and motorcyclists had been on the trail again. Their tire treads cause the path to become rutted and it develops miniature dips, each one about ten feet long with a three foot depression in the middle. While we are sure that the motorcyclists have a blast bounding over the dips, perhaps catching a little air off each one, they are hellish to hike over, especially in the sandy terrain. It's bad enough that we have to climb, through sand, but when we have to climb our way out of each one of these dips as well, it really can drain away your energy. As a matter of fact, we were negotiating our way along the trail, through a particularly bad part with lots of dips, when Scott had a temper tantrum. He stomped his feet and stabbed his trekking pole into the sand, asserting that motorcyclists, illegally riding on the hiking trails, have brains the size of a pea!

At that point we decided that it was time to start looking for a camp, as Scott was obviously getting worn out. In keeping with our luck, however, we found ourselves on a segment of trail that posed no suitable camping spots. We were up on the crest and the wind was blowing hard. We had just passed a spot a half mile back, amongst some boulders, which the guidebook suggested might make a decent camp, but it is against our nature to go backwards, so onwards we pushed. We hiked another couple of miles before we finally came down onto a saddle that appeared to have a level spot behind a small cluster of Joshua trees. We decided to check it out and see if these spiny trees could provide us with enough shelter from the wind. We were in luck! The wind was significantly lessened by the trees, and aside from a whole bunch of dried up cow pies, we found a suitable place to pitch the tent.

Rachel put up the tent and prepared dinner, while Scott dismantled Rachel's pack and went to work, trying to fix it. He played around with a number of ideas, including lashing a tent peg along side the frame to keep it in line, but eventually it was a tube of Chapstick that saved the day. It just so happened that the Chapstick fit snugly inside the broken pack tubing. Scott used the Chapstick tube as a dowel to hold the two ends of the tube in alignment, taping them together with medical tape, and then lashing the frame pieces together with some rope, to hold the frame rigid. His solution has prevented the jagged edge from sticking into Rachel's back while she hikes, as well as provide rigidity to the frame again, so that the other side does not break under the extra strain. While it is certainly an excellent field repair job, we are uncertain about how long it will last, and are eager to get a replacement as soon as possible.

The wind kept up all night long, giving us a restless night's sleep (although it was more a case of being kept awake by the noise than anything else, because we weren't getting sand blown on us and we didn't sleep with the fly on the tent which would have flapped and rustled even more), so we were up and ready to hit the trail at 5:45 AM. We quickly covered the remaining three miles to the next water cache at Bird Spring Pass, where we filled up one 4-liter bladder each, and sat down to enjoy our breakfast of cold cereal. As we were getting ready to push on again, Brian and Alana came along. We knew that they had been ahead of us as we had seen their entries in trail registries along the way, but as we hadn't seen them since The Lunatic Lounge / Casa de Luna they stopped to catch up on trail news for a bit before they blazed on ahead of us.

We spent the next 3.7 miles climbing up to the top of Skinner Peak. While it was a long climb, with a couple of frustrating false summits, it was well graded which made for good hiking. Once around on the north face of the peak, we began a long descent into the valley below. Much of the hike down was under the cover of pinyon pines which gave us soft soil underfoot and cool shade over our heads - very pleasant. After about six miles, we stopped for a break in the last few feet of shade before we left the pinyon forest and entered a large burn area. We were making good time, about 14 miles by noon, so we didn't feel bad about stopping to cool our heels for a bit.

As we walked into the burn area, we were struck by the full heat of the day. There was no shade to be had as we made our way down an old dirt road that followed the ridge top. We could tell that a few years previously, prior to the fire coming through, this portion of the trail would have been very nice walking. There were the skeletons of trees and bushes everywhere, sticking up into the sky, dark black scars across the landscape. After two and a bit miles, we turned off the road and back onto trail tread, but as a result of the fire, the bushes and shrubs have prospered in the open light and enriched soil, making the trail so over grown that it scraped at our legs and grabbed at our clothes as we made our way along. After another couple of miles, we were longing for any bit of shade, but there was none to be found. We trail stayed up on the table for quite so time before finally dropping onto the north-west face below and out of the burn area. Even then, it was late enough in the afternoon that the sun was still shining down on us. Shade could only be found in the few feet at the base of any tree, barely enough to provide us much relief.

At last we stopped on the trail, in a small patch of shade, and quickly devoured our lunch. We had about four miles left to go before we would reach Walker Pass Campground and it was all downhill. We stopped again another two miles further on, when we came across two 2.5 gallon water containers cached under a tree. We had elected to bypass a half mile spur trail to a spring earlier and we were now getting low on water - and thirsty. We stopped to split a quart of water, which we guzzled and then we pushed on into camp.

We arrived at Walker Pass Campground to find Brian and Alana there, as well as Sherry and Ardie. We said our hellos to everyone, quickly set up our tent, rinsed a few pairs of socks and hung them up to dry, and then made our way out to the road to hitch the 17 miles into Onyx so we could find a phone. While Highway 178 was not terribly busy, we were fortunate enough to get a ride within two or three minutes of waiting. The gentleman who picked us up took us to the "Canebrake Cafe", about 10 miles down the road, where the owners were kind enough to let us use their phone.

We called Kelty first, but their office was closed, so we then called REI. Patrick, the young man who took our call, said that the easiest thing to do would be to purchase a second backpack of like make and model, and then return the broken one at a later date. We had expected that would be the most likely solution, so we went ahead and ordered another backpack. All was going well until we went to give Patrick the shipping address, a Post Office Box in Inyokern for the Kennedy Meadows General Store. The problem was that in order to get over-night delivery, REI would only ship via Fed Ex, and Fed Ex won't deliver to a P.O. Box. The owner of the cafe overheard the complications and he tried to find a street address of someone in Kennedy Meadows for us. As it seemed that it was going to take a while, we hung up with REI, figuring that we would call back when we had something sorted out. Well, it did take a while. At first, Rick, the cafe owner, took to the Yellow Pages. When he couldn't find a listing there, he called directory assistance and asked for the phone number to the Kennedy Meadows Store. After a couple of tries, the operator finally informed him that there were no telephone listings at all for Kennedy Meadows. Next, we turned to the local papers to see if we could find an ad that he was sure he had seen for some businesses up there. When that was unsuccessful, he called a business in Onyx that sells a product produced in Kennedy Meadows. They couldn't help us out either. Finally Rick called another guy in town who had internet access. At long last, we had a street address for Kennedy Meadows Store, but upon closer inspection we realized that it was really just the same P.O. box number that we already had, with an Inyokern zip code. We were out of options and at last, Scott asked Rick if he would mind if we had the backpack shipped to the cafe and then we would either hitch back down for it, or perhaps he would be willing to drive it up. Rick graciously agreed. Finally a solution! We called REI, ordered the backpack and were either going to try and hitch a ride back into town in two days time to collect it, or we would try to call Rick from Kennedy Meadows, if we couldn't get a ride. We ordered a burger and fries each, and then had a piece of apple pie before we caught a ride back to Walker Pass Trailhead Campground from Rick. Our backpack problem had been solved, or so we thought, and it was time to get a good night's sleep.

The next day started off on the wrong foot right from when we first opened our eyes. The problem was that we didn't wake up until 5:35, a good half hour later than usual. While it felt great to sleep in, we knew that it meant we would not be able to make the most of the cool morning. We packed up and prepared to go, and then looked at the guidebook to see where the next water source was. The guidebook stated that there was a spring in 11.5 miles, but our water report indicated that as of May 15th (two weeks earlier) the spring was not running well and water could only be scooped out with some difficulty. Our spirits plummeted. The next sure water after that was 28 miles down the trail. That meant that we would have to carry full loads of water again and even then, we would still have to ration it somewhat. We headed back to the spigot with our second water bags, filled them up and then loaded them into our packs. Dejected, we put on our heavy, water-laden packs and made our way to the trail to sign the trail register on the way out. When we lifted the lid to the register box, we found a note that said that the spring had recently been worked on, a new trough put in and that it was running well (much to the delight of the resident "bad" bear). Yeah!! We turned around, walked back into the camp, and dumped out that extra eight pounds of water.

By the time we finally got moving on the trail, it was almost 7 AM, a very late start for us. It had been 10 degrees C. when we got up, and it was significantly warmer than that by the time we got going. We quickly hiked the 0.6 mile to Walker Pass and the end of Section F. We crossed over the road and almost immediately began climbing up Morris Peak and began the long traverse around Jenkins Peak (Jenkins Peak is so named in memory of Jim Jenkins, one of the intended co-authors of the guidebook). As we rounded Mt. Jenkins, we were rewarded with wonderful vistas down over the Mojave and Highway 14. With the great views to the east, however, came exposure to the sun. It was barely 9 AM and it was already a scorcher.

We pushed on around Mt. Jenkins and as we rounded a corner, we saw rattlesnake #8 - a large, 6-foot long diamondback. He was stretched across the trail, lounging in the sun. He didn't buzz, but he did (slowly) make his way off the trail so that we could pass. We finally reached a saddle on the north-western ridge, where we began a 2.6-mile descent into the Cow Canyon watershed. By now it was about 1 PM and we had finally reached the spur trail to the Joshua Tree Spring. We dropped our packs in the shade of a tree and then began the half mile descent to the spring. When we got there, we were delighted to see that that spring was running well, and that the trough was big enough to bathe in. Scott took off his shoes and socks, so he could soak his feet, while Rachel filled the water bags and contented herself with sitting by the water, in the cool shade of an old oak tree. We must have hung out at the spring for the better part of an hour, because by the time we got back up the hill to our packs, it w as almost three in the afternoon.

Fully laden down, once again, we put on our packs and set out down the trail. Almost immediately after leaving the spring spur trail, we began a steep climb out of the canyon. The going was hot and there was no shade to be had from the merciless heat of the sun. We hiked on about a mile before stopping to take a little break on a small saddle and then we began the next leg, up another 600 feet in one mile. We were about a quarter of a mile in when all of a sudden Rachel lagged behind and then stopped. "When is it going to end?" she cried out, "I can't go on anymore." Scott stopped and waited patiently until she started moving forward again. Another couple hundred yards up the hill and she stopped again. This time she was a little more adamant that she couldn't go on as the heat and the hill were just taking everything out of her. Then came the tears. After a couple of minutes the tears subsided and we were making forward progress again, but it wasn't long before we came to a halt a third time. I t was by far our hottest day yet, the temperature was 36 degrees (about 102 F) and we were carrying full loads of water up a steep hill. We put our packs down in the shade of one of the few trees to be found and then guzzled a quart of water between the two of us. Rachel downed a King-sized Snickers bar, as it dawned on her that she hadn't really eaten anything since her cold cereal at 9 AM. After eating, drinking and taking a couple of ibuprofens to relieve the pain in her left hip, we were on the move again, and she was feeling a little stronger. We had taken the time to read forward in the guidebook and had read that there was a good camping spot about two miles further down the trail, just before another three mile climb. We decided that we would go to the camping spot and stop for the day. We had only done 16.5 miles, but we were beat and in no condition to face a three mile climb in that heat.

The campground was quite a nice one, as we were up on a little ridge, in the trees, beside a marshy creek. We set up the tent and then, exhaustingly, went into the usual routine of bathing and preparing dinner. It was a little earlier than usual, so we were able to take our time and move slowly about it.

Soon after we got into camp a helicopter came flying overhead. It swooped through the Spanish Needle Canyon in such a way to enable it to see into the camp, under the tree cover. The helicopter then proceeded to fly back and forth over the area and we figured that the people in it were searching for somebody on the trail. Whatever it was doing, it was very apparent to us that the people were looking for something in particular, as they flew back and forth through the area for about twenty minutes, then left, only to return briefly again about half an hour later. Rachel's gut reaction was that something has happened to one of our parents and they were looking to find us on the trail, while Scott's first reaction was that there was an escaped convict out on the trail somewhere (both negative scenarios). Later, at Kennedy Meadows, we read that a hiker had threatened suicide on the trail, calling 911 on a cell phone. No, he wasn't an over-tired PCT hiker, though Sherry and Ardie were with him during the helicopter 'rescue'. They, and other PCT hikers who had encountered this man on the trail, indicated that this guy was a few bricks short of a full load. Strange.

That night was the first night that we have been really cautious of bears coming into camp. We have heard reports from other hikers that there has been bear activity along this portion of the trail. Back on the other side of Walker Pass, near the wind farms, there has apparently been a lot of sightings at Golden Oak Spring. Even Brian and Alana said that they saw a bear near there. Trail reports also indicated that one should collect water from Joshua Spring, but recommends camping elsewhere as there is a bad bear near there. Tonight, as we are camped in a somewhat frequented camp spot with water right near by, we decided that it would be advisable to take the appropriate precautions. Our food sacs are highly bear resistant, so we tied them up in a tree away from the tent. We figured that while a bear might be able to climb up to them, he wouldn't be able to walk off with them without arousing us out of our sleep first.

We made it through the night without being bothered by bears, and we got up at 5 AM the next morning. We were really hoping to get a jump-start on the heat of the day. We hit the trail by 5:40 AM. and climbed the three miles in the relative cool of the morning. We passed through the treed ravines which housed Spanish Needle Creeks, and were surprised to find that the creeks all had a little water in them. From there, it was up the side of the canyon, still partly in the shade of the hillside, but by the time we made it to the saddle at the top, we were in the sun and sweating like pigs.

Once we attained the ridge, it was not more than a few steps before we were heading back down the other side towards Chimney Peak Recreation Area. By the time we had hiked the remaining 8 miles down to Chimney Peak Campground it was noon, and the sun was taking a toll on us. For the second day in a row, we were experiencing a heat wave; the temperature that day was 31 C, in the shade. We stopped at the campground to look for the Campground Host, who had apparently taken hikers back to the Canebrake Cafe for a burger, but we couldn't find him. The sign at the entrance to the campground stated that the host was in site "0", but Rachel walked a mile down the road to the end of the campground, and back, only to come to the final conclusion that the host was not around. We didn't know what to do. We didn't want to go on further because we knew it would be so much harder to get a ride back to Onyx, but how were we going to get back there without campground host being around to give us a ride? We were really at odds with what to do, and it was just compounded by the incredible heat - even if going on was what we chose to do, it was too damn hot to hike.

We sat there at a picnic table, in the shade, for some time, weighing our options. We were miserable, truly miserable. The fun had quickly gone out of the hike and we seriously began to question what we are doing and what our motivations are for staying on. The thought of quitting became very appealing, and even when we thought "we can't quit because... " it gave us more motivation to quit, if for no reason other than to prove that we could just walk away from it. Oh, we were in a bad state. There have been times so far when one or the other of us has been having a bad day and has questioned why we are doing this, but until this time it was always one of us at a time and the other has been able to do what was necessary to help the other through it. This time was different: we were both down and out, and if anything we were reinforcing each others doubts. At last we decided that we needed to get out of Chimney Peak Campground and that we would take a ride in which ever direction a vehicle came first. Whether we went on to Kennedy Meadows or back to Onyx was not important to us, we just needed to go somewhere.

Once the decision was made, we had to sit and wait for a car to come by. Three hours later we were still sitting there and no vehicle had come along in either direction. Our mood was not getting any better and we were beginning to feel helpless. We were sitting there on the side of the dirt road in the narrow shade of a pine tree, waiting and waiting. We couldn't even get comfortable because the ants would find us and start crawling all over us if we sat in any one positions for too long. We were giving up hope that a vehicle would come by that day at all and we eventually decided that we would wait until about 5:30 until the sun was cooling a little when we would start hiking on. We would hike into the night, to get through the 16-mile climb through a huge 2-year-old burned area, if necessary. By 4:30, still no vehicle had passed by, so we decided to prepare dinner and start collecting our things together in preparation for a night of hiking. We got out the stove, pots and tortellini and began to cook our dinner, then sure enough, true to Murphy's Law, a car came up the road. Rachel jumped up from the table and ran down to the road and flag it down. They occupants stopped and agreed to take us up to Kennedy Meadows so we threw out the tortellini that was half cooked, grabbed our stuff and jumped into the truck.

We arrived in Kennedy Meadows by about 6 PM and we were dropped off at the Kennedy Meadows Campground. We had been hoping to meet up with Ken and Cindy there, and any of the many hikers who we knew were within a day or two ahead of us, but when we got dropped off we found the campground deserted of any other PCT hikers. Here we were, we had come all this way, missing twenty miles of the trail, to where we expected to find friends, and we found nobody. We decided to walk around the campground just see if we could find any trace of them, and as we began to leave walk our spirits soared when we found Cindy's distinctive foot print. We started to follow the print, but before we knew it, we had followed it all the way around the campground and not found their owner. What we did find, however, was a note at the entrance: "Ken and Cindy - I'm camped at the next campground up the road. Site #33." Perhaps Ken and Cindy had seen the note and gone up the road, we thought, so the next thing to do was figure out where the next campground was. We asked a couple of people and, sure enough, the situation got worse: Kennedy Meadows Campground is at the end of the road, and the people in site 33 didn't know Ken and Cindy.

We were depressed. We didn't know what to do. We were already beginning to feel bad about our decision to hitch a ride and skip 20 miles of the trail, and now that we were here, there was nobody around. We still had to find a way to get back down to Onyx to get our packs. We felt like every time we turned around, something else was going wrong. We sat on the picnic table too depressed to do anything. We didn't want to set up camp, we didn't want to start cooking another dinner, we didn't want to do anything except feel sorry for ourselves. At last we came to enough to realize that he would probably feel better if we washed the sweat and grime off our bodies, so we climbed down the embankment to the Kern River and we cleaned up a little. It helped to make us feel a little more human and after that we were able to set up our camp and nibble on a few munchies before carrying our solemn moods to bed. We would deal with all of our problems tomorrow, and with any luck, we would meet up with some of the other hikers.

It was nice to be able to sleep in a little bit later than normal this morning, although we were woken up by a bird squawking above us as 5 AM. We both rolled over, grabbed our earplugs and went back to sleep for another hour. At 6 AM, Scott woke up Rachel and told her to get moving. When she protested, stating that it was not a hiking day and that the Kennedy Meadows General Store wouldn't be open yet, Scott reminded her of all of the other problems that we had to sort out, primarily getting her backpack from Onyx.

We got moving and hit the road heading back 2.5 miles to the General Store by about 7 AM. As we walked, we scanned the meadows for any sign of other hikers and at one point we saw a couple of tents off in a clearing, but they didn't appear to belong to anyone that we recognized so we kept moving. We arrived at the General Store at 8 AM, only to find that it didn't open until 9 AM. Even the newly installed pay phone outside of the store charged 35 cents to make a toll free call and we didn't have any change on us. We again, felt down on our luck. Would anything go our way?

Shortly before 9 AM, the store opened and we began to address some of our chores and issues. We talked to the store owner for some time running through our list of questions and options and then we got a load in the washing machine (located inside the store). A little while later, Sherry and Ardie walked up to the store, and one of the first things out of their mouths was "Hey Rachel, have you seen Brant yet? He has your pack for you." Wow, we couldn't believe it. Finally a turn in our luck! Rick Crockett, from the Canebrake Cafe, had received our package the day before and had tried to deliver it to us. Apparently he had gone up to the Chimney Peak Campground in search of us, and when he hadn't been able to find us he later drove it the rest of the way up to the Kennedy Meadows General Store (about 20 miles on a dirt road and then another 10 miles on paved) where he had found a whole group of other hikers hanging out. As it turned out, we must have just missed him at the campground, and then again as he drove the rest of the way up, but at last there was a break in our bad luck.

Within another half hour of getting the good news, hikers started to converge on the General Store. Some were coming in from having breakfast and others were coming from an un-official campground a mile up the road (where we had seen those tents that we didn't recognize). Before long we were back amongst our hiking friends and all was beginning to look better. As we sat there on the patio of the store more hikers came in, having finished the last segment of the trail that day. Beer was purchased and everyone sat around chatting and attending to their various chores like laundry, showers, sorting through their supply boxes, and so on. For us, it was good to be around others and our spirits lifted.

We explained to people what a terrible few days we had experienced, that we had opted to hitch a ride from Chimney Peak, and the general consensus was that we hadn't missed much. Later that night, Julie (from Seattle) did a video survey of all the hikers asking them what they thought of the last section of the trail (Julie and her husband Jon hitched in from Mojave as Julie has a pulled tendon that needs time to heal) and there were adamant reports that the last section, particularly the last 20 miles, had been the worst of the whole trip. These reports did a lot to ease our conscience about missing this segment of the trail, and we finally came to accept that doing this trail is about the experience, not about walking every single mile.

The one drawback of the day is that for the second re-supply in a row, our supply box has not arrived. We had ordered a "Bearikade" bear canister, and that has arrived, but right now we don't have any food to put into it. The plan is to wait until tomorrow (Saturday) to see if it arrives, and if it doesn't we will have to head the 26 miles down the road to Ridgecrest to do another shop. The General Store here has some provisions, but it just doesn't have enough that would enable us to make it through the next week on the trail. The sporadic nature of the Postal Service is really beginning to irritate us. We have already spent the money on preparing all of our food and then mailing it here, only to have to spend more money on doing it all again. The big problem is the sporadic nature of the service. The Bakersfield shipment finally did arrive, taking over two weeks when it is supposed to take only 3-5 days. Boxes shipped "General Delivery" will only be held for two-weeks. So how far in advance do you send? Too early, you run the risk of your box being sent back. Too late and you run the risk of not receiving it! What a mess. Our only solution is to send every box "Priority Mail" (paying extra for a service that should be standard).