Surprising Friendship, or, It's High Time to Clean Out the Shitters
June 14, 2017
Kennedy Meadows South (Zero Day)
Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike: Day 40
I wake up with the sun instead of an alarm. I remember Silver Fox telling me that the internet at Kennedy Meadows works much better if you can get on it before everyone else wakes up, so I head over to the porch of the general store. I’d say it’s chilly outside, but it’s crisp, refreshing, and the air of a perfect summer day in the mountains.
On the porch, the hiker box looks different. Clean. Organized. Approachable. And there’s a reason for this: Sonya has taken advantage of the early morning hours and organized the entire thing, throwing out the trash, sorting strings together, maps together, remedies together, old shoes, umbrellas, tossing out the broken things and setting aside that which might have salvageable parts. More than a few members of our trail family need strings to fashion leashes for our ice axes, so the string box is an exciting development.
I make the courageous decision to go to the bathroom. Courageous, because I’ve heard a few tales of the port-o-potties and a certain state of disarray. What a lovely understatement that turns out to be. These portable toilets must have serviced hundreds of hikers without being changed, because the shit is hovering just under the toilet seat. It’s music festival bad. Bleuchhhhhhh.
The first pickup for the restaurant half a mile away happens in a few minutes, but it comes every 15 minutes or so, and I catch the second or third pickup. Meanwhile, Legend is in the parking lot with coffee, pancakes, and his big ol’ painted Gypsy.
The white pickup truck arrives and I’m told to watch where I sit in the bed, there’s a tank of something (gas? oil?) that’s leaked and left a sticky residue, so we squat for the duration of the ride. The driver drops us off at Grumpy Bear’s and we go inside after learning that he and his partner have been helping out at Grumpy Bear’s for a few weeks now—they came here as PCT hikers and are working to wait out the snow while making money. At this point, they’re feeling stuck in the gig and ready to move on, but the volume of hikers passing through Kennedy Meadows every day would put the restaurant in dire straits without two extra helpers, so they’re staying until they can hopefully find another pair of hikers to take their place. It’s a smart option for a pair who arrived a month earlier, but it definitely feels like it’s time to move on from Kennedy Meadows. Mind the vortex on your way out.
The pancakes are the size of three plates, and come with an option of coffee, egg, potatoes and bacon. Actually, that’s your option. That’s what you get with it. Perhaps the option is how your egg is cooked? Nobody is complaining, though Cake is the only one in this hiker bubble of fifty who eats more than a single pancake. Rather, he eats a single pancake—more than anyone else has achieved—and so they serve him a second (which he takes back to camp) per their ‘unlimited’ pancake policy.
Across the street is Yogi’s (of the guidebook) general store, and I have a list of things we forgot to send from Tehachapi. Ice axe leashes, ziploc bags, wet wipes, warmer gloves, and a Sawyer squeeze filter. My bigger backpack doesn’t have a pouch for a water bladder and it makes it an impractical way to hydrate. Unfortunately, the only thing Yogi can offer to stock us up on is ziploc bags and an extra can of fuel.
It’s nearly 10 am and the heat is coming on strong, so I’m eager to get back to camp and the shade of the porch. I need to do laundry and shower, hoping most hikers still need to get breakfast so there won’t be a line. The shower is the kind of outfit that nearly makes one feel less clean afterward, but I'm satisfied that I’ve gotten to brush out my hair with conditioner. I spend some time on the porch and finally trudge over to the tent to organize my food. Half of it fits into my bear can, which I expected. The bear can is an extra two pounds of weight and what feels like a whole lot more of precious cubic space. I still need more bars, most of what we have is food that requires cooking. I buy what I need and decide that’s enough organizing for today. As long as I have enough food I’ll figure out how to squeeze it into my pack tomorrow. It’s going to suck no matter what so why bother with testing it out now and repacking my entire bag tomorrow anyway? I’ll just wait and do it all at once.
The rest of the day is spent on the porch with the family. I sit with Rise, Shine and Dana (they’re heading out today) and we talk about creek crossings. There are four of concern in this stretch between KM South and Kearsarge Pass that takes us out to Bishop. They have a map spread across their table, and I make note in my journal of the four streams and what mile markers they’re at: Rock Creek, Wright, Wallace, Tyndall. The sisters are hiking out with Land Mammal, Gary and Cake. Once they head over to camp to pack up, I go back to what is being called ‘The Big Group’ by other hikers, and am happy that our trail family is welcoming, inclusive, and not into the unofficial custom of giving the gang a name. Naming a trail family needlessly excludes people, gives the impression of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and establishes a precedent that there are outsiders and insiders. I am wholly averse to the practice, and it makes me feel even more like I belong with my trail family.
The Kennedy Meadows grill makes burgers and sausages all day, we sit and eat, and spend too much money on food and beer. I engage in a Sierra discussion with the neighboring table, specifically with the kid who had his food eaten by the bear just outside of Kennedy Meadows. He is an antagonist-type character. It’s at this point I’ll address that, up to now, I have not gotten along with Colten. My impression of him is self-righteous and posturing. It’s more likely than not that Colten has held unfavorable opinions of me, and feels like we’ve had a mutual understanding of distaste towards one another while coexisting in the same trail family. But, when bear-attack kid starts getting aggressive in his opinions, hammering home what he knows will and will not happen in the Sierra, something changes. I am interested in a discussion, but not an argument, and I immediately disengage. That does not stop him, and as he hammers on, Colten suddenly turns to him and says “Okay, we GET IT. Back off.”
I am floored. What the heck? Did Colten just stand up for me? This was so outside of anything I would have expected Colten to do that I just wanted to high five him or hug him or let my gratitude-confusion pour out so he could understand how many expectations of mine he broke. Wow. Sam actually said “wait, did Colten just defend Cedar?”
Kennedy Meadows South is the point on trail when those without natural families form groups to facilitate safe passage through the dangerous terrain ahead. Help each other through stream crossings, over passes, and across fields where trail is covered by snow not just for miles, but days. Groups of strangers form alliances on this porch, so perhaps it is high time for those already established as comrades to start acting like it.
We take a family photo, weave strings together to make ice axe leashes, share beer, and spend minimal time talking about the trail ahead. It’s ahead, and it’s going to happen whether we talk about it or not, so we might as well enjoy our time in the safety of semi-civilization. I call my parents from the payphone and it’s something like $3 for 4 minutes. It’s the last time I’ll talk to them for 10 to 14 days and they either trust me a lot or are really good at hiding their worry that I’ll fall in a river or down a mountain pass. The size of our trail family has had an insulating effect from fearmongering, and has helped prevent me from feeling anxious, nervous or fearful. Perhaps my parents can sense it and trust that I’ll make wise decisions with my life. I will, or at least, I fully intend to.
We’ll leave Kennedy Meadows tomorrow, but not at the crack of dawn. Tyler and Madison are still waiting for a package to come in to the general store, and the general sentiment is that we’re ready to leave Kennedy Meadows with intent, mindfully, and not rushed. I also expect that tomorrow morning’s packing up may take a bit longer and prove to be a bit more frustrating than we’re all planning for. Squeezing the longest food carry yet plus crampons, ice axes, and the Great Dreaded Bear Canister into an already full pack is leaving most of us to delay the task until the morning. For me, I'm satisfied with leaving whenever tomorrow morning. We’re leaving for the Sierra on Ray Jardine Day. The 15th. With everyone, together.