Day 28: oh happy day

May 22
Mileage 28.7 (28 + .7 to the Kennedy Meadows store)
Mile 674 to mile 702

When we wake the sun is rising over the most beautiful view, the granite earth falling away to fresh open space, everything clear and new, the flat red mojave way below, the lights of civilization. We uncurl our stiff bodies from our sleeping pads, drink water, eat little bits of food. We’re slow, as though our joints hardened in the night. It’s 7 a.m. by the time we start hiking. Morale, though, is high- the rain is gone, and today we’ll reach Kennedy Meadows!

We’re drying our sleeping bags and filling our water at a stream six miles later when we hear voices. It’s Sheriff, Coughee, The Boss and Sherpa! We’re so happy to see them, and to know that they weathered the storm ok! It turns out they camped just 2 miles before us, and Sherpa just about saved everyone- helping Coughee and Sheriff set up a tent since they couldn’t use their hands, setting up the tent for him and The Boss, boiling water for everyone to drink- before doing anything to warm himself. And smiling like a fool the whole time! Now we’re all reunited at the stream and Coughee, Twinkle and Sheriff are pounding packets of instant coffee- they’ve decided to hike the last 22 miles to Kennedy Meadows as fast as humanly possible as Coughee’s girlfriend is there, waiting for him. I want to push myself as well, more out of excitement than anything, although not in a pounding-packets-of-instant-coffee kind of way.

The trail traverses a long, sad burn and then dips down into a valley of waving grasses and huge granite boulders. A storm moves overhead, drops a little rain but then blows over and the warm sun returns, just in time to glitter off the beautiful Kern river. I’m five miles from Kennedy Meadows and I’m bonking, but all I have left to eat is chocolate protein powder and oats. I mix these two things together with the last of my water to make an incredible snack and then push myself forward, so excited to get to kennedy meadows that I can feel my heart racing in my chest. The end of the desert, the end of the desert! I listen to that Florence and the Machine song that I like-

Run fast for your mother/run fast for your father/run for your children for your sister and your brother/leave all your loving and longing behind/you can’t carry it with you if you want to survive

And soon I’m at the road to Kennedy Meadows- The Boss is there and we walk in together, trekking poles raised, our friends all on the deck of the general store, cheering and clapping, happy and drinking and warm in the sun, everyone smiling and glad to be there, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful sight to behold. It’s 5:30 p.m. but the store has extended its hours for us and I buy a burger, drink a shot of whiskey, pull up a chair on the deck, listen to my friends tell the funniest stories imaginable. Later we’ll pitch out shelters in the sandy stretch of land behind the store, curl up warm and fed and surrounded by love, excitement, possibility, fall asleep to the stars shining bright in that special sierra way.

Photos on instagram.