Day 44, Mile 702.2 – The Desert’s Grand Finale

We’ve made it! We’ve made it to Kennedy Meadows! Among thru hikers, Kennedy Meadows is perhaps the most highly anticipated landmark on the PCT because it marks the end of the Southern California desert and the beginning of the High Sierra. In only a few days, we’ll be surrounded by water and we’ll be able to burn our PCT water report (a document, continuously updated by the thru hiking community, that details the status of every water source along the trail in Southern California). It has been exhausting finding water in the desert. Nothing is more disheartening than coming across a creek bed you were planning to get water from and finding it dry.

One of our hiking buddies described this last stretch from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows as “the desert’s grand finale.” Indeed it has been. This has been more of the desert we envisioned in our minds. Exposed hills of sand, cactus, Joshua Trees, no water, sun, and heat. Lots and lots of heat.

It was a long, dry seven-day stretch from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows – our longest distance between resupplies yet. But we were very fortunate to have the (usually uninterrupted) stretch broken up by amazing Trail Magic at Walker Pass. Trail Magic is a term for surprises placed on the trail for hikers – it can take the form of anything from a cooler of soda to a full-blown meal from a Trail Angel. We walked up to the campground at Walker Pass and were immediately handed fresh pancakes (with real butter!) and cold sodas. We would later eat sandwiches for lunch and hamburgers for dinner before hiking out. The Magic was being conducted by legendary hiker Yogi herself. Yogi literally wrote the book on hiking the PCT. Basically every hiker has either heard of or read Yogi’s book. We are no exception, and it was awesome to stumble into the campground and see her at a picnic table flipping pancakes.

We pushed on over the dry hills of the desert, motivated every day by the shrinking miles to Kennedy Meadows. It has been an amazing hike so far. We complain a lot about the desert, but it has had its magical and beautiful moments, including another sighting of an adolescent bear and some amazing sunsets.

From here, we will push on into the High Sierra, a sacred place that many thru hikers talk about wistfully, as if it only exists in our collective imagination. It will be the most beautiful and remote stretch yet. We will hike off trail in nine days to resupply at a remote resort but will otherwise be removed from civilization until we reach Mammoth Lakes in about two weeks. Our packs will be heavy (on top of the crazy amount of food, we now have to carry bear canisters), but our hearts are light.

Breakfast in bed above the Tehachapi wind farms


Mile 600!


Our Horny Toad friend!


Walker Pass Trail Magic!


Chillin with Yogi!


Hiking at sunset


The only rattlesnake we saw in the desert -a baby, curled up and about as big around as your thumb. Most hikers see TONS of rattlesnakes, often several a day.


Our third bear sighting!!! Most hikers don’t see bears until the High Sierra.


Kennedy Meadows at last!!!


Dr. Sole (with three intrigued hikers behind him), an amazing Trail Angel who was caring for hikers’ feet at Kennedy Meadows


Gummy Bear’s foot after being worked on by Dr. Sole (what you see is mostly iodine, not blood…). Gummy Bear had some SERIOUS blisters and was getting worked on for maybe 2 hours by the good doctor, all while downing a half pint of whiskey, three beers, and many cigarettes. He was in pain. (Note Ashleigh’s smile in the background.)


Mark on the steps of the General Store at Kennedy Meadows, surrounded by all our resupply packages (food, replacement gear, new shoes, bear canisters, etc.)


We got to stay in a tiny/adorable trailer at Kennedy Meadows thanks to Trail Angel Tom (who is also supplying the computer I sit at right now)

5 thoughts on “Day 44, Mile 702.2 – The Desert’s Grand Finale

  1. Celinda

    YAY!! I’m glad to see you are both in such great spirits! Stay strong – you guys are awesome xoxo

  2. Bob Dixon

    Mark and Ashleigh, Love your story. Just got some slides (you may have heard of the photo process from the past) of two trail hikes I was on in ’62 and ’63. Goat Rocks Wilderness area of the PCT in Washington. Great scenery. Big mountains. Onward you two.

  3. LydTheKyd

    You are so elequent in your description of the experience. I’m certain this trip is changing you in ways you can’t even imagine on top of the ones you can and do. It’s a ‘real, reality adventure’ I can’t wait to hear/read what happens next! LOVE!

  4. Mina Kumar

    Congratulations you two! I love the horney toad friend — I used to catch those as a kid all the time when we lived in Midland. They are cute. I know how stressful it is backpacking without knowing where you’ll find water next, so I’m glad that worry will be past you from hereon out. Ashleigh, I got your postcard — was so very thrilled to hear from you! I’m glad it has been “easy” and relaxing — you guys sure look like you are having fun. We are gearing up for our big Scottish adventure in a few weeks — we’ll be gone five weeks. Very exciting, and so is the beginning of summer with lots of swimming in lakes and rivers. Keep on you intrepid hikers!

  5. elizabeth carr

    Congrats on making so much progress! The journey of a lifetime, for sure. Thanks for sharing your stories – I am living vicariously through you.


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