It’s after sunset. I’m pushing on. I have been dreaming about arriving into Kennedy Meadows for days, the town in the middle of nowhere, where there is FOOD. And COKES. Ice cold cokes. God, I want nothing more than that. I want to make enough miles today, and then Town Day tomorrow! I can’t believe it. It has been 10 days since the last town. I’ve been pushing and pushing myself, over the High Sierras, crushing miles. The full moon is lighting my way. But which way exactly? Suddenly, there is no trail to follow anymore. Damn, I managed to get lost, again! I hear strange noises coming from the thick forest. It’s a howling sound. Coyote’s maybe? Or mountain lions? The question remains unanswered. Then, to make matters worse, the phone runs out of battery. When I’m trying to charge the phone with the battery charger, nothing happens. The charger is totally empty, no matter which buttons I push. I don’t carry maps (they’re heavy) and now I am lost without any resources. Still 20 miles away from Kennedy Meadows, the oasis in this vast wilderness. How will I ever get there without GPS, without maps, I wonder. I’m all alone, I’m lost, and my tech stuff stopped working. Yes, awesome.
As usual, I only have myself to get myself out of the situation. So I sigh deep, determined to find the trail. I thank the moon for being my beacon tonight. I track back and after a while, there is the PCT again. Enough of this, I tell myself, no more night hiking. I lost precious time and I am tired. So I find a spot on a slope, the best spot around, right next to the trail and I start pitching up my tent. I’m still afraid of attracting animals (bears, mountain lions!) so I choose not to cook dinner tonight. Instead, I treat myself to the very last power bars from my canister. When I’m snuggling deep in my sleeping bag, it almost seems like someone is standing right next to my tent with a very powerful headlamp on.
It is the beautiful moon, watching over me.
In the very early morning, I wake up to a disturbing sound, it comes from nearby. It’s the sound of an animal, screaming and fighting for its life. This animal is getting devoured by a bigger animal. The shrieking through the forest is ghastly. My mind is racing. What if this bigger animal comes for me? And how big is it exactly? More important, what animal is this killing machine I take it for? I try to calm myself down, try to fall back to sleep. But it’s impossible. My ears are scanning the horizon, searching for another clue. Adrenaline is rushing through my veins. My breath is quick, shallow. What if it comes back for me, I think. Do I have the guts to fight back? I still hear the animal crying for help, but the sound is fading away. Poor thing. Yes, survival of the fittest.
When the dawn breaks, I decide to get up without having breakfast or brushing my teeth, pack my tent as fast as I possibly can, and hike/run away from this animals five star restaurant. The trail descends down in a basin. A dry and exposed landscape. This is the transition between the High Sierras and the desert of Southern California. I want to take a break at the South Fork of the Kern River. I ran out of water and need to fill up my water bottles badly. When I get there, the river has turned into a very small stream this late season. Lots of algae in the water, that has not been running for a while. It is more a stagnant pool. I cook the water before I even think about sticking my SteriPen in it.
Finally, breakfast. My last meal of this empire stretch through the Sierras. It’s basically the very last food I carry. I make a double espresso (bless Starbucks!) and God isn’t that just pure heaven, sipping on a hot, strong brew, looking out over Monache Meadow while soaking my last meal, spaghetti with meat sauce, which makes an awesome breakfast!
I am still 14.2 miles away from Kennedy Meadows. I’m calculating rapidly. Another 5 hours of hiking. I got this! The last miles of the long 212 mile stretch. I can’t believe I did it. I just hiked the High Sierras. In late Autumn. By my bloody self! I pray silently that the trail will be obvious to follow today. Ooh, I can’t wait to get into town. I fantasize about binge eating, and devouring everything they have in store. I’m following the Kern River, but without a clue how far it still is, since technology bailed out on me. Every time the trail bends, each time when I hike up a little hill, I anticipate on seeing the town. But every time, nothing. And the next time, nothing. And the following time, nothing.
Then, something happens. It hurts so badly.
I’m hurting physically. But above all, mentally. I feel I cannot go on anymore. I’m so, so tired. Exhausted. I fall down on my knees. In the dirt. The heavy pack still on my back, pushing me deeper into the dirt. I let out a shriek. It sounds ghastly, just like the animal from this morning. I cry and cry. I tell myself there is not a chance of getting back upon my feet, if ever. I’m empty. Out of batteries, just like my phone and charger. I realize there is no-one to pick me up, to carry me, to take care of me, but myself. I have to do this. But I don’t know how far I have to hike still. There is a dialogue going on in my head.
– I can’t.
– You can.
– No I really can’t.
– Yes you can. You really, really can.
These last words become my mantra. I keep repeating them, just as long as needed to stand up. Trembling legs. I look up, blurry vision. The trail ascends for a short while. I place one foot in front of the other. You really, really can. When I arrive uphill, maybe 200 feet from where I fell down into the dirt, I see a pipe gate, which marks Kennedy Meadows Campground. I see a concrete road. It feels weird to stand on the asphalt, after being on the trail for so long.
With a trembling hand I sign the trail register: “Arctic Fox, straight outta Sierras, dirty, hungry, everything, October 8, 2014″ and I start walking down the road, which leads me into town.