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Day 42 – May 15, 2022

Day 42: Zero in Kennedy Meadows, CA

0.0 trail miles | 0.0 tracked miles

Kennedy Meadows, CA, is quite the experience. The community is literally off the grid, and the closest “town,” Inyokern, is merely designated as a census-designated place and an hour away by car.

According to the official sign, Kennedy Meadows is home to 200 residents, but locals say there are only 70, and the 2020 United States census reports just 58 residents. Regardless, it’s tiny. The village’s claim to fame, popularized by the movie Wild, is its location on the Pacific Crest Trail, at the junction between Southern California and the High Sierra Nevada mountain range. Kennedy Meadows is an essential resupply stop, and during high-snow years, hikers may linger for weeks while waiting for the Sierras to be passable.

There are two bars and two outfitters located two miles apart, and they hate each other. Competition is fierce to an extreme, as hiker dollars provide substantial seasonal revenue.

I spent the night at Grumpy Bear’s Retreat, a dive bar and restaurant that offers free hot showers, laundry, camping, mailing services, and rides to and from the trail. Grumpy’s is well known for its enormous meals, laid back attitude, and slightly high prices. In the morning, I ordered the Hiker Breakfast, a classic American combo which comes with all-you-can-eat humongous pancakes. Despite my best intentions, I could not reasonably eat a second pancake—yesterday evening’s massive triple burger somehow satisfied my voracious appetite. I hear that the current record stands at just three pancakes.

Joe and Michael enjoying breakfast at Grumpy Bear’s Retreat

I discussed my Sierra Nevada plans with several other hikers. Planning for the Sierras is challenging, as the PCT follows the remote John Muir Trail. The closest resupply options are 25 to 30 miles away from the trail, which typically means having to hike a side trail for up to 7 miles, then hitch hiking up to 20 miles. At first glance, it might make sense to carry as much food as possible and minimize resupply stops, but local regulations dictate that all food and scented items must fit in a bear canister. Besides, weight is an issue, especially since travel through the Sierra Nevada range requires heavy snow and safety gear (although the abundance of water helps offset the added weight.)

The three popular resupply options from Kennedy Meadows are: Lone Pine, CA (roughly four days away), Independence or Bishop, CA (7-8 days away) or Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) or Mammoth Lake, CA (12+ days away.)

Initially, I was leaning towards stopping in Lone Pine to minimize the weight of my pack. Weight considerations aside, there is no point in rushing through the Sierras as there is still snow further up north, and a few major resupply points have yet to open. But I sensed that the consensus among other hikers was to undertake the eight-day trek to Independence or Bishop, so I decided to follow suit. One brave soul decided to attempt the 12+ day stretch all the way to VVR or Mammoth Lake.

With this in mind, I walked over to Triple Crown Outfitters (TCO), just outside Grumpy’s, and purchased food for the long journey ahead. TCO is operated by Jackie “Yogi” McDonnell, a minor celebrity in the hiking world: she’s a double Triple Crowner, having hiked all America’s three long-distance trails at least twice, and the author of reference books on the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. Her store occupies a shipping container, and is packed with virtually everything a long-distance hiker might need.

Fitting all my food into my bear canister was a challenging game of Tetris. I had to repackage most meals, and I am mildly terrified of the weight.

Per Yogi’s recommendation, I shipped my ice axe home (it is a low-snow year) but kept my spikes. I also sent some of my desert gear to the northern end of the Sierras, and swapped my lightweight, ventilated pants for a durable water repellent alternative.

Organizing my gear at Grumpy Bear’s campsite—my bear canister was overflowing!

Then, I gave myself a haircut (I had the foresight to ship a trimmer to Kennedy Meadows and was proud to exhibit my COVID skills), and spent the rest of the afternoon working on my laptop (which I had also shipped to myself!)

In the meantime, Joe reunited with his childhood friend (who we met in Tehachapi and was just ahead of us so far) and they decided that they had to leave Kennedy Meadows as soon as possible if they didn’t want to go broke purchasing expensive beer. They moved to the General Store, which is closer to the trail, so they could hit the ground running tomorrow. I begrudgingly followed—I was vaguely considering taking a double zero, but couldn’t really justify lingering another day either. Mostly I didn’t feel like moving my tent to the General Store campground. Basically, I’m difficult.

I arrived at the General Store in time for dinner, and what a letdown it was. Despite the full menu that was advertised, the only available option was an overpriced spaghetti plate. Furthermore, the staff rudely told me that I had missed the cutoff time for dinner coupons, and they wouldn’t take my order even though there were leftovers. The General Store has the charm of a refugee camp, complete with food ration tickets. I had a word with the manager, who pointed out that “there are places that are even worse.” It sums it up.

The general store at Kennedy Meadows. You don’t come for the food, or the service.

On a more positive note, I saw my first lunar eclipse tonight!

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