June 4, Day 31
22.1 miles [592.9]
By some grace of God I got decent sleep thanks to those two robust bushes. Loaded a new map into my phone and couldn’t help but feel a small sense of accomplishment. Took a nice, lengthy stop at Golden Oaks spring 12 miles from camp. Avoided the heat and cameled-up in the shade all while hanging out with “Mio”. Tried to make a dent in my food because my pack weighs an absolute shit ton—it’s kind of demoralizing. I must have eight days worth and only need six; I guess I can eat as much as I want. I should buy less crackers next time. The wind seemed to subside the further north we went but it still felt like a hiking through the business end of a hairdryer. Hopefully this is the last of the wind farms. Adam seemed to be in a mood, the desert must be getting to him too. We’re probably both dehydrated. Wrapped up the day with tuna taco while dodging a few mosquitoes. They’re only going to get worse from here.
June 5, Day 32
23 miles [615.9]
Said goodbye to the last of the wind farms (I made sure to double-check on the map) and made it 10 miles to Robin Bird spring only stopping briefly two times. My stamina is improving. The long-anticipated arrival of “Mio’s” Marine buddy “Bigfoot” had finally happened, I got to know him a little better over the course of the day. We took over an hour in the shade to rest and rehydrate. Barely making it another mile up trail, we stopped again. “Vinyl” and her friend Norah were sprawled out beside a Subaru under a makeshift canopy of towels and umbrellas held together with gold duct tape and good vibes. I met her yesterday and suddenly remembered talks of her birthday party. They welcomed us to their huge picnic spread which had; brie and bread; watermelon and Oreo cookies; kombucha and Sanpellegrino in all flavors; and most importantly, a homemade blueberry pie. Huge portions were being served and I didn’t think there was going to be enough to go around. “I’ll take a tiny slice, please”, I said timidly. “Vinyl”, plastic cutlery in hand, locked eyes with me and a devious smirk crept below her sunglasses. “Sure you can—‘Tiny Slice’” she snarkily said, plopping a huge piece on my paper plate. It killed, the crowd roared. Everyone commemorated the party by spray-painting their hiking poles gold. Adam and I left the shanty-town, pushing another nine miles before making a dinner stop. The weather was prime and legs felt good, ultimately we did another four miles as dusk slowly turned into night. “Tiny Slice”—it could be worse.
June 6, Day 33
24 miles [639.9]
Greeted by a soul-warming sunrise. Despite an intensifying sun and miles of washboarded trail filled with shoe-consuming sand, it was still nice to hike in the limited morning hours with a cool breeze. Just before Bird Spring Pass I came across, quite possibly, the most idyllic Joshua Tree I’d ever witnessed. Even dozens of weekend campouts I spent at the namesake national park never lead to the discovery of such a magnificent specimen. Perhaps it was dehydration, perhaps it was a lack of sittable shade from the last 100 miles, but I was mesmerized. I dropped my pack and flopped down, eyes heavy with midday heat. For the briefest of moments—or maybe it was five minutes—I was thoughtless. Wonderfully adrift. Somehow, I managed to leave. Only a few miles later and we ran into some totally-clutch trail magic. Jim had the full spread: cold cuts, soda, chips, and cooler full of beer. I thanked him profusely, sandwich in hand, and asked about his involvement with the trail. He humbly replied, “I raised a lot of hell when I was younger, so, here I am giving back.” Finally gathered the gumption to leave and made it another nine miles before stopping for dinner and a camp spot. While assembling a dessert burrito, a flock of what I could only assume to be western bluebirds, at least 100 strong, buzzed overhead. Hadn’t even made it halfway through my burrito before realizing we were being assaulted by an army of ants. Still being surprised in the desert.
June 7, Day 34
24.4 miles [662.7]
Tossed and turned until 6 a.m. Uneventful hiking all the way to Walker Pass so I filled the time by listening to more music than usual. At the highway we were greeted by “Coppertone” who happens to be sort of a trail legend. He provided plenty of camp chairs under an awning, a hiker box where Adam scored a new shirt, as well as various snacks laid out on a table. “Coppertone” also offered everyone a float: vanilla or strawberry, root beer or cream soda? I opted for the nontraditional version which several hikers said was the superior choice. Tried to enjoy it slowly but did a poor job. All the while, a helicopter circled unusually low around the campground, only to land several hundred feet away from us. Slurping down the remainder of my float, I saw a flash of orange darting through the trees on a ridgeline above. Just before I began to worry, “Coppertone” offhandedly quipped, “some government officials came by and said they’d be running some tests today”. Twenty minutes later the heli took off, I could just barely make out an orange jumpsuit through the open bay doors. As the chopper left, quiet finally returned. We still needed to confirm a few resupply details with our parents which meant hitching into Lake Isabella or making a phone call. Neither of us had reception, so while I danced around on the shoulder, thumb extended, looking positively too positive, Adam spotted hiker friend “Pocket Rocket” who was in the middle of a phone call. Fortunately, we were able to use her phone and avoid the half-day jaunt into town. With the ‘extra time’ we double-backed to Walker Pass to hang out and hydrate more. I got a few Z’s in on a particularly comfortable camp chair. With most of the heat beat, we pushed another eight miles before finding a spot to cowboy. A terrific tuna taco while avoiding skeeters. Gosh, this has to be the last of the desert, the mountains are nearly here.
June 8, Day 35
24.5 miles [687.2]
Spent the first three hiking hours without music or podcasts in an effort to save any remaining phone battery (currently at 9%). The terrain has started to morph once again, perhaps it’s a sign we’re getting closer to the mountains. I’ve cinched my belt quite tight, flaps of fabric now bunch around my waist; my clothes don’t fit anymore. Even though there was nearly 12 miles of solid uphill today, the actual ascents weren’t problematic. I’m just so fed up sweating from every inch of my body with a ‘hot face’. It just sucks. Found a good spot for lunch and a snooze 15 miles in. Climbed a second big hill to finish the evening. A gentleman we’d been leapfrogging all day arrived at camp just as we finished setting up. He introduced himself as “Missing Person”, and without missing a beat said, “you must be brothers, right?” It was almost refreshing to hear someone say it so confidently, most people had been giving Adam and I double-takes, asking if we were twins and which one was older. He flashed a smile of admiration undeniably different than others I had seen. “Mind if I crash your site?” We nodded. The three of us talked and ate dinner, sharing stories from the desert. Offhandedly, he mentioned he hiked the AT 25 years ago—largely in memoriam of his late brother. I tried to keep eating chili cheese Fritos but they just dried up in my mouth. My tent is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, hopefully that eases the tension between Adam and me.
June 9, Day 36
15 miles [702.2]
Broke camp and high-tailed it to Kennedy Meadows. I sniped at Adam the last few miles, saying some really dumb shit. 'Got the clap' as we approached the general store—other hikers applauded each new arrival's success. If I smiled any harder I probably would have ended up in tears. Today was the lowest I've been in recent memory. Even those hard days early on in the desert pale in comparison to the neurotic, worthless feelings I subjected myself to today. Bought some beers and tried to mingle with the dozens of other hikers, hoping to take my mind off of me. Signed up to take a shower in one of the jankiest homemade stalls I've ever witnessed (I should have just taken my towel to the Kern river.) I skipped the washing machine since it had a sign-up list longer than my sleeping pad, opting to have another beer and wash my socks under the spigot. Parents arrived with our resupply and loving support. They treated us to dinner at Grumpy Bear's Retreat, the only restaurant in the area, for a burger. I managed two bites before unraveling, bemoaning problems Adam and I should have managed ourselves. They drove six hours for me to treat them like a petulant child. I feel sick to my stomach. It feels shameful to admit how close I was to quitting, especially when the getaway vehicle was being driven by mom and dad. Grow up, Justin. After dinner, I tried to turn the evening around and bought everyone beers. We started joking around and laughing, sharing stories like the clogged toilet and photos of unbelievable desert sunrises: Kernes family therapy. Divvied up the resupply and setup my new tent. Tried hard not to be awkward as our parents drove out. Later, “Missing Person” came up and said we looked down and out at the diner. I smiled weakly, “family things.” He congratulated us on making it out of the desert. I'm overjoyed to be finished.