Taking Paths Less Traveled

Joyful Hiker. Mother. Teacher. Adventurer.

My section hike began Thursday with a long drive from Riverside to Ridgecrest where I would be driven to the trail-head. The drive on Highway 395 is one of tedium, with very little to look at until you reach the mountains where Highway 395 meets Highway 14. During the drive I kept myself from thinking too much about what lay ahead.

The drive to Kennedy Meadows was far from tedious. The views in this area are breathtaking. The winding road is bordered by lush purple and white lupine. At the lower elevation, this plant grows about waist high. As you climb they get smaller and shorter until they mostly resemble ground cover.

Three wonderful friends accompanied me on the trail for the first 4 miles. This was an unexpected gift, and I was truly appreciative of them for easing me into my trip with love and laughter. If any one has any reservations on solo backpacking this would be an excellent way to ease yourself into the day.

Our first stretch was a gentle, if constant, uphill grade. According to Guthook Hikes the PCT has a maximum of 15% grade for the trail. This is a pretty gentle slope, but for this section it just keeps going up, up, up.

The trail parallels the Kern River, winding in and out, up and around bends. Lizards, sunning themselves on the trail, darted away or flexed their muscles in greeting on trail-side rocks. Flowers of magenta, purple and white carpeted the forest floor.

About 4 miles in, we stopped to refill our water bottles beside a small stream bubbling up from the overgrown willow saplings that dominated the banks of the river. While we rested in the shade, a swarm of a thousand bugs appeared and headed straight for us. At first I was a little alarmed. Last thing I wanted was to have to swat off some sort of bug invasion. But as some landed on us, we discovered they were small, young lady bugs! Once they flew by, I thought it was an anomaly, but another swarm emerged about 2 minutes later. For the entire time we sat under that tree this pattern continued. Such a magical experience! Little did I know this was part of a newsworthy phenomenon. According to the LA Times, the lady bugs were spotted on the weather radar and seen in droves throughout Southern California.

This was where my friends turned back and I kept going. Just ahead we could see the massive burn area where the trail was exposed and the landscape dreary with blackened trees towering above the rocky terrain. Despite the burn, the area was still beautiful and trail continued to wind its way toward the greenery of Beck Meadow. After meandering out of the burn area the landscape turned to dense lodgepole pine forest with a carpet of pine needles dampening the sounds of my footsteps. Suddenly the forest ended and there was the meadow.

Beck Meadow coming into view far in the distance.

Beck Meadow is everything a person could ask for in a meadow. There is a small stream surrounded by marshy grass and birds fill the air with the songs and warning cries. I looked carefully for deer, but there were none to be seen.

Using Guthook’s app I decided on a campsite about a mile into the meadow. The campsite was off trail about .1 of a mile following a beautiful brook about a foot wide. It was nearing dark by the time I set up my tent. I was all alone as I prepared my dinner of Mountain House Lasagna with a stick of string cheese. This required very little prep, just boiling water which was generated quickly with my JetBoil.

I heard every bird’s wings, and even footsteps of what I imagine was a deer coming to get a drink from the icy stream. The breeze through the trees has always reminded me of the ocean, and it was soothing even though I was hyper aware of everything around me. It was to be my first night completely alone in the wilderness. This filled me with both excitement and apprehension. The forest is a big place, and as brave as I wanted to be a part of me longed for the company and sounds of another human being.

Just as I was about to dine on my freeze-dried dinner two men made their way across the brook and up to my campsite. I was so happy to see them that I immediately approached them and introduced myself.

When you are on the PCT you are given a trail name by your companions. I have yet to be given a trail name because of the little time I’ve spent on trail with companions. My campmates introduced themselves as Ghost and Deluxe. I told them they had saved the day and explained how I was on my first solo backpacking trip section hiking. They seemed impressed by this and were as excited as I was to be a part of the beginning of my journey.

Deluxe quickly took advantage of the firepit in the center of the camp and made a lovely teeny fire. I love this kind of fire, very little smoke and also small enough to provide the campfire glow without having to tend to the burning embers for hours and hours.

After some discussion, I learned that Deluxe was from Wrightwood which is only a 30 minute drive from my house in Riverside. Ghost was from Minnesota. (You know… where they sell the smallest sodas!) They were the 3rd group of PCT thru-hikers I had encountered that day. The first had been from Croatia, Orange County and Bend, Oregon.

As I settled into my tent, I quickly sent a message to my family through my Garmin inReach Mini satellite do-dad. This was both relieving and irritating in a way. First, I was glad I could let them know I was okay, and also glad that if there were to be an accident I could call for help. But, it was disheartening because here I was, unconnected to the rest of the world, but still tethered by technology.

Falling asleep that night I felt at peace. The soft sounds of my neighbors settling into their tents was reassuring and the night sounds a lullaby as I ended my first day on trail.

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