After getting back to Isabella and realizing that I wouldn’t be able to hike into Kennedy Meadows, I was faced with some decisions.
The next over 300 miles of trail are full of national parks and forests that don’t allow dogs. The logistics of getting Katana around or in between them is way to complicated due to the remoteness of the region.
As much as I’d like to simply disregard the rules and take her through anyways, I’m not going to do it. It’s not worth the trouble, or the negative attention. Horses are allowed, but not leashed dogs. A 1,500 pound animal that takes 20 pound shits and 2 gallon pisses (sometimes into water sources), and also grazes off the landscape is allowed… but not a dog. I guess a person can’t climb their lazy ass on a dog and ride it around steep terrain, so I suppose it makes a little sense that there would be an exception for equestrian.
As far as what to do with Katana, I chose the only option I felt 100% comfortable with. I decided to personally see her home myself. I rented a car in Lake Isabella, shuttled myself, Katana, Schweppes, and a couple other hikers the nearly 3 hours up the service road to Kennedy Meadows (there is a lot more to this story that I don’t feel like typing out in the blog), dropped them off, snapped Katana’s desert completion victory photo, then turned right around and did the 3 hours back down the service road.
I planned to do the drive from California to Florida in two days. I wanted to make it a grueling event, rather than a break. I already felt bad enough leaving the trail as it was.
I drove until 11:30pm that day, and barely made it out of the back country roads and highways to reach interstate 40. I didn’t make it out of California that day.
The next day I did almost 1,000 miles, driving past 11pm, and wound up in Memphis, Texas.
I was so tired the next morning, I didn’t hit the road until 8 am. I did more than another thousand miles, but hit traffic after New Orleans, and didn’t get home until a little after midnight. I’d done it; California to Florida in 2 days of driving. My previous record was 2 days and 8 hours.
No one knew I was making this drive, so it was a complete surprise to my girlfriend (who almost shot me when I knocked on the door in the middle of the night), and my family.
I decided on 3 days to stay home, before making the journey back. Those days were restless, and packed full of errands. I scheduled follow up vet appts for Katana, as well as appts with an eye specialist. I don’t think I got any rest during those three days. It was early mornings, full days getting to appointments, and late nights.
I was so tired, my family urged me not to make the drive back. They wanted me to fly or take a bus. Since I’d never done cross country bus travel, I decided on that. “It’ll be an adventure” I told myself.
It was a 54 hour bus ride (lots of stops and connections) from Pensacola, FL to Bakersfield, CA. I chose Bakersfield, because I could easily get back to the trail using the cheap public transportation that ran through those counties around that area.
I thought taking the bus would give me a ton of time to rest. I was DEAD wrong. Cross country on a bus is not fun, relaxing, or enjoyable. I’m trying to have a “cup half full” perspective on it, but it really was miserable.
All day and all night, the bus stops every hour and a half to pick people up, drop them off, or to change buses/drivers. Nearly every time it stops, you have to get off the bus, then load back on, or get onto a different bus in 5, 15, or 30 minute increments. The busses are packed, and the seats don’t leave much personal space between you and your neighbor. I could write a book about this cross country bus experience, and all the crazy happenings along the way; in fact, I think I just might.
The plan is to get Katana back when I reach Lake Tahoe at the northern end of the Sierra. It’s going to be a huge change hiking without her, and I’m anticipating some separation anxiety. All that being said, I’m also a little excited. For the first time in a very, very long time, I get to really open up my hiking speed/endurance, and see what I can do without the extra weight of katana’s food/gear, and without the stop and go of her curious pace. It should definitely be interesting.
I wrote all of the above during my final morning on the bus. Everything that follows after this sentence, I wrote on this night of June 11 th, 2016.
I did not think I had a prayer of getting back to the trail today, let alone Kennedy Meadows. My greyhound bus pulled into Bakersfield a little after 12pm. I disembarked for the final time (thank Jesus), but my bus riding was far from over.
I looked up the local public bus station and it was luckily only about a mile from the greyhound station. I walked there first, then figured out the bus schedule. There was a bus going from Bakersfield to Lake Isabella at 1:40 pm. I caught it after about an hour of waiting. An hour and a half later, I was back in familiar Isabella.
There were no buses to Kennedy Meadows, so my only hope of getting there was a very desperate hitching attempt, or walking. Walking would take at least two days, so I settled on attempting to hitch.
Before I began hitching, I ran into another hiker that was taking a different bus to some nearby campground. This bus was running as far as the town of Onyx, then turning around. If I caught that bus, it would move me about 20 miles closer to the nearly 80 miles that it was to get to Kennedy Meadows (by the roads that weren’t closed).
So I caught the bus to Onyx. I was familiar with onyx from my previous two step hitching experience the week before, so I knew if I couldn’t get a hitch from there, then I could safely camp in the park nearby and work everything out in the morning.
So there I was, standing on the side of hwy 178 again, in the exact spot I was standing more than a week before with Katana on my shoulders. Ten minutes went by before a white Chevy pickup pulled over.
I ran up to the window and told the middle aged gentleman that I was trying to get to Kennedy Meadows, but if he could only take me as far as Walker pass, I’d be grateful, and keep hitching from there. Every mile closer to the service road into Kennedy Meadows was improving my odds of finally getting all the way there on a hitch attempt. The man (who’s name was Ron) told me he could get me to Ridgecrest, and that I could get an easier hitch from there. I was unfamiliar with Ridgecrest, but it was close to the service road that I needed to drive up; So I agreed to the ride, and started into the unknown and unfamiliar, with only the advice of a stranger to go on.
I told Ron about the hike, the fire, and my detour off the mountain. To my surprise, Ron turned down the same dirt road that I came off of when I fled from the inferno. This is the road that all of the emergency vehicles had taken when they all drove past me, walking in the opposite direction. The road was marked as “closed,” but no one was physically guarding it. “I doubt there’s anyone out here on a Saturday” Ron remarked, as he began driving up the road. “Hell yeah!” I thought to myself.
We made it up the entire road and didn’t see a soul. The forest on both sides of it were completely charred from the fire. I’d never seen an area so recently devastated. The ground was slick and smooth of all vegetation; it didn’t look natural at all. Just charred trees in a sea of smooth, black sand and ash.
We cut off more than an hour of driving by taking this road, and Ron dropped me off at Kennedy Meadows a few minutes before 6pm. We spent the drive talking about hunting, fishing, and his recent coincidental trip to my hometown in Florida; for contract work with the military. Small, small, world.
I spent about 20 minutes at Kennedy Meadows, changing into my hiking clothes, and fishing for any trail news/ gossip; there were zero familiar faces. After getting water and suiting up, I hit the trail and went a little less than 3 miles to a campground. I wanted to wake up on trail and get an early start.
I’m going to have to push 25+ mile days in order to meet my doggy deadline; over the steepest, highest, coldest, snowiest terrain of this entire trail. I’m going to be worked to my limit, but I’m looking forward to it in a twisted sort of way. I’m not afraid of failure, but either way, no matter what happens, I’ll get to learn that much more about this Kyle Rohrig character, as well as just how much he’s willing to give, and take…