“Kennedy Meadows population 200,” the local guys laughed, “maybe there are 200 parcels in Kennedy Meadows but there’s no way there are 200 people, 20 would be more like it.”
I’d hiked through 700 hundred miles of desert to get to Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the Sierras. As I’d hiked northwards it seemed like everyone was excited about getting to Kennedy Meadows… Overtime it became an almost mythical place: the point at which you leave the desert and enter the Sierras.
When I remarked on the spectacular beauty and amazing views of the desert the people around me would smile at me and say, “if you think this is amazing, just wait until you get to the Sierra.” It seemed almost akin to people smiling at young children and saying, “just wait until you’re older.” Lots of people were looking forward to getting out of the desert and into the Sierra and getting to Kennedy Meadows was symbolic of that transition.
I wasn’t sure what I expected or what to expect as I approached Kennedy Meadows, but I do know that whatever it was, it was something completely different than what I found…
Entering Kennedy Meadows as I Ieft Sequoia National Park I passed by a few small homes and some land that looked like it was used for cattle and headed towards the general store. It looked much like a small store you might find in any southern or western mountain town. There were chairs out front with local folks relaxing and enjoying some beers, and then a side porch where the thru-hikers were sorting through their gear and preparing for the Sierras.
The two porches felt like they were two different worlds of completely alien peoples. I kind of enjoyed the watching the people on both porches… The locals seemed relaxed, and happy to drink their beers and marvel at the thru-hiker show with all of its bustle, boisterousness, excitement and beer.
Every now and then there was an alien encounter and a few words were communicated between the thru-hikers and the locals. I get to talk to other thru-hikers all the time, so when when of the locals started up a conversation with me I grabbed a beer, sat down, and joined them.
“That’s a mighty fine knife you’ve got there,” was the conversation starter. “Why yes it is,” I smiled and replied. “Mind if I take a peak at it?” I handed him my knife. He recognized the make and model of the knife (as did his two friends that were sitting there drinking their beers) and they admired it thoroughly.
Before I knew it, I was on the porch in Kennedy Meadows fully embroiled in a conversation about knives, guns, and the government. “I’ve stumbled into the wild Wild West for the first time,” I thought as the conversation went on. “The nearest law enforcement is at least three hours away and that’s the way we like it,” continued the conversation. “If the government stays out of our business, we’ll stay out of its business,” contributed another. And they tried to explain what life out in Kennedy Meadows was like.
With less than 20 full time residents and cold snowy winters, you have to be ok with a lot of solitude, and since the nearest law is 3 hours a way you learn to trust and rely on your neighbors. Are there small town politics, heck yeah. The smaller the town, the bigger the politics, and this may be the smallest “town” I’d ever seen.
What Kennedy Meadows has is a general store, a road, a trailhead, and solitude and independence for those that want it. The general store is the gathering point for both the locals and the thru-hikers with its nice shady porches for beating out the heat of the day. It’s not a big store, or a new store, but it’s Kennedy Meadows’ Store and that means something. There’s no cell phone reception in Kennedy Meadows, none. And the electricity for the store comes from it’s own generator. There’s no public power, public water, or public sewage in Kennedy Meadows. There’s no post office in Kennedy Meadows. There is, however, a pay phone… The first pay phone that I’ve used in over a decade.
As we were relaxing on the porch the guy with the black tank top and cammoflauge hat received a package. “You better look out man, could be a bomb,” said one of his friends. He looked at the package, turned it over in his hands, looked at the other guy and said, “f*** man, you may be right. Plenty of folks looking to take me out.” He then stood up and walked to the far side of the driveway to open the package. They seemed legitimately concerned that the package might be a personal bomb. I was definitely in a different world.
A couple minutes he jogged back beaming, “it’s a book!” He yelled. A book about the history of the American Civil war. As we chatted the afternoon away I grew fond of the group of locals and one of them offered to let me and some friends come back and sleep in his cabin instead of pitching our tents at the back of the parking lot.
With a couple of friends in tow, we piled into his pickup truck and headed for a new adventure in Kennedy Meadows… We’d found an unlikely trail angel!
The cabin was beautiful and had been completely constructed by our trail angel. He gave us the tour and showed us the solar panels, batteries, and generators that he uses to power everything in his house. It was really cool to see. Then we went inside, relaxed, ate roasted pinyon pine nuts that he’d collected from his own trees, and listened to him play guitar. He was a really good guitar player!
In between sessions we played with his punching/kicking bag a bit. I was pretty entertained at one point when he turned to me and said, “damn girl, you’ve been trained. You don’t land a kick six feet up the bag like that unless you’ve been trained.” It was good to see that I haven’t forgotten everything :)
There was more discussion about guns, conspiracy theories, the government, and what it meant to be a true patriot before he said, “you wanna really hear something?” and went downstairs to turn the generator on. When he came back he went to town on one of his electric guitars. This guy was definitely a real musician.
Though Kennedy Meadows may not have been what I expected to find, it was full of awesome and amazing adventures!! I can’t wait to see what awaits me in the Sierras… The trip has been incredibly amazing so far.
p.s. Still having trouble with the newest revision of the blogging software, hopefully it will get resolved soon!