Trail Update Number Six (Sierra Part Three)
In which everything goes sideways and I decide to follow the adventure rather than try to create it.
After an eight day stretch in the Sierra, we exited at Bishop Pass for resupply and some much needed R&R. What we didn’t initially realize but quickly found out was that it was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. In addition, the city of Bishop has an annual festival called Mule Days that runs on that weekend that draws mule teams and mule enthusiasts from across the country. Bed space was at a premium. When we got to the hostel, they were full. But we’re hikers and as such don’t need much. We told the concierge that we would take any available space, we just needed something that didn’t require camping on snow. He thought for a minute saying that because we were thru-hikers he would show us a room that was under construction to see if we could make it work. It was one small bedroom with zero furnishings in it, other than a couple outlets for charging electronics and barely enough floor space for the three of us. But we were desperate and the price was right so that room became our home for the next few days.
We planned to stay in Bishop for several days. The first would be purely a rest day. No planning, no chores and as best as possible, no thinking about the trail. The next day would be our planning day where we would figure out how to tackle the next section. The final day in town would be resupply and getting ready to go. Of course during this time we would consume as many calories as possible, but that goes without saying! It was near the end of the first day that I started to feel a weird tickle in my sinuses and at the same time some really bad heartburn. The heartburn I chalked up to my see-food diet from the past 24 hours, but the sinus thing bothered me – now was really not the time to get sick! The next day was more of the same, heartburn, sinus thing and now, no energy. I picked up some antacid and shifted my diet to some healthier fare. Whatever it was, I needed to shake it before it got worse! Fortunately, our triple-zero allowed me enough rest that a full-blown cold never materialized. The downside is that because my body was fighting whatever it was, I never really got the true rest that I needed and when it came time to head back to the trail, I was still just as exhausted as I was three days prior. Usually by the end of a zero day I start getting antsy and am anxious to get moving again. But this time I could tell that I hadn’t rested and really didn’t feel ready. But the trail was calling. Besides, a triple zero? That’s a little ridiculous! So out we went.
Back on trail
Normally, when getting back on trail, you re-entry at the same point that you exit in order to link continuous footsteps. However, this year being what it was, adapting is key. We had gotten word that there was a bridge that was out that crossed a major river. Perhaps in a low snow year or later in the season it would be possible to ford, but there was no chance of crossing it at this time and the recommended reroute had us entering at a different trailhead at Piute Pass. We got a ride out close to the trailhead, but the road was closed to traffic and we would need to do the rest on foot. The cool part was that the person who picked us up happened to be the local “map guy”. He was in charge of stocking maps at different locations: trailheads, visitor centers, that kind of thing. So he knew the trails really well. He clued us in to a well-established but unofficial trail that took us to the trailhead without having to walk on the road. Sweet!
We got to the trailhead just before dark, set up and went to sleep. Tomorrow, we would resume our 3:00 a.m. “packs on.” I slept terribly that night, if at all. About every hour I woke up feeling like I couldn’t breathe. At one point, I actually got out of my tent just to get some fresh air. Whatever was going on was not conducive to hiking and I was a bit worried. When it became time to wake, I had my coffee and breakfast, packed up my gear and prepared to hike, but I still had no energy. We set off and almost immediately I had trouble keeping up. The climbs, which are normally my strong suit, forced me to stop every minute just to catch my breath. Things were not going well. After about two hours we were near the top of the pass and stopped for a break. This was torture. There was no way I could keep this up for the rest of the day, let alone the next six! Not to mention that it wasn’t fair to the rest of the group for me to slow them down. I made the call to turn around and head back to Bishop before getting too deep into the mountains where the terrain would only get more difficult. It was difficult to leave my group. We had worked really well together in the first section and were very compatible as hikers. But we had also added a fourth person who was a super strong hiker and was very good at navigating as well. That group of three would be awesome. We said our goodbyes and I turned around and began to make my way back to Bishop. It was still early and I had all day to make the trek. I took my time and despite my beleaguered state, managed to enjoy the walk back down. I didn’t know it for sure at the time, but I was exiting the Sierra for good.
The trail provides
I reached the road where “the map guy” had dropped us off the previous day and started walking towards Bishop. There was zero traffic and I fully expected to walk a good chunk of the way before another road intersected and provided the possibility of getting a ride. I was in my own little world of half pity-party and half thinking about my next move, so I didn’t even hear the white SUV until it pulled up next to me and the driver asked, “Do you need a ride?” I was almost shocked. Here I was getting a ride to town and I hadn’t even asked. Of course I accepted and got in. The gentleman explained to me that he has a house in town and a house up on the mountain, so he often gives rides as he travels between the two. He also told me a story about how he lost his back deck and almost his house in a fire the night before! My problems of not being on trail when I want pales in comparison to others who are dealing with real issues. Perspective. He dropped me off at the hostel that I had left less than 24 hours ago, I booked a bed and went up to take a nap.
A few hours later, I woke and went into the living room to hang out and try to figure out what I wanted to do. I had a package sent to Lake Tahoe for when I exited the Sierra, maybe I should go there, pick it up and just continue from there? The high passes would be over, as would the major river fords. There would still be snow, but the terrain would be more forgiving. Hmmm… While I was sitting there, a couple came into the lobby. I was able to overhear the concierge greet them as I had others, but this time things were different. These two were not looking for a room. They were hikers who had done the trail in 2022 and were on a road trip visiting family in Los Angeles and decided to stop in at the Hostel to see if there were any hikers who needed a ride to their home in… Lake Tahoe! I couldn’t believe it! Part of my decision for where to go was based on transit, and suddenly that part of the equation was erased. I immediately accepted their offer and within 15 minutes, was on my way to Tahoe. Not only were they kind enough to drive us (another hiker accepted as well) but they had a bag full of snacks that we were instructed to eat. Absolutely! We got into town late and they dropped me off at a campground that just happened to be an easy walk from the post office I needed to go to in the morning. There was also a great bagel and coffee shop nearby. Things were really falling into place!
The next morning, I packed up, went to the bagel shop for breakfast and then went to the post office to trade out gear. By this point I had decided that I was not going to go back into the Sierra. I had a great adventure there in the mountains, but the rivers honestly frightened me and I felt like I had dodged the proverbial bullet in that I really didn’t need to ford anything major. But as the southern half is known for its high passes, the northern half is known for the creek crossings. And with the melt now in full swing, I felt like my luck was about to run out. I was now looking ahead. My plan was to get back on the trail at Echo Summit and continue north from there into the Desolation Wilderness. Supposedly, the track was packed and easy to follow as there are a lot of day and weekend hikers on the trail in that area.
I stopped for a quick to go lunch and was eating it on the roadside, when suddenly a car stopped right in front of me. At first I thought I was going to get yelled at as I was sitting right in front of a ’no trespassing’ sign and I steeled myself for the encounter. The driver got out, came around the car, extended his hand and introduced himself as a local trail angel. He saw my pack, recognized me as a hiker and stopped to ask if I needed a ride to the trailhead. I couldn’t believe it. This was my third ride in two days that I needed but didn’t ask for. The trail, while difficult at times, was certainly providing! I accepted his ride and by 2:00 in the afternoon, I was back on the trail. A journey that I was expecting to take three days and be wrought with logistical difficulties, happened in less than 24 hours with relative ease. Amazing!
This is where things really start to go crazy.
I hiked for about an hour or so and got to the Echo Lake trailhead in the late afternoon. As I was approaching, a dog saw me and ran towards me, barking. This isn’t the first time this has happened – dogs are gonna dog – and also as usual, the owner said that he was friendly – which he was. The lady who owned the dog introduced herself as a local trail angel, asked me about my plans, and gave me her contact info for when I got to the next road crossing offering to pick me up at that point (I hadn’t even hiked the miles and I already had a ride?!). She also introduced the person she was hiking with, a doctoral student who is attending school in my home state. Small world! She also asked where I was planning on camping. I said I wasn’t sure, but I hoped to get set up before the afternoon storms hit. She told me that there were a bunch of lake houses along the trail and that if I would be welcome to set up on a porch for a bit of shelter (she knows everyone in the area). She also said that if I found an open cabin that the “old-timers” wouldn’t mind if I went in to avoid any weather. I thanked her for the info and told her that I would be in touch when I got to the next road.
I hiked along the lake and the clouds got darker. Pretty soon I decided that it might not be a bad idea to check a cabin. The first couple were locked up tight – a prudent practice as apparently bears had figured out how to break into cabins! I found the next cabin with a completely broken out window! But it didn’t look malicious, nor did it look like bear damage as all of the broken window parts were stacked neatly on the table. Weird. But weather was coming in and the place was dry, so I took a chance… I camped on the floor and made sure not to touch anything!
You can’t make this stuff up!
The next morning, I woke at my normal time, had breakfast and hiked out around 6:30. I had only gone a short distance when cresting a rise near a cabin was a bear! It was about 30 yards away and right on the trail. An instant later, I realized that it had a cub with her. Now that changes things. A lone bear would probably be easy to scare off, but a mother with cubs can be quite protective – not something I want to be around. But something was different. For one, she was limping due to an apparent injury to her right front paw. Second, she just seemed – and it sounds strange to say this – sad. Her behavior when she saw me seemed to say, “Great. Now this too…” Regardless, I still didn’t want to be involved and since she was heading down the trail in the direction I wanted to go, I backed off and decided to wait. It was at this time that I noticed the food packaging around the house. Uh oh…did she break into the house? I figured I would take a look. Sure enough, the inside of the house was ransacked. Furniture was askew, food wrappers were everywhere and peering into the kitchen, I could see the stove was tipped over. Dang! I took some pictures and sent them to the trail angel I had met at Echo Lake- the one who knows everyone on the lake. She said she would get in touch with the owners. Bang! From inside the house. Did I hear that? I wasn’t sure. I peered through the window but saw nothing. I walked around to a different vantage point, still seeing nothing. Bang! There it was again, but still no movement. I went to a different window, but this time I noticed a small note with an email address on it saying to contact for any reason. Based on what I had seen, I thought it met the qualifications and began typing. Bang! There it was again, but this time I saw it! There was a large chest in the living room and the bang was caused by the lid lifting and then slamming back down. Oh. My…..was there another cub in there? I had to find out. I changed the text if the email to basically say, this is what’s going on, I’m going into your house to check it out. I gave my name and number, hit send and started in. Entry to the house was easy. The bear had ripped open one of the kitchen windows, so I simply climbed in. The first thing I did was open one of the doors. The last thing I needed was to be in the same room as a scared animal that has nowhere to go! Then I armed myself with a trekking pole (hey, I gotta have something!) and approached the chest. Since I had entered the house, it was quiet, so I wasn’t sure what I would find. I got my phone ready (without pics, it didn’t happen!) and pulled the chest open. Inside, no bigger than a medium sized dog, was the cutest little ball of fur you have ever seen. It looked up at me and paused for a moment. Once it realized that I wasn’t mom, it climbed out, ran across the floor (fortunately in the direction of the open door!) and outside. As soon as it escaped the house, it immediately began calling for mom. Now I was really stuck. No way was I going to get between a distressed cub and mama! I decided to use this time to update the homeowner with what I found and sent them a picture. I also called the local sheriff’s office to let them know what had happened. They thanked me and said that they would dispatch a deputy and that I could wait if I wanted to but didn’t have to. Knowing that the bear family was just up the trail, I decided that I would give it a little time to let things cool down.
It was then that I checked my messages. There was a text from my cousin. Just two words: “call me.” Wondering what it was about and literally having lots of extra time, I dialed his number. I don’t remember how the conversation went, but basically he was inviting me to get out of the snow for a bit and go on a rafting trip with him and several others. He has been trying to get me to go rafting for a long time but there is always something going on. But this time, after living in snow for the better part of two weeks, the idea of some snow free fun was too much to resist. I told him that I would let him know by the end of the day and set about to figuring out how to get to southern Oregon. The first step was lodging. My daughter lives in that area and immediately said I was welcome to stay with her. One down, one to go. Travel. I could take a bus out of Sacramento, but how to get there. I contacted the trail angel and asked if she or anyone she knew might possibly be heading to Sacramento that day. Remember the grad student? She said that she was leaving for Sacramento in the hour to catch a flight back home. It could all work! I responded to my cousin with a “I’m in!” and started heading back to the trailhead to meet my trail angel who would deliver me to my driver who would take me where I needed to go. The ride to Sacramento was fantastic. Great conversation with someone who was intelligent, interesting and inquisitive. The nine-hour bus ride north was the antithesis. It was overnight, but without really sleeping. And for some reason, people decided that I wanted to hear their music. Look people, I don’t like your music and I can guarantee that you wouldn’t like mine. Keep that $*!# to yourself! I arrived at the bus station at dawn, and my daughter met me with a large cup of coffee – such a great kid! We went back to her apartment and spent the rest of the weekend just hanging out and catching up.
Not the PCT
On Monday, my cousin picked me up and we headed out. We were going to do a five-day trip on the Rogue River with one day of layover (what we would call a zero) to just hang out at camp. I had never been rafting before and after seeing what some of the rivers in the Sierra looked like, was a bit nervous. I had visions of torrents of whitewater crashing around me that could grind me into a paste (some of the creeks in the Sierra definitely fit that description!). But he assured me that things would be fine and after a dinner of ribs and baked beans, went to sleep. The next morning, we finished rigging the boats and pushed off. I won’t recount the whole trip as that would be an entire story in itself. I will say that my fears were waylaid and that I had an absolute blast! There were of course a couple spicy moments that kept things interesting, but for the most part it was super chill. The other thing to note was the level of glamping. These boats are big and can hold a lot of gear. A lot! Like an entire cooler devoted to drink ice. Gin and tonic one day, margaritas the next, old fashioneds… you get the idea. And the food. Salmon fillets, tacos, steaks, every one of them with all the fixings. It was an eater’s paradise! And luxury items. In my pack, my luxury item (singular) is my blow-up pillow. It weighs just a few ounces and packs to the size of an egg. On the boat: chairs, a full kitchen set. Hand wash stations, a croquet set, a lighted boche ball set…the list goes on. I’m not sure if all rafting trips are like this, but the bar has been set super high!
Back at it
After the rafting trip, we went to my cousin’s house in the Seattle area. We unloaded all the gear and spent the next day hanging out. He had several days to spare and basically said, wherever you want to be dropped on the trail, let me know and I’ll take you there. I knew I was not going to go to the Sierra and quite frankly didn’t even want to deal with snow. I looked at the snow coverage map and decided that Old Station would be the best option. The next day we set off and the following day I took my first steps on the PCT in over two weeks and my first walk of any length in almost three.
There is no way I could have planned or predicted how the past few weeks have gone. But I can say with certainty that I have been met with incredibly good fortune, have enjoyed an amazing adventure and am excited to be back on trail.
See you down the trail
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