Homeward Bound

The final day dawned with clouds spilling over the top of the mountains and a chill wind pushing down the canyon. 20181002_072522_Burst01 (1)

With sore knees and a reluctant heart, I broke camp to try to make it home before the reported storm settled in. I took the more scenic route, traveling south on Horseshoe Meadows Road for a few miles before turning east down Lubken Canyon Road. Scrub brush stretched for miles across the alluvial fan and it felt like I was alone on the planet until I spotted a large dog on the side of the road. I slowed and he began chasing the car and barking excitedly. Then I spotted his companion, another good sized golden retriever type. I couldn’t help but think of my dogs that someone had dumped on the side of the road two years ago. I stopped the car and got out, not sure of what to do. Could I just leave them out there in the middle of nowhere? They both appeared friendly, though the one kept barking something about Timmy having fallen down the well. Just when I had decided that I would have to turn back to the last human habitation I’d seen to report their whereabouts, a jovial looking man, wearing shorts, and carrying a long stick popped out of the bushes across the road. He launched into an explanation of how he took his wife, who had Parkinson’s, out for a walk every morning, and all I could do was gush about how relieved I was to see him. We each thought the other a bit odd, I’m sure.

I thought that Lubken Canyon Road connected with Highway 395 but as it grew narrower and more deteriorated, I began to worry that it would dead end with no place wide enough to turn around with a trailer. The road was hemmed in on both sides by weedy ditches and a fence. Then I came to a sign saying, “road narrows”.Ā  Oh, crap! Now it was one lane wide with no room to meet an oncoming vehicle, much less turn around. Backing in a straight line with a trailer is not my strong suit so I continued down the track, praying I didn’t meet anyone coming up.20181002_100658 (1)

As luck would have it, I had this lovely lane to myself. Ahead it looked as if the road either ended or turned and then voila! It turned over a cattle guard and immediately became a perfectly paved, two-lane road heading directly east. My little adventure had been mostly in my head but sometimes one has to find thrills where one can.

 

Eat, Hike, Sleep, Repeat

Sadie was adamant that the front bed of the Aliner was meant for her so, I decided that the dinette was superfluous and dropped it into the bed position. I slept better in the wider bed, Sadie was content to have space to stretch out, and Molly, the red-headed step-child, still slept on the floor. (She did have a rug)

Tara wanted to climb a portion of the the upper section of the Whitney Portal Trail though permits were not being issued to day hikers. Being from a long line of scofflaws, she was not deterred. Babs and IĀ  chose to again hike the lower portion, only this time we started from the top, thinking we would see the part we had missed the day before. What a great idea!

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Molly, the red-headed step child and Sadie the Klingon German Shepherd Dog

The upper portion of the lower part of the Whitney Portal Trail (are you with me so far?) starts a gradual descent along the creek, winding through widely spaced trees and box car-sized boulders. It is absolutely lovely! But the trail quickly grows steeper as it attempts to keep the stream, which is now more of a waterfall, in sight. Babs, having the advantage of nine more years of attaining good sense, said she would turn back, in keeping with her understanding of her limitations. I was enjoying the descent in spite of my aching knees, and the glimpses through the trees of the valley , thousands of feet below,Ā  lured me on. Molly and Sadie forged ahead, stopping at each switchback to wait for me. They know the rule is that they must remain in sight.

After an indeterminate amount of time (time flies when you’re having fun), I felt a pang of guilt at the thought of my sister waiting on the side of the trail above and turned back. I’d gone only about 50 feet up the trail when I realized it was REALLY steep. After a couple of switchbacks it dawned on me that my knees were REALLY sore. And then, gasping like a fish out of water, it became excruciatingly clear that the air was REALLY thin! I attached the leash to Sadie’s collar and encouraged my indefatigable, Klingon dog to pull. After a few yards, she balked. This was not what she had signed up for.

There was naught to be done but put ‘er in low and grind up the trail, gasp, wheeze, cough, pause, and repeat. I was soon distracted from the discomfort by the spectacular scenery and I reminded myself of my mantra: There is no place I would rather be; there is nobody I would rather be with; and there is nothing I would rather be doing.

I found Babs enjoying her own pace and taking photos. Her knees were fine, and she was ready to explore some more. I gamely pretended to be enjoying further hiking.

The drive down the Whitney Portal Road is as exciting at the Horseshoe Meadows Road; so, I pulled out on a turnout to admire the view of the valley. There was a motorcyclist already stopped there, taking a picture of his dog and his motorcycle. I offered to snap one of the two of them and he accepted the offer gratefully. He pulled off his helmet and wondered if his hair looked matted. Who would notice with this handsome companion?

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A matted-haired man and his daring dog

By dinner time, I was ready to kick off the hiking shoes and pour a glass of wine. It seems that alcohol is more effective at elevation because we nursed one bottle over three nights. Either that or we’re cheap dates. I made spaghetti while Babs chopped peppers, onions, cucumbers, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and raisins for a mixed green salad. For dessert, we splurged on a chocolate, almond, butter tart, compliments of Trader Joes. Tara again carried the dirty dishes back to her trailer and returned them clean for the next day’s supper. I LOVE that girl!

As Advertised…The Maiden Voyage

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If you have never experienced the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s hard to visualize the dramatic views they present at every turn. My sister, Babs, niece Tara, Tara’s dog Copper, my girls Molly and Sadie, and I, spent three nights at the Lone Pine campground at the base of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. The campground is nestled in a narrow canyon, next to a clear, trout-stocked stream, just off the Whitney Portal Road. It’s at about 6,000 feet which makes it just a bit cooler than the Owens Valley below and significantly cooler than Death Valley just a short distance away.

The whole idea of going on a trip with my new trailer, without Mike to take care of all the details of hooking up to the car and setting up the trailer was a bit stressful; but Tara was an experienced RVer and her presence gave me confidence. Adding to my anxiety, there were a multitude of “active bear” signs and “caution – rattlesnake” signs that didn’t exactly engender a sense of security. The first night, I put all of my food that wasn’t in the refrigerator in the bear box. Technically, this should be called an anti-bear box but I’ll go with the flow. Then I slept fitfully, imagining I heard bears even though the dogs slept serenely.

In the morning, well almost morning, we walked to the restroom, a clean, fresh, pit toilet, by moonlight. I trusted the girls would alert me to the presence of any wildlife. We saw only bunnies.20180930_065029

One of the joys of being an insomniac is having the world to oneself, still, cool, and full of anticipation as the rising sun inexorably crawls down the crags of the western mountains. I strolled through the slumbering campground, hearing not a sound until I reached the tent section. Then gentle snoring and the occasional fart made the presence of men known.

At the top of the ridge above the campground, I found a strong cell connection where I could call home to check in with Mike to see how Mom was doing in my absence. She had been anxious at the idea of me being away, but I was confident she would soon forget, which was borne out by her question, when I returned three days later. “Are you just home from work?”, she asked.

I volunteered to be the camp cook, knowing that if we left that chore to either Babs or Tara, we would probably starve to death. The little galley in the Aliner proved perfect for our first night’s meal of grilled cheese sandwiches on cracked-wheat sourdough, with sauteed onions and bell peppers tucked in. I suppose a nice bottle of white wine would have been appropriate, but I opened the pinot noir anyway.20180929_180125

In no rush to hit the trail, we completed our morning ablutions and tidied our camp sites before setting off up the lower section of the Whitney Portal Trail. The upper section of this trail is perhaps the most well-known (and consequently heavily trafficked) trail in California. Avid hikers are attracted by it’s breathtaking panoramas and the bragging rights attached to summiting its 14,500′ peak. We had no such ambitions and were content to start from camp where the altitude was less breathtaking. This section of trail immediately left Lone Pine creek and ran parallel to it along the ridge above. Just when it was becoming almost too warm in the sun, a side trail allowed access to the creek just a quarter of a mile below, much to the dogs’ delight. After a refreshing dip in the stream, we were all ready for more climbing and continued up the trail, which quickly entered tall scrub vegetation and then trees, making it far more comfortable. The relative coolness of the forest was offset by the increased steepness of the trail which became a series of switchbacks that tested the limits of our knees. When we ran out of snacks, we retraced our path back to camp, having seen only a handful of other hikers.

With hours of daylight left and spent climbing legs, we turned to auto touring for entertainment. The road to Horseshoe Meadows is carved into the side of a crazy-steep mountain, barely two-cars wide. My passengers experienced the closest thing to flying one could experience in a car, while I focused almost exclusively on the road. The meadows were anti climactic and beastly cold (elevation 10,000″) so we retraced our route which was even more dramatic on the descent.

Back at camp, I re-positioned my trailer to a site closer to Tara’s rig. This site had shade and was half the distance to the restroom. It was also directly across from the camp host who was an affable fellow and a wealth of information. He assured me that the bear boxes were not necessary as long as we kept our food inside our trailers. The only pests we would encounter in camp were squirrels and other rodents. That night I slept peacefully.