We’ve made a lot of milestones these past few weeks. We got our first covid shots, celebrated a birthday, an anniversary, climbed the highest peak around, saw the oldest living trees and passed a year and a half living in our truck, among other things.
Before we left Vegas, we got our first jab. It felt good to finally stop wondering about how & when we would get it. We dropped a few hundred bucks on groceries and stuff given we had a few pent up desires after 3 months in Baja and wow, perhaps there’s been some inflation here?? Then, as is my belief to never say never, we found ourselves actually driving westward to my favorite town of Pahrump where we were last in December after the truck’s water pump blew up in Death Valley. Who woulda thought? It served its purpose for an overnight, we washed the trucks so they weren’t pink anymore from Baja dirt and the next day we continued driving across Death Valley. We’re not really superstitious but Jon & I were a little nervous going back in to Death Valley because it felt like we were testing our luck. It was too hot to do anything though and we wanted to get to the other side to explore the eastern Sierra Nevadas anyway so we just crossed through in a couple of hours. The truck didn’t mind climbing up thousands of feet in the heat which is good to know. So glad for the turbo as well. We are not having a problem with elevation so far. Death Valley is such a beautiful park though with incredible vistas that we do want to come back again someday. We’d hoped to see the fighter jets buzzing us doing practice runs from the viewpoint but they must have been at lunch. Ivan got a shot of us in the front cab as we pulled into the lot, so it was worth it. Haha. It’s just that we never seen ourselves from that perspective. It made us notice we had a healight out!
Traveling with a professional photographer in your back pocket has its benefits. We’re trying to learn a few things to become better at it ourselves. We like seeing Ivan crunched down on the ground to get the perfect perspective. And then I crack up when I see Jon trying out his new tricks!
So many people have recommended that we drive Rt 395 up through the Sierra Nevadas that we decided we really wanted to do it. Since Ivan had already been, he showed us to a great place- Alabama Hills, near the town of Lone Pine and we found a cool spot with a whiff of internet. The Alabama Hills are a beautiful area of reddish brown eroded hills and rounded rocks popularly known for their history in extensive film making backdrops since the 1920’s. I realize that I’ve never seen much of the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy or Gene Autry but I definitely can hear my dad talking about them and I know they were a part of his childhood. We visited a museum in Lone Pine that showcased the memorabilia and history of that time. I didn’t know that it was the Lone Ranger who said “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday”. Now that the sets & cowboys are gone for now there is nothing but the soft grasses and pretty rocks and all the lovely campspots among them. We celebrated Ivan’s birthday at Alabama Hills. He graciously took us out for BBQ, which we were craving, and I made him a birthday cake.
I thought that running wasn’t in the cards for me anymore. It seemed like every time I would try all my old running injuries would plague me. But maybe it was the pace and distance that I expected of myself that made it that way. I don’t know. But I started again in the Baja accompanying Ivan and so far I feel like a million bucks. So on a couple mornings while Ivan & I were running at Alabama Hills, Jon took the motorbike out to do some recon of the roads that head upward into the towering mountains above. One was the Whitney Portal Rd and the other an even higher road to Horseshoe Meadows, all on national forest land. He reported back that both were beautiful with lots of hiking opportunities. Well this little discovery changed everything. I had written off climbing Mt Whitney a long time ago because I figured we could never get a lotttery permit to climb it. But we had a look online anyway because thankfully we had that spot with internet and come to find out, there are often some leftover permits in May. We snatched up 3 permits to do a backpack trip later in the week, and it would be over our anniversary. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it. Ivan ordered up some backpacking gear, we went in to town and got some dehydrated food and some more camp gas and we were all really excited about our plan. But by the next day, the forecast started showing a storm moving in right over the time of our trip and after another day, we realized that we weren’t going to be able to use our lucky permit after all. So we did the next best thing, we bought a day permit instead for 2 days out when the weather was set to be perfect. In the meantime, we did a couple of day hikes up on both of the high roads to explore a bit and enjoyed the cooler air and trees up there.
Indeed, the day of our hike was gorgeous. We camped in the trailhead parking lot the night before, started at 530 in the morning and were up on the summit of Mt Whitney in time for lunch. We met several people who had turned back but we kept our pace to stay on track still leaving time for breaks and pictures. Since it had been a light snow year, what there was was manageable and the strong sun softened it enough so the footing was decent. It would’ve been nice to be able to linger at the top for longer to enjoy being higher than everything, or stay at Trail Camp and enjoy the changing light over the Needles formations …. but we were glad to get the opportunity to do it at all, together. It was a long day but lots of fun, these are my favorite kinds of days really and we’ll never forget it. I think each of us is happy to know that we have the baseline fitness to tackle a big hill at the drop of a hat too. Jon then started calling us the Three Summiteers!
The next day, we moved over to Horseshoe Meadow which is still at 10,000 ft to camp for a couple days before the storm came in. It’s just so beautiful up there and quiet. We were all remarking that it feels odd to come from the heat of the Baja to the remnants of winter in such a short time. To be taking out all the warm clothes that we carry. Jon & I took a hike out to Cottonwood Lakes to stretch out our legs and we met up with several PCT hikers coming off the trail to get lower for the cold weather that was coming. We headed back down to Alabama Hills before the snow started flying and this time we celebrated our anniversary over the BBQ among those pretty brown boulders looking up at the mountain we’d climbed, now obscured by snow showers.
When the weather cleared, we headed further north to the Ancient Bristlecone forest. These are among if not the oldest trees on the planet. The oldest in that group is dated at 4,800 years. Challenging soil and wind conditions and short growing seasons make for short, sturdy trees that are tough enough to stand the test of time. Now I’ve never really been good with numbers but these trees were already here when the pyramids were being built?? Hard to comprehend.
After a day of looking at old trees we camped nearby on the lonesome dirt road to them and enjoyed the sunset. Ivan & Jon took out the drones and you can see the beauty of the place. I have to say, we are really enjoying our life in the truck and the places it can take us to. Its been a year and a half on board and we’ve never looked back. Sometimes we sit inside at night and look at the interior remembering each piece of wood, each cut, each fixture, each coat of varnish or the tape on the floor when it was an empty white box and we were laying out the interior. We see some flaws but then here we are. Wouldn’t trade perfection for a minute that we’ve had underway. We look onward to the day when countries open back up and we can start our next “circumnavigation” but we are enjoying this time very much. And good friends make it sweeter.
From there we moved down to the area of Mono Lake, shaped by volcanic activity. Colored pools, warm streams, old cinder cones and a lake that bubbles up minerals to form interesting calcium carbonate rock formations. It was unique scenery that we hadn’t seen before. We squeezed in a morning of oil changes and Jon changed the belts on the truck once more (finally found the right size of the heavy duty green stripe quality) and took some nice walks from there.
Then Ivan headed out to see friends and we lucked out with perfect timing for the opening of the Tioga Rd to Yosemite for the season. I’d plodded through the permitting process to get a short backpack from Tuolumne Meadows up to Young Lakes, the best I could get. I feel generally irritated about how covid has affected the parks because even now, most of the concessionaires are operating at full tilt but the first come first served permits and part of the infrastructure for backpacking are pretty much gone. It doesn’t make any sense but regardless, we got out there and were among the first to reach that area for the season. They are a group of 3 beautiful alpine lakes with towering mountains. We camped for a night, explored the lakes and then the next afternoon when thunderstorms threatened, we quick packed up and hiked out, with storms all around except above us. Then that left yesterday to do a long day hike up to Vogelsang, where I’d wanted to go to begin with! We also drove down to Yosemite Valley to see it again. It really is impressive but impossibly packed with people & lodging. We walked some sightseeing paths and saw 2 bears, one quite close. We were pretty happy at first but then realized it had a collar and 2 ear tags. That and a boy walking down the path with a roller bag asking us if we knew where tent 707 was made us realize that Yosemite Valley is a park that is loved to death. Driving out of the valley, at times being routed in the opposite direction of travel on the road just to ease the congestion, we decided that our place is in the woods! I do love to backpack and the John Muir Trail is on my wish list. I feel like I need another life to fit in all the things that I would like to do. Well, at least I hope there are many more tomorrows.