Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Summer, 2015 - Here we go!

Emilie's minion on the move
This begins another summer of wandering and adventuring! I intend to post once or twice a week, except for the month of July when I'll be in the backcountry. 

Here is the first installment. 

Tuesday, June 2 –  

Emilie captures a duck
I had helped Emilie move all day on the 1st, so I spent much of the day packing, organizing, and doing last minute preparations. I had planned to be on the road by noon, but it was 4 p.m. before I actually began this summer’s adventures.
Moving Day

One of the hardest moments was saying goodbye to my good friend Twila, who is moving to Kansas City. Although I’m extremely happy for her, I’m very sad that when I get home in August, she won’t be here. She’s been my person for so many things for the last few years; living in Sioux City without her here will be such a difficult adjustment. I love you Twila.

I decided to forego driving across the state of Nebraska on I-80, perhaps the most boring and mind-numbing drive I know, and cut down through the middle of the state, going through Wayne, Norfolk, and some other familiar and not-familiar towns. Driving through some of those familiar haunts reminded me of trips from the past, and in addition to experiencing the current landscape, I revisited lovely memories as I drove along. The weather was great, and I had my arm out the open window for most of the drive as I headed for my first stop.

I have found a website called, and I plan to stay free whenever possible as my funds this year are very thin. Through that site, I’d located a city park in a small town just off my route, Calloway, Nebraska. I arrived in Calloway just as it was getting dark, and the campsites sit just behind the tennis courts at the park. I heard kids calling to each other and playing on the nearby playground equipment as I fended off mosquitoes while setting up my tent. 

Once I was set up for the night, while I ate a quick dinner from my cooler, I checked the radar. There were chances of storms, and I had watched clouds building as I’d approached the town.  The radar showed an intense storm stretching west and north of the town. After texting a friend and mulling over the possibilities, I followed his advice and pulled up camp instead of risking the high winds and hail predicted. The campsites were all covered with trees, and the thought of being hit with a widow maker kind of sealed the deal for me.

As I drove out of town, the wind picked up to the point I had to turn off my brights because the blowing dirt blinded me.  After the strong winds, the rain and hail began, and even with my wipers on high, it was difficult to see. After being back on the road for five minutes or so, the radio warned of 70 m.p.h. winds, hail, and torrential rains hitting Calloway within the next 10 minutes. I had made the right choice.

My dilemma now was to find a place to sleep. It was midnight by this time, and I was exhausted. There was a visitor’s center just at the Colorado border listed as free camping, and although it was two hours away, I decided to aim for there.

When I arrived, after battling fatigue on the highway, I simply pulled into their parking area, grabbed the twin-sized Mickey Mouse comforter I travel with, and curled up in the front seat. I slept hard until 9 p.m. or so, waking only briefly when dawn broke. As my friend Jesse says, sleeping in your car is highly underrated.

Wednesday, June 3 –

Denver REI
REI gets how women should be pictured
After hitting the road at the Colorado/Nebraska border, I headed for REI where I had a few things to exchange and replace. The REI in Denver is so wonderful – it’s in an old brick building and surrounded with landscaping that evokes feelings of being on the trail.

The La Sal Mountains

Colorado River

As usual, they helped me out, sending the item I needed – a new sleeping pad – general delivery to pick up in Moab. After fixing a quick lunch in the parking lot, I was back on the road, intending to get to Moab that evening. The drive was uneventful, and I enjoyed it. I-70 through Colorado is one of the few interstate drives I will take. I always prefer two-lane highways, but there aren’t a lot options from Denver to Moab, and the drive itself goes through mountains and canyons.

Driving 128 to Moab. Fisher Towers, the Colorado River, and the Le Sal Mountains
I reached Moab around 8 p.m., and I unloaded the car quickly, settling into my accommodations. My friend Dan Christianson, whom I met last summer at a campground in Flagstaff, has generously offered his house for me to stay in as long as I need it. It’s a very comfortable house, and it’s quite different from what I’m used to on these trips – a bed, a refrigerator, high-speed internet. I have all the comforts of home. It’s wonderful to have the space, time, and comfort to do my last preparations for the two stints in the wilderness I’ll have this summer.

Thursday, June 4 –

Start of the hike - part of the old mill?
I did my first hike of the trip this day. Larry, the landlord for the place I’m staying, suggested a hike called Mill Creek trail that is close to town and runs along a creek. He said it is a local favorite, and there are a few swimming holes in which to cool off. Only a few miles out and back, it seemed like a good first hike of the season.

Hiking on slickrock always takes a little getting used to

I didn’t get an early start after sleeping in, so I didn’t get on the trail until after noon. Since much of the hike was shaded and close to the water, this wasn’t a problem at all. The hike was interesting; there were various routes available, but all led to basically the same place, running parallel to the creek.

I arrived at the first fishing hole, and there were lots of kids there, jumping from a high rock into a pool at the bottom of a small waterfall. I watched them for a few minutes, listening to the laughter and hooting, before moving on to quieter stretches of the hike.

Although much of the hike was right along the creek, there were portions on slickrock that involved climbing or descending the orange formations. I realized how much I enjoy hiking in this part of the country – it’s a great way to build confidence and balance for my summer’s hiking. There are many instances when I hike in this area where I encounter drop-offs, hard-to-find trails, and various other precarious situations. After the initial anxiety, hiking these trails becomes natural, and that part of me that loves heights and adrenaline rushes enjoys being fed.

I found a place to sit with my feet in the stream and have some lunch. I took off my boots, enjoying the cool water rushing over my toes, and enjoyed the solitude and quiet. My only companions were birds and insects, and I could feel the stress of the previous months of artificial light and deadlines slip away.

Roger, leading the way
The cactus were in bloom
Abundant poison ivy along this trail
After a while, I decided to head back. I knew there was another swimming hole a bit further on, but I wasn’t sure how far and didn’t feel like encountering more people. Once I stood and started up the creek bank, I ran into another hiker. Roger was close to 70 and looked like he’d hiked a lot of trails. He told me the swimming hole was just a little farther, and, deciding I would after all go farther, I asked if I could tag along. He said sure, and told me if I’d come upon him a few minutes later, he’d have been naked. I said I was fine with naked, and he kind of chuckled.

We reached the swimming hole in just a few minutes. It was quiet and the water was clear, fed by a small waterfall. Just under an overhang, to one side, was one hiker reading a book. We said hello and I sat to take off my boots again and enjoy the place. When I got my boots off and looked up, there was Roger, stark naked, wading into the water. His freedom from the restraint we’ve come so dependent upon as a culture was as refreshing as the cool water, and I watched as he swam, then emerged from the water to hike around to the other side of the pond, looking for a peach tree he knew of.

I realized then that I have been doing this wrong. Although I do relax and de-stress on my trips, when I hike, I have a tendency to get too caught up in getting the hike done, treating it like work. I don’t sit enough, relax enough, take my boots off enough. I’m not sure why I’ve been this way, but I vow to change this. I vow to make the lazy enjoyment of the experience my goal, not accomplishing the hike.

Friday, June 5 –

Hidden Valley
Barney Rubble
After another lazy morning, I decided to do the Hidden Valley hike. The hike begins with a short but steep climb up “Barney Rubble,” followed by a flat stroll across a wide meadow.  About two miles in, the trail connects with another trail and offers a look across an expanse of canyons and rock formations.

The climb was not nearly as demanding as I had anticipated – a very good thing – and when it opened up to the meadow, it was a wonderful transition. While climbing to the meadow, I was accompanied by the sounds of traffic from the main highway running south out of Moab and I continued to see the outskirts of town. In fact, a couple from Chicago, who were also hiking, turned around because they wanted something quieter and more remote. If they had had the patience, all that quiet and solitude awaited at the top of the climb.

Storm in the La Sals
Once in the meadow, the only sounds were the calls of the ravens at the tops of the cliffs and melodies of the small songbirds closer to the ground. Wildflowers bordered the trail in places as if planted by a careful groundskeeper, and the view of the changes ahead added a dimension to the hike.

Coming out of the valley
When I neared the junction and the overlook, I heard thunder come from a sky that had been darkened by clouds. I don’t mind rain, and I had thought to bring my rain jacket, but thunder makes me nervous, especially when I’m so exposed. Fortunately, I had just reached the end of the meadow and there were some rock walls and overhangs the offered some shelter. I hunkered down under one of those overhangs, put on my rain jacket, and ate my lunch. There was a perfect, smooth rock on which to sit and a place to lean my poles and set my bag. I ate and waited for the thunder to pass.

My car is the little spec in the parking area to the bottom left of the picture
When it had quit thundering for a bit, I gathered everything back up and decided to head back. I was only a little over two miles in, and I had hoped to go another mile or so, but the weather was unpredictable and I was anxious about returning thunder and lightning.
Back down Barney Rubble

It rained for about half the hike across the meadow, but before too long, the rain stopped and the sun worked its way back out. After removing my jacket, I picked my way back down Barney Rubble to my car.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Respite from Hiking - Independence Day and more at Mammoth Lakes

            July 1 – I spent the day making the journey from Tuolomne Meadows to Lone Pine. Two bus rides, with a day of trolley rides in between to pass the time, gave me plenty of time to process my decision.

This explains what happened in the pics below - too much CO2
            I arrived in Mammoth around 10 a.m., and my bus to Lone Pine didn’t leave until 5:20, so I had a day, with my 40-pound pack, to spend at Mammoth Lakes. I spent the first part of it at McDonalds (the help there recognized me by now), charging my phone and making friends with an older couple who had lots of suggestions and ideas of things to do in Mammoth. After a while, I decided to ride the free trolley around town to waste some time and get out of McDonalds. The first trolley driver, a cranky but helpful woman, suggested I take a different line that ran up in the Lakes Basin. It was a much prettier ride, she told me. She also informed me that the plaza where I was to wait for that trolley had a Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Store. Oh yeah, baby – she knew how to get me off that trolley.

A cautionary tale seen from the trolley

            I indulged and waited for the Lakes Basin Trolley, and when it arrived, I settled in for a nice ride. And it was beautiful. I was able to spot where the campsites were and the driver had all sorts of information about the area. I rode it twice, burning a few hours, before catching the town trolley back to McDonalds. A plan was beginning to form.
The trolly hauls people and their bikes up the mountain to the Lakes Basin

            I finally made it to Lone Pine about 7:30 p.m., picked up my computer and my car, and checked into the hotel. The only room available was one with a whirlpool tub, so I took about a 45-minute shower followed by a long soak in the tub. Getting clean never felt better as the dirt streamed off my aching body. And the clean, cool sheets felt pretty good too. I was able to set the alarm for late morning, and that’s just what I did.

            July 2 – I wanted to get to Mammoth fairly early with the impending holiday. I knew campsites would be at a premium, so I wanted to get one through the weekend to avoid being stranded with nowhere to set up. I wasn’t sure I was ready to be back in the tent, but once I got to Mammoth and found my campsite, I was happy to be there.

I had to repeatedly run off this little visitor
            I first found a site at Lake George, but it wasn’t right on the lake. I wanted to ask the Camp Host some questions about length of stay, and a sign directed me to visit Lake Mary Campground to find the host. There, the host, LaDonna, was thrilled to hear I was from Sioux City. Her husband was from Iowa originally. It seems everyone knows someone from Iowa or is from Iowa him or herself out here. She told me a prime spot on the lake would be vacated the next day, and let me pay for it ahead of time, ensuring no one would beat me to it. I love how many people are willing to go out of their way to help a person out. The kindness of strangers . . .

            So I was set. I set up camp and spent some time picking up a few groceries in Mammoth. Everything is very expensive here with it being a resort town, but my camp fees for five nights only came to $120. That’s high for what I usually spend, but with the holiday and the location, I was still very pleased. And that’s about what it costs to stay one night in a mediocre hotel here, not during a holiday weekend.
Lake George

            Mammoth is a beautiful town, and the hiking here is plentiful. I’ll be able to access parts of the JMT here, and I can add some other hikes I wouldn’t have been able to do. I also decided I’ll explore the area a bit – revisiting the ghost town of Bodie, and exploring other area trails. And every time I look up, I see the beautiful Sierra Nevada.

View at my campsite on Lake Mary
            July 3 – I moved my camp to the new site, and I spent more time investigating the area. The campground filled up by the afternoon, and there are people everywhere. I’ll be glad when the holiday weekend is over, but there is something appealing about the festive air of the crowd.

            My next door neighbor at the campground is a couple from southern California – she’s 50 and he’s 62. They’re considerate of my space, even if they do drive a big RV and have lots of stuff set up and around, and they’re nice people. She, a self-described pot head, invited me to smoke with them (I declined) and she gave me a great affirmation for writing. She said, as I’m hiking along, if I have an idea to stop and jot it down and then say to myself: “I receive, I will remember, I will write.” I’m going to try this out.

            So I’m bedded down for at least the next four or five days here in Mammoth, and will very likely extend that. The next two days will be filled with Independence Day festivities including a parade, Chihuahua races, jugglers, and fireworks. What a fun place to spend the holiday.

            July 4 – Waking up early, I headed to town to find a good parking place for the parade and the day’s festivities. I found one right away, and with hours to spare before the parade began, I wandered to the local famous bakery, Shatts, to get some breakfast.
A little taste of heaven
            I wasn’t the only person with this idea, and the line wound around the store, each person salivating over the wide selection of delectables in the glass cases. After some agonizing decision-making, I settled on a fruit-piled tart of some sorts and a chocolate-covered Bavarian Crème pastry. I don’t know if I’ve ever had better pastries in my life. The crust on the tart melted in my mouth, and the Bavarian Crème pastry was sliced in half and loaded with the sweet crème. It too was melt-in-your-mouth light and scrumptious. Sitting outside, enjoying my pastries and messaging a friend, the morning was ideal.

Lots of horses and mules - not relegated to the rear

Those are water drops saying "save me"

Promoting water preservation in a drought-filled area

Search and rescue

Search and rescue
Lots of firetrucks
            After I finally finished my meal, I wandered back down near my car, and found a place I could sit on the grass and watch the parade go by. As luck would have it, I had stumbled on prime parade real estate and was directly across from the announcer. I had a great view of the parade and enjoyed watching not only the floats and such, but also the kids experiencing it. The day was perfect and the parade lot of fun – if rather long at more than an hour – and I visited with a hiker from Canada and a few families from the area. 
Accommodations for all types of athletes



A baby pool set out for hot dogs

             I spent the rest of the afternoon shopping at the arts festival before I’d exhausted my enjoyment of people and activity. I then headed to Convict Lake to check it out, and drove out to Crowley Lake, a few miles down the road, to see if I wanted to return there to watch the fireworks that night.

Convict Lake

How the lake got its name
            Convict Lake was beautiful and if it hadn’t been so crowded I would have spent more time there. But I grabbed a few quiet moments between tourists, and then moved on. It was great to find out later from my friend Pat that parts of Star Trek Insurrection had been filmed there. Who knew?

            Crowley Lake was a bust – it cost $25 to stay and watch the show, so I decided to skip it. I returned to my campsite and enjoyed a quiet evening of cooking over the campfire and reading. Not a bad Independence Day at all.

            July 5 – This is the day Mammoth Lakes proper designated as its party day for the holiday. Festivities began in early afternoon and would run until late in the evening, culminating in a fireworks display of course.

Cooked my own breakfast this time
            After a leisurely morning in the campground, I drove into town to check out the festivities. I people-watched more than anything – there are a lot of wealthy people who hang out in Mammoth, and all of them are fit. It is such an active town, with bicyclists and hikers making up the majority of the population in the summer and skiers dominating in the winter. It was fun to see all the families who enjoy the outdoor activities together.

            By the end of the afternoon, I had to get away from all the people for a while before returning for the evening’s live music. I find myself less and less interested in crowds and people as time goes on.

            I was glad I returned for the LB Soul Society, a blues/pop band from the coast. They were great, and the crowd was a little sparser, at least at the beginning. But by the time the band finished, I could barely walk through the plaza. After asking a fire fighter about the fireworks, I realized the show wouldn’t be such an extravaganza as I’d hoped. He said it’d be a small show, and I would have to be fairly close to see it.
            Deciding to beat the traffic, I left, confident that I’d see another fireworks display another time. And maybe because of the crowd, I was beginning to get one of those bouts of loneliness I occasionally get on these trips. I’ve had some great experiences watching fireworks with people I love, some of them romantic, and I ached just a little for the shared experience. But all in all, it was a very nice holiday weekend.