SHR Day 7: The Definition of Freedom

October 4, 2018

Emerald Lake, Mammoth, CA

So, I was off trail for the past week, away from the Wilderness, visiting a far faraway place called Boston, a place near and dear to my heart because I loved there for seven years.

Bah-ston in a nutshelll

A week ago, I left Hurlgoat in Bishop at the Hostel California, reluctantly, and drove to LA, enjoyed a brief but sweet visit with my dad before flying to Boston. Fast forward, whoooooosh, I returned to LA, had another brief but nice visit with my Dad, and the next day (yesterday) I drove from LA back up to Mammoth. I joined Hurlgoat in a Motel 6 as the rain fell steadily from the sky. He’d hiked 12 miles in the freezing rain the day before, so he already took one zero, and upon my return, rain again, it was a good day to be off trail.

Hwy 395 heading back up to Mammoth
Like our matching shirts? Hostel California, Bishop (last week)

Nevertheless, I took it in stride, I enjoyed being back in my old stomping grounds, seeing some dear friends, eating lots of good food, and learning to deepen my knowledge of my profession. But, all that being said, I did it knowing how soon I would be returning to this life, the life I love and cherish so very much.

The hiker in me honors the hiker in you

This morning we started our day with an obligatory visit to Schat’s Bakkery followed by a piping hot breakfast of eggs, potatoes and toast at The Stove. Bellies full, we spent much of the morning getting our resupply shopping done and other errands taken care of. It just so happens, too, that I got new shoes. They are the new Women’s Altra Lone Peak’s, and have awesome tread, which is probably the most attractive feature about them for me. I think they will be perfect for SHR terrain!

New shoozez
Not double vision: Two bags of potato chips + Smartfood

By noon, we were ready to hit the road, and I mean quite literally. We had decided to drive up the Highway to Bridgeport, leave my Jeep at the Twin Lakes trailhead at Mono Village, so when we finish this adventure, we will have a getaway car. We secured our Wilderness permits for this week before leaving Mammoth and headed to Bridgeport. I have driven through this tiny Sierra town a dozen times at least, but I’ve never turned off the 395 to explore. I was super excited to fnally be doing this. Those mountains in the distance, they have been calling to me for quite some time…

Mono lake on the way to Bridgeport

Turns out Mono Village is super cool, they have a campground, boat launch, a little store and a cafe. You can register your car at the campground office and leave your car there while you hike. It’s $10 for a week, and they post the date you are expected back by. I felt good about leaving my car there, and I am glad we will have it when we finish too. This, of course, was all Hurlgoat’s idea. Now we have to make it all the way!

We taped the parking pass to my windshield, stuffed last minute items into our packs, for me: my rain pants and a long sleeve lightweight fleece, as for Hurlgoat, he left a few items behind, to save a bit o’ weight. I locked my car, tucked the car key into a safe place, and off we walked down the road. We knew it would be a several part hitch getting back to Mammoth, but we were up for the adventure.

As we walked along the perimeter of the lake, we admired the granite spires enshrouded by clouds getting further away from us. My pack felt heavy but in that odd sort of way, so good to be walking with a pack on my back once again. I thought of Scott Jurek’s mantra from his latest book I’m reading, called North. “This is who I am, this is what I do.”

I felt so happy and free in that moment, I said to Hurlgoat “You know, the thing I love most about backpacking? It’s that every single day, you never know where you are going to end up sleeping that night. And the thing is, it doesn’t matter, because anything is possibile. I love that feeling, it is the definition of freedom!”

We both smiled from ear to ear as we walked down the paved road alongside the lake. Soon there were a couple cars heading in our general direction, so we stuck out our thumbs, smiled and waved. Nobody stopped though. “No worries, it will work out, it always does” he said with a cool confidence.

Hurlgoat was still hiking the SHR during the week I was in Boston, covering the route from Bishop Pass to Duck Pass near Mammoth. I was definitely envious of his stories and the places he had been through without me, especially the opportunity to climb up to Darwin Bench out of Evolution Valley and onward from there to Alpine Col, Feather Pass, the Bear Lakes, Lake Italy and Laurel Lake, to name a few. Here are a few of his photos:

He described an amazing solo week and I was glad he had such a great time. I was also glad he made it safely on his own! If you are reading this and don’t already follow his YouTube channel, definitely check it out. Currentlly, he is finishing up videos from our 2017 PCT hike. He has also already published a few SHR vids from a section he did last year, not to be confused with this year’s hike on the SHR. He will eventually be posting those. This year he covered the entire route and made a lot more video… I am confident these vids are going to be some of his best yet!

Give him a follow here!

Our plan, now, was to hike back in over Duck Pass from Mammoth, then connect back on to the High Route just South of Reds Meadow.

It wasn’t long before we got our first ride, which was a quick zip into Bridgeport, by a woman who lived near Reno. In tow were some of her family members visiting from upstate New York, and I couldn’t help but feel a little ill at ease when we first got into the car. Do they know about hikers who hitch? Maybe they know about the AT, I don’t know. But the family was so quiet, and tense,then finally, almost by the end of the 20 minute ride, they started to warm up. Damn east coasters, I should know better!

Once in Bridgeport, we walked the length of town, which is all of a half mile, and settled on waiting at the far end of town to try our luck there. We were picked up by a lovely retired age couple on holiday from Ireland. I loved listening to their accents!

Interesting cows in Bridgeport

I have always wanted to visit Ireland, and hopefully someday I will. Anyone reading this let me know if you have any Irish long-distance hiking recommendations!

Turns out, the couple was heading to June Lake, so took us all the way to the little store at the corner of the June Lake loop and Hwy 395. From there we found an auspicious place to stick out our thumbs and within about 15 minutes scored a third ride, from a guy in a big ol’ beat up Ford with Louisiana plates. He was heading to San Diego.

He took a few moments to clear the clutter out of the the back of his truck for us. You could clearly tell he was living out of it, maybe even had been for a while. We tossed our packs in the bed of the truck. I’ve learned when doing this to always grab my phone, wallet and anything else valueable out of my hipbelt pockets or risk losing them. And remember your trekking poles when you get dropped off!

Just lookin’ out the window…

I slung my camera over my shoulder too, and while Hurlgoat jumped in the front, I squeezed into the back (thankfully). As we pulled away, our ride kept the windows rolled down, allowing the frosty air to replace the cigarette smoke that was billowing out from his mouth (thankfully again). I was grateful for this because I hate the smell of cigarettes more than anything.

This guy was a tad off kilter, not gonna lie. Maybe it’s a Louisiana thing? I shouldn’t say that, I know it’s not, but I’ve never been anywhere in the South, and he was, well, different. Eccentric maybe is a better word to decribe this one. I sat in the back with my fingers crossed that he would actually deliver us to promised destination. He turned out to be okay though, I let Hurlgoat carry on most of the conversation (thank you very much). Thank goodness he didn’t smoke (cigarettes) again…

I love warm bathrooms

Despite my own hesitations, he did get us to Mammoth, dropping us off right back at the Wilderness permit office we’d been at only a few hours before. Deja vous? It was then that it began to rain fairly steadily, so we ducked into the covered area where the bathrooms are. There’s a large statue of Smoky the Bear, and we yard saled our packs and dug out our rain gear. Then, we walked about 1/2 mile or so up into town, and found a place under a big tree to hitch from, hoping someone would take pity on us standing out in the rain.

Turns out a real nice local from across the street saw us standing there and hollered over to us “Hey, where are you headed? You need a ride?” to which we replied “Yes, thank you, we are just going up Lake Mary road a bit.” He was super chill, and he himself had just arrived in town, returning for the season to be a ski bum. He had already driven all day from Humboldt, and offered to take us all the way to the Trailhead. Super. Awesome.

There were no other people in the campground or in the parking lot, and when we got out of the old truck, it was 5:25 pm. Somehow, we had managed to hitch from the terminus of our hike at Twin Lakes, all the way here, in 3 hours. Not bad, not bad. We waved goodbye to our buddy and set off up into the wet forest, rain tapping on our hoods and packs, my camera tucked into my jacket, and my phone in a zip lock bag in my pocket. It’s officially raining and we are officially back on the trail, yippeee!!!

My body really recognizes this pattern, taking the first few steps back on the trail, and to my surprise she felt strong and good, rearin’ to go! My pack is definitely heavy though, I’d say right around 40 pounds, but I don’t care, I am so happy to be back in the forest! The air is so damn fresh and crisp and moist…I am taking in the scent of wet earth, woodsy tree bark, and the bite of snow, for the rain immediately began to turn to little teeny balls of hail, collecting on the ground like confectioners sugar.

The temperature was clearly dropping, but once we started to climb, which was immediately, my body warmed up and soon I was trying to not sweat under all my rain gear. The trail was lovely, smooth, rocky, rooty, muddy, sandy, all the things a trail ought to be. We sauntered along, noting that it was getting late, the weather was getting worse, and we agreed we would only walk the 3/4 mile to the first campsite at Emerald Lake and call it a night.

We scouted around to look for some good campsites among a pile of rocks, but none were to be found except for the spaces just next to the trail. I normally don’t care to camp that close to the trail, but there is nowhere else out here to pitcha tent and we’re getting colder and wetter by the minute. As we started to set up camp, it began to actually snow, not little balls of hail anymore, but the light fluffy stuff, drifting, catching on my eyelashes, making magic.

When was the last time I saw falling snow? I am excited, maybe we’ll wake up to a Winter wonderland! Because of the weather, we decided to pitch separate shelters so we can each comfortably cook inside our vestibules, keep our gear inside our tents, keeping everything all dry and protected. In my mind it was going to dump on us and I wanted to be prepared! Plus, I wanted to get cozy in my tent right away and work on my blog, and read, and sip hot tea. We set our shelters up in record time, and soon I ducked into my own tent and he in his. Ready for the storm!

I fixed myself a piping hot bowl of Chili flavor Ramen, and a half a quesadilla for dinner, along with a few handfuls of S & P kettle cooked potato chips and a cookie for dessert. A light but perfect meal. As I am cooking, I see a giant spider right outside my tent, by my shoes. This spider looks shiny, and has a thick body, and a large fuzzy abdomen. It looks like those fake plastic spiders, the kind you see at Halloween, but this one is moving.

I shoo it away and think it’s over. Then, I see another one, this time inside my tent. I work swiftly on getting that one outside too, and think it’s odd to have two of them, but whatever. So, I continue to eat my hot noodles, slurping with satisfaction. I finish my meal, clean up and make water for tea. Then the spider is back. Then there are two of them. What the heck? I am laughing and vocalizing all of this to Hurlgoat from my tent to his, amazed these spiders are so persistent. What is it they want?

Shortly, I am snuggled in my bed, propped up on my elbows and beginning to write when I hear little tapping or scratching noises coming from outside. Am I imagining this? I shine my bright headlamp beam on my tent screen, only to see that now the spiders are crawling up my tent screen. There’s not one, but two of them! All I can say at this point, is I am glad they are outside, not inside, and I am really glad they aren’t mice! I decide the spiders on the mesh of my tent, on the outisde, are fine to just ignore and continue my typing. Tick tick tick…

It’s bedtime now, we are going to get an early start, 8:00am, ooooh so early! It’s 32 F outside right now, the clouds are moving fast up above, there is wind making wind noises, the creek is crashing nearby in a constant rumble, my belly grumbles too, then there is an airplane in the distance and I can hear Hurlgoat already snoring…then silence. The ticking of my fingers taps the keyboard and the occasional stick breaks in the forest. So many sounds in this silent place…I breathe a deep long sigh, I made it home. I can’t think of anyplace I would rather be. I love this place, I love this now.

3 thoughts on “SHR Day 7: The Definition of Freedom

  1. Hurlgoat does make some of the best hiking videos out there , this is why I am getting back to hiking especially with the 35 days in Wash with no rain. It’s just so surprising that you receive so much rain in the desert than you do up here. I am waiting for the day he only films and you do the narrating.

  2. Spiders! Oh my…
    Curious, from you photos it looks like you don’t use a pack cover, is that because you use a trash bag liner?
    Thanks, for another inspiring read.

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