Location: Neldas Diner, Lake Isabela, CA
Cumulative Miles: 652
Avocados Consumed: 32
Showers Taken: 13
I cracked. The desert broke me. It was only a matter of time, but the weird part is that it wasn’t the exposure or extreme temperature. It happened on a cold, windy, and rainy freakin’ day. Don’t get me wrong, the desert has been extremely gorgeous and rewarding, but it’s safe to say, “I’m over it.” GAHHHH
We started our hike on Sunday afternoon. Camel hiked out a day earlier so we were down to 4. If I were in high school I would have called us the “Fab 4” all week, but I’m not, so it obviously never even crossed my mind.
We had a short week on our hands, about 86 miles to the next town. All I knew about this stretch was that it’s desert-like, and there would be very little water along the way. If my preparation hasn’t impressed you so far, I feel like that last sentence MUST of got you there. Again, just wingin’ it.
It was so cold. The first couple of days were very pleasant, but the nights provided the shivers and I laid awake making lists of more layers needed for the High Sierra. Why sleep when you can make lists? We did a lot of initial climbing, so we hiked and slept around 6,000 ft. throughout the week. The roaring wind didn’t help matters either. My goodness I am so sick of the wind. If I can pinpoint my craziness to one element it’d be the wind. For sure. GAHHHHH
Two days BEFORE the desert made me crazy, I saw a bear. Confusing for me, because I thought I was in the Mojave desert. And because I thought “it must be a squirrel.” It wasn’t. It was a big brown bear and it scared the shit out of me. There was a stretch of forest in between more desert, it lasted about 6 miles and that is where the Mojave Brown Bear lives. Mile 595.4.
I’ve seen bears before, but never that close, and never alone. We stared at eachother in a frozen silence. I would have made a lot of noise and went bonkers, but it didn’t feel right. Instead, I did absolutely nothing. Except pray, yeah, I prayed quite a bit in those 20 seconds. It eventually huffed and charged down the right side of the trail into the woods, PHEW. I continued to do nothing for 10 minutes and hoped someone would show up behind me, no such luck.
It was 6:30 at this point, I was ahead of the pack and looking for a campsite. I couldn’t find any suitable flat ground for 3 tents, AND I wanted to get out of that bear forest, so I ended up hiking another 4 miles. I sang loudly, yelled made up words and phrases, and swung my trekking poles around. I really, really didn’t want to see that bear again.
I ended up camping alone that night, 3 miles ahead of everyone. I don’t blame them, I pulled out a big day and they hiked farther than they wanted to trying to find me. I spent all night (seriously) wondering if the bear ate Maggie (chuckles). I was genuinely concerned that someone was dead, and then I woke up to an awfully depressing fog and that confirmed my prediction. This fog, yes, this fog, means the bear killed someone. And it was probably Maggie.
An hour later I found everyone. Alive. WELL THAT WAS A CLOSE ONE. Everyone was shocked that I saw a bear, so now everytime I tell the tale of the Mojave Brown Bear, I get really into it, campfire style.
The day the desert broke me was total bullshit. That’s the only way to describe it. I expected this first 700 miles to be FLAT, HOT, and super EXPOSED. It’s been all those things probably 50% of the time. After a very long and sandy climb up a stupid hill of some sort, it started to hail. I finally get to the top, and I just get pounded with rain, and then hail. I gingerly searched for my poncho and umbrella. Why wasn’t I frantic? Why wasn’t I rushing? Why didn’t I care that I was under complete weather annihilation? I couldn’t stop laughing. I didn’t give a shit anymore. I knew it would pass, and I would eventually dry off. I let it mess with me as it pleased. I eventually threw on my poncho over a SOAKED toe touch, hiked for 5 minutes, and then took it off.
At the bottom of the mountain was a water cache where I waited for Spoon and Chuckles. It was really windy and cold, but I took off my clothes to dry anyway. It didn’t work. So I put them back on, did a few somersaults with my pack on, laughed, yelled, screamed at the top of my lungs how badly I wanted to lay naked on hot pavement, and then we climbed up another mountain. Against the wind. At the top I looked out over the dark and stormy valley and said, In a very low tone, “I’m so fuckin’ sick of you.” I shook my head and then laughed at myself, my life, these circumstances, and remembered quickly how easy we have it out here. Gratitude gave me a swift attitude adjustment REAL QUICK.
We raced into town the following day, a mostly downhill 13 miles. We stayed at the Weldon KOA and did the normal routine: beer, food, shower, laundry, beer, pretend to sleep. We hitched 35 miles with a really nice guy who had a Rolling Rock beer in his center console, he claims it was his first beer of the day. We didn’t mind. Later I hitched to the supermarket with a guy who had a 12 pack of Natty Light in his center console, he offered no explanation.
We took the dollar bus into Lake Isabela the next day, spending one night at the Motel and the following 2 nights camped at a grassy corner in a trailer park. I met as many locals as I could, I really wanted to hear stories that didn’t involve hiking and pretend I actually lived here. It worked out well because everyone I met was super friendly. Even attended a Hawaiin Luau at the Moose Lodge!
There is plenty of snow and cold temperatures awaiting us in the Sierra (50 more miles), so we took our time in Lake Isabela to get things sorted for the long stretches in the mountains. My friends are packing up for 5 days and then hitching into Lone Pine, 88 miles down the trail. I thought about doing that as well, but then realized I love the thought of hiking straight through the first 200 miles of the Sierra. It will be about 12-14 days, because it includes a summit side trip up Mt. Whitney (highest peak in the lower 48!). Our daily mileage will also lower in the Sierra due to elevation, snow, ice, and overall beauty.
When I think about backpacking in the High Sierra, I envisioned it with some solo time. This is the perfect opportunity to see how well I can do on my own, and face all the challenges that come my way. I’m a bit nervous, but way more excited. I haven’t slept all week, my entire body is on fire with the anticipation of these mountains.
I’m oddly not stressed out about having good enough gear or enough food. My plan is to stuff my pack with food and clothes, and hike north. One step at a time, keeping it simple and letting the magic of the landscape wash over me.
My next maildrop will be in Tuolomne Meadows, looking to be there around June 15th! But first, 200 miles in the Sierra, a reboot at the Mammoth Lakes Motel 6, and then 42 miles.
Time to go see for myself what all this fuss is about. 👍😀✌️🏔🏔🏔🏔🏔🏔