May 26th, 2011:
My Dad is a dedicated skier, and when he started to arrange a mid-week Mammoth trip for himself and his 3 sons, I was instantly in. Unfortunately our middle brother, Matt, wasn’t available so instead I was allowed to bring along the wifey. We had spectacular spring riding conditions and Felicia had a great time exploring the little town of Mammoth Lakes during the day (she has never skied or boarded, and was hesitant to try this time). Even though the wife came along, we men maintained this as being a man’s trip, and had two days of excessive drinking and overeating at the local all-you-can-eat rib joint.
The wife just shook her head the first night as we all feel asleep completely stuffed with pork (to the point of excessive discomfort) and intoxicated on light beer.
After a night of my mind racing I came to one steadfast realization; I really don’t feel like spending the next 10 days alone in the wilderness. I would love to finish the trail, but also am self aware enough to know that within three days I’d be insane with boredom.
So over breakfast Mom laid down the final word that she would get off the trail. I glanced at my $20 Casio watch (insert grumble for a certain Islander here), July 26th.
“Well, tomorrow is Matt’s (one of my younger brothers) birthday, an he is only four hours away, we could go surprise him.” The question hung in the air like we had all been assigned a new goal to replace the one we had just lost sight of.
After a little topo map research, we find our quickest way out of the mountains was a 9 mile hike over Duck Pass and back into Mammoth Lakes. I set off with my first hour of hike, hike, wait; until they caught up with me somewhere around noon and told me to take off on my own, get a campsite at the trailhead, and see if my travel skills would come in handy to find my way 120 miles south to where the truck was left at the base of Whitney.
Finally a mission (other than bear wrestling) worth of a man of my particular skill set.
-7 Miles of trail, including the pass
-120 miles of road
-8 1/2 hours of daylight
-Hike (fully packed) 1200 ft. up over Duck Pass and 2500 feet down into Mammoth Lakes (a total of 7 miles) in 1 hour 58 minutes. Sometimes I even impress myself.
-Hitch hike from the campground to the 203/395 junction with a woman I met on the trail
-Stand with my thumb in the wind and my delicate skin exposed to the sun for 30 minutes before I am picked by a boat mechanic who used to work as an I.T. Manager for Microsoft in the 90′s (complete with stock options) and retired into his passion of fixing boats. He drove me the first 50 miles of the 395 to Bishop.
-Once again stick my thumb out until another local slowed and let me jump in. This time it was a Inuit (Eskimo) Carpenter who now lives in the Eastern Sierras, He regaled me with tales of his own adventures of hitch hiking the western U.S. and Alaska, as well as his trips to India. He was only headed 30 mile to Big Pine, but when he got that far he figured “What the hell.” and drove me the remaining 40 miles to the town of Lone Pine where the road headed off into the hills.
-And finally start hiking up Whitney Portal Rd. with my thumb out. This road is pretty much only used by hikers and I wasn’t overly surprised when the first car that came by a couple of minutes later, stopped. He was another JMT’er who was dropping off his car. Victory was at hand!
Even though the 395 is primarily used by tourists and traffic that is just passing through, all my rides were from extremely friendly locals of the Eastern Sierras. I was very impressed with their views on life and how helpful they were to me (a stranger); it is truly an odd thing to find in the U.S. these days when we are all living in constant fear of each other.
Anyhow, I got the truck, drove all the way back to Mammoth with only one burrito stop (a necessity) and back to Mom and Mike with the setting sun. I don’t think that short of a taxi could I have got there and back any quicker than on the kindness of strangers.