On July 1, I took a side trip to climb the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states -- Mount Whitney, at 14,495 feet. The next day, I hit the highest point of the Pacific Crest Trail -- snowy Forrester Pass, at 13,000+ feet. Both were incredible views, incredible landmarks, and utterly glorious hiking. The trip could not be more different from the desert that thrashed me for two months. I will write these up fully in the next day or two, hopefully complete with some of the 300-plus pictures I took; the high Sierra is a place where you can't throw a rock without hitting a sublimely awe-inspiring vista.
After burning through 7 days' worth of food in 5 days (and still having to ration it carefully), I approached the side trail over Kearsarge Pass, and hiked out 9 miles to a day-hiker-packed trailhead to catch a ride into tiny Independence, Calif., for a resupply stop.
This is where a story should go about how I spent the Fourth of July in a town called Independence. This is where a story should go about a memorable night of thru-hiker camaraderie and a laid-back zero day full of rodeos, barbeque, parades, and fireworks.
But that's not the story I have to tell. Instead, let me tell you about the surprise that kadyg will remember for the rest of her life.
The story starts with my pack frame breaking. Again. But, you know, for the moment that's sort of backdrop; I'll give you folks the rundown later, but the short of it is that I decided I would rather wait out the new replacement at home than in a strange, tiny town hundreds of miles from anywhere familiar.
So I got into town, called Kady and gave her some generic reassurances that I was out of the woods -- and then immediately (after conning roaminrob's number from her) called Rob up and asked if he was up for a road trip to the area. The 40-mile-distant-and-reachable-by-bus Bishop, Rob has long said, is his favoritest place ever, and I said the two of us could bum around it for a morning if he came down to get me and deliver me home. I sweetened the pot by promising to pay for the trip expenses out of my hiking budget, but he's one of my oldest, greatest friends and probably would have come down anyway.
Rob arrived at about 11 PM that night. We ate at Denny's, car-camped in the nearby hills, and caught up some. The presence of a dear friend I haven't seen in months was wonderfully comforting.
I finished sharing my plan with him: Kady would be at a Fourth of July party at childe_dirk's place for the entire afternoon and evening. If I could get some space cleared out on my camera card and buy some flowers, we could show up at the party, surprise her there, and capture the moment. So we set out to do so -- and even though virtually every store we found was closed for Independence Day, Rob's friends Paul and Jon helped us out by burning my memory card onto CD, and a little town in Nevada had a supermarket with a fabulous floral department. Thus prepared, we drove up north, taking a little time for tourism at Mono Lake (two and a half times saltier than the ocean, and with a pH of 11 to boot).
Near Reno, I took over from Rob behind the wheel so that he could catch a few winks. The first hint of trouble thus came while I was driving for only about the second time in three months, in a strange car, with a sleeping passenger --
ENGINE: Purr-purr-purr. Cough. Purr-purr. Sputter.
ENGINE: Cough. Hack. Bleagh. Die.
BAX: Uh. Rob. Wake up.
BAX: I've lost engine power.
ROB: The catalytic converter must have gotten too clogged. I've been hoping that wouldn't happen.
BAX: The catalytic converter?
ROB: Yep, the cat. It processes engine exhaust, so if it clogs up too bad then engine flow stops. Pull over carefully and I'll take a look. Mind the loss of power steering and power brakes.
ENGINE: Foom. (Smell of smoke)
BAX: ... er, also. Someone set the cat on fire.
So we pull over, in the middle of the eastern Sierra Nevada -- hoping NOT to have one of the eight million cops saturating the roadways pull over to help us, because Rob's registration expired six months ago. We look under the car. The inside of the catalytic converter is, in fact, actively aflame and copiously leaking foul black smoke. Fortunately, since cats run very hot anyway, they're welded shut and massively heat shielded, and thus the danger of the fire spreading to the rest of the car is negligible.
As it turns out, the cat fire is a blessing in disguise, because it burns through some of the caked-up deposits and thus opens up airflow through the engine again. We twiddle our thumbs, look at the beautiful scenery for about 15 minutes, and let the fire burn itself out. The car starts back up with minimal effort and (with Rob back behind the wheel, just in case) we set off through the mountains on the home stretch of our journey.
Our luck lasts as far as Penryn, 20 minutes before the party Kady's attending and 45 minutes past home. Without warning, the engine quits again. Rob pulls over. This time, no fire. This time, no luck reviving the vehicle. Twenty minutes pass, darkness is approaching, and none of Rob's jerry-rigged solutions are having any effect.
I call firestrike, and he and supersniffles are kind enough to rescue my surprise plans with a lift in Cyndi's car. The four of us confirm that Rob's car is well and truly dead, and Rob calls for a tow truck. The rest of us return to the party a little after dark, where the hosts (in on the plan) have brought everyone inside for dessert so I can sneak in the front door with the flowers.
Kady doesn't notice me at first. Then the double-take, the long hug, the five minutes of condensed explanation. We all sit down together to set off fireworks in Steve and Meredith's front yard, and a good time is had by all.
I've uploaded a few of the photos that firestrike took for me. There are more where these came from, but childe_dirk hasn't sent me his pics yet, and the lengthy video of our reunion that my camera took doesn't want to upload.
It's now about 24 hours later. Kady is still adjusting to having me back; I'm still adjusting to returning to a home I haven't seen for over two months. The shock of my appearance has worn off, and we both still think I've made the right decision to lay over at home.
And where to go next, and when? Well, there are definitely going to be a few home zero days. I haven't had much of a chance to coalesce plans beyond that. I don't feel done with my hike, but I'm not sure I'm returning to Independence right away. (More on that in a subsequent post.)
For now, it's just good to be back. And hopefully it will give me more of a chance to get caught up in documenting this whirlwind of a trip, and building up the PCT section of Tomorrowlands to be more than just a link to this journal.
Thank you, roaminrob, for your heroism in pushing your car beyond its limits of endurance; and thank you, jackal pack, for making sure that I could pull the surprise off despite the last-minute hitches.