But the calendar insists…sigh.
September and the Sierra already seem distant, especially since the infamous Oregon rains started in earnest. Worse yet I’ve gained some weight back already–the horror! For years I have planned to make my fortune by writing “The John Muir Trail Diet”, an honest method to lose weight, increase muscular and cardio fitness, and increase appreciation for both the natural and built worlds. Two hundred plus miles of backpacking in mountainous terrain each year for a svelte, strong, flourishing you. Gaining part of the weight back after only a couple months is NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. Ten years ago it didn’t happen, so presumably it’s a fluke, an aberration in the data and the fit of my clothes. Harumph.
Maybe it’s because I did not walk a thousand miles. In fact the walk covered just 425 miles; not an inconsiderable distance, but far short of my plan (such as it was) and hardly a warm up for a serious thru-hiker (e.g. one who walks the entire Pacific Crest Trail in one year).
For 300 miles or so I walked like a typical thru-hiker, rising early and walking long to cover twenty or more miles. I mentally catalogued beautiful places and intriguing side trips for future visits but walked on, dallying only occasionally to watch wildlife or take pictures.
The miles flew underfoot at twice the daily rate of any prior walk. One evening a month along, snug in camp as the sky blazed after a storm, I looked north to pick out where my previous camp had been.
It was way the heck out there; so many ridges, summits, and valleys in between. And the camp environs from two nights before–nearly 50 miles distant–was indistinguishable. Amazing.
Two days later in town to resupply, however, I couldn’t keep images from the previous stretch straight; campsites, springs, mountains, wildlife, rain storms, they slid about and formed multiverse histories that didn’t align with the order of images in my camera. Was Ebbett’s pass the one with the great people and the fruit bowl for thru-hikers, or was that Carson? The coyote was the day after the cinnamon bear…wasn’t it? I was “homesick” for places from just 48 hours earlier. My experience of any given place along the trail was so brief that calling it a visit seemed like overstatement–it felt more like a filmstrip.
Thankfully the next few weeks featured visits and day-hikes with family, a perfect pretext for a wholesale abandonment of discipline: if a spot looked nice, we’d plop down; if a side trail looked tempting, we’d take it; if there were rocks by the creek, we’d toss some in; if there was ice cream at the Tuolumne store–and when isn’t there?–why sure!
Trail mileage plummeted but my enjoyment and sense of connection to these amazing places soared. And that, as they say, made all the difference. There was camping and supreme lake splashing w/niece Jen and Nicole and their irresistible daughter Sophie, a week of hiking, weasel chasing, and eating at the Whoa Nellie Deli with my wife Ann and daughter Meghan, and a choice tour of Mammoth trails and coffee shops with brother Blair.
For nearly a month I explored an area that would have taken a week at the earlier pace, from the Burger Barn in Bridgeport south to the Looney Bean in Mammoth Lakes, and from wonder-of-the-world contender Tenaya Lake east to the fabulous Whoa Nellie Deli (where people often marvel that one of the best meals they had ever eaten was at a Chevron station in the middle of nowhere. I took everyone who visited, and if you ever visit me in the Eastern Sierra I’ll drag you too).
I returned home to visit in early September and never made it back to the Sierra. There were reasons, but they’re not important now. Next time the hike goes deeper into September, and maybe the weight will stay off and I can write that book. Or maybe it’ll have to be Cool Local Eateries of the Eastern Sierra–looks like more research…