Friday, January 27, 2017

Day 7: Devils Postpile and Mammoth Lakes

Karolina and I took our time getting up in the morning. We had a mere 3.1 miles to reach Reds Meadow--our goal for the day. It would barely take us an hour. So we lingered in camp until nearly 9:30 in the morning chatting, speaking Polish and just being lazy.

Despite only having to cover a mere 3.1 miles for the day, we still managed to make a wrong turn! We accidentally turned onto the PCT instead of the path to Devils Postpile which is where we wanted to go. It wasn't a critical mistake by any means and, in fact, we got something of a bird's-eye view of Devils Postpile from a distance that we would have missed had we not taken the wrong turn, and it probably didn't even add a half mile of hiking to our walk. It all worked out fine!

Karolina seemed fascinated with the postpile, which is to be expected. It's a fascinating place with columnar basalt towering high and thousands of broken pieces at the base.

But I was anxious to take the short trail to the top. I had been here before when I thru-hiked the PCT, but I was so ready to get off this trail and into town, I skipped the short trail to the top of the postpile. Later, I grew to regret that decision, and I wasn't going to repeat the mistake.

So Karolina and I headed up the side trail to the top where glaciers had scraped across giving it a look of a tiled floor. It was a look completely different than that found at the base, and I was really glad I got to see this part of the postpile for the first time. Karolina and I took some more videos in the area for possible use in our upcoming music video before moving along the trail again.

The trail leading off the PCT the quarter-mile to Reds Meadow wasn't marked especially well, and Karolina and I wound up at bus stop #9--one stop short of Reds Meadow. Reds Meadow wasn't far--obviously just up the hill from our current location. Close enough. *shrug* Neither of us had a bus schedule, and we had no idea how long we'd have to wait to catch a bus out of there. I decided to walk up to Reds Meadow and inquire around. I left my pack behind with Karolina then followed a short trail leading uphill. I could see the general store, lots of people and then I saw it: a large bus pulling out of a parking spot. That must be the bus! And it's starting its run! It'll arrive at bus stop #9 in probably less than a minute!

I turned around and ran down the trail hoping to catch the bus before it passed. I had no idea when the next one would run. Did they run every 10 minutes? If so, not a big deal. Did they run once an hour? I'd rather not sit around for an hour to find out! So I raced down the trail trying to beat it to the bus stop.

When Karolina was back in view, I shouted out, "It's coming! It's coming!"

I made it to the bus stop, winded and tired. The bus stopped seconds later on the other side of the road, and the driver asked if we had wanted a ride. "Yes!" we answered, as we frantically tried to gather all our belongings together. Karolina had taken off her shoes and was making herself comfortable for possibly a long wait and hadn't been prepared for our sudden departure. It probably took us 20 seconds to get all our things together and get on the bus, but it seemed like it took five minutes. The bus driver seemed very patient with us, though.

We got on the bus and paid for a round-trip fair, which carried us to the Mammoth Ski Area a short time later. We had about five or ten minutes to look around the ski area, which we used to take photos of a statue of a giant woolly mammoth trampling Karolina before we caught another bus--this one a free shuttle to the town of Mammoth Lakes.

We then wanted to catch a free trolley that ran through the town to the Motel 6 where we planned to crash for the night. I asked the bus driver the stop for the trolley, and he pointed to a location just in front of where he pulled up, so Karolina and I headed to the stop and waited.

This was our longest wait yet. We must have just missed the previous trolley. While waiting, one of the trolley drivers arrived--a relief driver, apparently, since he arrived on foot and without an actual trolley. I had initially assumed he wanted to ride the trolley as well before he told us he was the driver. But when we told him our plans, he pointed us across the plaza to a parallel street and suggested that was a better stop to catch the trolley. The trolley made a loop and the stop we were at would take us away from the Motel 6 before looping around to the parallel street and start heading towards the Motel 6. It would get us there eventually, but the ride was shorter from the other stop.

I wish our bus driver from the ski area had told us that! *shaking head*

So Karolina and I picked up our bags and walked across the plaza to the other side. Another five or ten minutes later, the trolley pulled up--and the driver was the same person who led us to this stop! "Well, hello again!" he greeted us. =)

A few minutes later, we got off the stop near the motel and tried to check in. They told us that the check-in time was still an hour away, and the rooms weren't clean yet. They were booked solid and they wouldn't be able to accommodate an early check-in.

Oh, well.... I really wanted a shower and to get out of my dirty hiking clothes, but it wasn't meant to be. Not yet, at least. Our Plan B was to go out and eat, which is not at all a bad consolation prize. =)

Across the street was Pizza Works, so we wandered over there for lunch. We ordered pizza and onion rings and the bottomless cup of sodas that so fascinated Karolina. She absolutely loved the place. "It's so American!" she told me. "Just like in the movies!" The place did have character, with a western theme. We took a seat on the outdoor patio--we smelled way too bad to be inside a confined space like that for very long!

By the time we finished, an hour had passed and we returned to the Motel 6 to try checking in again. This time, they were ready for us and we got a room.

I told Karolina that she could use the shower first. I figured it was gentlemanly of me, but more importantly, I wouldn't feel pressured to rush if I knew she wasn't outside waiting her turn. =) In the meantime, I could pull out my laptop and get online.

Karolina went into the bathroom, shut the door, but I could tell immediately that the first thing she was doing was not taking a shower. Oh, no.... She was using the toilet and I was absolutely stunned at how thin the walls seemed to be. I could hear every tiny noise coming out of that bathroom, and the noises weren't tiny at all....

Then the toilet flushed and the shower went on.

In the meantime, I pulled out my laptop and discovered something horrible--it was broken! The screen had cracked while I was carrying it and I couldn't see a thing on it. Argh! I have absolutely no idea where along the trail the screen had cracked, but it was a major inconvenience. I had carried this laptop with me for about 1,500 miles overall. About 1,000 miles on the Camino de Santiago, and several hundred more on shorter backpacking trips elsewhere and never had a problem. Not even a hundred miles into the JMT and my laptop finally bit the bullet.

Unable to use the laptop, I switched on my smartphone and got online with that. It allowed me to catch up on some emails and messages, but I really needed a full-fledged computer at some point. Some things I just can't do on a phone.

It was my turn to use the bathroom. I had to use the toilet as well, and remembering how well every little sound seemed to pierce through the thin walls, I was a little uncomfortable knowing that Karolina could hear everything coming out from me. Which was kind of surprising too. The fan turns on with the light so it's quite loud in the bathroom already with the fan blowing. It kind of muffles other noises in the bathroom. In the room with the beds, however, it was as if the wall muffled the fan but allowed all other noises through unimpeded. Sorry you had to hear that, Karolina! I thought to myself. It wasn't a pretty sound.

I finished up my business and then took my shower, washing everything twice and watching the dirt circling the drain before disappearing from my view forever. Then I shaved. I dried off, put on my camp clothes which, while not clean, weren't anywhere near as filthy as my hiking clothes and stepped out of the bathroom.

The second I stepped out, Karolina looked up, eyes wide with horror and said, "Oh my God! You can hear everything from out here!" I couldn't help but laugh. Karolina wasn't concerned so much about what she heard while I was in the bathroom, but rather it dawned on her what all I heard when she was in the bathroom! "I thought the fan would muffle the noise, but it didn't! Not at all!" Karolina exclaimed in horror.

I laughed again, nodding. Yep. She was clearly embarrassed, remembering all of the uncomfortable noises that she had made earlier. She'd later tell me, "What happens in the Motel 6 stays in the Motel 6."

Ha! Not on your life! =)

With my laptop out of commission and our bellies already full, we decided to head to the local library to get online. We arrived less than an hour before closing, and both of us got our own computers to use. I couldn't get everything done that I wanted to, but I got the important stuff done before the library closed.

Our next task was to resupply, but before we could do that, we needed to know exactly how much we would need to carry to reach our next resupply point. We had to sit down and work out a schedule. There was a Carls Jr next to the grocery store so I suggested we pop in there and work out our hiking schedule. We weren't really hungry yet, but it would give us a place indoors to work out the schedule. We ordered shakes for ourselves so we didn't appear to be complete losers taking up a table without buying anything, and shakes are good anyhow. =)

I figured we'd be there for a half hour, knock out a schedule and go grocery shopping, but we wound up working on it for two hours! There were two relatively easy places to resupply without requiring a lot of off-trail walking: Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) and Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). We checked out food options and mailing food ahead to either location, but it turns out both of them require you to send food three weeks ahead of time. We would arrive in a few days. There just wasn't enough time to send food to ourselves at this point. Both of the places had small stores where we could buy food, but they were small stores with limited selections and the food would likely cost a heck of a lot of money given the remote settings. We didn't really know what we could expect to find and didn't want to depend on it.

We toyed around with mileages. There was a side trail that could take us to the town of Bishop at MM 113.1. The downside, however, was that it required hiking nearly 20 miles off trail, then hitching another 20 miles into town from the trailhead. And we weren't sure if the trailheads would be busy and easy to hitch a ride from. If we ended up on a forest service road that nobody ever uses, we could be stuck having to walk forty miles into town. Then another 40 miles to get back to the trail!

There was another side trail to South Lake, which would require 12.8 miles (one way) off trail to the trailhead, then a 22 mile hitch into Bishop. When I hiked the PCT, I had carried enough food to get me from Kearsarge Pass to here, which is what I would have liked to do again. Kearsarge Pass was a mere 7.5 miles off trail. Still more than I'd have preferred, but considerably better than 12.8 miles. The problem was... Karolina didn't think she could make it that far with that much food. She was doing 10 miles/day pretty well, but that would have meant carrying 12 days of food. I haven't ever had to carry that much food before much less Karolina, and Karolina didn't think she could do it. With that much food, she might struggle just to get 10 miles/day.

So after two exhausting hours of discussing options and our limitations, we eventually settled on a resupply in Bishop over Bishop Pass. It was about 80 miles--closer to 90 if you include the 12.5 miles we'd have to hike off trail to get to the South Lake Trailhead. Nine days, eight nights of food would be required. I did some research on my phone to learn more about the trailhead and make sure our odds of getting a ride would be good. The trailhead looked like it had a paved road leading all the way to it and on Google Maps, it appeared to have a giant parking lot. It looked like an excellent place for hitchhiking the 22-mile ride into town. I couldn't find any information that would suggest that the road was closed or any other unusual activity that might throw our plans awry.

By the time we finished, we were both mentally exhausted. It was the most difficult session of planning I'd ever faced. Karolina was a bit nervous about the idea as well. She thought she could do it, but this was by far the longest she'll have ever traveled between resupplies. Her previous longest point between resupplying was what we just finished from Tuolumne Meadows to Reds Meadow. This segment would more than double that distance. For nine days, we'd be cut off from civilization and dependent on only what we could carry on our backs.

It was also quite dark by the time we finished and getting late. Karolina wanted to wait and buy the food in the morning, and I was in agreement on that. At this point, though, I was getting hungry again and got a quick burger before we left Carls Jr and headed back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, our trail chores were not yet done. We had to wash our filthy clothes! The motel had a small laundry room. I offered to take Karolina's clothes to wash and dry while she hung out in the room, but she wanted to see how laundry machines in the United States worked and followed me out to the laundry room.

And I explained the intricacies of washing clothes in the United States. First, we needed quarters, because that's what these laundry machines used. We didn't have quarters, though, we had dollars, but they had a machine to change dollars for quarters, and I let Karolina feed the dollars into the machine. I also told her that not all of these places have such machines, in which case you'd have to go into the lobby of the hotel and ask the desk clerk to provide the change.

Then we needed detergent, which we could get from another machine that used quarters. Karolina fed the quarters into the machine and we got a small box of Tide.

There were two washers. One was already in use. The other one had clothes in it, but had finished washing, and I pulled them out and left them on a nearby shelf.

Then we stuffed all our dirty clothes into the washer with the Tide and started the machine going. They would wash for about a half hour, so we headed back to the hotel room to wait.

A half hour later, Karolina was tired and didn't want to come back to move the clothes into the dryer, so I went back and did that myself. The wet clothes I had set on the shelf nearby were still there. The owner hadn't come back yet. I moved our clothes into the dryer and started it going, then went back to the room to wait again.

More time passed, and I returned to the laundry room to get our dried clothes. The wet clothes I set on the shelf were still there. Did the owner forget he had laundry in here? It had now been over an hour since I took the clothes out of the washer, and they still hadn't been retrieved yet. Well.... Not my problem! =)

I returned to the hotel room and we were officially done for the day. It was quite late at night now, and we both went promptly to sleep.

Karolina wants to eat breakfast, but doesn't want to get out of her sleeping bag. This is how she solves that problem!

Devils Postpile from a distance. We only got this view after accidentally taking a wrong turn!
Bottom of the postpile
The top of the postpile looks like a tiled floor!

Taking more video for possible use in an upcoming music video! =)

Leaning postpiles on the side trail leading back down from the top.
Karolina is charged by a giant woolly mammoth!
Poor thing.... So young, too!
Our food from Pizza Works was delicious! And, according to Karolina, "Very American!"
This is Karolina taking the photo of our food. (That photo just above this one!)
Karolina liked the motif of the outdoor patio. "It's just like the movies!" she'd exclaim.
Don't look, but there's a bear behind you....
Karolina had a lot of fun doing laundry. I don't think she really sees quarters as "money" per se. She knows that's what it is--in theory--but she seemed to think of them more as "tokens" that make machines run. =)

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