Monday, January 30, 2017

Day 8: Nine days of shopping

Despite being in town, Karolina and I woke up relatively early. We still had a lot to get done before we headed back to the trail! The first task to complete was walking to the nearby post office where I mailed my laptop home. I didn't know if I'd get it fixed or, because it was so old and cheap anyhow, maybe just replace the darned thing. But one thing I know I didn't want to do was carry it on my back for the next nine days. My pack was going to be ridiculously heavy with food, and carrying a broken laptop was beyond stupid. I would mail it home and figure out what to do with it later instead.

I pack up my broken laptop to ship home.
Karolina, who'd never been to a US post office, found the experience interesting, and while I packed the laptop in a box, I let her pay for the cost of shipping it. I had paid for the cost of the hotel, so until her half of the hotel cost had been covered, she'd be picking up my tab for everything. =)

I had to laugh when the lady at the post office asked if the item was packed well so it wouldn't break (we did say there was a laptop in it--they like to know about those things because of the battery). Well, yes... it was packed well, but I wasn't too worried about it breaking. After all, it was already broken! Then she asked if we wanted to insure the contents. In my head, I thought, we can do that?! Awesome! While the thought amused me, it seemed entirely unethical to insure it then blame them for breaking the laptop later and I passed on the insurance.

Then we headed to the local hardware store where we purchased some denatured alcohol. Or rather, Karolina purchased it while I waited in line with her.

And then we headed out for breakfast. Karolina wanted to try some "real American pancakes" so we headed to Rafters, a restaurant on the way to the supermarket. The restaurant looked beautiful with high vaulted ceilings and a cozy central fireplace in the middle. Real Americana stuff that I was sure Karolina would love. The waitress, a young woman, noticed us after several minutes asked us to wait for a few minutes because she was busy, and we said fine and sat down to wait.

But both Karolina and I were baffled about the "busy" part. The restaurant was almost entirely empty. We saw maybe five tables with people in various states of completing their meals, and I saw the waitress shuffle slowly to one of the tables, not in any apparent rush.

Karolina poses with the bear in front of the Rafters restaurant.

We looked at the decorations and after about five minutes without being seated, I began having second doubts about this place. I've been a server before, but any half-decent server ought to be able to handle more than half a dozen tables at once. Maybe she was new and still getting her server legs, but why would she be working by herself if that was the case? Maybe she was also preparing the meals in back, washing dishes, and prepping for the lunch rush later in addition to waiting tables, but we could already see one other person in back doing work there and it seemed an unlikely division of labor anyhow.

And heck, it would have taken her three seconds to tell us, "Hey, pick any table and I'll be there to take your order in a few minutes." It took her longer to ask us if we could wait a few minutes and get a reply!

"I'll say it," I told Karolina. "I think this waitress is incompetent. Wanna go somewhere else?"

And we decided that yes, we'd go somewhere else.

We left and wandered up the block to the Breakfast Cafe, which--with the word 'breakfast' in the name--we figured they at least had to know what they were doing for that part of the day.

The Breakfast Cafe was crowded and hopping with people. The decor was minimal, but it looked like a popular, well-oiled machine. Multiple waiters and waitresses bustled around helping customers and cups and silverware clinked and echoed throughout the building. It was a typical cafe, and they had us sitting at a table in less than 60 seconds flat.

Karolina ended up choosing the blueberry pancakes for breakfast, excited to finally be ordering "real American pancakes--like in the movies!" Which, apparently, she's only seen in the movies because in Europe, pancakes are totally not the same thing. For the life of me, I couldn't remember ever ordering pancakes in Europe and couldn't imagine what they were like if not the standard ones found in the US.

This old fire truck reminded Karolina of the firetrucks in those Donald Duck cartoons. "Just like in the cartoons!"

I ordered the Belgian waffles in honor of Europe because--you know, Belgian is in Europe and Karolina comes from Europe. Well, that was what I told Karolina, at least. It also happens that I like Belgian waffles. =)

We enjoyed our meals, and Karolina paid the bill again, but she wanted help on tipping which is very uncommon in Europe. "How much am I supposed to leave for a tip?"

How much indeed? I told her most people consider 15-20% pretty normal, but it's not always easy to figure out how much 15 or 20% of a check is in one's head and there's a useful rule of thumb that if you double the amount of tax on the check, it comes out roughly in the right neighborhood. Which, or course, works better for some states than others. (Oregon doesn't have sales tax, for instance.) But it works fairly well for California, though, which is the only state she'd be visiting.

Speaking of sales tax, that was another thing that puzzled Karolina. "So the price listed on the menu isn't actually the price you pay?" she asked me.

"Correct," I answered. "You'll always pay about 10% more than the listed price."

"But that makes no sense!" she exclaimed.

"Welcome to America!" I'd retort. =)

We finished breakfast, then continued our journey to the grocery store. We walked over to Vons where we had to buy enough food to carry us for nine days--but only eight days of dinners and breakfasts since we already had breakfast today and would have dinner in town on our last day.

We did most of our shopping together since Karolina wasn't familiar with the layout of grocery stores in America nor the products she could find in them. We probably spent a half hour there gathering our supplies, but we had to rush a bit. We were running low on time!

Karolina packs up her nine days of food while trying to get out of the hotel before checkout time.

We threw all of our supplies in our packs without repacking any of it in a rush to get back to the motel. We arrived at the motel with a mere 40 minutes until checkout time. We'd really have to hustle to repack all our food into ZipLock bags and pack our backpacks. I, having more experience with this sort of packing, finished first then I tried to help Karolina as much as I could. We finished a few minutes after checkout time, but a few minutes wasn't a big deal.

Karolina was anxious to talk to her mom. She had gotten bad news the previous day that her grandfather had been admitted to the hospital and they were unsure if he'd survive. So although Karolina was enjoying her time in Mammoth Lakes, worry about her grandfather haunted her during the visit. If these were his last moments, she wanted to be there nearby, so it was somewhat ironic and frustrating for her that she was currently further away from him (in the physical sense) than she'd ever been in her entire life. But so far, she'd only been able to contact her family through messages and hadn't been able to talk to anyone yet, and she didn't want to leave town until she'd been able to talk to her mom.

It was, understandably, important to Karolina, and once we re-entered the woods, we'd likely have absolutely zero contact with the outside world for nine solid days. Once we left town, we'd be cut off electronically. This was real wilderness. Don't expect cell towers, don't expect reception anywhere.

So I suggested that we sit outside the room for her to use the Internet and they'll be able to clean the motel room whenever without us being in the way (or trying to charge us for a late-checkout).

Karolina had tried to schedule a talk with her mom--the nine hour timezone difference making the task more difficult than it normally would be--but her mom wasn't answering and Karolina was growing increasingly frustrated at her inability to get more information about her grandfather, and I heard her mutter "Kurwa!" in a Polish-laced soliloquy. I didn't understand anything else she said, but I knew that was a very bad word in Polish, and she put a lot of R's in the way she said it.

I checked us out of our room while Karolina was trying to contact her mom, and she was still trying to contact her mom when I returned, but shortly thereafter she finally got to talk her to mom. I can't tell you definitively what they said because it was all in Polish (great for thwarting eavesdroppers like me!), but Karolina calmed down considerably after that.

After hanging up with her mom, she reported that her grandfather was still in the hospital, and they still weren't sure if he would pull out of it or not, but her family understood why she wasn't there at the moment and couldn't get back quickly, and that her grandfather wouldn't have wanted her quit anyway. No, she should take lots of pictures and--hopefully--show them to him on her return and share all the stories that she would collect along the way.

So Karolina was calmer, but she was still concerned about her grandfather and not thrilled that the next update she would get was more than a week away.

Karolina talks to her mom while sitting outside of the room we had already check out of.

After finishing her conversation, we reverse-engineered our arrival into town. We walked to the trolley stop and took the trolley to the bus stop. From there we took the free bus to the Mammoth ski area. Then we took another bus to Reds Meadow--this bus wasn't free, but we used our round-trip tickets that we had purchased earlier so it didn't cost us anything extra. During the ride, I joked to Karolina that I heard her cuss in Polish, and I might have rat her out to her mom later. *nodding* =)

And finally, we were back on the trail with excruciatingly heavy packs.

Well, almost back to the trail. Technically, we were still a quarter-mile or so off on a side trail. We'd be back on the John Muir Trail with just a few minutes of walking, though.

Taking the trolley, our first of three modes of motorized transportation back to the trail.

From Reds Meadow, the trail was a slow but steady climb the whole afternoon climbing from our starting elevation at about 7,500 feet above sea level to about 9,000 feet above sea level. We only did a half-day of hiking covering six miles since we had started so late in the afternoon, but it was a planned half-day in our itinerary since we knew we'd be running chores all morning and still needed time to get back to the trail. Also, we'd be carrying incredibly heavy backpacks. We might not be moving as quickly as we had been now that we had all this extra weight on our backs.

The day's hike went through a huge burn area which seemed to amaze Karolina. It was the first significant burn area she had hiked through. I remembered this burn area from my thru-hike on the PCT six years earlier, but I could see changes in the terrain. Although the burned area was still plainly visible, I noticed a lot more small trees growing in to fill in the burned areas. The forest was growing back. It'll still be many years--decades even--before the last traces of the ferocious fire that swept across these mountains would be fully obscured, but the process was already happening.

We set up camp near Deer Creek and were both surprised at the large numbers of other people we found camped nearby. No big deal, though. Most campers set up in the sites closest to the creek, but Karolina and I looked for a space where the trees left a hole in the canopy so we could see the stars at night. The Perseid meteor shower was gearing up and we wanted to be able to watch for shooting stars. The peak of the meteor shower wouldn't hit until tomorrow night, but there should already be a higher-than-usual number of shooting stars visible.

When Karolina took off her shoes and socks, she found a good-sized blister on the side of her big toe--her first blister of the trail. She named it Mount Whitney because it was the biggest "mountain" on her foot. I guess she had high hopes that any future blisters would be smaller than this one.

We both cowboy camped for the night. I did see a few shooting stars before falling asleep, but I probably missed many more that I wasn't able to see through the trees. We really needed to find a better place to camp tomorrow night--one that was well above tree level with a clear, unobstructed view of the sky. We wanted a real show for tomorrow night!

Karolina tries to pick up her heavy pack... if she can!

Reds Meadow General Store

And back on the John Muir Trail!
Most of the day took us through this giant burn area, but I could see a lot more small, green trees this time around than during my PCT thru-hike six years earlier. The forest is slowly growing back.

I'm walking down the trail. This is my view for most of the day. =)

Karolina gets her first blister of the trail which she named Mount Whitney.

Karolina pops Mount Whitney!

Bridge over Deer Creek.

A typical walk along the trail.... We recorded this by our camp at Deer Creek for possible use in our upcoming music video. =) We had Karolina climb a tree to get this aerial perspective of me walking down the trail.


Karolina said...

In Europe there are many different types of pancakes, depending on the country you're in. The old continent is diverse! Guess I'll need to take you have pancakes if you ever visit in Poland or the Netherlands! 😊

Karolina said...

Is 'soliloquy' a $10 word??

Karolina said...

Hmm... Is California further away from Poland than Mexico or China? My grandparents liked in Mexico for 2 years when I was little and Grandpa worked in China a few years later. During the stay in Mexico they visited our distant family in the US but I don't remember where exactly... Florida? Vermont?

Karolina said...

I mean they lived in Mexico, although they liked it too - to some expect at least!

Karolina said...

To some extent! Arrrghh, my #@€£!§& smartphone is changing the words I type!!!wrrrrr... (lots of RRRR!😈)

Eidolon said...

Karolina, autocorrect is evil :)

Ryan said...

Hmm.... Soliloquy.... That's definitely a good, solid word. *nodding* If it's not a $10 word, it's pretty close! So is "inordinate." =)

Amanda from Seattle said...

Ryan had pancakes in Amsterdam, he just doesn't remember. Was not impressed I guess.

Amanda from Seattle said...

Here is my blog post from our visit to Amsterdam and eating the little Dutch pancakes is mentioned.....