Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Day 18: The Polish Route

It was time to get back on the trail. We only planned to do a half-day of hiking today, so we took our time getting up and eating the continental breakfast at the hotel and finally packing our backpacks for the hike. Before leaving town, Karolina wanted to stop in a couple of stores to buy earrings and.... well, something I'll tell you about later. It'll be a surprise! ;o)

And finally, we were ready to hit the trail again, with Madam Butterfly in tow. We decided to set ourselves up on the road out of town that we had walked in on earlier since anyone going in that direction would be going in the direction we wanted. I also wanted to walk out just far enough that we wouldn't waste our time trying to hitch rides from people who were traveling a couple of blocks to the post office or wherever. We needed people who were leaving town. And I figured we'd be best off trying to hitch a ride so far out near the edge of town as practical, and at an intersection with a signal. The signal would force people to slow down or stop and increase the likelihood that they'd pick us up. And there was a wide shoulder that would allows cars to easily pull over to pick us up. That was the theory, anyhow.

Karolina shows a little leg to help us hitch a ride.

We arrived and started our attempts at hitchhiking at precisely 11:56 AM. I know because I checked the time as we stuck out our thumbs for the first time. Karolina thought it was odd that we stick out our thumbs to hitchhike in America. How do they do it in Europe? I've never tried hitchhiking in Europe before, but apparently it doesn't require a thumb. Maybe wave at the passing cars? But how would they know you were trying to hitch a ride rather than just being friendly?

I took some photos of Karolina trying to hitchhike, and told her to show a little leg. Come on! We need a ride! The photos were kind of farcical with Madam Butterfly floating around in the background. I hoped it didn't make us look too ridiculous. I wanted everyone driving by to think, "Those are hikers. I might not normally pick up hitchhikers, but I'll pick up hikers." Madam Butterfly does not make anyone look like a hiker.

"Make sure our packs are readily visible to anyone passing by," I told Karolina. "We want them to know why were out here and where we want to go."

Several cars drove by, but none stopped. The noon hour clicked by, and we were still there, waiting for a kind soul to pick us up.

At exactly 12:01 PM, a car with two people pulled over next to us. Yes! We got a ride! It took us five minutes, but we got a ride!

The two were a couple driving home up the road somewhere. For some bizarre reason, I never wrote their names in my journal and now I've long since forgotten them, but they squeezed us into the backseat of their car and drove off. They lived in a house somewhere pretty far up the road and I figured they'd drop us off along the way, perhaps at the turnoff for South Lake, which was okay. It got us closer to our goal, and at least at that point, a lot more of the cars passing by would be going to our destination, but they graciously drove us the entire way to the trailhead. They seriously went out of their way to help us out!

On the drive up, we passed a couple of strange-looking vehicles. Dark, tinted windows and they looked to be mostly covered with some sort of dark fabric, and our trail angels explained that the cars were new designs of car companies that were being tested out. This area, apparently, is a popular place to test new car models, but being new models, they cover and disguise the cars so people can't see it until they've officially been announced. Very interesting!

This bizarre-looking car could get me in trouble for taking photos of it! But I took photos anyway!

Further up the road, they spotted one of the test cars parked near an outhouse and stopped next to it so I could jump out and take photos. Awesome! The note on the window said that this car model was a trade secret of Hyundai/Kia Motors, unreleased to the public, and attempts to take photographs of the interior or exterior without permission would be regarded as unlawful and infringing their rights and may be "strictly penalized upon laws concerning Trade Secret Protection."

That, however, did not stop me from taking photos. Mostly because the car was all covered up with its ugly fabric and I'm pretty sure nobody cared about that.

We soon arrived at the trailhead and thanked our trail angels. I offered to give them money, even a little if for no other reason to help pay for gas considering that they drove so far out of their way for us, but they wouldn't take it saying their car was a hybrid and didn't use much gas anyhow.

We spent a few minutes at the trailhead getting our affairs in order. We put on our hiking shoes (both of us chose to wear our camp shoes while hitchhiking), pulled out our trekking poles and started hiking with Madam Butterfly tied to our packs. I was a bit worried about Madam Butterfly. On the ride to the trailhead, she swelled considerably given our rise in altitude from about 4,000 feet to 10,000 feet. It was already full of helium back in town, but now the ballooned looked like it was positively readily to explode. I tried to see if there was a way I could let a little air out, but it appeared to be seam-sealed with no way to allow just a little air.

Back on the trail by South Lake.

Hopefully it would hold together. Once we crossed Bishop Pass another 2,000 feet higher, it was all downhill.

But a couple of miles into our hike, I heard a distinct hissing sound coming from Madam Butterfly and when I grabbed it, I noticed it was considerably less full than before. Madam Butterfly had sprung a leak!

"Karolina! We need to stop now! We need to get photos while Madam Butterfly still has air in her!"

So we stopped to do a quick photo shoot with Madam Butterfly. I tried to see if I could find the leak. Maybe we could tape it or something, but the balloon looked entirely intact. There was definitely a leak, but neither of us could find it.

We took a few photos, and some videos of us walking around with Madam Butterfly for possible use in the music video later, then Karolina carried it the rest of the afternoon. "Madam Butterfly," Karolina told me, "obviously doesn't like you."

I think Karolina just wanted a turn at having her pack lighter.

Numerous other hikers, of course, asked about the balloon. Some asked why we had it, and we'd tell them it was to lighten our load. And then they might ask how it was working out, and Karolina would tell them that her only regret was not getting more of the balloons. =)

Madam Butterfly had trouble with the high altitudes, but she did enjoy flying!

Despite the leak, the balloon continued to stay remarkably full. We were still rising in elevation, so that made some sense. Now that the pressure inside the balloon wasn't so great anymore, the leak had slowed considerably, and as we rose in elevation, it would expand the air that was still in the balloon to fill up the part that was lost. The balloon would continue to float on its own power for the entire rest of the day and into the next morning!

Although we didn't know that then. We just knew it had a leak and had no idea how much longer Madam Butterfly had left to fly.

Late in the afternoon, we passed the small pool of water where we had camped three nights earlier and it had changed considerably. The water level was far lower, and no water was running into it anymore. The water that used to be so cold it was genuinely painful to put a hand in while filling up my water bottle was now merely uncomfortably cold. Whatever water source had been feeding the pond until our departure two days earlier had obviously dried up. It was now just a stagnant, warming pool of water. It was surprising to see such a dramatic change just two days later. We used to be able to hear a stream running under and beside the trail before it ran into the pond, and that sound was gone as well. I figure it was being fed by one of the small patches of melting snow and whatever patch was feeding it finally melted away for the season. This water source was now closed.

As we approached Bishop Pass, ugly clouds started rolling in and at the top of the pass, we felt a couple of light drops of rain. Rain?! It wasn't supposed to rain today! The top of the pass was our minimum goal for the day, though, and we brought enough water to spend the night at the top, so we quickly set up camp and I set up my tarp for the first time of the hike.

While setting up my tarp, I needed some rocks to hold the stakes in place and picked up a rock that turned out to be covering poop--with toilet paper and all. Ah, great.... I put that rock back, but seriously? I was kind of surprised at the discovery because it was probably four feet off the trail in plain view. Who does a poop that close to the trail in plain view?! I wished they would have gone further off trail or actually buried the darn thing.

The rain never materialized, but just before sunset, a few people hiking in the other direction arrived and we struck up a conversation, which included my saying something like, "You're almost there!" Which I often do, even when it's clearly obvious that they aren't.

Then they said that they weren't actually heading down the trail, but rather going to go off trail to climb up a mountain ridge, follow it around, eventually going back down. And the route he proceeded to describe sounded like it would require a lot of technical expertise, including ropes and such. "That sounds like the hard way," I said.

"It's the Polish route," he replied.

This perked up Karolina's ears. "The Polish Route?" she asked. "Why is it called the Polish Route?"

"Because we're stupid to be doing it," he replied. "We're Poles."

And I thought... Oh, crap.... Karolina thinks that's the actual name of a route. This could get awkward....

"I'm from Poland!" Karolina continued on, still unaware about exactly what he had said.

"You're both from Poland?" he asked, suddenly realizing that calling it the "Polish route" might have been a mistake.

"Well, she is," I said, pointing at Karolina. "My accent is Californian, though."

We talked for maybe another 10 seconds or so, then the group continued onward. After they left, Karolina turned to me and said, "I don't think they're really from Poland."

"No...." I replied. "No, I don't think so either."

"Then why did they say they were Poles?"

Ah, yes... leave me with the task of explaining about Polish jokes.

So I had to explain that, in English--or at least in America since I wasn't actually sure about England and other English-speaking countries--Polish jokes and blonde jokes are essentially interchangeable, and Poles are stereotypically stupid.

"So when he said he was doing the Polish route and that he was Polish," I explained, "he was saying he was being an idiot and stupid. If he had realized earlier that you were Polish, he probably wouldn't have used that terminology."

It was a little awkward for me to explain that we have jokes that make fun of her entire nationality. They're just jokes, and generally as harmless as blonde jokes, but Karolina is proud of her heritage and I wasn't sure how she'd feel knowing about that. She mostly just seemed confused rather than angry or insulted. Like a joke that she didn't understand, because she really didn't understand it. They don't tell Polish jokes in Poland, after all. They tell concentration camp jokes instead. =)

So that was how Karolina learned about Polish jokes.

After dinner, we wrote in our journals, then read aloud The Journey In Between about Fozzie's hike of the Camino de Santiago. That's a trail we had both done before so were quite familiar with it, and Fozzie was a fellow I met during my PCT thru-hike. I thought I had his PCT book on my Kindle which would have been incredibly appropriate since we were hiking a section of the PCT, but surprise! I didn't have his PCT book on my Kindle, so we started reading his Camino book instead.

Then we headed off to sleep for the night.

And a video with Madam Butterfly, for possible use in our music video. =)

I'm in camp, with Madam Butterfly watching over me. =)
The clouds spit out a few drops of rain, but as it turned out, setting up my tarp hadn't ended up being necessary.

1 comment:

Karolina said...

Most of hitchhikers I know in Europe use a big sheet of paper with the name of their destination written on it - something I did later during our trip, wanting to catch a ride from Lone Pine to Independence. We also try to catch eye contact with drivers passing by and we wave at them with a hand or thumb to catch their attention. Some more creative people use inflatable props like giant thumbs.

What you were doing in Bishop, that is standing still with your thumb continuously stuck out stiff and motionless, I have only seen in the movies. Another 'so American, just like in the movies!' thing. 😊