From the Desert into the Pines


August 2, 2019

From the dry, hot desert yesterday, I have now ascended upward into the tall pines.

Having planned no particular or interesting sites to see along this stretch of my journey, the day was to take me from Barstow to Walker, CA. If anything of interest were to catch my attention, then I would spontaneously stop and investigate whatever had caught my eye. This is often the case as I venture out on our highways and byways.

But today, as fate intervened, it became a day that was much more engaging, leading from an encounter that extended the day further than if I had not made a quick decision to offer assistance. 

More of that later.

An early start out of Barstow with a fuel stop first put me in a bit of price shock as gasoline there was in the $3.79 - $4.00 range. It got even more expensive now as I am approaching Northern California, closing in on $5.00 per gallon. However, the good news, I got 24 mpg. All that “reasonable speed” driving at 55 mph paid off.

Most of my day’s drive had me skirting the eastern flanks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains as I headed north on Hwy. 395. This route will also take me into Oregon.

Nearly 2 hours into today’s drive a lengthy road construction project held me at a standstill. It became apparent that we all were stuck until a flagman would allow us to proceed. Turning off my engine (no sense burning up all that expensive fuel), I thought ahead to where I was headed, not for just today, but to my northern most destination. Much of the apprehension I had been experiencing prior to leaving Phoenix, was dissipating now that I was actully beginning this new adventure. 

Back on the road, past the road project, I continued cruising along at 60 mph until I arrived in Lone Pine, CA. To my left the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains stood tall, while in the distance on my right was a less tall mountain range and roads leading into the ominous Death Valley beyond that range. 

Having been sitting in my 4Runner for over 3 hours, a stop at a visitor’s center in Lone Pine was the natural place to answer the call of nature and to stretch my legs. This center offers information to the areas of the Sierra Mountains to the West and to Death Valley to the East. 

IMG_3303The day was warming up quickly even as I eventually climbed up to nearly 8000 feet. Seeing patches of snow atop the highest mountains to my left, told me that last winter’s snowpack had been heavy enough to allow some of that snow to still be clinging in the high gullies and deep crevices. Survival of the snowpacks and its melting provides ample moisture for the flora and fauna, plus should supply sufficient water for the numerous waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. Still not time for lunch, I planned to drive another hour or so to Bishop, CA, where I would get a bite to eat and then, hopefully, arrive at my day’s destination by mid afternoon.

This is where and when my plans were somewhat altered.

Very soon after getting back on the pavement, I spied a young man with a backpack next to him, hitchhiking. Though the day was still reasonably comfortable temperature wise, I knew standing out there could get very uncomfortable. That and the fact that I had decided to pack my vehicle more lightly than on previous trips, allowed me to offer a ride. So, of course, I quickly pulled off the road and waited for this young man to approach. Upon asking, he told me he was going to Bishop. How fortuitous, as that was my next stop anyway. Throwing his backpack in the backseat, he settled in the front passenger seat. Having introduced himself as David, I detected an accent, to which he later identified as he being German. 

From the time he entered my 4Runner until we parted in Bishop, we continued conversing. We may have found each other nearly equally interesting, as I learned more of him and he of me. 

First off, he had been hiking solo in the Sierra Nevadas for many days, and had decended from Mt. Whitney that morning, the highest point in those mountains. He had been hiking the Muir Trail, a famous and lengthy stretch in rugged territory. 

His fearlessly setting off into the wilderness, alone, intrigued me. I still have not mustered the courage to hike alone in wilderness areas that present the possibility of meeting bears along the way. In wilderness areas where I feel comfortable, I have hiked alone, but only on a limited basis have I attempted to hike and camp for extended periods of time. Not to mention, when I have hiked with organized groups in Yosemite, Yellowstone and last year in Glacier National Park, the packs we carried were nearly 40 pounds. A few days of that load on your back trekking up and down mountains is not easy, Expand that time to weeks of more, tires me just thinking of it. When I lifted David’s pack from my vehicle I noticed it being lightweight. He packs very lightly.

David has hiked and explored other areas in the US, plus he told me about the Alps, the cows that graze in the mountains in the summertime, milking sheds where those wandering cows are tended to, the cow bells (it’s a real thing), bike trails in Europe and much more. But his trekking here in the US was very interesting. I told him of some of my hiking trips and, of course, to what lies ahead for me in Canada this year. 

We did have lunch in Bishop together, where we continued sharing our experiences, including some of his amazing photos from high in the mountains, his (near) encounter with a bear and her cubs. I shared the zip line videos from Peru and Haiti, which I think he thought were a bit scary. My plans for a quick lunch became a couple of hours sharing our stories. Having told him about how I blog about my trips, he was eager to be included as a reader. 

As I stated at the beginning of this story, this day became more engaging than I could have planned. It was good to meet and chat with a like minded person, who is an ardent adventurer, and who appreciates nature and preserving the environment. 

He will complete his travels before returning to Germany by visiting Cuba, to which, I was able to offer some insights. His journey there will extend much further that those of mine. He plans to read my blog to find out any useful information that he can use.

As we parted ways, he told me he would be staying at a hostel and spend some days, recovering from his long trek into the wilderness as he had pulled some tendons in his lower leg and needed rest. When I asked, he told me his longest hike was about 20 miles in one day! 

That is AMBITIOUS! (no wonder his legs were hurting).

Having at least 3 more hours ahead of me, I had to pick up the pace a bit more before running out of daylight. I did arrive in the small burg of Walker, CA at 5 p.m. where I found one of the last remaining rooms. With another 330 miles on the odometer, I am settled in for the night at about 5000 feet elevation. Here it will cool after sunset into the upper 50’s / low 60’s overnight. Nice sleeping temps.

Tomorrow I plan to visit around Lake Tahoe, eventually ending in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

u © Donald E. Kline 2012