West bound Interstate 10 is a stretch of road I know pretty well. It's pretty much the golden road if you want to go anywhere worth a damn. 98% of this state is privately owned land. Ranches, high fences, thousands of acres of rich white man private property that is leased out, passed on through families, or whatever else. 2% of the area of Texas is for the public.
This abhorrent truth inevitably drives people in search of adventure to I-10. And to paraphrase some guy who said something that was later quoted in Into the Wild: "The road has always led west."
We drive into the sun through New Braunfels and Hwy 46. Eventually it intersects the I-10 artery and then we fly. My driving plan, as normal, is go as far as possible without falling asleep. We made it to Fort Stockton. One of these days my luck will run out with the dense deer population on the highway at night. But this was not that time. We navigated through the herds fine and arrived to sleep in the all too familiar Walmart parking lot. It was about 80 degrees out. No breeze. The sounds of a diesel engine running near by. Lindsey opted for a hotel. So we got a hotel and slept in the fine air conditioning in Fort Stockton.
The next morning we hit the road to go further west. The road could potentially split off a few ways. We didn’t concern ourselves with that too much. I made it through the border patrol station just fine after passing their one question test. "US citizen?" ..."yep." "Thank you."
This was a Sunday if I recall correctly. Lindsey had some time ago purchased a groupon to Las Vegas. The promo had expired, but the money paid for the groupon was still good. We thought we might as well use it. Turns out we couldn’t because it had been magically redeemed and customer service for groupon takes weekends off.
I found a deal for the Hard Rock Hotel/casino. We stayed there. This, as best we could tell, would be our final stop in civilization for a long time. So we got to the hotel around 9 or 10. The club in the casino was packed with tons of people, but the hotel itself was pretty empty. Got our room. Gambled. Got to gamble.
I went down and put 1 dollar in a video roulette machine. I put it all on 00. First play, the little things light up and numbers fly around. It stops on 00. I get 20 bucks.
I quit for the night. For the most part. I lose and regain some money here and there. Lindsey leaks money like a fish net does water. It was fun, though.
We go to our room and organize our food that we have to drop off.
The JMT, being as long as it is, requires a few resupplies for food. Since you have to fit all of your food and smell-able items in a bear canister, you can only carry a finite amount of food. Our first resupply would be at Red's Meadow. A little resort pretty much on the trail. It was 3-5 days from the start of the trail, which means we wouldn't have to carry too much. We also would be driving by this place to hand deliver our resupply package. The other alternative is mailing it. It's costly and take a lot of time to mail your food. It's got to be delivered about a week or more prior to your pick up date. To avoid the hassle, fees, and money…we hand delivered. They would keep it in storage for a couple of bucks a day.
Our other resupply was at Muir Trail Ranch. This was a 5 gallon bucket packed full of food and weighing about 25 lbs. It was to last us the final 10 days from Muir Trail Ranch to Mt. Whitney. We did have to mail this one because Muir Ranch is on the west side of the mountains, and we weren't driving that way. It was costly. But that was our food logistics.
So we're in the Vegas hotel going through our food and packing it into a box so we can drop it off. There wasn’t much time to stop and relax, contemplate, or enjoy the process. We were gambling, then packing, then sleeping, then packing, then gambling on the way out, then driving.
I've done the drive from Vegas to Yosemite before and I remember it being the longest 5-6 hours of my life for whatever reason.
I was expecting it to be different this time since the drive was going so smoothly and quickly. And then we hit that stretch from Vegas to the Eastern Sierras. It's a killer. Super slow. Not a lot to see. No one else out there. No radio stations. It's a really odd place. We did go by an area 51 themed gas station with a whorehouse in the back. A tour bus had just unloaded its mostly foreign payload. They were inside buying alien crap. After many hours we break through to the Eastern Sierra and head towards Mammoth Lakes, where the road to Red's Meadow begins.
If we had more time, (and if it were August, when tourism is still popular) we'd have parked at Lone Pine and taken shuttles all the way to Yosemite, Red's meadow, and anywhere else we wanted to go. Our time line and our yearly time made that a bit more hard.
We get to Mammoth Lakes and begin to go down the road to Red's Meadow. We're stopped at a little ranger station. They inform us we can't take cars down. You can only get down the road by shuttle until September 4th (it was the 2nd or 3rd) and the shuttle would stop running for the season on Sept 4th.
This is awesome, because that means when we arrive at Red's meadow, we cannot take a shuttle in to Mammoth Lakes. It will have quit running. We'll have no way to get a delicious burger or pizza or beer.
It's okay, because Red's has a little café and store.
We get our shuttle ticket and that's where we meet Keith.
Keith was about 6'1" 225ish, late 20s, and was wearing cargo shorts and I assume a shirt. I don't remember the shirt, though.
Super friendly guy. He was driving a big ass shuttle bus and it had all of 3 people on it. Lindsey, myself, and one other guy whom Keith clearly knew.
Despite no audience, Keith gave a driving tour as we went down this 8 mile winding, steep, narrow stretch of road into the river valley where Red's Meadow was.
I don't know much about Keith. I know I liked him. He was a good guy. Having said that, the best way I have to describe him is that he was a yellow lab.
Kind of a homely, deep voice. Always talking. Super friendly. Very helpful. Slept at the foot of our bed.
It really did seem like if I threw a tennis ball he'd run after it.
It's a one way road. So the bus goes down and at the 4 or 5 stops, it will pick people up if they want to go further south. Most people, at the time of day we were there, were wanting to leave. Keith stops at a bus stop full of about 15 people. We're sitting on the bus. Keith walks down to the lower step of the bus, hangs half his body out, and the dialogue goes something like this. (say it in your best Labrador voice)
"Anyone going down to the falls?" (the falls are by Red's)
"We're heading down to the falls, but another bus will be right behind me, so..."
"Everyone have a good hike?"
"There'll be another bus right behind me to take you back up to the top, so…"
Keith went on making simple conversation with mostly himself using his patented fast-then-trail-off cadence and ending, most often with "so…"
It made his form of communication very enjoyable for me.
He talked to this group of people for damn near 10 minutes, and by that time, the bus that they wanted to take was literally right on our ass. So Keith had to pack it up and move on.
We dropped off our food when we made it to Red's meadow. Keith went to refill his water bottle at the café.
A stellar's jay flew into the bus. I caught him and let him out.
Keith said "thank you."
Keith picked up the remaining hikers who were heading back to Mammoth for the day. The bus was about half full now, and Keith went on and did his tour. He asked repeatedly to the bus "did anyone give you a tour on the way down?"
No one replied, so I said "Yeah."
Keith thought it was slightly funny I think.
So he gives the tour, hands out information. Stops at a viewpoint, offers to take photos for passengers.
We arrive back to our starting point at Mammoth Ski resort. We bid farewell to Keith, and we can drive the last hour or so to Yosemite.
Keith would be one of a few awesome people we met. And maybe my favorite.
He's probably back home chasing a squirrel right now.