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Hallelujah Highway

PM 9.7.13, 9.8.13, AM 9.9.13

This twisty, curving, roller coaster road down to Red's meadow goes by Devil's Postpile, Rainbow Falls, and a few other hubs of hiking, camping, backpacking. Minaret Road is a veritable transit hub where you step off your vehicle, horse, shuttle, and you head in to the wild.

One of the worlds you can step off in to from Minaret Road is Agnew Meadows. Located right on the Pacific Crest Trail, Agnew Meadows is a popular car camping area with all the features you'd expect from a quintessential campground. Brown tables, bathrooms, pine trees, meandering creek, open meadows.

Long before we were ever on the trail, hell, years before we'd planned this, folks had been coming to this camp site as a matter of tradition; a yearly ritual. Earlier in the year, a group of guys got together and planned their yearly trip to Agnew Meadows. Older men; grown folks. A dad, a son, some extended family. A guys trip to escape and get away and go back to living the way we should live- outside, unstressed, and free if only for a weekend, a day, a moment.  These gentlemen sat at home in Southern California and hashed out their plan. They conference via cell phone to finalize the detail, and when the day came  to depart on September 5th for the weekend, they make the 2 or 3 hour drive to the spot they've been coming for years. Through all the planning and anticipation, someone forgets one minuscule item. At other places, this might be a big deal. But 6 miles down the road from Agnew Meadows is a spot called Red's Meadow resort and pack station. They've got a little convenience store, showers. I hear tell they have a kitchen. Wouldn't know. Never seen it.

I don't believe too much in fate, destiny. I think luck is for losers. I put all my chickens in the basket of timing. You can't fake timing, you can't force timing. Timing is good, bad, or it does not matter. That's sort of all there is. Our timing getting to Red's meadow was bad. And this bad timing set off a chain of events that we wouldn't have been faced with otherwise. Who knows what would have happened if the kitchen was open? Things would not have been the same.

The gentlemen camping in Agnew Meadows sent a representative, or maybe he volunteered, to stop by the store at Red's to get whatever it was they needed. It's getting later, probably about time to start a fire back at camp, and he drives his Eddie Bauer edition teal and tan Expedition in to the parking lot. He goes in to the lazy store that staffs 3 people who laze on the couch or hang out. His heart probably swells with delight at the sight of a wedding reception. He doesn’t know what it feels like to be robbed of hamburgers.  He slides back in to his tan leather seat, starts his SUV back up, and heads from whence he came with the road in front of him illuminated with his headlights. 

Lindsey and I were maybe 1/2 a mile from the Resort where we sat in shock for an hour or so. We never saw the expedition pass us. But we saw it behind us, driving In the same lane that we were walking.

Like so many vagrants, bums, possible felons, tramps, carpetbaggers, and broken-down souls I've seen, we stuck our thumbs out.  This was probably not a necessary step. Here are two people with large backpacks hiking down (or up, in our case) a road that only goes one place and we're hiking it as it's getting dark.  

The expedition gives us a wide berth and moves to the opposite lane as it goes by us a little bit. Having anticipated this rejection, I put down my thumb and sigh and keep walking. It can never be easy…

The beastly truck passed us on the left and then pulled over 20 yards in front of us. The driver asks where we're going and we tell him Mammoth. He's going about 1/3rd of the way there he tells us. He's going back to Agnew Meadows. We'll take it.

In my mind, I still don't know how long this actual road is. I think that Agnew Meadows is a mile or two from the Ski Resort.

We open the rear hatch of the SUV and put our backpacks in. Lindsey tosses hers in first and then grabs the passenger seat. I'm slower lugging mine off my back and set it in the rear cargo area. I give the contents of the truck a once over to know what I'm getting in to. There is a biblical themed book about being a father or parent or something in that vein.

I jump in to the seat behind the driver. Actually, if "1" is an old man fumbling to get in a walker and "10" is Lebron James dunking, I was a "3". That was the level of skill, energy, and movement I was able to put together to get in to a car.

Back at Agnew Meadows, brothers, fathers, friends were probably setting up camp, reminiscing, having a good time waiting for Matt. Matt, the son of a father, had gone to Red's to get whatever provision they'd forgotten. He was around 40 years old. Had some kids somewhere. He was a strong looking man but not imposing.
As we drove, we told each other where we were from, what we were doing out there etc. At first it was a quick billing to probably show each other that neither Matt nor us were murderers. After a few minutes, we just talked like old friends as he drove with the driver's window down. He explained to us how they always went to Agnew Meadows and that they lived in SoCal. We explained how we were from Texas and how we didn’t get a hamburger. He chuckled and said he saw that group.

We came up on Agnew Meadows and we passed it. Matt kept driving up the road and the steep ascent that it climbed after Agnew. He said he'd take us to the top because it's a long road.

And it was. It was about 10 times longer than I'd originally thought. Matt talked about his dad and how as a kid, his dad would tell him stories about different hiking excursions where hitchhiking and the kindness of strangers was crucial in making it. We reached the ski area at the top of the road and Matt asked us where we'd like to be dropped off.

"We're going to Mammoth but here is fine." We conveyed that he had way over delivered on what he signed up for. His 5 minute drive back to Agnew Meadows and his camp and friends and family was now at 15 minutes and counting. He drove us another 5 minutes down to the resort of Mammoth Lake and we bid him a farewell after a huge thanks. I grabbed my backpack out of the back of the Expedition and saw that religious book. I closed the back hatch and walked around to shake his Matt's hand, say thanks, and give him some money for helping us, saving us.

"I wouldn't think of it." He said when I offered him money.
"Enjoy the rest of your trip!"

I shook his hand. Thanked him again. And Lindsey and I were on a sidewalk on the main strip in Mammoth. 

There's much made about the kindness of strangers and people helping when you're in need. Mostly, I think it was perfect timing. We were in California via Texas at Red's Meadow after hiking 40 miles. And at the exact same time as we left, after sulking, there's a man 6 miles away that we never saw enter (and we would have seen him enter) the resort for provisions. He didn’t have to take us the whole way and spend 35 minutes on a side trip, but he did. And he didn’t want anything for it. I say this not because of the book I saw in his car, but he had a very saint-like quality to him. He's probably a normal man with problems, bad days, good days, hobbies, a family just like most. But to me- he appeared out of nowhere. He took us where we needed to go and not once did we see another car on that road.

Matt was not a stranger, though he was kind. I knew Matt. Strangers are outsiders. We were all out there for the same reason, looking for the same thing, having different individual experiences but all after the same thing in the end. We choose to take to the outdoors to find it.

We made it to Mammoth. Dim sunlight remaining. The visible sky a really deep dark blue. We had cell service. Or she did. My phone was still broken. We were surrounded by fancy light posts, rich ski resort architecture,  people in Patagonia jackets and knit beanies.  And we were free. We were not pressing the "lock" button on the car key so the horn would chirp and we could find it. We did not need a taxi. We had absolutely no idea where we were going. But we knew we could walk. We would rely on public transit if needed and we'd make it everywhere else on foot.

It's kind of cool being literally dropped off in the middle of a town you've never spent time in and then having to figure it out with no method of transit except your feet.  We find a hotel in the phone and start walking towards it but in route, we see a little place right across the street. We call them as we stare in their window from 50 yards away. They've got rooms. 80 something bucks. Sold.  We run across the 4 lane road to our new one-night home, the Holiday Haus.

We walk In to the Lobby and are greeted by a chime. A minute or two later, a character of a woman comes out of a side room behind the counter and helps us. She's a blunt, direct woman. The kind that isn't really cheery and doesn’t give a damn about customer service, but the kind you can tell is really genuine and kind to good folks, a jerk to jerks. I figured this out about her because that's how I am. We go through the paper work which takes 3 or 4 minutes and then we all just chat in there. She tells us the Rimfire is still burning but they found out it was caused by a hunter with an illegal fire.

I always wonder how "they" determine that. Or if they just say that as a marketing/scare tactic. 

After some time of chatting with Hotel Lady, we depart. Her presence was such that I did make a note of her in my notebook. If you're ever out that way, stop by and see her.

We head up to our room and shower. The amount of dirt, dust, grime, and salt that comes off is appalling and oh-so pleasing.

It's funny how much a hot shower and hard hotel bed can improve morale. We sort our gear, do a lot of thinking and a genius idea strikes that I like to take credit for. Whose it was originally, I don't know. I'm pretty sure it was mine. Here's what we know-

Shuttle from Mammoth to Yose (where our car is) runs weekends at 8:00am
Shuttle from Lone Pine to Mammoth runs daily at 6:15am
Our hiking timeline is dictated by the necessity of having to finish the whole trail on a weekend so we can make it back to our car in Yosemite. And the fact that we'll have to account for a wasted day in Mammoth waiting for the Yosemite shuttle.
It is currently a weekend when we're in Mammoth.

Here's the scheme: Catch the YARTS bus to Yosemite tomorrow at 8am. Get our car.
Drive the car down to Lone Pine, which is where we will end on the trail.
Take the shuttle from Lone Pine back up to Mammoth.
Hop back on the trail.

This allows us to be 100% flexible with our timeline and even get 3-4 more hiking days out of our time since we're not having to travel and wait and calculate our end day to correlate with a weekend.

This allows us to skip a 10 mile or so section after Red's Meadow on the JMT that is universally regarded as bland.

This allows us to rest and get healthy.

The best feeling was being at the door step of defeat, ready to pack up and quit, and then finding a way to keep going. Moreover, having the wherewithal to know that if we did stop, we'd regret it almost immediately.

With reborn excitement and a new plan that's better all around, we sleep in our bed as the sounds of music from a nearby festival sneak in our window. It's not a pain hearing human civilization when you know you're leaving it soon.

We awake refreshed and pack in a hurry. We hand in our key and rush over to the transit stop, which is about half a mile from our hotel. It's almost exactly where Matt dropped us off. We get to the bus stop and meet two other hikers. They tell us the shuttle time has changed.

It's 8:05am. The time that the chart and the website says the bus will leave. On the bus stop information sign, this information has been haphazardly crossed out in black sharpie and written instead- 10:52AM

We use our three hours to eat. I had an amazing breakfast burrito. Lindsey had a Ruben.
We take the gondola to the mountain and watch the Kamikaze run festivities going on.
then the bus comes. A huge charter bus. A short hour or two later and we're back where it started. We hop in the car and head south to Lone Pine, some 3ish hours away.

Smoke on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada

In Bishop, California we stop and get a hamburger from a place that had good reviews. Though we'd eaten well earlier…it was not a hamburger. And my soul would be at a state of unrest until I ate this concoction. Bishop Burger Barn would deliver. And they'd deliver hard. One of the best hamburgers I've ever eaten. 5% because I really wanted a hamburger. 95% because it was all fresh grown stuff and just made really really well.

We head on down to Lone Pine. It's maybe 4 or 5 now. I suggest we eat a hamburger at McDonalds but Lindsey vetoes that.  We do decide to drive the 13 mile road to Whitney Portal and check out our ending destination though.

We head down to the village of Lone Pine and get another hotel. We check in and the lady at the front desk is making Indian food that smells amazing.

I want a hamburger from McDonalds that is across the street.

We get our room, lay out our items, and we streamline our operation. We cut things that we don't need. We drop weight from our packs that we do not need. We wash clothes in the bath tub. We take another shower but still kinda smell.

In the morning, we'll walk across the street to the south and get on a bus at 6AM. We'll park our car in the free parking lot across the street to the east. Lone Pine is efficient.

This is a map of day 5. Driving, eating, recovering, preparing.

Early AM of day 6 we left behind what we did not need. Packed the car without worry of bears breaking in, and we walked over and caught the bus.

They take exact change for their fare. In our case, I think this trip from Lone Pine to Mammoth was 20 bucks for the both of us.

The bus driver wore a cowboy hat and played a CD of Carlos Santana. He'd whistle to it occasionally. I liked him. He was an older guy with some kind of facial hair. I think a mustache. He wore blue jeans and a long sleeve shirt. He was a cowboy. His horse was a short bus. His lunchbox was an igloo cooler. I liked him.

He delivers us to the Mammoth Lake McDonalds (apparently, McDonald's is a transit hub in this part of the world.) and we grab breakfast. (I tried to order a burger but they did not serve them that early which is a separate load of bullshit) We look at maps to see what transit will take us where we need to go. There's a few busses but none that take us where we need.

In a small section of the brochure, there's a small note about "dial-a-ride" though. For about 2 dollars a person, you can call a Mammoth area transit bus and it will pick you up and take you wherever you want in the city. We call. They answer, and they pick us up. Our destination is Cold Water Campground, a camp that has a trail head that will lead us back on the JMT.

Our packs are lighter now. My Achilles still hurts. We're well rested. We're well fed. We pay the bus driving gentleman who picked us up and we step out on to Sierra soil. Backpack straps are pulled tight. Water bottles are filled.

We begin the hike back to get on the JMT. The road to redemption was a long one and it all started with Matt. We survived a major onslaught of doubt, failure, fatigue, and we decided to hike. Day 6 found us starting the trail around 10am. At the end of the day, we'd be back on JMT Proper. We'd be back in business.

Notes from the trail

9/8/13 -->

BUS LEAVES @ 10:52.


0 DAY ON 9/8.


Best since Day 1.