The forecast twenty degree temperatures never materialized, and it was a balmy thirty-one degrees when I awoke at 3:45 AM with something very, very wrong in my neck. As near as I can tell at some point during the evening my body rolled but my head didn’t get the message, and my neck bore the brunt of this miscommunication. In any case, after a short drive this morning I turned up the Mount Whitney Portal Road in Lone Pine, and then made a hike of the last few miles of road, past ice and rockfalls that were obviously the source of the “road closed” signs posted below. This route is the homestretch of the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, and it was with a renewed respect for those athletes that I huffed and puffed my way over the short distance and 2,000 foot elevation change to the trailhead.
From that point all paths led homeward, and after a brief stop for a burrito (yum) and a car wash I was home and scrubbing mightily to remove the many layers of dirt that had accumulated over the past few days. Now it’s one day of rest before heading back to work, and another six months before the great Iceland adventure brings more fodder for journal entries.
Twenty-three degrees at sunrise this morning. Not warm – invigorating is probably the term that puts the best spin on it, although it’s also probably most accurate – when your breath is the first thing you see after opening your eyes in the morning it makes you feel just a bit more alive. I walked around Mono Lake and snapped photos for about an hour after sunrise before continuing south along the Eastern Sierra. The Sierras rise gently from the west but drop abruptly on the eastern side, so I was looking straight up at snow-covered 13,000 foot peaks as the road descended from 8,000 feet down to 4,000 feet.
After an early lunch in Mammoth I moved on to the Owens Valley, passed a few more lakes, some incredible mountains, and a herd of about fifty elk before turning off the highway and heading up an interesting-looking but rough dirt road that eventually led to the Taboose Pass trailhead. I had no plans of going all the way up to the pass, which I imagine must be an ordeal similar to what Frodo and Sam undertook to get into Mordor. Instead I went only a short way, but given that any trail around here heads more-or-less straight up it was tiring enough, and after returning I’m now camped out for the night with a forecast for an evening low of twenty degrees, guaranteeing that my breath will again be my first sight in the morning. Luckily an additional advantage of the cold air is that, combined with the lack of city lights, the stars stand out prominently, so in addition to struggling to keep my core temperature above freezing I’ll also be gazing at the depths of the Milky Way as I head to sleep.
A few photos from the past week:
Elephant seals in sleep mode.
Elephant seals in angry mode.
It’s usually a good day when you see a “bear crossing” sign; today was such a day. After five days of holiday cheer, super chicken burritos, and golfing I left the homestead late last night and spent the evening sleeping in the Subaru as snow fell along I-80 near Truckee. The morning took me to Lake Tahoe, and by afternoon I was wandering down Highway 395 on the eastern side of the Sierras. Tonight the Subaru is parked along the shores of Mono Lake, next to an array of weird volcanic formations that the lake is apparently famous for.
After several false starts throughout the night due to sleepiness, limited mental capacity, and confusing the full moon for the morning sun, I finally got going as the sun was rising this morning and headed off to see the seals. In a world where habitat loss, global warming and other threats are pushing species to the brink the elephants seals are a nice change, with a population that was once threatened now expanding onto new beaches – Piedras Blancas had no seals only a few years ago, but today I saw hundreds.
In addition to the seals the trip up Highway One yielded tons of birds, a coyote, sea lions at Monterey, and a new find north of Monterey – Elkhorn Slough is a salt marsh that is being restored to its natural state, and today it was home to a harbor seal, at least five sea otters, thousands of birds, and one animal that I tentatively identified (from a distance) as a bulldog riding in a kayak and wearing a life jacket.
Apparently it wasn’t a bulldog – Aaron says the photo below is a Boston terrier. Maybe the fact that it is wearing a life jacket and a wetsuit threw me off.
Boston terrier, in a kayak, wearing a life jacket and a wetsuit. This photo is magnified a LOT – he was far away.
Due mostly to the fact that I ate lead paint chips as a child I’ve asked for only one day of vacation during the past twelve months, so the Christmas holiday was a chance to get more than three consecutive days away from the office. As a result I’m spending the evening in the comfortable confines of the Subaru for the first time in ages, and it feels pretty good. Given nine glorious days during which the powers that be at DirecTV freed me from my computer I decided to return to the Bay Area by way of Highway One, and am parked for the night just south of Hearst Castle, close enough to Piedras Blancas that I should be able to visit the seals at first light.
The drive is a good one to allow the mind to wander, and tonight I got to thinking about how the first two years of my thirties sort of blew by, but also how different things are from where I expected to be at this age. Like most people, my life turned out considerably different from the plans I made when I was a kid or attending school at Case, but I’m nevertheless pretty happy with how things have ended up. During high school it seemed impossible that by thirty I wouldn’t have things all figured out with a wife and a family, and during college it was unthinkable that eight years could pass without making a significant impact on the world, but the journey still feels like it’s heading in the right direction, and the stops along the way have been pretty awesome. Of course, I’m fully expecting that in another ten years I’ll be closer to the original plan, but when that doesn’t pan out I’m prepared to re-use the paint chip excuse to justify my inability to learn from experience.