Sunday, August 14, 2016

JMT Bishop to Kearsarge: Day 0

Plan A hadn't worked. The mosquitoes and biting flies killed it. Plan A was to hike from Tuolumne Meadows to Kearsarge Pass on the John Muir Trail. Even with mosquito repellent, which did nothing at all for the biting flies, it was awful. Maybe not for everybody, since we aren't all equally attractive to mosquitoes. But it was awful for me, because, according to the mosquitoes and biting flies, I am a three Michelin star restaurant.

To be honest, I was suffering from depression too. I'd been suffering from it for months, and it was affecting my hiking. I'd get somewhere to hike, suddenly feel really down, and then I wouldn't be able to do the hike I'd planned. That happened in Death Valley in March and it happened again in Zion National Park in May. The catch-22 of it all is that, for me, hiking helps with my depression. I got into backpacking to help my depression, actually. And it worked! I'm not implying it would work for everyone, but it worked for me. But even though hiking helps my depression, depression can make me unable to hike.

I was fighting depression to get through the first part of the trail from Tuolumne Meadows to Agnew Meadows. The mosquitoes and biting flies were not helping. They were stripping away every little bit of joy I have on the trail, taking away the moments bathing in rivers, and sitting with my feet in a waterfall, and just hanging around with friends at our campsite at dusk after a long, hard day's hike. They made it impossible to stand still and focus to take a picture of something beautiful. They were provoking my hypervigilance. They were even making basic needs difficult. My last day before leaving the trail, I hiked 5 miles without being able to stop and go to the bathroom for fear that the biting flies would feast on my butt if I pulled my pants down.

My deal with myself was that I'd only exit the trail if I was going to get back on a trail. Any trail. I'd go home, regroup, and then make a Plan B. I considered car camping in Tuolumne Meadows and day hiking in the area, or doing the Trans-Catalina Trail, which shouldn't have mosquitoes. Or, well, I didn't know what. It's California. There's no shortage of options.

Going home helped my mental state. The four days of hiking had helped too. Aside from the bug bites and a nice gash and bruise on my leg from Donohue Pass, they helped my physical health too. I was getting my trail legs back. I was no longer too depressed to hike.

In the end, Plan B was to get back on the JMT. I figured if I waited a week and went back in Bishop Pass, I could rejoin the JMT at LeConte Canyon and then hike over Mather, Pinchot, and Glen passes before going out Kearsarge. It would be higher elevation and a few weeks later compared with the buggy section I did in mid-July. The mosquitoes would probably be better enough for me to do the hike. And, anyway, now I was eager to get back out there, mosquitoes or not.

I drove from San Diego to Independence - again. To the Mt Williamson hotel - again. This time I brought a fruit tart from a French pastry shop for my friend and trail angel who had offered to give me a lift to the trailhead in Bishop. The day I drove up, Tuesday, July 26, we planned to have dinner together. Then I'd go camp for the night in Onion Valley to start acclimating to the altitude. The next day, July 27, she had to work at the Mt Williamson hotel in the morning, but we'd go together to drop my car at Onion Valley and then to the South Lake trailhead in Bishop in the afternoon. She'd hike part way up with me, and then she'd hike back to her car, and I'd continue up the trail toward Bishop Pass. I would basically hit the JMT at the same time and place I should have anyway if I hadn't quit in Agnew Meadows at all, and then I'd finish on time, the very same day I would have finished anyway, at Kearsarge Pass.

The plan went well up to the part where we had dinner. She thought we could eat at the co-op. It was closed. Then she thought we could try a French place called Still Life Cafe in Independence. That was closed too. Our options, in that case, were Lone Pine or Big Pine. Or Subway. I opted for Big Pine and we drove there and ate at some country diner.

On the way back to Independence, my car signaled that it was out of gas. We were going to a gas station about 2 miles north of Independence that has cheaper gas than anywhere else around, so I kept going. I always measure exactly how far my car goes after it gives me the "no more gas" signal. I've gone as far as 30 miles. I've never risked it beyond that. My car's a Prius, so in good weather it always gets at least 40 miles per gallon.

All of a sudden, after I'd gone 8 miles, a light came on the car, a triangle with an exclamation mark inside of it. So did the Check Engine light. Shit and shit. I didn't know what the triangle one meant. I pulled over and tried stopping the car and then starting it again to see if that would work. I mean, it works for my computer, right? My friend offered to look up what the triangle light meant. It meant there was something wrong with the hybrid system and I had to take the car to Toyota. I figured I probably really DO have to take it to Toyota because normal places probably don't know much about hybrids.

I turned the car back on and kept going. The same two lights were still on, but now two more were too. Basically, my car was just all-around broken. Then it rolled to a stop on the shoulder of 395.

I bought my car new in 2008. I bought the car before that new too, a 2004 Corolla. These are the only two cars I've ever owned. I don't know much about cars, and I don't like them. I like that new cars don't break, because I don't want to deal with a broken car. And this was the first time this had ever happened to me, that my car had broken and truly stopped on the side of the highway and would not go anymore.

At this point, my Prius is like an old pet. Some things don't work that well anymore and that's OK. It's OK if your dog's muzzle is greying, or if your cat wants to lay in the sun all day instead of running around like an insane kitten. The bumper cover is gone, and the driver's side mirror is bashed in. The latter happened in the Whitney Portal parking lot while I was summitting Whitney, by the way. I bought a small mirror at REI and some Gorilla tape, and I taped the mirror in place over the smashed mirror. No harm done. The remote entry doesn't seem to work as well as it used to. Lately the power button that turns the radio on and off doesn't work. The radio's on all the time. But I can turn the volume all the way down if I don't want to hear it, so that's OK.

But when some things go wrong in your old pet, it's NOT OK. Like when the dog my family had growing up went senile and couldn't remember whether she was supposed to poop outside or inside. Or when your pet can't walk anymore. Or your car just stops along 395 and won't go anymore.

I called AAA to ask for a tow truck. They asked where I was. "Oh, a few miles up 395 from Independence, on the southbound side of the road," I answered.

The woman asked for the address where I was. There wasn't one.

How about cross streets? None of those either.

She asked me to look around and tell her what I saw. I told her I saw mountains, a few cacti, and some creosote bushes. She wasn't amused.

She asked if I could find the GPS coordinates. I couldn't. My friend's phone was out of battery and mine didn't have internet. I told her to just send the tow truck down 395 between Big Pine and Independence and he'd find ONE CAR stopped along the road a few miles north of Independence, and it would be me. She didn't like that.

Meanwhile, my friend started walking back to Independence - in her flip flops - to get her truck. A few cops pulled up and asked if I needed help. I got the GPS location from one and gave it to the woman from AAA. Then I sent him to drive my friend back to her truck.

The tow truck arrived at the same moment that my friend returned. I already had all of my hiking gear and anything I needed for the night packed up to put in her truck. She suggested that perhaps we should just try putting gas in my car. I mean, it shouldn't be out of gas. But we should certainly try. The man with the tow truck put a few gallons of gas in my car. I started the car again. The lights saying my car was completely broken still came on.

He told me to drive the car gently forward a few feet, then reverse it and drive it a few feet in reverse. Do that a few times and see if anything changes. Nope. All the lights were still on.

I wanted my car to just be out of gas. But I wasn't willing to risk driving off with all of those warning lights on and assuming all was well as soon as I filled the tank. The next place I'd planned to drive my car was up to Onion Valley at 9,100 feet, where I wouldn't have cell service. After that, after my hike, I needed to drive it back to San Diego. I'd rather have Toyota look at the car NOW and spend the whole week fixing it while I hiked, so that I could drive it home when I was done hiking.

With the AAA I had, it would have cost several hundred dollars to tow my car to Bishop. My friend had a better AAA plan than me, and I was able to use hers. The towing was free.

The man towed my car to the Toyota place in Bishop. I got in my friend's truck to drive back to Independence. She started rattling off my options, and I asked her to just make decisions for me. I could barely function. She took me to a motel called Ray's Den and helped me get a room. It was all I could do to drag all of my things into the room, turn on the air conditioner, and fall into bed.

I was prepared to handle any number of challenges on the trail, but a broken car wasn't one of them. And if it weren't for my friend, for so many reasons, I don't think I could have handled it.

(I got my car back the day after I finished my hike. In the end, the Toyota place in Bishop did every possible test on my car, and they test drove it. The stupid thing was just out of gas. I'd like to make a suggestion to Toyota: In the future please manufacture cars so that all the warning lights don't go on and stay on when the car is just out of freaking gas!!!!)

You can see the rest of my posts about the John Muir Trail here.

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