A Hero’s Journey is Riddled with Obstacles

Alright well I’m no hero, but boy oh boy has the JMT thrown some obstacles my way – and we’re not even on the trail yet! From a wildfire evacuating Whitney Portal, to a mudslide taking out the road into Horseshoe Meadows, to the discovery of a huge tear in my sleeping bag, to a trip to urgent care, the past week has not been easy or relaxing. But the wildfire was quenched, the slide was cleared, the sleeping bag was patched, and the health scare was handled (and I scored some altitude sickness meds!). More than one time did I think I’d have to cancel the trip – and believe me when I tell you that it caused quite a panic that my lucky parents got to deal with. But alas, here I am in Lone Pine, sitting outside the hostel staring at the cloud shrouded Mt. Whitney as I type my last blog post until I get off the trail – whenever that may be. All disasters have so far been averted, and we all made it!

Here’s how I got here: I left Philly and flew into Reno Thursday. Because I had an entire afternoon devoid of anything to do, I rented a car and spent some time at Donner Pass and Lake Tahoe, both of which were less than an hour drive from Reno. If you know anything about the Donner Party, then you might know why I found it a must see. Though you wouldn’t know at the peak, the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism when stranded in the Sierras for months at a time during the height of winter. The plaques at the top just touch upon the “hardships” the pioneers faced and how so few of them survived. It makes for a less gruesome story I suppose. But I paid my homage and ironically thought how such a tragedy could happen in a place of such striking beauty. I also dwelled upon their crisis and hope a similar one doesn’t befall me on the trail!

Because I still had plenty of afternoon left, I decided to ride to Lake Tahoe. I have heard nothing but great things about it and wanted to see it for myself. And I’m sure glad I did – it was worth the hype. It strongly resembled one of my favorite lakes that I’ve been to, Colter Bay in the Grand Tetons. The water was clear and blue as anything with snow capped mountains in the background. It was beautiful and a great way to spend the rest of the afternoon.

After that I made it back to Reno. Let’s just say I didn’t fall in love with Reno and I have really no desire to go back. I visited the REI to pick up some fuel that I couldn’t bring on the plane and spent the rest of the night in the motel. I went to bed early and slept in. In the afternoon I returned the car and waited for the bus to take me to Lone Pine. And waited. And waited. Luckily I wasn’t alone. There were a few other hikers also waiting around (including a father son duo – the kid couldn’t have been more than 10 – thru hiking the entire trail in 17 days!), so I knew I didn’t miss it. It eventually came an hour late. When telling the driver I was going to Lone Pine, the very last stop, he straight faced said, “oh I’m running so late. I hope you make it”. Uh what? I thought he was kidding so I took it with a grain of salt.

The bus ride was gorgeous. We were surrounded by the stunning Sierras and every turn brought unbelievable views. I do admit I dozed off a few times during the ride, but what else is there to do during a 5.5 hour bus ride?! We pulled into Bishop when I realized that the bus driver was completely serious about not being confident about me getting to Lone Pine. I had a connector in Bishop and since we were so late, it wouldn’t be unlikely that the other bus would’ve just departed without me, leaving me stranded! But lo and behold, the bus was there, waiting for me. I felt sorry that I made everyone wait, but at the same time I felt so relieved! I hopped on and off we went to Lone Pine.

On the bus were a few other hikers also going to Lone Pine. Two guys were doing a section of the JMT (Whitney Portal – Mammoth Lakes). I chose to carry my pack in a bag for convenience of flying (not so convenient for carrying). They saw me hauling around the bag and instantly nicknamed me “Body Bag”. Thank God I’ll never see them again and that name won’t stick as my trail name. Not entirely the most becoming name that could be bestowed upon me.

The town of Lone Pine is tiny. Super tiny. It took me 10 min to walk from one end to the other. But there are plenty of places to eat! I stopped by a Mexican place upon arrival and sat facing the Sierras. My brain wasn’t functioning very well after such a long bus ride when I found myself asking just what mountain I was looking at. It looked huge and scary and menacing. Then it struck me – I was staring right at Mt. Whitney! And with that I felt my stomach drop – I’ll be climbing up that fierce looking mountain in less than a week. I almost threw up the delicious tacos I had just scarfed down.

I saw a beautiful sunset and went back to the hostel for some shut eye. The next morning I met up with Sam, a girl who joined us for the hike! She had a few other obstacles thrown her way. A day before she was supposed to fly out to meet a friend who would then drive her to Lone Pine, the friend bailed. Essentially, Sam had a few hours to change flights and figure out a totally new game plan. And apparently the same thing happened to Mary Beth! Unbelievable. I am beyond thankful that all my forms of transportation worked out for me. Pretty curious how many other hurdles are thrown our way before we leave for the trail! I find solace in the fact that the pacific bike route started so horribly too, but turned out to be one of my favorite trips to date. Hopefully I find the same pattern in the JMT!

like I said before, Lone Pine is tiny. There isn’t much to do. And it’s enough to drive a person crazy. Saturday I spent the day reading a novel in McDonalds. 6 hours later, I was left disappointed in the book and the McDonald’s I think was pretty annoyed that I set up camp there for the afternoon. But what else is there to do?! But I gotta say, the sunsets here are pretty hard to beat.

Sunday I walked the 4 mile round trip trek to the Interagency Visitor Center to pick up the permits. They were there waiting for me! Having them in my possession definitely made everything real. We now have everything we need to get this party started! I even booked a guy to drive us to the trailhead. A much more reliable way of doing it than relying on unreliable hitchhiking. Mom and Dad, you can sleep easy at least for tonight.

We ate our last good meal – a huge breakfast and are gonna get subs for dinner tonight. We shipped back all our extra gear and will head up to the trailhead campground this afternoon!

Can’t believe all the planning has led to this – I am excited and also a little terrified to see what comes our way, but at least we’re not alone on this journey!

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