Lighting The Fire!!
When I awoke, I was relaxed and could see that we had entered some higher country. The gentle hills out my tinted window displayed a new foot of snow from last night's storm. Within the next hour, the bus had not only arrived in Lee Vining, but had emptied its cargo hold of all my possessions and disappeared forever. I was left there in the cool warmth of the sun under brilliantly blue skies, yawning and stretching with a mess of gear to load onto the fairly new bike that I intended to ride for the next two weeks and roughly 250 miles.
By the time the bike prepped and assembled, the mass was mondo!! Not skimping on the necessities for climbing, it’s funny to think the mountaineering boots, snowshoes, crampons, ice axe, trekking poles, and bivy, along with regular camping essentials packed so easily on the bike. Finally, the streamlined unit was rearing to go, to say the least, as it was awkwardly aft heavy. From my drop off at the only restaurant in town, I slowly rolled past the gas station, a few houses, and a curio shop boasting an extensive display of international flags. With town and about ten miles behind me, I felt like my lungs had collapsed through my intestines. I was dragging ass big time! The elevation was around 4500’ and my body knew that I had left home about 4400’ beneath me.
A Bit Wrung Out...The scenery was great! The mountains to the west either rolled or jarred up into the horizon, and draped with glistening white sheets of snow. To my east the land slanted down towards the tear shaped outline of Mono Lake. I rode the bike propped upon my handlebars, while the road whoopty-dooed across the surface of the land. At the intersection with state road 120, there was a highly decorated grave that stood guard and beckoned a toll from folks who chose to stop and gaze. Unable to find a name for the person buried here, I ripped off a piece of label from a cup-of-soup and placed it atop a wooden cross. The label said, “Trader Joe.” Minutes later, there was another turn off and I took it. The pavement turned to gravel and descended to the mystical shores and famous tufa towers formations of Mono Lake. Boom!! Mono Lake!
As state road 120 climbed out of the lake's basin, the ground was comprised of pebbled gravels of white granite and brown lava. The topography was nearly level, yet four chop-topped volcanoes resided just off to the south. Tall Ponderosa pine trees jettisoned from the ground and everywhere looked like a great place to camp. I pushed on though and found that the desire to hitchhike struck my mind and tempted me with every passing car. Actually, I didn’t really want to take a ride, but the high elevation and a slight headwind had insto-whipped me so badly. After a couple hours of climbing, the road began arc around and level out on the summit of a high plateau called Sagehen Summit. The elevation was 8130 feet. No wonder I was so spanked!
Here I got my first glimpse of my initial destination, the summit of Boundary Peak, Nevada. A pale cream moon loomed above the mountain and wetted the alpine slopes in soft blue evening colors. As I descended into the Inyo Valley, a cold wind bit my face with a crisp awakening likened to a sharp cup of coffee. Just as I was forced to start pedaling again at the bottom of the pass, there was a turn off next to a very small stream by which camped and slept soundly.
The next morning the meter wide stream was topped with a layer of ice. As I mounted my bike and took my first peddles onto the pavement, a small, arch shaped rainbow pointed me onward. Down a long straightaway, I came across a dead rabbit and attempted to pry off its foot... for good luck, of course!! Without a knife I yanked and twisted and pulled, but when it squirted me with blood, I dropped the dead animal and bad idea and continued on my way. After another long uninhabited stretch of road, I finished the 120 with a splendid eight mile downhill coast, which took me to the valley floor. Intersecting with state highway 6, I was then slapped with an eight mile 1.5% gradient and a 15mph headwind. Ugg.
A warm wind and even hotter day led to exasperation. I felt dissatisfied with my lofty goals, which now seemed beyond reach and the desire to quit kept entering my mind. At the California/Nevada border, I pulled up to a couple standing in the nearby brush illegally harvesting cactus for their yard. As I explained my drear, they hustled and bustled to stash their contraband. The guy refused to lend any aid with me except the suggestion that I would reach my goal eventually. As they locked their doors to drive off, I felt alone, finished, empty, and stuck in this huge valley of weeds and gravel, cactus and sky, pavement and aridness! Feeling overwhelmed and emotionally disgusted with my alternatives, I began pedaling the bike and trudging into the wind. Within minutes, though, my negative outlook changed and things turned pretty peachy.
Righting The Ship's Sails!
After I stashed my things in the shed, I crossed the highway and continued up a well kept gravel road. Five miles into the foothills I was forced to get off the bike and walk. To ease the pushing of the bike, I bungeed the bike's back rack to my backpack and push/pulled my bike the rest of the way up Queen Canyon Mine Road. I halted about three miles short of the trail head and decided to cut my own direct line up the mountain to the summit ridge line. In a black curtain of darkness, the weather pelted me with miniature bee bee like snowballs for a good portion of the night, but summit day shone as bright as one could ever imagine a summit day to be. The best thing about climbing in the White Mountains is the chance to see the Bristlecone Pines, known for being the oldest living organism on the face of planet Earth. Here, high up in this band of ancient trees, I spotted a living rabbit just like that dead from the side of the road. This rodent brought joy to my heart and I worried not about its mortality.
After ascending nearly 8000 vertical feet from where I started the day before, I attained my goal at the 13.140' summit of Boundary Peak. I spent the next six hours slogging down the slopes through hip deep snow drifts while cutting an even straighter descent route to my bike. Miserably fatigued, the bike coasted me down the canyon road and out into the big valley under the light of a full moon. Once again, my presence alerted the ducks and the old lab at Janie’s Ranch, but neither cared. At the shed I changed clothes and cracked a 22 ounce bottle of Red Hook Double Black Stout made with Starbucks espresso. After the beer, I ripped a binger, then lay my sleeping bag on a wooden door that I bridged between the sidewalls of a huge tractor tire. There I fell asleep beneath a blinding moon with Neil Young's Harvest Moon album ringing through my brain.