Public Transportation Becomes My New Best Friend

Wednesday, June 29
Independence
I sleep 12 hours and it’s not enough. I drag myself to Mt. Williamson Motel’s lovely breakfast at 8am. Owner Jim fixes a scrumptious yet simple breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, AYCE english muffins, homemade jam and coffee. I haven’t had coffee in weeks and it’s not long before I’m jittery from the caffeine. Or is this some post-adrenaline symptom?

I feel like I can think much clearer after my rest and I start to weigh my trail options. In my previous post I said that “I didn’t want to work that hard” in terms of what comes next on trail. What rolls into that feeling is my full blown Sierra allergies, thigh chafe, sunburn, and swarming mosquitoes. On Monday during my descent from Forester Pass, yellow allergy goo started flowing from my nose and it didn’t stop for at least 20 minutes. My stuffed nose means that I breath more through my mouth and I’ve already developed a bit of what I call high altitude cough.

My top two ideas are hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail or hiking the JMT from Mammoth to Yosemite. For about 14 miles the JMT and PCT split ways just after Reds Meadow and I’ve never hiked the more beautiful JMT portion. Planning for the TRT seems like too much so I opt to hike out of Reds Meadow. I could get to Mammoth later this evening but lodging is expensive so I might as well stay put. I sort my resupply box and send my left over food and gear home. I spend the rest of the day zoned out watching Shark Tank reruns on tv. Lunch and dinner consist of yesterday’s Subway sandwich and resupply chips.

Mt. Williamson Base Camp: The life cycle of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sleep.
Independence sunset

Thursday, June 30
Independence to Mammoth
I’m up by 5am for the special breakfast at 530am. Jim doesn’t usually fix breakfast at that time but there are three of us hikers catching the bus at 630am. Jim is a true angel! After switching buses in Bishop, I arrive in Mammoth with most of the day ahead of me. During the bus ride my left foot starts to really hurt. Top left, same spot as my right foot. I sit in McDonalds and use their free wifi to write my bear blog. I attempt to ignore the intermittant pain in my foot but damn it sure hurts.

Maybe I can walk it off so in the early afternoon I walk uptown to Mammoth Brewing. I order up a seasonal bock and some killer tots with cheese sauce. I put my foot up and hope for the best. I even take a couple vitamin I but nothing changes. The pain still comes and goes but when it comes it’s intense. I had intended to take the free lake trolley up to Horseshoe Lake and then hike less than a mile to McCloud Lake. Even that seems like too far plus I don’t want to hurt my foot further. I break down and decide to get a room. Cheapest dive hotel is $105 but at least they’ve got HBO. I splay myself out on the bed and proceed to watch movies through half the night. The excitement of finally seeing Everest hardly nudges out of the way the disappointment about my foot.

The mesmerizing table at Mammoth McDonald’s.

Friday, July 1
Mammoth to Tuolumne Meadows
Is this like Plan D? I move up my Amtrak reservation to Sunday and decide to head to Tuolumne Meadows. As luck would have it, YARTS buses start running everyday on July 1 so I can actually get to TM without walking or hitching. I arrive at TM in the early afternoon and promptly take up residence as the tables with all the other hikers. Some JMT, some PCT. My kin are easy to spot so I go and make friends with them. I chat with hiker trash as a couple waves roll through. Some are headed out, some are staying. Just sitting, chatting, sipping and sharing beers makes me really happy.

Mamacita adopts JMT hiker Dennis and helps him with a pack shakedown. He probably sends home 20-30 pounds. He is brave to be so open to her suggestions. A non thru-hiker but trail enthusiast comes and hangs out and she really wants to see the contents of a thru-hiker pack. After a while I volunteer and I start to unload everything. It was fun and I think she picked up a couple ideas. As dusk approaches, we all roll back to the walk-in campsites. I meet some new PCT hikers and we spend the next few hours laughing.

All the stacks of JMT and PCT hiker resupply boxes at TM.

Saturday, July 2
Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley

I think there are free hiker shuttles to the valley but it turns out that the one shuttle doesn’t come until 2pm. So I pay the $9 YARTS bus fee and head to the valley at 11am. It’s a long ride plus the holiday traffic adds an element of slow. We roll past El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls before finally arriving at the visitor center. I shouldn’t be surprised but there’s cell service in the valley.

I head out on the free valley shuttle for views of the Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls. The path ways, the falls, and the river are all teeming with people. People working on their selfies and enjoying family moments. After the falls I sardine into the next free shuttle bus. I’ve got my pack on so maneuvering the bus crowds is not easy. After the 50th shove, I get off and wait for a bus to come in the opposite direction. Finally, we’re on our way back to the visitor center/store and the bus breaks down. We all pour off and I walk to the well stocked grocery store where I purchase a Sherman IPA to go with my trusty tortilla and rice lunch. I listen to the numerous languages around me and watch the cheeky ground squirrel look for crumbs. The valley heat has sapped my energy but I head out and finally have a quiet meadow moment.

Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls
My quiet meadow Halfdome moment.

I was told to go to the walk-in campsite. You might think this was for backpackers but this roadside camp is for people who park and then lug their glamping gear 200 yards to their campsite. I should try to find the hiker campsite but I’m too hot and tired. I find some nice people who let me illegally crash in their site. They share their “bear” dessert which is a dough treat that is grilled over the fire, then glazed with butter and finally coated with cinnamon and sugar. Yum! Thank you angels! I set my tent up after dark and hope for the best.

Sunday, July 3
Yosemite Valley to Smart’s Mountain

In the first hints of light, I break down camp as quietly as possible. Just after 5am, I’m already seated at the nearest free shuttle stop which starts running at 7am. The morning is cool and it feels good. I get everything ready for my Amtrak ride. Food, ipod, extra layers all go into my pastel Yosemite bag that I purchased yesterday at the store. I even brush my teeth and log my SPOT location. After getting on the shuttle, I decide that I’ll ride the full loop. It’s a quiet ride until the mass that pours in from one of the lodges. But I have a seat to myself and can take in the sights.

Back near the visitor center, I find a hot breakfast and enjoy the morning sun. I catch YARTS to Merced where we follow the beautiful Merced River for quite a while. Then it’s Amtrak train and bus all the way back to Ukiah.

The Merced River flowing towards the central valley.
The Shasta Daisies welcome me home.
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