What Came After
July 27, 2006
At 6 am, the sprinklers came on, just as I was stepping out of La Flaca's small shack. No one was stirring, not even the people in sleeping bags sprawled about the lawn. The sun was strong even at this early hour and I sat shirtless and shoeless in its rays, soaking up its warmth, trying to write her a short note. Mono Lake, dancing in the light from the East, sat down the hill from her shack, surrounded by fragrant sage and, in the far distance, the desert peaks of western Nevada. I wrote a few lines and then thought some more, trying to gain something from the sun and the lake and the sage and the peace of the place. Nothing came to me, as I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay, or if I really wanted to go.
La Flaca had recognized me instantly when I strolled in to the place where she was working for the summer. I had met her last March in Arizona after I had finished a trip in the Grand Canyon. She was working as a bartender in a tourist joint that I happened to stumble in to for post-hike beer and, after her shift ended, we had spent some time together. Early the following morning, I had also left to return to Washington, just as I knew I must do this morning. At 24, she had lived harder, experienced more, than many people twice her age. She had been around the country working seasonal jobs, mostly in the tourist industry, never in one place for very long and always transient. In between seasons she traveled around Central America and Mexico, or found a bit of water in Florida where she could park her van for a few weeks of coastal living. She was going to be in Lee Vining for the rest of the summer and into the early fall, at least until the roads over the Sierra Nevada were closed by winter snow. And then she would move some place else, to some other location, to begin life anew. I finished writing my note, quietly slipped inside, and left it on the dresser. Putting my shirt and my boots on, I hoisted my pack and began the short walk into downtown Lee Vining. I knew that I had to go, even if I didn't want to. Like some rednecks once said, "...things just couldn't be the same." I took heart knowing that, though I was leaving, our time together was not yet at an end.
There was a CREST bus coming through town heading north, and I aimed to be on it. I didn't want to bother with hitching. I found the bus stop on the porch of a local store which, despite its common appearance, had one of the finest ham and cheese croissants that I'd ever had. Not like the same-named item at fast food "restaurants". The croissant was, in fact, like the French make it. Stuffed with Swiss cheese and tasty ham, it seemed so strange that it would exist in a town like Lee Vining. I left a message on the CREST voice mail to let them know they had a pick up in Lee Vining, heading north to Bridgeport and settled in for an hour wait. The bus rolled into town and kept going, despite my waves. Shrugging my shoulders, I contemplated going back to La Flaca's shack, but decided that it was best to resist the gravity. I walked to the far end of town and put my thumb out. I didn't have to wait more than twenty minutes before an SUV pulled over and gave me a lift to Bridgeport, a half hour up US 395.
I didn't really know where or when to meet Birdie and Ishmael, but Bridgeport wasn't exactly a large town. Another breakfast, come computer time at the library, and a newspaper. I ran into Lion King, who was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and had come down from Sonora Pass to resupply. He seemed rather far south of Canada, given the time in the main migration season, and I cautioned him about trying to hike the PCT through Washington in October. I settled into a conspicuous spot on the main drag, well shaded, and read my paper. Around 1:30, I heard a shout and looked up to see Ishmael and Birdie walking toward me, grinning fiercely and absolutely beaming.
After tracking down some ice cream, we moved out to the far end of town to try to hitch to Carson City, where Ishmael's van was parked at a friend's house. More than a hundred miles away, getting a ride wasn't too certain and the afternoon sun was hot on us. Theoretically, we could catch the CREST bus there tomorrow morning, but none of us especially wanted to spend a night in a motel room. An obvious PCT hiker strolled over and introduced himself as Redneck Rye. He had read my PCT journal and other writings, which of course boosted my ego. He, too, had come down from Sonora Pass to resupply and was staying the night in a local motel. He wished us well and then left to escape the hot sun. And so we were left baking by the side of the road, our thumbs out in vain, hoping that someone with a purple pickup truck, preferably a beautiful thirtysomething USGS researcher from Oregon might stop and give us a lift more than a hundred miles to the north. Improbable? Perhaps. But all it takes is time for such things to happen.