Mill Creek Intimation
About last night...
In the previous installment, I not-so-subtly hinted that the first night’s camp was not without company. “Flickering spots of yellow/green on the dark backdrop of pines” I think it was? The sight is as mesmerizing as the contrast of aspens against a wall of ponderosa- a common sight here in the Sierra Autumn. See this example, documented during day two:
Anyway, glowing eyes. Two pairs of them. They lay between me and Mill Creek, the waterway that makes this campsite pretty posh. They arrive the moment I start unpacking my sleeping kit. I still have to make dinner, you know. Were I a more organized person, I’d have the bags arranged to make the stove and freeze-dried-what-have-yous come out all tidy-like, and I’d get to it. But I am not a more organized person. Shit’s everywhere in these bags, crammed to take advantage of every cubic microlitre available. Cliff bars and GORP fill every nook, catapulting out by the twos and threes with every shift of the bag. The eyes are still there, unmoved by my loud, boisterous talking (this is a Wilderness Survival Technique™ to scare away animals, supposedly) save for a bit of ducking when my headlamp first flashes up from my packing disaster. “Real sneaky!” I’m pretending I’m not nervous. I yell that to the eyes as well. There’s a stump to set up my stove and windscreen, though the thought of burning the forest down to take care of my unwanted guests enters my mind
There’s silly things people say to make folks feel more comfortable in the woods, and affirm our position on the top of the food chain. “They’re more scared of you than you are of them,” a super popular iteration said mainly by dads in tall white socks, has never made a single person feel safe. Out here miles away from anyone else, basically defenseless save for my pocket knife I use to cut up vegetables... fear me... the only thing I have to remind myself those pesky eyes (now slowly circling around from my twelve o'clock to my four o'clock) are mostly harmless is that they really don’t give a shit about me. I’m a total hassle. I’m big and loud and smell awful. These eyes have probably seen a few of whatever I am, most likely a version with a gun and a truck. These factors make us thoroughly unappetizing, but damned if we don’t always have bags and bags of amazing smelling food that gets left out and left behind. Raisins and peanut butter are a high-end, gourmet meal compared to the eyes’ usual diet of dried rocks and old chipmunks, I assume
So while I wait for my calories to rehydrate, the eyes now at my seven o'clock but still not any closer, I work on the new task of cramming everything conceivably edible into stuff sacks. It’s 9pm now, and my headlamp is shooting wildly back and forth from 360º eyes monitoring then upward into the sky, looking for a suitable tree branch to throw a stick tied in paracord over. The first few attempts end with broken branches. Finally, one stout-enough branch strains from my hoisting three, heavy nylon bags airborne, some fifty paces away from me (this is a Wilderness Survival Technique™ that literally no one still recommends, as most critters that want your food think nothing of just climbing up the damn tree and getting it) and I can finally get to sleep. Curled in my sleeping bag, I say goodnight to the eyes, and conk out. My pocket knife's in my right hand.
Day Two, the Mill Creek Intimation
Everything is fine. The night brought no surprises. The morning is without wind, tucked in next to this creek between two ridges. The morning chill ain’t even that bad. I brought apples, and though the bag/tree branch commotion has left them a bit bruised I eat them core and all because, well, that’s easier than packing out apple cores. Mill Creek Trail is ahead, and the first twenty minutes of it bear no resemblance to that same twenty minutes ten hours ago. As the climbing starts, the trail is super groomed and rideable. The cue sheet, accompanying the purple line of my handlebar gizmo, say this trail will take me up 2500ft in the next six miles.
Cones Rule Everything Around Me
There are many points on this route where you just have to trust you're on trail. Mill Creek Trail, being at the end of a road currently closed due to it collapsing down the side of a mountain, does not suffer from heavy foot traffic. The more coniferous of trailside fauna are hell bent on hiding the trail, which with every yard is becoming more steep and rocky and the need to stay on trail is now quite crucial.
The Art Of Pushwhacking
It's a desperate situation, losing all concept of how high up you are, or how high up you must still climb. This chapter of The Eastern Sierra Obliged is referred to as Mill Creek Intimation because, shucks, Mill Creek Trail is not an accurate description for what you're navigating. On foot, the art of cutting through brush and scrub to get to a destination is lovingly referred to as "Bushwhacking." But get a 50lb bike involved 9000ft up in boulder country? Partner, you're gonna want to know how to Pushwhack.
Pushwhacking in Five, Easy Steps
- While off the bike (wait, if you're not already off the bike ignore all of this and just keep riding okay?), secure Stable Footing* and push the bicycle as far ahead of you as you extend your arms while leaning forward.
- Apply both brakes on the bicycle. This, coupled with wide, knobby tires will anchor the bike well enough.
- Still holding onto the brakes, pull yourself up until your torso touches the handlebars with your feet directly underneath you.
- Let out some loud cusses. This will help alleviate stress as well as scare away nearby animals laughing at your misfortune.
- Repeat until terrain becomes rideable.
*This term is open to interpretation, not excluding feet slowly sliding downhill on loose soil.
Here, at nine thousand, three hundred, and twenty four feet is the first reward. At the end of the day, the only reason I'm out here doing this stuff is for the views, and I savor them. I probably sat up here for twenty minutes just looking around, catching my breath, and eating chocolate. The best part? After the three hours it took me to get through those six miles, I'm now treated to the first descent in twenty four hours.
Singletrack quickly turns to double track, to ATV trail, and finally to road. When I say "road," the above is what I mean. A flat spot, topped in four inches of powdery sand, ruts galore, cut out of the forest. Within minutes the dust coming off the Chumba Ursa's 29+ tires has covered every inch of the bike in dust, myself looking "dust-dipped" from the navel down.
The first descent came at 9,324'. Today's high point was here, at 9,544ft.
Again, stop, savor, eat chocolate.
Around about the point your face is sore from smiling and your teeth are coated in dirt, a dog leg bend pulls you off this road, back to almost invisible rocky doubletrack with a steep climb followed by an even more steep descent that doubles as an entrance for OHVs from Highway 108. My exit at that point was also an entrance for a Jeep with an exoskeleton. Thankfully the Jeep's occupants were sorting out how to go up the climb, pausing to bear witness my dropping in. I waited to see what they'd do to drive up, taking pictures of the view from 108, but they were not in any kind of rush. Me? I had arrived to my reward for a day of struggling. Remember that six miles of single track that went up from 7000-9200ft? Well, 108 takes you right back down to 7000ft in the same distance, on pavement so smooth it looks glossy.
Walker River Valley, From Highway 108
At 38°19'40.0"N, 119°33'18.6"W you can see this view, though it's on a 180º bend in the road. If you put those coordinates into Google street view, you'll see a Toyota Tundra the color of champaign. The driver is not admiring this view.
A final slalom gets you down to West Walker River, and Leavitt Meadows Campground. There is nothing else around here, so if you're an idiot who forgot to bring cash but wants to have a campsite with a spigot, bear box, and fire pit, you'll be begging the site stuart to let you stay. If it happens to be the last day of the year the campsite is open, and you're covered in dirt save the where the wind blew your tears backwards while descending Highway 108, the stuart may take pity on you.
Night and Day
Settling into camp, the reality hits me that I've only gone 32 miles in the past twenty six hours.