June 11, 2022
Bishop to Onion Valley Trailhead to campsite 2.3 miles from the PCT junction
0 PCT miles
5.1 non-PCT miles
We weren’t able to secure a ride yesterday, so our plan is to start hitchhiking around 3 with the goal of getting back to the trail in the evening when it’s cooler. Since we have so much time, there’s really no rush to move. I wake up early for whatever reason, so I have a few hours to myself before the boys come to life. It’s nice, but it would have been good to get a little more sleep.
We don’t do much all morning. We get a late checkout so that we can loaf around. Jumbo finishes the box of Reese’s cereal and milk he bought last night. I try to French braid the sides of his hair, but it’s not quite long enough yet. Catless gets us drinks and breakfast sandwiches from Starbucks. Man. I love hiking, but I also love NOT hiking. Know what I mean? We check out at 11:59 and lug our ridiculously heavy bags down the street to the Looney Bean coffee shop, where we caffeinate and loaf some more. We go across the street to get a quick lunch at McDonald’s.
And then we start hitching.
First, we try the gas station approach. Catless and I stand across the street and stick our thumbs out while Jumbo goes into Full British Sad-Eyebrow Golden Retriever mode and approaches people, asking if they’re heading towards Independence. No luck. One car stops for me, but they say they’re just going right down the road and can’t take us all the way. I thank them, and they move on. One woman tells Jumbo that we might have better luck at the bakery, so we head back up that way. Jumbo and Catless stand closer to the bakery, while I go up the street a bit. One car stops and, again, says they aren’t going as far as we need to go. It’s been hours by this point, probably over two. It’s over 100 degrees today, and I’m really over this. It’s looking like we might have to stay another night in Bishop when a car pulls up and the guy in the passenger seat asks if we need a ride and says they’re going all the way back to Orange County, so they can take us to Independence. They’re going to have dinner at the brewery first, though, so he says they can swing back by later and see if we’re still there.
After twenty more minutes with no luck, we decide just to walk back to the brewery to meet them. When we walk up and put our packs down, a very nice family starts chatting with us and says they saw us trying to get a hitch, but their car was full with their three kids and dog. We talk about the trail for a bit and then go inside. Another random guy asks us if we need a ride, and we realize this may have been the better place to try to hitch. Ah, well. Now we know.
We go over to talk with our saviors, Sean and Cameron (I think that was his name? He was very quiet. Sean did all the talking). They are coming back from a trip in Tahoe. We order drinks, sit with them, and then realize that they are already done with their food. So I have to down my Kolsch very quickly, which never goes well for me. Suddenly, I am very tipsy. Then I feel an ominous rumbling. Oh no. Not now. I stand up unsteadily, excuse myself, and run to the bathroom. While I’m in there in the midst of digestive distress, sweating because there is apparently no air conditioning in this brewery and drunk on one quickly downed beer, my nose starts bleeding. Great. Just great. I text Jumbo and Catless a series of stressed-out messages and try to pull myself together.
When I emerge, our drivers are reorganizing the car while Jumbo is chatting with them. I go over to my pack, which we left outside by the table where the family was eating. I see a note and two $5 bills sitting there. The note reads, “All the best on your adventures! Have another beer!” Oh, my gosh. The kindness and magic of this trail. Thank you, Coppers family!
It’s 40 miles back to Independence, and Sean peppers us with questions about the trail and other hikes we’ve done. I feel like a sweaty, bloody mess, still holding a wad of toilet paper up against my nose, but I’m so relieved to be going back home to the PCT. When we get back to the gas station, we thank them and prepare for the second leg of hitching.
This part is tough. We have to figure out a way to get 13 winding uphill miles back to the trailhead. It’s late by now, 5 or 6 in the evening, and it’s unlikely that many people will be going up. Jumbo sticks his thumb out at the gas station, Catless takes the corner going up to the trail, and I go down the road a bit the other direction. A van eventually pulls up and says they have room for one, and I send Catless up. Then, miraculously, Jumbo meets a guy whose trail name is Produce. He hiked the PCT last year, and tonight he’s meeting a friend in Bishop to start a section hike, but the friend is running late, so he agrees to take us up to Kearsarge. We pile in his car and have an absolutely lovely chat up to the trailhead. Thank you, Produce! It takes a while sometimes, but this trail always provides.
It’s almost 8 by the time we start hiking back up to Kearsarge, but on the bright side, it is straight up chilly here. We’ve escaped the terrible heat of Bishop and are back home in cold Sierra land with a sigh of relief. The weight of our packs is terrible, however. We hike all together at a crawl. It’s fine at first going up the switchbacks, but once it gets dark and we’re on hour three, I start feeling absolutely miserable. I hate night hiking. HATE it. I make this clear to Jumbo and Catless, who are already very aware of this fact. I start feeling like I’m on the verge of tears when we still have 0.7 to go to get to the pass. 0.6. 0.5. Crawling. CRAWLING. I hate hiking tonight and I want to be done so badly. The moon is so bright on the lakes and it’s beautiful but this stretch is going to absolutely suck until I can eat enough of this food.
Finally, we crest the pass and keep going down the other side. We take the first little campsite we can find, which apparently is also a deer favorite. We can see the reflection of eyes looking back at us. Don’t care. Hey, deer friend. We’re going to share your space tonight. I quickly eat the McDouble that I packed out, brush my teeth, and call it a night.
I don’t know that the next couple of days are going to be super great in terms of comfort. My back is already killing me. But we made it back after all that effort, and that feels like a win.