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  • Saturday, October 20, 2012

    John Muir Trail Photos, Day 16: Independence, CA

    Lake Near Kearsarge Pass
    The time came for another resupply. I turned off the John Muir Trail and hiked toward the road on the other side of Kearsarge Pass. From the top of the pass, facing west, I could see pristine blue lakes and the unspoiled rocky peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. With a 180-degree turn on my heels, I could see the town of Independence, California, 7,800 feet below.

    After four miles of descending switchbacks, I got to a trailhead and campground parking lot. A couple I met on top of Kearsarge, who were also hiking the JMT, were pulling food out of bear lockers that they stashed before starting their hike. I still had fifteen miles of road between food and me. It reminded me that I used to be a planner. I used to have every detail of a trip figured out before I left the house, but when I left the house nearly three months earlier, I didn’t even know I would be in California or hiking the John Muir Trail. I’ve grown to love not having a plan.

    “Well, enjoy the rest of your hike,” I said to them. “And if you see anyone heading to their car, tell them the guy hitchhiking down the road is really nice and not at all a murderer.”

    A half mile down the road, I heard cars behind me. I turned and put out my thumb. A defeated-looking gold Ford Taurus, that was riding the bumper of the SUV in front of it, skidded to a halt on the side of the road. 

    Me on Kearsarge
    “Someone told me I should pick you up,” said a girl in sunglasses that covered half her face.

    I tossed my gear in the back, next to all her mountain climbing gear, and got in. She put her heavy foot on the gas pedal and got back on the road, spitting gravel behind us. Every hairpin curve meant slamming on her breaks to slow down, then revving the engine to get back on the SUV’s bumper. 

    “So where do you want dropped off?” she asked. “I’m going to Bishop, but I’ll be going through Independence.” 

    “Anywhere in Independence is fine. I don’t really know where anything is anyway, so it doesn’t really matter," said the man without a plan.

    As with most hitches, we talked about traveling, what we’ve done and where we’ve been. I noticed that my list is getting really long. 

    After she dropped me off, I thanked her for the ride and hoisted my pack onto my shoulders. It didn’t take long to find a cheap place to eat. Actually, in a town with a population of 600, there is only ever one place for cheap food. The Subway in a gas station. 

    They had everything I needed in addition to cheap food: washing machines, showers, and groceries. After doing all that, there wasn’t time to hitch back to the trail before dark, so I hung out in the Subway for hours. I wrote in my journal, updated my blog, and ate two feet of sandwich. (Hey, backpacking burns a lot of calories, don’t judge me.) 

    “If you were homeless, hypothetically-speaking, where would you sleep in town?” I said to the woman closing up the sandwich shop. We’d gotten to know each other pretty well by this point. 

    “Umm, well, there is a park just up the road,” she said while leaning on her mop handle. “And the only cops we have are from Bishop. They never come here unless they’re called."

    The word homeless is such a misnomer. I had a home that night, a bare patch of ground in a thicket of shrubs  and trees in a small town park. I rolled out my sleeping pad and slept like a baby. 

    It’s easy to sleep like a baby when you have no debt, no plan, and the knowledge that you could lose everything and still be okay.

    Creative Commons License
    A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.