California Here We Come!…Again (July 14)

“I believe it’s time for me to fly” – REO Speedwagon

The time had finally come for my friends and I to begin our 2020 reunion tour of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)! Our goal…to hike the 350-ish PCT miles that Calzone and Cheer had chosen to postpone during their 2019 journey, which would complete he trail for them! Our game plan would be to start at Onion Valley Trailhead near Independence, California and hike north with a goal of making it to the Squaw Valley Trail side trail near Olympic Valley, California. For a little perspective (at least for my Michigander readers), that is about the same distance as going south to north through the entire Lower Peninsula (Michigan City, Indiana to Mackinaw City, Michigan).

Much like last year when starting at the United States/Mexico border we’d been planning and thinking about this happening for months before. This time however, we had to think about COVID-19, which was widespread and surging in some parts of the country at the time. In fact, the Pacific Crest Trail Association had essentially said in longer, more elegant words…don’t do a long-distance hike on the PCT unless self supported. We came up with an approach we felt comfortable with. I’ll say one more time that I’m sure folks have lots of different opinions about this, but ultimately it was something we each felt we were being careful and sensible about. I don’t plan to try and prove this to anyone, but since it’s part of the story, will include some of our thinking process along the way.

So…how could we pull this off safely?

Well, our first issue was figuring out how to get to the actual trail itself. The chances of contracting and/or spreading the virus were greatest during our travels prior to starting out and afterwards when returning back home. Once on trail, we figured that we’d have limited close contact around other people other than at resupply stops, which we hoped to limit to just three locations.

I got dropped off at the Gerald R. Ford airport early in the morning on Tuesday, July 14. I left at 8:00am est and after a stop in Denver, CO (I stayed right on the same plane) made it to Reno, NV a little after 11:00am pst. I was happy with my flight. Calzone and I had both chosen Southwest Airlines because we’d heard good things about them limiting passengers and spreading folks out on flights. Indeed, they did seem to run things quite professionally, everyone had a row to themselves, and we were all masked up the whole time.

Once off the plane, I quickly found my pack (I’d put it in a cheap laundry bag to contain all the straps and such) and made my way to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car counter. Everything with my reservation went smooth and pretty soon I was driving away in a nice little Hyundai that I’d describe as a super gray mini SUV type thingamabob. Our general scheme was for Calzone and I to drive the rental car about three and a half hours south to the town of Bishop, CA. From there we’d get a motel room, connect with Cheer, drop-off the rental car, and then Cheer’s parents would graciously drive us to the trailhead the next day. First on my mind though was lunch! After driving a large circle looking for scrumptious local options and being let down, I returned back near the airport and went for a classic, Carl’s Jr.

Calzone’s flight wouldn’t be arriving for another couple hours. I had some time to kill, so…after doing a quick Google Map search, I picked a route that I thought would lead me into the surrounding mountains! About 45 minutes or so later I was up around 9,000 feet elevation at the Mt. Rose Summit Trailhead, which I later found out is part of the Tahoe Rim Trail. I didn’t have time for any hiking, but drove just far enough to a pullout where I got out for a view of Lake Tahoe…

For me, being a flatlander, there is something about being in the higher elevations that just makes my spirit soar. I couldn’t keep myself from smiling. It was simply beautiful and the air smelled of pine trees. I was so excited to be out here and to soon be backpacking in the mountains again. If all went according to plan, we’d be ending our trek in a month or so right where I was gazing in the picture above, in those mountains along the west side of Lake Tahoe.

I returned to the airport area, visited REI and purchased some stove fuel, and then picked up pro hiker Calzone just before 2:00pm pst. We were both pumped and right away got on U.S. Route 395 heading south!

A pit stop for Calzone to get some resupply items for the first stretch (I had gotten my food already back at home and stuffed inside my pack) and to get coffee caused us to become even more excited! I never know what to order when I go to these coffee shops. It sometimes feels like a different language to me, so I consulted an expert via text. My friend Joe recommended this one and it was very tasty…

It’s really quite a beautiful drive, if you ever get the chance, with the Sierra Nevada range in view most of the way just off to the west…

We made it our destination with no hiccups and relished the views along the way, imagining ourselves soon to be hiking through the giant peaks we were seeing. Once in town, we checked in to a hotel and got a take-out pizza. We’d heard from Cheer that she wouldn’t be making it into town until late, and regardless, we were both pretty tired, so went to sleep pretty early this night eager for tomorrow’s fun!

2 thoughts on “California Here We Come!…Again (July 14)

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