Solo: Eastern Sierras

I've been putting off this post for a long time. This trip meant a lot to me, and I'm afraid (afraid, afraid, always afraid) of not doing it justice.

For me, there is a stark difference between doing something alone and doing that same thing with other people. The presence of just one additional person in any given situation immediately changes my mood. When I'm alone, I buzz. My thoughts become my companion, as I allow them free reign to sit next to me, or fly out the window to soar alongside the car as I drive down the highway. This can be a dangerous exercise sometimes, me left alone with my thoughts, but under the right circumstances, I flourish.

For the record, the Eastern Sierra Mountains = the right circumstances.

I went north almost on a whim. Toby was in New York City, and I was desperate to do something, to get out of town for however long I could. We had originally planned to spend the weekend camping in June Lake with some friends, but then the government shut down happened (remember that?), and our reservations got cancelled. We ended up not being able to scrape together new plans in time, and then Toby got called out of the state for work, so I was left to my own devices. I had 48 hours all to myself, and I was mourning the loss of outdoor time when a voice in my head chimed in and said, why can't you still go...alone?

Why not? Good question. There were plenty of reasons it might not have been a good idea: I had never been to the area before, it takes five hours to get there, gas costs money, I'm a skinny, out of shape  female with zero self-defense capabilities, I'd have to actually interact with people instead of letting Toby do the small talk, etc. etc. All good excuses to spend the weekend in the city, getting stuff done around the apartment and maybe having brunch with friends. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the whole thing sounded scary and uncomfortable, and that was exactly why I should go. I have enough fear in my life to fill oceans, and most of it is the fear of abstract concepts, so when a situation comes along where I can physically grab the fear and conquer it, I'm learning to run-not-walk (or in this case, drive) to meet it face-to-face.

Besides, I really, really wanted to see some fall color, and the promises of the golds and yellows of the Sierras at that time of year was calling to me in a way I couldn't ignore. Autumn is my favorite season, and this year I missed its presence more than I ever have. Los Angeles is good for many things, but fall is not one of them. 

The great thing about 48-hour trips is that they don't require much preparation. After booking a cheap motel room in the heart of June Lake, near where we had planned to camp, I threw a mix of hot and cold weather clothes in a backpack, stocked up on snacks and water, and left. That's it. 

I've found that the outgoing trip always seems to take longer than the return trip, especially if I've never been to a place before and don't have any markers to tell me how far I've already gone or how many miles are left to go. As I drove, the immensity of the landscape overwhelmed me. City gave way to hills, which gave way to desert, which gave way to giant valleys full of lakes, lined with mountain peaks gradually increasing in size until they became ragged and snow-covered at the top and filled the sky, looming above the tiny highway as it snaked its way north. With few other cars on the road, it was easy to imagine what it must have been like to find this place in its original form, void of civilization and tarred roads, just rocks and brush and deer and the wind, rivers and lakes undisturbed by the needs of teeming metropolises to the south. 

It's pleasantly numbing to sit in silence for five-plus hours. It was a nice little vacation for my jaw; I had hundreds of micro-conversations in my head, but they were all with myself or with people who weren't there, or with the roaring preachers on the several Christian radio stations that were available through every area of the trip, no matter how remote - even when there were literally no other radio stations available, the preacher bandwidth prevailed. It was rather astounding. I turned the radio off. 

Eventually I passed through Bishop, which is just at the base of the Eastern Sierras, and I found myself in mountain country. Signs on the side of the road advised me to turn my air conditioning off due to the steep incline so that my engine wouldn't overheat. As I climbed in altitude, the wind blowing through the sun roof went from desert-warm to rocky-chilled, occasionally bringing with it gusts of pine-scented air. The trees grew bigger and wider, and eventually the mountain peaks that had been visible for most of my trip started to be obscured by forests.

When I got to the turn off for the June Lake Loop and drove to the crest of the ridge overlooking the lake, any remaining doubts I still had fell away. I knew I had made the right decision. 

Another benefit to taking a solo trip? Endless photo time. I am a lucky girl to have so many people in my life who are willing to wait around for me while I take pictures, but to do so for hours on end, completely guilt-free is a miracle and a half. I meandered the curvy road, past lakes and aspen groves, pulling over to the side of the road whenever I felt like it. I sat on the rocky shores of Silver Lake and watched fishermen drift in their boats, lines cast. I clambered over enormous boulders by Grant Lake to get the perfect picture of the clouds as they drifted over the rolling green hills. I stood on the dock on Gull Lake watching kayaks float lazily on their tethers and trying to get the perfect shot of the yellow aspen grove on the other side (it didn't happen). I also took a trip out to Mono Lake, which was an experience unto itself that I will save for its own blog post.

Eventually the sun sank behind the mountains and my fingers started going numb, so I found my way back to June Lake and my motel. I had dinner at Tiger Bar, eating alone at a table meant for four with just a book (The Princess Bride), while the waiter took pity on me without realizing I didn't need it. It's funny how a lone girl in a public place filled with groups elicits that kind of reaction; or maybe I was self-conscious about it myself. I was hyperaware of peoples' glances and my waiter's kindness, a feeling that followed me back to my motel room as I tried to settle in to sleep.

This was the one downside to my trip: being alone at night. I didn't necessarily feel unsafe, but I tossed and turned until morning, unable to fully relax into slumber. Perhaps it was the creakiness of the breezeway outside my door, or maybe it had to do with the utter silence of the night, something I am no longer accustomed to, living on the intersection of two major streets in the heart of Los Angeles. Regardless, I only got a few hours of sleep that night, and awoke the next morning wishing I could stay in bed instead of making the long trek back home. Luckily, when I stepped outside, I was greeted with a blast of freezing cold air, which gave me the jolt I needed (I don't drink coffee. I know, I know.) to get moving.

The town was sleepy and quiet, with the sun shining from the east and hitting the mountains and trees with a new light, completely different from the western light of the afternoon before.

I took my time getting home, as one is wont to when one doesn't actually want to go home. I took detours through Mammoth and around a handful of other lakes, getting a taste of the possibilities for future explorations. As it turns out, I would end up returning the following weekend with Toby in tow, to show him the amazing land I had discovered. 

It was the perfect first solo trip, and the one that spurred on the many that are to follow. It reminded me that I am still capable of independence, and while I will always cherish travel in the company of others, especially mah boyfrand, there is something special about charting unknown territories on my own. So much more to come. You guys. I. Love. California.

Happy Monday!