I’ve always found driving to be acathartic experience. As a filmmaker, I often find myself living inmy own head, trying to tidy up a story arc as I eat breakfast,discovering character motivations while I’m in the shower, ordreaming up scenarios in the deep of night. But I’ve found thatit’s long drives that help me most; the ones where the physicaljourney matches in scope and size to the people and places in mymind.
Heading up Highway 395 from Los Angelestowards the Eastern Sierras on a Friday afternoon is such a drive.Sometimes I imagine what the LA basin looks like from a plane as Idrive through it…a giant, meandering techno-tumor made up ofright-angled buildings, the cars stuck in traffic akin to individualblood cells clotted around the central thoroughfares. Benign ormalignant, I’ll let you be the judge of that… But for now, I’mescaping to ‘greener pastures’.
Slowly grinding my way out of thedensely populated landscape of the LA Basin, Jane and I are rewardedby rolling hills of golden grass. Our car radio can only latch onto astation or two of static-laden country music now. No more frenziedpledge drives flanking the occasional news segment, or pop music thatnever seems to match my mood. We’re awakened to a drivingexperience far more rare… silence. No more noise; only a sense ofprofound freedom.
The cool air of the Pacific is quicklyforgotten; a memory ushered away by gusts of warm wind pushed in fromthe sun-baked Central California Valley. Lone yucca trees dotting theMojave whizz by. The child in me wonders how lonely it is to exist,as they do…standing in wordless vigil on the side of the freeway,watching sunset after sunset to no end. Ghost towns, shacks,abandoned gas stations and railroad tracks–all physical markers ofdreams and hopes, communities, and families gained and lost, becomegatekeepers to a West that is, at the moment of experience, stillwild.
Then, at once, out of the golden plainsrises an ominous range of jagged, towering blue peaks, shrouded incloud and mist: The Eastern Sierras. It’s raining in the valley,and the peaks are under heavy cloud cover, which can only mean onething; if we climb high enough, we just might be awarded with a raresnowfall. In this drought-stricken state, that means something. As wedrive up to the trailhead, night falls. The stars shine bright, likecity lights…or is it the other way around? Our friends Corey andHong are already at the campsite, I hope, awaiting us with a warmfire and hot food. God knows we’ll need it; the next few days,there will only the mountain in front of, behind, and around us.
We were right. Several hours on thetrail the next morning, we were greeted with our first snowfall.Coming from the single-season climate of LA, it’s always a welcomechange to be caught in snowfall–that is until that snow turns intooversized beads of ice hailing down on you.
The Sierras are notorious for frequentand extreme weather changes. As we set up camp, we watched as darkstormclouds formed over Cirque Peak. Forced to hunker down early forthe evening, we awoke to the sun shining down on a layer of freshpowder.
The pathway to the pass. A group ofhikers who had just descended from the other side informed us it washailing pretty fiercely at the top. See if you can spot thehikers…they’re the tiny black dots at the base of thesnow-covered spine of Mount Langley.
Hong, Corey’s climbing buddy, battledhypoglycemia and altitude sickness the entire time. Altitude sicknesscan take many forms…for Hong, it was nausea-inducing vertigo.
But we all pushed on. The solution:plenty of water, Clif Bars and the promise of a pizza in Lone Pine.
It was late in the afternoon–we wererunning out of daylight fast, and the fog was closing in as wesearched for the snow-covered trail. With the rock cairns envelopedby fog, we could only keep going the only sure direction…up.
Having finally found our way to thetop, we looked down towards the basin and were rewarded with apanoramic view. For a little perspective, look for the two hikers andthe red tent to the right of the lake in the lower right of theimage.
From the top, we could see that thesnow had completely encrusted the switchbacks leading down the 1500foot cliffside. The only way down: Get on your rear, slide, and enjoythe ride.
After a grueling day, there’s nobetter feeling than putting down your home for the night. No monthlypayments, no deciding between countertops, no upkeep; just yourintuition, and the place you spend your most vulnerable hours. Wechose the edge of Long Lake, and were greeted in the morning to areflection of the granite walls we scrambled down the night before.
Packed up and ready to go on anotheradventure. But first things first… Pizza.