We arrived at the base of Mammoth Mountain in time for lunch after a scenic and sometimes terrifying drive through Tioga Pass. Looking at the menu I unconsciously grinned realizing that I was indeed in the Northern California mountains. With more than five vegetarian choices I ordered a sandwich loaded with veggies including sprouts accompanied by a locally brewed beer. My husband stuck to his meat and cheese as my famished ten-pound Snorkie loyally sat by his side waiting for a scrap. Smart pup with her nose that can detect a hamburger ten miles away. Eating lunch outside I spotted the famous Schat’s bakery next-door known for their cheese bread. Fresh sourdough bread filled with melted cheddar is a must while hiking. A staple, a reward, and easy to eat on the move. I picked up a loaf for the following day, just in case I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy Schat’s cheese bread during the rest of the trip.
Our boutique hotel was the ideal getaway for a few days. Dog friendly and human friendly the place was cute, comfortable and modern. In October, the down time for Mammoth, in-between summer and winter sports, it was very affordable. We had a private balcony, fireplace, kitchen, living room and a large bedroom loft. The afternoon was sunny and warm but as the sunset a winter chill filled the air.
The following morning I had one of the best runs of my life, surreal in its beauty. At 8,000 feet, the hotel manager reminded me of the altitude then pointed me towards a close-by running trail. “Nike, is building a high altitude training center here,” he beamed.
As I worked my way into a jog the trail seemed routine at first until I opened my eyes and mind. Breathtaking beauty halted my run, feeling as if I was in a Monet painting. A perfect pairing of mountains, valleys, wildflowers, desert scrub and a cobalt blue sky. Combined with the crisp air mingling with my heated body and sweat, perfect. If only Monet was around to paint my dreamlike scene. Instead, I settled for a picture on my iPhone.
My afternoon was filled with an internal need and desire to hike alone, and Devil’s Postpile was the backdrop for this journey. The hotel manager confidently endorsed the trail as being well-traveled and safe for a solo traveler. My husband briefly visited the national monument agreeing to pick me up in a few hours as he set off in search of a driving range to hit a few golf balls.
The trail was flat and peaceful as I faced nature and my overly imaginative mind. A blessing sometimes and a burden others, especially when fear and doubt creep into my thoughts. After 45 minutes of not seeing anyone I started to think about bears, mountain lions and snakes. I considered turning around but chose to pick up a walking stick and soldier-on while contemplating my relationship with nature. Fearless, became my mantra as my confidence in myself and my surroundings restored over a two-hour period.
I ended up encountering a few hikers near Rainbow Falls, apparently a few trails merge near the falls. I chose to return on the same lonesome path back to Devil’s Postpile with a renewed love for hiking alone and an intrepid friendship with nature. Amazing what the mind and nature can accomplish when forced to live in harmony.
After a blissful dinner we decided to explore the hotel’s steam, sauna and hot tub located in the basement. We had the spa to ourselves. Turning everything on we waited, but with the rock-lined coolness nothing heated above our body temperature. We got wet, dried off and went to our room to warm up.
The following day I embraced Tioga Pass and it’s turns, cliffs and moonscape-like surroundings. In no-time we were cruising back through Yosemite and into the heart of the California agricultural district. Passing endless farmland we arrived at yet another mountain base. This side of the Sierra Mountains was hot and dry compared to west mountains we had departed just hours prior. We had arrived in Three Rivers. Population 2,600, entryway to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Forest, and the location of my friend’s wedding set for the following day. She was my BFF twenty years ago and although we reconnected on Facebook we hadn’t seen each other since.
With the wedding at 2:00 and being so close to the largest trees in the world, at noon we decided to take a hurried drive into the forest. Construction, twisting roads, and biting nails ensued to the top of the mountain. We snapped a few pictures and quickly turned around as I checked my watch constantly. Traffic suddenly halted as I glanced out the window and loudly whispered, “holy shit.”
“What,” my husband alarmingly shot back.
I rapidly searched for my camera. “Bear,” I exclaimed. As the car in front of us scooted forward the bear was within arm’s length of my window. I snapped a few shots while watching the lovely creature eat grass on the side of the road.
Let Yoda see it,” he claimed. Referring to our small dog.
After verifying the window was up, I mindlessly held up our dog. She instantly started whining with uncertainty, or with certainty that the creature was a danger to her.
We continued speeding down the mountain with just twenty minutes to prepare for the wedding. Good thing I get ready quickly.
It was a small wedding and I was the first person my BFF saw as she entered the church. An instant smile simultaneously graced our faces. I held back tears throughout the ceremony and outside the church we embraced a twenty year friendship renewed.