Part 1: How to avoid injuries by sitting on your helmet.
The first camp spot of our trip was a delightful corner of floor by the escalator between a Chinese restaurant and the delta sky club lounge at Atlanta airport. It was an unplanned bivy and we were poorly equipped, having foolishly not brought enough extra clothing, let alone sleeping bags in our carry ons. Our sleep was fitful at best, interrupted once by the realization that a water bottle in one of our bags/pillows was leaking and we were now wet, and more frequently by disgruntled delta sky club members trying to get into the closed lounge and the delivery of noodles and lettuce to the Chinese restaurant.
Periodically, a robot proclaimed over the airport sound system that an emergency had been reported in the building, advising us to please stand by. Presumably this is an automated announcement triggered when disgruntled passengers throw laptops and other carry on items at delta employees.
|This is a connecting tunnel between two terminals. It has carpet, mood lighting and jungle sounds are played over the speakers. We did not sleep here because it was full at bed time.|
Lying on the cold faux marble floor at 3 am I found myself reflecting on the conversations I had had during the previous hours of standing in line with my fellow travelers.
The lines themselves were a thing of wonder. In each terminal, rows of stranded delta passengers stretched beyond the visible horizon. Waves of collective shuffling rippled down the line every half hour or so, two steps of many on the long road leading to the attentions of approximately three and a half delta ticket agents per thousand passengers.
Elderly people in wheelchairs exuded misery. Parents comforted tired children while listening to the hold line jingle of the delta phone hotline, comparing stats about how long they had been in said hold line (“We've been on hold for two and a half hours now” - “Wow, that's amazing! You all are early adopters of the double phone and waiting in line strategy, it's been just an hour for us!”).
The person next to us in line was a tall, white haired man, probably in his 70s. Tanned and active looking, and with a slight Wohlstandsbauch (the English language fails to provide an adequate word for this concept), he was either coming from or going to his retirement home in Florida, I don't recall, though at that particular moment he was of course doing neither, caught up in the perfect storm swirling around the world's busiest airport, as were we all.
|B terminal line to help desk, near the half way point. All the other terminals had the same kind of lines during the duration of our stay.|
After accidental eye contact on my part and without further introduction he began musing about a 36 hour flight on a propeller plane that took him and his platoon to Vietnam in '67. My socio-cultural upbringing in Europe has left me unprepared for conversing with strangers in general and Vietnam vets comparing Atlanta airport to wartime bush flights in particular. I was still struggling to come up with an appropriate response, when the young woman on my other side casually mentioned that she, too, had done Vietnam last year and boy, getting there sure was a bother. This provoked only a brief pause and a single, slightly raised eyebrow on the man's part. Before I had time to descend into further spirals of conversational culture shock induced anxiety, he launched into a detailed explanation of how he had taken to sitting on his helmet during all those flights in Vietnam. The Vietcong, after all, wouldn't be shooting at them from above and if you sit on your helmet they can't shoot off your balls from below.
“...uh. Wow, haha,” I responded eloquently.
“So. Germany. Merkel, right? You guys are doing pretty well. You seem to have your economy together!” he changed the topic.
“Uh. Well. Uh, I guess maybe?” I mumbled.
“Things with the economy are sure getting interesting around here what with the new government and all,” he proceeded.
I fled to the restrooms.
We eventually got rebooked onto a flight 48 hours from now and put on the standby list for everything between now and then and curled up our corner of faux marble.
We awoke to a dawn of neon light that looked much like the noon, dusk and midnight of neon light. Not particularly refreshed but with a renewed feeling of hope, we got back into the first of many lines we would enjoy that day.
I will skip a detailed account of the rest of our stay in Atlanta. It involved several failed attempts to fly to SFO (flights cancelled due to missing crew and missing plane, respectively), an attempt to fly to San Jose (flight cancelled, missing pilot), and, finally a successful flight to San Fransisco (missing boarding agent located just before time out of pilot and crew) that took off about 30 hours after we arrived. We checked into our Holiday Inn in Berkeley around 7am local time and slept for a bit. Revived by Cheeseboard pizza and the American interpretation of coffee cup sizing (the word espresso implies the amount of coffee you will get, as does the word cappuccino. Neither should be available in small, medium, or large) we picked up Clarisse from Oakland airport and proceeded to sleep some more.
|Incomplete collection of boarding passes I received in Atlanta.|
We hit the road in our rental Jeep Renegade, dream car of any off road enthusiast who drives exclusively on city streets By evening we reached South Lake Tahoe, just in time for a quick meeting with Trini and Yago, globetrotting Patagonian friends about to embark on a surf road trip to Central America. We were all relieved to have made it into the United States of America, for a variety of reasons, and enjoyed vegan burritos and a flat IPA in South Lake.
Part 2: Do you even lift bro
Thanks to the wonders of the internet and a prepaid AT&T sim card, Frank (AKBruin), friend of our friend Florian, arrived in the morning and proceeded to take us on a Tahoe sightseeing trip up Mount Tallac. Leading the way up an already well established skin track, he mentioned that “people in Tahoe like to cut really steep skin tracks”, just before the skin track got near vertical. He suggested we should “work our arms”. We caught up to another party of three who appeared not to know how to properly work their arms. The guys confidently overtook them. C and I rather enjoyed the other party's colourful language and creative threats of physical violence directed at items of new-looking gear worth a few thousand dollars. We hung back for a while, observing. One of the cursing men explained to C that the skin track needs to be steep because it is a very steep mountain. We eventually veered off and made a flat European skin track with proper switchbacks. American men probably just have really strong arms.
We skied a line off the top called the cross, in heavy pow. The snow below the chute had seen less sun and was amazingly consistent and super fun all the way to the bottom.
We really enjoy the large variety of energy bars available in the US and took a break to taste test a selection. We take this pretty seriously. AKB seemed to find that amusing. He is an American man with strong arms from all the skinning he does. He dislikes kick turns but made an effort to make a flat skin track for us. He is nice like that. We got distracted by the trees and by the time we had determined that we definitely weren't sure what kind of trees they were, he had already done all the trail breaking.
|AKB heads off.|
|Lorenzo with pretty lake.|
|Other people also did a thing.|
The snow was, once again, consistently perfect. We ended the day with beer and chips in the sun in the back of Frank's pickup truck. Frank has beer and chips in his truck for everyone. Frank is nice like that. He also made a fun POV video of the day.
The next day we skinned up Echo peak. We had seen cool looking lines between Echo and the smaller peak next to it from Tallac but bailed on those since the snow was a lot more wind affected than the day before. We did something less committing off the ridge and wrapped back up and around, before skiing back down to the flat area where we started. We had only minor problems locating the car. We saw a chipmunk (very exciting) and some interesting birds (mildly exciting) and cool trees (level of excitement about trees varies within the group).
|Burn in the lower section|
|C about to drop into a short line off the ridge, Lorenzo's tracks|
|Snow a bit more variable than before|
|Lorenzo posing with cornice.|
|C posing with lake.|
Later we met our airb'n'b host. He explained to us that he eats a diet of mostly fat and no carbs because his body is like a motor that can run either on diesel or gasoline but not both (fat is diesel, in case you were unsure). He hopes to travel to Europe some day to get stem cell injections on a european insurance plan. In the US, they don't tell anyone about stem cell therapy because they don't want anyone to know. Kennedy, by the way, was the last real president because they had Bush to control Reagan, who would have otherwise been real. They decided who would become president beforehand with all the other presidents, except maybe now Trump, but he is not entirely sure about Trump. He mentioned that he likes talking to Europeans about politics because they seem to understand him so much better than his compatriots.
He was very friendly and helpful and gave us some good tips for stuff to do in the area. The place was great. V. happy w/ overall airb'n'b experience.
Part 3: There will be rain after sunshine
We drove from Tahoe to Mammoth Lakes on a bad weather day, stopping at Mono Lake for some general touristing and in Bridgeport to take pictures of wonderfully American things, like the window display of a shop for fishing supplies and guns and the hamburgers we had for lunch.
In keeping with a tradition established by AKB and Florian, we stayed at the Motel 6 in Mammoth. C and I discussed that it would be a good setting for the kind of horror movie where the killer has OCD and wraps everything in plastic before cutting his victims into neat pieces, eventually leaving the room cleaner than it was before. Upon recommendation of AKB, we had large croissants stuffed with many eggs from Schat's bakery for breakfast. I had a Chai Latte the size of a large espresso with that, which was a mistake.
|Hearty breakfast for an active day.|
It was very windy up high and we decided to do something easy to get our bearings. We made our way up Punta Baldini and skied some not so good snow. We liked the terrain and tree skiing potential a lot. We also saw a distant coyote (very exciting!!). 2/3 of the group later enjoyed hot springs a little south of town.
We had some more bad weather and visited the laundromat, where we made friends with a few locals who work for the mountain. They gave us soap (soap machine out of order) and talked to us for the duration of our washing cycle in a very friendly way. The entirely benign conversation once again left us feeling confused and vaguely concerned. At home you can give strangers soap if the machine is broken, but then the correct thing to do is stare at the floor in silence. We drove around for a bit, looked at rocks with and without petroglyphs and ate kale salad and kale on pizza. Both were a lot better than we thought they would be.
Driving 10 minutes from a snowstorm to desert heat and sunshine is cool (hot?) and unusual for us.
|Rocks for the easily entertained|
|Heading back into stormy Mammoth.|
In the evening AKB joined us at the motel. He brought us a book that explains the trees of California. AKB is obviously the best.
AKB wanted to go camping over the Easter weekend and we were happy to let him pick a spot and flattered that he seemed not to mind our company. We drove up the Rock Creek road as far as it was plowed (not very far) and skinned the rest of the way (very far) back into the canyon and up to Cox Col. In the last evening light we set up camp at Lake Italy.
To our surprise and great relief, it was not windy at all. The forecast said something about lows around 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Fahrenheit are a puzzling, imaginary unit of temperature that Americans use to confuse non-Americans. 15 Fahrenheit in a sleeping bag seems about as cold as a wet stone floor in Atlanta airport without a sleeping bag although generally more comfortable.
|C very excited to find a payphone in Rock Creek|
|Tree enthusiast AKB admiring tree|
|Cox Col comes into view.|
|Cox Col refuses to get closer.|
|Cox Col now a bit closer.|
|View back out the valley.|
|Almost almost at the top.|
|Almost at the top|
|C & I even closer to the top, AKB's picture.|
|AKB skiing down towards lake Italy|
|Apparently AKB couldn't sleep so he got out of bed and took pictures.|
AKB had some pretty ambitious ideas about skiing very cool looking lines. There were some large crowns on the aspects that those lines were on and after a very bad avalanche season at home we were too spooked to try anything steep and north facing. We were also generally pretty pooped because of the altitude, a bit of a cold, lingering injuries and a few other excuses so we probably held AKB back somewhat. He was totally cool about it, because he is nice like that. Sorry, AKB. You really are the best. Please come visit us.
We did some skiing in the general vicinity and enjoyed views of truly spectacular mountains.
|Near Italy pass. We skied the peak in the bg later.|
|Top of bg peak in picture above|
|I liked the look of this one.|
|Everybody got some.|
|AKB dropping into the home run to the tents.|
|Find the tents.|
|AKB's pic of happy me.|
The second night was a little warmer and again amazingly calm. AKB got up early to ski some breakable crust, while we did more energy bar sampling and packed up the camp. We saw a tiny mouse (very, very exciting!! Why is it half the size of our mice? How does it survive in the snow? What does it eat? Should we leave an energy bar?). A storm was supposed to move in around midday and it was pretty obvious that it would in fact do just that, so we made our way back to Cox Col without too many delays for energy bar sampling or mouse discussions. It was beginning to get unpleasant just as we dropped down again into the Rock Creek valley.
|C and Lorenzo present wall building efforts.|
|AKB skiing character building snow on Mt. Gadd's eastern slopes.|
|AKB building some more character while approaching Cox Col.|
|C and Lorenzo and some weather.|
|C & AKB on the last short scramble to the Col.|
|All down hill from here.|
|3, 2, 1...|
|Good bye Cox Col.|
|Somebody seems to be trying to plow the road. Not sure if this was stuck or parked.|
|Cheers. (Picture is totally not staged)|
Back in Mammoth, we checked into the Travel Lodge to change things up from the Motel 6. The Travel Lodge is insignificantly cheaper, has breakfast, larger rooms, a sprinkler problem in the hall and interesting, Indian themed décor. It would be good for a more messy horror movie, perhaps involving unspeakable incidents in the moldy underground parking facility. The wet spot of carpet in the hall under the sprinkler turning out to be blood could be a recurring theme.
The storm we just about avoided coming out of Rock Creek did its thing for the next couple of days. We used one day to drive to Death Valley and check that out with two acquaintances from home who happened to also be in Mammoth. They do more freestyle oriented skiing and highly recommend a particular pile of construction site trash at Bear Mountain for non-urban obstacle skiing. It sounded like this was better than actual Bear Mountain and the Mammoth park but this kind of thing is about as puzzling to me as temperatures in Fahrenheit and oddly nice and talkative strangers, so who knows.
|Fish out of water|
We had hoped to ski the following day but it rained hard and high, so we went back to the hot springs. We knew conditions would be tricky the next day and figured we would try something easy to get to, eventually deciding on McGee. We turned around short of the ridge because the snow seemed too weird. It had rained to the top and not refrozen overnight because of a thin layer of new snow on top of the mush. The lower part without the new snow was perfect corn, of the kind we were imagining while planning our trip.
Having barely scratched the surface but seen the potential, we were sad to leave and hope to return someday. We spent a day doing tourist stuff in the Bay Area and then flew home without any more unplanned bivies.
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