Day 1: SLOW FOOD
It wasn’t until 1:40pm when we finally left from Cindy and Ed’s place. With kids and house issues, there wasn’t much time to pack and get organized. We kind of took for granted that we had done this before so understood the drill and went through the motions. We figured that we could check into the motel at Independence as soon as we arrive today, then pack after dinner.
So we proceeded under this plan, and with the nearly 100F weather in suburbian Los Angeles, we were kind of glad to feel the AC of the rental car when we left, though with its black leather interior, it kind of took a while for the interior of the car to cool down. Cindy, who was sitting in the back seat, needed us to turn up the AC to almost full blast in order for the cold air to get to her.
Cindy and Ed made babysitter arrangements beforehand. Meanwhile, Julie and Tahia were left at home since there was no way they’d be roughing it in the Sierras with us.
In any case, the drive through the I-5 was pretty traffic free (probably because it didn’t quite get to Friday rush hour yet). I always dreaded driving through the LA basin to get into the Santa Clarita area before we’d finally catch the 14 to get into the High Desert area of Lancaster.
Anyhow, the drive was pretty uneventful up to that point, and we even skated through the High Desert area eventually getting to the Hwy 395 without much incident. I made sure to follow the flow of traffic knowing that CHP were out to nab unsuspecting speeding motorists along the entire drive that we were on.
The goal of this weekend backtrip trip (which was happening at a rate of once every two years for the past 4 years, making that three trips over this span if we include this year) was to hike up Onion Valley and then camp at Matlock Lake before doing a day hike out to Kearsarge Pass. Upon learning of this hike, I knew to print out a Topo of the area we were hiking, and I also did a little more research into the area hoping there might be a waterfalling reason to even talk about this weekend’s trip on the website.
From the sparse info I was able to get from the literature concerning Onion Valley and waterfalls, I wasn’t very optimistic about the prospects of this combo considering this was the second consecutive year of very low precipitation throughout California. On top of that, there was a wildfire burning near the northwest of Yosemite that was said to be potentially a threat to the Hetch Hetchy area (including the O’Shaugnessy Dam, Mather, and other places we were familiar with in our many travels to those parts).
Anyways, Ed told me that given our late departure, we’d have to secure overnight permits from the drop box instead of in person at the Visitor Center in Lone Pine, which would close at 5pm today. That meant we would only have a little over 3 hours from the time we left home to the time we’d get there in order secure the permit in person.
The reason why we’d want to secure the permits in person instead of in the overnight drop was because we wouldn’t be able to go past Kearsarge Pass without securing the permits in person. Now I could understand not being able to camp beyond Kearsarge Pass, but I never heard of not being able to step foot beyond Kearsarge Pass even as a dayhike!
So that kind of amped up my urgency a bit to strive to get to the Lone Pine Wilderness Station before 5pm, but we knew that it might be a bit of a stretch to get there on time considering how government workers tend to be notorious for closing on time.
At about 5pm (okay, maybe 5:01pm), we finally found the Wilderness Permit Station at Lone Pine. Sure enough, there was a ranger who was in the process of closing the gate into the large car park, which still had many vehicles inside. But the ranger refused to let us in.
Instead, he punted us over to the overnight drop kiosk a few paces from the soon-to-be-closed gate. That was when Ed signed his name, and we could see in large handwriting highlighted in yellow at the bottom of the paper permit, it said, “DO NOT GO BEYOND KEARSARGE PASS!!!”
So with that, we knew the limits of what we could do on our trip, and now it was time to do some last minute grocery shopping for picnic lunches to take with us on the trail. And once that was done, we then continued driving towards the town of Independence where Ed managed to secure three rooms at the Independence Inn.
Ed informed us that this place was basically a one-man show. The proprietor basically did all the breakfast cooking, the maintenance, the reception, the marketing, etc.
Apparently, there were only six rooms total for this place, and our group (which not only included me, Ed, and Cindy but also Dymph, Karen, Heather, and Gabe) took us three of those rooms.
We checked in at 5:50pm. The place looked quaint and the interior looked pretty adequate for what we needed, which was merely a place to stay for the night. There was also a TV and a fridge as well as a pretty clean bathroom. The only annoying things were a few mosquitoes we spotted in the room, which we thought might be a bad sign in terms of facing mozzies in our hike starting tomorrow.
At about 6:20pm, we decided on having dinner at the Still Life Cafe in Independence. Cindy and Ed knew about this place (through Larry) in all the years they’d gone Sierras backpacking, but never got around to eating here. They just knew that you couldn’t be in a hurry as the average table time there was at least two or three hours depending on circumstances, I guess.
But since we were the first ones there, we didn’t mind trying some ethnic food, which seemed kind of out-of-place in a place like Independence. Indeed, the interior of the cafe seemed like a charming little French Bistro with artsy portraits and artworks hanging on the walls as well as some interesting specials like a North African lamb sausage dish as well as Burgundy-style escargot on the menu!
When I used Ed’s cell to call Julie to let her know that we made it safely to Independence, I told her about the French bistro we were in, and I knew she’d be jealous (especially since we were big fans of French cuisine).
When we conversed with the waitress (who appeared to be the daughter of the parents who ran this place), she explained that her mom was of North African descent. It kind of explained her curls as well as the ethnic dishes that we saw on the menu.
I told her that Julie and I were headed to Quebec, and the waitress said she went to Montreal before, but didn’t like the cold. I assumed that she must’ve been from southern France because I thought Paris could be equally as cold as Montreal. Then, I was surprised when she said her parents were from Paris and Champagne.
As we were having our escargot (something Cindy and Ed said they never tried before), Karen and Dymph walked in. We hadn’t seen each other since our last trip to Lake Sabrina in 2011, which was fun. They were great company, and it was good to see them again.
Not much later after that, Heather and Gabe walked in and joined us. We hadn’t seen them since the Big Pine Creek Trip in 2009. And we also enjoyed their company on that trip. Indeed, when it came to backcountry backpacking, sometimes the company you keep would be equally important (if not more) than the sights that brought us here in the first place. And from that standpoint, it seemed like things would be looking up this long weekend.
In addition to the escargot, Ed, Cindy, and I ordered family style and shared something called Merguez, which was some kind of North African lamb sausage served with salad and fries with a spicy kind of dipping sauce. We also got some kind of steak sandwich aus jus as well as some kind of Summer squash soup.
It wasn’t until 8:50pm when we left the Still Life Cafe. We knew this place was slow food (and we weren’t in a hurry), but we kind of saw why the place was slow as the kitchen was pretty much staffed by just the wife with some help from the daughter who was dividing time between waiting the tables and helping her mum. The father was manning the counter at the front though it seemed like he was busy looking at a book. Indeed, family run businesses can be really hard work.
Still, stuffed and fully satisfied, we returned to the Indy Inn where we then organized our stuff and packed for tomorrow.
And before 11pm, we were pretty much in bed knowing full well that this could be the last sleepful night we’d be having for the next couple of nights.
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