An excerpt from my first trip. After our long drive from the Bay Area, Mike Gibbons, Mike Galli and I are in the town of Lone Pine, California. Lone Pine is a desert town near the southern end of highway 395. For those heading up the Mount Whitney trail from the eastern trailhead, the town is a stopping point and waystation for hikers and backpackers. We booked a room at the Alabama Hills Motel (now called Comfort Inn)
THE MOUNT WHITNEY JOURNALS — Book I — 1998
Thursday morning, August 6
At 9:30, with the Mikes just starting to stir and take their showers, I head to the lobby to partake of what I anticipate will be a delicious complimentary continental breakfast. I’m not sure which of the seven continents serves such a breakfast, but I am not about to call my travel agent to book a flight there. Watered down coffee and stale supermarket muffins are not my preferred way of starting the day, but after doctoring my cup by adding instant coffee crystals, I at least make it drinkable and head outside to walk around. The temperature is already in the mid-80’s and by daylight everything looks much different. A sign about 50 yards south of the motel driveway points the way east to Death Valley about an hour down another road, Highway 136. Directly across Highway 395 from the motel is a small corral and field with a horse and a couple of cows quietly passing the morning. I’m tempted to share my breakfast with them, but since they’ve done nothing to me, I decide not to ruin their day. Beyond the corral to the west are the granite peaks of the eastern Sierra Nevada cutting the sky like a serrated knife. I have no idea which peak is Whitney. Later, Gibbons points it out. It juts up just slightly above its brothers and sisters, lacking the drama of a Kilimanjaro or Mount Fuji, but from down here in Lone Pine, it still looks formidable.
After checking out of our room and heading downtown, the Mikes and I grab some breakfast and then do some shopping at the local grocer.
After a breakfast consisting of some unremarkable honey-wheat pancakes and non-fresh squeezed grapefruit juice at a generic diner, it’s time to stock up on groceries for our one day of camping. As it passes through downtown Lone Pine, Highway 395 is named Main Street, and this is where Joseph’s Bi-rite, across from the diner, is conveniently located. But that is misleading. Almost all of Lone Pines’ businesses are on Main Street and they are all convenient. Early in my shopping, I am chastised by Galli for absent-mindedly reaching for a plastic bag in which to put my bananas, a major faux pas among environmentalists. In spite of my unforgivable transgression, the shopping goes quickly. Our shopping lists are limited by the fact that we didn’t bring a portable stove. The most elaborate item on the menu for today is an American classic, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
As we stroll the aisles, all three of us obsessively read the nutritional labels of everything we pick up. To purposely make ourselves cringe, we stand around the display of off-brand snack cakes like the three witches in Macbeth, and we recite to each other, the diabolical list of ingredients of the cupcakes, pecan twirls, and Twinkie knock-offs. As I listen to the Mikes read, the contents of the witches’ cauldron in the play sound better and better. Give me eye of newt, toe of frog, and liver of blaspheming Jew over partially hydrogenized flour any day.
Each of our baskets contains fresh fruit of some sort, a small can of tuna (high in protein), and some yogurt. We split the cost of the shared items: two loaves of whole grain bread, or, as it is so delicately described by my sister Monica, “the kind with all that sawdust and shit on it”; some all fruit/no sugar jelly; and a medium-sized jar of Skippy. After a boisterous debate, we choose Skippy over Jif because while Skippy has .001 more grams of sodium per square inch, or serving, or whatever, it more than makes up for it by having two micrograms less saturated fat per 200 servings. All that remains is to buy ice and profuse amounts of water, which we get on the way out of the store.