I share an excerpt from my still in-progress book, ‘The Mount Whitney Journals’. Today’s is from my first trip to the mountain in 1998. For those of you just joining the narrative, I took this trip with my good friends, Mike Gibbons and Michael Galli. This first trip planted the initial seeds of my long obsession with getting to the top of the mountain. Now, 13 years later, I consider myself an avid hiker. Early on, even while training for my first few Whitney attempts, I’d do most of my training either in the gym or by trail running at various parks on the peninsula (Rancho San Antonio, Huddert Park in Woodside, the hills above Stanford University). It’s only been the last couple of years that I build my strength for hikes by hiking. It’s proven to be a better approach, both physically and emotionally.
The setting for today’s excerpt: The three of us have just spent the night in the town of Lone Pine and after eating breakfast and buying supplies in town, are driving up the Whitney Portal Road to our campsite up the mountain where we’ll acclimate for one day and then rise before dawn the next day to start our hike.
THE MOUNT WHITNEY JOURNALS – Book I – 1998
As we resume our trip up the mountain, the conversation drifts among a variety of topics and eventually settles on the world of insects and spiders. Galli enthralls Gibbons and I with the chilling tale of the spider wasp, explaining in vivid detail that this insect’s idea of a good time is to track down tarantulas as they sleep, read in the den, or sit on the toilet with the sports page in the comfort of their cozy homes in the ground. Then, according to Galli, the wasp, without even knocking, crawls in and drags out the unsuspecting tarantula, kicking and screaming, like a crack dealer being rousted by the D.E.A. in a midnight narcotics raid, yelling invectives and b-movie dialogue: “You got the wrong guy!” or “Honey, call the bail bondsman, again; I got him on the speed dial!”.
For the hapless tarantula, however, the nightmare is just starting, for there will be no Miranda reading, no Johnny Cochran, no handcuffs. What transpires next makes even the most invasive strip search seem like a vacation at Club Med. The wasp, apparently a big fan of the movie “Alien”, immobilizes the spider by injecting a venomous digestive enzyme into the spider which liquefies the insides of the victim, essentially turning him into an eight-legged Gatorade bottle. However, this isn’t done just to give the wasp something to talk about with his or her friends at the country club. Rather, it’s a preface to the eventual coup-de-grace: the wasp next lays its eggs inside the spider so that when the eggs eventually hatch, the newborn larvae have a predigested meal awaiting them. They’re swimming in it. It’s like being born in a jar of Gerber tapioca.
I never thought it possible to feel sorry for a tarantula. After Peter Brady was almost scared to death by one in the three-part “Brady Bunch in Hawaii” episode, I had resented tarantulas with every fiber of my being. But after Galli’s heart-wrenching tale, which drove home the random cruelty of nature, my heart of stone softened and I felt some compassion towards tarantulas sprouting like a mustard seed in the biblical parable.