Well, I don’t know how it happened, but summer is in full swing, it seems. For many months now, I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of this “Summer Break” I had carefully planned for myself this year. I have been longing for and looking forward to a lazy summer schedule with an abundance of free time, trips to take, projects to make and some serious catching up to do. Then suddenly it occurred to me that this precious summer time of mine has come and is already slipping through my grasp. With me, it always seems the best-laid plans never quite turn out the way I expect. I tend to be the flexible one in life, always willing to accommodate, usually able to rearrange, happy to change my plans for the sake of seemingly more important priorities. Sometimes I think the universe knows this about me and intentionally takes advantage of my flexible nature. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for I have grown to adore and look forward to those delightful little discoveries that so often accompany an unexpected change in direction.
This is what I tell myself as I groan and moan, grumble and mumble about the fact that my eagerly-awaited summer break seems to be a quickly fading dream. But again, I must admit that this is not necessarily a bad thing. For life has presented a fork in my road, a turn from the trail that did not appear to be labeled on my map and I find myself unexpectedly changing direction to pursue an opportunity for adventure and exploration of a different sort. What this means for me is a shift in my priorities as I take on a new personal challenge and a bit of hard work that was not originally included in The Plan for my summer break.
So, I am letting go of my plans for the most part. I put the projects on hold, shifted out of lazy-mode and the catching up will just have to wait. And the trips…well, I’m still trying to keep the hiking and backpacking high on the priority list, but even those have not been going along as planned. If it’s not one thing it’s another, continually popping up to prevent our long-awaited Sierra trips from following our carefully mapped out route. The weather, for one, has been in an uncooperative mood lately. Completely unpredictable, taunting and teasing and generally displeasing when hiking day comes around. This was the case a couple weeks ago when we set out for one of our planned summer backpacking trips. The Plan was to endure a few miles of rugged, cross-country backpacking up the George Creek drainage in order to reach a camping spot where I would be granted the great luxury of two whole days of rest and relaxation in a beautiful backcountry retreat. Accommodations would include a tent, sleeping bag and a tiny camp pillow. Amenities would include a book, a cooking rock and a cozy napping spot. Not to mention a hot cup of morning coffee and a complementary sunrise. While I luxuriated in my mountain retreat, E would go for the summit of a rather grand peak. George Creek did not promise to be a pleasant hike, but would provide a shorter approach to Mt. Williamson (otherwise known as Big Willy), a Sierra 14er that has yet to be checked off the hubby’s list. That was The Plan anyway and we were sticking to it, despite a slightly unfavorable forecast in the weather.
There was an ominous feeling about the day as we picked up our backpacking permit in Lone Pine. Conditions did not improve as we drove north on highway 395. And by the time we turned off the highway near Manzanar, my hopes for a luxurious retreat had been completely consumed by storm clouds. I already knew I would be fighting the terrain and I dreaded battling the weather, too. I tried my best, I really did, to maintain my go-with-the-flow attitude. It wasn’t working, but we were sticking to The Plan. So, grumbling and mumbling, I strapped on my pack and we headed up-creek in the rain. The conditions were not great for photo-taking, but wildflowers are so lovely in the rain and I did manage to capture a few (one of those delightful little discoveries I was referring to, in the midst of our thwarted plans).
After a few hours of bushwhacking, creek crossing and sky watching we began to realize it was not a good weekend to go for the summit of Big Willy. He is, after all, rather tall with his head nestled up there in those thunderclouds. To abandon The Plan really was the best choice, but letting go is difficult sometimes. So, we hmmmm’d and haaaa’d and eventually turned around and headed back down, but not before stumbling (rear first) into a rather large patch of stinging nettle. Ouch. That hurt! But not as much as turning around. And just as we began making peace with our unexpected change in direction and our choice to abandon The Plan, the sun came out, the rain ceased and suddenly it was a beautiful day. Sigh… Perhaps we should have maintained our original course.
It did turn out to be a beautiful afternoon with sunshine and cloud-filled skies. However, the weather never completely cleared, so we felt fine about changing our plans. The question was, what to do now? We contemplated our choices. The peaks, the passes, the trails, the camps…where to go and what to do next? We decided to drive north a bit and see if we could snag ourselves a campsite at the McGee Creek Campground. Now, let me just say that these days an established campground is quite a luxury for us. Especially one with flushing toilets…and sheltered picnic tables…next to a cool, soothing stream…with beautiful mountain views…aaahh, yes, please! We found ourselves a lovely little site next to a little meadow blooming with wild iris and we happily set up camp for the night.
Then we contemplated The Plan for tomorrow. We decided to head up into Mammoth to hike San Joaquin Mountain. I was all in favor of it, as this plan included a trail (though a little bit lengthy for me) leading all the way to the top. Not to mention a picture-perfect view of Mount Ritter, Banner Peak and the lovely Minarets. This turned out to be a mighty fine choice for this particular day, because there were thunderstorms and rain clouds and this big ‘ole wide open view that allowed for some serious oohing and awwing…and if you know anything about me, you know how I adore beautiful cloudy view!
Truth be told, the trail was too long for my aching joints, my tender feet and my ever-annoyed back not to complain. It wasn’t exactly the relaxing backcountry retreat I had been looking forward to, but it was a rather fine way to spend the day. After all, this alternate plan did include grazing deer, soaring birds and clouds galore. Butterflies, wildflowers and a refreshing mountain breeze. Quiet time, me-time and the best of company. Not to mention a summit with a never-ending view.
After such a lovely hike, we felt an indulgence was in order, so we treated ourselves to a a fancy burger and fries at one of the local eateries. Though things were not turning out quite as planned, The Plan was actually turning out quite fine. Now for tomorrow’s agenda and what will it include? On a random whim, we decided to head for Yosemite, for we hadn’t been there in years. Normally, it would be quite early in the season for a hike in Tuolomne Meadows, but there was so little snow this year, the peaks and passes seemed to be clear, so we thought…why not? Driving up the road to Tioga Pass, we kept an eye out for accommodations, but the campgrounds were already crowded. It was a perfect summer Saturday, after all. So, we drove on into the park, located the trailhead for tomorrow, then pulled off the road for a while to admire the view of Mt. Gibbs from a meadow with a wandering stream. We sat peacefully pondering the peak for tomorrow. We watched the deer graze, we watched the sun set and we fondly reminisced about the many special trips we have enjoyed together in this amazing and beautiful place.
We ended up finding accommodations for the night conveniently located right at the trailhead. Though slightly cramped, the sleeping quarters were fairly cozy and we spent a peaceful enough night in the back of the car. Starting out on the trail to Mono Pass, it was a little chilly as the morning sunlight had yet to reach the wooded trail. But, oh, it felt so nice to be hiking in this neck of the woods again! It seemed we had just hit the trail when we ran into a stream with no apparent dry point at which to cross. Ah, geez. Well…what ya gonna do? Sometimes, in order to get from here to there, you’re going to have to get a little wet. The question is…do you have to get your boots wet, too? We took off the boots, stripped off the socks and timidly tiptoed across. It was one of those moments that E would refer to as invigorating while I would insist it’s just plain coooold.
We continued on the trail, following the signs that were leading us toward Mono Pass. I have a thing for trail signs. I find their reassurances comforting when traveling in unfamiliar territory. Despite my flexible nature, my love for adventure and my penchant for discovery, I am actually one of those people who really likes to have a plan. I am a cautious explorer and I like to be prepared. For anything. Especially when I find myself navigating those unknown trails, wandering my way through the realm of the Unplanned. So, whenever I encounter a sign that speaks to me, you are on the right path, my friend, my confidence is restored that I am, in fact, heading in the right direction.
Now, I must admit that I had no intention of climbing to the top of that peak. My personal plan was to reach the pass where I would create for myself a mini lakeside retreat while my hubby hiked happily on to the summit of Mt. Gibbs. No doubt the lake at Mono Pass would be a lovely place to kick back and relax, perhaps enjoy a nap and a chapter or two in my book. I was tired, slow and my feet were yelling NO MORE HIKING! But, despite my best intentions, when we finally reached the pass I threw my caution to the wind and just kept moving on. And on. And on. For what seemed like forever. Up and along that never-ending ridge line. At some point, the rhythm of my steps became hypnotic, creating a sort of moving mediation that cleared my mind and allowed for space to think about absolutely nothing. It was a much needed mental retreat and I freely admit to enjoying it…even though it wasn’t in My Plan.
It wasn’t all that easy for me, but I did manage to reach the summit where we enjoyed the view of Mt. Dana and Yosemite’s beautiful high country together. We sat and snacked, played around, snapped a goofy photo or two, then slowly headed back down. But it wasn’t until I got back to the lake that the satisfaction of the summit set in. When it finally did, I found myself surprisingly grateful I made the decision to abandon my own personal plan. Letting go of my need for retreat allowed me to experience the great feeling of accomplishment that always comes in summiting peak. It is not always easy at first, to heed the signs, to go with the flow, to change direction and follow an alternate path. But you might be glad if you do. Because sometimes, the best plan is the unplanned.