Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Part 61 - Bear Vaults

I ate my food on the picnic tables out front; I devoured everything and went back into the store looking for more.  While in the store, the cashier recognized me and told me she had my package, plus several letters.  The resupply box was a large one, as it contained my bear vault.  

The purpose of a bear vault was to keep bears from getting at a hiker’s food, thus, endangering the hiker as well as the bears.  Bears that take a liking to Snicker Bars, Idahoan Instant Potatoes and Top Ramen have to be captured and relocated, and in extreme cases, destroyed.  The vault added a bit of extra weight to an already-heavy pack and I would have to carry it for 450 miles, or until I crossed I-80 at Donner Summit where I would meet my wife who would then take it home for me. 

After sorting through the contents of the resupply box, keeping most items and putting excess food packets in the hiker box, I repacked my backpack and made ready for tomorrow’s departure.  Then, hoping there was still water available for the shower, I headed towards the plywood stalls that served as outdoor showers.  The problem with the water here at the Kennedy Meadows store was that the water came from a spring that was piped to a large holding tank.  After so many showers and batches of laundry, the tank runs dry, and the store owners have to padlock the faucet to prevent further use in order to allow the tank to fill again
I noticed that the faucets to the showers had not been padlocked, and there was still a trickle of water coming from the pipes.  Not wasting any time, I quickly stripped down to my birthday suit and showered as fast as I could, then lathered my clothes with soap and rinsed them out also.  Whew, made it just in time.  As I was rinsing out my socks, the pipes ran dry, but the job was done.  Only having one set of clothes, and not being able to wait for them to dry, I put them on wet and walked around until the sun dried them out, which didn’t take long. 

Over on the side of the parking lot, I saw that Dr. Sole had set up operations again.  He was the long-haul truck driver, alias self-taught foot doctor, who provided medical help for hikers.  I walked over to greet him and reintroduced myself to him.  After seven hundred miles, I still didn’t need his services, but there were a multitude of others who did.

Hector said he was cooking dinner tonight and invited any and all to join him.  At the appointed hour, I was inside the pop-up tent that served as Hector’s medical suite, sitting at my favorite place – the ice cooler.  There were seven others in the tent when I arrived, and more would come.  Of the seven hikers, three were former active-duty military personnel.  One, who I will call Zigzag, simply because I never knew his trail name, had been an officer.  He had leadership written all over him.  He was an intelligent man, the type that was quick to identify problems and suggest solutions; he looked to be a true leader.  He had been in Afghanistan and possibly Iraq.   Zigzag dominated the conversation in the tent and it all had sexual connotations to it.

He made repeated remarks about a particular female hiker on the trail, and his comments were always less than appropriate.  He engaged the two other military personnel in conversation and baited them with sexual-related zingers.  They responded in like manner, but they didn’t initiate further suggestive comments.  I think they would have been happy to drop the subject matter, but as former military, they might have felt an obligation to continue the conversation, because that’s what soldiers do and they didn’t want to look less manly in Zigzag’s eyes.  Zigzag was unrelenting; he never let up with his sexual-oriented conversation, and it only ceased when he finally left the tent.   
Hector said that he would be cooking breakfast for anyone who wanted to join him in the morning.  I told him I’d be there.  

From other hikers, I learned the sad story concerning two sisters, Bree and Jessica, from Montana.  They had hiked the seven hundred miles of trail to Kennedy Meadows, and once at the store, they asked the clerk for their resupply packages.   Upon opening their packages, they discovered that the contents – bear vaults, extra clothing for the Sierras, all their food, etc., had been stolen and had been replaced with motorcycle parts that approximated the weight of the original contents.
They filed a complaint with the postal service, and they were quite certain that the thief was a postal employee who worked at the post office where the packages originated – Montana.  They also felt certain that once they were home, and had a chance to review the security tapes of the facilities where packages were sorted, they would find their culprit.  But that didn’t help them at the moment, for they still had to repurchase the missing items, which meant hitching a ride to the nearest towns of Ridgecrest and Lone Pine, some forty to sixty miles away, out in the Mojave Desert.  Exercising patience and resourcefulness, they were successful in finding replacement food and equipment; it just cost them additional money and several days’ worth of time. 

Today, when I left Kennedy Meadows, I would begin a whole new chapter in the trail saga.  The desert was behind me, and the mountains with green trees, snow, lakes, springs, and rivers were before me.  At 5:00 a.m., I was ready to hike.  Supposedly the seven hundred miles of desert travel had toughened my body, had made it lean, muscular and fit and ready to tackle the difficult ascents of the high mountain passes and the dangerous river crossings. 

Actually, I think I was just skinnier, and in the back of my mind, I wondered if this healthier lifestyle had lowered my high blood pressure at all – it hadn’t.  I crossed the dirt parking lot to where Hector had his truck camper and medical tent set up and waited for breakfast.  The coffee was already on the stove and the pleasant aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted through the tent enclosure.  Hector was busy preparing his breakfast burrito, which appeared to be eggs, chorizo (a Mexican sausage), refried beans, and tortillas.  

There were six or seven of us in the tent, including Zigzag and the two former military men from last night, plus others who strolled in and out of the shelter.  Zigzag didn’t waste any time in picking up the conversation where he left off last night, but now it was colored by his time spent at the bar with several of the female hikers who were present last night.  (The bar was a restaurant that served alcohol up the road apiece from the Kennedy Meadows store.)  

After downing three of Hector’s breakfast burritos and several soda pops, it was time to leave.  Zigzag and the two former army soldiers left just moments before I did.  Zigzag was a fast hiker, and I never saw him again on the trail.   

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