From Lower Vidette campground, we three groggily began our trek toward Kearsarge. Luckily, Charlie was awake enough to hear the manzanitas above the trail crunching with feet heavier than the average deer. He stopped short and I nearly plowed drowsily into him before I realized he'd said, "bear." It had begun running, but I got an excellent view of it, just 50 feet or so away, heading into a stand of ponderosa and tall brush. It made me smile broadly all the way to the Bullfrog Lake trail. I'd been waiting to see these reportedly common Sierra black bears, since my bear can seemed like such an annoying burden.
At Bullfrog, we stopped for clear lake water; I counted eight large brook trout idly teasing me from my perch on a boulder overhanging the lake. Across the shore, another backpacker with a fly fishing rig was pulling out small golden trout every five minutes. Fishing was now an obsessive priority for me. During my walk down Kearsarge's switchbacks, I enumerated the items I'd need to acquire and tried to justify the added weight of cooking apparatus.
At the top of the pass, we'd heard rumors of trail magic. Grilled cheese, rides to Independence, soda and beer. Our pace increased considerably. Pit Stop and I fell behind Navigator, who was hell-bent on sandwich magic. Still, we all reached Bristlecone and Uberbitch's camp faster than I could imagine. I drank a nearly frozen Bud Light and ate some magnificent tortilla soup with fresh avocado. Perfect. Hitching to Independence would have been a long and messy affair without the trail angels. Bristlecone even gave us a brief history of the Owens Valley and pointed out flora and fauna during the ride.
Plans to get out of Independence quickly disintegrated. Terrible and Horrible, my old massage saviors, had been put in charge of the Bishop Hostel. I had to go. Met up with Far Out, who needed to receive a package in Independence, and Pit Stop, Navigator, Far Out and I all got a ride to Bishop from RockOcean (who magically appears when you need him most).
Briefly, I met up with many hikers that I hadn't seen in weeks or months, picked up some very rudimentary fishing gear and used cooking equipment, and caught a stomach bug unrivaled in its ferocity except maybe by the awfulness I picked up from doing rare mussel surveys in agricultural ditches in Missouri. Pit Stop, Navigator, and Half and Half all made the decision to, at least temporarily, get off-trail. Two hikers at the hostel contracted serious infections-Ice Cave with an abdominal wound, another girl with flesh-eating bacteria infesting her little toe. Several other hikers had allergies. Or so we all thought. After thoroughly evacuating my digestive system, I contacted Jessie Rainier, my former sister-in-law, who was kind enough to drive me and Far Out back to Onion Valley. We camped with Bristlecone and Uberbitch and chatted with their neighbor, a former journalist, late into the night. That is, until about 9:30, when we all passed out like drugged toddlers.