On April 23, after breakfast and books at the Pupfish Cafe (in back of Spellbinder Books in Bishop, California), we rattled up Buttermilk Road a few miles and found another happy place. I was already happy because Pupfish and Spellbinder and downtown Bishop all reminded me of Asheville back in the day before Southern Living and all of the rest of the world discovered it…homegrown and funkadelic in a bootstrapping kind of way.
Bootstrapping and boondocking on public land, plus the classic western situation of wide open spaces equals potential for bliss. Bishop and the Buttermilks had it all.
In the east, it’s hard to find dispersed camping along dirt roads in multi-acres of wilderness recreation areas. Part of the allure of living out of a van is parking close to the action. The action, for us, being hiking and backpacking. Mostly alone.
I’m newly in love with the eastern Sierras for checking so many boxes.
We pulled over next to a ravine. On one side, we had the buttermilk-colored sandstone rock formations. On the other side, mounds of sagebrush rolled up to the base of the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra.
We could see miles down a valley raked by new canyons. A storm roll through that valley in the evening, veering off toward the other side of the buttermilk rocks, leaving a prism hovering over the valley for a few minutes as it passed.
I hiked two miles up to then end of the road in the heat of the day, following the herd of mule deer, watching for more rattlesnakes and lizards and spotted towhees.
I came back gritty and thirsty, my shoes full of sand and my armpits reeking, knowing I was still a few days out from a shower.
THE NOMADIC LIFE
When we were in Truckee, my sister-in-law had asked me when I’d last experienced the kind of unbridled joy that came screaming out of her four-year-old in exuberant, abundant bursts. Okay, it was a rhetorical question, more for her than for me to answer.
But I knew my answer.
My unbridled joy comes when I’m on the move. It bubbles up like a fresh spring under a clear lake when I’m hiking long distances, moving from place to place and watching the landscape gradually change as the miles pile up under my threadbare trail runners.
At first I thought it was about the hiking.
But I found that joy gurgling forth again during this month we spent living out of the van. We didn’t do much hiking because we were also raising a three month old puppy who doesn’t have his trail legs, yet. (And who takes lots of naps.)
Instead, we drove, without much of a plan, and let the pull of the landscape (and sometimes Campendium and Yelp) tell us where to go, when to stop, how long to stay, when to get moving again.
I realized it’s not just about the hiking. It’s about the going. The moving from place to place. The nomadism.
It’s always been about the nomadism.