Gravel Foot Vision

Ballarat to Panamint City 12-7-18. “I like to blow out of Dodge early”. The days’ should be in the 50’s and the low’s high 30’s. We will cross stream several times / small waterfalls execution / boots will get wet are the notes I receive from Brett. Oh and most important…keep track of items packed, the weight, bob, your carrying it. Didn’t know what Brett meant at first but as the foot gained altitude and elevation….those words, the pain felt brought knowledge.

BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZ the alarm goes off at 3 and the body excited launches out of bed and the 4runner arrives at 4, COOL.

55, 91, 15, 18 to Palmdale, 395 to Trona Road. Right right on 78 through Searles Valley + a right on Ballarat Road. We are greeted by the leftovers of a time gone by. The Ballarat points of interest. (population 1 – the Mayor) A freaking birdhouse, are you kiddin me? A truck that belonged to Charlie Manson thats kinda cool, jail, monuments with history written, a motel if you’d like to stay the night and the details. Old autos, 6 pain glass, trim, rubber, silent motors. The signs make you giggle a bit –  like Welcome to the FREEDOM ZONE + Nude Dancing Burros. Back in truck to head of the trail. Front row parking. Bretts says, “cool, we must be the only ones here”. I not having a clue.

This being my first foot to gravel, I was curious to what was packed in my honor by the man. He lifts pack by numbers that reed 30lbs. Ok. (remember what you pack? you carry!) bounces around in my brain. O great! excitement races. We pee by the truck, much better. I snap the time, Bretts poses by signage and we head toward what looks like a saw horse.  this is it? WOW just WOW! we open a box of signatures of previous humans that passed. 

A couple steps in, first remnant, feeling good with growth on back, balance a little tricky, with camera in hand, I snap. The vertical walls put you in place and the tracing of footprints a challenge. The texture, color and the sound of nothing is stunning and humble. No wildlife at all, only the sound of one’s motion heard. enter blasting area + finally the sound of traveling water gains volume. (“boots will get wet”) the walking through + over spring water gives boost after hours, so far so good. “Human Stupidity Has No Limit” is seen in more ways then 1. A road went through here…really? Growth is felt on hips after steep grade. “This is the only place you can die” is shown to me laughing. Dependance on each other critical! A bud is waiting if wanted. fallen truck brings a new color to sight. The hardships of others is seen clearly as I see a crying face pleading for help. The anticipation ahead of the DDS “Dead Donkey Springs” keeps me pressing on upward. Watch out for the Skinman. A rock that looks like a skeleton peers down.

Time passes,”our thoughts to a question…Do Cairns help or hurt the destination?” (A Cairn is a pile of stones that marks a place (such as a place where someone is buried or a battle took place or that shows the direction of a trail). A good or bad thing? We ponder. I take a break from the trail for a few, water helps, a quick energy snack supplies some needed focus. “The Pain Is Real” camaraderie between two, working together, teamwork gains trust. The clouds don’t seem to mind our presence. they dance through the space above. 

Three springs crossed, the last and worst, a thigh burner, we bow to one knee to crawl under the outreached grasping arms of the vines that seem to be saying, “you may not pass” OUCH! Items left behind? what? why? Look Bob, snow. Oh great. How far? Oh its just around the corner, smiling…..and miles later, each corner brings a mirror of the last. As the light lessons, temps drop + the steps are counted. No quitting – the point of no return enters thoughts – but the energy gained and the positive mental that is created inside when the smallest visual of the final destination is captured, “the stack”. Brett helps the weight. We look back, down where we were, the sun still alive in the distant valley. “Do not anticipate where you are going but most importantly, take a few seconds and look to where you have been”. 

9:30 – 4:30. We reach the summit and the solar light is missing, “The Vines”. or maybe the Skinman. Possible recovery on the return. Time to set camp, fire, water, tent and food. “Where’s the tank”, got filter? “around the corner”. Location becomes dark as pitch the head lamps go on, sight enters corridor. I follow and the drops get louder, teasing. BIG TANK with ladders holding on, one in + one out. I gather for fire and the tent is pitched. Next building the heat, damp fuel, 2 bic’s not funny. Hilarious to find no connection between food and fire. Instant food is welcome + tasty too. No wildlife on trail, maybe 3 birds total and the 2 burros we saw on the drive in. Weird. Finally boots off + get in tent, time to sleep. Long day. Inside tent senses elevated. What lurks in the darkness. Midnight gotta pee, 30 degrees, wind blowing, I”’ll hold”. 4 I give in, boots on, not a peep, alone in the darkness, creepiness is cool. Back in tent, relief accomplished. Deep sleep follows, “don’t wait next time are my last thoughts of the day. 

Our wake greeted by frost on camp. FIRE needed, embers didn’t keep their promise. spark up the boil and pour the source in the bag. break down camp and plan decent. A candid is taken. Water for the return is gathered. Thank the TANK. To the Castle!!!!! but not before gathering images of most of the remnants waiting their return to earth. The proof of excitance. The stack is amazing at point blank. What a time this must have been to live in. Paintings on the wall are not the only artwork. 3 fridges greet us at the kingdom, strange stuff must go here. Heater for outdoor tub, equipment left for others consumption, writings, reasons on paper. We go downward. FOUND IT! the solar light taken and returned by running spring guards. Finally seeing memories and moving smooth over terrain I see the first remnant and around the corner, the truck, intact. Boots off. 15 miles round. (the hike itself is a difficult and strenuous climb, with more than 3600 feet of elevation gain over the 7.5 mile trail into downtown Panamint City)


Bob + Brett