The section of 168 that heads west out of Bishop is steep and merciless, a true grind. A black serpent stretched out upon the mountainside. There are no beautiful switchbacks, no shade, no trees, no capricious undulations in the road that would force a change in tempo—just one long exposed section after another of unyielding grade. At least the view is nice. But without respite the mind tends to wander, and peripatetic thoughts began to ricochet in the mucky cavern of my consciousness–itinerant ideas holding tryouts that, were this most any other day, would be passed up time after time by the surly old scout of my rationale. But here, in these conditions, an outside idea might stick. Maybe my little brain scout saw something he liked, or maybe he just spent too much time before tryouts getting blasted on Jack and Diet Coke, because there’s nothing like crunching on the sweet burn of aspartame and whiskey between your teeth at 11 AM, reclining in the driver’s seat of your ‘93 Buick LeSabre while blasting the Allman Brothers’ Midnight Rider in the parking lot of whatever small town stadium/arena/field/mind parking lot where the idea tryouts are being held. So the scout lets the idea ride, maybe he even signs it– indulging in a flight of fancy.
During the first half of the climb Mt. Tom towers in the distance, a fang, a granite canine lodged in a denticulated ridge of mountains that makes up this stunning stretch of the eastern Sierra Nevada. The flanks of this mountain, this archetype of geologic construction, angle towards each other in lockstep, tapering towards a neatly pointed peak. As I was contemplating its platonic perfection an idea took hold:
“If an alien rover landed on this planet, would this granite pyramid set off speculation and demand a hypothesis wherein the construction of this mound–with its symmetrical perfection– would be impossible to comprehend without believing it had been done through sentient intervention?”
Would the eye/eyes receiving the rover’s images, however many millions/billions of miles away, see just another cute stack of rocks or might they assume that this isn’t just a geological pyramid, but a sign of an ancient and a wise race? And if this was the core idea of their speculation, would they wonder what happened to these magnificent titans, these masons of mountains? Would they assume that the six struggling and grunting hominids slowly approaching this splendid construction were supplicants paying respect in ritualistic form, eschewing their ordained bi-pedalism for curious balance machines loaded with all the necessary supplies for a spiritual pilgrimage to this sacred site?
At this point a lifted diesel truck roars past, pulling me out of my daydream, while simultaneously rolling coal on our broken peloton while the obviously exuberant co-pilot waves emphatically at us with an energetic display of his central finger. We’re now climbing a section of the road that parallels Bishop creek and the storm clouds we had seen putting on an impressive display of velocity and precipitation to the north earlier in the day have caught up to us. The grade has yet to yield and while I know that somewhere up ahead of us the climb will come to an end, I have no sense of how close that may be. Each pedal stroke continues to an absurd argument, but idiotic and irrational obstinance prevails, and we carry on.
The dark veil of clouds that had threatened to downpour many times during the later part of the climb unleash a cruel flailing of droplets upon our brow just below the tiny recreational outpost of Cardinal Village. Daniel, in a strategic move, decides to descend a few hundred yards back to a covered camp area while the rest of us continue to climb. Fortunately the rain only lasts a few minutes and it’s not long until we reach the top. We know from past experience that just up the road, through a brief stretch of campgrounds and turnouts, there is a small restaurant/bait shop on the shore (or what was the shore before this year’s long drought decimated California’s water reservoirs, including Lake Sabrina). We don’t know if it’s open, we don’t know what it contains, but most of the crew heads off on a fact-finding mission to find out exactly what treasures it might contain while Dylan and I wait for Daniel. By the time he arrives the other group has not returned and the three of us ride up to meet them. Their bikes are stacked against the wall and inside a radiant being named Patti was waiting. She prepared grilled cheese sandwiches, hot chocolate, steaming bowls of chili, and to finish, sliced off huge wedges of homemade pie. We discussed weather woes and she warned us that the forecast called for snow/rain/misery over the next couple of days. Of course. Having finished our meal we climbed/walked our way up to the North Lake campground to set up camp while indulging in some high-end M.R.E.’s.
“Night came quickly and with it came sleep. I was all dreamed out because that night I slept deeply in an unconscious abyss betwixt the temples of giants.”