Camping, Off-Roading

Too Much Cold, Not Enough Gold

Day Four

Altitude: 6999 ft. Stoke level: 4 Temperature: 65-28 degrees Conditions: winds calm, full sun & blue skies

The Beast got a light dusting of snow.

I thought I knew what cold was all about, well, after last night I know that hell is not hot but ice cold. I was pretty hammered so I didn’t feel the worst of it thankfully. I had another good night of sleep. I was writing until dawn so I didn’t wake up until about 11 o’clock. When I woke, it was 90 degrees inside my camper and in the mid-fifties outside. It was so nice, I just basked in the warmth. I’ve got another killer hangover so I decided to start drinking beers to get motivated enough to cook some food.

I finally managed to get  up enough energy to make some really good cheeseburgers on my grill. It was rough going though, I couldn’t do anythng without getting out of breath. Also, the past few days of heavy drinking at altitude had pretty much wrecked me. This all being the case, I didn’t get anything accomplished. I basically just napped and researched camping places all day.

Tomorrow I’m going to do some scouting around Dogtown and put my gold pans to work. The creek I am camped on is supposed to be a decent fishing spot as well. I had dreams of catching fish last night so maybe that’s a good sign. I’ll just have to see.

Day 5

Altitude: 7956 ft. Stoke level: 5   Temperature: 82-44 degrees Conditions: partly cloudy, nice and warm

Today I woke up to a 100 degree sweltering morning in the camper shell. I’m always either burning or freezing! I still didn’t feel super up to snuff, but I did some exploring around Dogtown and finally broke out my gold pans to do some prospecting. I really didn’t know what I was doing or if I was working in the right spots, but I only found one tiny fleck of what might have been gold. It was probably mica, I wound up losing it anyway.

I did get a lot of panning practice, and was able to get my concentrates down to black sand, which is where the gold lies. They say where there is heavy black sand in the bottom of your pan, you’re in the right place. I spent a few hours doing that, and managed to get pretty sunburnt on my arms. This high-altitude UV ain’t a joke!

I kept on the lookout for fish, but saw no sign anywhere. There was a lot more creek I could have checked out but I didn’t see the point of wasting any more time looking for fish when there are better places all around this area for that.

There was a lot of Dogtown left to explore, but I really felt like changing my location. The poor gold results coupled with the constant noise from traffic made me want to relocate. I packed up and headed to a spot I knew of a few miles away up further in the mountains. When I got back to Bridgeport, I started to feel really weak and had chills from my sunburn. I got some nachos thinking that some food would help, and it did a little. I was still in not that good of a mental space, I felt pretty rotten and started to get really depressed about things.

I grabbed a couple extra cans of propane from the market in town and headed up the the west end of the Bodie-Masonic Road. The last time I was in this area, I camped out in BLM land on the east end of this road and it was one of my all-time favorite epic campsites. There are no fishing or gold up here, but there are great roads and epic vistas to enjoy. Not to mention that it is rarely visited and is nice and quiet. I felt like this is what I needed right now at this particular moment.

I headed up Highway 182 north of the town past the Bridgeport Reservoir to the start of the road. I started driving up and of course the temperature started to drop. It wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be though, it was still in the 60’s. As the road wound its way up the mountain I started to run into signs of old mining activity. I passed an old copper mine that didn’t have any buildings left on the property, but a little ways further I came across the Chemung Mine that had all kinds of ruined structures there. I don’t know what they mined there, it was probably gold or copper I’d imagine.

All that is left of Chemung Mine. The place had a slightly eerie vibe.

I wasn’t really in a mood to be hiking around looking at things, I just wanted to find a camp and get settled. There was a spot described in my guide as being snuggled in a grove of aspen trees which sounded good. I found the spot and it was indeed nice, not really any views at all unfortunately.

Sand dollar camp, located on the other side of the mountain from Chemung Mine.

It’s kind of an odd spot, as a lot of places up in the mountains & deserts are. I saw some funny looking things at the base of a aspen tree, upon further inspection I found that it was a pile of sand dollars! There must have been fifty of them there. How or why they found their way there is a great mystery. Maybe they are just for anyone to take? I’ll probably take one for a souvineer.

How do you suppose they got here? Yet another high mountain mystery.

There is a weird little pool behind the campsite. I saw a metal pipe sticking out of it so I assume that it had something to do with mining. Now it is home to a bunch of frogs which croak from time to time. Actually, the frogs are the only noise you hear, it is absoutely dead quiet here. No sounds of wind, insects, traffic, nothing at all. It’s been a long time since I have experienced such a lack of noise. It is so awesome, I’m just soaking in the quiet. I love places like this; places where I can hear myself think.

What campsite would be complete without a weird pond of some kind?

The spot is nice but I think I’m going to move on tomorrow. I’d really like to pay a visit to where I previously camped a little ways down from where I am now. The temperature is 45 degrees at 11:16 in the evening, so hopefully it won’t be much chillier up there at night.

These cold nights are really starting to wear on me. I can deal with the cold, but I’m just so over it. I’ve been thinking about headed down to Death Valley just to get myself warmed up. Unfortunately, where all the fish and gold are found is also where it is still damn cold at night, so I’m going to have to find a happy medium there somewhere.

It is nice to finally have some peace and quiet with some relatively warm temperatures. I finally feel relaxed and somewhat comfortable for the first time on this trip. Hopefully I am getting over the hump on adapting to  the altitude and finding a good mental equlibrium. It would be really great if my stoke meter would start increasing here in the coming days, I sure hope it does!

Day 6

Altitude: 8907 ft. Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 48-82 degrees Conditions: breezy, partly sunny

I started off the day with a pretty good feeling about things. I had a pretty decent campsite to wake up in, and felt like a good night’s rest at this spot did me a world of good. The plan for the day was that I was going to drive back towards the direction of Bodie, and to just be on the lookout for a good spot to lay low for a couple of days.

I proceeded to head east, looking towards going up to check out the view from Masonic Mountain. I couldn’t have asked for better conditions to hit the trail. The road was very good and dead for traffic, the best kind of trail to be on in my opinion.

I put on some Pink Floyd, Pulse album to be exact. It really got me into the mood and feeling of the place in a perfect way. It made for a great summit, and was rewarded with just stunning vistas in every direction everywhere I looked.

What a tremendous view from top of Masonic Mountain at 9195 ft!

I really enoyed going up to the top of that damn mountain. I have to say that my stoked meter was on the way up! Something about going up there made me feel as if I had turned a corner on a lot of bad feelings that I have had since I have started this expedition.

There was a mine nearby called Masonic Mine, so I rolled over to check that out. Not much there besides one old structure and some big huge piles of trailings.

All that is left of old Masonic Mine.

As I started down the road in the direction of Bodie, I started getting familiar with the country I was heading into. I was getting close to the spot that was very dear to me in the past. Since I was getting pretty close, I started looking out for any camps that might possibly be better than my last one had been. I saw a nice view and what looked like a nice little trail heading off to a clump of aspens that looked promising.

My investigations turned out to be very rewarding, as I stumbled into one of the finest campsites I had ever seen. It was this lovely secluded area in a nice strand of trees. In the middle of the spot stood a nice pile of firewood cached away for any traveler who might have had need of it. It just had the feel of a spot where people had been camping out for a long time.

This could mean the difference between life and death if you were caught up here in bad winter conditions.

I pulled myself up into a good position and set up camp. I had a roaring appetite going on, so I cooked myself up a couple of nice sandwiches. They were whole wheat turkey/ham with sauerkraut, swiss, and plenty of pepper…just the way I like.

After I ate, I started to explore the site to see what I could find. I came across a piece of jaw bone from what looks like a cow lying on the ground. It was a pretty cool thing, so I decided to name this place Jawbone Camp. A fitting name for a place with such character.

Your’s truly with The Beast at Jaw-Bone camp.
The jaw-bone in question.

As the day wore on and it got closer to the golden hour, I decided to take a hike back up the hill to take some sunset photos. I was just stunned at the results I got from my new Galaxy 20 Ultra phone. This is the first time I’ve ever put the camera through its paces, and it delivered. I’ve never had a phone that could do what this one does, it’s just brilliant.

How pretty a picture.
The view to my back.

All in all this day has definitely been the best one so far. I feel like all my frustrations and agnst have gone away. I’m feeling a lot more level headed than I’ve been feeling the last few days which is a damn good thing. As I have been typing the days events, the moon came up out of nowhere to put on a sexy show. It was a damn good day to be out here in the middle of nowhere.

Buenas noches luna.

Day 7

Altitude: 8907 ft. Stoke level: 7 Temperature: 71-55 degrees Conditions: steady wind, mostly sunny

Today was destined to be another rest day. I was up until dawn writing and drinking beer. It was so cold I had to wear triple layers of everything. I kept wishing I had some wine or whiskey instead of beer to help keep me warm but I had to make do with what I had on hand.

It was another one of those days where it was a struggle just to move. I was still in relatively good spirits, but I discovered that my ice chest has not a bit of ice left in it. I debated on whether to run into town to grab ice and supplies, but as it was so late in the day when I got up I decided not to. My meats and perishables I haven’t managed to eat yet are probably done for, but by the time I broke camp, got supplies and returned I’d probably be out more money on gas than the value of my food items.

Instead, I cooked up the rest of my burgers and ate as many as I could. I’m hoping that my deli meats and especially my expensive sauerkraut make it to tomorrow, as cold as it gets at night I might be ok. I also took the time to clean myself and my space the best I could. I spend more time constantly rearranging and fixing things than I do enjoying them. Everytime I get on the road, all my gear gets thrown around everywhere and it is a never-ending struggle to keep myself sorted.

I’ve been having widely swinging emotions all day. Occasionally my phone gets a bit of signal giving me really worrisome headlines about continuing civil unrest and the unstoppable spread of coronavirus. The country seems to be rapidly destabilizing. This coupled with my diminishing bank account and plans for the future being in limbo has me on edge some kind of bad.

This is really affecting my ability to plan out and enjoy my expediton. Every mile I drive and supply run I make is pushing me further to the brink. I want to escape from the bitter cold so badly, I just don’t know best to go about it. Tomorrow was supposed to be the day I would return to Santa Cruz to get ready to fly out to Alaska. Goodbye to that plan.

Where the hell am I going to wait out another month until I find out if the summer season is going down at all? Where I was staying in Santa Cruz is no longer an option, even though I have plenty of work available there. If I didn’t go anywhere else but back and forth from here to Bridgeport I could stretch out my resources another two weeks tops.

It’s just a rotten time to start trying to hit up my friends for help at the current moment. I don’t want to put anyone in a position where they have to say no to me. I can understand that everyone is keeping to their own trying to social distance & all that.

It’s so hard to think these things through when I’ve just been so thrashed by these conditions. Right now the plan is to turn in early tonight and break camp as soon as I can in the AM. Hopefully I can find a place with wi-fi so I can upload the last week’s blog posts so at least ya’ll can all see what I am dealing with. Maybe I can turn up some leads on how to proceed from there.

I know of an off-road route a few miles away that has good camping and fishing spots. The trail description sounds pretty rough to get there however. I guess I won’t know until I try! It’s still at altitude so I’m still guaranteed to freeze. If it is protected from the wind I can deal with the cold however.

One way or another, this expedition will continue. One quote I’ve always admired says “Fortune favors the brave.” I’m gonna have to keep throwing myself at the wall and hopefully I can find somewhere to stick. Only time will tell.


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