"I'm scared", said Sam, a raspy voiced, well-weathered, trim man. The topic was the weather, as it often is with get-to-know-one-another strangers. We were walking Benton on a bike trail when Sam stopped to chat. "Fourth year of draught," he continued. "No snow to speak of and already the bees are out." And they were. Earlier we'd had to guide one out of Thistle's window. "Just last week we had our first wild fire. Just up the way. If you're headed south you'll see where it burned."
We had stopped in Bridgeport, a cute little town in California, with views of rugged sawtooth mountains. We'd planned to use the laundromat, just to discover it was closed for the season. We took Benton for a walk instead and met Sam.
The town of Bridgeport is beautifully situated in the high desert along highway 395, where snow and cold are normal winter fare. It's where folks ski and ride snowmobiles and build snowmen every winter, without fail, at least until recent years. The draught and collapsed economy are hitting Bridgeport hard. According to Sam, businesses have shut down and many homes are for sale. He showed concern when he said, "I've never seen it so quiet."
After exhausting the weather and the economy, we moved on to Sam's real passion -- the outdoors. He works in the mountains, patrolling trails, for the National Forest Service. He suggested we camp at Twin Lakes. Toiyabe National Forest. "Just up the road a spell, in that draw," as he pointed to the mountains. We're so pleased we took Sam's suggestion as we not only camped in a lovely, completely deserted camp ground, surrounded by huge sugar pines, we unloaded our bikes for a ride on Twin Lakes Road.
Throughout our journey we've seen many preparations for safe winter travel. Road crews have been busy putting up snow, ice, high wind and avalanche warning signs. Snow poles are all along the roadways. Chain up areas are well marked. Yet, on our drive through Washington, Oregon and now into California, we've seen no snow or ice on the roads, and only small amounts of snow in the mountains. In fact, we've enjoyed spring weather on our entire five days of travel. Nights are getting down to winter cold, but days are short-sleeve warm. The forecast is for more of the same.
Without rain and without snow pack, the remote areas in rural California are prime wild fire candidates. If the cause is global warming, we didn't discuss that with Sam, but it lingered, untouched. Is this the new normal?
Yesterday, it was hot enough, 66 degrees, to seek out shade for Thistle. No baked dog for us. Yet, last night it dropped to 21 degrees. In one hour this morning it has already gone from 21 degrees to 29 degrees. If we hang out in warm Thistle a bit longer we can avoid bundling up and go straight for sandals and short pants.
Our walk this morning was along the Twin Lakes Road. In 2012, when Brad hiked the PCT, we met him at Sonora Pass, just north of these mountains. Looking up at the peaks gave me proud-mom-twinges as I thought of Brad way up on this crest, hiking to Canada.
"The truth does not reveal itself to idle spectators."
- Matthew Crawford