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From the Bottom to the Top

07 Jul 16
Heidi Kumm
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Life in the #yourlead van did not slow down after our trek into the Grand Canyon. Sure, we took the afternoon off to rest up [+ digest the massive burgers we inhaled] but we were back at it the next day. A quick stop by the Flagstaff airport had Robb running away from me + Tanya pretending not to know me as the van rocked out to some Spice Girls. Bring on the next adventure!

Tanya + I immediately headed west. Tanya took over driving duties while I hunkered down in the front seat with my laptop + 7 hours of remote work ahead of me [yup, hourly work while on the road, literally…because, compromise].  We made a few stops at odd roadside attractions you’ll only find in the southwest before calling it a night at a boondocking site just outside of Las Vegas. I finished up my bout of customer service’ing at 10pm + we had wrapped up dinner by 11pm…then we sat there, staring out at the nearly full moon + sweating in the 96 degree heat.

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..how you farm girl in Nevada, apparently.

Yup, 96 degrees at 11pm. There may have been coyotes howling in the distance but there was no way we were going to shut up the van, it was going to be a windows + doors open kind of night. Occasionally we’d hope for a breeze. Then the breeze would come + it was too hot to be a reprieve so we wished it away again.

We survived the night but did not get quite enough of the desert heat so we scooted out of Nevada + right into California. Our GPS attempted to save us from the hellish desert heat but when we saw the turn off for an “alien brothel” we let the tractor beam draw us in. Somehow we ended up in Death Valley, at 11am at the start of an “extreme heat” kind of week. Perfect planning. Or not.

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[full disclosure: Death Valley in mid-June isn’t ideal to begin with but that’s where the #yourlead van route had me + I wasn’t about to skirt another national park so we went in prepared with a tank of gas, a reliable car + lots of water]

Initially we were just going to drive through the park to say we did…then we saw the turn off for Badwater Basin, the main attraction of Death Valley. Okay, fine. A handful of miles later we were parked at the Badwater Basin parking lot, staring out at a field of salt. Phew. We refilled our water bottles with disgustingly warm water, took a deep breath + opened the van doors.

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The 110+ degree temps were surprisingly bearable…a phenomenon explained by a big sign telling us all about “dry heat”. We were toasty, but we did make the trek out to the middle of the salt fields just to check it out + snag some touristy photos. Looking back at the whole experience I wish I had spent more time actually eyeballing the salt beneath my feet rather than watching all the people around me. Oh well, it was still really cool to be out there!

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There looked to be a few more hikes veering off the main road into the Badwater Basin but with the sun raging overhead we opted for the Artist Loop [a super fun, swooping one-way road along the edge of the basin] then made a beeline out of the park in search of cooler temps + ice cream. We found neither. Road trip fail.

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After another night of toasty boondocking we kicked off Monday morning with a drive up into the mountains to find some reprieve from the heat. Our morning was spent running, hiking + junior ranger’ing our way along the interpretive loops of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. The forest itself wasn’t as exciting as I had anticipated but it was a beautiful area with nearly every trail showing off a horizon of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Yup, worth it!

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As we were whipping up breakfast in the parking lot we met Louise, a woman who had just come down from White Mountain + had nothing but good things to say. An hour later we had shared our van stories [she was building out her own Sprinter] + decided White Mountain needed to be on our agenda for Tuesday!

White Mountain meets the sky at 14,252 feet above sea level, making California’s 3rd highest 14er…the perfect excuse to get Tanya’s flatlander legs up a mountain! Plus, a night of sleeping at the trailhead would get us far away from the heat of the valley…that alone had me convinced we needed to make time for a mountain summit on Tuesday morning.

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The drive up to the White Mountain trailhead put every nail + screw in the van to the test. It was a 20 mile drive up bumpy, rutted mountain road that shook everything in the van making quiet the racket…but nothing broke or fell down. I’ll go ahead + chalk that up to Landon’s + Shawn’s craftsmanship. Great job guys!

We got up to the trailhead rather late because we volunteered ourselves for a bout of trail angel’ing a few PCT thru hikers. We met them at the coffee shop we were working in, learned they needed a ride about 30 minutes south + took up their offer to pay us off with brewery pizza…totally worth the dark drive up to the unknown. Plus, we had the pleasure of unexpectedly waking up to near 360-degree view of MOUNTAINS!

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At 8am we started our trek up the mountain with packs full of water, snacks + a few layers of clothes in search of a summit selfie. The trail was incredibly easy to follow + not the least bit technical, making White Mountain one of the easiest 14ers I’ve ever done. Seriously though, it was definitely easier than Bierstadt, Sherman or DeCaLiBron in terms of steepness + rocky skree fields. Granted, we were basically following a jeep road that led up a research building at the top of the mountain. #perspective

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...meet our little friend, Herman the Snowman.

We had the entire summit to ourselves…yay for weekdays on the trails! The summit box was full of the most random things — a PBR that expired two years ago to a handful of completely full notebooks to planks of wood with signatures. But really, the best part was the guy who wrote a note in the summit box telling us the summit box was full. Thanks dude!

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Summit treks are weird — you spend the entire uphill portion motivated by the tippy top of a mountain, then you retrace your steps fantisizing about getting back to the trailhead. You’re brain just adjusts to craving whatever you can’t have…like when someone else pops the last bag of popcorn + now the only thing you want is popcorn when you don’t even like popcorn! #mountainlogic

Needless to say, Tanya + I did a fantastic job of kicking off our two weeks together. In less than 36 hours we had gone from 282 feet below sea level to 14,252 feet above sea level. Somewhere in the middle we boondocked, worked remotely for 14+ hours, befriended two PCT thru-hikers, inhaled pizza + answered a handful of questions about the TETON Sports #yourlead van. It might not be “adulting” in its truest sense but it sure left us feeling pretty darn accomplished!

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