Day 5. 1/15/2016. Starting Odometer: 143280. Final Odometer: 143290. Mileage: 10. Total Mileage 1118.
I woke up in the middle of the night gasping and short of breath. I figured it was because it was my first night without a generator or electrical hookups — campsite rules state no generators after 10:00 pm. But as I was awake now, at 2:00 in the morning, I thought I’d take a walk outside and get a couple pictures of the stars so far from civilization and light pollution.
The first picture I took, though, blew my mind. This looked nothing like the stars I was used to seeing in the sky!
Then, a premonition struck me. Those weren’t stars at all. No. The storm that had been chasing me for two days had appeared to have finally caught up. Snow! Four days on the road, in the middle of January and I finally had my snow.
I took another picture just to be sure.
Now I was excited. I wandered through the campsite to see if anyone else had braved the weather to come camp, and found I was still alone — if you only counted human souls. There were clearly many other campers here tonight. I saw their marks everywhere.
As I circled the camping ring, I found the pay stump and the notices board. A little tidbit of information explained immediately why I was so short of breath.7300 feet! When had I climbed so high? Had I always been this far up, wandering through the Utah and Nevada badlands? It was a wonder to me to have climbed so high and not even know it.
Mystery solved and now ready for bed again, I returned to Caravan One and cranked up the generator. I figured that with the certainty that I was alone tonight, no one would ever know I’d run it. My CPAP machine whirred to life with the AC/DC sockets turned on, and I was able to sleep with full breaths again.
When morning came, I made a leisurely breakfast of ham and eggs, toast, took a walk and waited for the snowplows. It’s a little-known fact that the National Park Service keeps all of its parks open at least partially all year, even the wintry ones (this may not be true in the Alaska parks, but it’s true of all continental US parks). Some parks, like Lassen Volcanic National Park, only had one road to the visitor center open. Others, like Kings Canyon, had the visitor center, a campground, and a few popular attractions cleared.
Great Basin had this campground, the visitor center and Lehman Caves open. My sincere hope had been that the plows included the campground in their route, because otherwise I’d be hiking to the caves today.
Fortunately, they did! I talked to the Rangers a little, found out when the visitor center and Caves opened (being without internet had certain disadvantages and created more of a need for actual human interaction, turned out).
The view from the visitor center showcased the entire Nevada/Utah border.
Then I paid Ranger Dustin for an hour of his time, and descended into Lehman Caves with him and two other gentlemen, an old man who had used to come to the caves all the time as a boy, and his son, taking dad out for a long-overdue reunion.
In the past, the original owner of the caves had encouraged visitors to take whatever they wanted from them. “If you can break it, you can take it,” was his motto. In the slideshow you can see where a stalactite was broken 100 years ago, and the tiny spur that’s formed since then. “Imagine that that tiny little piece took 100 years to form,” Ranger Dustin said. “Now imagine how long it must have taken for the full stalactite to grow.”
It was an important lesson not only in spelunking, but in cultural history as well. We have changed a lot in 100 years. Mostly for the good. That little stalactite, growing a new life over the broken husk of its past life proved that even the earth could recover from its most harmful wounds.
It gave me hope that maybe one day I will be able to recover from mine, too.