When Travel Plans Fall Apart

Today at 6:44 pm, I got a call from someone associated with my upcoming trip up Mt. Whitney. Those of you who know me know how I have looked forward to this part of my field work. I've spent months dreaming about the opportunity, and weeks planning the details, getting the permits, and learning as much as I can about the equipment I'd need. I have purchased:

a $250 custom backpack
a $300 down sleeping back and backpacking sleeping pad
a $35 backpacking stove
a $50 set of backpacking cookware
$ 48 worth of cooking fuel and a pair of Smartwool hiking socks I bought just today

I have spent countless hours planning meals, learning about bear cannisters and water purification, Sure, it was a bobble when my first field assistant backed out and I had to recruit my nephew at the last minute. But I was able to borrow a backpack and sleeping bag for him and as of last night, I was back on schedule. The only thing I didn't worry about was my companions. I had arranged to meet with another group of researchers working on the same population of plants. While I lack any significant backcountry wilderness experience (and have no multi-day backpacking experience), the group I was going with has been making this trek for the past 3 years. They were renting pack animals and had offered to allow the animals to shoulder the heaviest of my field equipment. It was great. I wouldn't have to worry about getting lost, and would have a wealth of experience to draw upon if I had questions or got in trouble.

That was, until today. At 6:44 pm, while strolling through Lowe's plant department, I got a phone call from the folks making the trip. They want to leave a day early. I can't get there a day early. I had planned 3.5 days to travel and that would allow me enough time to drive safely and sanely, pick up my backcountry/research permits, rent a bear canister, get my things in order and meet up with the group. I can't do that in 2.5 days. The drive is more than 1500 mi and I am the only driver. I can't leave before some equipment arrives on Monday, so I doubt I would even be on the road before 3 pm. I had been toying with the idea of leaving at 6 am on Tuesday morning and putting in two hard days driving to arrive, at the latest, by noon on Thursday.

I told the person who called that while I thought I could make it, I wasn't sure. Now after looking at a map, judging my driving endurance based on the last two trips I made earlier this summer, I realize it simply isn't possible for me to drive 1500 miles in 48 hours. I simply can't make it to the Forest Service Office in Lone Pine by 4 pm on Wednesday. I couldn't take off up the hill without my research permit or my backcountry camping permit. Even if I could make it by some miracle, what kind of shape would I be in to begin a hike after that kind of marathon driving?

No, it just can't be done responsibly. Nor can I, with no backcountry experience and no multi-day backpacking experience, traveling with a kid who has never camped out anywhere but his backyard, responsibly tackle a 10-mile, possibly ill-marked wilderness trek through bear country alone. The Forest Service doesn't require a bear canister as a money-making scheme.

If the group doesn't wait, I'm going to have to scratch this portion of my research, which would suck, and eat the entire cost of the purchases I made--roughly $700.

Man, when my travel plans fall apart, they sure do fall apart. Trust me. I am trying not to cuss right now.

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