Somewhere along the drive north on the 395, LA's top 40's radio station turned into static and right on cue, we popped in our go-to roadtrip soundtrack: Jason Mraz's "Yes!" album. It's one of two CDs we keep in the car and we've listened to it and Sara Bareilles' "Blessed Unrest" so many times that we practically know every song by heart. With our rooftop tent strapped to the top of the Outback and a snoozing pup in the backseat, we zoomed past large RVs and discussed the features of the dream CJ7 Jeep we'd buy one day. Two-door, soft-top, khaki interior, and of course it'd need one of those black and yellow California license plates.
Before long, we were passing the sign that welcomed visitors to the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada range came into view. Finally, vacation had begun.
First stop was the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor's Center to pick up our overnight permits for the Big Pine North Fork trail. It was a warm but breezy 90 degrees in Lone Pine and Hoku waited outside with the other pups since no dogs were allowed inside. A friendly ranger refilled the water bowl by the picnic table and all the dogs took turns cooling off. I chatted with a fit, tattooed stranger who had just picked up a permit for Mt. Whitney. "Good luck!" I tell him. "I'm gonna need it," he chuckled, giving Hoku a pet on the head.
Inside, we picked up our permits and asked a ranger about trail conditions. It sounded like there was heavy snow cover on the trails past second lake so our plan to hike to Palisade Glacier was probably not going to happen without ice axes, which we didn't bring. "Regarding bears," he concluded, "They're waking up and they're hungry."
We weren't sure if he was joking.
Next stop was a little burger joint in town called Frosty Chalet. It could have been the heat, but anything with the word "frosty" in it was more than ok by me. We grabbed a seat at one of the tables outside on their perfectly manicured lawn and joked about it being our last civilized meal for the next few days.
With full bellies, we drove north for another hour, stopping for gas and firewood in Big Pine before heading up a windy mountain road and blissfully losing all cell reception. Bye emails. Bye Instagram.
Our campsite at Upper Sage Flat was picturesque and relaxing. It was a little site at the far end of the campground right next to a rushing creek fed by the snow melt up in the mountains. We watched our camp neighbors fish for trout and did a little bit of exploring and gathering of fallen branches and pinecones for the fire pit before pitching our tents and unwinding from the long drive.
We set up the stove and dinnerware on the picnic table and our little camp kitchen was complete. On the menu for dinner was hot chili with corn and rice accompanied by ice cold beers. We ate around the campfire as the sunset behind the mountains darkened the silhouettes of the tall pines surrounding us. The temperature was just right and the sound of rushing water and a crackling fire made the evening even more perfect.
After dinner, our group shared a chocolate chip cookie and gazed at the stars and full moon before locking our food and other bear-attracting items inside the metal bins provided at the campsite. We climbed the ladder up into our rooftop tent and tried to get some rest, filled with a nervous excitement for our first ever overnight trip into the backcountry. I prayed that I wouldn't crumble under the weight of my 35-lb pack (which I had only practiced carrying around at home a day earlier) and thought about hungry bears before drifting to sleep, comforted by the pup at my feet who had not a care in the world.