So for my birthday this year, I wanted to live like I write: not planning every moment or even having much of a blueprint; just one or two moments and preparations for what if’s. So I packed clothes, food and supplies for Tucker and me for four days even though I assumed we’d only be gone a night, hopped into our trusty steed, and away we went with one moment locked in: Convict Lake just south of Mammoth Lakes.
For those who of us who sprang to life in New England when the treetops were dressed in their finest golds and reds, and were shedding their visage leaf by leaf on the cool breeze, no matter where we are in the world when the temperature begins to drop and the days become shorter, our heart feels the burning desire to experience Nature’s most spectacular transition.
But nothing can ever compare to a New England Autumn.
I’ve been lucky to spend a few Fall days in Asheville, North Carolina which mirrors the other end of the Appalachian Trail from where I was born, and Portland, Oregon had some pretty beautiful sights as well. I was not near either place this year, and with gas prices in Southern California skyrocketing close to $7/gallon and this being “2023: The Year Hollywood Imploded”, I was a little low on funds for the venture. We needed to stick close to the home, but Southern California is nowhere near being satisfactory for Autumn.
My Liquid Amber Tree dresses up come mid-winter when frost finally hits Los Angeles, and I love this tree, but it’s like having a Dixie Cup of water when you need a gallon to quench your thirst.
Many people in Los Angeles speak highly of the Eastern Sierras for its golden Aspens in Autumn. Route 395 which runs up the eastern side of Yosemite toward Lake Tahoe is touted as being an autumnal getaway. With my new England standards, I didn’t have very high expectations, but I was willing to give it a go as it fit within my budget.
So on the morn of my 46th birthday, Tucker and I headed north for our Autumn Adventure. It also marks out 10th birthday together, so I wanted it to be something special. Tucker was thrilled to be on the road and going somewhere he’d never been before.
It was busy, but not crowded. There was plenty of space to be alone on the trail,
But alas, expectations is what cause disappointment. Being a ski town, everything had a “resort fee” of $25 and then a pet fee of another $35 or $50. And then there was the actual cost of the room, nothing under $200, and tax on top. I weighed my options of settling on a motel room and outdoor dining experience or a fancier in-room experience and ordering in. The temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up, so outdoor dining with Tucker was looking like a rather unpleasant option.
So I called back a place that told me they waived the resort fee if I didn’t eat breakfast (in no world would I ever consume a $28 breakfast), and a studio cabin (a cabin! Not a room but four walls not adjacent to anyone!) was $185. I said I’d come by and check it out.
Ten minutes later, I found myself half way up the mountain in the dark parking lot in front of a lodge, the Tamarack Lodge (which incidentally is nowhere near Tamarack Lake).
Since I was no longer going to be eating out, I wanted to get a a bigger space in which to spend the evening. So for only $30 more, I upgraded to a “historic” one bedroom cabin (making sure “historic” still meant “with running water”). The staff was extraordinarily helpful, and since it was taking time to get set up—this is a “resort” not a motel—I got to bring Tucker inside to meet the staff.
I was warned about aggressive bears breaking into cars, told about the wood stove and that they would be happy to get it started for me, and even given recommendations for dinner.
Any time I'm handed a key for the door to my lodging instead of a keycard, I know I'm in the right place.
I ordered up a pizza from the recommended pizza parlor with the idea to go pick it up and then stop by the grocery store for a bottle of wine, sit by the fire, read my Mountain Gazette (a long-form print magazine I gifted myself this year), and enjoy the evening with my best buddy.
Returning to the cabin, I couldn’t find matches or paper for the wood stove, so Bruce, the staff member who had lined up the cabin for me, came by to get it started. He told me the history of the Lodge and talked about what it was like working there. He asked if I wanted any DVD’s or blankets or anything. I declined. I just wanted my little fire, a meal, and time with Tucker. Then he asked the million dollar question: “Do you want a bottle of wine?”
I recounted my pizza run issue, and he said, “I’ll be right back." Moments later, he returned with a complimentary bottle of wine!
It’s a lesson I took some sixteen years ago when I drove cross-country transporting dogs, and a philosophy I follow when writing. It may take a little longer, but it’s a helluva lot more fun than having everything planned. You just have to have faith you’re always right where you need to be.