Day 61: When They Say Small-Town, They Mean It

Independence, California is a very small town. Within one day, we’ve walked the entire length of the town, and, I think, done pretty much everything there is to be done. It has three restaurants: one is open for breakfast and lunch, one is open for dinner (and oh, it’s a weird one), and the other is a Subway sharing its space with a gas station. (There’s also a taco truck, but it’s only open for lunch, three days a week.) There are five or six motels, all of which charge exactly the same rates, and none of which seem to have more than ten rooms. There are two gas stations, with convenience stores, and…that’s about it.

There is no grocery store, no drugstore, no hardware store, no…well, anything, really. For all of the 669 people that Google tells me this town has, doing any of these things means either a 16-mile trip south to Lone Pine or a 40-mile trip north to Bishop. For us, it meant that we didn’t have to search Yelp or ask people for recommendations — if you want breakfast, you go to Jenny’s Café; if you want dinner, you go to the Still Life Café. On the other hand, the people in this town have been amazing. They’re friendly, unbelievably helpful to hikers, and, at least for all the ones we’ve met, incredibly interesting. We switched motels tonight because this one has laundry and working WiFi — both nearly necessities for the modern through-hiker — and the owner of this one is also fascinating. He used to be a roving carpet-cleaner, cleaning carpets up and down a 500-mile stretch of U.S. 395, all while becoming quite an impressive amateur photographer, until he bought an old building in serious disrepair and turned it into a pretty sweet six-room motel. And he’s willing to help us out with nearly anything, making us feel at home, and get a great, laid-back vibe from this town.

Speaking of U.S. 395, we were once told by someone (someone vaguely crazy) that he’d driven every road in America, and this was, without a doubt, the most beautiful one. And you know what? I don’t believe he’s driven every road in America, but I do believe that this is the most beautiful one, or at least right up there. It stretches north to south through a stark desert plain that rolls up and down, with the Sierra only a couple of miles away the entire time. And the eastern side of the Sierra is amazing: while the western side grows from plains through small foothills to larger and larger mountains, the eastern side just starts, bam, with 13,000′ peaks right up against the valley that’s nearly ten thousand feet below. It’s crazy, unexpected, and very, very beautiful.

As we’re wont to do, we spent the day eating tons of food, cleaning out our packs, posting blog entries, going through photos, doing routine gear maintenance, and eating more tons of food. We actually have enough gear needs that we intended to head up to Bishop this afternoon by hitchhiking — at an hour each way, a pretty major trip — but realized we wanted to change plans. Bucket has been having trouble sleeping, and, after a brief conversation with Kaiser, she has a phone appointment with a doctor early tomorrow morning. If they prescribe something for her, we’d have to go back to Bishop to pick it up anyway, so we figured we’d combine it all into one trip and save the time. This blissfully means we had more time this afternoon, although zeroes tend to always be very busy, somehow — you never get everything done that you want, no matter how productive you manage to be.

Oh, and the place we went for dinner tonight? Crazy. It turns out this town of 669 people has a (genuine) French restaurant — the owner and waiter has a seriously thick accent, and the walls are absolutely covered with oil paintings and décor that sure looks like everything I’ve seen in real French cafés. The menu and service is appropriately discombobulated, slow, and somewhat apathetic, and the food is actually very good. Who would’ve thought? I even hear the next town over, Big Pine, even tinier, has some kind of seriously world-class barbecue restaurant…strange things are afoot in this remote region of California.

So, we get to sleep tonight in an odd state: tomorrow we’ll hike again…but not until late, after we’ve run our errands in Bishop. It’ll be a half-zero, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but I do know I’m actually looking forward to sleeping out in a tent once again. Onwards we go.

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One response to “Day 61: When They Say Small-Town, They Mean It”

  1. […] with hikers, all hiding from the rain. Sierra City is a small town — it reminds me a lot of Independence in that way. There are a few hotels, an RV park, two restaurants, a church, and the general store. […]

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