Saddlebag Lake and… Wildfire!

Wednesday, June 22

The sun rises soft and mellow in a cloudless cornflower-blue sky, a light breeze brings the scent of sage into the trailer. A person couldn’t ask for better weather for a day trip!

I’m up bright and early, throwing the things that I’ve packed into Bertha. 120, known as Tioga Road, is the eastern entrance into Yosemite National Park, and it’s only minutes away from camp. It would be a shame to stay near Lee Vining, CA and not take a drive in to see it.

Tioga Road is not the easiest drive. A sign at the bottom proclaims “Steep grades, difficult for trailers”. They aren’t kidding.

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Never looks as imposing in pictures as real life

In the fall of 2014 I towed Cas up this road into Yosemite, then back down it a few days later. The eastern side of the Sierra is much steeper than the western side, and there’s an 8% grade for six miles. Going up Bertha did a bang-up job creeping along at 30 mph. Coming back down, I feel like I must have lost one of my nine lives. The brakes were definitely hot (and smelly) by the bottom – and this with the truck in second gear. Maybe I should have tried in first.

Without the trailer it’s still not a quick ascent, but much easier. At the top, a stunning view of Ellery Lake is the reward for motorists who braved the climb.

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This isn’t Yosemite, the park starts eleven miles farther west at Tioga Pass. This is Inyo National Forest, and it’s much less crowded, a fact I’m enjoying now that schools are out and vacation season is in full swing. Gone is the brush of lower elevations, here at 9,000-something feet conifers dominate, sheltering grass underneath.

Campgrounds flourish as well. On my way to the first hike of the day I pas Junction Campground ($16/night, 14 day limit, dry camping). Like most of the forest service campgrounds up here it’s small with tight turns, not ideal for RVs, but I do see this interesting little trailer parked in one of the spots near the entrance. It looks like a truck camper but has a tongue for towing, the top is a hard shell that appears to pop up.

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I have no idea what to expect from today’s hike. I looked at Google Maps and saw that there was a trail that goes around a lake nearby, and randomly decided to hike it. My first surprise is that Saddlebag Lake Road is not paved, but perhaps I should have expected that. It follows Lee Vining creek up alongside Tioga Peak at a considerable slope. It’s well maintained but narrow for two lanes, with frequent pullouts for people to pass one another.

It still being early in the morning, I don’t see another car going up. At the top is another campground, but it’s still closed due to snow. That should have been my first warning…

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There’s a concession store up here where boats can be rented, but it’s not open yet. Saddlebag Lake itself glitters like a gem between mountains at a cool (literally) 10,000 feet. There’s a dam at one end, but the water level is so low that the lake hardly touches it right now. It is a beautiful area though, and I’m glad I randomly chose this spot for today’s hike.

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The lake sits right at the tree-line, the divide between sub-alpine and alpine. A few ambitious fisherman are already out along the shore, trying their luck.

My luck is not so great. I decide to circle the lake counter-clockwise and and soon my trail is a doing a great impression of a stream-bed. Water runs merrily along the course where countless feet have packed the surface lower than the surrounding ground. I’m soon scrambling across rocks and through dense thickets of brush beside the trail to keep my feet dry (haha, if only I knew).

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There’s a trail there! Somewhere…

I begin to wonder if I really want to try to go all the way around the lake, but man, that view is awfully inspiring.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

With a sigh of relief, Trail Creek becomes simply the trail again, climbing up through a field of scree (which is just a fancy term for “loose rocks”).

Now, take a look at this next picture. The flowers in front of the fathomless deep blue of the lake, with rugged mountains behind makes for a great photo, and I’m chortling with glee as I get down on my hands and knees to capture it. But note the northern aspect of the slope behind the lake. See how snowy it is? Saddlebag Lake has two lobes, and that snowy slope is not visible from the trail-head. From the trail-head, the lake looks quite free of snow. It’s a lie. Do I notice all that snow when I take this picture? Nope, my attention is focused on lining up a good shot, and thinking about how much you all are going to enjoy this picture. I hope you do enjoy it.

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Here’s one more flower picture, this one looking towards the dam.

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It’s going to be hot down in Lee Vining, but up here in the mountains the temperature is perfect for hiking – cool and crisp. The trail winds through a stand of pine at the neck of the lake between the two lobes. I’m contemplating the beauty of the day when a break in the trees brings me face-to-face with what’s in store. “Oh, that’s a lot of snow.”

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But it’s too late to turn back now. Besides, this will make a better story, right? On the plus side, I’m not to the snow yet, and there’s still a lot to see in the meantime.

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At the end of the lake farthest from the trail-head, a sizable stream empties rushes down from the mountains. It’s running high, naturally, from the snow-melt. Somewhere in here I lose the trail, and can’t figure out where I’m suppose to cross.

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Following the stream upriver, the channel is narrower, but deeper. In places, drifts of snow still hang over the water, melting freely into the torrent. I bet that’s cold. The brush on this end of the lake is barely starting to bud, the branches are brown and stark.

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But there are a few flowers already in bloom.

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Somewhere around here, there has to be a crossing. But it’s not here.

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Eventually I find it: a series of half-submerged logs hidden in brush. Water rushes over them, and there’s a considerable gap between the ends and dry ground, given the flooding. Goodbye, dry feet.

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I lose the trail again, in the marshy ground on the other side of the stream. As soon as the snow starts it becomes obvious, a trail through pristine white. I don’t get many pictures of this part of the hike because I’m too focused on trying to keep my footing. Step off the compacted path, and it’s possible to sink up to your knee in the snow because of drifts and the irregular nature of the ground underneath. In places where the snow is thin, the scree underneath becomes an additional slip hazard. And it is slippery, it’s well above freezing and the snow is slushy. I’m panting half-way through, but only fall on my butt once!

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Finally the snow ends, phew! I’m almost back to the trail-head, and the sun has come up quite a ways, illuminating the water. This end of the lake is more shallow.

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One more bend and the dam is in sight, I’ve made it! It’s only 3 miles round trip, but it seemed longer with all the obstacles. It was definitely challenging. Still, what a fun hike!

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Back on Tioga Road, I get lunch at Tioga Pass Resort, a turkey melt which tastes amazing. I’m so hungry that I’m not sure if it’s actually amazing or not, your results may vary.

Food pic! Because apparently people like pictures of food

Food pic! Because apparently people like pictures of food

At Tioga Pass sits the entrance to Yosemite. I go in without the intention of staying long. I enjoyed my time at the quieter end of 120 better but still feel obligated to make use of my Annual Pass since I’m here. Consulting the park map I get at the toll booth, I pick Dog Lake as my second and final hike of the day. It’s 2.4 miles round trip (out and back) and not nearly as scenic as Saddlebag Lake, but I guess they can’t all be amazing, huh? Most of the hike is through Lodgepole pine…

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But the lake itself is pretty enough.

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Click for larger image

Friday, June 24

I peek through my blinds in the morning to see if the van that pulled in last night is still there. It is.

The morning is sunny and bright. Birds sing invisibly from the sage, welcoming a new day. It’s so beautiful out! Blah blah blah…

Oh S*#^.

Behind my neighbor’s Vanagon, the sky is a wall of sickly brown haze. Smoke billows on the side of the mountains near camp, creeping out in tendrils to consume Mono Lake. I don’t swear very often, but sometimes the occasion calls for it. For instance, when a wildfire springs up near home overnight. It’s been so hot here the past few days, this is bad.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

A half-hour of careful viewing assures me that I’m not in any immediate danger, the wind is coming out of the west and I’m more to the south. But it must be close to Lee Vining. An hour or so later the fire makes the news: 395 is shut down, Lee Vining is on standby for evacuation.

Today’s going to be an interesting day.

* * *

In real-time it’s Monday night, and obviously I end up getting through the Marina Fire unscathed because this post is going up (so no need to worry). You can read the exciting conclusion to the fire story on Thursday, but in the meantime, I owe you all some more information about The Little Guide To Dreaming Big!

The big launch date is Thursday, June 30th as I mentioned previously and I hope to have everything ready by around 10 am MDT (noon Eastern, 9 am Pacific) but it will depend on how quickly Amazon gets the book up on the Kindle store so if it isn’t ready right at 10 am, please be patient. Yes, the PDF edition and the Kindle edition will be releasing simultaneously this time around and both are eligible for the introductory launch price!

The Little Guide To Dreaming Big will be available from the 30th until July 4th at 6 pm (Mountain Daylight time again) at the special price of only $3.99. What better way to celebrate Independence Day than with a guide designed to free you from the status quo? America is the land of dreams, after all.

After 6 pm on the 4th, the guide will continue to be available, but at the standard price of $5.99 so if you want that launch price, act before then.

Now, some questions and answers:

Q: Which guide should I get; or if I already have your other guide, do I need this one too?

A: If the big dream you’re currently contemplating is going full-time RVing, Solo Full-time RVing On A Budget will likely be a better fit, especially if you’re the target audience I wrote that guide for, namely: if you’re planning to travel solo, are working-age, interested in small RVing, and/or are on a budget.

For all other dreams (or if you don’t know exactly what your dreams are yet), this guide will work the best.

But, as most people who are interested in RVing also have other dreams and goals, having both guides is certainly beneficial. I wrote them to compliment each other, and this guide can be applied to full-timing as easily as any other dream. There is a little overlap in the money section in both guides, but 95% of the material is unique to each so it isn’t a waste to own both.

Q: Is this book more philosophy, or more how-to?

A: There is some philosophy in it by necessity, but it is mostly a how-to guide and thus there will be work involved on your part. In many of the sections are highlighted tasks that call for an action to be taken. These tasks usually involve writing something down, guidance is provided. Having tasks (instead of worksheets) gives you the most flexibility to tailor the guide to your own dreams.

Q: Won’t everything covered in this guide be things I’ve already learned from your free articles?

A: Nope. It’s true I’ve talked about fulfilling your dreams on IO, but the original dreams series was the very first thing I published in 2011 and is quite out of date. Some of these sections are completely new including discovering your guiding values, staying motivated, and finding your tribe.

Q: It’s a bit cheaper than your other guide, why is that?

A: Two reasons. First off, marketers will be familiar with the term “perceived value”. Namely, the price of something should not based off how much time or effort it took to make or how much worth it has in an objective sense, but by how valuable the customer perceives it to be. In this case, because Solo RVing is priced at $7.99 for 56 pages a customer would expect this guide, at 45 pages, to cost less. It should be noted though that 45 pages is still a lot of information, especially since it has been condensed down into a no-nonsense format without filler text. For a little perspective, 45 pages is the length of 21 of my average blog posts.

The second reason is that I wanted this guide to be more financially accessible so that it’ll appeal to a broader audience, because I feel the message is very important. One of my most popular blog posts of all time ended with this paragraph, which I’ve received a lot of comments and e-mails on: Full-time RVing is only a Happily Ever After for those people whose personality is compatible with it. Often when strangers tell me “Gosh, I wish I could do what you’re doing”, I think what they’re really saying is: “Gosh, I wish I could be as happy as you are.” And what makes me happy, won’t make everyone happy.

So this guide is my offering to those of you who didn’t fit the mold for the first one, something useful no matter who you are or what your dreams for the future look like. Full-time RVing is near and dear to my heart, but in the end, going full-timing sprung from my desire to live a happier life, not the other way around. If I should have to get off the road tomorrow I would be sad, but I have other dreams, and I could still live a good life without my RV. Heck, someday I probably will stop full-timing. But I’ll never, ever go back to letting someone tell me the way life ought to be lived, and that’s what I’m trying to get across here: whether you’re interested in full-timing or not, live life on your own terms. You’ll have no regrets.

Q: What formats does it in? Will others be available later?

A: Currently, the guide is available as a PDF and for Kindle. To read the PDF format you’ll need a program that reads .pdf files such as Adobe Acrobat or iBooks – most computers and devices these days seem to come with one. To read the Kindle format you’ll need a Kindle e-reader, or to download the Kindle reading app on your computer or device.

Note: If you’re debating between buying it as a PDF or for Kindle, I’d appreciate it if you bought the PDF directly from me, and help support an independent author (Amazon takes 30% of the purchase price from the Kindle version).

As for other formats, it’s possible there will be a print edition eventually, but it’ll be more expensive than either e-format and there will not be a special introductory price for it.

Q: How will purchasing/delivery be handled?

A: For the PDF version, E-junkie is handling the shopping cart and product delivery, which will come through e-mail. They’re a commonly used service and are well rated. PayPal is handling the money – again a very secure, safe system. You’ll be able to pay using a PayPal account or a credit/debit card, same as with the Donation button on the side of my site.

For the Kindle version, you’ll be buying the guide direct from the Amazon website, and they’ll handle payment and delivery to your device.

Q: How do I know this is really the right thing for me?

A: Listen to your heart. If your dreams have been calling, isn’t it about time you answered?

That being said, I’m not going to try to hard sell you. What I will do is give you a peek of what’s inside to help you come to that decision on your own. Below is the Table of Contents with all topics listed, and a couple sample pages (PDF version shown, click for bigger image).


* * *

saddlebag-lake-wildfire (24)See you all on Thursday, have a good week!

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Robin on July 1, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    I read your blog regularly but have never commented. The pictures from your hike are so nice I had to let you know that I appreciated them.

    • Becky on July 1, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      Thank you for commenting Robin and I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog. 🙂

  2. pamelab on June 30, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    Becky – Nice job with the book! I really am enjoying it and like the list you provided in the appendix.
    I also loved the snow on the mountains pictures. That also was a beautiful shot with the yellow flowers – you are right.
    That brown cloud of smoke is pretty scary looking. Close call.
    Happy Trails, and watch out for scree under snow :0)

    • Becky on June 30, 2016 at 9:13 pm

      Glad you’re enjoying the guide Pamela, thanks for purchasing and I hope you get a lot of use out of it!

      Yes, there’s just something really nice about a mountain lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks. So wild and beautiful. Thanks for the warning and I’ll remember to look out next time. 😉

  3. Jerry Minchey on June 30, 2016 at 10:10 am

    The book is live on Amazon and on Becky’s site. Remember that you can leave a review on Amazon even if you didn’t buy the book through Amazon. So be sure to take the time to leave a review. Reviews are helpful for new books.

    I read the book this morning and loved it. I really like the personal examples that were included to help explain the points.

    Wonderful job, Becky.

    • Becky on June 30, 2016 at 10:43 am

      Thanks Jerry and glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Sandy on June 30, 2016 at 8:42 am

    Becky, I’ve been following your blog for over a year and I enjoy and learn from every post. My husband and I are in year two of our plan to full-time. We have a few years before we can pay off our student loans. We also have 7 animals but most of them are seniors so we are waiting for them to pass before hitting the road. I’m really looking forward to reading your new book and I also wonder if your first book would be beneficial to a working age couple. I realize it is aimed to the solo-rver audience but I’m assuming we could get a lot of good info from it too?
    Take care and I sure hope we can meet someday!

    • Becky on June 30, 2016 at 10:00 am

      Hello Sandy, glad you’re enjoying my blog and thanks for reading.

      Yes, my RVing book could be useful to couples as well as singles. On the sales page for that guide I list four criteria: single, working-age, interested in small RVs/ simpler living, and on a budget. If a person meets two of the four criteria they’ll probably get their $7.99 worth out of the guide, but the more a person matches the better value it’ll be. In the end it’s up to you!

      It’s good that you’re thinking of this now years in advance. In my experience people who prepare to go full-timing do better than those who hit the road without any research. Best of luck whatever you decide and take care!

  5. Jodee Gravel on June 29, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Your alpine lake hike is so beautiful. Yes, the flowers, water and snowy mountains is a wonderful photo – glad you took the time to capture it for us 🙂 That water looks sooooo cold, can’t believe you braved the log crossing! Glad the fire stayed far enough from you to stay put, and that you kept an eye on it and the news.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Why Wheatland, Wyoming?My Profile

    • Becky on June 30, 2016 at 9:53 am

      I feel the beauty of the hike was worth the discomfort of wet feet, haha. And walking through that snow was such a good workout that I never got cold. 🙂 Hope you’re having a good time Jodee, take care!

  6. Sandy on June 28, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Hi Becky,

    The photos in this post were spectacular. I am excited about the book, too. Can’t wait to get it.

    Right now, I am in Albermarle County, VA. Love it here. Had to spend time in FL in late May to set up domicile. Then, 2 weeks in Savannah for some work. I hope never to spend summer in the deep South again!

    I have a few more things to do on the East Coast. Can’t wait to see the rest of the US very soon. I’d like to see some of that majestic beauty that I’ve seen in your photos in person!

    Glad you are safe from the wildfire.

    • Becky on June 29, 2016 at 11:04 am

      I lived near Savannah in Bluffton, SC for three summers, I hear you Sandy, haha.

      Sounds like things are coming along well for you and I hope your transition goes smoothly. Thanks for the interest in my guide, less than 24 hours now until the release, woohoo!

  7. Linda Sand on June 28, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    I wasn’t sure your book was for me until I read your excerpts. Yup, I need this.

    • Becky on June 29, 2016 at 11:01 am

      I hope you get a lot of use out of it Linda, thanks for the interest!

  8. Ron on June 28, 2016 at 6:45 am

    You did a really good job introducing your book. Great blog post and photos as well

    • Becky on June 28, 2016 at 10:15 am

      Thanks Ron and glad you enjoyed this post. I think it may be the longest one I’ve ever published at nearly 3,000 words.

  9. Mike B on June 28, 2016 at 6:35 am

    Hey! I’m 3rd!! wooohooo! Hi Becky! I’m a full time reader and 3rd time poster…(not sure if that is grammatically correct or even just correct..). I really liked the last picture of Saddlebag Lake and it gave me an idea. Here some food for thought, take it and run with it or do with it what you like. You’ve taken some great photos. You might want to think about putting together a calendar or maybe some inspirational type photos by adding text (words of wisdom, humor, etc). Both can be printed and sold. Again just a thought.

    I’m really looking forward to the book. I’ll be buying the PDF format. Any particular reason its not available on the Nook?

    Stay safe!

    • Becky on June 28, 2016 at 9:44 am

      Hello Mike! Actually you’re 4th (3rd place went to a new poster and I had to manually approve the comment before it appeared on the site) but that’s sure not bad!

      I have thought about doing something with my pictures and now that this second guide is almost ready, maybe I’ll look into that as my next project.

      You’re actually the first person who has asked about a Nook version, which shows why I haven’t formatted the guide for Nook – there’s just not enough demand (and it takes a lot of hours to do the formatting).

      Take care.

  10. Steve on June 28, 2016 at 6:19 am

    I’ve just come to “know” you, Becky, through Bob’s recent video where you showed Becky and Cas. I’m thrilled to discover that you have a way with the written word; what a bonus for your subscribers that you can write, and I mean really write!

    My morning ritual on those days I spot your blast email on my iPad before I get out of bed: drive to Mickey D’s to fetch a breakfast burrito and a blueberry muffin, spread out on my kitchen table with food and a Mountain Dew, prop iPad on stand, devour every word of your posts and click to enlarge every photo. Oh, and then dream. That’s the important part (well, that and the hour of inline skating on the local rail trail thereafter to burn off the muffin…lol).

    In a word: YOU ROCK!

    New fan, Steve in Chicagoland.

    • Becky on June 28, 2016 at 9:39 am

      Hello Steve and welcome to IO! I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog. I like writing and you like reading, it’s a good system. 😉

      Dreaming is the important part, for sure. Are you planning on going full-timing or some other dream? Either way, I wish you the best of luck.

      • Steve on June 28, 2016 at 6:00 pm

        Thanks for your reply. I would love to full-time RV, but I’ve got to stay in Illinois for a bit. Someday…ah, someday.

        A quick question: why are the full-time RVers seemingly all in New Mexico/Arizona/California all year round when places like New England, or your native Wisconsin, are so pleasant from May through September? Is it just site availability, or something more? Thanks.

        • Becky on June 29, 2016 at 10:59 am

          A few reasons, Steve, although I can’t speak for everyone. First of all, living east of the Mississippi for the first 28 years of my life I’m extremely familiar with the sights out there and it’s not new and exciting for me, meanwhile I’ve never lived out west so this is all different. The second reason is cost. Out west there are ample opportunities for free camping on all the public land held by the Forest Service and BLM. Free camping is much harder to find out east and campgrounds in general cost more, higher population density and greater demand and all that.

          I certainly do visit friends and family in Wisconsin though, I was there for a month last year. This year my family is coming out west to meet me.

          • Steve on June 29, 2016 at 4:09 pm

            I see. Those reasons make a lot of sense, Becky. Yep. Good points.

            Thanks for taking the time to reply. Happy trailing in Bertha and Cas.

            Sincerely, Steve.

          • Becky on June 30, 2016 at 9:50 am

            You’re welcome Steve, take care!

  11. Dawn in MI on June 28, 2016 at 4:51 am

    If we wait and purchase your new book at $5.99 do you get a bigger profit? If so I think I can afford the extra $2.00. I’m looking forward to it!

    • Becky on June 28, 2016 at 9:35 am

      Yep Dawn I do. Figuring the math I believe I’ll get $2.76 for every Kindle guide sold at $3.99 (70%, minus 3 cents for the delivery fee) and when it goes to $5.99 I’ll get $4.16.

      E-Junkie takes a cut as well but it’s much smaller, about 7%.

      • maria levy on June 28, 2016 at 8:28 pm

        Will you post a link on thursday so we can buy directly from you? I can’t wait to read it!!!!

        • Becky on June 29, 2016 at 10:52 am

          Maria, when the sales page goes live on Thursday there will be buttons for the PDF version and the Kindle version. The PDF version is the one that comes direct from me. 🙂 Thanks for your interest!

  12. John Hussey on June 28, 2016 at 12:18 am

    I seem to be first. Great Blog, I enjoy following you as I have already traveled much of the west in my Little Jeep Wrangler pulling my year 2000 16’Casita SD. When are you off to travel the ALCAN to Alaska?

    • Becky on June 28, 2016 at 9:30 am

      Yep you are first John. 🙂

      Alaska is on my list for some year but is still a ways off, a trip of that magnitude will require some serious savings to cover gas and I’m not there yet.

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