A Stuck Semi, 11 Miles and Beautiful Lakes, and Butterfly Betty
Updated: Aug 1, 2022
This past weekend, we treated ourselves to a camping trip and a hike with some fall colors. With the little camper loaded, we headed south on Hwy 395 to Twin Lakes, and by dusk, we were setting up on our site.
The next morning, my husband made some protein pancakes, turkey sausage links, and some eggs to fuel us up for the hike, which was supposed to be around 8 miles with around 1,800' vertical. Before we departed, I wandered over to this idyllic cabin on the grounds with an amazing backdrop.
We filled our water bladders, jumped in the Land Cruiser, and before we headed out, we stopped along one of the Twin Lakes and walked down to the shore to take in the scenic beauty.
This merganser was preening on a rock in the morning sun.
After a few photos, we headed toward the highway to find our turnoff onto a bumpy dirt road that would lead us to the trailhead.
A short distance down the dirt road, we came upon a semi truck parked perpendicular to the road. I asked, "What in the world is a semi truck doing on this road?" We slowed down and as we approached we saw CHP was already there. The semi's front trailer tires were buried in the dirt. The whole scenario was quite perplexing. We stopped and asked if we could at least try to give him a tug. Depending on how stuck he was, there was a small chance we could move the semi just a few inches, but it could be enough to get him some traction to set himself free. The truck driver was more than glad to accept our offer.
The CHP officer thought we were nuts but agreed it was worth a try.
My husband got out his strap and got the semi hooked up. We gave it three college tries, but the trailer tires were too deep in the dirt for the Land Cruiser to make much difference. Disappointed, we unhooked and wished him luck and continued on our way. My husband admitted it was a long-shot, but he couldn't see the harm in taking the 20 minutes to try.
A few miles down the dirt road, we drove through some wooded areas lined with golden aspens and then arrived at the trailhead, which had maybe 7 or 8 vehicles parked in the lot, all SUVs or crossovers. The sun was out, it was chilly that morning, but it warmed up nicely as the day went on. We could see some wildfire smoke in the air in the distance, but the air was clear for our hike.
We grabbed our day-hike packs, started our watches, and set out on the trail. What a beautiful fall day. We passed at least a dozen huge pine trees along the early part of the trail and some good-sized aspens, too.
It wasn't long before we started seeing a bunch of fall colors.
A good portion of the first half of the hike follows Green Creek – we were surprised to see it still flowing this time of year. It was very pleasant hearing the rushing water as we strolled along the fall foliage.
In fact, we counted 10 water-crossings on this trail!
Beavers. Always damming things up.
Numerous groups of hikers were all out enjoying the beautiful fall day. My husband read that this trail was on some Bay Area publication's "must-do fall hikes" list that week, so we anticipated the trail would be busy. We saw couples and families and groups of friends out backpacking and several dogs. We also saw a solo male hiker with a camera around his neck and another solo hiker, an older woman wearing a t-shirt with butterflies on it.
Eventually, we crossed over into Hoover Wilderness and the terrain got rockier and steeper.
The views and the colors were awesome.
About 3 miles in, we came to this trail junction where we went left. Actually, the sign was positioned incorrectly and my husband adjusted it before we moved on toward East Lake and Green Lake. (You can see a little bit of smoke in the sky.)
Green Lake wasn't far from this trail sign, but we decided to go all the way to East Lake first and then double-back and spend some time at Green Lake.
East Lake did not disappoint. It was a fairly large lake and very blue/blue-green in color, but very clear, and surrounded by rough rocky peaks and green pine trees. We chose a large rock "shelf" to sit on and have our snacks. I was definitely ready for mine – and for a break for my legs. While we sat and enjoyed the scenery before us, it was mostly silent save for the occasional fish jump and what I think were white-crowned sparrows with their black and white striped heads and bright orange bills scavenging along the shore.
In my mind, I thought we'd made it to our destination and I'm kind of in "relax mode" sitting in the sunshine on this nice big boulder. But then, my husband starts talking about continuing on a couple more miles to Gilman Lake before turning around. So, we picked up our gear and headed that direction.
We came upon an unnamed lake along the way, maybe more of a large pond, as it was much smaller than the others and definitely shallower and less clear. But it still had a pretty backdrop behind it.
After a little bit more climbing, we eventually made it to Gilman Lake. We decided we wouldn't hike down to the lakeshore, but rather stay up high and get a few photos before we turned around.
On our way back, we finally stopped at Green Lake. I guess we saved the best for last. Man, was this setting impressive.
Another clear, blue/green lake.
We spent a few more minutes at Green Lake and then decided to find our way back to the main trail. We had about 5-and-a-half miles to get back to the trailhead.
"I was sold on an 8-mile hike. This is going to be over 11."
We starting making our way down the trail, admiring some of the fall colors again. At least, for once, we weren't racing against daylight.
Numerous groups of hikers were just coming up the trail that afternoon as we were coming down, including a few making the hike just to go fishing in one of the lakes. We assured them the fish were jumping.
We made it back to the trailhead. 11.22 miles round trip with 1,916' of elevation gain. My legs were definitely feeling it. As we loaded up our gear in the back of the Land Cruiser, we both noticed a white late model Toyota Camry just starting to leave the parking area. My husband said with a twinge of disbelief, "Looks like the Camry's going to give it a go." I agreed with his sentiment of concern and shrugged my shoulders. They seemed to have made it up here in one piece. 🤷♀️ We'd certainly been on much rougher dirt roads.
Shortly, we were making our way out of the parking area and back onto the bumpy dirt road. It wasn't long before we caught up with the white Camry. As we rounded a wide corner, we saw one of its wheel covers spin clear across the dirt road to the opposite side.
My husband veers over there, picks up the wheel cover and hands it to me. "Let's see if we can catch the Camry and return it to them."
So we raced down the road to try and catch up with the Camry, avoiding rocks and bumps along the way. We eventually got to a part of the road where we could see more than just the back end of the Camry and it became clear to us very quickly that the front passenger side tire was completely blown out, hence, why the wheel cover came flying off of it.
When we reached this extremely sharp hairpin intersection in the road, putting the driver of the Camry in our view, my husband honked aggressively to try and get the driver's attention. He even held the wheel cover with his outstretched arm out the window for the driver to see.
The driver stopped. It's an older woman and we let her know that not only has she lost a wheel cover, but her passenger tire is fully blown out – like, chunks of the tire are strewn all over the dirt road and the rubber is shredded and broken free from the wheel's rim. The driver – who is wearing a shirt with butterflies on it – gets out to take a look and she gasps.
"Well, it looks like my off-roading days are over."
She then asks us, "Can I pay you to change my tire here?" My husband and I reply, "You can't pay us, but we'll change your tire." Well, mostly my husband will change it. I will hold things and follow instructions given to me.
As she gets back into her car to reposition it on a better and safer part of the road, I tell my husband, "We saw that woman on the trail. Remember her butterfly shirt?"
She emptied the collection of stuff (or "shit," as she called it) from her trunk and placed it in her backseat so that we could access the spare tire and toolkit. At one point, she called us "Trail Angels." She was a petite woman with rather high-waisted tan slacks, and if I had to guess, she was about 75 years old. We've since named her "Butterfly Betty."
It took some doing to get all of the things in place to lift the car, remove the wheel, replace it with the spare (a donut) – all while my husband was lying in the dirt – and then fit the damaged wheel in the Camry's trunk. Butterfly Betty seemed frantic and was expressing her disappointment that this had happened.
I reminded her that it could be so much worse. It could be pouring rain (not likely in the Eastern Sierra, she corrected me), or she could be out here alone. I said at least she crossed paths with us and we'll help her get back on the road.
She told us she was up there from Los Angeles on vacation and she had planned to spend another couple of days there, but now, she felt she needed to cut her trip short, not wanting to drive on the donut tire any more than necessary.
The donut tire was set to around 27 PSI straight out of the trunk, and the recommended was 60, which is an awful lot. Butterfly Betty marveled at how prepared my husband was and she was thrilled when we told her we had a compressor with us and could fill up the donut before we parted ways.
Then, my husband had a stroke of genius with this suggestion to her: Rather than fill up the donut to 60 PSI here, we should leave it "aired down" (like we often do in the Jeep when off-roading to minimize tire damage) for the rest of the bumpy dirt road and then we'd stop just short of the paved highway intersection and fill it up to 60 PSI at that point.
So, we very slowly and cautiously followed the white Camry driven by a shaken Butterfly Betty down the dirt road, as several other 4WD vehicles sped past us, spewing clouds of dirt and dust as they flew by.
She stopped short of the intersection, just like we talked about, and we got out once again, connected the compressor to her battery, and began filling the donut tire with air. Neither of our tire gauges read as high as 60 PSI, but the gauge on the compressor gave us an idea of how close we were.
As we stood there watching the gauge and waiting, Butterfly Betty explained to us that she knew something was wrong with her tire when the PSI light illuminated on her dash, but she could not believe how shredded the tire had become in just that short distance. She told us she didn't have a cell phone and didn't expect that AAA would drive way up there to help her, anyway, so she had planned on driving out to the paved highway and flagging someone down for help.
Instead, she crossed our path. We changed her tire and got her back on the road safely.
As we got back into the Land Cruiser and approached the highway in front of us, we debriefed what had just happened and something occurred to both of us: God puts us in people's paths sometimes. If we hadn't stopped to try and help out the semi driver on our way that morning, we never would have crossed paths with Butterfly Betty. If we hadn't stopped to attempt to help the semi driver, we would have been done and gone before Butterfly Betty took her Camry back down that dirt road.
Even though we felt disappointed that we were unable to successfully help the semi driver, maybe that was God's decoy for us so that we'd be the ones there later on to help Butterfly Betty. The 75-year-old adventurous woman on vacation alone from Los Angeles who doesn't own a cell phone and found herself on a remote dirt road with a shredded tire. Who crossed paths with us. And allowed us to be her trail angels that day.
East Lake, Gilman Lake, Green Lake