The Whitney Portal Pancake

In preparations for my first vacation which did not involve a race in years, I read up on the area of Lone Pine, Calif. and Mt. Whitney. The plan was to hike as much of the main trail of Mt. Whitney as we could in one day, then do some other day hikes in the area and experience the local culture.

The guys in the group were focused on trying to summit. Sue and I were less inclined to summit and so we started later. Unfortunately Sue had an ill-conceived idea of what hiking a mountain involved. While she was more than physically capable, she ran head on into a crippling fear of cliffs and when it came time to ford a stream by walking across a series of rocks, she froze. After 15 minutes of calming her down we did the only thing truly available; we turned back. We had gone less than a mile on the Mt. Whitney Trail.

Perhaps if my powers of persuasion were better, I could have gotten Sue over that stream and up the trail a bit further. There was no physical reason to turn back, but gripped tightly in fear, there was no way Sue would be able to continue. How many times in my own life had fear paralyzed me? Maybe not in the physical sense, but certainly metaphorically. Finding a way to move past that fear allowed me to engage more in my life. But it’s a journey each one of us needs to make for ourselves.

The pancake eating begins

And so we went back to the trail head, known as Whitney Portal, and stopped in the Whitney Portal Store. The small shop features a restaurant, a very small restaurant. And in my pre-trip research I discovered that for breakfast they serve a pancake. Yes ONE pancake. Because the pancake is HUGE. How big is it? If you can’t get an idea of the scale in the photo with this blog let me describe it: It comes on a typical picnic-size disposable plate and it overlaps the plate and is a good half-inch thick.

Few people finish the entire pancake. Now granted, I was merely two hours removed from eating what was supposed to be my pre-hike breakfast of oatmeal. But I knew there was no way Sue was coming back to the Portal the next day for breakfast. So, if there would be no hiking challenge, there would the pancake challenge. I ordered the pancake, sat at a folding table in the store and chatted with the locals who had come up from Lone Pine for breakfast.

Nearly defeated by the pancake.

In some ways, I had been training for this pancake moment my entire life. I have never been shy about eating. I don’t understand women who say they can’t eat in front of men. I never was forced to sit at the table to finish my dinner. I’m pretty sure I always cleaned my plate, and not out of some moral obligation to starving orphans in another country. I like food. I like to eat. And thankfully over the years, I’ve learned to channel that into healthy eating and portion control. (Because I can be like a guppy and eat to the point of explosion.)

Now back to the pancake. I took care to start slow and pace myself. I didn’t drown it in too much syrup nor did I drink too much coffee. (No room for superfluous food or fluid.) The pancake was tasty but nothing special. It was not the best tasting pancake I ever had. But it was good. I was about three-quarters of the way done when I hit a wall. This was my marathon Mile 20. I was on the verge of hurting. My gut was full. I didn’t think I could do it. I was prepared to be defeated by the pancake. But then I started chatting again with the locals, learning a bit about the movie festival going on in Lone Pine at the time.


(Lone Pine and its surrounding Alabama Hills were a mecca for filming Westerns in the 1950s. The area still serves as a prime location spot for Western movies. Since I’m not a Western movie fan, I didn’t know this but thought it was pretty cool.)

The diversion worked. I powered through the last portion of pancake and yes, I raised my hands in triumph. And then I sat for another 10 minutes to let the carbs start to digest. On days when your plans are thwarted by outside circumstances, ¬†you have to find the gift of the situation and embrace what’s in front of you. Sometimes, that means embracing the quirky. I’m learning to perfect that as much as possible.

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