The H2 rolled into the oh-so-friendly environs of Los Angeles without a problem -- save for a busted-up windshield and an unbelievable build-up of bugs and muck across its front end. Upon close inspection, the crusty layer of deadness across the nose appeared so thick it seemed it could give a Kevlar bulletproof vest a run for its money with regards to its impenetrability. Because the H2 had not been washed (excluding rainstorms) since we first picked it up in Anchorage, we figured it best to have it cleaned... by someone else, that is.
Just down the street from the Motor Trend offices is our car-scrubbing joint of choice, Majestic Car Wash. Upon arriving, the folks waiting for their cars looked with disgust as our thoroughly scroungy H2 rolled to a stop. We were informed that, besides the $11.95 charge for SUVs, we would be charged an extra two bucks because our H2 was, well, a rolling dirt clod. Two bucks? After handing over the paltry "special fee" (one dollar of which came from an instant win prize we pulled from a bag of Doritos) we laughed out loud, as clearly that two bucks was the best value we had seen in the last 5000 some-odd miles. First up was the daunting task of vacuuming up all the crumbs, wrappers, and dirt scattered about the H2's cabin. Then, in broken English, the vacuum guy asked why there were so many mosquitoes smashed against the inside of the windshield and why there were so many dead mosquito carcasses lying atop the dashboard. Unfortunately, there was no simple way to explain this phenomenon to him.
The two guys running the power washers nearly cried when our H2 pulled in for its high-pressure hose-down before rolling through the automated wash. The process took so long there were six cars stacked up waiting to get their turn. After all that, they had to run the H2 through the entire wash process again because too much muddy water kept oozing off the Hummer. Hey, technically that $13.95 charge wound up being only $6.97 per wash after all was said and done. Suckers!
With shiny sheetmetal presenting itself and a full tank of go-juice, it was time to load up for our last aspect of the H2 Leg One journey--the climbing of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous 48 U.S. states. Due to being way behind schedule at work and having a very pregnant wife at home, Online Editor Jeff Bartlett opted out of the Mt. Whitney segment of the trip. In his place went MT friend David Gair who was trying for his 14th (yes, you read that correctly) successful summit of Whitney. David, a mechanical engineer and car guy, also brought along his two engineer buddies, Ken and Steve Daxer to join in the climb. Scheduled departure from the Motor Trend offices was at noon, but the three engineers finally rolled into the parking lot in a tattered, sputtering blue Ford Escort wagon at nearly 4 pm. Too afraid to ask what happened, we quickly crammed all our gear into the H2 and headed out.
Within a scant few miles from the office I knew trouble was in store as I was surrounded by three car-guy-engineers wanting to quiz me on every mechanical aspect of the all-new Hummer H2. I did my best to answer questions, but things got ugly when the queries turned to items such as, "Yea, but at full suspension extension what's the remaining runout length of the driveshaft yokes?" I hastily looked for the H2's press kit lodged under the driver's seat and fired back with a quick, "What do you think I am, an automotive journalist or something!" As we approached the lovely desert oasis known as Palmdale, a familiar Taco Bell sign appeared, and, almost as if on auto pilot, the H2 diverted to the parking lot. After downing a trayful of mexican food merriment, we were back in the Hummer and logging miles. Soon, the verbose engineers grew groggy due to stuffed stomachs, and, for the moment, I was off the interrogation stand.
Miles down the road the questioning began again, so a quick stop and hike down Fossil Falls was the perfect distraction. The H2 finally rolled into Lone Pine during darkness, followed by a serious pizza ingestion fest at Motor Trend's favorite hangout, the "We Toss 'Em, They're Awesome" Pizza Factory. Loaded up with our last square meal for days, we headed up the mountain for Whitney Portal, the starting point of our hiking adventure.
At 11 pm we finally had all of our backpacks packed and the H2 cleansed of all possible bear bait (in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, bears are known for smashing out car windows in the attempt to get at what amounts to a single pack of peanut butter crackers). I first sensed that I was in trouble when I hoisted my pack to my back; its 60-plus pounds of girth was overly stout for my stick-like body and I was strongly warned to pare it down. Thus, I stripped out what I deemed excessive, but still kept all the Canon camera and video gear along with basic life sustaining goods. The result was a mere 50-pound pack--better, but still WAY too heavy.