16 Miles without Water: a Rattlesnake, a Lost Trekker, and a Rebellion… The First Sierra Trek

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." –John Muir

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” –John Muir

 

As the physician who had threatened to tell the media I was running a ‘pot smoking orgy’ in the mountains packed up to leave, my thoughts turned to the challenges of our second day’s route. We were facing a hike where the first water and possible campsite were 16 miles down the trail. Considering how much fun I had getting our Trekkers through seven miles on day one, I was not excited about day two. We had one access point approximately half way where a road crossed our trail. Steve and I planned to have the jeep there to resupply the Trekkers with water for the second part of their journey.

Today’s photos are focused on the mountains of the High Sierra. These towering peaks of granite are topped off by Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet (4421.0 m). John Muir loved the Sierras and returned to them again and again. “The mountains are calling and I must go,” he declared. It is a passion I share. In honor of Muir’s love for mountains and wilderness, I am using a different quote of his for each photo. These quotes were gathered by the Sierra Club.

 

I did a 360 mile trip down the Sierras to celebrate my 60th birthday. Mt. Whitney is in the Background.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” –John Muir (Here I am, keeping “close to Nature’s heart.” Mt. Whitney is in the background.)

 

When the Trekkers were packed and ready to go, I called them together for a final briefing. I reminded them of how difficult the day would be and then gave them very specific instructions:

“If the jeep isn’t there when you arrive at the road, wait for it.” It would not be the last time in Trek history my directions would go unheeded.

As per plan, I sent Steve on ahead as trail leader while Charlie and I provided rear guard support. In retrospect, I should have recalled that this was the section of the trail that the hawk had ‘chased’ Steve for miles, apparently all 16. Far from being a gentle ridge walk, we were climbing in and out of small canyons over hot, dusty trails. By the time we had covered five miles I was beginning to worry and by six, I knew had to come up with an alternative. Otherwise many of our folks would be making a dry camp out on the trail.

I had quickly discovered that the walkie-talkies from Bob-of-No-Name didn’t work because of all the canyons. My only solution was to hustle up to the front of the line and catch the Trekkers before they left the jeep. I dubbed Charlie as primary rear guard and took off moving as fast as my short legs would go, passing the majority of our group along the way. When I arrived at the jeep, Steve was there with 15 people. “Damn,” I thought, “some of the Trekkers have already gone on.” Maybe I could catch them.

“Hey Steve,” I jumped in as he greeted me, “it’s time for Plan B.”

“Which is…” he asked grinning?

“We need to send the Trekkers by road into Robinson Flat with jeep back up. It’s only about 5 miles by road versus 10 by trail plus the jeep can provide water along the way and shuttle people if necessary. But first, how long ago was it when the rest of the Trekkers left the jeep?”

“I don’t know,” Steve confessed. He’d had a group of Trekkers walking on his tail and let them pass (thus breaking one of our cardinal rules). Even worse, Steve Locke didn’t know either. Apparently 15 of the Trekkers had arrived before the jeep and chosen to go on. Another five had actually waited, loaded up with water and then taken off, approximately 30 minutes before I arrived.

“Great,” I responded. Thanks to Steve letting people go ahead, we now had 20 people out on the trail in front of us without a leader— and 15 with limited water.

"In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware." –John Muir 

“In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.” –John Muir (Here you are looking from the top of Mt. Whitney east toward Lone Pine and the Owens Valley. The road winds through the Alabama Hills where many Westerns have been filmed.)

This photo looks north from Mt. Whitney into the heart of the High Sierras.

“This grand show is eternal.”  –John Muir  (This photo looks north from Mt. Whitney into the heart of the High Sierras with mountains as far as you can see.)

Day two, which had started with the doctor and his ‘pot smoking orgy,’ had gone from bad to worse. I made a command decision. Steve would continue on with Plan B as I had outlined it, moving the remaining Trekkers via road to Robinson Flat. I would continue along Red Star Ridge and provide backup for the group who had chosen to hike another 8 miles without water access.

I had little doubt about what type of foul mood my wayward charges would be in and who they would blame for their predicament. (It certainly wouldn’t be themselves for failing to wait for the jeep.) We would camp on Duncan Creek and hike the two miles into Robinson Flat the next morning.

“No one is to budge from Robinson Flat until I get there,” I instructed with the fervid hope my instructions would be followed this time.

First, however, I had to go back and retrieve Charlie. I wanted to personally be sure that all of our other Trekkers made it to the jeep. I asked Crowle and Locke to hold everyone. I found Charlie a mile or so back the trail with another broken pack. Boy, were we having fun. If my learning curve got any steeper, I was going to fall off.

“I’ll hike on with you Curt to provide support and company,” Charlie insisted.

I knew I was tired and could only imagine how he must feel given his extra 25 years and 50 pounds. I was beginning to realize that older people are often tougher than young people half their age with twice their strength. The journey we were on was as much psychological as it was physical. Maybe more so.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. (Treks down and across the Sierras are tough for everyone, but especially so for people without experience. It always seems that there are more mountains to climb and more canyons to drop into.)

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” –John Muir

"Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life." –John Muir

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” –John Muir (Over the years, I have known numerous people who have decided to change their lives while backpacking for a week through the Sierras.)

"Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue." –John Muir (The same photo as above a couple of hours later as alpen glow colors the ridge. This is in the Dusy Basin near Bishop.) 

“Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue.” –John Muir (The same photo as above a couple of hours later as the setting sun colors the ridge. This is in the Dusy Basin near Bishop.)

We initiated phase two of our journey around 2:00 p.m. In a little over 30 minutes we caught our four eleven-year-olds, who we had nicknamed the Four Mouseketeers, crawling along at a pace that a turtle would find embarrassing.

“Joe is really slow,” one of the urchins informed me.

Yeah, I thought to myself, and you guys are so glad he is because it provides all of you with an excuse to move at the same pace.

After about an hour of moving along at ‘Joe speed,’ Charlie plaintively informed me he wasn’t going to make it into camp if he couldn’t move faster. Having determined that three of our Mouseketeers really were good hikers, I assigned them to Charlie and took Joe on as my personal challenge. The experience was similar to moving my Basset Hound down the trail after he spent a full night of digging. Joe would go a quarter of a mile and stop, plopping down onto the dusty trail. We had managed about a mile of this when I came on Charlie again, standing beside the trail and pointing off to the left.

“Careful, Curt,” he began, “there is a huge timber rattler coiled up there.”

Adrenaline gave me a spurt of energy I didn’t know I had. Huge was hardly an adequate description. The snake was as thick as my wrist and about six feet long. Joe, either out of exhaustion or not caring, came to a shuffling halt mere inches away from the poised pit viper and kicked dirt into its face.

“Um, Joe,” I whispered trying to sound calm and not wanting to frighten him or the snake into precipitous action, “if you will look down to your left, you will see a snake. Don’t move.”

Had I received such instructions, I would have been 20 feet down the trail in one prodigious leap. Joe, on the other hand, looked down at the huge, coiled rattler, said ‘oh,’ and shuffled on down the trail. The snake didn’t budge; Joe was not food, friend or foe. We left the snake guarding the trail.

"Man must be made conscious of his origin as a child of Nature. Brought into right relationship with the wilderness he would see that he was not a separate entity endowed with a divine right to subdue his fellow creatures and destroy the common heritage, but rather an integral part of a harmonious whole." (Granite rules in the Sierras and reminds us of our place in the world.)

“Man must be made conscious of his origin as a child of Nature. Brought into right relationship with the wilderness he would see that he was not a separate entity endowed with a divine right to subdue his fellow creatures and destroy the common heritage, but rather an integral part of a harmonious whole.” –John Muir

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike." Few chunks of granite are more beautiful and famous than Half Dome in Yosemite.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” –John Muir (Few solid chunks of granite are more beautiful or famous than Half Dome in Yosemite.)

"Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality."

“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.” –John Muir

Charlie went on ahead with his three charges and I continued to herd my half dead companion. It was after dark when I heard the stream that I knew meant camp. It was an extremely welcome sound; Joe and I had been traveling for at least 30 minutes by flashlight. Charlie was waiting for us outside camp.

“We have a problem Curt…” he began for the second time that day, although the day had already stretched out forever and I hadn’t known one minute when the ubiquitous problem did not exist. As supportive as Charlie had been, I had thoughts of killing the messenger.

“What’s it this time,” I asked, struggling to keep the grump and whine out of my voice.

“One of the Trekkers is lost and the rest of the Trekkers are ready to string you up from a tree,” he reported matter-of-factly. But then, it wasn’t his neck. “I’ve calmed them down by telling them all you have done today,” he went on. “Now they are just going to give you the silent treatment.”

I am not a praying type of person but I looked up at the sky and said, “God, get me back to Sacramento and I promise I will go back to running Christmas Seal Campaigns with my 80-year-old, lady volunteers and be perfectly happy.” The odds against any future Trek program had just hit 1000 to 1.

Before going to bed, I insisted that the Trekkers gather around so I could learn what I could about the missing person, Dick. Silent treatment or not, I needed to think through an action plan for the next day. Dick was the school teacher who had claimed he could carry his weight in booze. He had been hiking alone and hadn’t talked to anyone about leaving the route. The Trekkers could only give me an approximation of where they had last seen him.

I decided to get folks up early in the morning. I would high-tail-it the two miles into camp and see if Dick had shown up at Robinson Flat. If not, I would check with the ranger station and help organize a search party. Two of my strongest hikers would stay behind in camp in case Dick showed up there. Charlie would bring the rest of the Trekkers on to Robinson Flat.

"When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak." –John Muir (I sometimes backpack by myself in the wilderness and spend nights with nothing but myself and nature. I highly recommend the experience.)

“When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.” –John Muir (I sometimes backpack by myself in the wilderness and spend nights with nothing but myself and nature. I highly recommend the experience.)

I was exhausted and couldn’t go to sleep but somewhere in the wee hours I must have dozed off because I woke with a start as Charlie lobbed pebbles at my sleeping bag. I was up and packed in a zip. After a few words of encouragement to the troops, who had made a miraculous recovery over night, I was bounding off up the trail like a hare with the hounds of hell in hot pursuit. Just as I came into camp, Dick came hoofing in from the opposite direction. I didn’t know whether to kiss or to kill him, but he was too ugly for the former and possibly too tough for the latter.

I settled for, “Are you okay Dick?”

“Sure,” he replied in a why-wouldn’t-he-be tone.

“What happened,” I demanded, allowing my irritation to surface.

“I got thirsty,” Dick explained. “I could see French Meadow Reservoir at the bottom of the ridge so I hiked down to get a drink. When I got there, I was tired so I set up camp.”

My irritation boiled over.

“Why didn’t you tell someone you were leaving? Didn’t you realize we would be worried sick and mounting a search and rescue effort?” I was on a roll and Dick was on the receiving end of a great deal of frustration I was feeling. Fortunately, guilt had driven him to get up before dawn and make his way to Robinson Flat as quickly as he could. It might have been worse, much worse.

The crisis was over, but I still had chores. First up was to go back and collect the rearguard I had left at Duncan Creek. I could have sent Steve but I needed the down time. As I hiked, I made my second command decision of the day. Even though we had only hiked for two days, the group could use a layover day. Hell, I could use a layover day. In fact, I needed a layover day. I deserved a layover day. The next day could wait for its turn. What else could go wrong? Hah!

"God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts..." (Wise words in these troubling times of division.)

“God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts…” –John Muir (Wise words in these troubling times of division.)

"It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods -- trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries ... God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools -- only Uncle Sam can do that." (Something to think about as 'Uncle Sam' moves to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.)

“It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods — trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries … God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools — only Uncle Sam can do that.” (Something to think about as ‘Uncle Sam’ moves to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and the regulations that protect these forests from destruction.)

"Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light." (With 50 years of wandering the Sierra Nevada Mountains behind me, I agree.)

“Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. –John Muir (With 50 years of wandering the Sierra Nevada Mountains behind me, I agree.)

NEXT BLOGS:

Friday: An amazing octopus and rhino. More on the mutant vehicles of Burning Man.

Monday: Sully and his airplane.

Wednesday: Sierra Trek: The layover day where all sorts of interesting things happen.

A Pot Smoking Orgy in the Mountains? No Way… The First Sierra Trek: Part 4

The high Sierras are chockfull of beautiful alpine lakes. Except for very dry years, water is rarely a problem. Often the opposite is true, especially when it comes to crossing creeks and rivers filled with rushing snowmelt.

The high Sierras are chockfull of beautiful alpine lakes. Except for very dry years, water is rarely a problem. Often the opposite is true, especially when it comes to crossing creeks and rivers filled with rushing snowmelt. Obviously, that wasn’t a problem here.

 

In my last blog about the Sierra Trek, I wrote about how we had survived the first day. Often, as I have learned from over 30 years of experience, that’s the toughest part. But on the first Sierra Trek, it was only the beginning of my problems…

A reminder, the photos I am using are from other Treks I have led over the years. I am sticking with my water theme today, given all of the water problems I had on days one and two of Sierra Trek I. 

Steve, Lisa and I set up camp on the opposite side of a small stream from our Trekkers. I am not sure why. Maybe Steve and I were subconsciously escaping from what we had created, but I suspect we just wanted a good night’s sleep. The Trekkers were noisy and the burbling brook served as nature’s sound maker.

I made my evening rounds before turning in. We had divided the Trekkers into food groups of four and I went from group to group checking for problems. Overall, people seemed in good spirits. There were a few sore ankles and knees, but blisters were the problem that elicited the most complaints. I dispensed sympathy and mole skin. I also gave everyone a preview of the next day and warned that it was going to be tough. My last words were to remind people that 9:00 PM was quiet hour. I wanted everyone fresh for the next challenge.

If there was noise, we didn’t hear it. We were zonked out from exhaustion. Early the next morning we were up in the dark, wolfing down our quick breakfast of instant oatmeal, and throwing our gear together when Charlie arrived. He looked serious.

“We have a problem Curt,” he started without preamble. God, I hate those words. My vivid imagination had a stove blowing up, or a Trekker cutting herself, or one of Steve’s migrating rattlesnakes finding a warm sleeping bag. Or maybe the IRS had arrived to grab Charlie and we were to be held as accomplices.

“What’s up?” Steve threw in, cutting short my growing list of possible disasters.

“We had a doctor from Sacramento come in and camp next to us last night,” Charlie reported. “He says he is going back to Sacramento and tell the press that the Lung Association is running a pot-smoking-orgy in the mountains.”

“Oh hell,” Steve said. I seconded his thought and added a few of my own with much more colorful words. A blown-up stove I could deal with. A cut I could bandage. A rattlesnake I could chase off and frequently have. But what do you do with a physician who has infected his butt with his head. Beg? It took absolutely zero imagination to figure out what the Trek’s future and my career with Lungland would look like one day after ‘pot-smoking-orgy’ made the headlines.

“I tried to reason with him but it was impossible,” Charlie threw in as if he were reading my mind and wanted to dash any hope I had. Just then Orvis came tramping into our camp. Uh-oh I wondered, is the other shoe about to drop? Orvis could backpack at 70 because he had never consumed alcohol or smoked in his life. He was almost as pure as his white beard that decorated his chest. I couldn’t imagine him being very tolerant of misbehavior.

“The man is lying,” Orvis said angrily and forever earned my undying love. “I was there the whole night and no such thing happened. If he goes back to Sacramento and talks to the press, I’ll go back to Sacramento and talk to the press and we’ll see who they believe!”

I wasn’t quite as sure about Trekker behavior as Orvis. It was the seventies after all and we had recruited some interesting characters. I had heard the teenagers giving each other a hard time the night before during my rounds.

“Hey Suzy, why don’t you come over here check out my sleeping bag?” But the response had been, “Why don’t you take your sleeping bag and stuff it?” I had also had a discussion with our younger kids about the Trek not being an appropriate place for tobacco. Who knows what the doctor had seen or had thought he had seen?

“Look, I have an idea,” I said to the small crowd that had gathered around our cook stove.  “I want you to go back to the camp and tell everyone to gather near the rock which is about ten yards away from the Doctor’s camp. Tell them I am going to read them the riot act and I want them to look dejected and apologetic whether they feel that way or not. It’s show time.”

My helpers dispersed to do their job and I carefully thought through what I was going to say. At the appropriate time, I marched over to the rock looking like my dog had just been killed and climbed up on the rock. It was Sunday morning and ever after my lecture was known as the ‘sermon on the mount.’ Sixty expectant but properly humble faces looked up at me. I could see that the doctor had also stopped his activities and glued his attention on what we were up to.

“Last night we made a serious mistake.” I started, making sure the doctor could hear me. “It has come to my attention that there was misbehavior in camp which may have included the use of marijuana. I want to apologize to all of you for not being in camp myself and to let you know I will be from now on. I also want you to know that such activity jeopardizes not only this Trek but the possibility of any events like it in the future. I know that you have all worked hard to be here and that you have worked hard to raise money to fight lung disease and support medical research. I want your word that no such further activities will take place on this Trek.”

Charlie, Steve and company had done their work well. “We’re sorry.” “It won’t happen again.” “You have our word on it,” and similar statements were heard from all sides with everyone looking more serious than I have seen any Trekkers look since. I then dismissed the group to break camp.

As I walked away the doctor made a beeline for me and held out his hand.

“I am Doctor so and so,” he announced. “Although things were out of control last night, it appears you have them under control now and probably won’t have any more problems. Good luck on your trip.”

I thanked him for his concern and breathed an audible sigh of relief. He wandered back to his campsite, undoubtedly pleased with his power and influence while I moved away to avoid expressing my thoughts about his ancestry. The next challenge was how we were going to get our Trekkers through the day. It promised to be a doozy— sixteen miles with very limited water. It left little time to contemplate what might have happened had the misplaced medic carried out his threat.

Continuing on with my theme of alpine Sierra lakes, trials like these that wander along the edge are a delight to hike.

Continuing on with my theme of alpine Sierra lakes, trails like these that wander along the edge are a delight to hike.

Alpine lake along the John Muir Trail.

The views aren’t bad either.

Usually, crossing outlets can provide a bit of a challenge, as Ann Nash demonstrates.

Usually, crossing outlets can provide a bit of a challenge, as Ann Nash demonstrates. We spend a lot of time on logs over water. Often it is much scarier than this! Imagine a roaring river below you.

Ann had a nice view of logs...

Ann had a nice view of water soaked tree trunks under the water.

Reflections are also common and can detract from your concentration.

Reflections are also common and can detract from your concentration.

How about rain drops falling on the water...

How about rain drops falling on the water…

Small ponds like this are always a favorite of mine. Mosquitoes can be a problem, though.

Small ponds like this are always a favorite of mine. So, I will conclude with this photo.

NEXT BLOGS: On Friday I will feature more of Burning Man’s colorful mutant vehicles. Next Monday, we will look at the actual airplane that crash landed on the Hudson River. On Wednesday, I’ll return to the Sierra Trek where we cover 16 miles without water, a person is lost, a giant rattlesnake forces me off the trail, and I face a mini-rebellion. Some fun!

Bears, Rattlesnakes, Heart Break, and Ham Cheddarton… The Sierra Trek: Part 3

Beauty in the Sierra Nevada Mountains comes in many forms, such as this Red Fir giant I found on Seavey Pass.

Beauty in the Sierra Nevada Mountains comes in many forms, such as this Red Fir giant I found on Seavey Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail.

 

In my last post about the Sierra Trek, I noted that the clock was ticking. We had a route that threatened to be covered in horse poop, a sponsor who believed that backpacking 100 miles in 9 days was insane, a barely edible meal of Ham Cheddarton for a quarter of our dinners, and 60 people, aged 11-70, ready to follow us across the mountains.

 It was now time for Steve and me to go out and check the route, to get a feel for how much trouble we were actually in! We had agreed to split the preview: Steve would backpack the first third of the route from Squaw Valley to Robinson Flat while I backpacked the second third from Robinson Flat to Forest Hill. We’d cover the final third the weekend before the Trek.

A note about today’s photos: As I mentioned previously, the photos for this series on the first Sierra Trek are all taken from later treks.

 

Steve had never backpacked alone and I had only been out by myself three times. It promised to be an adventure. In addition to reducing the odds that we would lose 60 people in the woods, we also needed to check out potential camps, water availability, and the difficulty of the trail. I wanted to develop a feel for what we would be putting our participants through.

Nervous is the best word to describe my mood as I packed up. Jo Ann was heading off for a clothes-buying spree in San Francisco. I told her to enjoy herself, threw my backpack in the back of my Datsun truck, picked up Steve, and drove to Squaw Valley. We made a brief stop in Auburn to recruit my father-in-law’s Springer Spaniel, Sparky. I felt the trip might be a little rough on my basset hound, but wanted some doggy companionship. I left Steve weaseling a free ride up the Squaw Valley tram and headed for Robinson Flat, a camping area on the Western side of the Sierra.

Some experiences burn themselves into your soul. This was one. The beauty and the variety of the wilderness captured me. I was starting at around 7000 feet in the heart of red fir and Jeffrey pine country and dropping into the Sierra Foothills where incense cedar and ponderosa pine provided shade.

Along the way I would descend into river canyons filled with inviting pools and scramble out to follow hot, dry ridges. Besides Sparky, a coyote, two skunks, several deer, a porcupine, and numerous birds provided entertainment. I also met my first bear, a big brown fellow that came ambling out of the brush and increased my heart rate twofold. Even the ever-curious Sparky took one sniff and made a quick retreat behind me. Then she growled.

Being alone enhanced and intensified the experience. The days were exciting but the nights bordered on scary. After the bear, I imagined all types of creatures sneaking up on us as we slept. Sparky was even more nervous. I loaned her my new Pendleton shirt to sleep on. She had chewed it to rags when I woke up in the morning. I didn’t have the heart to scold her. Had I known what she was up to, I might have joined her.

This photo taken near Sonora Pass illustrates both the distances and possible solitude of hiking in the Sierras.

This photo taken near Sonora Pass illustrates both the distances and possible solitude of hiking in the Sierras. You can see the trail as it comes into the photo (bottom left), and works its way  down the slope. Look carefully and you will see it on the distant ridge.  The small dot on the ridge is one of my trekkers. Can you find the pass? (Look for the sharp switchback.)

It was the physical challenge that made the deepest impression. I was strong but out of shape. Even had I been better prepared, I wasn’t psychologically ready for the experience of hiking 10-15 mile days with a 50-pound pack on my back. Nor was the territory gentle. I was hiking in and out of 1000 foot plus deep canyons following steep, winding trails that had challenged the 49ers in their endless search for gold. Once I found myself lost on a brush choked mountain and had to fight my way free.

Participants start out squeaky clean on the trek. You can always tell backpackers who have only been out for a day.

Treks are hard. Period. Not one has ever been as hard as my first one, but that doesn’t mean they are easy. You start out squeaky clean, like Marvin, and then the days begin to take their toll.

After several days, they may resemble Marvin here, who I believe is surrendering to mosquitos.

This is Marvin after several days. I believe he is surrendering to mosquitos.

As I approached Forest Hill, temperatures climbed to a scorching 105 degrees. To top it off, I was breaking in a new pair of German-made Lowa boots. All of the backpacking literature of the day emphasized sturdy foot ware and it didn’t get much sturdier than Lowa. Considering my feet blister at the mere sight of a boot, they were not happy campers. By the third day I had blisters on top of blisters and my feet resembled a hyperactive moleskin factory.

But, I made it. I proved to myself I could do it and that the Trek was possible. With the proof came an incredible high. I hiked into Forest Hill singing.

Steve showed up about an hour later. He was beaming and jumped out of the truck to grab me while Sparky did much wagging of tail. The three of us did a little dance and Steve and I both tried to talk at once as we told our stories. Steve had seen ‘migrating’ rattlesnakes and lots of bear scat. He peed around his camping area to mark his territory and warn the bears to stay out. They did. The second day a hawk had ‘chased’ him down the trail for miles. I wondered what Steve had been smoking. But now he was on the same natural high I was. We were ready to Trek.

I couldn’t wait to share my experience with Jo Ann. I hurried home, dropping off a tired Sparky and a pooped Steve. I burst into the house full of enthusiasm. In comparison to my bubbling nosiness, Jo was funeral quiet. I made enough noise for both of us and suggested we head out to Chuck’s, our favorite steakhouse. After three days of backpacking food, I was hungering for a mouth-watering T-bone. We were in the middle of our first Scotch when Jo Ann looked at me miserably and announced she had something to tell me.

“Curt,” she confessed, “I didn’t go to San Francisco over the weekend. I went to Los Angeles and spent the weekend with a man I met at a workshop last month.”

My world stopped. My heart broke.

There was no Trek, no future, no me. The steak in my mouth turned to sawdust and my stomach became a tight, heavy knot. Jo Ann went on to tell me about the psychiatrist she had met at a conference in San Francisco and how she was scared about losing me, about how she still loved me. Maybe, but something broke that night, something that could not be mended.

I had to get out of town, to think, to recreate myself.

The next morning Jo dropped me downtown. I called Steve, Nancy and Nan into my office, closed the door and gave them enough details so they would know why I was leaving. In addition to being employees, they were all friends. It was hard for me not to break down. I promised that I would be back in time for the Trek and discussed what needed to be done in my absence. Steve’s primary job would be to review the last section of the trail. He drove me to the airport.

My choice of where to go was determined by the first airplane leaving Sacramento. It was a Western Airlines flight to Seattle and I was on it. It was Tuesday, 12 days before the Trek.

Lonely and confused I walked the dark, rainy streets of Seattle. I missed Jo desperately and had a hard time imagining the future. I hit the bars and drank. It wasn’t that I was naïve. I knew people could grow apart as well as together, and that we had grown apart. Nor was I innocent. I had been tempted more than once in the ever-present world of sexual attraction: a hand touched here, a smoldering glance there. My world was one filled with bright, attractive women. But I had really believed I was married for life.

I had started drinking at a bar early on Friday afternoon when the words of a Jimmy Buffett song caught my attention. “I spent four lonely days in a brown ugly haze and I just want you back by my side.” I returned to my motel and called Jo. She was on the next flight to Seattle. We grabbed a ferry and headed over to Victoria where we had spent happier times. Maybe it would work.

Back at Lungland on Monday things were iffy. On the down side of things, Steve hadn’t previewed the last section of the trail. Who knows why? Our last three days would be potluck. The good news was that our generous food donation from Lipton had arrived, umpteen boxes of it. It was scattered all over the floor of our volunteer room.

I opened the first box, Ham Cheddarton. Oh well, can’t win them all. I had known the trekkers would be stuck with at least two meals of the stuff. So I opened the next box, Ham Cheddarton. Luck of the draw, I hoped. I opened the third box, Ham Cheddarton. Soon boxes were opened everywhere and they were all Ham Cheddarton. A warehouseman at Lipton had figured out a clever way of moving his unsellable product and we were it. We were faced with giving the trekkers Ham Cheddarton every night. We would be killed. Steve called his Lipton contact in Chicago and pleaded our case. He agreed to switch 50% of our food; we’d only be 50% killed.

From the very beginning, I divided my participants into food groups of 3-4 people. That way, cooking equipment and responsibilities can be divided up. We've tried many foods over the years. Mountain House, shown here, has been consistently good.

From the very beginning, I divided my participants into food groups of 3-4 people. That way, cooking equipment and responsibilities could be divided up. We’ve tried many foods over the years. Mountain House, shown here, has been consistently good.

When we are lucky, trout can be added as a supplement.

When we are lucky, trout can be added as a supplement. My son-in-law Clay had sacrificed himself to mosquitos to capture this fellow. A little butter, a little spice— mmm good!

Saturday came fast, faster than a speeding bullet, faster than Superman could even dream of flying. Suddenly it was just there. There was no sleeping on Friday night. I had to pack and I had to worry. I had to worry a lot. There was no way I had enough time to worry, so I was still worrying when I met my support crew at a small restaurant just outside of Squaw Valley at 7:00 AM. The first Sierra Trek was about to get underway…

NEXT BLOGS: Friday, Burning Man in photos; Monday, a wrap up on historic Boston; Wednesday, the next episode of the Sierra Trek

 

From An Ex-Ice Hockey Player, to a Ballerina, to a Witch: Meet the Sierra Trek Participants

I didn't have a clue what to expect when we started recruiting for the first Sierra Trek. What I quickly found out was that people from all ages and walks of life wanted to hike across the mountains. What I learned one 30 years was that three things determined the success of the program: The people, the challenge, and the beautiful country. That participants were raising money for a good cause was a plus. This is Darth Cathy, who joined us on the 4th year, I believe. Actually Cathy is wearing a a dark mosquito net. Her career was that of an IRS agent.

I didn’t have a clue what to expect when we started recruiting for the first Sierra Trek. What I quickly found out was that people from all ages and walks of life wanted to hike across the mountains. This is “Darth” Cathy (grin), who joined us on the 4th year. Actually Cathy is wearing a dark mosquito net. Her career (now retired) was that of an IRS agent.

 

In my last blog about the Sierra Trek, I persuaded my Board of Directors to support the concept. I then hired Steve to help put the event together and we had located a 100-mile route across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was the beginning of July and the Trek was to take place in the mid-August. The clock was ticking.

A note about today’s photos: As I mentioned previously, the photos for this series on the first Sierra Trek are all taken from later treks. Today’s photos are from the mountains west of Lake Tahoe in the Granite Chief and Desolation Wilderness areas.

 

Our first challenge was whether we could recruit participants. Were there people in the Sacramento area crazy enough to go on a nine-day, 100-mile backpack trip up and over mountains?

The answer was a resounding yes. Steve was able to get an article published in the Sacramento Bee. All participants had to do was raise funds for the Lung Association. Naively, we failed to suggest experience would be valuable, set an age limit, or ask for a minimum amount of pledges. People came out of the proverbial woodwork! We held an orientation session at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District auditorium with close to 100 people in attendance.

Among them were a 16-year old ballerina with legs of steel and a 250-pound, fifty-four year old ex-ice hockey player who had also had a career defusing bombs in South America. At the time, he was dodging the IRS. Four little 11-year old boys came as inseparable buddies and I wondered what kind of baby-sitting service their parents assumed we were providing. There was busty Sunshine who had a skinny partner named Bilbo. (Decades before the movie trilogy, people were already entranced with Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I was.) Lovely Lisa was 19 years old and a perfect 10.

Another woman, who claimed to be a witch, informed me, “I’ll be over to bite you around midnight on the Trek.” And no, she never came over to bite me; but had I encouraged it, I am pretty sure it could have been arranged. We had a 40-year-old teacher from Auburn who would never sit down during the day because she claimed she would never get up, and a 45-year-old teacher from Davis who claimed he could carry his weight in booze, and probably did. There was also a young man named Dan with flaming red hair who wore moccasins, juggled and played a harmonica as he walked down the trail.

And there was Orvis.

Three weeks before the Trek, an elderly, white-haired gent with a long flowing beard and twinkling eyes walked into my office and announced he wanted to go. His name was Orvis Agee. He was 70 years old and a carpenter. He couldn’t have weighed over 100 pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. I made a snap decision.

“Uh,” I said searching for a gentle way of telling him I thought he might be too old for the Trek, “this is going to be a very difficult trip. Do you have any backpacking experience?”

“Well,” he announced proudly, “I went on a 50 mile trip with the Boy Scouts last year.” That was 20 miles farther than I had ever backpacked. “And,” he added as he warmed to the subject, “I’ve climbed Mt. Shasta several times since I turned 60.” I had never climbed Mt. Shasta or any other mountain of note. Mainly over the past ten years I had been sitting around becoming chubby.

“Welcome to the Sierra Trek,” I eked out. What else could I say? (Seventeen years later at age 87, Orvis would do his last Trek with me. It was Peggy’s first trek. He had personally raised the Lung Association well over $100,000.)

People from all walks of life joined our treks over the years. Many would come again and again. Nancy Pape, who is an interior decorator, first joined us in 1977. 40 years later, she still calls me each year to see if I am going on a backpacking trip she can join. She's family.

People from all walks of life joined our treks over the years. Many would come again and again. Nancy Pape, who is an interior decorator, first joined us in 1977. 40 years later, she still calls me each year to see if I am going on a backpacking trip she can join. On this particular trip she took a hand full of pills and choked on them. Another long-term trekker, Ken Lake, gave her the Heimlich Maneuver and quite possibly saved her life.

Here's Ken, enjoying a quiet moment. Peggy's sister, Jane, and I hired Ken to run our first 500 mile bike trek in 1977 and help out with programs. Prior to going to college, he had been a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. He, along with his wife Leslie, are also part of our extended family.

Here’s Ken, enjoying a quiet moment. Peggy’s sister, Jane, and I hired Ken to run our first 500 mile bike trek in 1977 and help out with programs. Prior to going to college, he had been a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War.

Bill Braun, shown here with Peggy, is one of my all time favorite trek characters. Bill's job was that of chief mechanic on the huge container ships. He, along with Cathy, often helped Orvis down the trail in his later years, once leading him by hand when he couldn't see because of cataracts! Bill and Cathy working together to help Orvis would eventually lead them to get married.

Bill Braun, shown here with Peggy, is one of my all time favorite trek characters. Bill’s job was that of chief mechanic on huge container ships. He, along with Cathy, often helped Orvis down the trail in his later years, once leading him by hand when he couldn’t see because of cataracts! Their work together in helping Orvis would eventually lead them to get married.

Speaking of family, this is our daughter Tasha standing with me in the Desolation Wilderness next to a trail sign. She went on several treks with us.

Speaking of family, this is our daughter Tasha standing with me in the Desolation Wilderness next to a trail sign. She went on several treks with us. And no, she isn’t seven feet tall. She was standing on a rock.

And our son, Tony. When he graduated from Annapolis, I promised to take him on a 100 mile trip including climbing Mt. Whitney. He jumped at the opportunity.

And our son, Tony. When he graduated from Annapolis, I promised to take him on a 100 mile trip including climbing Mt. Whitney. He jumped at the opportunity.

As the Trekkers rolled in, Steve and I focused our energies on the next task. What were we going to feed the mob that we would apparently be leading through the mountains? Breakfast and lunch could be pulled off the shelves in the local grocery stores. Dinner was the problem. Freeze dried food was in its early stages of development and somewhat expensive for my budget.

There was another possibility. Lipton had a lightweight, off-the-shelf dinner, which was inexpensive and sold through grocery stores. The meals came in four flavors and featured tiny amounts of turkey, chicken, beef and ham with gourmet names attached. I bought all four and Jo and I did a taste test. Except for the Ham Chadderton, they were actually decent. The Chadderton resembled something a bird might regurgitate and tasted slightly worse. “What the heck,” I thought, “three out of four isn’t bad.”

Steve suggested that he call Lipton’s headquarters back east and see if we could get the food donated. We would offer to ‘test market’ and publicize their food for the growing backpacking market. Lipton bought it. We had our dinners, and Steve had earned his $16 for the day.

We also wanted a backpacking store as a sponsor. An outdoor store would provide some much-needed credibility and be a valuable source of advice and recruits. I did a scientific search by looking in the Yellow Pages and picking out the first store I came to, Alpine West. It was only a few blocks away at 10th and R Street so I walked over. A bushy bearded, hippie-like character in his mid-twenties was behind the cash register.

“Excuse me,” I asked, “is the owner or manager in?”

“I am the owner,” was the somewhat terse reply. “What can I do for you?”

I did a quick regrouping, “Hi, my name is Curt Mekemson and I am the Executive Director of the local Lung Association,” I said as I offered my hand. He gave me a ‘what donation are you about to ask for look’ but took my hand and introduced himself as Tom Lovering. I explained what we were going to do.

“That’s insane,” Tom had replied with an assuredness that would have intimidated Attila the Hun. It certainly intimidated me. What do you say when the expert you are seeking advice from tells you flat-out that the idea you are already implementing is crazy.

“Um, it’s been nice chatting with you.” Or, “I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone.”

I opted for the “Why do you say that?” wanting to know how far out on the limb I had crawled. I quickly learned that the event we were planning was the equivalent of the Bataan Death March. People might do it but they were going to be miserable and say nasty things about the Lung Association and me for the rest of their lives.

After having said all of that, Tom agreed to sponsor and promote the Trek through his store. I left feeling a little confused. Did he want people to say nasty things about him and Alpine West?

Tom and I would go on to having numerous adventures. And he remained as wild as ever. Here is on a trip down the Colorado River that Peggy and I went on with him a few years ago.

Tom and I would go on to having numerous adventures. And he has remained as wild as ever. Here he is on a trip he led down the Colorado River that Peggy and I went on with him a few years ago.

Back at Lungland, the clock was ticking. The Trek was three weeks away and then two. It was time to go out and preview the route. Given Tom’s pessimistic assessment of our adventure, Steve and I felt the preview was all the more critical. We agreed to a long weekend where each of us would hike three days of the route. The final three days were saved for the following weekend just before the Trek. Could we plan things any tighter? There was no room for error…

We took our second trek south through the Desolation Wilderness, which is just south of the Granite Chief Wilderness and both west of Lake Tahoe. Here I am checking out the terrain.

We took our second trek south through the Desolation Wilderness, which is just south of the Granite Chief Wilderness and both west of Lake Tahoe. Here I am checking out the terrain.

And here's Peggy hiking down one of the trails in the Granite Chief Wilderness. The pack looks almost as big as she is.

And here’s Peggy hiking down one of the trails in the Granite Chief Wilderness. The pack looks almost as big as she is.

There is a series of four small lakes in the Desolation Wilderness called the 4 Q Lakes because of their shape. I took this reflection shot from my favorite camp location.

There is a series of four small lakes in the Desolation Wilderness called the 4 Q Lakes because of their shape. I took this reflection shot from my favorite camp location.

Flipped 90 degrees, it reminded me of an African mask.

Flipped 90 degrees, it reminded me of an African mask.

One of my favorite memories of Orvis was his expertise on flowers. Trekkers were always asking him for their names. I didn't know this one on our first trek so I asked Orvis. "Oh, that's a DYC," he told me. I dutifully told other trekkers it was a DYC. At the end of the Trek , I asked Orvis if the DYC stood for anything. He got a twinkle in his eye and said, "Dam yellow composite."

One of my favorite memories of Orvis was his expertise on flowers. Trekkers were always asking him for their names. I didn’t know this one on our first trek so I asked Orvis. “Oh, that’s a DYC,” he told me. I dutifully told other trekkers it was a DYC. At the end of the Trek , I asked Orvis if the DYC stood for anything. He got a twinkle in his eye and said, “Dam yellow composite.”

I'll conclude today with this tree blaze from the Desolation Wilderness. One of the joys of wilderness travel is finding old, long since forgotten trails and following them. Early sheepherders, ranchers, foresters, mountain men and explorers often marked their trails by cutting into the bark of trees. Many of the blazes would last for years and years, such as this one.

I’ll conclude today with this tree blaze from the Desolation Wilderness. One of the joys of wilderness travel is finding old, long since forgotten trails and following them. Early sheepherders, ranchers, foresters, mountain men and explorers often marked their trails by cutting into the bark of trees. Many of the blazes would last for years and years, such as this one.

NEXT BLOGS

Tomorrow: A review of Three Hundred Cups of Tea and The Toughest Job, a book by two Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Asifa Kanji and David Drury, on their experience as Volunteers in Mali, West Africa.

Friday/Saturday: The first of my photographic essays on Burning Man in preparation for the 2017 event.

Monday: Back to Boston and the Freedom Trail

What Do Burning Down a Bank and the Sierra Trek Have in Common? … The Sierra Trek: Part 2

Waterfall and pool on Five Lakes Creek in the Granite Chief Wilderness area behind Squaw Valley, California.

The Granite Chief Wilderness behind Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is an area of rugged terrain and natural beauty. This pool on Five Lakes Creek was an open invitation for a dip on a hot summer day. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

 

The vision part of being a visionary is always the easy part, as any visionary will tell you. It is the execution of the idea that separates the mouse from the moose. In my first blog on the Sierra Trek, I told how Steve Crowle and I had come up with the crazy idea of raising money for the non-profit I was executive director of by running a 9-day, 100-mile backpack trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. I had six weeks to plan and run the event. It would have been a major undertaking even if I had six months!

A note on photos: I didn’t take any pictures during the first Sierra Trek. It was before I became interested in photography, plus I had my hands full shepherding 63 people across the mountains— as you will learn. The photos in this blog and in the rest of the series were taken on later Treks and on personal trips in the Sierra’s and other California mountain ranges where we trekked. They will give you an idea of why I fell in love with backpacking and the Sierras. 

 

My first challenge on the trek was selling it to Board of Directors. Running a backpack trip as a fundraiser was a huge leap from sending out Christmas seals. At 29, I was close to the youngest Lung Association Executive Director in the nation in 1974 and I had already ruffled some feathers. A research doctor from UC Davis was foaming at the mouth because I wanted our organization to focus on prevention programs as opposed to medical research. What would he think of me running off to the woods on a backpack trip?

Leading a group of people through rugged terrain for long distances was a bit more scary than sending out Christmas Seals. Here we are looking south from the Granite Chief Wilderness to the Desolation Wilderness, a route we followed several times on the Sierra Trek.

Leading a group of people through rugged terrain for long distances was a bit more scary than sending out Christmas Seals. Here we are looking south from the Granite Chief Wilderness to the Desolation Wilderness, a route we followed several times on the Sierra Trek. Snow would often be a challenge on our adventures.

“You want to do what?” with a decided emphasis on the first and fifth words is the best way I can describe the Board’s reaction to my proposal. It was easy to translate: “Why would a 29-year-old executive director with less than a year of experience under his belt, want to risk his career on such a harebrained idea?”

I echoed wild Steve, “Why not?”

Actually I had a great Board. Once the members were convinced that this was something I really, really wanted to do, their final response was “OK, go for it!” I called Steve immediately. I had a wide range of responsibilities ranging from administration to program to fundraising. I would have a limited amount of time to devote to the project and I didn’t know anyone else who was crazy enough to take on the challenge.

I had originally talked Steve into replacing me as Executive Director of Sacramento’s Ecology Information Center with a sales pitch that included, “Look, I have this great job where you work 60 hour weeks, have a Board that likes to scream at each other, and has a starting salary of $200 per month. Are you interested?” Minus a screaming Board of Directors, organizing the Trek wouldn’t be all that different.

Steve had a bright, curious mind and was knowledgeable on environmental issues. He also seemed to have unlimited energy and was built like a bear. It had served his well as Executive Director of EIC. In addition to overseeing the Center’s ongoing projects, he had immediately set out to develop a community garden downtown. Initially known as the terra firma Garden and later as the Ron Mandela Garden, it would provide inner city residents with a touch of nature for over 30 years— all the way until the State of California decided to grow buildings on the site.

The downside about Steve was that he existed on the edge. I later learned that one of his friends who he recruited to volunteer on the Trek frequently flew to Columbia and returned with his cargo holds filled with pot. Steve was a ‘person of interest’ to the FBI.

A year after the Trek, Steve called me and told me that the FBI had showed up on his doorstep. My immediate thought was that they had tied Steve to the Colombia operation or that some of the terra firma/Mandela gardeners were growing marijuana. Steve’s concern was that his radical youth was catching up with him. He had been a little too close to the fire when the Bank of America had been burned down in Santa Barbara in 1970 as a protest against the Vietnam War. “And what were you doing with those matches?” Mr. Crowle. (Steve told me the Santa Barbara story a few years ago before he passed away.)

Actually, the FBI had bigger fish to fry. Apparently one of his gardeners had gone from farming her plot to plotting an assassination. Young Lynette Fromme grew up in Southern California where she was a star performer in a children’s dance group, performing at such venues as the Lawrence Welk Show and the Whitehouse.

At 19, a strong disagreement with her dad sent her scurrying off to Venice Beach where she found comfort from an older man, Charles Manson. She soon found herself one of Manson’s clan, taking care of an aging George Spahn at his ranch where the ‘family’ hung out. It was Spahn who gave Lynette her nickname “Squeaky,” because, as legend has it, she squeaked each time he tried to grope her.

Squeaky missed out on the murderous rampage the family undertook in 1969 killing Sharon Tate among others, but she remained intensely loyal to Charles, defending him to the press and anyone else who would listen. After Manson’s conviction and sentence to a lifetime in prison, she moved to Stockton where two of the people she was living with, James and Lauren Willett, mysteriously ended up dead.

Abandoning Stockton, Squeaky moved to Sacramento and rented an apartment with another Manson groupie, Sandra Good. The two of them adopted a new life style and persona as ‘nuns’ in Manson’s latest crusade, saving the earth. Manson even gave them new names with Squeaky becoming ‘Red’ and Sandra becoming ‘Blue.’ It was with her new name, persona, and purpose that Squeaky took up gardening at the Mandela Garden. Steve knew her, of course (she liked his intense eyes), but knew nothing about her background.

It was with her new purpose of ‘saving the earth’ that she left her apartment on the fateful morning of September 5, 1975 and strolled over to Capitol Park where she got within a few steps of the visiting President Gerald Ford before pointing her Colt 45 at him, creating immediate pandemonium. She later claimed she was “just trying to get the President’s attention.” She did. Three months later she found herself convicted of an attempted assassination and in prison.

As for Steve, he informed the FBI that he didn’t have a clue as to who Fromme was or what she was up to other than being a gardener. Like Pangloss, he went back to cultivating his garden.

But all of this was in the future. My phone call to Steve went something like the following:

“How would you like to go backpacking and get paid for it?” I asked.

“Give me a hard question,” Steve responded.

“Are you willing to work for two dollars an hour?” I casually threw in as fine print.

“That,” he replied, “is the question.”

I went on to explain that while the Board members had approved of the concept, they weren’t particularly enthusiastic about spending large sums of money to see if it worked. I could just barely squeeze out the minimum wage of the day for two months to see if we could pull it off. Steve, after ample groaning, allowed that it would supplement what he was earning at the Center and took the job.

My next responsibility was to come up with a name. While thinking of backpacking 100 miles in nine days the word trek popped in to my mind. So I looked it up in the dictionary. “A long, arduous journey” was the definition. That seemed appropriate, and since we were doing our long, arduous journey through the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, I decided to call it the Sierra Trek.

Where to go posed a more serious challenge. I came up with three criteria: one, it had to be 100 miles long; two, it needed be in our territory; and three, the trail should be easy to follow. The hundred miles was a given, and ‘being in our territory’ seemed feasible since several of ALASET’s (the American Lung Association of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails) nine counties encompassed a significant portion of the Northern Sierra.

The clinker in our selection process was the ‘easy to follow.’ I had nightmares of having Sierra Trekkers lost all over the mountains with Steve and me scrambling to find them. We’d be lucky if we could avoid becoming lost. Serendipity stepped in and helped out. I was reading the Sacramento Bee when I came across our solution.

The horse people were planning their annual 100-mile horse race across the Sierra Nevada, the Tevis Cup Race. The event started in Squaw Valley and ended in Auburn. Horses had to follow substantial trails, I reasoned. Squaw Valley had been the sight of the 1960 Winter Olympics and would provide an internationally known resort to kick off our event.

A trail sign for the Tevis Cup Trail behind Squaw Valley, California.

A trail sign marking the Tevis Cup horse race. The same route is now used for a 100-mile ultra marathon run across the mountains.

Auburn was one of the main foothill communities in the Association’s territory and would make an ideal ending place. The trail had the added advantage of being an early trail used by pioneers. We could use the historical angle and tie in with our name. My major concern was following a trail filled with horse poop.

Steve made contact with the woman in Auburn who was organizing the Tevis Cup Race. “Yes, the trail is easy to follow.” They marked it with yellow ribbons and the ribbons would still be up for our Trek. As for my concern about horse manure, “There should be plenty of time between the race and your trek for the manure to dry out.”

“Fine,” I said to Steve when he reported back, “our Trekkers will be shuffling down trails in dry horse shit up to there ankles.” On the other hand, I thought, we can tell them to follow the horse droppings if the ribbons run out. The important thing was we had a route and could begin publicizing the event. Steve and I agreed to preview the route in advance of the Trek to pin down campsites and reduce the possibility of nasty surprises.

So now, we had a route and a name. It was time to recruit participants, obtain food, and preview the route— all of which I will include in my next blog, where I will also learn a very valuable lesson from a 70-year old.

The Granite Chief Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada Mountains north of Lake Tahoe.

One of my favorite Granite Chief Wilderness views. Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley, and Alpine Meadows are on the other side of the mountain. The flowers are called Mule Ears. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Another field of mule ears in Granite Chief.

Another field of mule ears in Granite Chief. The trail wound its way through here.

A close up of the Mule Ears blooming. There are few places in the Sierra's that can match the display of flowers in the Granite Chief Wilderness,

A close up of the Mule Ears blooming. There are few places in the Sierra’s that can match the display of flowers in the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Washington Lilies found in the Granite Chief Wilderness area behind Squaw Valley.

These Washington Lilies are found on the trail as it makes its way through the Granite Chief Wilderness down toward Five Lakes Creek.

Mariposa Lilies found in dry areas behind Squaw Valley.

As are these Mariposa Lilies…

And Tiger Lilies.

Tiger Lilies.

Indian Paint Brush found in Granite Chief Wilderness behind Squaw Valley, California.

And Indian Paint Brush.

Lichens add color along the trail as well.

Lichens add color along the trail as well.

Snag found in the Granite Chief Wilderness north west of Lake Tahoe, California.

This old snag provided a different type of photo-op…

Lodge Pole Pines found in the Granite Chief Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

As did these weathered Lodge Pole Pines.

Little Needle Lake in the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Little Needle Lake is a short three-mile hike from the top of Squaw Valley. I enjoyed the reflection here. At night there is an amazing chorus of frogs. I’ve often camped beside the lake.

Five Lakes Creek in the Granite Chief Wilderness area behind Alpine Meadows ski area.

Five Lakes Creek flows along quietly here and provides and invitation to cool off in the middle of summer. Earlier it can be roaring with snow melt and icy water.

Peggy provides an example of how the creek should be enjoyed on a hot August afternoon.

Peggy provides an example of how the creek should be enjoyed on a hot August afternoon.

Canny on Five Lakes Creek near Diamond Crossing in the Granite Chief Wilderness.

The final photo of the day. Five Lakes Creek drops into a canyon a few miles below where Peggy enjoyed her cooling off. The top photo on this post provide a closeup. I often camped Treks at Diamond Crossing near here. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

 

 

A Far Out Excuse for Escaping to the Woods… The Sierra Trek Series: Part 1

The Black Buttes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are lit up by the evening sun.

Inspired by the beauty of the Five Lakes Basin found north of Interstate 80 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, I started a lifetime of backpacking in 1969.

 

At Five Lakes Basin’s/ Biggest little lake /after all day scrambling on the peaks/ a naked bug /with a white body and brown hair/ dives in the water/ Splash! — Gary Snyder

As I think about backpacking 500 miles this summer, my mind wanders back in time to the first major backpacking trip I ever made: a nine-day, 100 mile trek across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The trip in itself would have been a bit crazy considering my lack of experience. But I ended up leading 60 people aged 11 to 70, most with less experience than I had. It was a new definition of insanity. I was lucky the participants didn’t leave me hanging in a tree somewhere along the trail. It came close.

It’s a good story, one that I’ve been planning to tell for a long time. My Wednesday blog will be devoted to it over the next couple of months. So grab whatever you like to drink, sit back, and join me on the first Sierra Trek.

 

During the early summer of 1974 my life took a dramatic shift. My first wife Jo Ann, friend Steve Crowle, and I used a long summer weekend to go backpacking into one of my all-time favorite backcountry destinations, the Five Lakes Basin north of Interstate 80 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s a beautiful area with towering granite cliffs and jewel-like lakes that had been carved out by glaciers some 20,000 years ago. It’s also a favorite area of the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Gary Snyder, whose haiku poem on the area is featured at the top of this post.

Gary Snyders Haiku poem "Old Pond" was based on the Five Lakes Basin.

The Black Buttes looming above the Five Lakes are where the poet Gary Snyder went ‘scrambling.’

My first backpacking trip ever had taken me into the region in 1969 and I had returned again and again, sometime with Jo, sometimes with friends, and occasionally by myself. On one of the latter trips, I had taken my Basset Hound Socrates and camped out on a small lake that is somewhat hidden from the other lakes. I’ve blogged about the Socrates trip. Here’s what I wrote:

One of the five Lakes in the Five Lakes Basin north of Interstate 80 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

This is the lake where Socrates and I camped and where the Sierra Trek was born. This photo also shows how granite dominates the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Sharing the lake with Soc was close to being totally alone. His concept of a quality wilderness experience was disappearing into the woods and seeing how many holes he could dig. He never seemed to catch anything, so I am not sure of his motivation. I’d get up in the morning and cover his handiwork. I almost felt like I needed to file an environmental impact report. He always limped home on sore feet.

On this particular journey, I packed the Carlos Castaneda book that features things that go bump in the night. Don Juan takes Carlos out into the middle of the Sonoran Desert on a pitch-black night and abandons him. Not long afterwards, the monsters come hunting. It wasn’t the best book for a solo night in the woods. As I read into the evening, I found myself paying more attention than usual to wilderness sounds.

I ingested a little medicinal herb to lighten things up. It was the 70s, after all. Bad idea; instant paranoia set in. Soon I could hear the wind stalking me through the treetops. An old snag turned into a ghoul. Off in the distance something big and ugly was digging and snorting. Socrates, I hoped.

This tree turned into the ghoul as the sun set and night approached.

This Jeffrey Pine turned into the ghoul as the sun set and night approached.

Ghost tree in the Five Lakes Basin of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

A close up of the dead ghoul tree.

“Here Soc,” I called. “Come here boy.”

The digging continued and grew more desperate.

“Come here!” I yelled. Still no response but now I could hear large claws scratching at granite.

“Does someone want a Milk Bone?” I added in a quiet, conversational voice.

The digging stopped. ‘Someone’ started coming through the brush toward me. Whatever it was, it was apparently interested in Milk Bones. Soc’s head, long body and wagging tail made their way into the firelight. He might love digging, but he loved food more. There was the reason why our low-slung pooch weighed 70 pounds.

“Good boy,” I said while digging out a Milk Bone. I knew I was buying companionship but it seemed like a good idea on this strange, dark night. Meanwhile, Socrates had started to drool in expectation. Soon he was shaking his head and shooting dog slobber off in a dozen directions. I ducked to avoid being slimed.

Unfortunately, my supply of Milk Bones was limited. I tied Soc up to assure his faithfulness. It was time for bed. I put the fire out and was greeted by a moonless, dark night. But hey, who needed the moon when I had my faithful companion and a million stars. I invited Socrates to snuggle up on my sleeping bag and laid my head down on the coat I was using for a pillow.

CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH!

“Damn! What’s that?” I sat up straight and grabbed for my flashlight. Socrates joined in by barking at my sleeping bag.

“No, Soc, out there,” I urged and pointed the flashlight off into the woods. Soc glanced up at me with a curious ‘what are you talking about’ look and started barking at my pillow.

“Look Socrates,” I pleaded, “just pretend there is a garbage man out in the woods.”

Soc had never met a garbage man he could resist barking at and I wanted his teeth pointed in the right direction.  What Soc did with my advice was make three dog circles and plop down on my bag. I gave up and reluctantly laid my head back down on my pillow.

CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH!

I sat straight up again. Soc growled at me for disturbing his rest and started barking at my sleeping bag again.

“Fine watch dog you are,” I growled right back at him while straining my ears for the smallest of sounds. When Soc shut up, I was rewarded with a faint ‘crunch, crunch, crunch.’ It was coming from under the sleeping bag. I had a proverbial monster under my bed! Gradually it dawned on me that what I was hearing was a gopher tunneling his way through the ground, innocently on his way to some succulent root. I put my head down on my pillow. Sure enough, the ‘crunch’ became a ‘CRUNCH.’

The ground and the mystic weed were magnifying the sound. Soc had been right all along. I was lucky that he only barked at my sleeping bag and hadn’t started digging.

Don Juan would have appreciated how I had been tricked. Reality isn’t always what it seems.

Jo Ann, Steve and I had ended up camping on the same lake. Steve had replaced me as Executive Director of Sacramento’s Ecology Information Center when I had become Assistant Director of the American Lung Association of Sacramento. In addition to his boundless energy and intelligence, he was more than a little on the wild side. He had hobbies like jumping off high bridges into shallow water and experimenting with various mind-altering drugs. But mainly he loved life and had a vast appetite for new experiences.

One such experience was backpacking. We were lazing around our campfire on the last night bemoaning the fact that we had to return to civilization and jobs the next day.

“God, wouldn’t it be great if we could make money doing this,” Steve sighed.

Suddenly my mind took one of its intuitive leaps where the lights come on, the bells go off and four and twenty blackbirds sing the Hallelujah Chorus.

“We can, Steve!” I managed to get out as my thoughts played hopscotch. “Look, as Executive Director one of my main responsibilities is fund-raising.” (That spring, I had become Executive Director of the Lung Association.)

I was painfully aware my money-raising responsibilities. TB/Lung Associations had spent 70 happy years sending out Christmas Seals and waiting for the money to roll in. While the Golden Goose wasn’t dead, it was ailing. We had conquered TB and selling lungs wasn’t nearly as easy. Easter Seals had kids, the Heart Association the most appealing organ in the body, and the Cancer Society the scariest word in the dictionary. We had emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, the remnants of TB and diseases with unpronounceable names such as coccidioidomycosis. Adding injury to insult, dozens of non-profit organizations had added seals to their fund-raising arsenals. Competition for bucks to do-good was tough and the well was running dry.

“What if,” I pondered out loud, “we ran a backpack trip through the mountains as a type of multi-day walk-a-thon with people raising money for each mile they hiked?” I liked walk-a-thons. They involved people in healthy activities as well as raising money. They gave something back to the participants.

Steve’s attention jumped from low watt to high intensity. “When? Where? For how many miles and days? How can I be involved?” The questions tumbled out.

“I don’t know, I don’t know and I don’t know,” I responded, laughing at his enthusiasm although mine was hardly less. “But,” I added, throwing out some crazy figures, “what if we made it for nine days and 100 miles?”

That quieted us down. Neither of us had ever backpacked for nine days straight, much less 100 miles. A long trip for me had been six days and 30 miles. I threw out the nine days because it included a full week with both weekends and the 100 miles because it sounded impressive.

“Why not,” Steve had finally said with more than a little awe in his voice as a new national fund-raising program was born. It was a program that would occupy much of my time over the next 30 years, involve thousands of people, and raise substantial funds for the American Lung Association. But all of that was in the future; Steve and I just wanted an excuse to go backpacking.

Here are a few photos from the Five Lakes Basin:

Beautiful flowers such as this Mariposa Lilly...

In the summer, the Basin is filled with beautiful flowers such as this Mariposa Lilly…

Penstemon...

Penstemon…

And a butter cup.

And Cinquefoil.

Snag in the Five Lakes Basin .

Both live and dead trees decorate the landscape.

It was in the Five Lakes Basin

This impressive stump was located about 50 yards from camp.

In addition to their beauty, the lakes make great swimming holes and provide opportunities to add trout to dinner.

In addition to their beauty, the lakes make great swimming holes and provide opportunities to add trout to dinner. This was a view from my campsite.

Fun lakes and interesting reflections...

They are also good for reflection shots!

And interesting reflections.

This reflection of this tree was so clear it could have been real.

This reflection of this Lodgepole Pine was so clear it could have been real.

The sunset on the Black Buttes and, finally...

Another sunset photo of the Black Buttes and, finally…

A dramatic sunset.

A dramatic sunset.

FRIDAY’S BLOG: A photographic essay on the Glass Forge in Grants Pass, Oregon and its beautiful glass creations.

MONDAY’S BLOG: We will return to the Oregon Coast and visit the scenic Sunset Bay.

WEDNESDAY’S BLOG: Part 2 of my Sierra Trek series. I have to persuade a reluctant Board of Directors (“You want to do what?”), decide on a name, hire Steve, and determine our route.

Home and a Surprise… The Ten Thousand Mile Bike Trek— End of Series

When I arrived at Lake Tahoe, I returned to what I considered my home territory. Half of the beauty of the area is found in the Lake, the other half is in the surrounding backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

When I arrived at Lake Tahoe, I returned to what I considered my home territory. Half of the beauty of the area is found in the Lake, the other half is in the surrounding backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

I had planned my six month, solo bike journey around North America as a great circular route, starting and ending in the small, rural town of Diamond Springs, which is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range east of Sacramento. I grew up there, and the connection was important to me.

I had seen my journey as twofold. My primary purpose was to explore much of the US and Canada in a way few other people had. But I also wanted to use the opportunity to undertake an inward voyage, going back in time to explore my childhood and learn more about myself. Thus the Diamond Springs tie in.

The three-month trip Peggy and I made this spring allowed me to retrace my route and relive my 1989 experience. It also allowed me to share the journey with you, which I have done with 54 posts that included approximately 50,000 words and 1,000 photos: in even more words, that’s a lot! In the end, my North America bike trek had turned out to be everything that I hoped for, and much more. I had seen great beauty, met good people, and had numerous adventures— enough even for me.

Someday, I may share the inward journey. Suffice it to say here, I learned a lot about myself along the way. I achieved a balance and inner peace that have lasted up until today. I haven’t found myself teetering on the edge since 1989. I could run off and play in the woods for reasons other than to put Curt back together again.

But for now, let’s finish up the bike journey and discover the surprise at the end.

I left Carson City, Nevada following Highway 50 up and over Spooner Pass and then dropped into Lake Tahoe, arguably one of the world’s most beautiful lakes. Memories came flooding back. I had spent three college summers driving a laundry truck between Placerville and Lake Tahoe six days a week. The work was easy, the scenery beautiful and the money… well, it was enough to pay for my UC Berkeley education. (I only had to cover my living expenses, books and student fees. Those were the days when tuition at UC was still free, back in the days when government still believed that an investment in public education was one of the best investments it could make, back before it decided that making banks wealthy–er was more important.)

In 1974, I came up with the crazy idea that the organization I was Executive Director of in Sacramento could raise funds off of 9-day hundred mile backpack trips. Actually, I just wanted to go backpacking. The first one I led was from Squaw Valley, just northwest of Tahoe, across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Auburn. I took 63 people aged 11-70 and learned a lot. (I’ll tell you the story some time.) Fortunately the Trekkers let me live, and the event made money. Later I would add 9-day, 500 mile Bike Treks. Several included Lake Tahoe. I even organized a 7-day winter cross-country ski and camping trek through the Desolation Wilderness west of the lake. That was an experience!

I feel a deep attachment to the Sierra's on the west side of Lake Tahoe, having backpacked up and down and across them many, many times over the years. I feel more at home there than I ever have in any city.

I feel a deep attachment to the Sierra’s on the west side of Lake Tahoe, having backpacked up and down and across them many, many times over the years. I feel more at home in these mountains than I ever have in any city.

This impressive rock greeted me as I biked down to the Lake from Sooner Pass.

This impressive rock greeted me as I biked down to the Lake from Sooner Pass.

The Casinos started a quarter of a mile beyond this lovely meadow!

The Casinos started a quarter of a mile beyond this lovely meadow! Nevada has done a much better job of controlling growth than California.

My bike trip took me along the east shore of the lake to Stateline where I biked past more casinos and entered California and El Dorado County, the county of my youth. Highway 50 wound through South Lake Tahoe and then over to Myers where I climbed my second 7000-foot pass of the day. I felt like I could have done it blind-folded. I was on my laundry route. Every curve, every sight was an old friend. Passing over Echo Summit, I had a wonderfully long downhill ride to Riverton and then climbed up once more to Pollock Pines, where I left Highway 50 and detoured through Camino. I found a small barbershop there and got my first haircut since Nova Scotia. I was a bit on the bushy side. There was a chance that they wouldn’t recognize me in Sacramento, especially if you threw in the fact that I had lost 40 pounds and now had big, bulging muscles.

The Sierra's are world renown for their granite. This view is from the southern portion of the Tahoe basin just before you begin to climb out of it toward Echo Summit.

The Sierras are world renown for their granite. This view is from the southern portion of the Tahoe basin just before you begin to climb out of it toward Echo Summit.

Because of my laundry days, I knew every curve (and straight-stretch) between Lake Tahoe and Placerville!

Because of my laundry days, I knew every curve (and straight-stretch) between Lake Tahoe and Placerville! Just beyond the small hill on the left is a major drop into a deep canyon.

Horse Tail Falls is one of many scenic views I appreciated on my laundry trips and on my bike ride down the mountains. I once crossed the river when it was roaring like this on a narrow log. It was raining and I was by myself. I got down and crawled.

Horsetail Falls is one of many scenic views I appreciated on my laundry trips and on my bike ride down the mountain. I once crossed the river up near the top on a narrow log when it was roaring like this. It was raining, I was by myself, and I was wearing a 50 pound pack. I got down on my knees and crawled.

Sugarloaf Mountain located next to Kyburz Resort on Highway 50 in El Dorado County, CA.

This wonderful chunk of granite is known as Sugarloaf and is another favorite view along Highway 50. It’s quite popular among rock climbers, which is another sport (like jumping off bridges), I see no reason to pursue.

A short five miles brought me to Placerville, where I lingered, not wanting my journey to end. I had gone to high school here and spent my teenage years in the town learning about life, love, sex, and books, not necessarily in that order. Eventually, I climbed back on my bike, picked up Highway 49, and biked 3 miles into Diamond. I jumped off my bike, dropped it, and did a jig with great enthusiasm. People must have thought I was extremely odd. And I was. My 10,000-mile North America Bike Trek was over.

The town of Placerville where I went to high school was once known as Hangtown and is quite proud of it's heritage. A large oak tree in the center of the town was used for hanging bad guys (and probably a few innocents) during the Gold Rush Era.

The town of Placerville where I went to high school was once known as Hangtown and is quite proud of its heritage. A large oak tree in the center of the town was used for hanging bad guys (and probably a few innocents) during the Gold Rush Era.

Hangman's Tree location in Placerville, CA.

The tree was cut down long ago but this rather ghoulish fellow (or his look-alike) has been hanging at the site where the tree was as far back as my memory takes me.

Speaking of evil-doers, you might want to check here to find out why the Placerville Police of Chief was driving me around in his squad car behind the courthouse featured here and wanted to know whether I preferred to go to my graduation from high school that night or go to jail.

Speaking of evil-doers, you might want to check here to find out why the Placerville Police of Chief was driving me around in his squad car behind the courthouse featured above, wanting to know whether I preferred  to spend my night graduating from high school or going to jail.

And finally, after riding my bike for 10,000 miles, I returned to Diamond.

And finally, after riding my bike for 10,000 miles, I returned to Diamond.

But my trip wasn’t quite over; I still had to bike into Sacramento.

I spent the night in Diamond and then rode along Highway 49 through the town, past the cemetery, past my old house, and on to Eldorado, following the same route I had six-months earlier. It felt like decades. In El Dorado, I left my route and followed back roads into Sacramento. I had a Trek-planning meeting that night at the Lung Association. My friend Jane Hagedorn, the Executive Director, had lured me back into town with the promise of Treks. I wheeled my bike into the office at 909 12th street and was greeted royally by Raquel, Jane’s executive secretary, a woman I had hired in 1974.

“Where’s Jane?” I asked, eager to see my friend. “She’s on an important phone conference call,” Raquel answered. The door to her office was closed. I had turned around, a bit disappointed, when a woman I didn’t know came bursting out of one of the offices. Wow, I thought, she’s gorgeous. She gave me a lovely smile that warmed me from my head to my toes, and everywhere in between.

“Hi,” she greeted me, grabbing my hand. “I am Peggy, Jane’s sister. You have to be Curtis! I’ve been hearing stories about you for years.” I swear— I fell in love— then and there.

A new journey had begun.

Last week, Peggy and I celebrated 24 years of marriage and 26 years of happily wandering the world together.

A 1993 photo of Peggy one year after we had married. Always up for an adventure, she had just finished a 150 mile backpack trip down the John Muir Trail I had led. More to the point she had just finished hiking a 16 mile day with a 40 pound pack up and over Mt. Whitney that had included 9000 feet of elevation gain and loss. And she was still smiling!

A 1993 photo of Peggy at 43 one year after we had married. Always up for an adventure, she had just finished a 150 mile backpack trip down the John Muir Trail I had led to celebrate my 50th birthday. More to the point she had just finished hiking a 16 mile day with a 40 pound pack up and over Mt. Whitney that had included 9000 feet of elevation gain and loss. And she was still smiling!

Peggy celebrating the end of re-tracing my bike route at the Diamond Springs hotel. She had driven our RV the whole way so I could take photos and notes. Still smiling!

Peggy celebrating the end of re-tracing my bike route at the Diamond Springs Hotel. She had driven our RV the whole way so I could take photos and notes. Still up for an adventure, still smiling and still gorgeous at 65!

NEXT BLOG: Meet Petros, the world’s most famous pelican. A blog quickie!

 

On Hearing Voices in the Desert: Nevada… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

Early prophets headed into the desert to seek guidance and find their gods. Living in the harsh environment served as a sacrifice. Being totally alone in deep silence of the desert meant they had only themselves to listen to. It was easy to hear the whispers and voices of their inner selves, and possibly something else, ancient voice reverberation down through time.

Early prophets headed into the desert to seek guidance and find their gods. Living in the harsh environment served as a sacrifice. Being totally alone in the deep silence of the desert meant they had only themselves to listen to. It was easy to hear the whispers and voices of their inner-selves, and possibly something else, ancient voices reverberating down through time.

 

Have you ever heard someone talking to you when no one is around? The mental health folks call this experience an auditory hallucination. If you do it a lot, people start worrying about you. Words like mania or schizophrenia are thrown around. Professional advice is sought, straitjackets purchased. Fortunately, it has only happened to me twice: the first time when I was out backpacking, the second when I was bicycling across the Nevada desert on my 10,000-mile bike trek.

The first occasion I found rather humorous. I was backpacking with my Basset Hound, Socrates. (It should be noted that anyone who backpacks with a Basset Hound is already mildly insane.) Soc was off chasing some imaginary beast in the woods— his deep, hound-bark reverberating through the surrounding mountains. I was meditating using my favorite mantra, ‘goat.’ Don’t ask.

The session was progressing well. I had quieted my ever-noisy mind; colors were taking on intensity, the forest becoming alive, and Soc’s bark sounding like a Beethoven Sonata. That’s when it happened. A clear voice out of nowhere spoke to me.

“Talk to me, damn it!”

Now you can’t make this up. It’s too weird. Apparently, the inner me wanted words to munch on, not silence. It’s used to my constant nattering. So it broke into my conscious mind, took possession of me, and made a demand. I could only laugh. I went back to meditating but it was hopeless. (If you want to hear the rest of my story about backpacking with Socrates, go here. It’s a very 70’s type of tale.)

People who are really serious about hearing voices, however, go off to the desert and hang out for 40 days, or years. Saints and other holy people have been doing this for millennia. Big, booming voices tell them to go off and save the world, or take dictation, or whip themselves. Piddly things like “Talk to me, damn it!” are never heard.

Rocks are one thing that prophets find in abundance when they head off into the desert. They are great for caves; the ideal home for self-sacrificing god-seekers.

Rocks are one thing that prophets find in abundance when they head off into the desert. They are great for caves: an ideal home for those eager to live in misery.

Nevada is totally filled with rocks. I am actually surprised it hasn't produced any prophets.

Nevada is totally filled with rocks. I am actually surprised it hasn’t produced any prophets (that I know of).

More Nevada rocks.

More Nevada rocks. Possibly three wise men, or three aliens?

And more rocks.

And more rocks.

The Nevada desert fully qualifies as a place to get messages. It’s full of vast amounts of nothingness and rattlesnakes and jackrabbits and dust devils and rocks and UFOs and sagebrush and casinos. A common message people receive is, “You’re bank account is empty.” I don’t think that the state has produced any saints. Characters, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen. It’s my kind of place. I’ve crisscrossed it many times.

I've often thought about the people who choose to live their lives isolated from others. What kind of a person does it take to make such a choice? What does living out here do to a person?

I’ve often thought about the people who choose to live their lives isolated from others. What kind of a person does it take to make such a choice? What does living out here do to a person? Something about the choice resonates with me. I did, after all, choose to go on a six month bike ride by myself.

thunder-mountain-monument

Nevada is filled with wonderful characters. One was Frank Van Zant who heard voices that directed him to go off and build this structure along Interstate 80. Known as the Thunder Mountain Monument, Zant built it as a haven for spiritual seekers (hippies) of the 70s, and as a reminder of how we have mistreated Native Americans.

I entered the state on my bicycle following Idaho/Nevada 93. I knew that I had arrived when I spotted the casinos. (There are very few ways that you can enter the state without finding at least one, and often several.) They were a welcome sight, being the only place I could get a snack and refill my water bottles on my hundred-mile ride from Twin Falls to Wells. I even donated five dollars in quarters to improving Nevada’s economy.

It really has to be a remote road that enters Nevada without a casino present. Highway 93 isn't nearly remote enough!

It really has to be a remote road that enters Nevada without a casino present. Highway 93 isn’t nearly remote enough!

Highway 93 connecting Twin Falls, Idaho with Wells, Nevada featured this view. It reminded me of how beautiful Nevada is.

Highway 93 connecting Twin Falls, Idaho with Wells, Nevada featured this view of what I believe is the Humboldt Range or Ruby Mountains. It reminded me of how beautiful Nevada is.

Another view. Nevada is part of the Great Basin and is made up of several ranges with basins between. During the winter and into early summer, these ranges are often covered with snow.

Another view. Nevada is part of the Great Basin and is made up of several ranges with basins between. During the winter and into early summer, these ranges are often covered with snow.

In Wells, I picked up Interstate 80, one of America’s major East-West routes. I had been dreading this part of my journey. For well over 9000 miles I had been travelling on America and Canada’s back roads whenever possible and busier two lane highways when forced to. Now I would be riding on a four-lane freeway packed with a high percentage of the nation’s cross-country 18-wheelers. My only option was to detour to the south and pick up Highway 50, known as America’s “Loneliest Highway” as it crosses Nevada. It sounded great, but I was out of detour time. So I bit the proverbial bullet— and was happily surprised.

A constant line of traffic heading west on I-80.

A constant line of traffic heading west on I-80.

You can see almost anything traveling along I-80. Peggy and I were amused with this pick up load of squished porta-potties. I had my doubts about how they were fastened down.

You can see almost anything traveling along I-80. Peggy and I were amused with this pick up load of squished port-a-potties. I had my doubts about how they were fastened down. I pictured seeing them on my bike trip with the rope breaking. News Flash: Biker killed by flying port-a-potty. What an epitaph that would make!

The surprise was that I-80 has great shoulders. There were also occasional breaks in the traffic.

The surprise was that I-80 has great shoulders. There were also occasional breaks in the traffic.

The freeway has great shoulders. I could ride along and totally ignore the traffic. In time, the freeway noise even faded away. There was nothing but the desert, distant horizons and me. There weren’t even any cows to talk with, at least not many. I was free to meditate— and hear voices.

Cows to talk with were few and far between.

Cows to talk with were few and far between.

When the voice came, it was the booming type, not the silent whisper you hear in the back of your mind on occasion that suggests you really shouldn’t do something you have every intention of doing. It caught me off guard and scared me. I probably should have listened. Maybe I would have learned something, like to go home and build an ark. But I shut it down. I’m not crazy, and I had forgotten to bring my rose-colored glasses. Besides, I had no desire to become the first prophet to arise out of the Nevada desert (a scary thought), or end up in a straitjacket.

A couple of days later I did have a bit of a revelation, though. Maybe it was even related to the booming voice, or not. I’d left Sacramento with a lot of questions that could be traced all the way back to my youth and even DNA. To say I was restless is a massive understatement. While I had worked hard and had my share of success, I considered work an interlude between adventures. And my adventures were as much about running away as they were about my unending desire to explore new areas. My experience with relationships was similar. I’d had several since my divorce in 1976, and they had all been with good women, people who would have made great life-companions. But I had no desire to settle down and get married, much less have a family.

Something clicked in my mind out there in the middle of the Nevada desert, however. Maybe it was the result of sitting on the back of a bicycle by myself for six months. There was a lot of time to think, and a lot of alone time. I had a strong, clear thought that felt right to me. I could wander and explore without ‘running away.’ It was okay to go home and enter a serious relationship. It would be okay to get married again. It would be okay to have a family. I even went as far as thinking about the women I had dated over the past several years. As I said, they were good people, but I doubted that any of them had a sense of humor about my desire to wander. A week, yes, or even a month, but six months or a year? No way. I needed a companion who liked to wander as much as I did.

The rest of my trip across the desert was tame in comparison. I spent a lot of time going up and down. Nevada is basin and range country. I was constantly climbing up ranges and racing into basins. Towns were relatively close together and each one came with a number of casinos featuring inexpensive and plenteous food. My pure life of the open-road quickly deteriorated. I caught a bad casino cold as a result, after not having a touch of anything for six months. Eventually I hit Highway 95, the cutoff to Fallon where I picked up Highway 50 and cycled into Carson City. The Sierra Nevada Mountains loomed before me. The next day I would cross them, and then head home.

Leaving Interstate 80 toward Fallon, Nevada I entered what is known as the 40 mile desert, which was a nightmare for early pioneers crossing in wagon trains.

Leaving Interstate 80 toward Fallon, Nevada I entered what is known as the 40 mile desert, which was a nightmare for early pioneers crossing in wagon trains. An 1850 survey found 1061 dead mules, 5000 dead horses, 3750 dead cattle, and 953 graves along the route.

Highway 50 between Fallon and Carson provided a gentler view of the desert.

Highway 50 between Fallon and Carson City provided a gentler view of the desert.

And signs to watch out for wild horses.

And signs to watch out for wild horses crossing the road.

As I entered the Carson Valley, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range loomed up before me. I was approaching the end of my journey. I was approaching home.

As I entered the Carson Valley, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range loomed up before me. I was approaching the end of my journey. I was approaching home.

NEXT BLOG: I finish my 10,000 mile journey and return home. A surprise is waiting that will change my life.

Jumping into and across the Snake River Canyon of Idaho… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

When Peggy and I arrived at the bridge across the Snake River, a man was hanging by his fingers on the edge of the bridge, 500 feet above the water.

When Peggy and I arrived at the Perrine Bridge across the Snake River, a man was hanging by his fingers on the edge, 500 feet above the water.

I biked out of Bozeman, Montana facing another climb across the Rockies. It turned out to be surprisingly easy. And beautiful. Highway 191 follows the scenic Gallatin River with its rushing waters up into the northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Snowmelt during June turns this branch of the Missouri River into a seething whitewater-fantasy trip for rafters. Beyond its beauty and rapids, the river is also known for its world-class fly-fishing.

Snow melt turns the Gallatin River of Montana into a river runner's dream.

Snow melt turns the Gallatin River of Montana into a river runner’s dream.

Cliffs along the Gallatin River on Montana's Highway 191 add to the areas scenic beauty.

Cliffs along the Gallatin River on Montana’s Highway 191 add to the area’s scenic beauty.

Trees along the Gallatin River on Montana's Highway 191.

As does the forest.

Fly fisherman try their luck in the upper waters of the Gallatin River in Wyoming's Yellowstone Park.

Fly fishermen try their luck in the upper waters of the Gallatin River in Wyoming’s Yellowstone Park.

By the time I had biked the route in August of 1989, the river had ceased its mighty roar but held onto its scenic beauty. Things were still roaring when Peggy and I drove up it in June as we re-traced my route. We stopped to admire the rapids and watch rafters. In the town of West Yellowstone, Peggy relived her youth by trying to find a bar she had once visited with a fake driver’s license in the early 70s.

She had obtained a summer job as a waitress in Yellowstone Park between her freshman and sophomore year at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia. (Mary Baldwin, once a finishing college for Southern Belles, was trying to make its way into the 20th Century. Peggy, a Northerner from Ohio, was much more interested in obtaining an education than becoming a ‘lady,’ and had only lasted for two years before transferring to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. UT included certification for working with the hearing impaired as part of its curricula, which was where she wanted to focus.)

In the meantime, Yellowstone had provided a welcome reprieve from Mary Baldwin— plus first love. Between waitressing at the park’s lodge and watching Old Faithful shoot towering plumes of water skyward, Peggy had discovered Bill, who definitely wanted to show her a good time. Part of this had included the trip into West Yellowstone and barhopping with a fake driver’s license.

My bike route followed Highway 20 out of West Yellowstone up and over the Continental Divide at the 7072-foot Targhee Pass, which also served as the border of Idaho. From here on, rivers would be flowing into the Pacific Ocean. I continued on Highway 20 down to Rexburg following Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and then made my way west on Highways 33 and 93 to the Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Henry's Fork flows into the Snake River, which flows into the Colombia River and then into the Pacific Ocean. I had left the great Mississippi-Missouri River drainage system behind.

Henry’s Fork flows into the Snake River, which flows into the Colombia River and then into the Pacific Ocean. I had left the great Mississippi-Missouri River drainage system behind.

The mountains of central Idaho loomed in the distance above what was probably a potato farm near Rexburg.

The mountains of central Idaho loomed in the distance above what was probably a potato farm near Rexburg.

Idaho's Highway 33 seemingly stretches on forever as so many roads did during my 10,000 mile bike trek around North America.

Idaho’s Highway 33 seemingly stretches on forever as so many roads did during my 10,000 mile bike trek around North America.

Pickle's Place is one of many delightfully unique restaurants I found along the road. Located in Arco, Idaho (once known as Root Hog) it features the Atomic Burger in honor of the fact that Arco was the first place in the world to be lit with atomic power.

Pickle’s Place is one of many delightfully unique restaurants I found along the road. Located in Arco, Idaho (once known as Root Hog), it features the Atomic Burger in honor of the fact that Arco was the first place in the world to be lit with atomic power.

This mountain next to Arco features the local high school's graduating classes going back to the early 1900s.

This mountain next to Arco features the local high school’s graduating classes going back to the early 1900s.

The Craters of the Moon National Monument encompasses a wonderfully weird lava flow on the Snake River Plain that covers 618 square miles and was formed between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago. Early astronauts, including Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell, had arrived here on August 29, 1969 to practice future landings on the moon— one month after Neil Armstrong had already taken his “one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

Idaho's Highway 93 winding its way through the northern part of Craters of the Moon National Monument, seemingly disappears here.

Idaho’s Highway 93, winding its way through the northern part of Craters of the Moon National Monument, seemingly disappears here.

Nature, in her marvelous way, is gradually reclaiming the volcanic landscape.

Nature, in her marvelous way, is gradually reclaiming the volcanic landscape. Sagebrush is the most obvious plant in the area.

Flowers at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.

But Peggy and I also found these flowers.

Dead sagebrush at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.

As well as this stark but beautiful reminder of how difficult it is to reclaim lava.

Art in the Park sculpture in Craters of the moon National Monument in Idaho.

This sculpture added a colorful touch to the monument.

Sculpture in Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.

I also liked this perspective, which seemed to capture the strangeness of the monument. A small-explorer’s foot can be seen on the right.

From Craters of the Moon, it was a short 80-mile ride to the Snake River and Twin Falls over relatively flat country. The river features a dramatic 500 feet deep canyon, which was created by cascading water from melting glaciers. When Peggy and I arrived, a man was dangling on the edge of the Perrine Bridge by his fingers, ready to leap into the canyon (featured at top of this post). Fortunately he had a parachute on. Still, he plummeted for 200 feet or so before engaging it. Scary stuff.

Perrine Bridge across the Snake River near Twin Falls, Idaho.

See the shadow on the river. It’s made by the parachute, the small triangle located center-left above the shadow.

Snake River looking west from the Perrine Bridge overlook.

This view of the Snake River is looking west from the overlook next to the Perrine Bridge. Boats have created the wakes.

When I crossed the bridge on my bike in 1989, I was thinking of another leap across/into the canyon— that of Evel Knievel in 1974. Evel, at the time, was synonymous with the word daredevil. During his life he made some 275 motorcycle jumps over cars, busses, and trucks. Fifteen of the jumps involved spectacular accidents. He suffered numerous concussions and shattered his pelvis three times. Overall, he broke 35 bones. Maybe he should have pursued a much tamer sport, such as playing NFL football.

Knievel was always on the lookout for new ways to upgrade his act, obtain more publicity, and increase his income. Mainly this involved adding more vehicles to leap (for a number of years, he held the world record of 19 cars), but he also had a dream of jumping the Grand Canyon. Concerns with National Park regulations, however, eventually led him to the Snake River. The 1700-foot jump was a bit long for his Harley, though, and this is where Robert Truax came into the picture.

Truax was one of America’s premier, pioneer rocket engineers, beginning his career prior to World War II when a childhood interest in Robert Goddard led him to build rockets at his home in Alameda, California. He then went on to work with the Navy on rocket development during World War II and later helped build both the Thor and Polaris missiles. By the late 50s/early 60s, he had left the military and was heading up Aerojet-General’s advanced rocket development division in Sacramento, California. I met the man when I promised him I would have his daughter home by midnight.

Kathleen (Kathy) Truax was a dark-haired beauty with brains to match. She had transferred into El Dorado Unified High School in Placerville during my senior year. After graduation, I had worked up the nerve to ask her out on a date to the California State Fair in Sacramento. Her immediate “yes” had me kicking myself for not asking sooner.

The weekend turned into a marathon. I had worked ten hours on Friday hauling 50-pound boxes of pears out of an orchard and then gone to a party at a friend’s. My mother called at midnight to tell me that the forest service had just phoned wanting me to help fight a raging forest fire that was threatening to engulf the small foothill community of Foresthill. So away I had gone and spent from 2 a.m. until 10 a.m. chopping a fire trail across a steep American River canyon with a heavy pickaxe. The looming inferno encouraged fast work.

After a two-hour nap break and lunch, our crew chief had told us that the fire was burning back on itself and that we could leave if necessary. I’d buzzed home to Diamond Springs, showered, and taken off for Cameron Park where I picked up Kathy in my 54 Chevy, met her dad, and gone on to the State Fair. I returned her home promptly at midnight as promised. We’d had fun and I had won Kathy a large stuffed bear that hardly fit in the back seat.

Later that summer, we had gone on a date up into the Sierra foothills near Pleasant Valley where her grandmother lived. Kathy had told me that her dad shot off rockets in the area that he had built in his garage. His visionary dream was to build inexpensive rockets that would make space travel affordable for everyone. Eventually, 13 years after the summer I had dated Kathy, that dream would lead him to build the Volksrocket (Skycycle X3) designed to carry Evel Knievel across the Snake River Canyon. The rocket had worked fine, but the parachute had malfunctioned, deploying when the rocket took off, which allowed the wind to pull it back into the canyon. Evel had landed on the river’s edge with minimal injuries (for him), and Truax had taken responsibility for the accident.

While Knievel died in 2007 and Truax in 2010, their dream was finally realized on September 16th of this year. Professional Hollywood stuntman Eddie Braun working with Truax’s son Scott used an exact replica of the Skycycle X3 with a well-tested parachute to successfully jump the canyon. Children of both Knievel and Truax were there to witness the event. Had Peggy and I been a couple of months later in our route review, we would have been there as well.

Looking east up the Snake River from the Perrine Bridge toward where Evel Knievel tried his 1974 leap across the river.

Looking east up the Snake River from the Perrine Bridge toward where Evel Knievel tried his 1974 leap across the river.

NEXT BLOG: I bicycle across Nevada and hear voices. Seriously. Were the desert gods trying to tell me it was time to end my journey?

I Know I Am in Montana; The Question Is Where? … The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

They call it Big Sky Country for a reason. The heavens seem to stretch on forever. But the enormity of the sky is matched by the state's mountains and rivers and valleys. Even this single tree has a statement to make.

They call it Big Sky Country for a reason. The heavens seem to stretch on forever. But the enormity of the sky is matched by the state’s mountains and rivers and valleys. Even this single tree has a statement to make.

I don’t really know if you can make a wrong turn in Montana. Almost everywhere you go the skies are big, the mountains high, the rivers clear, and the views forever. With that said, I am not 100% sure about my bike route through the state. For most of my 10,000-mile journey I had maps, or my journal, or letters, or even just logic to retrace my route of 27 years ago. Many of the roads I traveled down were the only roads available or at least the only roads I could use and get where I wanted to go without a major detour.

And often there were significant events that reminded me where I traveled. Many of the views I saw in Montana could have played this role— except those views were just about everywhere. The two events I do recall happened on my first day. One, I bicycled 120 miles with the elusive tailwind I had hoped for in North Dakota. Two, I found a restaurant that offered a free pancake to anyone who could eat the whole thing. It was a yard across, two inches deep and took the whole griddle to cook. I passed. But I watched a giant consume one and go on to eat a second. I thought he deserved a standing ovation, but hesitated with the thought that he might not like standing ovations. I try not to irritate mountains.

But my memory aids were unavailable for Montana. Still, I know most of my route. About 250 miles are in contention, which in Montana isn’t a big deal. Now if I were talking Rhode Island or Delaware… Anyway, if you are a map fiend, I either traveled from Malta on Highway 2 to White Sulphur Springs, or from Havre on Highway 2 to White Sulphur Springs. Both seem logical choices. Since the former route came first, Peggy and I drove it. Sections seemed quite familiar. Others not so much. One of these days, I will go back and start from Havre. Anyway, here are some views Peggy and I saw along the way.

Another perspective on Big Sky Country. This one along US Highway 2 as it makes its way through northern Montana.

Another perspective on Big Sky Country. This one along US Highway 2 as it makes its way through northern Montana.

Fence showing Montana cattle brands at Culbertson, Montana museum.

If ever there was a modern catch phrase in the writing, art, and business world, it is “branding.” Over and over we hear about how important it is that we establish our own unique voice or product. Well, there was a time when the concept of branding was a lot simpler. 🙂 We found this fence at a small museum in Culbertson, Montana. These are cattle brands from the region.

Cow weathervane found at museum in Culbertson, Montana.

We also found this fun weather vane at the Culbertson Museum. Somehow, it reminds me of the recent election. (grin)

Old beauty parlor hair curlers on display at Culbertson, Montana, Museum.

Another photo from the Culbertson museum and another bit of post-election humor: After the election, Mrs. B decided to head for the beauty parlor to have her hair done— and her brain rearranged. (Move on Curt.)

Whoa! Another roadside attraction.

Whoa! Another roadside attraction. Dinner? We came on this unlikely pair along with another  20 acres of other such creatures along Highway 2. There was no sign to tell us why they were there.

Sign for the Malta, Montana museum.

Here’s a cowboy with high hopes, “high in the sky apple pie hopes.” The Native American is saying, “Go get him guy. I’m behind you all the way.”

Peggy and I came across this derelict old house with its life-affirming message along Highway 2. It's a great message for these troubled times from a poem by Sam Walter Floss: "Let me live in a house beside the road/ Where the race of men go by/ The men who are good and the men who are bad/ As good and bad as I/ I would not sit in the scorner’s seat/ Nor hurl the cynic’s ban/ Let me live in a house by the side of the road/ And be a friend to man."

Peggy and I came across this old house with its life-affirming message along Highway 2. It’s a great message for these troubled times from a poem by Sam Walter Floss: “Let me live in a house beside the road/ Where the race of men go by/ The men who are good and the men who are bad/ As good and bad as I/ I would not sit in the scorner’s seat/ Nor hurl the cynic’s ban/ Let me live in a house by the side of the road/ And be a friend to man.”

Petroglyph from Sleeping Buffalo Rock along Highway 2 in Montana.

Another Highway 2 site featured the Sleeping Buffalo Rock covered with carved petroglyphs. This symbol is usually interpreted to represent a badger.

US Highway 191 in Montana

In Malta, Peggy and I picked up US Highway 191, which runs from the Canadian Border to Mexico. Unlike most of America’s historic north-south/east-west blue highways, 191 is a combination of many north-south roads that were put together in the 80s.

Another view of Montana countryside along Highway 191

Another view of Montana countryside along Highway 191.

A Montana stream found along US Highway 191.

A calm stream…

The Missouri River in Montana along US Highway 191

And the mighty Missouri River— Montana style.

Cattle roundup in Montana.

This is Montana! Cowboys and cattle. Two cowboys rode horses, and one is using an ATV.

Tempting! A trout contemplates a lure in a Lewiston, Montana mural.

Tempting! A trout contemplates a fly in a Lewiston, Montana mural.

I found this town fun. The high school looms in the background. The vote for the 2015 commencement speaker was unanimous. Dakota Jolliff asked her uncle to give the address. She was the only senior. The principal lives across the road from the school. First thing in the morning during winter storms, she looks out her window. If she can't see the school, classes are canceled. The school is also haunted. Lights are turned on at night and locked doors opened.

I found this town fun. The high school looms in the background. The vote for the 2015 commencement speaker was unanimous. Dakota Jolliff asked her uncle to give the address. She was the only senior. The principal lives across the road from the school. First thing in the morning during winter storms, she looks out her window. If she can’t see the school, classes are canceled. The school is also haunted. Lights are turned on at night and locked doors opened.

You may have noted the windmills in the Judith Gap sign. Check out the cattle at their base. There are 90 of the 40 story high monsters. They proved electricity to the 80 homes in Judith Gap plus another 360,000.

You may have noted the windmills in the Judith Gap sign. Check out the cattle at their base. (Tiny dots at the fence line right center— they may be antelope.) There are 90 of these 40-story high structures. They provided electricity to the 80 homes in Judith Gap plus another 360,000.

The Rocky Mountains viewed from Highway 191 in Montana.

When it comes to mountains, Montana is not shy. These are the Rocky Mountains.

Rocky Mountains in Montana.

Another view.

Rocky Mountains behind lake in Montana.

And another…

View of Rock Mountains in Montana.

And another.

Wood cutouts of wild animals in Sulphur Springs, Montana.

Peggy and I stayed at an RV campground in White Sulphur Springs that featured wild animal cut outs. I really liked this moose family with its reflection.

Peggy fed this one. Don't do this at home kids, Don't ever stick your hand in the mouse of an elk! :)

Peggy fed this one. Don’t do this at home kids. Don’t ever stick your hand in the mouth of an elk! 🙂

Here is my mandatory old barn photo for this blog with its dramatic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. I didn't feel that this barn was simply falling down. It looked like it was melting!

Here is my mandatory old barn photo for this blog with its dramatic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. I didn’t feel that this barn was simply falling down. It looked like it was melting!

Mountain men played a key role in the westward movement, first as trappers and later as guides.

Mountain men played a key role in the westward movement, first as trappers and later as guides.

Did this guy just hear the election results? (Kidding) We watched this guy and another jump into the Yellowstone River— and come out alive. They had carefully waited for a policeman to pass.

Did this guy just hear the election results? (Kidding) We watched this guy and another jump into the Yellowstone River— and come out alive. They had carefully waited for a policeman to pass. I am reminded of a statement by Joseph Campbell. “When you find yourself falling, dive.”

The Yellowstone River in Montana.

The Yellowstone River

A final view for today's post. This one is near Bozeman, Montana. In my next post I will head south from Bozeman and into Idaho, another beautiful state.

A final view for today’s post. This one is near Bozeman, Montana. In my next post I will head south from Bozeman and into Idaho, another beautiful state.