This Place Called Black Rock City… Burning Man

Imagine, if you will, having enough port-a-potties to accommodate 70,000 people. It’s one of many issues Burning Man has to deal with in planning Black Rock City.

 

I always like to include a post on Black Rock City when I am blogging about Burning Man to give readers a view of how everything fits together. Obviously, you can’t throw up a city for 70,000 people in the desert without some serious planning. Think of it this way: For the one week of its existence, Black Rock City is the third largest city in Nevada— only Las Vegas and Reno are larger.

It all starts with locating where the Man will be placed out in the Black Rock Desert a few miles east of the small, northern Nevada town of Gerlach. A ceremonial spike is driven into the ground to mark the placement.  Everything else including the Temple, Center Camp, the surrounding fence and Black Rock City evolve from there. Official Burning Man structures and major camps are built before the event. Sort of. It is not unusual to arrive on Sunday with work still being done on the Man, the Temple, Center Camp, etc.

Black Rock City is laid out in a semi-circle as shown on the 2016 map below. The circular roads are given names based on the annual theme and are in alphabetical order. For example, the 2016 theme was Da Vinci’s Workshop. The road names were Arno, Botticelli, Cosimo, Donatello, Effigiare (Italian: to portray), Florin, Guild, High Renaissance, Italic, Justice, Knowledge, and Lorenzo. The main road that separates Black Rock City from the Playa is always the Esplanade. Roads that cut across the circular roads are numbered clockwise and lead out to the Man.

The large circle on the bottom is Center Camp, the middle circle the Man, and the upper circle the Temple. Both the Man and the Temple are located on the Playa, which continues out to the fence. Shaded areas are for assigned, organized camps; non-shaded areas for everyone else. Space in the non-shaded areas is on a first come, first serve basis and you can have as much as you need for your camp, assuming you come in early— there seems like a lot of space in the beginning. By the end of the week, everything is packed! The total area encompassed within the fence including Black Rock City and the Playa is approximately seven square miles.

The official Burning Man map of Black Rock City for 2016.

The following photos provide a glimpse into what it is like to live in Black Rock City.

If you come in early on Sunday, you feel like you have a lot of space. We always mark out our site with rope and reflectors.

Things fill up rapidly as the week progresses. Quivera, our van, marks one end of our camp. Our goal is to be somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 on H or I.

By Friday, there is no room left. If you haven’t clearly marked your area, you will have guests!

If things feel too crowded, you can always bike out onto the Playa where the Man, the Temple and many of the major art pieces are located.

If things are still too crowded, you can head out farther…

And farther…

And farther. By now you are out in what is known as the Deep Playa.

This is where you come to the fence that limits further exploration of the desert. Actually, during a dust storm when visibility is close to zero, it is good to have the fence available to keep you from wandering off. There is a vast amount of space to get lost in.

Burning Man is serious about Burners staying inside the fence. Part of this is for safety and part of it is to keep people from sneaking in for free. When I crossed the fence for a photo-op, a BM truck came speeding over to where I was.

A substantial infrastructure is required to operate the event. These lifts are located in the Public Works Department lot.

Safety is always a concern. Burning Man has its own safety officers know as the Black Rock Rangers. Of course there are also numerous local, state, and federal law officers present. There is also an extensive emergency medical operation.

Lamps are lit at night to help Burners find their way. The lamp lighters are volunteers who have their own camp.

Providing ice for Burners to keep their food (and beer) cold is also a major operation run by volunteers. A recruitment poster urges Burners to sign up. Ice is one of the very few things you can purchase in Black Rock City.

The tongue in cheek sign at the top of the post refers to the numerous banks of port-a-potties found throughout Black Rock City and out on the Playa. An army of trucks is constantly servicing the outhouses. (Photo by Don Green.)

I found this in one of the toilets.  I imagine that this sign had some city folks checking. (grin)

Sand spiders are more dangerous.

Heat, wind, and dust storms are a part of life at Burning Man. It can also rain.

This photo was taken a few minutes after the above photo. The storm has arrived!

While it is important to be prepared for the heat and dust storms, there is also great beauty and good weather at Burning Man.

Looking out from our camp at the sunset.

And a rainbow.

If things get too rough out in the desert, you can always stop and have a beer.

Next Blog:  Some really cute seals and the beautiful Pt. Lobos nature reserve near Carmel.

The Deer Don’t Have to Pay a $275,000 Membership Fee to Play at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club on the 17 Mile Drive

This ‘lone cypress’ is almost synonymous with the 17 Mile Drive and serves as the logo for the Pebble Beach Resort. I am pretty sure that it is the most photographed cypress in the world and it is certainly the most cared for.Check out the rock-work.  The tree probably has its own arborist.

 

Monterey and Carmel take me back in time, back to the 60s and 70s, back to when the world somehow seemed more promising— it was, after all, the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius. I used to drive down to Monterey humming the tune in my Volkswagen Camper, Van-Go, and free camp at a surfer beach just south of Carmel. The surfers are still there riding the waves, but the free camping has long since disappeared, a victim of the times. The welcome sign has been taken down. The hospitality industry prefers that tourists pay for their lodging and the locals prefer that their visitors drive Mercedes.

I considered myself lucky that I could still find a campsite for $32 a night last week when I visited California’s Central Coast. Maybe that’s because the water was unpotable at the Laguna Seca Campground. I noticed the signs after a couple of days of happily drinking away. Turns out the water is laced with arsenic. (If I seem a little strange… But, hey, how would you know the difference?)

The Laguna Seca Campground is located up in the hills here, hidden away among the trees.

While green grass was still growing in the valley, it had turned a ‘California gold’ next to my campsite.

I liked the trees. Our grandkids would have been all over this one.

The campground is operated by Monterey County and nestles on top of the beautiful coastal hills that surround Monterey-Carmel. If you are a car racing fan, you will recognize the park as home to the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. I stayed there until I had to vacate the premises. People had signed up to pay $120 per night for my $32 site. It provided an excellent view of the raceway and the Ferraris were coming to town for the Ferrari Challenge.  I watched as 18-wheelers rolled in carrying their precious cargos.

The Ferrari Challenge was the first major race of the season. Crews were out preparing the track.

This site of the track was about 50 feet away from my camp. You can see why it was prime territory.

All of the 18 wheelers you can see in this photo were carrying Ferrari race cars. There was close to a parade of them going by my camp the morning I had to leave.

I don’t know what a Ferrari race car costs, but you can pick up a classic Ferrari 250 GTO for the tidy sum of $57 million. It’s a bit out of my price range— and my imagination. Somehow, I can’t picture myself running down to the store to pick up a carton of milk in one.

Laguna Seca is about 7 miles outside of Monterey on Highway 68, the road that connects Monterrey with Salinas. It’s hard to imagine two more different worlds. Salinas is prime agricultural land and the one-time home of John Steinbeck. (Be sure to visit the Steinbeck museum if you are in the area.) As I drove through, migrant workers were busily harvesting crops, probably hoping to get though before ICE agents showed up to arrest them. I suspect the farmers were even more eager for the workers to finish their job. If the price of your veggies skyrocket this summer, you’ll know what happened.

A trip along the 17 Mile Drive,  which runs along Monterey Bay and connects Monterey with Carmel, provides an excellent example of how the other half, or make that the one percent of the one percent, live. There are folks here who live in mansions perched on the ocean’s edge who can afford to go out and buy one of those Ferrari 250 GTOs— and pay cash.

The 17 Mile Drive is golfer heaven. Think Pebble Beach. Or, if you go back far enough in time, the Bing Crosby Pro/Am Golf Championship. Today it is known as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro/Am. There are several golf courses in the area. If you are an avid golfer, you can purchase an inexpensive golf club membership for $18,000 plus a couple of hundred a month in dues. If that doesn’t strike you as inexpensive, you may want to compare it with a membership at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club for $275,000 with $1045 in monthly dues. Of course, membership is by “invitation only.” How else are you going to keep out the riffraff?

The Bird Rock Hunt Course, #9 on the map below, was once used for equestrian hunt and steeplechase competitions. In the 1920s it did double duty for riding and saber practice for the US 11th Calvary. Now it serves as the Shore Course for the Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Here, deer and golfers share the course.

A green on the Shore Course just below the small grassy hill has its hole marked by a flag. The cypress on the granite rock behind the green adds beauty to the course. The fog adds mystery. Numerous sand traps come with the territory at the golf courses along the 17 Mile Drive.

This cypress was also on the course, just off the road.

A happy, obviously well-fed buck, whose antlers are still in velvet, munches down grass on the course. He is welcome to eat all of the grass he wants and is not required to pay the course’s $275,000 initiation fee,

I’m having a bit of fun here; my apologies to golfing fans. I’m not one. In fact, the only C I ever got in PE was for golf. I was not happy. I’ve held it against the sport ever since. Peggy did much better. In fact, she was goofing around at Mary Baldwin College (or was that golfing a round) and hit a hole in one. The golfing coach happened to witness the event and immediately recruited her for the college team.

I have watched my share of golf matches on TV, however. It turns out that father-in-law number one and father-in-law number two both loved the sport. Bonding included many an hour of listening to the announcer whisper in awe at the difficulty of a particular tee shot. Exciting stuff. I classified my TV golf time as part of my marriage vows under ‘and other duties as required.’

If I were a golfer, or even if I just watched golf on TV for fun, the 17 Mile Drive is an incredibly beautiful location for the sport. The brochure for the route is justifiable in declaring it “one of the most famous scenic drives in the world.” Since the area is privately owned by the Pebble Beach Resort, you will pay a $10 per vehicle fee to visit, but it is definitely worth it. The resort is owned, btw, by an investor group headed by Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer, and Peter Ueberroth. They bought it from a Japanese company, possibly in a fit of patriotism.

Clint, you may recall, was mayor of Carmel in the mid-80s. He also owned a pub/restaurant in the town known as the Hog’s Breath Inn.  Being a fan of his spaghetti westerns, I ate there once in the early 70s shortly after it opened. Eastwood wasn’t happy. Apparently I resembled riffraff. He walked over to my table, pulled out his .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 and said “Are you feeling lucky, punk?” Just kidding. Eastwood was off making a Dirty Harry movie and we were more than welcome at the restaurant.

Of course there is much more to the 17 Mile Drive than manicured golf courses.  A restless ocean, graceful Monterey Cypress, impressive rocks, and abundant wildlife are all part of the scenery. Following is a map and some of the photos I took.

I borrowed this map from Google. There are several entrances. This time I came in through the Highway Gate on Highway 1 and drove down past the Poppy Hills Golf Course. My first stop was to admire the ‘Restless Ocean’ at #6.

The marker at the site told me that the ocean was restless because of all the rocks that the waves had to break over on their way into shore.

A wave cooperated with me by breaking over a rock.

The fog reduced my view of Bird Rock at #10. Cormorants were the main birds I could see. Harbor seals with sea gulls in between can be seen on the lower right. Fortunately some sea gulls flew over to see if I had any food to offer. I call them my galley of gulls.

Definitely a “Do you have any food?” look.

A bit more laid back.

The feathers on this fellow caught my attention.

I don’t think I have ever seen a darker eye.

Here we are back at the Lone Cypress at site #16. It has hung out on its perch for 250 years. A number of guy wires holding it up are meant to assure that it continues to hang out for many more years.

The road itself is worth the trip. Here it has a bower of tall cypress trees next to the Ghost Tree Stop at #17, which was my last stop.

This is the tree on the left from the above photo. I can see where it might be considered ghostly.

I am not sure which tree was ‘the ghost tree’ but I found a number of candidates.

Another candidate…

One of the 17 Mile Drive Mansions overlooks the Ghost Tree site. This is a different perspective on the tree shown above.

Maybe not ghostly, but I liked the way this ancient downed cypress seemed to drape itself over the rock.

Speaking of rocks, I felt these might have been something that Druids would worship.

The rock in the ocean seemed to fit right in!

Another perspective.

I liked the combination here of a shadowy cypress, rocks and the restless sea.

Another photo featuring a cypress tree, rocks and the ocean.

This cypress, another candidate for the Ghost Tree, seems an appropriate end for this post on the 17 Mile Drive.

How to Forget You Are Being Divorced… The Story of Bone’s Discovery: Part I

Bone reviews the story of how he was found.

 

Bone’s Perspective 

I didn’t plan on seeing the world and becoming famous. Once I was part of a horse located just above the hoof. I had no freedom; I had no glory. Wherever the horse went, I went also, a mere slave to his desires. During the summer this meant carrying greenhorn tourists into the backcountry of the mountains above Lake Tahoe. The added pounds gave me bone-jarring headaches. Then the horse died; I like to fantasize that a large bear with big teeth and sharp claws ate him.  Hopefully he ate the tourist as well.

Whatever happened, I was free to be me, Bone. Yes, that’s right, Bone is my name. A kindly coyote picked me up and carried me to a high meadow filled with Corn Lilies. It was there that I discovered my Zen-like nature as I meditated through the seasons. I was alone except for a mouse that came by and nibbled on me occasionally. That hurt. In fact, it interrupted my meditation and scarred me for life; you can still see teeth marks. I blame all of my subsequent bad behavior on that flea-bitten miscreant.

My annoyance at the mouse, however, was minimal in comparison to my anger at the large two-legged creature who yanked me from my meadow home and begin yelling I was trash as he ran down the trail in pursuit of another two-legged creature.  Can you imagine the insult? I had no way of knowing that this was the beginning of my world travels or that the two creatures, Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering, would become my servants. But read on as Curt provides his perspective on my discovery. He had no idea of the treasure he had found. –Bone

 

Bone has backpacked through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range numerous times— but that is only a small part of his adventures.

 

NOTE: I’ve told this story before on my blog, but in the interest of bringing my more recent followers up-to-date, I am repeating the tale. Enjoy. –Curt

It was the summer of 1977 and my wife was divorcing me. She had dropped the bomb shortly after we had spent six-months traveling in the South Pacific and East Asia. Apparently, I lacked in stability or at least in the desire to pursue the Great American Dream. She was right of course. I had absolutely zero desire to tie myself to an eight-hour a day job and a large house in the suburbs. None of this made the divorce easy, however.

To keep my mind occupied, I was working on the route for the Fourth Annual Sierra Trek, a challenging nine-day 100-mile backpack trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that I had created as a pledge-based fund-raiser for the American Lung Association in Sacramento.

“So what’s your problem?” my friend Tom Lovering asked over a beer at the Fox and Goose Restaurant. He’d been-there-done-that with divorce and dated a number of women since. Tom owned Alpine West, an outdoor/wilderness store in Sacramento, and sponsored the Sierra Trek. He was the ultimate available bachelor and planned on remaining that way. I had persuaded him to go backpacking with me for six days to preview part of the new route. Our plan was to start near Meek’s Bay, Lake Tahoe and work our way southward 70 miles following the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail.

Tom had invited his girlfriend, Lynn, and Lynn was bringing along her friend Terry. Terry was nice, not my type.

“I have a friend named April who wants to go backpacking,” Tom offered. “Why don’t I invite her to go as well? Maybe you two will hit it off.” The implication was that this would help me get over my wife.

A friend drove the five of us up to Meeks Bay. April was gorgeous and Tom was right. I followed her long legs and short shorts up the trail. My gloomy focus on the Soon-to-Be-Ex faded like a teenager’s blue jeans. Hot feet and screaming fat cells were even more potent in forcing me to live, or at least suffer, in the moment. As usual I’d done nothing to physically prepare for the first backpack trip of the year and I was paying the price.

We climbed a thousand feet and traveled six miles to reach our first night’s destination at Stony Ridge Lake. I crashed while Tom broke out some exotic concoction of potent alcohol. After consuming enough of his ‘medicine’ to persuade my fat cells they had found Nirvana, I fired up my trusty Svea stove and started cooking our freeze-dried dinner. It wasn’t hard. Boil water, throw in noodles, add a packet of mystery ingredients, stir for ten minutes and pray that whatever you have created is edible. That night it didn’t matter.

Afterwards, we headed for our beds. The next day would be long. I slid into my down-filled mummy bag and looked up at what seemed like a million stars. There were no city lights or pollution to block my view and the moon had yet to appear. I traced an imaginary line from the Big Dipper and found the North Star. It seemed far too faint for its illustrious history. A shooting star briefly captured my attention. Thoughts of divorce, short shorts, the next day’s route, a rock digging into my butt, and sore feet jostled around in my mind for attention.

Sleep finally crept into the bag and captured me.

I awoke with a Mountain Jay screeching at me from the safety of his perch in a Lodgepole Pine. A faint light announced the morning, but the sun still hid behind the mountains on the east side of Lake Tahoe. It was frosty cold and I burrowed into my bag, pretending for a few more moments that I didn’t have to get up. Nature drove me out.

I could ignore the faint light; I could ignore the Jay, and I could even ignore the stirrings of my companions, but I couldn’t ignore my insistent bladder. Among muttered good mornings I wandered off into the woods and peed on a willow near where I had seen a coyote the evening before. I was marking my territory.

Back in camp Tom had his stove going. Lynn smiled at me. She, too, was a tall, good-looking woman. Terry had yet to emerge from her cocoon and April had replaced me out in the woods. I heard a kersplash in Stony Ridge Lake and turned to watch as ripples spread out and announced a trout had snatched its buggy breakfast. Briefly I regretted that I had left my fishing pole at home. The sun was now bathing the peaks above us in gentle light; ever so slowly it worked its way down the mountain.

Instant coffee, instant oatmeal and a handful of dried fruit made up breakfast. All too soon it was time to pack my gear and urge my still stiff muscles up the trail.

The troops were in high spirits. The sheer beauty of Desolation Wilderness demanded it. Our day would take us up to Phipps Pass, down to the Velma Lakes, across the Rubicon River, up Rockbound Valley, over Mosquito Pass and end at Lake Aloha, some 13 miles from Stony Ridge Lake. We took a few minutes to make sure our camp was clean. Almost immediately we began to climb. Flashes of blue lupine, multi-colored columbine and cheerful monkey flowers eased our way along the switch back trail. My pace of travel provided ample opportunity for appreciation. I caught a brief smell of mint at one point and wild onion at another.

We passed by two more small lakes and began our ascent of Phipps Pass. By this point I had moved in to granny gear and could hear my heart pounding in its cage, wanting to escape. Each step was a test of will. I kept moving. I had long since learned that the difficulty of starting outweighed the benefits of stopping. One step at a time I reached the top. A spectacular view rewarded my effort.

Peaks still buried under snow stretched off into the distance. The Sierra is a baby mountain range, the child of plate tectonics. Once, ancient seas covered the area. Volcanic activities left behind vast pools of subterranean granite. Crashing continental and oceanic plates lifted the granite into spectacular fault-block mountains, steep on the east and gentler on the west. The Ice Age brought glaciers that carved peaks, scooped out basins and left behind rocky moraines.

We stopped to catch our breath and enjoy the view.  Soon we would begin our descent toward Velma Lakes, but first we worked our way around Phipps Peak. A series of lakes came into view. Tom and I immediately began to debate which was which.

“And you expect us to depend on your trail finding skills?” Lynn asked. Tom whipped out his topographic map.

“See,” he said decidedly, allowing a note of triumph to enter his voice. While we were the best of friends, this didn’t eliminate an element of alpha male competition between us. He, after all, was the owner of an outdoor-wilderness store, and I, after all, was the leader of wilderness treks. I glanced at his map and an impish grin filled my face.

“Your map is upside down, Tom.” Oops.

We did agree that my decision to detour from the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail and go through Rockbound Valley was a good one. Heavy snow still covered the northern and eastern side of the mountains. It was unlikely to melt by the time of the Trek. The Trekkers would have enough challenge backpacking 13 miles on their second day out. They didn’t need to slog through five miles of snow while muttering unprintable thoughts about me.

We started our descent into the Velmas carefully. It is hard not to think, “Oh boy, down hill!” after a hard climb. But going down is much tougher on your body than climbing. Stepping down is a form of free fall. Velocity and weight are focused on the joints of your legs and feet. Adding a 40 to 50-pound pack increases the problem. It is easy to twist a knee or sprain an ankle, especially at the beginning of the season. And that was what happened. By the time we reached Middle Velma, April was limping.

“I stepped on a loose rock and slipped,” she explained in obvious pain.

While April soaked her foot in the cold lake water and broke out an Ace Bandage, Tom and I mulled over whether to go on or hike out. We arrived at a compromise. Lynn would hike out with April to Emerald Bay and the two of them would stay at a motel. They would rejoin Tom, Terry and me at Echo Lake some 18 miles down the trail.

Coming up: Part 2 of Bone’s discovery. There are raging rivers, kamikaze mosquitoes, and naked ladies jumping. You won’t want to miss it. In the meantime, here are two more photos reflecting Bone’s subsequent journeys.

Bone visit the Tropic of Cancer…

And checks out the 45th Parallel. (Bone is above the 5.)

NEXT BLOGs:

Friday: More unusual structures at Burning Man including a Bird Trap Church and a memorial to LSD Guru, Timothy Leary.

Monday: The Coquille River Lighthouse and Bullard’s Beach near Bandon, Oregon.

Wednesday: Bone is discovered: Part II

A Shoplifter, the Sheriff, and Dynamite… The Sierra Trek Series

Tiger and Leopard Lilies are among the most beautiful flowers found in the Sierras and other California mountain ranges.

 

I’d actually had two good days on the Trek and we had put another 25 miles behind us. I was beginning to feel good, allowing myself an optimistic thought, or two. Foolish fellow. But we had passed the halfway mark. We were on our way home!

Today’s photos reflect some of the colorful  flowers that brighten our way as we hike through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

 

Mule Ear flowers can fill dryer slopes.

 

On day six, we hiked into Foresthill, a small community 20 miles above Auburn. It was a long, hot, dusty, 15-mile hike in and out of steep river canyons with temperatures soaring over 100°F (37.7°C). Along the way we passed through Michigan Bluff, which had once been an important gold rush community. Leland Stanford got his start here, running a grocery store for miners. It was a much surer way of striking it rich than gold panning. For example, eggs cost $3 apiece. Expensive huh? Taking inflation into consideration, the price would shoot up to $80 today.

Stanford continued to prove his smarts. His future included becoming one of the Big Four in building the Transcontinental Railroad, serving as the Governor of California and a US Senator, and giving Stanford University its name.

Monkey Flowers are always a favorite of mine and are usually found near streams. You can enjoy their beauty while refilling your water bottle.

In Foresthill, we had arranged to stay in the little city park that came with a swimming pool. Given the excessive heat of the day, it was something to look forward to. I certainly did. But my plunge into the refreshing water was not to be.

First I had to make sure we could find our way out of town and back onto the trail the next morning. We were now into the territory that Steve and I hadn’t reviewed— me because I was off on Vancouver Island deciding on my future with Jo Ann, and Steve because who knows why. I hiked out of town for a mile or so down the road until I found the trail and then followed it for another half mile. It seemed well-marked, so I said a little prayer to the trail gods and headed back toward camp. It would be Steve’s job to lead the next day. He would have to deal with any surprises.

Shooting Stars are one of the early flowers, coming up soon after snow has melted. They are all over our property now.

Back in camp, the situation quickly made me wish I had just kept hiking. Charlie made a beeline for me. My always dependable backup, ex ice hockey player, ex-bomb de-fuser and IRS dodger looked like he was about to break down and cry.

“Someone stole my Grandfather’s watch,” he blurted out.

It was a valuable family heirloom, precious to him. I did what I could to console Charlie and headed over to the pool to ask around. None of my Trekkers had seen anything suspicious or had even seen Charlie’s watch. I had a hard time imagining any of them stealing it. He had done everything possible to help them down the trail. There were other folks at the pool, however. Fortunately, as I recall, Charlie found the watch at his campsite, where he had left it.

Columbine with its unique shape.

My next challenge was Lose Yourself Dick, the forty something school teacher who had wandered off on his own. He had tackled his ample supply of snake bite medicine and was feeling no pain. In fact, he was challenging all of the teenage boys to wrestle him or at least jump on his stomach. I was sorely tempted to join the latter activity. He had also discovered a flagpole he insisted on climbing. I reasoned with him as best I could, but even when he was sober persuading Dick not to do something was close to impossible. I had just completed my highly ineffective effort when a Sheriff’s car came cruising in to camp. I walked over. One of our Trekkers was sitting in the back seat.

The Mariposa Lily is another member of the lily family. Its bulb was eaten by Native Americans and early pioneers.

“Can I help you?” I asked politely.

“Yes,” the Deputy Sheriff had responded, “I need to talk with the person in charge.”

I had another of those gut-wrenching feelings. Just three more days, I thought. Just get me through three more days. I desperately wanted to tell the deputy that the man in charge had checked out and gone home or was still on the trail.

“You’ve found him,” I said, putting on a brave smile.

“We just caught this young woman shoplifting,” the deputy reported in his official lawman voice.

“Shit!” I thought. But I said, “Okay, what do I need to do about it?” My unhappiness and resignation must have shown.

“Nothing this time,” he replied. “Because she is raising money for the American Lung Association, we are going to let her off with a warning.”

And me as well, I read into his statement. “I am sorry, Curt,” she had apologized and I had just sighed.

Indian Paintbrush is a colorful and common flower of the West.

Could anything else go wrong? Of course it could and likely would. I escaped by leaving camp when Steve came in and wandered off to a restaurant in town where I wasn’t likely to find any Trekkers. I drowned my sorrows in a large steak and a couple of well-earned beers. I seriously considered drinking more but I let my commitment to getting the Trekkers back to Sacramento in one piece over-rule my temporary insanity, which was demanding a six-pack.

Fleabane is the unusual name for this many petaled flower.

We rolled our Trekkers out of Foresthill early the next morning. I breathed a sigh of relief as I followed the last one past the city limits. Once again, Steve was leading and I was playing rear guard.

Fortunately, we had a short day. I had quickly discovered that being trail leader was a lot more fun than being rear guard. For one thing, you tended to get into camp a couple of hours earlier. For another, you weren’t constantly being bombarded by the question, “How much farther?” I had begun to respond with a stock answer, “Oh, it’s about twenty miles,” and had found that Trekkers stopped asking. If they persisted, my next response was, “It’s all up hill.”

Steve told me he had been moving some of the slowest Trekkers down the trail by telling them rattlesnake and bear stories and then walking on ahead. He said people made a real effort to keep up. Years later I would use the same technique in Alaska  with grizzlies. I suspect that neither of us would have qualified for the Boy Scout Leader Seal of Approval. Or even the Sierra Club’s.

Phlox hug the ground and add a real splash of color.

Around three, I came on Steve and our Trekkers milling about a closed gate. A vehicle was parked behind the gate and two official looking people were leaning against the vehicle. I was about to learn that we were paying the price for not reviewing the final section of the trail.

“What’s up Steve?” I asked, wondering if we had managed to do something else to bring officialdom down on our heads.

“No problem,” Steve said, “they are just blasting with dynamite in the canyon.”

His words were punctuated by a rumbling sound. The guards were blocking the road so big rocks wouldn’t come rolling down on people using the canyon trails. It sounded like a good idea. In 1974, plans were underway for building the Auburn Dam and flooding another section of the beautiful American River. Land speculators were greedily selling property along the future edge of the lake. Later, building or not building the dam became one of the most contentious environmental issues in Northern California. The dam still isn’t built, and will likely never be.

“Um, how long do they plan on continuing to blast?” I asked. I pictured our Trek coming to an abrupt end. It wasn’t a totally unpleasant thought.

“We are in luck,” Steve reported. “They are just closing down their operations and won’t resume until Monday.”

Since it was Friday afternoon and we would be out of the canyon by Sunday, I had to agree. It was refreshing to see luck lean our way, although it made me nervous. That night we celebrated the winding down of our adventure by feeding our Trekkers steak and fresh salad. The feast went off without a hitch except it was amusing to see the Trekkers eat steaks out of bowls with spoons. (Forks, knives and plates normally get left behind when backpacking.) Fingers became the primary eating utensil. It wasn’t pretty, but no one seemed to mind. Civilization had definitely taken several steps backward. Everyone went to bed happy, including me.

The Sierra Thistle can be a little prickly.

I’ll close today with a wild rose.

NEXT BLOGS:

Friday: You are in for a treat. Lots and lots of fun and unique Burning Man sculptures.

Monday: Still thinking about it.

Wednesday: The final Sierra Trek blog.

Wandering through Time and Place… The 2016 Review: Part I

Our first adventure of the year was to journey off to Alaska where we joined our son Tony, his wife, Cammie and our three grandkids for at the World Ice Carving Championships in Fairbanks Alaska. This carving won first prize and served as the January photo for us.

Our first adventure of the year was to journey off to Alaska where we joined our son Tony, his wife, Cammie and our three grandkids for at the World Ice Carving Championships in Fairbanks Alaska. This carving won first prize and served as the January photo for us.

Each year Peggy and I go through our photos from the past year to create a Family Calendar for our kids, grandkids, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews. Luckily, the family isn’t too big! We use Apple to produce the calendars, and the company does a beautiful job. It’s a fun review for us— and a job. (grin) I go through the several thousand photos we have taken and pull out a hundred or so. Peggy then goes through the hundred with me and we winnow it down to 12.

I thought it would be fun to share some of the photos with you. They were all included in blogs I posted this year and reflect our journeys. I am not going to limit myself to 12, however! I am going to post 30: 10 today, 10 on Thursday, and 10 on New Year’s Eve. Enjoy.

We took the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks, which provided a wonderful opportunity for sightseeing and photography.

We took the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks, which provided a wonderful opportunity for sightseeing and photography.

These Birch, which I rendered in black and white were along the way.

These Birch, which I rendered in black and white were along the way.

As was this view of Mt. Denali. We were ever so lucky. Having lived in Alaska for three years, I know how rare it is to capture the mountain on a clear day.

As was this view of Mt. Denali. We were ever so lucky. Having lived in Alaska for three years, I know how rare it is to capture the mountain on a clear day.

Further along, we came on this mountain.

Further along, we came on these mountains.

The ice carvings were marvellous. This one was called 'First Breath."

The ice carvings were marvellous. This one was called ‘First Breath.”

This one, by a Russian carver, "Yahoo!"

This one, by a Russian carver, “Yahoo!”

This was titled "Stuck-up," which seemed quite appropriate for a cat.

This was titled “Stuck-up,” which seemed quite appropriate for a cat.

Flying back to Anchorage, I looked out the window and caught this photo of the Alaska Range.

Flying back to Anchorage, I looked out the window and caught this photo of the Alaska Range.

Back in Anchorage, we watched sled dog races. Warm temperatures meant they had to put down snow for the races. And it meant that this snow sculpture of a native Alaskan was melting. I still found it beautiful.

Back in Anchorage, we watched sled dog races. Warm temperatures meant they had to put down snow for the races. And it meant that this snow sculpture of a native Alaskan was melting. I still found it beautiful.

 

Ten Lessons Our Children Learned from the Election

I’ve been a little neglectful on reading blogs and responding to comments the past few days. My apologies. America has just gone through one of the nastiest elections in its history. And the American people have spoken, in a way I never expected them to. I know they were voting their frustration, a frustration that was caused in many ways by the very same people they just voted back into office.There is a reason why our government has been so dysfunctional for the past eight years. It was grounded in just-vote-no-and-screw-the-consequences. Let the nation go up in flames rather than work together and compromise to build a better nation. Challenge where the President was born, regardless of proof, instead of meeting him half way across the aisle as he offered again and again. And never, never let him have a victory. Now these folks are saying don’t be bitter, we have to work together. Right.

Well, my sense of humor is a little low now, so I am feeling a little ouchy. One good thing I did see was that 18-25 year olds voted for Hillary in all but five states. Our future may be in good hands. I suspect we will be hearing from young people a lot over the next few months. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what lessons our children have learned over the past year. I came up with ten.

Ten Lessons this Election Taught Our Children:

  1. Rudeness and bullying are okay. Being polite is for losers. Call people who disagree with you names. Call them criminals. Threaten to throw them in jail. Threaten them with lawsuits.
  2. Sexual harassment is okay. It is okay to denigrate women and seduce married women. Boys will be boys, right. Threaten to sue women who dare to complain, call them liars. Make sure that women are afraid to complain when they have been harassed or raped.
  3. Don’t worry about financial obligations. If you can get away with paying someone nothing or low wages, great. You are not bad, just smart. If worse comes to worse, go bankrupt and stiff all of the people who have worked for or with you. Again, that’s not being bad, just smart. Besides, it’s a great tax write off.
  4. In fact, don’t pay taxes, especially if you are wealthy. It’s not criminal; it’s smart. Let losers such as the middle class and low-income people pick up your share.
  5. Our military stinks. The solution is to fire all of our generals. Americans, such as John McCain, who end up as Prisoners of War, are losers. A smart person would have never been caught.
  6. A major solution to unemployment is to do away with environmental protection. Global warming is a myth. Let’s go back to coal as the solution to America’s energy needs.
  7. It’s perfectly okay to be a racist. Build massive walls around America. Send millions of Mexican Americans back to Mexico. Block people from Islamic countries from coming into America. Challenge where America’s first black president was born, again and again, regardless of proof. The innocent are guilty until proven otherwise.
  8. There is nothing wrong with a nation who once threatened our nation with nuclear destruction, who has been our sworn enemy for close to a century, and is once again reaching for world domination, to interfere with our political process in America. There is nothing wrong with a presidential candidate inviting such interference.
  9. There are no consequences related to lying. Truth is relative. If you are caught in a lie refuse to respond to the accusation and make the same lie over, again and again. Did you chop down the cherry tree? Hell no.
  10. Might makes right. Issues such as equal rights, equal opportunity, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion are secondary.

Enough, my friends. I promise to get back to blogging about bicycling through America and Canada in my next blog. I just have to tell you about the nastiest dog in America. —Curt

From Flying Saucers to a Monster Moose: Bicycling across Ontario… The 10,000 Mike Bike Trek

Large moose culture found in Hearst, Ontario Canada.

Large sculptures are often found in Canadian towns. They serve as tourist attractions but also give the town a unique character. We found this large moose that Peggy is snuggling up to in Hearst, Ontario.

Quebec and Ontario shared a unique status on my Bike Trek: They were huge— two to three times the size of Texas. Each took over a week to bicycle across and each had a lot of no-where miles, long distances between towns. Northern Quebec won the prize, however, for being the most remote. As I bicycled south and picked up Quebec Route 117, larger towns reappeared at more frequent intervals. Val-d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda were close to being small cities.

Crossing into Ontario, smaller communities were the rule. Ten thousand people constituted a major metropolis. Larder Lake, the first community I biked through in Ontario, had a population of around 1000 in 1989. It had dropped to 700 when Peggy and I drove through in May. I was reminded of West Texas, where most of the towns seemed to be losing population. Once upon a time, Larder Lake was considered to have a golden future. A mining investment company ran an ad in the 1907 Ottawa Citizen claiming:

“The Larder Lake district is believed to be the richest gold country ever known, and it is just now being opened up. Soon will commence the most tremendous outpouring of gold known to civilization.”

If you could get past the English, how could you not invest? The person who wrote the ad copy likely had a great future as a time-share salesman. Eventually a little gold was found, but it was more like a trickle than a “tremendous outpouring.” Today, the town is better known for fish. Peggy and I found a large one beside the road. It was leaping out of the ‘water.’

Lake Trout Sculpture in Larder Lake, Ontario Canada.

A large Lake Trout leaping out of the water served to let travelers know that Larder Lake was a great place to go fishing, and, I might add, enjoy the outdoors in general.

I am in love with the large, often outlandish sculptures, that so many Canadian towns adopt to encourage tourism, or maybe because the residents have a warped sense of humor. Peggy and I first became aware of the phenomena when we were driving into British Columbia in 1999 on Highway 97 out of Washington and came upon the “World’s Largest Golf Ball” and the “World’s Largest Beehive.” Here are some that we found as we made our way across Ontario on Trans-Canada Highway 11.

Flying saucer sculpture in Moonbeam, Ontario Canada.

If your town is named Moonbeam, why not have a flying saucer sculpture in front of the Information Center? Quivera, our van, can be seen peeking out from behind the saucer.

Aliens peak out window of flying saucer in front of information center in Moonbeam, Ontario Canada.

Curious aliens were staring out the windows of the flying saucer.

Alien points out brochures in Information Bureau in Moonbeam, Ontario Canada.

A helpful alien points out brochures inside of Moonbeam’s Information Center.

This young woman staffed the Information Center. She spoke fluent English but confessed her first love was French. She also told us there were great hiking trails in the region but that she avoided them because of bears.

This young woman staffed the Information Center. She spoke fluent English but confessed her first love was French. She also told us there were great hiking trails in the region but that she avoided them because of bears.

Large black bear sculpture found in Kapuskasing, Ontario Canada

Shortly afterwards we found this huge black bear statue at Kapuskasing. I’d be staying off the trails, too.

Giant moose and wolf sculptures in Hearst, Ontario Canada.

Here is another shot of the moose I featured at the top of the post— not looking so friendly as he stares down a pair of wolves.

Wolf sculpture in Hearst, Ontario Canada.

A view of the wolf looking like he might belong in the movie, Twilight. “Jacob, is that you in there?”

The 'World's Largest Snowman' in Beardmore, Ontario Canada.

Beardmore proudly boasts the World’s Largest Snowman as its claim to fame.

My bicycle trip across Ontario in 1989 was something of a blur. One thing I do remember was a gradual change from French to English. It wasn’t like I arrived at the border and the language changed. Local loyalties seemed to depend on culture rather than the provincial boundary. I was reminded of my experience in West Africa where loyalty was to the family first, the tribe second, and the country third. Peggy and I still noticed remnants of these emotions in Ontario 26 years later. A house might be painted in tri-color French, warning off potential Anglophiles. Or British lions would be proudly displayed as lawn ornaments, prepared to pounce on someone who spoke French.

Towns became more frequent, which meant there were more excuses to stop. I could start with breakfast and eat my way through the day. I had given up on cooking for myself by now, unless I was desperate. There was mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner to look forward to, not to mention coffee breaks. My hundred-mile a day bicycling body demanded constant fueling. Plus I liked the companionship. Bicycling by myself for 8-10 hours was lonely business. On occasion, I would even stay at a motel, just so I could turn the TV on and hear people talk. The downside of this was that I ran through my trip budget more quickly than I had planned. When I arrived in Thunder Bay, I called my brother-in-law and had him transfer some money he owed me into my account so I could finish off my journey in the style I had become accustomed to!

The terrain in Ontario wasn’t much different that I had been peddling over in Quebec, more or less flat with rolling hills. I worked my way through forests and farmlands, continuing to pass by numerous lakes and occasional rivers. As I neared Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, however, more mountainous country came into view, and with that more serious uphills and downhills. Following are several photos that Peggy and I took of the countryside.

Trans-Canada Highway 11 works its way across Ontario— in this particular instance forested, flat and straight.

Trans-Canada Highway 11 works its way across Ontario— in this particular instance forested, flat and straight. Can’t say much for the gravelly shoulder.

Bear Lake in Ontario Canada along Trans-Canada Highway 11.

Many lakes are found along the highway in Ontario. Bear Lake was one of the first I came across. In line with its name, bear-proof trash containers were provided at the wayside. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Kapuskasing River provides hydro-electric power for the town of Kapuskasing.

The Kapuskasing River provides hydro-electric power for the town of Kapuskasing. Peggy and I also saw extensive use of solar power along Highway 11.

This abandoned church caught my attention...

This abandoned church caught my attention…

It's feeling of ages past led me to render it in black and white.

It’s feeling of ages past led me to render it in black and white.

Wild Goose Campground near Long Lake provided some scenic views...

Wild Goose Campground near Long Lake provided some scenic views…

Reedy lake at Wild Goose Campground in Ontario.

Plus this one of reeds.

As I approached Thunder Bay, Mountains provided both beauty and a more challenging ride.

As I approached Thunder Bay, mountains provided both beauty and a more challenging ride.

Peggy and I stopped to photograph this cliff.

Peggy and I stopped to photograph this cliff.

And its small waterfall.

And its small waterfall.

Nipigon River Bridge in Ontario Canada

This bridge across the Nipigon River near Thunder Bay has only been opened for a short while. It was closed briefly in January this year because it became detached from the approach. Given that it provides the only way across the river for Canada’s major East-West highways, you can imagine the resources that were devoted to fixing it! Peggy and I headed across the bridge, stopped in Thunder Bay for lunch, and then drove into Minnesota — returning to the US as I had on my bike.

NEXT BLOG: I cross Minnesota, throw a rock across the Mississippi River, and visit with a babe (as in Babe the Blue Ox).

A Detour to Prince Edward Island… The 10,000-Mike Bike Trek

Grey skies detracted from the "picture postcard" look this lighthouse in Victoria, Prince Edward Island is supposed to have, but provided a powerful backdrop for the tree that seems to lean toward it.

Grey skies detracted from the “picture postcard” look this lighthouse in Victoria, Prince Edward Island is supposed to have, but provided a powerful backdrop for the tree that seems to lean toward it. A crow sits on the railing, looking down toward us.

I bicycled past Prince Edward Island (PEI) on my 5000-mile marathon bike ride home— and had regretted it ever since. It was a bucket list item for me, and I was ever so close, merely a ferryboat ride away. But the clock was ticking.

They have built an 8-mile (12.9 k) bridge between New Brunswick and PEI since, and proudly point out that it is the longest bridge in the world— over ice— an interesting clarification that suggests cold and snowy winters. Peggy and I decided we could zip across the bridge, spend a day, and check out what I had missed. Fortunately, it was neither cold nor snowy and the ice had melted, but it was windy and rainy.

A stormy day limited our visibility when we crossed the 8-mile Confederation Bridge to PEI from New Brunswick.

A stormy day limited our visibility when we crossed the 8-mile Confederation Bridge to PEI from New Brunswick. I was ever so glad I wasn’t on my bicycle.

High winds greeted us on the way back. Adjust your speed indeed. To a bicyclist this would be equally worrisome if not more so than the rainy day. I learned that bicyclists and walkers are required to take a shuttle across the bridge— regardless of the weather.

High winds greeted us on the way back. Adjust your speed indeed! To a bicyclist this would be equally worrisome if not more so than the rainy day. I learned, however, that bicyclists and walkers are required to take a shuttle across the bridge— regardless of the weather.

PEI is named after Prince Edward (1767-1820), the Duke of Kent and Strathearn, son of King George III, and the father of Queen Victoria, which is quite a legacy. The French initially named the island Île Saint-Jean and the English followed suit, calling it St. John’s Island. There were too many other St. John’s floating around the Atlantic Provinces, however. Thus Edward got his chance. I don’t have anything against the Prince, or the long-dead Saint for that matter, but I prefer the First Nation, Mi’kmaq name, Abegweit, which translates into land cradled in the waves. It is so much more poetic.

I often find that First Nation or Native American names for places have more magic and power than the current names we have given them. Mt. Denali, the highest mountain in North America, is another example. Originally named Mt. McKinley, after a little-remembered American President, the name has recently been changed back to its Athabascan name, Denali, which means the high one. (See my post on the train trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska that Peggy and I made this past spring.)

The names for Prince Edward Island reflect its history, which is quite similar to its neighboring Atlantic Provinces, moving from First Nation to Acadian French to English and finally, expelled Scots. The Gaelic for PEI, by the way, is Eilean a’ Phrionns: the Island of the Prince.

The day we had allowed for our visit led us to focus on one place. We chose the small, south-coast town of Victoria. We couldn’t resist the description by Stephen Kimber, “The Trans-Canada Highway bypassed Victoria. So did the shopping centers and tourist amusement parks. And that— along with its independent-minded citizens— is what makes Victoria the enchanting, picture post card place it is today.” It sounded like our kind of town.

We arrived under dark clouds that were threatening a deluge but somehow held off for our visit. Given the bad weather and the fact that we had arrived before the summer crowds, it appeared that we were the only people in town. Most shops were closed and the “enchanting, picture post card” look was dampened somewhat by the lack of sunshine. Still, Peggy and I found much of interest.

"Where's the chocolate?" Peggy seems to be asking.

“Where’s the chocolate?” Peggy seems to be asking the locked door. Her taste buds had been prepped for it. “Brain food,” she always declares. Fortunately, we were able to find some equally delicious and sinful lobster. Otherwise, it could have been a long night.

Victoria had once been a bustling seaport doing trade with Europe, the West Indies, and the East Coast of the US. Peggy and I walked through the village of precisely laid out streets and Victorian homes that spoke to the earlier times. We were admiring the town’s lighthouse when a man came hurrying out of one of the homes and crossed the road to greet us.

Colorful homes greeted our walk around the town.

Colorful homes punctuated our walk around the town.

I found these old barn loft doors intriguing.

I found these old barn loft doors intriguing…

And I admired the imagination of the person who had added red trim to this building of by-gone days.

And I admired the imagination of the person who had added red trim to this building of by-gone days.

Appropriate to Victoria's seagoing past, we found and admired this retired fishing boat.

Appropriate to Victoria’s seagoing past, we found and admired this retired fishing boat. (Fishing, BTW, is still carried on out of Victoria’s small port. That’s where our lobster came from.)

A sign proclaimed that this was the largest tree on Prince Edward Island.

A sign proclaimed that this was the largest tree on Prince Edward Island.

Ben Smith

Ben Smith the “town greeter” of Victoria came bursting out the door of his house and made a beeline for us.

“Would you like to go in the lighthouse?” he asked in a voice that almost demanded we say yes. Naturally we agreed. Of course we wanted to see the lighthouse. He introduced himself as Ben Smith. He was apparently the town greeter, unofficial mayor, and a candle maker— a virtual one-man chamber of commerce, not to mention crow-master. They seemed to be following him.

“Ah yes,” he allowed, “I feed them. Sometimes they go for walks with me, hopping along behind.” We pictured this strange parade walking/hopping down the streets of Victoria and laughed. As Ben hurried off to get the keys, the crows stayed with us, making sure we didn’t slip away.

We were checking out the lighthouse when a man came hurrying across the street and asked if we would like to see in side it.

While Ben went to retrieve the lighthouse key, a crow stood guard on the railing.

Ben turned out to be as knowledgeable as he was nice. We got the A+ Tour, which included climbing into the top of the lighthouse up narrow, steep stairs to check out the light and then butt-scoot around a precipice to go outside for a view of the small town and its harbor. Ben took our photo and provided an ongoing lecture on the area’s history. After all of this, we insisted on seeing his candle shop and bought one as a thank you. We also sat in his ‘lucky chair.’

The light that warned and guided sailors approaching Victoria.

The light that warned and guided sailors approaching Victoria.

Peggy and I standing on the lighthouse look out.

Peggy and I standing on the lighthouse lookout. (Photo by Ben Smith.)

Entering Ben's candle shop...

Entering Ben’s candle shop. Note the horse shoe over the door for luck.

And sitting on the 'lucky chair.'

Peggy sits in the ‘lucky chair.’ Some of Ben’s candles are resting on the table beyond her.

“The man who made this chair and gave it to me was struck by lightning on three different occasions and survived,” he explained. Peggy and I took turns sitting in the chair, just in case. Ben walked us back to our van and insisted we buy a lobster roll from the Lobster Barn restaurant on the dock. It was delicious.

Leaving Victoria, we made our way over to the New Glasgow Highlands Campground in the center of the island, which proved to be quite lovely. Along the way, we got something of a feel for the rural nature of PEI and more of a sense of the island’s beauty. But we knew we were missing a lot. One day is far too short of a time to visit the island. We’ll be back.

Prince Edward Island thrives off of its small farms where crops such as potatoes are raised. The island is noted for its red soils.

Prince Edward Island thrives off of its small farms where crops such as potatoes are raised. The island is noted for its red soils. Wind breaks surround most farms.

This river reflected the rain the island was receiving. Interestingly, drinking water is primarily ground water pumped up from wells.

This river was brimming with the rain the island was receiving. Interestingly, drinking water is primarily ground water pumped up from wells.

A small bit of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated these birch trees.

A small bit of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated these birch trees at the campground.

The dark, stormy skies were back the next morning. I liked the drama they created in this photo of a church.

The dark, stormy skies were back the next morning. I liked the drama they created in this photo of a church.

Check this out. Note how similar the church looks to the one above. The other church I photographed was laid out in the same way. I believe the churches were different denominations. Was a common architect involved?

Check this out. Note how similar this church looks to the one above. I believe the churches were different denominations. Was a common architect involved? Does PEI have an agreement on how churches are supposed to look? (Kidding, I think.)

Peggy and I really fell for the charm of the houses we found on PEI.

Peggy and I really fell for the charm of the houses we found on PEI.

Another...

Another…

And a final one.

And a final house, the last photo for this post.

NEXT POST: I am back on my bike route crossing New Brunswick, entering Quebec, climbing up and over the Gaspe Peninsula, and crossing the St. Lawrence Seaway.

 

Things that Go Bump in the Night… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

I decided that my title today called for this 'ghost tree' I found along the Parkway. Imagine it at night with a full moon behind it and a black cat sitting on the lower branch.

I decided that my title today called for this ‘ghost tree’ I found along the Parkway. Imagine the tree at night with a full moon behind it and a black cat sitting on the lower branch.

 

From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-legged beasties / And things that go bump in the night, / Good Lord, deliver us! —An old Scottish Prayer

Having spent a considerable amount of time out in the woods at night, including a fair amount by myself, I’ve had my share of nighttime encounters. To say they can be disconcerting is understatement at its best. Even a cow walking through your camp can send your heart racing when you wake up from a deep sleep.

I’ve written about some of my encounters before. Why not? They make great blog material. For example, there was the time I found myself nervously loading a 357-magnum pistol because I had heard a loud bang outside my tent. A doctor friend had insisted I carry his gun in backcountry Alaska. I was damned lucky I didn’t shoot myself in the foot. I was amused (or was that embarrassed) to discover it was only a beaver that had slapped its tail against the water. He had discovered me in his territory and was protesting.

And then there was the time I woke up with a bear standing on me, his snout inches away from mine. I screamed. So much for being manly. Truth is, the smallest twig cracking out in the dark night can lead brave souls to become hyper-alert, or maybe just hyper.

Camping out in the woods away from established campgrounds on my bike trip added another level of concern, being faced with the most dangerous animal of all— the two-legged type. I’ll take a bear anytime. Breaking twigs in the night become even more menacing. As I mentioned before, I was always careful to select a place where I was hidden from the road, or any other human observation, as far as that goes.

The Blue Ridge Parkway has a policy on not camping outside of designated campgrounds. For the most part this isn’t a problem, but I had decided to have my bike tuned in Asheville and didn’t get out of the town until late in the afternoon. (Having learned my lesson on dark tunnels, I had also bought a new bike light.) A considerable hill outside of Asheville had slowed me down, and the sun had started to slip behind a mountain.

Being tired and a bit grumpy, I decided a couple of hours of bicycling were sufficient. So I pulled off the road and went looking for a flat spot in the steep terrain, one that wouldn’t have me rolling down hill all night. Eventually I found a place that was only slightly askew. There was just enough room for my tent. Blue, my bike, had to be satisfied with leaning against a tree. Tossing and turning because a rock insisted on poking me in the back, it took a while to fall asleep.

Having crested one long climb with an even longer one ahead, I decided to camp out in the woods. The steep terrain made finding a flat spot difficult.

Having crested one long climb with an even longer one ahead, I decided to camp out in the woods. Finding a flat spot other than the road was the challenge.

I woke up to someone/thing stamping outside my tent. Make that several things. I am sure you can see where this might be a bit alarming. I lay there wondering whether I should jump out of my tent or pretend that no one was home. Sometimes ignored problems go away. Sometimes they don’t. I had decided on the latter course when the problem started hissing. Stamping is one thing; hissing is another. Had the Appalachian ghosts of Tom Dooley and his mistresses come to haunt me?

This sign along the Parkway describes the origin of the Kingston Trio Song, "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley."

This sign along the Parkway describes the origin of the Kingston Trio Song, “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley.” Their song was the PG version, however. Tom was living with a much older guy who had a younger wife. With mutual consent from all parties, Tom started sleeping with the wife. When a cousin of the wife showed up, he added her to the mix, often at the same time. Another cousin appeared on the scene and Tom once more sacrificed himself for the good of all. She brought syphilis into the mix, however. Eventually, one of the cousins killed another one with Tom’s help. Being a gentleman, Tom confessed to the murder and she went free. Tom was hung. At least I think that’s how it went. I became distracted with the appearance of the first cousin. Undoubtedly, the event left some ghosts hanging around.

This was the point where I started wishing my backpacking flashlight had a ton more of candle power. I unzipped my tent and pointed the dim light up the hill where several large things went crashing off into the brush. There’s a point here. It is always better to have large things crashing away from you instead of toward you, even more so on a dark night. Anyway, I recognized the thump, thump, thump as they disappeared. A herd of several deer had discovered my hiding place, and like the beaver, been surprised and irritated. I had simply never heard deer do their stamping and hissing routine before. (I have since.)

I went back to sleep, woke up refreshed (sort of), and resumed my journey. Today’s blog photos along the Blue Ridge Parkway will take you from Asheville to Little Glade Mill Pond, a distance of approximately 170 miles. Enjoy.

The ultra modern Park Headquarters in Asheville includes all of the latest environmental friendly designs, including plants growing on the roof.

The ultra modern Park Headquarters in Asheville includes all of the latest environmental friendly designs, including plants growing on the roof.

Bike sculpture in Blue Ridge Park Headquarters, Asheville, North Carolina.

I enjoyed the bike sculpture at the headquarters.

My first stop the next day was at the Craggy Garden's Visitor's Center. It's high location provided a great scenic view of the Black Mountains. The fence was a plus.

My first stop the next day was at the Craggy Garden’s Visitor’s Center. Its high location provided a scenic view of the Black Mountains. The fence was a plus.When I bicycled through the area in June of 1989, the area was covered with blooming Rhododendrons. Peggy and I were too early for the display on our redrive of the route this spring.

Dandelions had no problem with spring. Peggy and I found them happily blooming away throughout our trip.

Dandelions had no problems with spring. They were happily blooming away throughout our trip.

Peggy insisted on buying me a neckerchief at the Visitor's Center, which featured biking the Parkway.

Peggy insisted on buying me a neckerchief at the Visitor’s Center. It featured biking the Parkway. Like the bushy look? I was honoring my bike trek where I had three haircuts in six months.

One of numerous tunnels along the Parkway. I found the stone work quite beautiful. Sone masons from Europe were brought in during the 1930s to help.

One of numerous tunnels along the Parkway. I found the stone work quite appealing. Stone masons from Europe were brought in during the 1930s to help.

This is the twin to the tree I featured at the beginning of the blog.

This is the twin to the tree I featured at the beginning of the blog. It was actually standing next to the other tree.

Dogwood is another plant that enjoys spring and was blooming in profusion all the way along the Parkway.

Dogwood is another plant that enjoys spring and was blooming in profusion all the way along the Parkway.

A close up of the dogwood.

A close up of the dogwood complete with beetle.

Dogwood on Blue Ridge Parkway with butterfly.

And a  butterfly.

Jesse Brown's cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Peggy provides perspective on Jesse Brown’s pioneer cabin.

Cool Spring's Batist Church on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Cool Spring’s Baptist Church was next door to Jesse Brown’s cabin. Usually, services were held outdoors. There wasn’t much difference.

And the cool spring.

And the cool spring. The wooden channel carries water into the spring house.

I doubt the early pioneers would have seen this Scottish cow in the mountains.

I doubt the early pioneers would have seen this Scottish bull in the mountains.

Apple tree on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Apple trees, on the other hand, were quite common. Hard cider was a pioneer staple.

Farm on Blue Ridge Parkway.

Farm lands add as much to the beauty to the Parkway as forests and mountains.

Little Glade Mill Pond on the Blue Ridge Highway.

Little Glade Mill Pond provides a great lunch stop. While Peggy whipped up sandwiches, I hiked around the pond.

Reflection shot on Little Glade Mill Pond on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Naturally, I had to focus on the reflection shots. Our van is off to the right. Lunch is being prepared! Breakfast is my responsibility.

I'll complete today's post with this final shot of Little Glade Mill Pond. Next Blog: We'll continue out journey along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway.

I’ll complete today’s post with this final shot of Little Glade Mill Pond. Next Blog: We’ll continue out journey along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway.

 

 

 

Route 66: A Journey Back in Time… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

While historic Route 66 travels through six states and numerous climate zones, I always think of it as being in the desert, a prejudice I developed from reading my grandfather's Arizona Highways as a child.

While historic Route 66 travels through eight states and numerous climate zones, I always think of it as being in the desert, a prejudice I developed from reading my Grandfather’s “Arizona Highways” as a child. This photo I took a couple of years ago near Oatman, Arizona would have been the same 60 years ago.

 

Nostalgia: Pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again. — Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Route 66 represents nostalgia in mythic proportions. It harkens back to an earlier era— back before the hustle and bustle of modern-day freeways, back before the advent of McDs, BKs, and numerous other fast food restaurants, and back before cell phones insisted that we keep in contact with anyone and everyone all the time, even when on the open road.

It is a blue highway incarnate, and, as I am sure you have figured out, I am a blue highway kind of guy.  When I was planning my bike trip, I designed it to follow some of the loneliest, bluest roads in the US and Canada. Of course there were compromises, Las Vegas being a glaring example. And there were times when my only option was to climb onto a freeway. As I followed busy Boulder Highway up and out of Las Vegas, however, it was Route 66 and North America’s other historic byways that I was dreaming of.

I worked my way up to Railroad Pass, which marks the dividing line between Las Vegas/Henderson and Boulder City. It had been a long haul out of Vegas so breakfast at the Railroad Casino seemed in order. The casino has been there forever and lacks the glamor of its Las Vegas cousins. It even came with an old-fashioned café. I ordered one of my favorites: sausage, two eggs over medium, hash browns, whole wheat toast and coffee. It cost four bucks. I left with a happy tummy and a smile on my face, retrieved my bike from the post it was locked to, and headed for Hoover Dam, keeping an eye out for the Desert Big Horned Sheep that hang out in the mountains above the highway.

Boulder Highway as it looks today... not much different than it looked in 1989.

Boulder Highway as it looks today… not much different from it looked in 1989.

“Watch the road, Curt!” I admonished me. Do you talk to yourself? I always have. Riding on a bike for six months by myself made me much more fluent, or maybe the word is verbose.

There is a fun story about the Big Horn Sheep in the area that I related in an earlier blog but is worth repeating here. A small park is located just off the road that bypasses Boulder City to Hoover Dam. The bright green grass beckons to the sheep up on the mountainside during Nevada’s hot, dry summers and down they come. I’ve stopped by a couple of times to photograph them. An acquaintance of my friend Ken Lake lives across the road from the park and related this tale.

The path the sheep follow down to the park passes right by a house that has a shiny, aluminum garage door. One day the herd ram noticed another large ram in the door— staring back at him, challenging him. Here was competition for his lovely ewes! This wasn’t to be allowed, of course, so he reared up and charged the door full tilt, crashing into it with his mighty horns. But the other ram was still standing, albeit a bit beat up. So he charged again and then again. The door was trashed. Apparently the owner had a hard time persuading his insurance agent how the damage was caused.

The herd ram determining whether my taking his photo was something he should be objecting to.

The herd ram determining whether my taking his photo was something he should be objecting to.

Peggy and I have a similar problem at our home in Oregon. The big tom turkeys that live in the forest like to parade their harems through our yard. The largest of the toms has discovered the turkey that lives in the bumper of our Toyota Tacoma pickup. He is not happy. I’ve seem him stand in front of the bumper for thirty minutes at a time, fluffing out his feathers, sticking out his neck in a loud gobble, and pecking the bumper. The other turkey fluffs his feathers, sticks out his neck and pecks right back. All of this would just be humorous except the big tom goes looking for the other turkey. He flies up, lands in the pickup bed… and poops. Admittedly, turkey poop isn’t as traumatic as having your garage door trashed, but it is copious and messy. The tom and I have had several discussions about my love of roast turkey.

I was yet unaware of the Big Horn Sheep and a long way off from owning a wilderness retreat in Oregon when I cycled by the park on my bike trip. I made my way down to Lake Mead and crossed over Hoover Dam. Looking out over the lake and the distant drop on the far side from a bicycle was quite an experience. If I were to cross the dam today on my bike, TSA would stop me at its check point and make me empty out my panniers to determine whether I was a mad bomber. Why else would someone bike across the dam— and up the other side?

The climb out was hot and steep, filled with hairpin turns, autos and large RVs. I sweated all of them, so to speak. Reaching the top, I was faced with another challenge, miles and miles of sizzling, desolate desert with minimal facilities. My kind of country.

A high four multi-lane bridge has replaced crossing over Hoover Dam when traveling between Nevada and Arizona. This shot looks down on the old highway I was following after climbing out of the canyon.

A high, multi-lane bridge has replaced crossing over Hoover Dam when traveling between Nevada and Arizona. This shot looks down on the old highway I was following after climbing out of the canyon.

A bit farther up the road looking south. Dante would have found this site suitable for his concept of hell.

A bit farther up the road looking south. This photo could have served as an illustration for Dante’s Inferno.

I biked on, catching far off views of the Colorado River and then picking out a distant mountain to bike toward. As I reached my goal, the sun began to set, and warm breezes turned slightly cool. It was time to search for a home. Unfortunately, a sturdy fence blocked easy access to the desert. I wasn’t particularly interested in being caught climbing over. There are a lot of guns in Nevada. A kindly dirt road came to my rescue. I took advantage of a break in traffic and zipped down it and into a dry gulch, the perfect hiding place— as long as it didn’t rain and the local rattlesnake was elsewhere. I fired up my backpacking stove, made a cup of coffee, added a dash of 151 proof rum, and downed a granola bar. Life was good. Coyote music lulled me to sleep.

Looking down on the Colorado River from a viewpoint on the Las Vegas-Kingman road.

Looking down on the Colorado River from a viewpoint on the Las Vegas-Kingman road.

I used this mountain as a marker to determine my progress.

I used this distinctive mountain as a marker to determine my progress.

Looking out toward my home for the night.

Looking out toward my home for the night. Not bad, eh? Or is it that 151 proof rum improves how everything looks?

I was up early in the morning and out before the traffic. Fifty-miles later I was in Kingman, Arizona, a town bursting with pride about its Route 66 heritage, and hoping to harvest a bundle of tourist dollars because of it. I grabbed a room in a beat up old motel that claimed Route 66 vintage and prices. Following a much-needed shower, I headed out to follow the road through the town and absorb some of its ambience.

Kingman, Arizona is quite proud of its connection to Route 66. Two different museums in town feature Route 66 themes.

Kingman, Arizona is quite proud of its connection to Route 66. Two different museums in town feature Route 66 themes.

A number of murals depict a romanticized view of travel on the highway.

A number of murals depict a romanticized view of travel on the highway.

When I talk about the inexpensive motels I found along my bike route, this is what Peggy assumes they looked like.

When I talk about the inexpensive motels I found along my bike route, this is what Peggy assumes they looked like.

A beautiful desert sunset as seen from Route 66 in Kingman.

A desert sunset as seen from Route 66 in Kingman.

The next day found me absorbing much more as I left the town behind and made my way east on what was once one of America’s main cross-country routes. Today it is a quiet road. The majority of the people traveling east and west are zipping by on Interstate 40, rushing toward whatever destination/destiny awaits them.

When I think of Route 66, I think desert. When I was a small boy, I was enthralled by my grandfather’s subscription to “Arizona Highways.” It often featured Route 66, and it featured deserts. My first acquaintance with the highway was when I was driving west from Atlanta in 1968 and followed portions of it through Arizona, including the one I was biking on.

My route for the day took me on a gentle climb up through arid lands with views of mesas along the way. Occasional creeks were teaming with life that was seeking the desert’s most treasured commodity, water. I passed by ramshackle old buildings that had seen their heyday in the 40s and 50s. I waved at the few cars that passed me, either locals going about their business, or romantics like me, seeking a taste of a bygone era. A train whistle receding into the distance fit right in. I ended my day at the Grand Canyon Caverns, a tourist attraction of the early Route 66 that still pulls in visitors today.

Route 66 above Kingman.

Route 66 above Kingman.

A mesa above the highway. Traveling over the mets and beyond will bring you to the Grand Canyon.

A mesa above the highway. Traveling over the mesa and beyond will bring you to the Grand Canyon.

An old building that served as a gas station and garage during the heyday of Route 66. The gas pumps had been updated, but even they were no longer in use. I rendered the photo in black and white to represent the era.

An old building that served as a gas station and garage during the heyday of Route 66. The gas pumps had been updated, but even they were no longer in use. I rendered the photo in black and white to represent the era.

My campground for the evening with a typical Route 66 sign.

My campground for the evening with a typical Route 66 sign.

The campground/motel and caverns also featured dinosaurs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The campground/motel and caverns also featured dinosaurs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The restaurant featured Betty Boop.

The restaurant featured Betty Boop.

And this map showing historic Route 66.

And this map showing historic Route 66. The arrow points to the Grand Canyon Caverns.

Sunshine lights up dark clouds that were promising rain at the campground.

Sunshine on the juniper trees provides an interesting contrast to the dark clouds that were promising rain at the campground.

Sunset at the Grand Canyons Cavern Campground.

I’ll conclude this post with sunset at the Grand Canyons Cavern Campground.

Note: If you are new to this series, my wife Peggy and I are retracing my 1989 bike route, this time in our van. Most of the photos come from our present trip.

NEXT BLOG: I will feature the rest of my bike trip across Arizona, including a very scary one a.m. invasion of a motel room I was sleeping in.