I Am Going on a Thousand Mile Hike… At 75

View of Mt. Whitney from the west including Curtis Mekemson.

I’ll be completing my thousand mile journey by climbing Mt. Whitney, the curved mountain in the background and the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. I’ve climbed it many times. Here I was wrapping up a 360 mile backpack trip to celebrate my 60th birthday. Will I be looking as spunky after a thousand miles at 75?

Expect some changes in my blog. I am gearing up for a thousand-mile backpack trip this summer starting on June 17, 58 days from now. I’ll be travelling from Mt. Ashland, a few miles from our home and following the Pacific Crest Trail south to Mt. Whitney through the Siskiyou, Marble, Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains. With mountains to climb, rivers to cross, wild animals to confront, swarming insects to avoid, and bad weather to face— not to mention the challenge of backpacking 1,000 miles— there will be plenty of adventures along the way. And there will be lots of photographs. Much of the country I will be backpacking through is drop-dead gorgeous.

My journey will take me through a variety of terrains, including Yosemite National Park.

I estimate the total trip will take about three months, including breaks. It’s my intention to blog about the journey along the way. Peggy will be backpacking part of the trip with me, but mainly she will be doing back-up, meeting me at places where the trail crosses the road. When we have cell phone service, I’ll have Internet. I am excited about sharing the journey with you. Once the adventure gets underway, I’d appreciate your sharing a post or a link with your followers. I figure the more people hiking along with me, the merrier! I’d like a few thousand beside me when I encounter my first bear!

Black bear with cave in Alaska

Yosemite is black bear country. I once woke up with one standing on top of me. At 75, I might have a heart attack! 🙂

Not many people go out for a thousand-mile backpacking trip. And the number of 75-year-olds who do it are far fewer, maybe a handful. But I am no stranger to long distance adventures and this year marks my 50th year of backpacking. I think of the journey as a celebration of doing what I love to do, and a statement that age isn’t necessarily a detriment to having grand adventures.

Having said that, I realize I am 75 (grin). I’ll be seeing my doctor before I go. And Peggy and I are doing a 40-mile conditioning backpack trip along the Rogue River in four weeks. That, along with the first 60-mile section of the trail, will give me a hundred miles. The way I think is that if I can do a hundred miles, I can do a thousand! If not… well there are always other adventures.

There is a ton of preparation that needs to be done in getting ready for the trek, in addition to conditioning. I’ve started by putting my gear together. I’ll be traveling ultra-light, using the modern terminology. Peggy turns white and checks the budget each time I head out to REI. My new tent, backpack, sleeping bag, and mattress weigh seven pounds, which is what my old backpack alone weighed. I am hoping to keep all of my gear to under 15. With food for a week, this should keep my total weight to 30 pounds max.

The route, food considerations, resupply points and permits all need to be planned out and reviewed. There will be less time for my blog over the next couple of months. I will be limited in the number of posts I can put up and the number of posts I can read. My apologies in advance. But I will do what I can! And I will put up a few posts on my preparation efforts, including the backpacking trip along the Rogue River.

The beginning of my journey will take me around the edge of the Red Butte Wilderness, which includes the Red Butte Mountains seen here from our deck. Thunderstorms are often a challenge when hiking through the various mountain ranges of California in the summer.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: I wrap up the Alaska Adventure with more photos from Kodiak.

FRIDAY’S POST: It’s ground zero in MisAdventures with Freshmen PE Dance Class!

MONDAY’S POST: A look at today’s ultralight backpacking equipment.

Raw Sex and the Nuclear Holocaust… A MisAdventures’ Tale

 

Judy gave a small lock of hair to each of her many admirers.

When was the first time you recognized a member of the opposite sex as something other than a playmate, or, possibly, a pain in the butt?

Almost as far back as I can recall, I had a girlfriend, or at least believed I did. The girls didn’t necessarily have to agree. The first girl who caught my attention was an ‘older woman,’ the fourth-grade sister of one of my classmates in the third grade. She had quite a mouth on her and called her little brother names like s**t-head and f**k-face. As mentioned earlier, I had an extensive vocabulary of swear words. My brother, friends and I used such words extensively but I had never heard a girl talk like that. I was fascinated. I fell under her spell.

And thus it was, one fine Saturday, I found myself on my first great solo adventure, walking 2 ½ miles following the Southern Pacific railroad tracks to her home with the sole objective of hearing her speak those magical words. I was not disappointed! Be still my beating heart.

My first real heart-throb, though, was in the fourth grade. This time, she was a younger woman in the third grade: cute, blond and smart. While I may have appreciated those qualities, what fascinated me about Carol was that she could run like the wind. I was in love with her legs. We both lived within a couple of blocks of school and would walk home for lunch. The advantage of going home was that we would arrive back at school before the other kids were let out for noon recess. This meant we could grab the best positions for whatever game was being played. My problem was that Carol could outrun me and this meant I was usually second in line. It seemed like a small price to pay for seeing those legs kicking up the dirt in front of me.

In the fifth grade, the woman of the year was Judy, a fourth grader with flaming red hair who had every boy in the fourth and fifth grade passionately pursuing her. The competition was fierce. Judy loved it while the other girls must have been extremely jealous or, maybe just disgusted. To encourage us, Judy cut off small locks of her hair and gave one to each of her admirers. I was surprised she had any hair left but I cherished my lock and took it to bed with me at night. My main competitor for Judy was Eric, who was an up and coming fourth grader, small, but extremely athletic and an all-around nice kid. Judy let it be known that we were the chosen two.

Eric.

We had our showdown at a school movie that provided instructions on what to do when the Russians bombed our school. We spent a lot of time in the 50s worrying about that. People began building bomb shelters in their backyards. The teachers would make us crawl under our desks to prepare for the explosion. We were supposed to cover our faces with our arms so glass shattering in from the windows wouldn’t blind us. It is not surprising that the traumatized children of the 50’s grew up to be the anti-war radicals of the 60s and 70s. I stayed up one night to watch an atomic bomb testing in the Nevada desert over 200 miles away. It lit up the whole Eastern sky and added a touch of reality to our hide-under-the-desk practice.

In the lineup for the movie, Eric aced me out and managed to get next to Judy. A half-dozen other fourth graders played honor guard and I couldn’t even get close, but my luck didn’t abandon me altogether. I grabbed the seat immediately in back of her where I could at least monitor Eric’s behavior while admiring Judy’s behind. The lights went down and the movie started. I strained to keep an eye on Eric. He reached over and grabbed Judy’s hand and she let him hold it. I could have killed him. My whole world was crashing down. But then, unbelievably, Judy’s other hand slipped between the chairs and grabbed my knee. My knee! It was raw sex. Who cared if Eric was holding hands with Judy! Who cared if the Russians had somehow determined that Diamond Springs Grade School stood between them and world domination!

MONDAY’S POST: I finish up our 18-day journey down the Colorado River.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: More photos from Kodiak Island, Alaska.

FRIDAY’S POST: More girl problems when I make the mistake of taking PE Dance Class.

The Mekemson Kids Did It… It’s a Wrap, Or Is that a Rap-Sheet?

By the time I was in the fourth grade, new friends, a love of wandering in the woods, and a knack for learning had changed my perspective on life.

 

The comments on my series, “The Mekemson Kids Did It,” have been fun. Obviously, I struck a chord. Many of you reached back into the far recesses of your own memory banks to recall incidents from your own childhood. Thanks so much for sharing.

 

Amazingly, like most kids, we survived growing up. Part of it was sheer luck. I never broke a bone or suffered from a bad fall.  Nor did I come close to being drowned, shot, electrocuted, or run over. And all of these were possible. Most of my more ‘serious’ mishaps related to my big feet. Summertime meant bare feet and I specialized in stubbed toes; they hurt. Skin doesn’t appreciate being flayed from the body in big chunks, which is why the activity was highly recommended in Inquisition torture manuals. One toe and I would have confessed to anything.

As it was, I took it like the little man I happened to be and bawled. A dose of parental sympathy, a dash of iodine and a Band-Aid normally made things better. A rusty nail through the foot required more drastic action like a trip to the doctor and a mega-dose of sympathy. As did my encounter with Coaly the Cocker, who sunk her teeth into my foot. As I mentioned earlier, however, the sympathy was lacking that time.

Marshall’s injuries tended to be more serious. That’s because he asked interesting questions like what happens when you put a bullet on a rock and smash another rock down on top of it. He got away with that one, unlike the time he lit a dynamite cap with a match. We were vacationing at Caldor’s lumber camp in the Sierra’s at that time. Earlier in the day, Marshall and I had gone out for a hike and discovered the caps at an old mine. That evening, while Mother was wrapping up dinner, he had slipped outside to experiment. A loud bang was followed by a louder scream. Marshall was lucky. His glasses had protected his sight. The rest of the front side of his body was a bloody mess.  And then there was the time he fell out of a Heavenly tree and shoved a stick into his stomach.

Pop always started running when he heard Marshall scream. With me, he walked. But these were exceptions. Normally we brought home nothing more than the usual bumps, bruises and scratches of youth.

There came a time in his life when Marshall found other things more important than amusing or torturing his little brother. Girls were high on his list, along with cars, cigarettes and being a James Dean type rebel. (He wore his cigarette pack wrapped up in the sleeve of his T-shirt.) I spent a great deal of time by myself except for the ever-present dog and wandered farther and farther afield. The wilder the terrain, the happier I was.

While other kids were busy learning the drama of organized sports, I was figuring what to do with the rear end of a skunk pointed at me. It’s a sure sign the skunk is irritated when she does a handstand and waves her tail in your direction. It’s her way of saying, “My gun is cocked and my finger is on the trigger. It’s your move, stranger.” The secret is not to move. If you are very, very lucky, the skunk will slowly return to all fours and amble off.

But I also begin to develop my own set of friends and an enjoyment of learning, which still exists today. And then— drum roll please— there were girls! Be sure to check out next Friday’s post where the subject is Raw Sex and the Nuclear Holocaust.

Baby Bears and More… Kodiak Island, Alaska

These cubs were delightful little fellows, but photographing them called for a telephoto lens. I didn’t want to irritate their several hundred pound mom. Sow bears are very protective of their kids. One of the rules I always emphasize when hiking people through bear country is never get between a mama bear and her babies.

I visited Kodiak a couple of times when I lived in Alaska. Both times I was on my way to Katmai National Park to go backpacking. So, I missed seeing the Kodiak bears. It wasn’t a problem. The National Park has its own  population of large brown bears. When the floatplane landed at Katmai, a ranger was there to greet us. The area is a renowned fishing area for both people and bears. Fishermen come from all over the world to try their luck.”If you catch a fish and a brown bear comes along, cut your line. Don’t try to land the fish,” he instructed. It seemed like good advice. He went on to say, “If you meet a brown bear when you are out hiking, talk to the bear and slowly back away.” I wasn’t fishing so I wouldn’t need the first bit of advice, but possibly the second suggestion would come in handy.

The opportunity arrived that very evening. I had gone out for a stroll following a trail down to the beach when a thousand pounds of big claws and sharp teeth came strolling along in the opposite direction. Just what the heck was I supposed to say? I improvised. “Uh, Mr. Bear,” I started out tentatively, “You don’t want to eat me. I am an Alaskan just like you.” He stared at me with his small beady eyes and coughed. I wasn’t sure whether the cough meant I was full of BS or that I should go on. I assumed the latter. “There’s some great German food and Japanese food in camp,” I added as I slowly backed away.  It wasn’t that I actually wanted the bear to eat any German or Japanese fisherman. But, as I noted, I was improvising. He growled and left the trail. Maybe he was heading off to sample some ethnic dishes. I let out a huge sigh of relief and continued down to the beach.

The next day I watched an even larger bear fishing in a deep hole along the river. It was obviously a prime location. The bear wasn’t fishing the way you see them in the documentaries where the bears hang out at waterfalls with their mouths open. He was playing submarine where he would disappear under the  water until he caught a fish and then stand up on his hind legs while he consumed it. It was like he was eating corn on the cob except he was consuming the cob as well. I could here him crunching away. Twenty inches of trout disappeared in a couple of minutes. As I watched, a smaller grizzly sized bear came along to share in the catch. Bad decision. The large bear let out a roar and charged while the little guy leapt out of the hole and hightailed it though camp with the big guy hot on his tail. And, I can assure you, every thing they say about the speed of bears is absolutely true. I was ever so glad that I wasn’t on the trail.

The action on Kodiak wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it was equally interesting as the following photos will show.

Mama suggests to a large male that he go elsewhere. He did. You don’t mess with the mama!

Crisis solved, Mom leads her kids in the opposite direction along the fish pass,

And decides to go fishing.

Where she demonstrated her technique. (The salmon got away.)

“Come on in,” she urged the kids. “The waters fine.” But the cubs passed on the opportunity.

So she rejoined them— and provided a tongue bath.

Meanwhile, other bears were fishing the broader Dog Salmon River beneath the weir.

Including another mom with an older cub. The cub watched as mom searched for salmon under the water.

Successfully.

“Come on Mom, share!” the cub urged.

A seagull hovered above the cub, hoping for some table crumbs.

A bit later, a pair Kodiak bears had a standoff in the middle of the river! It seemed they were trying very hard to ignore each other.

Until the bear on the right decided to suggest that the other bear go elsewhere!

Which it did…

Junior stood up so he can see the action…

While Mom took a front row seat…

And then stood up to salute the victor. “I pledge allegiance…”

With the salmon caught and cubs fed, it was time to take a break.

The cool water provided an escape from the bugs…

While the fish pass provided  some warm sun for an afternoon nap. Anyone one up for telling the bear that it isn’t supposed to be on the fish pass? (grin) Next Wednesday I’ll take you along on trips to catch salmon, troll for halibut, and search for sea glass.

FRIDAY’S POST: A wrap up on the Mekemson Kids Did It.

MONDAY’S POST: The next to the last post on the 18-day journey down the Colorado River.

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“Your Mother Chases Fire Trucks” … The Mekemson Kids Did It

While the Diamond Spring’s Firehouse has been rebuilt from when we were children, it still stands in the same location. It was a block away from where we lived. The siren was loud. My dad would be off and running as a volunteer fireman, while my mother… Read on.

 

Pop (my father) was a volunteer fireman for Diamond Springs. As an electrician, it was his job to show up at burning houses and shut off the electricity. When the siren wailed, he was off and running, as were all the other volunteer firemen in town. It was serious business.

For Mother, and for us, it was a break in small-town routine and, I hate to use this word, entertainment. We also took off at the sound of the siren, jumped in whatever old car we had, and sped along behind the fire truck. The time of day and activity of the moment didn’t matter. If it were three in the morning, we would jump out of bed and throw on our clothes; if we were eating, the meal would be abandoned; if we were playing, the toys would be dropped. Nothing could compete with a fire. Our devotion to disaster was right up there in the same league as it is with today’s television crews.

The star performer was someone’s house. There was excitement, danger and pathos. Firemen blasted away with their hoses in a desperate attempt to save the home while the unfortunate family looked on in dismay. But the climax, the Fourth of July finale, was when the roof and walls would crash down and shoot sparks and fire high into the sky. I did keep my oohs and aahs to myself. Somewhere in the back of my mind a small voice whispered that our family outing was not totally appropriate.

“Your mother chases fire trucks,” one of my little buddies jeered at me in an argument.

My response at the time had been, “So…” But later in life I would ponder what the towns-people thought about Mother, two or three kids, and a dog always showing up when the flames were high. Pop must have been embarrassed. I remember him telling Mother once to stay far behind the fire engine and far away from the fire. He did it under the guise of being concerned for our safety and our need to stay out of the way. I now suspect he hoped we wouldn’t be recognized. But he never did have much success in telling Mother what to do. The siren’s call was not to be denied.

 

Bob Bray Shoots Out a Window

I grew out of my mischief causing phase but I was able to pull off one final coup and live up to Bertha Bray’s expectations. Remember, she wouldn’t let her son play with me because she was afraid I would corrupt him.

For some unfathomable reason, Bob’s parents bought him a Wham-O Slingshot. I mean, how in the world can you expect a kid to be good when he starts playing with his Wham-O? The fact that I owned a Wham-O as well, almost guaranteed trouble.

Bob and I agreed to meet for a clandestine hunting expedition. It had to be clandestine because I was still on Bertha Bray’s ‘do not invite’ list. Our only rule for the adventure was that anything that moved or didn’t move was a valid target. Things were going great until we came upon the old abandoned bum’s shack that was just off the Southern Pacific railroad track about a quarter of a mile away from Bob’s home. Typical of such structures, it had been created out of anything that was available for free: old aluminum roofing, miscellaneous boards, an occasional nail, a thrown away mattress, etc. It had one crowning glory, a window. Bob and I looked at each other and had a simultaneous thought. Out came the ammo for the Wham-Os, a shiny new marble for Bob and several BBs for me. We took careful aim, counted down, and let fly.

To this day, Bob claims he saw his marble harmlessly strike the windowsill while my BBs were smashing the glass to smithereens. I of course saw Bob’s marble hit the window dead on while my BBs formed a neat pattern around the edges. The current occupant of the not abandoned home, who was washing dishes behind a willow bush in a small stream, saw something entirely different: two little boys smashing his pride and joy. He let out a bellow and came charging up the trail. As he should have. Once again the Mekemson Gang, along with its newest recruit, was on the run. The good news is that we escaped. The bad news was that the bum/hobo/homeless person who lost his window, recognized Bob. He went straight to his house. Mrs. Bray’s worst fears had been realized.

Monday’s Post: We are getting close to the end of our trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. I even get to row a bit and take on a couple of death-defying rapids. (True… except for the death-defying.)

Wednesday’s Post: Big brown bears!

Friday’s Post: I wrap up the Mekemson Kids Did It.

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Beautiful Havasu Creek and the Infamous Lava Rapids… The Grand Canyon Series: Part 10

Havasu Creek with its travertine colored water.

I had been on Havasu Creek before. Our son, Tony, who was on a break between flying helicopters for the Marines and flying helicopters for the Coast Guard, was flying helicopters for a private company that offered tours over the Grand Canyon and into the small Indian village of Supai. The town, which is located inside the Canyon, sits next to Havasu Creek.

Tony had flown his wife Cammie, Peggy and me into Supai as a treat. He was playing the theme from Star Wars full blast as we dropped over the steep edge of the Canyon and begin our rapid descent! We were greeted by the beautiful blue-green water of Havasu Creek and its interesting travertine structures when we landed  A high concentration of calcium-carbonate is responsible for both the water’s color and the formations. The process of coating objects with lime is fast. Today’s downed limb in the creek may become next month’s travertine sculpture. Peggy and I were eager to see if the creek maintained its unusual color and interesting formations at its mouth where it flowed into the Colorado. As the following photos suggest, we were not disappointed.

The mouth of Havasu Creek is a common stop for rafters in the Grand Canyon. Our rafts look small beside the large commercial tour boat.

We hiked over this from the mouth of the creek.

And were treated to views like these.

 

Don caught this lovely view. (Photo by Don Green.)

And Peggy took this one.

One of the things rafters do for entertainment on Havasu Creek is to damn it up using their rears…

And then, people scramble out of the way, creating a mini-flood! Beth was having a bit of trouble with the scramble part. She was holding onto Bone and didn’t have her hands free.

A pictograph, left behind by ancient Americans, caught the group’s attention. Maybe they used to grow people taller. (grin)

Lava Falls is labeled a 10 in the Grand Canyon’s system of scary, the highest rating given to any rapids along the Colorado. The river drops 37 feet over a few hundred yards and guarantees a quick, gut wrenching ride that seems to last forever and might very well throw you out of the raft. We had been worrying about it even before the trip. It is considered one of the top ten challenging rapids in the world by river runners. Our boatmen parked their rafts above the rapids and carefully scouted a route. We could see a huge, raft-sucking hole in the middle. It seemed that slipping by on the right  seemed the wisest choice. But what did we know. The river was going to do what the river was going to do. Steve agreed to carry us and away we went on our bucking raft… Ride ’em cowboy!

Back on the Colorado River, we headed for our appointment with Lava Falls. Eggin would be attempting the rapids in her kayak.

It was hard to imagine that Lava Falls was just around the bend. But we could hear its roar.

Everyone wanted a good view of the rapids.

They promised a quick but rough ride! Would that hole suck us in and tip over our raft?

With Steve at the oars, Peggy and I enter the infamous Lava Falls on the Colorado River, a perfect ten… that’s 10 as in rapids don’t get any more serious. Shortly after this we disappeared under the water! (Photo by Don Green)

Peggy and I are between the camera and the oars! Luckily we came out with our messy side up. (Photo by Don Green.)

Everybody made it through with the exception of Eggin, who managed to run the rapids upside down in her kayak. One of the boatman shot out to collect her and the kayak. Other than being a bit wet, she was fine. Meanwhile, her uncle, David Stalheim, had pulled over at Tequila Beach and was demonstrating why it was so named. If you manage to survive the rapids, you are expected to celebrate with a shot of tequila. Dave apparently wanted the whole bottle! The party continued after we reached camp…

Don demonstrates how he was feeling after running Lava. It’s possible that the lid was on, but just  maybe. 

Peggy and I just looked happy. We needed a T-shirt that said we survived Lava Falls.

Jonas had decided to celebrate with a little quiet reading in the river…

Bone declared that the trip had scared the pee out of him…

While Beth and Susan decided it was time to Party.

While Tom was just, um, Tom.

I will note that the party continued into the night and the natives were apparently having a heck of a good time!

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: Flying over Kodiak Island. It was green enough to be Ireland before the glaciers started.

FRIDAY’S Blog a Book POST: Another in the MisAdventure series. Bob Bray and I are chased by a hobo and my mother chases fire trucks.

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The Mekemson Kids Did It: Who Shot Pavy’s Pig?… The MisAdventure Series

Who Shot the Pig?

Like the gunslingers of the Old West, our reputations far exceeded the reality of our actions. Take Tony Pavy’s pig for example. Tony had a large pond with bullfrogs, a hundred or so acres of scrubland, and a wooded hillside that housed a number of gray squirrels. He also had an attitude similar to Jimmy Pagonni’s: children were not to be heard or seen, particularly on his property. As with Pagonni, we didn’t allow Pavy to keep us from our appointed rounds. We would slip in at night to harvest his bullfrogs and during the day to bring down a squirrel. Tony had a very effective way of getting rid of us. In a very loud voice he would yell, “Mama, get my gun!” and we would streak out of there.

A couple of friends and I were hunting for the squirrels on his hillside when the unfortunate incident with the pig took place. But before I tell the story, I need to digress and provide some background information.

Growing up in Diamond in the 50s meant having a gun and shooting things. At least it did if you were a boy. We graduated from BB guns and 22s to deer rifles and shotguns. Obtaining your first rifle was an experience similar in importance to obtaining your driver’s license, except you could get one a lot earlier. Before we were allowed to hunt, however, certain rules were pounded into our heads. First, it was important to know exactly what you were shooting.

This might seem obvious but flatlanders out of Sacramento often had trouble making the distinction between a cow and a deer. Of a much more serious nature, at least to me, Allen shot my dog. Tickle had been clearing out an old abandoned mine shack of pack rats and Allen shot through the wall thinking he was a rat. Tickle survived; Allen almost didn’t. There were other things we weren’t supposed to shoot as well. Robins were high on the list. They ate their weight daily in bugs. It was okay to shoot ‘vermin’ such as ground squirrels, jackrabbits and coyotes.

My usual preference was for watching wildlife, not killing it. I made an exception for gray squirrels. The thrill of the hunt combined with my appetite for a delicious squirrel and dumpling stew my mother whipped up overcame any reservations I had. All of which brings me back to the pig. Gray squirrels have about the same appreciation for being shot that you or I might. To avoid this unhappy circumstance, they take off leaping through the trees. The one we had marked for dinner was jumping from limb to limb in a live oak tree on the hill above Pavy’s with all three of us shooting at it when we heard a bellow from the barnyard.

“Mama, get my gun! They shot my pig! They shot my pig! Hurry Mama!”

 

I don’t know how fast Mama moved but we flew. By the time Ernie Carlson, the County Sheriff, caught up with us we were far away from Pavy’s and about as innocent as newborn piglets.

“Excuse me boys,” the Sheriff remarked when he pulled over in his car and rolled down his window, “I don’t suppose you know anything about Tony Pavy’s pig being shot.”

“No, sir,” we replied respectfully in unison. We had rehearsed.  Besides, we were technically correct. We hadn’t shot Pavy’s pig; we hadn’t even shot the squirrel. It was a ricocheting bullet that did in the pig.

Ernie looked at us dubiously.

“Pavy described three kids that fit your description,” the Sheriff said as he continued to build pressure, hoping that one of us would break. The fact that there were no other kids in town that looked like us was a rather significant clue.

“We’ve been out in back of Ot Jones pond,” I argued indignantly. And we had been; so what if we had arrived there out of breath.

“Well, you kids behave yourselves,” the Sheriff said with an ominous I know you’re lying tone. We breathed a joint sigh of relief as he rolled up his window and drove off. Once more we had avoided a fate we probably deserved. I suspect now that Ernie was not one hundred percent dedicated to finding the alleged pig murderers. Tony was not universally loved in the community for several reasons, of which regularly threatening to shoot little kids was only one.

For example, my father did some electrical work for him once for free. As he was leaving, Tony asked, “Would you like one of my geese for dinner?”

“Sure,” Pop had replied assuming Pavy was offering it as thanks for his four hours of work.

“Good,” Tony had replied, “that will be five dollars.” Pop was more than a little irritated. He had a hearty laugh years later when I told him about our adventure with the pig. I wisely avoided telling him at the time, however. His perspective on our miscreant behavior softened substantially with distance and age.

The end. It was a twisted tale.

We Visit Phantom Ranch, I jump Off a Cliff, and Tom Wears Bone… Rafting through the Grand Canyon

Sunset at Zoroaster Campsite on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. (Photo by Don Green.)

 

Having left Tanner Rapids and my encounter with Mousy at mile 69, we continued on down the Colorado River to Zoroaster Camp at Mile 84.5. The dark inner walls of the Canyon signified we had traveled back a billion years in geological time, back to the very beginnings of life on earth. A rousing game of Bocce Ball served as entertainment in camp that evening.

Whose ball is closest? A game of Bocce Ball entertained our rafters…

And I took care of my groover duty, which is far from being groovy and gives a whole new meaning to port-a-pot. (Photo by Don Green.)

Tom’s objective in camping at Zoroaster had been to put us close to Phantom Ranch, which was located at Mile 88 on our 18-day, 280-mile trip down the Colorado. Built in the 1920s, the facility provides the only lodging beneath the rim in the Grand Canyon. There are three ways to get there: on foot, by mule or by raft. I’d backpacked down twice, once from the North Rim of the Canyon and once from the South. Now I would visit by raft. The Ranch also provides one of the few opportunities along the river for rafters to leave and join trips. Nancy Pape would be leaving and Jonas Minton joining us. I’d known both since the 70s.

A mule welcomed us to Phantom Ranch…

And gave me the eye. I know folks who would kill for those eyelashes.

Don welcomed us well…

As did this bright flower with its bee on a beaver tail cactus.

I took this photo looking up from the ranch.

Nancy Pape, who pretty much spends her life hopping in and out of places, hiked out to the South Rim. I’ve known Nancy since the 70s when she first went with me on one of my hundred mile backpacking trips.

Jonas was supposed to be there early, according to Tom’s plan. We had miles to go before we were to sleep, to paraphrase Robert Frost. But another poet interfered. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,” Robert Burns had declared. That had certainly been the case for Mousy who had had no intention of ending up as dinner on the edge of my sleeping pad at Tanner Rapids. And so it was for us.

Jonas had hiked down from the South Rim that morning, traveling some 9 miles and dropping 4600 feet. It was early afternoon when he arrived, exhausted. Like me, he is no youngster. He needed a nap. Tom insisted we make up for lost time, however, and away we went. Peggy and I agreed to ride with Jonas. We immediately found ourselves between a large rock and the shore with no room to maneuver— a situation we barely escaped only to careen across the river and bounce up against the wall. The raft climbed up to its tipping point, like it was eager to escape the river and us. I knew we were going over and could feel the icy waters sucking me under. But we didn’t. Jonas had both experience and adrenaline to counter his exhaustion. The raft kept its messy side up and we avoided a dunking.

Jonas and I had worked on environmental issues in Sacramento during the 70s.

Afterwards, Jonas and the raft agreed to cooperate with each other and we made it into camp without any more challenges. That was the night that Tom decided to wear Bone in his hair. I am not sure whether he was trying to appease or irritate the Canyon gods. Bone, who is quite used to strange encounters, told me later that they don’t get any stranger!

Susan Gishi gives Tom a ‘do.’

And Bone is added as an accessory. “At least,” Bone was heard to say,” Tom didn’t try to turn me into a nose decoration!.

Dinner was good that night…

And the sunset was fabulous. Or maybe the Canyon gods were commenting on Tom’s hairdo.

The next couple of days found us hiking through fast-moving water over slick rocks, maneuvering through one of the Canyon’s most challenging water falls, and jumping off a 20-foot cliff.

Shinumo Creek often provides a lovely wade up to a beautiful falls, hiding on the left.

This time the creek was flowing so fast, we had to help each other to avoid being washed off our feet.

Steve is scouting what I think was Crystal Rapids. He seems to be suggesting we go back the way we came!

Later, we watched one of the commercial raft trips make its way through the rapids. We were on two very different types of trips.

“You have to hike up to these beautiful falls,” Tom urged and off we went on another adventure through a huge boulder field. I’d say we were rock hopping but the rocks were a little big to hop.

The waterfalls were indeed worth it, but I didn’t realize we were expected to jump off!

Jame Wilson provided one approach… (Photo by Don Green.)

And Theresa another…

Let me report that the water was cold. That’s it for the day. I will continue our trip down the Colorado next Monday.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Traveling through the Yukon Territory on the Alaska Highway.

FRIDAY’S POST: Another in the MisAdventure Series: Who shot Tony Pavy’s Pig?

 

The Mekemson Kids Did It: Part 1… The MisAdventure Series

There were two Gold Rush era buildings from the 1800s near our house. One was the old jail across the road where Jimmy Pagonni stored his wine. Unfortunately, it was knocked down for a fast-food joint. The other was one house away from ours and is the one shown above.

Sweet Cherries

Up until around eight or nine I spent most of my wandering time with Marshall and our friends Allen and Lee. What I remember about these adventures in Diamond Springs  was that we were skating on the thin edge of trouble. Gradually, we developed a reputation. I am convinced that a whole generation of little kids in Diamond blamed their misbehavior on us. “I didn’t do it Mama, the Mekemson kids did.” And Mama probably believed them. My friend Bob Bray’s mother refused to let him play with me. I was a bad influence, guaranteed to lead her son straight into the arms of the law.

Most of our mischief was relatively innocent. For example, Jimmy Pagonni lived across the street and had a zero-tolerance policy for us.  We lusted after his cherries. He transformed them into wine and every drop was precious. He turned his dogs loose on us if we came anywhere near his orchard. Naturally his insistence on keeping us out only guaranteed our presence.  Raids were carefully planned. Few adventures come with such sweet rewards.

We would invite two or three little friends over and make a party out of it. The cover was sleeping out in the back yard, but sleep was secondary. Somewhere around one o’clock in the morning we would slip out of our yard, cross a very lonely Highway 49, climb over Jimmy’s rickety gate, and disappear up into the trees. It was all very hush-hush and cherries have never tasted more delicious. We would stuff our stomachs and then fill up bags for take-out. It was pure greed.

Jimmy’s dogs never caught us before we were able to scramble over the fence but they did catch my cocker spaniel once and almost killed him. Tickle had been out on the town visiting a lady friend and was returning home. We were infuriated. Marshall retaliated by shooting Jimmy’s bull in the balls with a BB gun. (If not fair to the bull, it was at least alliteration.) Jimmy never knew Marshall committed the heinous act but I am sure he had his suspicions.

Red, Red Wine, Makes You Feel Fine— or Not

Another Marshall story is appropriate to tell here because it reflects the theme. In this incident, Marshall’s skinniness got him into hot water, or at least wine. Jimmy Pagonni stored his fermented cherry juice in an old Gold Rush era building that may have served as a jail in its youth. It was located right in the middle of his well-guarded cherry orchard and featured a very stout locked door and one barred window. I am sure Jimmy considered it impregnable but he failed to consider just how skinny my brother was. With help from an accomplice, Marshall managed to slip through the bars and pinch a gallon of Italian Red.

He and his friend Art then headed for our treehouse in the Graveyard to do some serious imbibing. Considering that a gallon of Jimmy’s Italian Red would have knocked out two grown men, it almost killed Marshall. He told me how he and Art were lying in the dirt and peddling their bikes upside down above them when one of our teachers walked by. I remember him slipping in the back door and trying to get to our bedroom before Mother and Pop noticed. It didn’t work. In addition to stumbling and mumbling and heaving, he smelled like a three-week gutter drunk. He was one sick kid. Both parents hurried to the bedroom out of concern and I moved back outside to sleep in the cool, but fresh fall air. It was one of those crimes that incorporates its own punishment.

MONDAY’S POST: In the next section of our trip down the Colorado River, I jump off a cliff and Tom wears Bone.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: We finish our journey through the Yukon Territory.

FRIDAY’S POST: The next chapter in the Mekemson Kids Did It. Who shot Tony Pavy’s pig?

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There Is More than One Way to Skin a Mouse… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 8

I took this photo just below the Tanner Rapids, which are seven miles below where we played in the Little Colorado River. While it looks similar to many other Grand Canyon photos included in this series, I was eager to get it. I had camped here once after backpacking down the Tanner Trail. My campsite was to the right of the small tree. Mousy had a nest under the tree…

 

I’ve just returned from playing for a week while celebrating my 75th birthday. So, I am a bit behind on writing posts and keeping up with comments and fellow bloggers. My apologies. It isn’t going to get much better. (grin) On Wednesday, Peggy and I fly back east to visit with our son and his family in Connecticut. We return from there just in time to fly to North Carolina and see our daughter and her family. After that, we will spend a month exploring several national parks in the southwest on foot.

Then it will be time for another Grand Adventure. I intend to walk out my backdoor in Southern Oregon and backpack 1000 miles to Mt. Whitney in California following the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails. It’s a journey not many people make— especially 75-year-olds. “And what did you do this summer, Grandpa?” Going, of course, will depend on my doctor saying “Why not?” I hope to gain a book contract to write about the trip. Wish me luck on that one. I will be blogging much more about the trek in posts leading up to the adventure.

Since I played last week, I pulled up a previous post that is definitely relevant to the raft trip Peggy and I made down the Colorado with Tom and several other friends. When I left Alaska in 1986 and returned to California, I spent several months backpacking in the west. My first trip was into the Grand Canyon, a decision my body was not happy with! I had just spent the winter holed up in the Far North happily stuffing myself and drinking more beer than I should have…

 

Looking down from Lipan Point at the start of the Tanner Trail. Then sharp bend in the Colorado River... far away, is where I am heading. (The photos of the trail down I actually took several years later when I backpacked down with Peggy.)

Looking down into the Grand Canyon at the start of the Tanner Trail.  The curve you can see in the Colorado River is the Tanner Rapids, which is where we will be on our next section of our raft trip down the Colorado. Years before I rafted the Canyon I backpacked into it several times. Two of my trips were by the Tanner Trail, once by myself and once with Peggy.

“It’s not too late to make another decision,” my body told my mind as I hoisted my 60-pound pack and eyed the distant Colorado River. “There is a fine lodge with great food and even better beer 30 minutes away. It provides a fantastic view of the Grand Canyon. Much better than anything you will see on the insane hike.” “Shut up and walk,” my mind replied.

Tanner Trail dropped away under my feet as I made my first steps down the steep, poorly maintained path and descended through millions of years of earth history. About a half of a mile down, the trail disappeared, having been washed away by winter rains. “I told you so,” my body whispered loudly as I mentally and physically hugged the side of the Canyon and tentatively made my way around the washout with its thousand foot drop.

Although this photo is a little blurry and from another Grand Canyon trail, I included it because it provides a perspective on the trails into the Canyon that receive minimal attention from the Park service. Main tourist trails are like freeways in comparison.

Although this photo is a little blurry and from another non-maintained Grand Canyon trail, I included it because it provides a perspective on the trails into the Canyon that receive minimal attention from the Park Service. Main tourist trails are like freeways in comparison.

Steep drop offs are a common factor in all trails leading into the Grand Canyon. The first trails were created by Native Americans. Later miners, rustlers, and companies interested in promoting tourism would enhance the original trails and create new ones.

Steep drop offs are a common factor with all trails leading into the Grand Canyon. The first trails were created by Native Americans. Later miners, rustlers, and companies interested in promoting tourism would enhance the original trails and create new ones.

I am not sure when my legs started shaking. Given the stair-step nature of the trail and the weight on my back, not to mention an extra 20 pounds of winter fat, my downhill muscles were not having a lot of fun. Fortunately, Mother Nature provided a reprieve. The erosive forces of wind and water that have sculpted the mesas and canyon lands of the Southwest are less challenged by some types of rocks than others.

Somewhere between two and three miles down I came upon the gentle lower slopes of the Escalante and Cardenas Buttes, which allowed me to lollygag along and enjoy the scenery. I escaped from the sun beneath the shadow of a large rock, drank some of my precious water, nibbled on trail food, and took a brief nap. It would have made a good place to camp. Others had obviously taken advantage of the shade and flat surface, but the Colorado River was calling.

Ignoring the screams of my disgruntled body parts, I headed on. At mile five or so my idyllic stroll came to a dramatic halt as the trail dropped out of sight down what is known as the Red Wall. (It received this imaginative name because it is red and looks like a wall.) Some fifty million years, or 625,000 Curtis life spans, of shallow seas had patiently worked to deposit the lime that makes up its 500-foot sheer cliff. It is one of the most distinctive features of the Grand Canyon.

My trail guide recommended I store water before heading down so I could retrieve it when I was dying of thirst on the way out. I could see where people had scratched out exposed campsites here as an excuse to stop for the night. The accommodations weren’t much but the view was spectacular.

The rest of the five-mile/five month journey was something of a blur. (It was closer to five hours but time was moving very slowly.) I do remember a blooming prickly pear cactus. I grumbled at it for looking so cheerful. I also remember a long, gravelly slope toward the bottom. My downhill muscles had totally given out and the only way I could get down was to sidestep. I cackled insanely when I finally reached the bottom.

As tired as I was, I enjoyed the beauty of the inner Canyon.

I was so tired, I could hardly enjoy the beauty of the inner Canyon. (These photos are from a later trip I took down with Peggy. I waited until after she said “I do” before introducing her to the Tanner Trail. Otherwise she might have said “I don’t.”)

I smiled at the Prickly Pear Flowers on my way out of the Canyon that I had growled at coming in.

I growled at a prickly pear for looking so cheerful.

Looking back up the trail provided a perspective on how far I had come. The small, needle-like structure is Desert View Tower.

Looking back up the trail provided a perspective on how far I had come. The small, needle-like structure is Desert View Tower, about a mile away from the Tanner trailhead. You can see the trail on the right.

Setting up camp that night was simple. I threw out my ground cloth, Thermarest mattress, and sleeping bag on a sandy beach. Then I stumbled down to the river’s edge and retrieved a bucket of brown Colorado River water that appeared to be two parts liquid and one part mud. I could have waited for the mud to settle but used up a year of my water filter’s life to provide an instant two quarts of potable water.

My old yellow bucket, a veteran of dozens of backpacking adventures, holding Colorado River water. It retired after my second trip

My old yellow bucket, a veteran of dozens of backpacking adventures, holding Colorado River water. It retired after my second trip down the Tanner Trail.

All I had left to do was take care of my food. Since people camped here frequently, four-legged critters looked on backpackers as a major source of meals. I could almost here them yelling, “Dinnertime!” when I stumbled into sight. Not seeing a convenient limb to hang my food from, i.e. something I wouldn’t have to move more than 10 feet to find, I buried my food bag in the sand next to me. Theoretically, anything digging it up would wake me. Just the top was peeking out so I could find it in the morning.

As the sun went down, so did I. Faster than I could fall asleep, I heard myself snoring. I was brought back to full consciousness by the pitter-patter of tiny feet crossing over the top of me. A mouse was worrying the top of my food bag and going for the peanuts I had placed there to cover my more serious food.

“Hey Mousy,” I yelled, “Get away from my food!” My small companion of the night dashed back over me as if I were no more than a noisy obstacle between dinner and home. I was drifting off again when I once more felt the little feet. “The hell with it,” I thought in my semi-comatose state. How many peanuts could the mouse eat anyway?

The river water I had consumed the night before pulled me from my sleep. Predawn light bathed the Canyon in a gentle glow. I lay in my sleeping bag for several minutes and admired the vastness and beauty of my temporary home. The Canyon rim, my truck and the hoards of tourists were far away, existing in another world. My thoughts turned to my visitor of the previous evening.

I finished my last blog with a picture of the view across the Colorado River from my camp near Tanner Rapids. This and the photo below demonstrate how much colors change depending on the time of day.

The early morning view from my camp site near Tanner Rapids on the Colorado River.

Out of curiosity, I reached over for my food and extracted the bag of peanuts. A neat little hole had been chewed through the plastic but it appeared that most of my peanuts were present and accounted for. My small contribution had been well worth my solid sleep. I then looked over to the right to see if I could spot where the mouse had carried its treasure. Something on the edge of my ground cloth caught my eye. It was three inches long, grey, round and fuzzy.

It was Mousy’s tail!

Something had sat on the edge of my sleeping bag during the night and dined on peanut stuffed mouse. Thoughts of a coyote, or worse, using my ground cloth as a dinner table sent a shiver down my spine. I ate a peanut in honor of Mousy’s memory and threw a few over near his house in case he had left behind a family to feed. I also figured that the peanuts would serve as an offering to whatever Canyon spirits had sent the night predator on its way.

Then it was time to find a bush, cook up my morning gruel, and plan my day’s backpack trip up to the Little Colorado River. But my legs had another idea. They refused to move. I backpacked for about a hundred feet, set up camp in a small cave, and spent my day recovering while watching rafters yell their way through Tanner Rapids. I wondered what it might be like to raft down the Canyon…

Next Monday’s Post: I return to our raft trip down the Colorado.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Driving on the Alaska Highway through the Yukon!

FRIDAY’S POST: It’s back to MisAdventures. It was almost a mantra in Diamond Springs where I grew up: If there was mischief in the town, the Mekemson Kids Did It.

 

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