Would You.. Could You.. Hike A Thousand Miles? By Johanna Massey

My fellow blogger and friend JoHanna Massey from Sedona, Arizona sent the following post out to her followers about my thousand mile backpack trek and gave me permission to repost it, which I am doing today as I begin my journey from Mt. Ashland. (Peggy is along for my first six-days of hiking.) My sincere thanks to JoHanna. You can find her delightful posts at https://johannamassey.com.

 

“The Mountains Are Calling

And I must Go.”

John Muir

 

Curt Mekemson has just left on a thousand mile chunk of a hike that begins in Ashland Oregon, travels south to Mount Whitney, through Siskiyou, Marble, and Sierra Nevada Mountains.This is quite the hike, through some of the most beautiful places in America. Places most people, Americans too,  never will see. Curt Mekemson is  an excellent nature writer, with an eye for detail and a way with words that could convince anyone to go outside to play, to explore, to see the beauty of it all.

Author of  The Bush Devil Ate Sam,  I first came across a batch of stunning photos,  the Burning Man Collection, and have been enjoying Curt’s  writings, adventures,  and photography since. His insatiable curiosity for exploring the planet is matched by his wife Peggy, who sharing his wanderlust, high spirits and a fine camera eye of her own, …makes their website Wandering Through Time and Place  one of the best and most interesting websites to savor and enjoy.  A fellow WordPress Blogger, Curt has in turn been a real source of inspiration, support, and contributor of smart comments for my own, JoHannaMassey.com for several years now.

When it comes to backpacking, Curt Mekemson speaks with experience on provisioning, food considerations, resupply points,  and permits that all need to be planned out and reviewed when undertaking a big or small adventure.  Whether a novice backpacker, a seasoned explorer, or someone wanting to see/learn of the back country of America in almost real time, here’s your invitation:

I’m inviting everyone to join me, tell all your friends and family, co workers, neighbors, and acquaintances too. This is a real big deal hike and I am thrilled for my friend. Let’s tag along this next three months with  Curt Mekemson’s Hike of One Thousand miles. I just think it would be so cool, if a million people worldwide, but especially the WordPress bloggers followed along with Curt Mekemson’s One Thousand Mile Hike.

No matter how huge our numbers swell to, how gaily and  daily we tramp along with Curt, via WordPress, we will ‘leave no trace’ behind us, the lightness of Curt’s steps one for all and all for one!

All my best to each and everyone of you. See you along the trail!

 

I doubt a million people will come along on my journey, but I certainly welcome any and all who want to hike along with me! 🙂 I can pretty much promise some interesting adventures and hopefully lots of fun photos. I would appreciate it if you could mention my adventure on your blogs. I am off the net this week as Peggy and I hike down the trail but my first post should be up on June 23/24. See you then! –Curt

A Choice: Graduate or Go to Jail… The MisAdventure Series

I wasn’t expecting a tour of Placerville’s City Hall and the police parking lot on my day of graduation from high school. But as they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray…”

As you read this, I am out on the road doing some last minute route checks for my thousand mile backpack trek. So, I am effectively off the net until I put up my first post from the trail in a week or so. See you then! –Curt

 

My graduation from high school almost didn’t happen. The student strike I had organized wasn’t the issue. It was good practice for my future at UC Berkeley. Nor was it my grades. While mine had dropped somewhat when I simultaneously rediscovered girls, developed an aversion to algebraic equations and became allergic to chemistry labs, I was still floating along somewhere in the top ten percent of the class.

My problem was with the law, or, in this case, Mike De Natly, the Placerville Chief of Police. I had my run in with him on the very day I was to graduate. Of course, it was a goof off day. All the tests were over, yearbooks signed, and caps and gowns fitted. There really wasn’t much to do except revel in the fact that we were through and to say goodbye to friends. Lunchtime meant a final cruise of Placerville’s Main Street to check out girls, to see and be seen.

What happened was out of character for me. I normally keep my comments on other peoples’ driving habits to myself and car-mates. The horn is for really bad infractions and, on very rare occasions, a single digit comment is appropriate. I would never stick my head out the window and yell at someone. That can get you shot.

But we were hot stuff on graduation day. When a blue car decided to stop in the middle of Placerville’s crowded, narrow downtown street right in front of us, it irritated me. When the driver nonchalantly got out to have a conversation with the driver of the car in front of him, it pushed me over the edge. Out went my head as we edged around the two cars and I had an attack of uncontrollable Y chromosome aggression.

“You SOB,” I yelled, “get your car out of the way!”

So what if I didn’t recognize the Chief of Police out of uniform in an unmarked car. So what if he had stopped to offer help to a guy who had managed to stall his car on Placerville’s busy main street. So what if I had suggested he had canine parentage in a voice that half of Placerville heard. It was an innocent mistake.

“That was Mike De Natly you just cussed out,” our driver managed to stutter with mixed parts of fear and awe.

As a teenager, I had pulled some fairly dumb stunts. Teenagers have a responsibility to push the envelope. It’s the rather awkward method evolution has provided for growing up and developing unique personalities. Mistakes are bound to happen and it’s okay. But I was carrying my responsibility too far; I had gone beyond dumb and plunged into really stupid.

How dumb do you have to be to cuss out the police of chief of a town that is known as Hangtown?

A hundred years earlier, I might have found myself next to this guy. He was hanging there in 1961 and is still hanging there today.! Would-be hoodlums beware!

“Keep driving,” I uttered with all the hope of the irrevocably damned, “maybe he is too busy and will ignore us.”

Sure, like maybe the sun won’t rise tomorrow. The poor stalled guy could still be sitting in the middle of Placerville for all of the attention the police chief paid to him after my little admonition. De Natly jumped in his car, slapped his flashing light on his roof, hit his siren and sped after us. Not that he needed to speed fast or far. We were creeping up Main Street in sheer terror about one block away. I am sure my car-mates were wishing fervently that one Curtis Mekemson hadn’t gotten out of bed that morning, had never made their acquaintance, and was, at that very moment, facing a group of starving cannibals in some far-off jungle.

We pulled over with De Natly literally parked on our rear bumper and resigned ourselves to the firing squad. Luckily, for my friends, the Chief had no interest in them. He appeared at my window red-faced and shouting about five inches away. Under the best of circumstances, he was known for having a temper and these were not the best of circumstances.

“Get out of that car,” he yelled. “Get out right now!”

I moved fast. This was not the time for bravery and stubbornness. It was a time to be humble— it was groveling time. And I groveled with the best. I blathered out apologies and managed to work “sir” into every sentence, several times. I trotted out my friendship with his stepson, I threw in the City Treasurer who was a mentor, and I even brought in Father Baskin, the Episcopal minister, as a character reference.

“Get in my car,” he ordered. My groveling seemed to be having minimal impact. At least he hadn’t handcuffed me.

We drove up to City Hall and I had visions of being booked and thrown into a cell with some big hulking giant who either didn’t like young men or liked them too much. I thought of having to call my parents and explain how their son had become a common criminal. But De Natly had an even more diabolical plan in mind. We slowly made a turn through the police parking lot to give me a sense of my future fate and then, to my surprise, hopped on Highway 50 to Canal Street and drove up to the high school. I was going to have to explain my actions to the Principal. My chances of graduating that night slipped another notch. I doubted that the Principal would have much of a sense of humor about one of his students cussing out the Chief of Police. But explaining my inexplicable actions to the Principal would have been mercy in comparison to what happened.

It was a beautiful late spring day, this last day of school, and it seemed like half of the student body and a significant portion of teachers were enjoying their lunches on the expansive lawn in front of the school. De Natly pulled up to the sidewalk beside the lawn and ordered me out. The Chief of Police arriving with me in tow was enough to capture the attention of several students sitting close by. Then he made sure that everyone was aware of our presence.

“Do you want to spend the night in jail or graduate, Curtis?” he asked in a voice that was easily equivalent in volume to the one that I had used in suggesting he move his car. Conversation on the lawn came to a dead halt. Every ear in the place honed in on us with the intensity that a cat reserves for a potential mouse dinner. And I was the mouse. This was a Kodak moment, not to be missed. My answer was easy: Of course, I wanted to graduate, SIR. And so it went, De Natly barking questions with the voice of an army sergeant and me responding as the lowest of recruits. Finally, after a few minutes that felt like eternity, the Chief got in his car and drove away. I was left to deal with the not so gentle humor of the students and faculty plus a Principal who wasn’t quite sure whether he should take over where De Natly left off or laugh at my predicament. At least he had the grace to wait until I left his office before he chose the latter. I could hear his laughter echoing down the empty hallways. And yes, I was allowed to graduate that night.

This concludes my MisAdventure series for now. On Sunday, I start my 1,000-mile backpack trip and in a week or so, my posts from the trail should start arriving. Please join me as I make my way south following the Pacific Crest Trail.  It will be an adventure!

SaveSave

Trail Angels of the Pacific Coast Trail… I Have My Own

I am ever so lucky to have my wife, Peggy, out on the route supporting me. Most PCT hikers mail their resupply to Post Offices along the way. Peggy will be at trailheads to supply mine plus give me a day’s break from hiking. I suspect that there will be a cold beer in there as well.

 

People who go out of their way to support through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail are known as Trail Angels. My barber, Ed McBee, is such a person. He has written a book on vehicle access locations on the PCT in Oregon. But, more to the point, he also goes out on the trail to greet through-hikers and provide them with fresh food and cold beer. One of his favorite locations is on the Oregon-California border. Trekkers who reach there have hiked from the Mexican border and are ready to celebrate! Knowing how much a cold brew is appreciated out on the trail, I contributed to Ed’s beer fund last summer.

Ed is now working on a book about people doing the PCT. “I feed them hot dogs,” Ed told me. “They are much more likely to talk to me.” I’ll bet. There is no telling what somebody who has been hiking 20-30 miles a day while living off of backpacking food will do for a hot dog! Now, make that a beer and a hot dog…!

Backpacking food is adequate for getting down the trail. Just barely. I have never seen a fat through-hiker. The food has to be light and compact to carry on your back. And while you try to find high calorie food, it’s hard to pack much more that 2 to 3,000 calories for each day. Now, consider that you are burning 4-6,000 calories, daily. Hot Dog? Bring it on!

Below is what my food for 90 days looks like. I tried to compromise between things I like and things that might be a little healthy. Those Oreos you see in the back certainly don’t meet the second criteria,  but they are a treat. I’ll be eating two per night, along with my 16 ounce cup of tea. (When I was a poor student at UC Berkeley ever so long ago, lunch was always a cup of coffee, a baloney sandwich and four Oreos.) The #10 can you see in the back is chicken teriyaki. It includes 10 dinner’s worth of food. Instructions are: Add one cup of the freeze-dried dinner to 3/4 cup of boiling-hot water. Cover. Wait 4 minutes. Stir. Cover and wait another 8 minutes. Eat. Life is pretty darn simple out on the trail.

Peggy organized my food for me while I was taking care of other miscellaneous chores and then took this photo. It’s what I will be eating on the trail over the next three months.

Here is the resupply packed in the van. Our sofa/bed comes down and actually covers the food.

Most PCT-ers would kill to have the kind of back-up I will have on my thousand-mile trip. I have my own trail angel, Peggy. Once a week or so, she will meet me where the PCT crosses a road and resupply my food, plus have a cold beer ready (grin). Our plan for most resupplies is to work in a layover day where I can shower, wash clothes, pack in some calories (imagine being able to eat whatever you want to eat), and put up a post or two on my previous week’s experience.

Peggy assumes her ‘where is Curt’ pose. She sees her role as backup (when she isn’t hiking with me) as her own adventure since she will be traveling and camping on her own.

Who knows!? Actually I carry an emergency Spot geo-tracker that I can use in an emergency, if needed, and can keep Peggy and family informed of where I am each night.

Anyway, here I am in black and white, ready to hit the trail. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I even developed my own ‘business card’ for the trail. (grin) The photo is taken from our front patio. Next week I will be hiking around the mountains you can see in the distance on my way south!

FRIDAY’S POST: I wrap up my MisAdventure series for the summer. Was I actually able to stay out of jail on my graduation day from high school.

SUNDAY’S POST: I am going to reblog a really nice post from my friend and fellow-blogger out of Sedona, Arizona, JoHanna Massey, that she wrote in support of my journey.

 

Oh Dear, Deer… They’re Still here

One of the does that hangs out on our property brought her baby by for a visit yesterday. The small Canon Powershot camera I am taking on my backpack trek makes a small ding noise when it focuses. The deer were trying to figure out what the noise was.

 

The deer know we are taking off on our thousand mile backpack trip. They have been checking in on us regularly here on our property on Oregon’s Applegate River. We’ll be sitting in our living room and a head will pop up in our window. It can be disconcerting until you get used to it. I think they are eager to reclaim their territory. “Haven’t you left yet?” Last time Peggy and I were gone for an extended period of time, we came back and found them living around our house, using it for shade. They had even settled in on our back porch. This year they will be in for a bit of a surprise, my brother Marshall will be house sitting for us. They like Marshall, however. He’s almost as wild as they are. He sits outside and talks to them, buys them apples, and keeps the bird bath full as a deer ‘watering hole.’

We are used to deer peering in our back window, but not our living room window. So, we were a little surprised when this gal started coming by to see whether we were home.

Yesterday, one of the does brought her week old baby by for a visit. I thought you might like some of the photos I took. Enjoy.

Hi there. I am your new neighbor.

Are you talking to me?

I’m all ears.

We both are, in fact.

Low bridge.

I think I’ll go prancing.

You won’t believe what i discovered, Mom. It has two legs.

It’s just the human, dear deer.

How about a bit of motherly love?

 

TUESDAY’S POST: Wrap up on preparation for the thousand mile trek.

FRIDAY’S POST: Wrap up of my MisAdventure series for now. It’s not smart to cuss out the chief of police of a town whose historical name is Hangtown.

On Dates, Squished Skunks, and Flat Cats… The Misadventure Series

At this point, down where the speed limit sign is, I ran over a skunk in the summer of 1958, undoubtably impressing the young woman I was on a date with.

Do you remember your first dates in high school? Were they roaring successes or unmitigated disasters? I suspect probably somewhere in between. But I doubt you ran over a skunk. As you may recall, I had no dates my freshman year. In fact, girls scared the heck out of me. Things began to brighten up the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, however. Read on…

 

I actually had a couple of real dates the summer of my freshman-sophomore year thanks to Paula and mom. Her mother was obviously encouraging the process. Our first date was a joint activity that included Mom, Boyfriend, Paula and me going out to dinner in the small town of Sutter Creek, about twenty miles away from Diamond Springs over curvy Highway 49. After we filled up on Italian food, Mom and Boyfriend promptly climbed in the back and suggested I drive home.

Small foothill towns like Sutter Creek along California’s historic Highway 49 are fun to visit and often have great restaurants.

“Um,” I noted nervously, “I only have a learner’s permit.”

“That’s okay, it will be good practice,” Mom jumped in and stated before I could add that I had just obtained the permit the week before.

Paula, meanwhile, was waiting for me to open the door for her on the passenger side of the car. She gave me an encouraging smile and my options dropped to zero. Any further hesitation would appear wimpy. After doing the gentlemanly thing for Paula, I dutifully climbed into the driver’s seat and miraculously found the keyhole and lights. Minimal gear grinding got us out of town and I breathed an audible sigh of relief. We had made it just past Plymouth when I ran over the skunk. He reeked revenge by becoming a virtuoso of glandular activity.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Boyfriend said as the first powerful whiffs of eau de skunk came blasting through the air vents, “it happens all of the time.”

“Yeah, sure,” I mumbled to myself through tongue-biting teeth, “young men always run down skunks on first dates, especially first dates with Mom and Boyfriend along.”

Fortunately, I made it home without further incident. Before continuing my ‘Perils with Paula’ story, however, I am going to digress to a similar odoriferous event that took place in the same general area some 25 years later. While working for the American Lung Association of Sacramento, I had created what is known as the Trek Program, a series of multi-day outdoor adventures that people go on as fundraisers. At the time this particular event took place, I was living in Alaska and ALA Sacramento had hired George and Nancy Redpath out of Davis, California to run its Treks. They had a popular three-day bicycling event that incorporated a portion of the same route that I had traveled the night of the fateful skunk incident. To add another element of fun to their Trek, the Redpaths had incorporated a roadside scavenger hunt with a sail-cat as one of the items.

To the uninitiated, a sail-cat is a cat that has had a close encounter with a logging truck’s wheels, after which it resembles a furry pancake with legs. Given several days of curing in the Sierra foothill sun, the cat can actually be picked and sailed in much the same way you would a Frisbee, hence the name. Although tossing one has provided dogs with a new way to chase cats and play Frisbee at the same time, it is a sport without many adherents. Even dogs have serious reservations.

Not surprisingly, one Trekker managed to find a sail cat, load it on his bike, and dutifully turn it in at the end of the day. The person won the scavenger hunt, which he should have considering his extended association with an umpteen-day dead cat. But this is not the end of the story. Two other couples became involved in the dead cat saga. I’ll call them Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice to protect the innocent.

Bob and Carol finished the Trek, hopped in their car and naively drove home that evening unaware that they were carrying a fellow traveler. When they arrived back in Sacramento and opened their trunk, lo and behold, there was the dead cat. Bob and Carol had a good idea it was Ted and Alice who had stowed the unwanted passenger in their car. They vowed to get even. As it turned out, both couples had spouses who worked for the State of California. A devious plot was hatched. The next day Ted received one of those large, inner office forwarding envelopes in his in-basket. It was rather bulky so he opened it with interest. Out slid the sail cat, your tax dollars at work.

Unlike Aunt Tilley’s fruitcake, the cat apparently ended his strange after-life journey at that point.

Likewise, one might assume that running over the skunk would have ended my relationship with Paula. But there was one more date. It is a testimony to how much Paula’s mother was committed to the relationship that she loaned us her car, which I drove illegally on my learner’s permit. Paula and I went on an old-fashioned picnic to Buck’s Bar, a 49er-mining site on the Consumnes River. I actually had a young woman, out in the woods, alone. It was my fantasy date. As far as I can recall though, and I would recall otherwise, I behaved myself disgustingly well. So did Paula.

The Consumnes River. My kind of place to go on a date.

You won’t want to miss next Friday’s post where I wrap up my MisAdventure series for now. I actually survive high school and on graduation day am offered a choice (in front of the student body): Graduate or go to jail.

TUESDAY’S POST: It’s time. My thousand my trek starts on June 17th! Am I ready?

Backpacking the Rogue River Trail… Conclusion

Peggy and I weren’t expecting to find beautiful waterfalls along the trail, but there were several. This is Flora Dell Falls. The pool of water really looked inviting. Peggy took off her shoes and soaked her feet.

 

It’s countdown time! My thousand mile backpack trek starts in two weeks. Our guest room is filled with gear. Peggy’s office is buried in food. Maps have taken over the library. Miscellaneous other stuff is found in every other room of our house! I have a to-do list that would send Superman flying off-planet. Theoretically, it is getting shorter. One way or the other, on June 17th, I am out of here…

Needless to say, there isn’t much time for blogging or reading blogs. My apologies. I do want to conclude the Rogue River series and put up one more post in the MisAdventure series. After that, I will try to get up one more post before hitting the trail. Then there will be a break until my first posts from along the route start arriving.

Given my time constraints, I am turning today’s post into a photo essay. Enjoy!

 

The Wild Rogue Wilderness started a few miles after we left the Rogue River Ranch featured in my last post. The trail snaked along the edge of the river providing great views. The narrow canyon here provides some exciting rides for rafters! There is even a whirlpool.

This gives you an idea of what the trail looks like. We hit this section in the afternoon and it was hot. The rocky cliffs sucked in the heat and threw it back at us.

We were looking forward to Inspiration Point, and we weren’t disappointed. Stair Creek Falls was just across the river. More inviting pools!

A close up of the falls.

We called it a day at Blossom Bar. (That’s a river bar, not one where you can find a cold beer. Darn! I really could have used one.) We didn’t find any blossoms but Peggy found this pool above the rocks. When I came over, she had waded in with her clothes on and the water was up to her waist. She was taking her soapless bath and washing her clothes at the same time. Of course, I had to join her. The water was icy!

The next day we hiked by the Brushy Bar Forest Service Station that is now run by volunteers in the summer. James and Cammie, a couple out of Southern California, had done a search for opportunities to volunteer on the Forest Service site and found this. (The PCT runs right by their house but it is in the desert section that I won’t be hiking.)

We took advantage of Cammie to have our photo taken! I’d say we were looking quite chipper. My beard caught the sun!

Tate Creek had another spectacular waterfall. We decided to photograph down it since getting to the base involved scrambling though poison oak!

In case you are wondering what poison oak looks like, Peggy is pointing some out. The three leaves are distinctive. As careful as we were, Peggy brought some home. Adding insult to injury, she spread her poison oak from her hands to some bug bites she was scratching.

The flowers along the trail continued to impress us. This is yet another variety of Iris.

And another. This time a Douglas Iris.

And more of another variety.

Another wild, white rose…

And wild lilacs. While they couldn’t match the roses in the heavenly smell category, the had a subtle, pleasant smell.

Finally. these cheerful members of the sunflower family.

Old mining equipment had been left beside the trail in a number of places to remind hikers of the area’s history.

The Flora Dell camp site, located down stream from the Flora Dell falls featured at the beginning of the post, provided us with another attractive river side location.

I really enjoyed the large rocks beside the river.

The next day had some challenges. (Grin) This is always fun with a loaded pack! My knees were having a discussion with me.

I had little difficulty picturing myself out on the deck of this lodge with a good book and a cold brew… but you had to have reservations. Sigh.

There weren’t a lot of big trees along the trail, so I had to take a photo when we found these.

And use Peggy as a model.

She also volunteered for this shot. No, she isn’t practicing her skiing technique. She is showing a switch back trail. The map showed our last few miles running along the river. Instead it headed up the mountain, not once but twice!

Somehow, at the very end, we managed to get off the trail and hike through a cow pasture that included this rather unusual cattle guard. Normally they are flat and don’t squish down as you walk across them!

The end. I hope you enjoyed our backpack trip down the Rogue River. The next adventure: My thousand mile backpack trek down the PCT. I’ll be posting as I go!

A Pear Picker’s Guide to Mental, if not Physical, Balance… The MisAdventures Series

I am in the middle of the top row, here, looking a bit awkward and geeky. The group is our men’s ensemble from chorus. My brother, Marshall, btw, is in the center of the bottom row. He was a senior when I was a freshman and this was about the only time our paths crossed in high school.

 

As I have reported in MisAdventures, my freshman year of high school was something of a disaster. My social life tanked, dance class sucked, my political aspirations were reduced to running a friend’s campaign, and my success in sports was mediocre at best. I became depressed, although I didn’t recognize the condition at the time.

 

A number of things combined to pull me out of the doldrums. For one, I ceased being a freshman. Hormones slowed down, my voice abandoned octave leaps and I bought a pair of contact lenses. Academics were a plus, even during my freshman year. Lacking a social life, I studied full-time and managed to get straight A’s. If I couldn’t be ‘ruler of everything,’ ‘sex symbol’ or ‘sports hero,’ maybe I could at least be ‘the brain.’ Was I driven or what?

I also believe that having a job helped. I began working in the pear orchards around Placerville starting the summer of my eighth grade graduation and continuing through high school. The general rule in our cash poor family was that basics were covered. We were responsible for the extras. My income went toward clothing, books and entertainment. Later, the money I earned paid for my college education.

Pear picking consisted of hazardous duty without hazardous pay. We were each given a 12-foot ladder, a sizing ring, and as many boxes as we could fill. The pears we plucked from the trees were placed in a canvas bag that fit around our front like a pregnant belly and carried up to 50 pounds. We had the option of working by the hour at $.90 per hour or by the box at $.20 per box. I chose the latter under the assumption I could earn more.

The ladder was a suicidal three-legged device with two legs playing standard ladder while the third served as a balancing arm we threw out to provide ‘stability.’ I use the quote marks here because the stability was questionable. There was always a chance that you, your bag of pears, and the ladder would come crashing down. The first few rungs were solid; it was on the top four that life became interesting. Even here it was tolerably safe, assuming you focused on easily reachable pears.

The problem was that the best pears had a way of hiding away in the highest, most unreachable part of the tree.  Such premium fruit couldn’t be left hanging, even if it meant taking risks. Success meant performing a one-legged-ballet-balancing act. I became quite proficient at the move. Only once did I reach beyond the imagination of my ladder and follow a rapid descent path straight to the ground. Fortunately, the only limbs broken belonged to the tree. I wrote the experience off as a lesson in Newtonian gravity.

A greater challenge was entertaining myself for nine hours a day. Reaching out and picking a pear requires a minimum number of brain cells and very few of those are located in the frontal lobes. My favorite ploy was singing at the top of my voice. Harry Bellefonte’s tune about picking bananas was a natural but I also belted out many other popular tunes of the day.  “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight” was a mistake. I couldn’t get it out of my mind; I would wake up in the middle of the night humming it. To this day I have to be careful in bringing it up or it is right back there on the tip of my tongue, waiting to escape. Like now.

A more productive form of amusement was challenging myself to pear picking contests. The more I picked the more money I made. When the fruit was plentiful and well sized, I could pick 60-80 boxes a day and earn big money, $12-$16. Once I even reached a magical 100 boxes. My goal was to try to match the professional pickers, the folks who made a living helping harvest crops. On really good days, I almost could. Over my five-year career in the pear orchards I worked with Filipino crews, Braceros, and the usual contingent of semi-nomadic types who followed the various crops as they ripened from state to state. Most were good, even excellent workers. Of course, there was also the occasional guy who worked just long enough to buy a gallon of Red Mountain Wine and then disappear.

After my first year of working in the fruit orchards I graduated to swamper status, which meant I delivered empty boxes to the pear pickers and took out their full boxes. I also learned such fine skills as tractor driving, tree trimming, sprinkler changing, post hole digging and crew bossing. And, I might add, enjoyed most of it. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from doing hard work, challenging your body, and being dead-tired at night. I also gained a farmer’s satisfaction that comes from seeing a crop evolve from spring bloom to fall harvest. And finally, as my pear orchard responsibilities increased, the work helped me overcome the puberty blues and regain my confidence. Becoming buff didn’t hurt either. Picking pears and stacking 50 pound boxes above my head guaranteed muscles from my big toes to my hair follicles.

Almost on cue, girls reappeared in my life. Admittedly it was a slow process, in fact far too slow for my hormone driven fantasies. But there the girls were, tentatively giving me the eye and practicing a wiggle or two to see if anyone was home. There was.

TUESDAY’S POST: I will finish up the Rogue River series

FRIDAY’S POST: I go on my first high school date the summer between my freshman and sophomore year— and promptly run over a skunk.

Hiking the Rogue River Trail… Part 2: From Horseshoe Bend to the Rogue River Ranch

A view of the Rogue River from our camp on Quail Creek.

 

Today marks the second of my three-part series on hiking down the Rogue River Trail. It’s a beautiful 40-mile hike, best done in the spring or the fall. Peggy and I made a leisurely six-day backpack trip out of it, both to enjoy the beauty and to condition our bodies for our summer of backpacking where I will be hiking 1000 miles from Mt. Ashland to Mt. Whitney. Peggy will be joining me for parts of it plus doing back-up, a true trail angel!

 

Dark skies were suggesting rain when we rolled out of our tent at six. ‘Rolling out’ is a good description. My sore muscles and creaky joints were complaining about our first two days of hiking down the Rogue River Trail. They refused to cheerfully jump up; they threatened to go on strike. I told them to behave or I would double the number of miles they had to travel and cut off their Ibuprofen. They whimpered— but the Ibuprofen got their attention.

I have yet to tell them that they are going on a thousand-mile backpack trip this summer. And I may not, at least until the first 500 miles are over.

Things began to morph. My down pillow of the night before became my down jacket. My Thermarest air mattress changed into a comfy breakfast chair. Fifty years of backpacking have taught me that anything that can serve multiple purposes is a good thing. Routine is also good. I had packed my sleeping bag, clothes and personal items before leaving the tent. Now they were waiting to be packed into my backpack. Right after I put my chair together, I went to gather our food.

It was dutifully waiting in the middle of the ranger-built, electric fence enclosure. No bears had made a feast of it. Either they hadn’t been by to visit or they truly don’t like being zapped. I suspect that a tender nose coming in contact with a live wire is not a pleasant experience. If I were a bear, I’d skedaddle out of there on all fours and look for a ranger to eat.

Breakfast was next; I’m the camp cook. My job description is to boil up two 32 ounce pots of water per day, one for breakfast and one for dinner. Takes about five minutes each. Peggy arrived from doing her chores about the time the pot began to boil. We sifted through our food bags and pulled out instant oatmeal, breakfast bars, Starbuck’s instant coffee, and dried apricots. The latter are to help keep us digging cat holes. “Meow.” Or maybe I should say, “Purr.’” Being regular out on the trail is important.

The literature had promised an outhouse at Horseshoe Bend, but it had been decommissioned, i.e. filled up. The same is happening with the other ‘bathrooms’ that the trail maps promote along the river. Be prepared. Rafters are expected to carry their own port-a-pots. Backpackers are left with digging cat holes. We are used to it. Watch out for the poison oak. (grin)

With breakfast over, we took down the tent and packed up. A few drops of rain encouraged us to put on our rain jackets and pack covers. It promised to be a cool day, which was welcome after the heat of the first two days.

The trail continued its ups and downs, starting with the very steep up we had hiked down the evening before. At times our route dropped almost to the river. The closer we got, the thicker the poison oak and blackberries grew.  Peggy and I stopped and laughed at one point. The blackberries were occupying a third of the trail and the poison oak the other, leaving only a few inches for passage. It was like the plants had an agreement to drive you toward one or the other. We chose the blackberries on the theory that it is much better to suffer a few scratches than be covered in an itchy rash.

We also crossed several recent slide areas where the trail was minimal, about a shoe wide. Careful attention was called for and looking down not recommended. On one slide area, a tree trunk was stretched across the trail, forcing us to balance precariously while climbing over. It was not for the faint-hearted, or for people with a fear of heights.

Beyond that the trail was quite pleasant; passing through woodlands, providing dramatic views of the river, and crossing over brooks and streams on attractive bridges. Once again, cheerful flowers kept us company.

We found that the bridges along the trail were well built and fit in with the environment. This is Meadow Creek Bridge.

Another view of the Meadow Creek bridge.

Peggy on the Kelsey Creek bridge looking down at the water. A rain cover is on her backpack. It never did rain.

Our views of the river ranged from raging rapids…

…to more tranquil scenes.

A number of flowers were found beside the trail, including this wild rose…

This Pretty Face brodiaea…

And a Columbine.

A snack at Ditch Creek provided this view of several small waterfalls tumbling down the hill. Zane Grey’s cabin was a mile or so down the trail.

We missed Zane Grey’s cabin. The trail to it wasn’t marked and we weren’t paying attention to our map. Too bad. I had been an avid fan of his cowboy books during the Western phase of my youth. Such classics as Riders of the Purple Sage had kept me glued to my seat as good triumphed over evil in the Old West of six-gun justice. Grey had used the cabin as a fishing lodge in the 1920s. He even wrote a book about the area, Rogue River Feud.

Our campsite that night on Quail Creek made up for missing the cabin. Located on the edge of the Rogue River, it provided the striking view that is featured in the photo at the beginning of this post. Geese, buzzards, rafters and lizards provided entertainment. The buzzards seemed to be following us. “Maybe they think we are old,” I suggested to Peggy, which elicited a snort. The lizards were just curious, checking out all of our gear and climbing up on convenient rocks to watch us.

Rafters waved at us from the Rogue as they passed our camp on Quail Creek.

And a pair of Canadian Geese kept their offspring in a careful line.

The morning part of our hike the next day took us in to the Rogue River Ranch, which is a gem. Now on the National Register of Historic Places and operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the ranch was established in the early 1900s by George and Sarah Billings, becoming a lodge for travelers, the post office, and a social center for a small but growing community. In 1927, Billings sold the house to Stanley Anderson, the builder and owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. The Andersons upgraded the property and used it to entertain their friends from Los Angeles and Hollywood up until 1970, when they sold it to the BLM.

An old barn on the Rogue River Ranch. One of the volunteer caretakers, Sally, can be seen raking up grass the old fashioned way. It went with the barn.

A close up of Sally.

Looking toward the river from the ranch.

Sally and Frank, the volunteer caretakers for the ranch, took a break from raking up grass and gave us an overview of its history. Peggy and I then visited the main house that had been turned into a museum. I was amused to find this description of the one room upstairs lodge provided by an early visitor:

When the place was full at night, it was a nightmare. There was almost continuous coughing, snoring, grinding of teeth, urinating in a can or out the window, and other night noises. There always seemed to be someone walking around the room or to the window or stairways, which shook the floor and building. Sound sleep for any length of time was impossible.

Not quite as fancy as the modern lodges that are found along the river today. But then again, three meals and a bed for the night could be had for a dollar, a far cry from the $150 plus per person charged today by the resorts.

A view of the main house at Rogue River Ranch. A single large room upstairs provided lodging for early travelers.

The ‘Tabernacle’ is located behind the house. This building served as a barn for horses and mules on the first floor and a meeting hall, dance floor, and church on the second floor. Today the building houses a number of artifacts.

Such as this old coffin…

A pot bellied stove…

And cooking stoves.

I’ll close today with a view of Mule Creek, which flows beside the Rogue River Ranch. The creek was named after a mule named John who wandered off and became lost. The story has a happy ending. Several years later his owner found him. I assume they lived happily ever after.

 

FRIDAY’S POST: What does a skunk have to do with my first date in high school. The MisAdventure series.

TUESDAY’S POST: I’ll wrap up my Rogue River series.

Bleeding Like a Speared Mammoth… The Chemistry of MisAdventures

Miss Wilkerson, my high school chemistry teacher, whipping up a batch of something stinky. Oops, sorry, I mean performing a scientific experiment. I liked Miss Wilkerson, in fact, I might have had a slight crush, but I just couldn’t get excited about lab work.

 

Looking back, (hindsight, mind you), I am not too surprised about the paths I chose to follow in my life. But given that science is one of my favorite subjects from a lay perspective (Scientific American, for example, is the only magazine I read cover to cover), I find it a bit perturbing that I was so ready to drop science as a high school and college student.

 

I’ve never required much help in eliminating options from my life. Chemistry was like that. I would have made a good Greek Philosopher, working out problems in my head. Lab work and I don’t get along as a general rule. I quickly learned in high school that I am not particularly fond of long dead frogs pickled in formaldehyde or chemicals that smell worse than an old dog’s fart. But there is more to it than that; I am convinced that good lab technicians are mechanically inclined. They like to tinker.

I have lots of friends like that. They love to take things apart and put them back together. They can fix anything and go out of their way to find things that need repairing. I knew kids in high school that enjoyed tinkering with automobiles.  Ask them anything about carburetors, water pumps, generators, horsepower or timing and they have a ready answer. I admired them for it, but my interest in carburetors was zilch and my primary interest in automobiles was that they get me from point A to point B without breaking down. Still is.

My friend, Tom Lovering, is a dedicated fix-it-man. I can’t imagine him going anywhere without his tool chest. He breaks it out at there slightest provocation and begs to fix things. Here he is with a pickled frog that doesn’t need dissecting. We were in Mexico sampling tequila.

I feel pretty much the same way about other fix-it items. I am just not excited about getting into the bowels of a toilet and replacing its thing-a-ma-bob. Nor am I interested in replacing light switches to see how much voltage I can send coursing through my body. Yeah, yeah, I know; you turn off the electricity first.

I am not sure where this lack of enthusiasm for things mechanical came from but it was probably a combination of aptitude and attitude. My father wasn’t particularly fond of working on automobiles and some of that may have rubbed off. But he was very handy. In addition to being a skilled electrician he loved puttering around outside making things. I classify all such activities as chores to be avoided if at all possible. In fact, over the years I have developed a number of strategies for not having to fix things. Here are a few. You may find them valuable if you are a mechanically disinclined male.

 

  • Don’t own any tools. You might be tempted to use them, or even worse, someone such as a wife might suggest that you use them.
  • Don’t buy a house. Every scientific study ever done confirms that the single most important reason for having to fix things is owning your own home. I was 53 years old before I made that mistake, and then it was a condo with minimal fix-it responsibilities.*
  • If something doesn’t work, go buy a new one.
  • Plead ignorance. “What do you mean there is more than one kind of screw driver?” As a corollary, hide your repair manuals. Peggy has the irritating habit of looking up things that need fixing and then saying sweetly, “Oh, this looks easy to do, Curt.”  My manliness has been challenged. It doesn’t matter that this ‘easy’ chore requires that I make four trips to the hardware store, purchase $500 worth of new tools, work ten hours straight and injure myself at least once.  I have to do it.
  • Curse a lot. Your partner may figure that leaving something broken is easier than listening to you.
  • Stall. “I’ll do it right after I cook your dinner, honey.” Stalling is easier if you are doing something the other person finds desirable.
  • If all else fails, compromise. I have an agreement with Peggy that I will do one manly chore per month. That’s my quota. Some activities such as fixing toilets even earn two months of credit.

 

* Unfortunately, these rules no longer apply. Eight years ago, Peggy and I decided to buy a home on five-acres of property. Everything I feared about home ownership has come to fruition. I now have a shed full of tools and have to use them. Sigh. The good news here is that Peggy loves to repair things. Just a wee bit of procrastination…

Even my hobbies as a kid reflected my non-mechanical tendencies. Building model ships, airplanes, cars, trains, etc. had no interest. My concept of a great hobby was rock collecting. I would hike along the Southern Pacific railroad tracks and pick up interesting rocks until all four pockets were bulging and my pants were about to fall off. I would then go home and smash them apart with a hammer to figure out what I had found. Geology became a life-long interest.

I do understand the arguments for being able to fix things: saving money, being self-sufficient, and obtaining satisfaction from a job well done. These same arguments, however, apply to going out in the pasture, shooting Elsie the Cow, gutting her, bringing home the meat, grinding it up and throwing it on the grill. Just think of the satisfaction involved and dollars saved! Or, you can go to the local fast food joint and help employ a kid who might otherwise turn to a life of crime.

Now, back to chemistry, one day we had to shove little glass tubes through rubber stoppers. Apparently, this is an important skill for budding chemists. It’s not a difficult task if you ignore the fact that the holes in the stoppers are approximately half the diameter of the glass tubes and, more importantly, you have a gallon of Vaseline. I was half way through my first masterpiece when the damn tube broke and ended up jabbed into my hand. Bleeding like a speared mammoth, I was carted off to the emergency room of the local hospital and sewn up.

There was plenty of time while sitting in ER to contemplate my future as a scientist. My conclusion: there wasn’t one. I decided that the best way to avoid long-dead animals, smelly chemicals and miscellaneous dangerous objects (not to mention higher level math skills) would be to choose a career that depended on verbal agility. In other words, my future would be based solely on my ability to bullshit. I determined then and there I would either become a politician or a writer.

TUESDAY’S POST: Part 2 of the Rogue River Trail series.

FRIDAY’S POST: MisAdventures: I rediscover girls and run over a skunk on my first ‘date.’

Hiking the Rogue River Trail: Part 1… Over the Side I Went!

The Rogue River is noted for both its beauty and its rapids. The Rogue River Trail has been cut into the steep sides of the canyon, providing spectacular views of the river as well as an introduction to the interesting plant and animal life of the region.

 

Peggy and I backpacked down the 40-mile Rogue River Trail last week. It has been on her bucket list ever since she rafted down the Rogue a few years ago. I, too, wanted to explore the area but also needed to do a conditioning trip for my thousand mile backpack trip from Mt. Ashland to Mt. Whitney this summer. My new gear and my 75-year-old body needed to be tested. Both worked, more or less. This is the first of 3-4 posts on the trip.

The Rogue River Trail starts from a large paved parking lot named Grave Creek.  (The daughter of a pioneer was buried nearby in 1846, thus the ‘Grave.’) The site is mainly used as a kick off point for people rafting the river. No surprise. This section of the Rogue is world-famous for its rafting. And the majority of people traveling this way prefer to have a raft carry their food and gear as opposed to carrying it on their back. As my friend Tom Lovering the boatman says, “Why wouldn’t they?”

We arrived at 11:00, an hour later than I had hoped, and the sun was beating down mercilessly. Summer had arrived early, it seemed. The day before had been yet another cool spring day. We had been whining that it was never warming up! Go figure. I could see the trail snaking up the side of the canyon without an iota of shade. Peggy and I futzed around: slathering on sun-block, filling our water bottles, putting on our boots, and taking advantage of the out-house (twice). But inevitably, the time arrived, as it always does; we shouldered our packs and headed up the trail.

The beginning of the Rogue River Trail as seen from the Grave Creek parking lot. Up and in the sun.

Face it, backpacking can resemble work. There’s a part of your mind that lets you know this when you load everything you will need to live in the woods for a week on your back and start hoofing it up a mountain in the hot sun. Mine usually has some unprintable comments for me. If it’s the first trip of the year, if you are out of shape, or if you are over 50, the mind might even say a bit more. Well, Peggy and I were in fairly good shape (score one for us), but it was our first trip of the year, and, at 67 for Peggy and 75 for me, we definitely resembled the over-50 crowd.

There are also rewards, of course, otherwise people wouldn’t go backpacking unless they were forced to— or had masochistic tendencies. “Ah yes, pain, bring it on!” They’d stay home in front of their big screen TVs and veg, or write blogs. While our trail shot up the mountain, it also provided us with great views of the Rogue River. And we soon noted an abundance of wild flowers. The trail even seemed to flatten out a bit and trees provided welcome shade.

Peggy at the beginning of the trail with the Grave Creek Rapids behind her. A few years earlier I had waved good-by to her as the rapids grabbed her boat.

The canyon walls were often covered with flowers, especially if springs provided a bit of moisture.

The yellow flowers above are monkey flowers, one of my favorites, as you’ve probably noted from past posts. A friend once told me you can hear them say “eek,eek, eek” if you listen. I’ve never heard them, but I still listen. (grin)

These colorful stonecrop flowers also decorated the cliff sides. Their succulent leaves provide water for dry times.

More shaded spots provided a variety of brightly colored iris flowers. This is a golden iris. We found several other varieties along the way. You will see more!

Shaded trails like this one provided welcome relief from the more exposed sections of the path.

As did the frequent cool streams along the way. We stopped often to refill our water bottles. (Water along the route needs to be filtered.)

Most of the streams have bridges built over them, which eliminates the issue of fording.  I’ll show several in the next posts. Many were quite attractive.

It was a river trail, however, and that means ups and downs. They come with the territory. I was on a down when the accident happened. The path had dropped to maybe 50 feet above the river and the sheer drop-off cliff had switched to a steep embankment. My left foot, i.e. the foot on the river side, slipped on some loose gravel. No biggie. Years of trail hiking have given me an automatic sense of balance and fancy foot-work to deal with such contingencies. This time, however, I was using walking poles and I set the left one to provide the necessary balance.

The next thing I knew, I was toppling over. Peggy, who was behind me, said it was in slow motion, like I had fainted, or suffered a heart attack, or had a stroke. You can imagine how she felt. I didn’t have a clue what had happened. All I knew was that I suddenly found myself stomach down, head first on a crash course for the river. You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes in such circumstances? All that flashed in front of mine was another 40 feet of rocky slope topped off by a cold bath. Not good. I would have loved to have had my pack where I could have used it for a brake. But it was on my back, along for a free ride. Whoopee! Packs are like that. I used my left arm instead, pressing it down. I could feel the rocks ripping off my skin. But it worked. I slid on for a couple of more feet and stopped.

“Are you okay?” Peggy yelled. Apparently, I didn’t answer quickly enough because she threw off her pack and scrambled down. I was busy checking out my arm. It looked a bit like hamburger. To paraphrase an old Tex Ritter cowboy song, there was blood on my pack and blood on the ground, there was blood on my arm and blood all around. But the arm felt fine. At least it wasn’t broken or gushing. Peggy helped me get my pack off and I stood up and carried it back to the trail while she gathered up my walking poles.

We hiked back up to some shade and I took out my water bottle and washed my arm off. Good news. It was mainly a scrape with some 14 small cuts providing the blood. Only one seemed worthy of attention. Another couple came by at that moment. “My husband is a nurse,” the woman announced. He glanced at my arm, pronounced “You aren’t going to bleed to death,” and hurried on. So much for the medical profession, I thought. Peggy smeared on Neosporin and slapped a band-aid on the larger cut. We were good to go.

We hiked down a few feet and I picked up my walking poles. One was considerable shorter than the other. And then it struck me. The left pole had collapsed when I had shoved it into the ground for balance, and I had collapsed with it. There is probably something in bold letters, or at least the fine print that suggests you check them before use. Otherwise, the poles would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. I was relieved to know that the cause of the fall was the poles and not me!

Eventually we reached our first night’s camp, a lovely tree-shaded site below Whiskey Creek. Booze Creek is the next stream down, which may say something about the early gold miners that populated the area. We got out our flask of Irish cream liquor and toasted them— and ourselves, for surviving day one. Chores that evening included setting up camp, a quick, soap-less rinse of our clothes and selves in the icy river, and dinner. At one point, I had the mother of all cramps, as my leg protested against what it was sure was abuse. Were we having fun, or what? It was early to bed. Peggy crawled in at the sign of the first mosquito. I hung out for another hour or so.

Every bird in the world arrived at our camp at 5 a.m. the next morning and immediately burst into song. It was a virtual cacophony of noise as each bird competed with the next over who could trill the loudest and the longest. I rolled over and pretended to go back to sleep.  We crawled out at six and started our second day.

It was a lot like day one except I managed to stay on the trail. The trail continued its ups and downs, climbing down to cross streams and immediately back up afterwards. Once again it was hot. We were treated to great views of the river.

There were many more views of the river on the second day such as this, which featured rapids that the river runners love so much.

At one point, I spotted a snake out of the corner of my eye beside me on the trail. There is something primeval about seeing snakes, especially when they surprise you. Alarms go off deep in your brain while your leg muscles bunch up for a humongous leap. Almost simultaneously, I recognized that this fellow was one of the good guys, a king snake. I thought ‘photo-op.’ It’s difficult to photograph snakes when Peggy is around. She gets nervous. “Don’t get too close, Curt,” she urged. “It might bite you.” Possibly, if I grabbed it by the tail. But king snakes prefer to crush their food, winding around them like a boa constrictor. That’s what they do to rattlesnakes, even rattlesnakes that are bigger than they are. And then they swallow them, whole. I’d like to see that. Apparently, they are impervious to the venom.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a snake making its way along the edge of the trail…

Having noticed me, the snake made his way up the cliff, providing ample opportunity for me to take pictures. The closer I got, the more nervous Peggy became. I don’t know what the snake thought.

Later, Peggy noticed a large slug. At first we thought it was a banana slug, given its size. Banana slugs are well known as the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz, a fact I love. You really have to like a college that selects a slug as its mascot. But our guy/gal lacked the characteristic yellow color. It seemed fat. “Maybe she’s pregnant,” Peggy mused, which led me to wonder how slugs mated. “Slowly,” Peggy suggested.

This large slug checked out Peggy while I took its photo. The walking pole is Peggy’s. Mine stayed affixed to the back of my pack after the accident for the whole trip.

Our greatest excitement of the day was getting from the trail down to our campsite at Horseshoe Bend. It was a long way down, and apparently, the Bureau of Land Management adheres to the philosophy that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Anything resembling a switchback was totally coincidental. The trail was so steep in places that we had to side step. We eventually arrived in one piece and discovered a new way of protecting our food from bears. It was shocking. BLM had created a small enclosure with an electric fence. I sat up that evening hoping to see a bear try to break in. No such luck.

Peggy provides her commentary on the trail down to Horseshoe Bend.

The electrified enclosure built to keep hungry bears away from rafters’ and backpackers’ food.

Do you think bears can read?

Our new, ultralight Big Agnes tent overlooking the Rogue River at Horseshoe Bend. We love the tent! It is big enough for the two of us (we like each other), and light enough that i can carry it to use as a solo tent.

The view from our campsite…

And finally, for those of you who were concerned about Bone being left behind this summer, here he is, happily ensconced in one of my belt pouches, peering out like a baby kangaroo.

 

FRIDAY’S POST: Smelly chemicals and long dead frogs discourage me from pursuing a career in science in the MisAdventure series.

TUESDAY’S POST: Part 2 of the Rogue River Trail series.