In my last blog about the Sierra Trek, I persuaded my Board of Directors to support the concept. I then hired Steve to help put the event together and we had located a 100-mile route across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was the beginning of July and the Trek was to take place in the mid-August. The clock was ticking.
A note about today’s photos: As I mentioned previously, the photos for this series on the first Sierra Trek are all taken from later treks. Today’s photos are from the mountains west of Lake Tahoe in the Granite Chief and Desolation Wilderness areas.
Our first challenge was whether we could recruit participants. Were there people in the Sacramento area crazy enough to go on a nine-day, 100-mile backpack trip up and over mountains?
The answer was a resounding yes. Steve was able to get an article published in the Sacramento Bee. All participants had to do was raise funds for the Lung Association. Naively, we failed to suggest experience would be valuable, set an age limit, or ask for a minimum amount of pledges. People came out of the proverbial woodwork! We held an orientation session at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District auditorium with close to 100 people in attendance.
Among them were a 16-year old ballerina with legs of steel and a 250-pound, fifty-four year old ex-ice hockey player who had also had a career defusing bombs in South America. At the time, he was dodging the IRS. Four little 11-year old boys came as inseparable buddies and I wondered what kind of baby-sitting service their parents assumed we were providing. There was busty Sunshine who had a skinny partner named Bilbo. (Decades before the movie trilogy, people were already entranced with Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I was.) Lovely Lisa was 19 years old and a perfect 10.
Another woman, who claimed to be a witch, informed me, “I’ll be over to bite you around midnight on the Trek.” And no, she never came over to bite me; but had I encouraged it, I am pretty sure it could have been arranged. We had a 40-year-old teacher from Auburn who would never sit down during the day because she claimed she would never get up, and a 45-year-old teacher from Davis who claimed he could carry his weight in booze, and probably did. There was also a young man named Dan with flaming red hair who wore moccasins, juggled and played a harmonica as he walked down the trail.
And there was Orvis.
Three weeks before the Trek, an elderly, white-haired gent with a long flowing beard and twinkling eyes walked into my office and announced he wanted to go. His name was Orvis Agee. He was 70 years old and a carpenter. He couldn’t have weighed over 100 pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. I made a snap decision.
“Uh,” I said searching for a gentle way of telling him I thought he might be too old for the Trek, “this is going to be a very difficult trip. Do you have any backpacking experience?”
“Well,” he announced proudly, “I went on a 50 mile trip with the Boy Scouts last year.” That was 20 miles farther than I had ever backpacked. “And,” he added as he warmed to the subject, “I’ve climbed Mt. Shasta several times since I turned 60.” I had never climbed Mt. Shasta or any other mountain of note. Mainly over the past ten years I had been sitting around becoming chubby.
“Welcome to the Sierra Trek,” I eked out. What else could I say? (Seventeen years later at age 87, Orvis would do his last Trek with me. It was Peggy’s first trek. He had personally raised the Lung Association well over $100,000.)
As the Trekkers rolled in, Steve and I focused our energies on the next task. What were we going to feed the mob that we would apparently be leading through the mountains? Breakfast and lunch could be pulled off the shelves in the local grocery stores. Dinner was the problem. Freeze dried food was in its early stages of development and somewhat expensive for my budget.
There was another possibility. Lipton had a lightweight, off-the-shelf dinner, which was inexpensive and sold through grocery stores. The meals came in four flavors and featured tiny amounts of turkey, chicken, beef and ham with gourmet names attached. I bought all four and Jo and I did a taste test. Except for the Ham Chadderton, they were actually decent. The Chadderton resembled something a bird might regurgitate and tasted slightly worse. “What the heck,” I thought, “three out of four isn’t bad.”
Steve suggested that he call Lipton’s headquarters back east and see if we could get the food donated. We would offer to ‘test market’ and publicize their food for the growing backpacking market. Lipton bought it. We had our dinners, and Steve had earned his $16 for the day.
We also wanted a backpacking store as a sponsor. An outdoor store would provide some much-needed credibility and be a valuable source of advice and recruits. I did a scientific search by looking in the Yellow Pages and picking out the first store I came to, Alpine West. It was only a few blocks away at 10th and R Street so I walked over. A bushy bearded, hippie-like character in his mid-twenties was behind the cash register.
“Excuse me,” I asked, “is the owner or manager in?”
“I am the owner,” was the somewhat terse reply. “What can I do for you?”
I did a quick regrouping, “Hi, my name is Curt Mekemson and I am the Executive Director of the local Lung Association,” I said as I offered my hand. He gave me a ‘what donation are you about to ask for look’ but took my hand and introduced himself as Tom Lovering. I explained what we were going to do.
“That’s insane,” Tom had replied with an assuredness that would have intimidated Attila the Hun. It certainly intimidated me. What do you say when the expert you are seeking advice from tells you flat-out that the idea you are already implementing is crazy.
“Um, it’s been nice chatting with you.” Or, “I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone.”
I opted for the “Why do you say that?” wanting to know how far out on the limb I had crawled. I quickly learned that the event we were planning was the equivalent of the Bataan Death March. People might do it but they were going to be miserable and say nasty things about the Lung Association and me for the rest of their lives.
After having said all of that, Tom agreed to sponsor and promote the Trek through his store. I left feeling a little confused. Did he want people to say nasty things about him and Alpine West?
Back at Lungland, the clock was ticking. The Trek was three weeks away and then two. It was time to go out and preview the route. Given Tom’s pessimistic assessment of our adventure, Steve and I felt the preview was all the more critical. We agreed to a long weekend where each of us would hike three days of the route. The final three days were saved for the following weekend just before the Trek. Could we plan things any tighter? There was no room for error…
Tomorrow: A review of Three Hundred Cups of Tea and The Toughest Job, a book by two Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Asifa Kanji and David Drury, on their experience as Volunteers in Mali, West Africa.
Friday/Saturday: The first of my photographic essays on Burning Man in preparation for the 2017 event.
Monday: Back to Boston and the Freedom Trail
38 thoughts on “From An Ex-Ice Hockey Player, to a Ballerina, to a Witch: Meet the Sierra Trek Participants”
I love Orvis. Such spunk! Whoever could imagine that a 70-year-old might do such a thing? (Can you see me grinning?) And I really liked your reflective photo at the 4Q lakes (both vertical and horizontal). I suppose you realize that DYC still is a term well used by flower folk — just as LBB (little brown bird) is used by another group of enthusiasts.
Sometimes I do worry about myself, though. When you said that three out of four of the Lipton dinners weren’t bad, the first thing that came to mind was Meatloaf: the singer, that is, and his (in)famous, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.”
Orvis immediately won me over, and did so even more as the first trek proceeded. I remember thinking in those early years, Linda, of how grateful I would be if I too could go out and backpack at 70! 🙂
4-Q is among my favorites. I might add that it has a great little swimming hole as well as an opportunity for reflection shots.
I’ll check out Meatloaf. In the meantime, I’ll provide a heads up: there is more to the Ham Chadderton story. Stay tuned. (grin) –Curt
That looks a magic track, Curt. Those towering back packs reminds me of a walk many years ago. Here is a link.
If you ever arrive in Australia you might like this one. At the time I, and some friends took the walk. We were warned to be well prepared. Along the track were several crosses where hikers had perished. Hyperthermia the usual cause. We burned the leaches off by burning cigarettes which we had taken with us for that purpose.. A sobering experience. Today, one can do the walk and overnight in huts with showers etc.
Looks beautiful, Gerard. And yes, it would be my kind of hike, although I have never gotten used to the concept of sleeping in huts with showers. Far too civilized. 🙂 Hypothermia is indeed a killer of the unprepared. Being ready for wilderness travel can guard against it, however. I always did what I could to prepare our trekkers. I did end up dealing with it a couple of times. Once when I was by myself. Recognizing the early symptoms was critical. Scary.
Burning leeches off with cigarettes also strikes me as interesting, and a bit scary. 🙂 –Curt
Nothing like a motley hiking crew! I’ve met some fellow trekkers I wanted to wallop at times, but the crazy make-ups of some of my groups were (and continue to be) the part I remember most. At the end of a few days or weeks, you somehow bond in at least one small way with even the worst of the crowd, I’ve found.
Good point, Lex. Joint experience, and even more, joint challenges, can lead to bonding. Some of my best friends have come out of the trekking experience. –Curt
Again, thank you, Curt and Peggy. Thank you, Curt, for your involvement with the lung association. Tom use to back pack a lot when he was younger…wish he would have continued.
Thanks, Patricia. Tom went on several backpacking adventures with me. But now days, his response is he would rather let his boat do the hard work of carrying supplies… 🙂 Maybe he will join me for a section of my 500 mile trip this summer, assuming my body approves of the effort. 🙂 –Curt
anonymous was Patricia Brown
Such an interesting band of characters! So very cool.
Possibly the greatest band of characters I’ve ever had the experience of sharing an experience with, Sylvia. Hold onto your hat! 🙂 –Curt
Looks like a great bunch of friends walking through our majestic country and for a good cause as well! Fantastic!
We became friends as we went, GP. But there were challenges, as you will see… –Curt
What a wonderful group of people and what an incredible expedition!
Such a fun read.
Thanks, Peta! And it just tumbles on from one adventure to the next. 🙂 –Curt
What a diverse group of people! It’s interesting to imagine them coming together to hike. I can only imagine how daunting it was once you saw who signed up.
Things were happening really fast, Juliann. Had I had more time to think about the people who were signing up, or had I had more experience, I am pretty sure my reaction would have been very different. Sometimes it is best not to know however, to jump into it, to sink or swim! 🙂 –Curt
Curt, you make good-lookin’ kids. What do they do to commune with nature these days? Orvis’s DYC sounds like my father’s ornithological classification for unknown sparrows: LBJ, or Little Brown Job. I have my own acronym for scary drivers on the road: DLF, or Dangerous Little Fuck.
What fascinates me the most about those pics is the timelessness of the outdoor gear and clothing. Those photographs could pass for last year, easy. I’m a fan of any fashion statement that doesn’t require an annual overhaul. Prada can bite me.
PS: My plans to photograph the extra-frothiness of Multnomah Falls yesterday was thwarted by the extensive closure of Interstate 84 from Troutdale to Hood River due to ice. Since my horse was already saddled, I headed in the other direction and strode the length of the Bayocean Peninsula beach in a ferocious wind. How I injured my ribs doing that, I’ll never know. But eagles.
Injured ribs, oh no. Maybe you were breathing in all that fresh sea air too vigorously!
Have to give credit to Peggy and her Ex for the good looking kids. I didn’t get to put my two-bits in until they were teenagers. What fun. 🙂 But they are good looking kids and have turned into loving, caring adults. We’re lucky.
LBJ and DLF are in the spirit of things!
As for fashion, you and me too. Once we got away from external frame packs and moved to internal frame packs, they really did all start to look the same. You could keep them for years and years and nobody would have a clue as to how ‘outdated’ you were. The most significant change is in weight. That might move me to buy a new pack this summer. –Curt
The Lowe Alpine factory and distribution center just north of Denver had a gigantic clearance sale every year. You should’ve seen the line, like a Stones concert. It was worth every penny. In the late 90s, for the cost of one pack, I got a climbing pack, a huge backcountry pack, three thick fleece button front shirts, two pairs of gaiters, and sundry polypropylene base layer shirts and leggings. I still have everything but the largest pack.
But you’re right about the weight; I really am coveting ultralight stuff these days.
Wow, that was quite the score! And I never made it to a Stones concert. I did go to a Dead concert, however. I think most of them did their shopping at Goodwill and Army Surplus, however.
I confess, I am looking forward to re-outfitting myself… –Curt
I’ve never been to a Stones concert, either, I consume all my music in the comfort of my own home and truck where I don’t have to contend with 4,000 strangers bumping into me, screaming, and projectile vomiting. It takes away from the melody, somehow.
More or less agreed, Anna. Although I found the Grateful Dead Concert quite interesting from a cultural perspective. Also enjoyed a couple of Jimmy Buffet concerts. –Curt
PS: I think the ribs were from leaning into 30-40 mph winds and freezing rain with my neck craned down for the four mile return trip. The only way to catch a break and stand up straight was to turn around and walk backwards while everything pelted me like a meteorological shiatsu.
And walking backwards while being pelted also has its drawbacks from a health perspective, Anna, unless of course, you have Linda Blair capabilities. 🙂
Actually, I do it on practically every hike to mix things up. It really unnerves the people behind me.
A contrarian… 🙂 No surprise there.
Actually, I’m a Sagittarius. *rimshot
Uh, huh. 🙂 Right up there with Pope Francis and Ozzy Osbourne.
And Brad Pitt and Spielberg and Sinatra and Betty Grable.
PS: Ozzy rules!
Darn, and here I thought you would go for the Pope. 🙂
I never got into science fiction.
Curt, I’m not a hiker and most likely never will be, but I am already enjoying the adventure through your lenses. From your scientific approach to finding a sponsor to DYC. Hilarious! 🙂
Glad you are enjoying the adventure, Timi. It only gets more ‘exciting’ as I move into it. I’m quite pleased I survived. 🙂 –Curt
Great story about Tom — the pink-haired crazy that seems pretty sane to me. And, although I’ve never trekked or hiked or carried a backpack except through an airport, I could see that going on one of your trips would be a highlight! Now, if you’re taking a group to Burning Man . . .
One of these days, I might just have to put together a “Wandering through time and place” group for people from our blog community at Burning Man. Wouldn’t that be a kick. 🙂 And Tom is wild. He makes it into lots of my stories. –Curt
Why don’t you put together a tour group for Burning Man? I wanna go!
It would be fun, Rusha. Maybe when I get finished with the books I am working on… –Curt