I didn’t plan on seeing the world and becoming famous. Once I was part of a horse located just above the hoof. I had no freedom; I had no glory. Wherever the horse went, I went also, a mere slave to his desires. During the summer this meant carrying greenhorn tourists into the backcountry of the mountains above Lake Tahoe. The added pounds gave me bone-jarring headaches. Then the horse died; I like to fantasize that a large bear with big teeth and sharp claws ate him. Hopefully he ate the tourist as well.
Whatever happened, I was free to be me, Bone. Yes, that’s right, Bone is my name. A kindly coyote picked me up and carried me to a high meadow filled with Corn Lilies. It was there that I discovered my Zen-like nature as I meditated through the seasons. I was alone except for a mouse that came by and nibbled on me occasionally. That hurt. In fact, it interrupted my meditation and scarred me for life; you can still see teeth marks. I blame all of my subsequent bad behavior on that flea-bitten miscreant.
My annoyance at the mouse, however, was minimal in comparison to my anger at the large two-legged creature who yanked me from my meadow home and begin yelling I was trash as he ran down the trail in pursuit of another two-legged creature. Can you imagine the insult? I had no way of knowing that this was the beginning of my world travels or that the two creatures, Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering, would become my servants. But read on as Curt provides his perspective on my discovery. He had no idea of the treasure he had found. –Bone
NOTE: I’ve told this story before on my blog, but in the interest of bringing my more recent followers up-to-date, I am repeating the tale. Enjoy. –Curt
It was the summer of 1977 and my wife was divorcing me. She had dropped the bomb shortly after we had spent six-months traveling in the South Pacific and East Asia. Apparently, I lacked in stability or at least in the desire to pursue the Great American Dream. She was right of course. I had absolutely zero desire to tie myself to an eight-hour a day job and a large house in the suburbs. None of this made the divorce easy, however.
To keep my mind occupied, I was working on the route for the Fourth Annual Sierra Trek, a challenging nine-day 100-mile backpack trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that I had created as a pledge-based fund-raiser for the American Lung Association in Sacramento.
“So what’s your problem?” my friend Tom Lovering asked over a beer at the Fox and Goose Restaurant. He’d been-there-done-that with divorce and dated a number of women since. Tom owned Alpine West, an outdoor/wilderness store in Sacramento, and sponsored the Sierra Trek. He was the ultimate available bachelor and planned on remaining that way. I had persuaded him to go backpacking with me for six days to preview part of the new route. Our plan was to start near Meek’s Bay, Lake Tahoe and work our way southward 70 miles following the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail.
Tom had invited his girlfriend, Lynn, and Lynn was bringing along her friend Terry. Terry was nice, not my type.
“I have a friend named April who wants to go backpacking,” Tom offered. “Why don’t I invite her to go as well? Maybe you two will hit it off.” The implication was that this would help me get over my wife.
A friend drove the five of us up to Meeks Bay. April was gorgeous and Tom was right. I followed her long legs and short shorts up the trail. My gloomy focus on the Soon-to-Be-Ex faded like a teenager’s blue jeans. Hot feet and screaming fat cells were even more potent in forcing me to live, or at least suffer, in the moment. As usual I’d done nothing to physically prepare for the first backpack trip of the year and I was paying the price.
We climbed a thousand feet and traveled six miles to reach our first night’s destination at Stony Ridge Lake. I crashed while Tom broke out some exotic concoction of potent alcohol. After consuming enough of his ‘medicine’ to persuade my fat cells they had found Nirvana, I fired up my trusty Svea stove and started cooking our freeze-dried dinner. It wasn’t hard. Boil water, throw in noodles, add a packet of mystery ingredients, stir for ten minutes and pray that whatever you have created is edible. That night it didn’t matter.
Afterwards, we headed for our beds. The next day would be long. I slid into my down-filled mummy bag and looked up at what seemed like a million stars. There were no city lights or pollution to block my view and the moon had yet to appear. I traced an imaginary line from the Big Dipper and found the North Star. It seemed far too faint for its illustrious history. A shooting star briefly captured my attention. Thoughts of divorce, short shorts, the next day’s route, a rock digging into my butt, and sore feet jostled around in my mind for attention.
Sleep finally crept into the bag and captured me.
I awoke with a Mountain Jay screeching at me from the safety of his perch in a Lodgepole Pine. A faint light announced the morning, but the sun still hid behind the mountains on the east side of Lake Tahoe. It was frosty cold and I burrowed into my bag, pretending for a few more moments that I didn’t have to get up. Nature drove me out.
I could ignore the faint light; I could ignore the Jay, and I could even ignore the stirrings of my companions, but I couldn’t ignore my insistent bladder. Among muttered good mornings I wandered off into the woods and peed on a willow near where I had seen a coyote the evening before. I was marking my territory.
Back in camp Tom had his stove going. Lynn smiled at me. She, too, was a tall, good-looking woman. Terry had yet to emerge from her cocoon and April had replaced me out in the woods. I heard a kersplash in Stony Ridge Lake and turned to watch as ripples spread out and announced a trout had snatched its buggy breakfast. Briefly I regretted that I had left my fishing pole at home. The sun was now bathing the peaks above us in gentle light; ever so slowly it worked its way down the mountain.
Instant coffee, instant oatmeal and a handful of dried fruit made up breakfast. All too soon it was time to pack my gear and urge my still stiff muscles up the trail.
The troops were in high spirits. The sheer beauty of Desolation Wilderness demanded it. Our day would take us up to Phipps Pass, down to the Velma Lakes, across the Rubicon River, up Rockbound Valley, over Mosquito Pass and end at Lake Aloha, some 13 miles from Stony Ridge Lake. We took a few minutes to make sure our camp was clean. Almost immediately we began to climb. Flashes of blue lupine, multi-colored columbine and cheerful monkey flowers eased our way along the switch back trail. My pace of travel provided ample opportunity for appreciation. I caught a brief smell of mint at one point and wild onion at another.
We passed by two more small lakes and began our ascent of Phipps Pass. By this point I had moved in to granny gear and could hear my heart pounding in its cage, wanting to escape. Each step was a test of will. I kept moving. I had long since learned that the difficulty of starting outweighed the benefits of stopping. One step at a time I reached the top. A spectacular view rewarded my effort.
Peaks still buried under snow stretched off into the distance. The Sierra is a baby mountain range, the child of plate tectonics. Once, ancient seas covered the area. Volcanic activities left behind vast pools of subterranean granite. Crashing continental and oceanic plates lifted the granite into spectacular fault-block mountains, steep on the east and gentler on the west. The Ice Age brought glaciers that carved peaks, scooped out basins and left behind rocky moraines.
We stopped to catch our breath and enjoy the view. Soon we would begin our descent toward Velma Lakes, but first we worked our way around Phipps Peak. A series of lakes came into view. Tom and I immediately began to debate which was which.
“And you expect us to depend on your trail finding skills?” Lynn asked. Tom whipped out his topographic map.
“See,” he said decidedly, allowing a note of triumph to enter his voice. While we were the best of friends, this didn’t eliminate an element of alpha male competition between us. He, after all, was the owner of an outdoor-wilderness store, and I, after all, was the leader of wilderness treks. I glanced at his map and an impish grin filled my face.
“Your map is upside down, Tom.” Oops.
We did agree that my decision to detour from the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail and go through Rockbound Valley was a good one. Heavy snow still covered the northern and eastern side of the mountains. It was unlikely to melt by the time of the Trek. The Trekkers would have enough challenge backpacking 13 miles on their second day out. They didn’t need to slog through five miles of snow while muttering unprintable thoughts about me.
We started our descent into the Velmas carefully. It is hard not to think, “Oh boy, down hill!” after a hard climb. But going down is much tougher on your body than climbing. Stepping down is a form of free fall. Velocity and weight are focused on the joints of your legs and feet. Adding a 40 to 50-pound pack increases the problem. It is easy to twist a knee or sprain an ankle, especially at the beginning of the season. And that was what happened. By the time we reached Middle Velma, April was limping.
“I stepped on a loose rock and slipped,” she explained in obvious pain.
While April soaked her foot in the cold lake water and broke out an Ace Bandage, Tom and I mulled over whether to go on or hike out. We arrived at a compromise. Lynn would hike out with April to Emerald Bay and the two of them would stay at a motel. They would rejoin Tom, Terry and me at Echo Lake some 18 miles down the trail.
Coming up: Part 2 of Bone’s discovery. There are raging rivers, kamikaze mosquitoes, and naked ladies jumping. You won’t want to miss it. In the meantime, here are two more photos reflecting Bone’s subsequent journeys.
Friday: More unusual structures at Burning Man including a Bird Trap Church and a memorial to LSD Guru, Timothy Leary.
Monday: The Coquille River Lighthouse and Bullard’s Beach near Bandon, Oregon.
Wednesday: Bone is discovered: Part II