A Ballerina, a Witch, an Ex-Ice Hockey Player, and a Wood Elf… The Sierra Trek

It’s blog-a-book, Tuesday. On my last post I hired wild Steve to work with me. In this post we pick a name, discover a route, and recruit our participants.

A view of the Northern Sierras near where we would start our Trek.

We were now six weeks out from our 100-mile backpacking event. The clock wasn’t ticking; it was running. We didn’t have a name, we didn’t have a route, and we didn’t have any participants. 

The name part was easy. While thinking of backpacking 100 miles in nine days the word trek popped in to my mind. So, I looked it up in the dictionary. “A long, arduous journey” was the definition. That seemed appropriate, and since we were doing our long, arduous journey through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, I decided to call it the Sierra Trek.

Where to go posed a more serious challenge. There were three criteria: one, it had to be 100 miles long; two, it needed be in our territory; and three, the trail should be easy to follow. The hundred miles was a given. ‘Being in our territory’ seemed feasible since several of ALASET’s (the American Lung Association of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails) nine counties encompassed a significant portion of the Northern Sierras.

The clinker was ‘easy to follow.’ I had nightmares of participants lost all over the mountains while Steve and I scrambled to find them. We’d be lucky if we avoided becoming lost ourselves. Serendipity came to the rescue. I was reading the Sacramento Bee when I found a possible solution. The horse people were planning their annual 100-mile horse marathon across the Sierra Nevada, the Tevis Cup Race. The event kicked off in Squaw Valley and ended in Auburn. Horses had to follow substantial trails, I reasoned. Squaw Valley had been the sight of the 1960 Winter Olympics and would provide an internationally renowned resort to kick off our event. Auburn was one of the main foothill communities in the Association’s territory and would make an excellent ending place. The trail had the added advantage of being an early trail used by pioneers. We could use the historical angle and tie it in with our name. It seemed ideal.

The only fly in the soup from my perspective was that the trail might be filled with horse poop. I’m not a fan. 

Steve made contact with the woman in Auburn who was organizing the Tevis Cup Race. “Yes, the trail is easy to follow,” she told him. They marked it with yellow ribbons and the ribbons would still be up for our Trek. As for my concern about horse manure, “There should be plenty of time between the race and your trek for the manure to dry out.”

“Fine,” I said to Steve when he reported back, “our Trekkers will be shuffling down trails in dry horse shit.” On the other hand, I thought, look for the silver lining. We could tell them to follow the horse droppings if the ribbons ran out. The important thing was we had a route and could begin publicizing the event. Steve and I agreed to preview the route in advance of the Trek to pin down campsites and reduce the possibility of nasty surprises. Nor would it hurt for the two of us to get some backpacking in before we played Moses in the wilderness.

So now we had a route and a name, it was time to recruit participants, obtain food, and preview the route. 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 got an article published in the 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 number 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. Sixty-one signed up.

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.

“Send any mail to my hardware store,” Charlie told me. “I don’t want the Feds to know where I live.” Or us either, apparently.

Four small 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 movies, people were already entranced with Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I was.) Lovely L could be defined as a perfect 10 in the language of the time. Even the 11-year olds noticed.

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 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 then 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. My first thought was that he was a wood elf. 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 five years, I had been sitting around becoming chubby.

Mt. Shasta

“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. He had personally raised the Lung Association over $140,000.)


Thursday’s Travel Blog: We continue our exploration of America’s backroads on Utah’s Highway 24 with a stop off at the stunning Capitol Reef National Park.

Next Tuesday’s Blog-a-Book: We find an unusual food source, recruit a reluctant sponsor, and preview the route— where I get blisters on blisters and my dog companion, worried about a bear encounter we had, chews up my new Pendleton shirt.

31 thoughts on “A Ballerina, a Witch, an Ex-Ice Hockey Player, and a Wood Elf… The Sierra Trek

  1. It is fascinating that it produced such an interesting and diverse set of characters for you.
    Also now, of course, I suspect you look back occasionally and think 70 wasn’t all that old.” 🙂

  2. Wow, this was quite an undertaking.. no wonder you developed a tough derier … lol.
    However you managed to recruit such differnt ages is beyond me. Well, you might start another and give Orvis a run for his money or yours.. lol. I’m laughing imagining the horse plob soup. 🤣🤣🤣

  3. What a great lot of participants. I wonder if the same could be achieved today?
    That seventy year old bloke sure must have been a character. I am eighty now and try keep fit by just reading your articles, Curt.

    • And walking five times around the lake, I might add!
      It’s a different world as far as backpacking goes, Gerard. That was the very beginning of the sport becoming popular. Few people had tried it, but obviously, lots of people wanted to. We were offering a unique opportunity! And one hell of a challenge. 🙂 –Curt

  4. I can’t say enough how I admire your treks and stories that come out of those journeys. I did get a laugh out of Gerard Oosterman’s comment, you can picture me sitting next to him reading.

    • Glad you enjoy the tales, G. I always have fun writing them. Let’s me relive my youth. I always enjoy Gerard and Milo. I will picture the two of you sitting together and getting exercise as I hike over mountains. 🙂 Thanks much. –Curt

  5. Orvis is my hero. I suspect it’s not only his age at the time, but his occupation. The tale of the group coming together reminds me of the crew we put together for the Hawaii to Alaska sail. The age range wasn’t quite so broad, but the various kinds of quirkiness seems similar.

    • The first serious long distance backpack trip I ever took Peggy on, I made sure Orvis was along, Linda. It helped assure that she fell in love with backpacking. That and the Sherry I always packed for her. Orvis would come over to our tent every morning and sing “Wake up Little Buttercup.”
      I’m not surprised about your sailing crew. Sailing from Hawaii to Alaska sounds like a similar kind of adventure, plus! It’s not the type of event that would appeal to the ‘stay at home’ crowd. You’d need to be just a touch ‘wild.’ Probably why we get along so well. Grin. –Curt

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