This is a tale I wouldn’t tell, except it is relevant to the Trek story. In my last Blog-a-Book post from “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me,” I told the tale of how Steve and I previewed the first 80 Miles of the trail with each of us covering 40 miles in three days. We had both come off the trail on an absolute high, one that Sparky the Springer Spaniel shared with us.
I couldn’t wait to share my experience with Jo Ann. I hurried home, dropping off a tired Sparky and a pooped Steve. I burst into the house full of enthusiasm. In comparison to my bubbling noisiness, Jo was funeral quiet. I made enough noise for both of us and suggested we head out to Chuck’s, our favorite steakhouse. After three days of backpacking food, I was hungering for a mouth-watering T-bone. We were in the middle of our first Scotch when Jo Ann looked at me miserably and announced she had something to tell me.
“Curt,” she confessed, “I didn’t go to San Francisco over the weekend. I went to Los Angeles and spent the weekend with a man I met at a workshop last month.”
My world stopped. My heart broke.
There was no Trek, no future, no me. The steak in my mouth turned to sawdust and my stomach became a tight, heavy knot. Jo Ann went on to tell me about the psychiatrist she had met at a conference in San Francisco and how she was scared about losing me, about how she still loved me. Maybe, but something broke that night, something that could not be mended.
I had to get out of town, to think, to recreate myself.
The next morning Jo dropped me downtown. I called Steve, Nancy and Nan into my office, closed the door and gave them enough details so they would know why I was leaving. In addition to being employees, they were all friends. It was hard for me not to break down. I promised that I would be back in time for the Trek and discussed what needed to be done in my absence. Steve’s primary job would be to review the last section of the trail. He drove me to the airport.
My choice of where to go was determined by the first airplane leaving Sacramento. It was a Western Airlines flight to Seattle and I was on it. It was Tuesday, 12 days before the Trek.
Lonely and confused, I walked the dark, rainy streets of Seattle. I missed Jo desperately and had a hard time imagining the future. I hit the bars and drank. It wasn’t that I was naïve. I knew people could grow apart as well as together, that Jo might have needs I wasn’t filling. The issue of not having children was one and may have created a deep, non-addressed chasm. Nor was I innocent. I had been tempted more than once in the ever-present world of sexual attraction of the 70s: a hand touched here, a smoldering glance there, an innocent peck turning into a passionate kiss. My world was one filled with bright, attractive women.
I had started drinking early on Friday afternoon when the words of a Jimmy Buffet song caught my attention. “I spent four lonely days in a brown ugly haze and I just want you back by my side.” I returned to my motel and called Jo. She was on the next flight to Seattle. We grabbed a ferry and headed over to Victoria where we had spent happier times. Maybe we could pull our relationship back together.
When I arrived back at the office, I found that our food from Lipton had arrived, which was the good news, or so I thought. Steve, for some reason, had failed to review the last 20-miles of the Trek. That was the bad news. Who knew what mischief that might create? As for Lipton, I eagerly opened one of the boxes. Ham Cheddarton. I opened the next box and the next and the next. They were all Ham Cheddarton. Some zealous warehouse manager in Chicago had solved a part of his overstock problem by shipping us the one meal Lipton couldn’t sell and the Trekkers wouldn’t want to eat. Steve called the President in a panic. He agreed to replace half of the Ham Cheddarton.
And then, far too soon, it was Trek time. I spent Friday night packing and worrying. My pack had ballooned up to over 60 pounds. I fell into bed at 1:00 AM but didn’t sleep; by 5:00, I was out the door. I met my support crew at a small restaurant just outside of Squaw Valley at 7:00.
Steve had recruited two friends to help out. One was Steve Locke, whose family owned large sections of Sacramento River Delta farm land and had a town named after them. The other was Bob with no last name, strong quiet Bob who was an excellent man to have along in an emergency, who loaned us valuable equipment such as walkie-talkies and a jeep, and who, as I was to learn later, made his living by smuggling marijuana out of Columbia. Crowle was to be my assistant leader, Steve Locke was going to drive the back-up jeep, and Bob was to be there just in case— in case of what I wasn’t sure.
We drove the last three miles into Squaw Valley to meet our fate. The Trekkers were arriving in droves and milling around like lost sheep. There was fat Charlie, skinny Orvis, beautiful Lisa, and 58 other people ready to follow us across the mountains. I felt a little like Moses must have felt in leading folks off into the wilderness, except I didn’t have his guidance system. I also wondered how Moses might have fared feeding the Israelites Ham Cheddarton instead of manna. We might have a different religion today.
Steve called the Trekkers together and I gave my first ever Trek orientation. I started by pointing out the tram. The first part of their day was to be spent saving 2000 feet and two miles of climbing. Steve had finagled free rides for all of us. This put the participants in a good mood. I then made a serious mistake. I told the Trekkers they should have an easy day.
Rule number one of Trekking is never, never, never tell people they will have an easy day backpacking. Each day is grueling and people may just survive. Period.
Soon we were on our way, crammed like so many cattle onto the Squaw Valley trams hanging high above the ground as we bounced our way to the top. One of our Trekkers with a fear of heights had wanted to walk. She hid herself in the crowd and refused to look out, frightened that we were going to go careening down the cliffs. Her instincts were good. Four years later, the world watched with apprehension as a rescue operation pulled people off of one of the very same trams as it dangled 100 feet above the ground.
We made it without any problems. They started when we got off of the tram, which is my next story.
Tomorrow: A Christmas Card I created a few years back. Are you ready to be mooed?
Christmas Eve: A present of more photos of National Parks and Monuments taken from the 2021 calendar that Peggy and I created for our family from places we visited in 2019-2020.