In the last blog-a-book post from “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me,” I had split the Sierra Trek with two thirds of the participants following an easy, jeep-supported route into Robinson Flat. My task was to follow the group that had gone on a much more difficult route without water and without leadership. I arrived in camp to find one Trekker lost and the others in a state of rebellion against the leader. Me. They had discussed hanging but thankfully decided on giving me the silent treatment instead…
Before going to bed, I insisted that the Trekkers gather around so I could learn what I could about the missing person, Dick. Silent treatment or not, I needed to think through an action plan for the next day. Dick was the school teacher who had claimed he could carry his weight in booze. He had been hiking alone and hadn’t talked to anyone about leaving the route. The Trekkers could only give me an approximation of where they had last seen him.
I decided to get folks up in the pre-dawn hour of around 5 the next morning. As soon as I could see the trail, I would high-tail-it the two miles into Robinson Flat and see if Dick had made an appearance. If not, I would check with the ranger station and help organize a search party. Two of my strongest hikers would stay behind in camp in case Dick showed up there. Charlie would bring the rest of the Trekkers on to Robinson Flat.
I was exhausted and couldn’t go to sleep but somewhere in the wee hours I must have dozed off because I woke with a start as a rock pinged my head. Charlie was lobbing pebbles at my sleeping bag. I was up and packed in a zip. The troops had made a miraculous recovery over night. After a few encouraging words, I was bounding off up the trail like a hare with the hounds of hell in hot pursuit. Just as I came into camp at Robinson Flat, Dick came hoofing in from the opposite direction. I didn’t know whether to kiss or to kill him, but he was too ugly for the former and possibly too tough for the latter.
I settled for, “Are you okay, Dick?”
“Sure,” he replied in a why-wouldn’t-he-be tone.
“What happened,” I demanded, allowing my irritation to surface.
“I got thirsty,” Dick explained. “I could see French Meadow Reservoir at the bottom of the ridge so I hiked down to get a drink. When I got there, I was tired so I set up camp.” And, I am sure, dug into his booze reserves. Why worry?
My irritation boiled over.
“Why didn’t you tell someone you were leaving? Didn’t you realize we would be worried sick and mounting a search and rescue effort?” I was on a roll and Dick was on the receiving end of a great deal of frustration I was feeling. Fortunately, guilt had driven him to get up before dawn and make his way to Robinson Flat as quickly as he could. It might have been worse, much worse.
The crisis was over, but I still had chores. First up was to go back and collect the rearguard I had left at Duncan Creek. I could have sent Steve but I needed time to recover from my anger. As I hiked, I made my second command decision of the day. Even though we had only hiked for two days, the group could use a layover day. Hell, I could use a layover day. In fact, I needed a layover day. I deserved a layover day. The next day could wait for its turn. What else could go wrong? Hah! Along the way I met the rest of the Trekkers and told them that the lost Dick had found himself.
“I am beginning to understand what it means to be a manic-depressive,” I told Charlie. My life over the past three weeks had been one constant roller coaster. I allowed myself a slight glimmer of hope that we had made it beyond the low point of our adventure.
The other Trekkers had made it to Robinson Flat the day before without a hitch and I now had everyone back together again. A layover day gave all of us, including me, a chance to recoup. People were able to wash clothes, take baths, read, and just lounge around, swapping lies about their terrible ordeals.
Even the Four Mouseketeers were back in high spirits. I came over a hill and found them gathered around one of my older female participants as she sat in the middle of a tiny stream without a stitch of clothes on. They were struggling to appear cool and carry on a conversation while she bathed. I sent them scampering back to camp. At least I had answered my earlier question as to what kind of babysitting services we were providing.
Nan, one of my staff members from the Lung Association in Sacramento, showed up with resupply about midday, including food, cold beer, sodas— and Jo Ann. It was good of her to come, but we were uncomfortable. Still, I was glad to share my adventures and frustrations to date with her. I left out any references to hiking and holding hands with Lisa. After Nan and Jo departed and I had people settled in for the evening, I headed over a hill, loaded my pipe with Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco, and settled in for a smoke. I hadn’t totally abandoned my pipe (adult pacifier). At that point, I needed the solace it provided. I must have sat there for an hour staring up at the stars, alone in my thoughts, sad.
But the sun was shining the next morning, as it usually does in the summer Sierra. I felt glad to be out in the woods and happy to be alive. My body was beginning to tone up and I could almost hear my pampered fat cells screaming in protest.
NEXT POST: On my Thursday Travel Blog I will take you over to the beautiful, geologically interesting, and slightly weird Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast.
A note on photos: Since I don’t have any from the first Sierra Trek, I am using other wilderness photos I have taken from over the years. I found the two stumps on my 700 plus mile trip down the PCT two years ago.