In my last blog-a-book post about the Sierra Trek, we survived day one. Barely. Hiking over the mountain from Squaw Valley, our Trekkers had numerous gear problems, especially the witch. I arrived at our first campsite to discover that no one was there and had to hike on another two miles. Charlie, Lisa and I rounded up our slowest, most tired participants and pushed them down the trail. Eventually, we arrived at Hodgkin’s Cabin. We had survived day one. I could hardly wait to see what day two might bring.
Steve, Lisa and I set up camp on the opposite side of a small stream from our Trekkers at Hodgkin’s Cabin. I am not sure why. Maybe Steve and I were subconsciously escaping from what we had created, but I suspect we just wanted a good night’s sleep. The Trekkers were noisy and the burbling brook served as nature’s sound maker.
I made my evening rounds before turning in. We had divided the Trekkers into food groups of four and I went from group to group checking for problems. Overall, people seemed in good spirits. There were a few sore ankles and knees, but blisters were the problem that elicited the most complaints. I dispensed sympathy and mole skin. I also gave everyone a preview of the next day and warned that it was going to be tough. Really tough. My last words were to remind people that 9:00 PM was quiet hour. I wanted everyone fresh for the next challenge.
If there was noise, we didn’t hear it. We were zonked out from exhaustion. Early the next morning we were up in the dark, wolfing down our quick breakfast of instant oatmeal, instant coffee, and apricots. I was putting my pack together when Charlie arrived. He looked serious.
“We have a problem, Curt,” he started without preamble. God, I hate those words. My vivid imagination had a stove blowing up, or a Trekker cutting herself, or one of Steve’s migrating rattlesnakes finding a warm sleeping bag. Or maybe the IRS had arrived to grab Charlie or the FBI to bust Bob and we were to be held as accomplices.
“What’s up?” Steve threw in, cutting short my growing list of possible disasters.
“We had a doctor from Sacramento come in and camp next to us last night,” Charlie reported. “He says he is going back to Sacramento and tell the press that the Lung Association is running a pot-smoking-orgy in the mountains.”
“Oh hell,” Steve said. My words were much more colorful. A blown-up stove I could deal with. A cut I could bandage. A rattlesnake I could chase off, and frequently have. But what do you do with a physician who has infected his butt with his head? Beg? It took absolutely zero imagination to figure out what the Trek’s future and my career with Lungland would look like one day after ‘pot-smoking-orgy’ made the headlines.
“I tried to reason with him but it was impossible,” Charlie threw in as if he were reading my mind and wanted to dash any hope I had. Just then Orvis came tramping into our camp. Uh-oh I wondered, is the other shoe about to drop? Orvis could backpack at 70 because he had never consumed alcohol or smoked in his life. He was almost as pure as his white beard that decorated his chest. I couldn’t imagine him being very tolerant of misbehavior.
“The man is lying,” Orvis said angrily and forever earned my undying love. “I was there the whole night and no such thing happened. If he goes back to Sacramento and talks to the press, I’ll go back to Sacramento and talk to the press and we’ll see who they believe!”
I wasn’t quite as sure about Trekker behavior as Orvis. It was the seventies after all and we had recruited some interesting characters. I had heard the teenagers giving each other a hard time the night before during my rounds.
“Hey Suzy, why don’t you come over here and check out my sleeping bag?” But the response had been, “Why don’t you take your sleeping bag and stuff it?” I had also had a discussion with our younger kids about the Trek not being an appropriate place for tobacco. Who knows what the doctor had seen or had thought he had seen? My guess was that he was irritated because the noisy Trekkers had kept him awake.
“Look, I have an idea,” I said to the small crowd that had gathered around our cook stove. “I want you to go back to the camp and tell everyone to gather near the rock which is about ten yards away from the Doctor’s camp. Tell them I am going to read them the riot act and I want them to look dejected and apologetic, whether they feel that way or not. It’s show time.”
My helpers dispersed to do their job and I carefully thought through what I was going to say. At the appropriate time, I marched over to the rock looking like my dog had just been run over and climbed up on the rock. It was Sunday morning and ever after my lecture was known as the ‘sermon on the mount.’ Sixty-one expectant but properly humble faces looked up at me. I could see that the doctor had also stopped his activities and glued his attention on what we were up to.
“Last night we made a serious mistake,” I started, making sure the doctor could hear me. “It has come to my attention that there was misbehavior in camp which may have included the use of marijuana. I want to apologize to all of you for not being in camp myself and to let you know I will be from now on. I also want you to know that such activity jeopardizes not only this Trek but the possibility of any events like it in the future. I know that you have all worked hard to be here and that you have worked hard to raise money to fight lung disease and support medical research. I want your word that no such further activities will take place on this Trek.” I’d decided that throwing in the bit about raising money for medical care and research made a nice touch.
Charlie, Steve and company had done their work well. “We’re sorry.” “It won’t happen again.” “You have our word on it,” and similar statements were heard from all sides with everyone looking more serious than I have seen any Trekkers look since. I then dismissed the group to break camp.
As I walked away the doctor made a beeline for me and held out his hand.
“I am Doctor so and so,” he announced. “Although things were out of control last night, it appears you have them under control now and probably won’t have any more problems. Good luck on your trip.”
I thanked him for his concern and breathed an audible sigh of relief. He wandered back to his campsite, undoubtedly pleased with his power and influence while I moved away to avoid expressing my thoughts about his ancestry.
A bullet had been dodged. The next challenge was how we were going to get our Trekkers through the day. It promised to be a doozy— sixteen miles with very limited water. It left little time to contemplate what might have happened had the meddling medic carried out his threat.
On Thursday: Peggy and I take a trip to Cape Arago on the Oregon Coast and watch monster waves come crashing in.
On Tuesday: After surviving the doctor and his ‘pot smoking orgy,’ day two of the Trek goes from from bad to worse as our Trekkers face a long day with limited water, one of our 11-year-olds kicks dirt on a six foot timber rattler, and a Trekker goes missing.