“Your Mother Chases Fire Trucks” … The Mekemson Kids Did It

While the Diamond Spring’s Firehouse has been rebuilt from when we were children, it still stands in the same location. It was a block away from where we lived. The siren was loud. My dad would be off and running as a volunteer fireman, while my mother… Read on.

 

Pop (my father) was a volunteer fireman for Diamond Springs. As an electrician, it was his job to show up at burning houses and shut off the electricity. When the siren wailed, he was off and running, as were all the other volunteer firemen in town. It was serious business.

For Mother, and for us, it was a break in small-town routine and, I hate to use this word, entertainment. We also took off at the sound of the siren, jumped in whatever old car we had, and sped along behind the fire truck. The time of day and activity of the moment didn’t matter. If it were three in the morning, we would jump out of bed and throw on our clothes; if we were eating, the meal would be abandoned; if we were playing, the toys would be dropped. Nothing could compete with a fire. Our devotion to disaster was right up there in the same league as it is with today’s television crews.

The star performer was someone’s house. There was excitement, danger and pathos. Firemen blasted away with their hoses in a desperate attempt to save the home while the unfortunate family looked on in dismay. But the climax, the Fourth of July finale, was when the roof and walls would crash down and shoot sparks and fire high into the sky. I did keep my oohs and aahs to myself. Somewhere in the back of my mind a small voice whispered that our family outing was not totally appropriate.

“Your mother chases fire trucks,” one of my little buddies jeered at me in an argument.

My response at the time had been, “So…” But later in life I would ponder what the towns-people thought about Mother, two or three kids, and a dog always showing up when the flames were high. Pop must have been embarrassed. I remember him telling Mother once to stay far behind the fire engine and far away from the fire. He did it under the guise of being concerned for our safety and our need to stay out of the way. I now suspect he hoped we wouldn’t be recognized. But he never did have much success in telling Mother what to do. The siren’s call was not to be denied.

 

Bob Bray Shoots Out a Window

I grew out of my mischief causing phase but I was able to pull off one final coup and live up to Bertha Bray’s expectations. Remember, she wouldn’t let her son play with me because she was afraid I would corrupt him.

For some unfathomable reason, Bob’s parents bought him a Wham-O Slingshot. I mean, how in the world can you expect a kid to be good when he starts playing with his Wham-O? The fact that I owned a Wham-O as well, almost guaranteed trouble.

Bob and I agreed to meet for a clandestine hunting expedition. It had to be clandestine because I was still on Bertha Bray’s ‘do not invite’ list. Our only rule for the adventure was that anything that moved or didn’t move was a valid target. Things were going great until we came upon the old abandoned bum’s shack that was just off the Southern Pacific railroad track about a quarter of a mile away from Bob’s home. Typical of such structures, it had been created out of anything that was available for free: old aluminum roofing, miscellaneous boards, an occasional nail, a thrown away mattress, etc. It had one crowning glory, a window. Bob and I looked at each other and had a simultaneous thought. Out came the ammo for the Wham-Os, a shiny new marble for Bob and several BBs for me. We took careful aim, counted down, and let fly.

To this day, Bob claims he saw his marble harmlessly strike the windowsill while my BBs were smashing the glass to smithereens. I of course saw Bob’s marble hit the window dead on while my BBs formed a neat pattern around the edges. The current occupant of the not abandoned home, who was washing dishes behind a willow bush in a small stream, saw something entirely different: two little boys smashing his pride and joy. He let out a bellow and came charging up the trail. As he should have. Once again the Mekemson Gang, along with its newest recruit, was on the run. The good news is that we escaped. The bad news was that the bum/hobo/homeless person who lost his window, recognized Bob. He went straight to his house. Mrs. Bray’s worst fears had been realized.

Monday’s Post: We are getting close to the end of our trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. I even get to row a bit and take on a couple of death-defying rapids. (True… except for the death-defying.)

Wednesday’s Post: Big brown bears!

Friday’s Post: I wrap up the Mekemson Kids Did It.

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The Mekemson Kids Did It— Railroaded: Part 3… The MisAdventure Series

A logging truck dumps logs into Caldor’s pond. Marshall considered hiking out on these logs as high adventure. My opinion was that they were an accident waiting to happen

We weren’t really bad kids, just adventuresome with our adventures occasionally bordering on juvenile delinquency. Caldor Lumber Company was a favorite target of ours since it provided a myriad of opportunities for weekend and after-school exploration. Twenty-foot high stacks of drying lumber were made for climbing and the truly bold might leap from one to another. The appropriately named Big Shed was filled with these stacks but I was much more fascinated by the number of owls that lived there and provided scat for my natural history collection. The millpond featured floating logs which Marshall ventured out on lumberjack like but I avoided. Not even a triple dare, or worse, older brother scorn, could temp me into a possible dunking in the pond’s dark, murky waters.

I am petting a friendly donkey here. My real reason for including this fading photo, however, is it shows the stacks of lumber at Caldor that we would climb up onto and leap between if they were close enough.

All of these activities paled in comparison to joy riding on rail pushcarts. Caldor had narrow gauge rail lines snaking through its drying yards and used pushcarts for transporting heavy items. We quickly discovered that three or four of us could get a cart rolling. We would then jump on for a free ride. Small down hills added a thrill factor. Fortunately, hand brakes on the carts enabled us to stop the carts before running into the stacked railroad ties that marked the end of the line. Except once.

Our nemesis at Caldor was an old fellow who had been in some type of mill related accident and left with a limp. Caldor made him the night and weekend watchman so he could continue to make a living. We provided him with something to do in an otherwise uneventful job. Sneaking up on us seemed to be a true passion of his so we kept a wary eye out. It was inevitable that he would catch us on a pushcart ride and he caught us at the most exciting point, just as it was gaining speed going downhill.

“Hey you kids, get off of that pushcart!” he yelled as he hurried after us at a slow limp.

What were we to do? We jumped off of the pushcart and high tailed it for the Woods, which were right next door. The pushcart, meanwhile, continued to gather speed, slammed into the ties and did a spectacular flip before sliding off down a small hill. We were duly impressed and so, apparently, was the watchman who let out a string of obscenities peppered with the F-word as we disappeared into the pines. Pop mentioned the next day that the watchman had reported to him that he thought we were  involved. We carefully explained that some kids from Placerville had been in town and were undoubtedly responsible.

A more serious threat of railroad justice arrived on our doorstep in the form of a Southern Pacific Railroad detective who claimed Marshall had been pulling spikes out of the railroad trestle over Webber Creek and throwing them into the stream. Marshall put on his ‘I’m outraged act.’  Yes, he had been throwing rocks off of the trestle into the creek below. What kid wouldn’t?  But he would never dream of doing anything that would cause physical harm to anyone. Had the detective bothered to check to see if any spikes were missing from the trestle? No. Had he contemplated the possibility of a skinny 90-pound 12-year-old kid being able to physically pull out the spikes? No. The case was closed.

While Marshall’s innocence was sustained for once, the experience had the unfortunate consequence of eliminating the trestle as a place to play. Walking across and staring down between the railroad ties at the 100-foot drop to Weber Creek was a sure cure for summer boredom, as was contemplating the arrival of a train when we were in the middle of the trestle. If that wasn’t exciting enough, we could always walk across on the narrow plank that ran under the tracks. There were no railings or safety net.

MONDAY’S POST: Our journey down the Colorado River takes us to the magical Havasu Creek and then on to the dangerous Lava Falls.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: It’s off to the Alaska island of Kodiak where our son works as a Coast Guard helicopter pilot. We cross the island for a day of hanging out with large brown bears as they fish and feed their cubs.

The Mekemson Kids Did It: Who Shot Pavy’s Pig?… The MisAdventure Series

Who Shot the Pig?

Like the gunslingers of the Old West, our reputations far exceeded the reality of our actions. Take Tony Pavy’s pig for example. Tony had a large pond with bullfrogs, a hundred or so acres of scrubland, and a wooded hillside that housed a number of gray squirrels. He also had an attitude similar to Jimmy Pagonni’s: children were not to be heard or seen, particularly on his property. As with Pagonni, we didn’t allow Pavy to keep us from our appointed rounds. We would slip in at night to harvest his bullfrogs and during the day to bring down a squirrel. Tony had a very effective way of getting rid of us. In a very loud voice he would yell, “Mama, get my gun!” and we would streak out of there.

A couple of friends and I were hunting for the squirrels on his hillside when the unfortunate incident with the pig took place. But before I tell the story, I need to digress and provide some background information.

Growing up in Diamond in the 50s meant having a gun and shooting things. At least it did if you were a boy. We graduated from BB guns and 22s to deer rifles and shotguns. Obtaining your first rifle was an experience similar in importance to obtaining your driver’s license, except you could get one a lot earlier. Before we were allowed to hunt, however, certain rules were pounded into our heads. First, it was important to know exactly what you were shooting.

This might seem obvious but flatlanders out of Sacramento often had trouble making the distinction between a cow and a deer. Of a much more serious nature, at least to me, Allen shot my dog. Tickle had been clearing out an old abandoned mine shack of pack rats and Allen shot through the wall thinking he was a rat. Tickle survived; Allen almost didn’t. There were other things we weren’t supposed to shoot as well. Robins were high on the list. They ate their weight daily in bugs. It was okay to shoot ‘vermin’ such as ground squirrels, jackrabbits and coyotes.

My usual preference was for watching wildlife, not killing it. I made an exception for gray squirrels. The thrill of the hunt combined with my appetite for a delicious squirrel and dumpling stew my mother whipped up overcame any reservations I had. All of which brings me back to the pig. Gray squirrels have about the same appreciation for being shot that you or I might. To avoid this unhappy circumstance, they take off leaping through the trees. The one we had marked for dinner was jumping from limb to limb in a live oak tree on the hill above Pavy’s with all three of us shooting at it when we heard a bellow from the barnyard.

“Mama, get my gun! They shot my pig! They shot my pig! Hurry Mama!”

 

I don’t know how fast Mama moved but we flew. By the time Ernie Carlson, the County Sheriff, caught up with us we were far away from Pavy’s and about as innocent as newborn piglets.

“Excuse me boys,” the Sheriff remarked when he pulled over in his car and rolled down his window, “I don’t suppose you know anything about Tony Pavy’s pig being shot.”

“No, sir,” we replied respectfully in unison. We had rehearsed.  Besides, we were technically correct. We hadn’t shot Pavy’s pig; we hadn’t even shot the squirrel. It was a ricocheting bullet that did in the pig.

Ernie looked at us dubiously.

“Pavy described three kids that fit your description,” the Sheriff said as he continued to build pressure, hoping that one of us would break. The fact that there were no other kids in town that looked like us was a rather significant clue.

“We’ve been out in back of Ot Jones pond,” I argued indignantly. And we had been; so what if we had arrived there out of breath.

“Well, you kids behave yourselves,” the Sheriff said with an ominous I know you’re lying tone. We breathed a joint sigh of relief as he rolled up his window and drove off. Once more we had avoided a fate we probably deserved. I suspect now that Ernie was not one hundred percent dedicated to finding the alleged pig murderers. Tony was not universally loved in the community for several reasons, of which regularly threatening to shoot little kids was only one.

For example, my father did some electrical work for him once for free. As he was leaving, Tony asked, “Would you like one of my geese for dinner?”

“Sure,” Pop had replied assuming Pavy was offering it as thanks for his four hours of work.

“Good,” Tony had replied, “that will be five dollars.” Pop was more than a little irritated. He had a hearty laugh years later when I told him about our adventure with the pig. I wisely avoided telling him at the time, however. His perspective on our miscreant behavior softened substantially with distance and age.

The end. It was a twisted tale.

The Mekemson Kids Did It: Part 1… The MisAdventure Series

There were two Gold Rush era buildings from the 1800s near our house. One was the old jail across the road where Jimmy Pagonni stored his wine. Unfortunately, it was knocked down for a fast-food joint. The other was one house away from ours and is the one shown above.

Sweet Cherries

Up until around eight or nine I spent most of my wandering time with Marshall and our friends Allen and Lee. What I remember about these adventures in Diamond Springs  was that we were skating on the thin edge of trouble. Gradually, we developed a reputation. I am convinced that a whole generation of little kids in Diamond blamed their misbehavior on us. “I didn’t do it Mama, the Mekemson kids did.” And Mama probably believed them. My friend Bob Bray’s mother refused to let him play with me. I was a bad influence, guaranteed to lead her son straight into the arms of the law.

Most of our mischief was relatively innocent. For example, Jimmy Pagonni lived across the street and had a zero-tolerance policy for us.  We lusted after his cherries. He transformed them into wine and every drop was precious. He turned his dogs loose on us if we came anywhere near his orchard. Naturally his insistence on keeping us out only guaranteed our presence.  Raids were carefully planned. Few adventures come with such sweet rewards.

We would invite two or three little friends over and make a party out of it. The cover was sleeping out in the back yard, but sleep was secondary. Somewhere around one o’clock in the morning we would slip out of our yard, cross a very lonely Highway 49, climb over Jimmy’s rickety gate, and disappear up into the trees. It was all very hush-hush and cherries have never tasted more delicious. We would stuff our stomachs and then fill up bags for take-out. It was pure greed.

Jimmy’s dogs never caught us before we were able to scramble over the fence but they did catch my cocker spaniel once and almost killed him. Tickle had been out on the town visiting a lady friend and was returning home. We were infuriated. Marshall retaliated by shooting Jimmy’s bull in the balls with a BB gun. (If not fair to the bull, it was at least alliteration.) Jimmy never knew Marshall committed the heinous act but I am sure he had his suspicions.

Red, Red Wine, Makes You Feel Fine— or Not

Another Marshall story is appropriate to tell here because it reflects the theme. In this incident, Marshall’s skinniness got him into hot water, or at least wine. Jimmy Pagonni stored his fermented cherry juice in an old Gold Rush era building that may have served as a jail in its youth. It was located right in the middle of his well-guarded cherry orchard and featured a very stout locked door and one barred window. I am sure Jimmy considered it impregnable but he failed to consider just how skinny my brother was. With help from an accomplice, Marshall managed to slip through the bars and pinch a gallon of Italian Red.

He and his friend Art then headed for our treehouse in the Graveyard to do some serious imbibing. Considering that a gallon of Jimmy’s Italian Red would have knocked out two grown men, it almost killed Marshall. He told me how he and Art were lying in the dirt and peddling their bikes upside down above them when one of our teachers walked by. I remember him slipping in the back door and trying to get to our bedroom before Mother and Pop noticed. It didn’t work. In addition to stumbling and mumbling and heaving, he smelled like a three-week gutter drunk. He was one sick kid. Both parents hurried to the bedroom out of concern and I moved back outside to sleep in the cool, but fresh fall air. It was one of those crimes that incorporates its own punishment.

MONDAY’S POST: In the next section of our trip down the Colorado River, I jump off a cliff and Tom wears Bone.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: We finish our journey through the Yukon Territory.

FRIDAY’S POST: The next chapter in the Mekemson Kids Did It. Who shot Tony Pavy’s pig?

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The Skull with the Vacant Stare— The Woods… The MisAdventure Series

Woods in Diamond Springs, CA

While I don’t have any pictures from the Woods growing up, this and the other photos here are of more recent vintage from Diamond Springs.

 

Even more than the Pond, the Woods introduced me to the beauty and magic of nature. It, too, earned a capital letter.

To get there, I walked out the back door, down the alley and through a pasture Jimmy Pagonni rented for his cattle. Tackling the pasture involved crawling through a rusty barbed wire fence, avoiding fresh cow pies, climbing a hill and jumping an irrigation ditch. The journey was fraught with danger.

Black oak and woods

This black oak stood over the ditch I had to jump, and it still stands today.

Hungry barbed wire consumed several of my shirts and occasionally went for my back. Torn clothing and bleeding scratches were a minor irritation in comparison to stepping in fresh cow poop though. A thousand-pound, grass-eating machine produces acres of the stuff. Deep piles sneak up your foot and slosh over into your shoes. Toes hate this. Even more treacherous are the little piles that hide out in the grass. A well-placed patty can send you sliding faster than black ice. The real danger here is ending up with your butt in the pile. I did that, once. “Oh, shit,” I had exclaimed. Happily, no one was around to witness my misfortune, or hear my language— except Tickle the dog. And he was sworn to secrecy.

For all of its hazards, the total hike to the Woods took about 10 minutes. Digger pines with drunken windmill limbs guarded the borders while gnarly manzanita and spiked chaparral dared the casual visitor to venture off the trail. Poison oak proved more subtle but effective in discouraging exploration. I could count on raucous California jays to announce my presence, especially if I was stalking a band of notorious outlaws. Ground squirrels were also quick to whistle their displeasure. Less talkative jackrabbits merely ambled off upon spotting me, put on a little speed for a hyper Cocker, and became bounding blurs in the presence of a hungry greyhound. Flickers, California quail and acorn woodpeckers held discussions in distinctive voices I soon learned to recognize.

Woods in Diamond Springs

A trailer park now occupies the woods where I once played. It’s pleasant but no substitute. Even then, power lines cut through the woods. The tree reaching for the sky is a digger pine. Its large pine cones were filled with nuts that the squirrels harvested.

From the beginning, I felt at home in the Woods, like I belonged. I quickly learned that its hidden recesses contained a multitude of secrets. I was eager to learn what they had to teach me, but the process seemed glacial. It required patience and I hardly knew how to spell the word. I did know how to sit quietly, however. This was a skill I had picked up from the hours I spent with my nose buried in books. The woodland creatures prefer their people noisy. A Curt stomping down the trail, snapping dead twigs, and talking to himself about nefarious evil-doers was easy to avoid while a Curt being quiet might surprise them.

One gray squirrel was particularly loud in his objections. He lived in the top branches of a digger pine beside the trail and maintained an observation post on an overhanging limb. When he heard me coming, he would adopt his ‘you can’t see me gray squirrel playing statue pose.’ But I knew where to look. I would find a comfortable seat and stare at him. It drove him crazy. Soon he would start to thump the limb madly with his foot and chirr loudly. He had pine nuts to gather, a stick home to remodel, and a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed lady to woo. I was blocking progress. Eventually, if I didn’t move, his irritation would bring him scrambling down the trunk for a much more personal scolding.

After about 15 minutes of continuous haranguing, he’d decide I was a harmless, if obnoxious aberration and go about his business. That’s when I begin to learn valuable secrets, like where he hid his nuts. It was also a sign for the rest of the wildlife to come out of hiding. A western fence lizard might work its way to the top of the dead log next to me and start doing push-ups. Why, I couldn’t imagine. Or perhaps a thrush would begin to scratch up the leaves under the manzanita in search of creepy tidbits. The first time I heard one, it sounded like a very large animal interested in little boy flesh.

Occasionally there were special treats: a band of teenage gray squirrels playing tag and demonstrating their incredible acrobatics; a doe leading its shy, speckled fawn out to drink in the small stream that graced the Wood’s meadow; a coyote sneaking up on a ground squirrel hole with an intensity I could almost feel.

I also began to play at stalking animals. Sometime during the time period between childhood and becoming a teenager, I read James Fennimore Cooper and began to think I was a reincarnation of Natty Bumppo. Looking back, I can’t say I was particularly skilled, but no one could have told me so at the time. At least I learned to avoid dry twigs, walk slowly, and stop frequently. Occasionally, I even managed to sneak up on some unsuspecting animal.

If the birds and the animals weren’t present, they left signs for me. There was always the helter-skelter pack rat nest to explore. Tickle made it a specialty, quickly sending twigs flying in all directions. There were also numerous tracks to figure out. Was it a dog or coyote that had stopped for a drink out of the stream the night before? My greyhound knew instantly, but I had to piece it together. A sinuous trail left by a slithery serpent was guaranteed to catch my attention. This was rattlesnake country. Who’d been eating whom or what was another question? The dismantled pine cone was easy to figure out but who considered the bark on a young white fir a delicacy? And what about the quail feathers scattered haphazardly beside the trail?

Scat, I learned, was the tracker’s word for poop. It offered a multitude of clues for what animals had been ambling down the trail and what they had been eating. There were deer droppings and rabbit droppings and mouse droppings descending in size. Coyotes and foxes left their distinctive dog-like scat but the presence of fur and berries suggested that something other than dog food had been on the menu. Some scat was particularly fascinating, at least to me. Burped up owl pellets provided a treasure chest of bones— little feet, little legs and little skulls that grinned back with the vacant stare of slow mice.

While Tarzan hung out in the Graveyard and pirates infested the Pond, mountain men, cowboys, Indians, Robin Hood and various bad guys roamed the Woods. Each bush hid a potential enemy that I would indubitably vanquish. I had the fastest two fingers in the West and I could split a pine nut with an arrow at 50 yards.  I never lost. How could I— it was my fantasy. But daydreams were only a part of the picture.

I fell in love with wandering in the Woods and playing on the Pond. There was an encyclopedia of knowledge available and a multitude of lessons about life. Learning wasn’t a conscious effort, though; it was more like absorption. The world shifted for me when I entered the Woods and time slowed down. A spider with an egg sack was worth ten minutes, a gopher pushing dirt out of its hole an hour, and a deer with a fawn a lifetime.

Next Friday I will offer a slight diversion from MisAdventures tales for a week and include a chapter from my book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam.

 

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Home and a Surprise… The Ten Thousand Mile Bike Trek— End of Series

When I arrived at Lake Tahoe, I returned to what I considered my home territory. Half of the beauty of the area is found in the Lake, the other half is in the surrounding backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

When I arrived at Lake Tahoe, I returned to what I considered my home territory. Half of the beauty of the area is found in the Lake, the other half is in the surrounding backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

I had planned my six month, solo bike journey around North America as a great circular route, starting and ending in the small, rural town of Diamond Springs, which is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range east of Sacramento. I grew up there, and the connection was important to me.

I had seen my journey as twofold. My primary purpose was to explore much of the US and Canada in a way few other people had. But I also wanted to use the opportunity to undertake an inward voyage, going back in time to explore my childhood and learn more about myself. Thus the Diamond Springs tie in.

The three-month trip Peggy and I made this spring allowed me to retrace my route and relive my 1989 experience. It also allowed me to share the journey with you, which I have done with 54 posts that included approximately 50,000 words and 1,000 photos: in even more words, that’s a lot! In the end, my North America bike trek had turned out to be everything that I hoped for, and much more. I had seen great beauty, met good people, and had numerous adventures— enough even for me.

Someday, I may share the inward journey. Suffice it to say here, I learned a lot about myself along the way. I achieved a balance and inner peace that have lasted up until today. I haven’t found myself teetering on the edge since 1989. I could run off and play in the woods for reasons other than to put Curt back together again.

But for now, let’s finish up the bike journey and discover the surprise at the end.

I left Carson City, Nevada following Highway 50 up and over Spooner Pass and then dropped into Lake Tahoe, arguably one of the world’s most beautiful lakes. Memories came flooding back. I had spent three college summers driving a laundry truck between Placerville and Lake Tahoe six days a week. The work was easy, the scenery beautiful and the money… well, it was enough to pay for my UC Berkeley education. (I only had to cover my living expenses, books and student fees. Those were the days when tuition at UC was still free, back in the days when government still believed that an investment in public education was one of the best investments it could make, back before it decided that making banks wealthy–er was more important.)

In 1974, I came up with the crazy idea that the organization I was Executive Director of in Sacramento could raise funds off of 9-day hundred mile backpack trips. Actually, I just wanted to go backpacking. The first one I led was from Squaw Valley, just northwest of Tahoe, across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Auburn. I took 63 people aged 11-70 and learned a lot. (I’ll tell you the story some time.) Fortunately the Trekkers let me live, and the event made money. Later I would add 9-day, 500 mile Bike Treks. Several included Lake Tahoe. I even organized a 7-day winter cross-country ski and camping trek through the Desolation Wilderness west of the lake. That was an experience!

I feel a deep attachment to the Sierra's on the west side of Lake Tahoe, having backpacked up and down and across them many, many times over the years. I feel more at home there than I ever have in any city.

I feel a deep attachment to the Sierra’s on the west side of Lake Tahoe, having backpacked up and down and across them many, many times over the years. I feel more at home in these mountains than I ever have in any city.

This impressive rock greeted me as I biked down to the Lake from Sooner Pass.

This impressive rock greeted me as I biked down to the Lake from Sooner Pass.

The Casinos started a quarter of a mile beyond this lovely meadow!

The Casinos started a quarter of a mile beyond this lovely meadow! Nevada has done a much better job of controlling growth than California.

My bike trip took me along the east shore of the lake to Stateline where I biked past more casinos and entered California and El Dorado County, the county of my youth. Highway 50 wound through South Lake Tahoe and then over to Myers where I climbed my second 7000-foot pass of the day. I felt like I could have done it blind-folded. I was on my laundry route. Every curve, every sight was an old friend. Passing over Echo Summit, I had a wonderfully long downhill ride to Riverton and then climbed up once more to Pollock Pines, where I left Highway 50 and detoured through Camino. I found a small barbershop there and got my first haircut since Nova Scotia. I was a bit on the bushy side. There was a chance that they wouldn’t recognize me in Sacramento, especially if you threw in the fact that I had lost 40 pounds and now had big, bulging muscles.

The Sierra's are world renown for their granite. This view is from the southern portion of the Tahoe basin just before you begin to climb out of it toward Echo Summit.

The Sierras are world renown for their granite. This view is from the southern portion of the Tahoe basin just before you begin to climb out of it toward Echo Summit.

Because of my laundry days, I knew every curve (and straight-stretch) between Lake Tahoe and Placerville!

Because of my laundry days, I knew every curve (and straight-stretch) between Lake Tahoe and Placerville! Just beyond the small hill on the left is a major drop into a deep canyon.

Horse Tail Falls is one of many scenic views I appreciated on my laundry trips and on my bike ride down the mountains. I once crossed the river when it was roaring like this on a narrow log. It was raining and I was by myself. I got down and crawled.

Horsetail Falls is one of many scenic views I appreciated on my laundry trips and on my bike ride down the mountain. I once crossed the river up near the top on a narrow log when it was roaring like this. It was raining, I was by myself, and I was wearing a 50 pound pack. I got down on my knees and crawled.

Sugarloaf Mountain located next to Kyburz Resort on Highway 50 in El Dorado County, CA.

This wonderful chunk of granite is known as Sugarloaf and is another favorite view along Highway 50. It’s quite popular among rock climbers, which is another sport (like jumping off bridges), I see no reason to pursue.

A short five miles brought me to Placerville, where I lingered, not wanting my journey to end. I had gone to high school here and spent my teenage years in the town learning about life, love, sex, and books, not necessarily in that order. Eventually, I climbed back on my bike, picked up Highway 49, and biked 3 miles into Diamond. I jumped off my bike, dropped it, and did a jig with great enthusiasm. People must have thought I was extremely odd. And I was. My 10,000-mile North America Bike Trek was over.

The town of Placerville where I went to high school was once known as Hangtown and is quite proud of it's heritage. A large oak tree in the center of the town was used for hanging bad guys (and probably a few innocents) during the Gold Rush Era.

The town of Placerville where I went to high school was once known as Hangtown and is quite proud of its heritage. A large oak tree in the center of the town was used for hanging bad guys (and probably a few innocents) during the Gold Rush Era.

Hangman's Tree location in Placerville, CA.

The tree was cut down long ago but this rather ghoulish fellow (or his look-alike) has been hanging at the site where the tree was as far back as my memory takes me.

Speaking of evil-doers, you might want to check here to find out why the Placerville Police of Chief was driving me around in his squad car behind the courthouse featured here and wanted to know whether I preferred to go to my graduation from high school that night or go to jail.

Speaking of evil-doers, you might want to check here to find out why the Placerville Police of Chief was driving me around in his squad car behind the courthouse featured above, wanting to know whether I preferred  to spend my night graduating from high school or going to jail.

And finally, after riding my bike for 10,000 miles, I returned to Diamond.

And finally, after riding my bike for 10,000 miles, I returned to Diamond.

But my trip wasn’t quite over; I still had to bike into Sacramento.

I spent the night in Diamond and then rode along Highway 49 through the town, past the cemetery, past my old house, and on to Eldorado, following the same route I had six-months earlier. It felt like decades. In El Dorado, I left my route and followed back roads into Sacramento. I had a Trek-planning meeting that night at the Lung Association. My friend Jane Hagedorn, the Executive Director, had lured me back into town with the promise of Treks. I wheeled my bike into the office at 909 12th street and was greeted royally by Raquel, Jane’s executive secretary, a woman I had hired in 1974.

“Where’s Jane?” I asked, eager to see my friend. “She’s on an important phone conference call,” Raquel answered. The door to her office was closed. I had turned around, a bit disappointed, when a woman I didn’t know came bursting out of one of the offices. Wow, I thought, she’s gorgeous. She gave me a lovely smile that warmed me from my head to my toes, and everywhere in between.

“Hi,” she greeted me, grabbing my hand. “I am Peggy, Jane’s sister. You have to be Curtis! I’ve been hearing stories about you for years.” I swear— I fell in love— then and there.

A new journey had begun.

Last week, Peggy and I celebrated 24 years of marriage and 26 years of happily wandering the world together.

A 1993 photo of Peggy one year after we had married. Always up for an adventure, she had just finished a 150 mile backpack trip down the John Muir Trail I had led. More to the point she had just finished hiking a 16 mile day with a 40 pound pack up and over Mt. Whitney that had included 9000 feet of elevation gain and loss. And she was still smiling!

A 1993 photo of Peggy at 43 one year after we had married. Always up for an adventure, she had just finished a 150 mile backpack trip down the John Muir Trail I had led to celebrate my 50th birthday. More to the point she had just finished hiking a 16 mile day with a 40 pound pack up and over Mt. Whitney that had included 9000 feet of elevation gain and loss. And she was still smiling!

Peggy celebrating the end of re-tracing my bike route at the Diamond Springs hotel. She had driven our RV the whole way so I could take photos and notes. Still smiling!

Peggy celebrating the end of re-tracing my bike route at the Diamond Springs Hotel. She had driven our RV the whole way so I could take photos and notes. Still up for an adventure, still smiling and still gorgeous at 65!

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