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!

NEXT BLOG: Meet Petros, the world’s most famous pelican. A blog quickie!

 

A Pounding Heart and a Sprained Ankle… Reblog

This is the second of a series of Blogs on how the Peripatetic Bone was found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I will respond to comments when I return from Burning Man.

I awoke with a Mountain Jay screeching at me from the safety of his perch in a Lodgepole Pine. A faint light announced the morning, but the sun still hid behind the mountains on the east side of Lake Tahoe. It was frosty cold and I burrowed into my bag, pretending for a few more moments that I didn’t have to get up. Nature drove me out.

I could ignore the faint light, I could ignore the Jay and I could even ignore the stirrings of my companions but I couldn’t ignore my insistent bladder. Among muttered good mornings I wandered off into the woods and peed on a willow near where I had seen a coyote the evening before. I was marking my territory.

Back in camp Tom had his stove going. Lynn smiled at me. She, too, was a tall, good-looking woman. Terry had yet to emerge from her cocoon and April had replaced me out in the woods.

I heard a kersplash in Stony Ridge Lake and turned to watch as ripples spread out and announced a trout had snatched its buggy breakfast. Briefly I regretted that I had left my fishing pole at home. The sun was now bathing the peaks above us in gentle light; ever so slowly it worked its way down the mountain.

Instant coffee, instant oatmeal and a handful of dried fruit made up breakfast. All too soon it was time to pack my gear and urge my still stiff muscles up the trail.

The troops were in high spirits. The sheer beauty of Desolation Wilderness demanded it. Our backpacking day would take us up to Phipps Pass, down in to the Velma Lakes, across to the Rubicon River, up Rockbound Valley, over Mosquito Pass and end at Lake Aloha, some 13 miles from Stony Ridge Lake. We took a few minutes to make sure our camp was clean.

Almost immediately we began to climb. Flashes of blue lupine, multi-colored columbine and cheerful monkey flowers eased our way along the switch back trail. My pace of travel provided ample opportunity for appreciation. I caught a brief smell of mint at one point and wild onion at another.

We passed by two more small lakes and began our ascent of Phipps Pass. By this point I had moved in to granny gear and could hear my heart pounding in its cage, wanting to escape. Each step was a test of will. I kept moving. I had long since learned that the difficulty of starting outweighed the benefits of stopping. One step at a time I reached the top. A spectacular view rewarded my effort.

Peaks still buried under snow stretched off into the distance. The Sierra is a baby mountain range, the child of plate tectonics. Once, ancient seas covered the area. Volcanic activities left behind vast pools of subterranean granite. Crashing continental and oceanic plates lifted the granite into spectacular fault-block mountains, steep on the east and gentler on the west. The Ice Age brought glaciers that carved peaks, scooped out basins and left behind rocky moraines.

We stopped to catch our breath and enjoy the view.  Soon we would begin our descent toward the Velma Lakes but first we worked our way around Phipps Peak. A series of lakes came into view. Tom and I immediately began to debate which was which.

“And you expect us to depend on your trail finding skills?” Lynn asked. Tom whipped out his topographic map.

“See,” he said decidedly, allowing a note of triumph to enter his voice. While we were the best of friends, this didn’t eliminate an element of alpha male competition between us. He, after all, was the owner of an outdoor-wilderness store, and I, after all, was the leader of wilderness treks. I glanced at his map and an impish grin filled my face.

“Your map is upside down, Tom.” Oops.

We did agree that my decision to detour from the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail and go through Rockbound Valley was a good one. Heavy snow still covered the northern and eastern side of the mountains. It was unlikely to melt by the time of the Trek.

The Trekkers would have enough challenge backpacking 13 miles on their second day out. They didn’t need to slog through five miles of snow while muttering unprintable thoughts about me.

We started our descent into the Velmas carefully. It is hard not to think, “Oh boy, down hill!” after a hard climb. But going down is much tougher on your body than climbing. Stepping down is a form of free fall. Velocity and weight are focused on the joints of your legs and feet. Adding a 40-50 pound pack increases the problem.

It is easy to twist a knee or sprain an ankle, especially at the beginning of the season. And that was what happened. By the time we reached Middle Velma, April was limping.

“I stepped on a loose rock and slipped,” she explained in obvious pain.

While April soaked her foot in the cold lake water and broke out an Ace Bandage, Tom and I mulled over whether to go on or hike out. We arrived at a compromise. Lynn would hike out with April to Emerald Bay and the two of them would stay at a motel. They would rejoin Tom, Terry and me at Echo Lake some 18 miles down the trail.

Next: Raging rivers, kamikaze mosquitoes and marriage on a mountain

The Story of How Bone Was Found… Reblog

While Peggy and I are at Burning Man, I am reposting the story of how Bone was found. This is the first of the series. I will respond to comments when I return from Burning Man.

Backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness… Or, How to Forget You Are Being Divorced

It was the summer of 1977 and my wife JoAnn was divorcing me. Apparently I lacked in stability or at least in the desire to pursue the Great American Dream. She was right of course. I had absolutely zero desire to tie myself to an eight-hour a day job and a large house in the suburbs. None of this made the divorce easy. I was prepared to spend my life as a happily married man.

To keep my mind occupied, I was working on the route for the Fourth Annual Sierra Trek, a challenging nine-day 100-mile backpack trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that I had created as a pledge-based fund-raiser for the American Lung Association in Sacramento.

“So what’s your problem?” my friend Tom Lovering asked over a beer at the Fox and Goose Restaurant. He’d been-there-done-that with divorce and dated a number of women since. Tom owned Alpine West, an outdoor/wilderness store in Sacramento, and sponsored the Sierra Trek.

I had persuaded him to go backpacking with me for six days to preview part of the new route. Our plan was to start near Meek’s Bay, Lake Tahoe and work our way southward 70 miles following the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail.

Tom had invited his girlfriend, Lynn, and Lynn was bringing along her friend Terry. Terry was nice, not my type.

“I have a friend named April who wants to go backpacking,” Tom offered. “Why don’t I invite her to go as well? Maybe you two will hit if off.”

The implication was that this would help me get over my wife.  Actually, I had already met the woman who was going to help me recover but I humored Tom.

A friend drove the five of us up to Meeks Bay. April was gorgeous and Tom was right. I followed her long legs and short shorts up the trail. My gloomy focus on the Soon-to-Be-Ex faded like a teenager’s blue jeans.

Hot feet and screaming fat cells were even more potent in forcing me to live, or at least suffer, in the moment. As usual I’d done nothing to physically prepare for the first backpack trip of the year and I was paying the price.

We climbed a thousand feet and traveled six miles to reach our first night’s destination at Stony Ridge Lake. I crashed while Tom broke out some exotic concoction of potent alcohol.

After consuming enough of his ‘medicine’ to persuade my fat cells they had found Nirvana, I fired up my trusty Svea stove and started cooking our freeze-dried dinner. It wasn’t hard. Boil water, throw in noodles, add a packet of mystery ingredients, stir for ten minutes and pray that whatever you have created is edible. That night it didn’t matter.

Afterwards, we headed for our beds. The next day would be long. I slid into my down filled mummy bag and looked up at what seemed like a million stars. There were no city lights or pollution to block my view and the moon had yet to appear.

I traced an imaginary line from the Big Dipper and found the North Star. It seemed far too faint for its illustrious history. A shooting star briefly captured my attention. Thoughts of divorce, short shorts, the next day’s route, a rock digging into my butt, and sore feet jostled around in my mind for attention.

Sleep finally crept into the bag and captured me.

Next: A pounding heart and a sprained ankle.

Held at Gun Point… Training for Berkeley in the 60s

The man rested his rifle on the hood of my 56 Chevy. His message was clear. I wasn’t going anywhere

My summers between college were spent working for American Laundry driving a laundry truck between Placerville and Lake Tahoe. In addition to having one of the country’s most scenic routes to travel over each day, the job paid for my college education.

At the beginning of my summer between Sierra and Berkeley, Roger Douvers, the owner of the business, asked if I wouldn’t like to move up to the Lake and work for his son-in-law, John Cefalu. John had taken over a laundry that Douvers had owned, sold and then reclaimed because of back payments.

As an incentive, Roger threw in free rent in an old trailer next to the laundry.

I was happily sleeping in my trailer one morning when the laundry trucks roared to life.  I jumped out of bed. Over sleeping was no excuse for being late. I looked accusingly at my alarm clock. It said 6 AM, an hour before we normally went to work. My watch concurred.

More than a little confused, I looked out my window. An armed man stood in front of my door while other men with rifles were posted around the laundry.

Not having a phone, there was no way to contact Cefalu or Douvers. I decided it was time to vacate the premises.

I threw on my clothes, sidestepped the gunman and jumped into my car. The guard immediately repositioned himself as a hood ornament and looked threatening. Guys with guns can do that.

“Don’t be worried, Curt,” a familiar voice told me.

“Right,” I thought as I checked out the tough looking guy. I turned my head and spotted Woody, our lead driver. “What in the hell is going on?” I demanded.

“We’ve taken over the laundry,” Woody replied casually.

The next question followed naturally.  Who in the heck constituted ‘we?’ Woody had an answer for that, too.

“I work for the people who Douvers screwed when he took the laundry back,” he told me. “We’re here legally and these armed men are professional security guards to protect our interests.” Apparently Woody had been quietly arranging a coup while taking Roger’s money.

“I am leaving now,” I informed Woody.

“I don’t think so,” Woody replied. “Relax, it will all be over in a few hours and you can go to work for us.”

I was beginning to feel like I had been caught up in a Grade B movie.

“Woody, you are not going to shoot me,” I said with a lot more confidence than I felt. “Tell the man to get out of my way.” I was irritated to the point of irrationality. I turned on the car and started rolling forward. At the last possible moment, when it was clear that I intended to keep going, Woody motioned for his man to move. I was glad they couldn’t hear my sigh of relief.

Once away from the laundry, I shoved the gas pedal down and made a dash for Cefalu’s. My trip was over in a flash but it was not nearly as quick as the trip back. I knocked on the door of the dark house and was surprised to find Roger open it in his pajamas. He’d come up from Placerville the night before.

“What’s wrong Curt,” he said sounding a little alarmed. Obviously I wouldn’t show up at 6:30 A.M. to wish him a good morning.

“Your laundry has been taken over by armed men,” I blurted out and then quickly filled in the details. Roger responded by saying some very unpleasant things. He grabbed his jacket, yelled for his daughter to call the sheriff, and told me to jump in his truck.

There are three red lights between where Cefalu lived and the laundry. We managed to run all three. Our truck screeched to a halt in front of the office and Roger jumped out with me close behind.

“Fine,” I thought to myself. “I just escaped from this place and here I am back providing muscle back up for an angry man who is probably going to pop someone in the nose and get us both shot.”

Fortunately there were a lot of words before any action and the Sheriff’s deputy showed up with siren blasting. It would all be settled in court. I was still in one piece. My experience at facing armed men would make a good story.

And, unknown to me at the time, it would help prepare me for being a student at Berkeley.

Next blog: The strange world of Berkeley in 1963.