A Choice: Graduate or Go to Jail… The MisAdventure Series

I wasn’t expecting a tour of Placerville’s City Hall and the police parking lot on my day of graduation from high school. But as they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray…”

As you read this, I am out on the road doing some last minute route checks for my thousand mile backpack trek. So, I am effectively off the net until I put up my first post from the trail in a week or so. See you then! –Curt

 

My graduation from high school almost didn’t happen. The student strike I had organized wasn’t the issue. It was good practice for my future at UC Berkeley. Nor was it my grades. While mine had dropped somewhat when I simultaneously rediscovered girls, developed an aversion to algebraic equations and became allergic to chemistry labs, I was still floating along somewhere in the top ten percent of the class.

My problem was with the law, or, in this case, Mike De Natly, the Placerville Chief of Police. I had my run in with him on the very day I was to graduate. Of course, it was a goof off day. All the tests were over, yearbooks signed, and caps and gowns fitted. There really wasn’t much to do except revel in the fact that we were through and to say goodbye to friends. Lunchtime meant a final cruise of Placerville’s Main Street to check out girls, to see and be seen.

What happened was out of character for me. I normally keep my comments on other peoples’ driving habits to myself and car-mates. The horn is for really bad infractions and, on very rare occasions, a single digit comment is appropriate. I would never stick my head out the window and yell at someone. That can get you shot.

But we were hot stuff on graduation day. When a blue car decided to stop in the middle of Placerville’s crowded, narrow downtown street right in front of us, it irritated me. When the driver nonchalantly got out to have a conversation with the driver of the car in front of him, it pushed me over the edge. Out went my head as we edged around the two cars and I had an attack of uncontrollable Y chromosome aggression.

“You SOB,” I yelled, “get your car out of the way!”

So what if I didn’t recognize the Chief of Police out of uniform in an unmarked car. So what if he had stopped to offer help to a guy who had managed to stall his car on Placerville’s busy main street. So what if I had suggested he had canine parentage in a voice that half of Placerville heard. It was an innocent mistake.

“That was Mike De Natly you just cussed out,” our driver managed to stutter with mixed parts of fear and awe.

As a teenager, I had pulled some fairly dumb stunts. Teenagers have a responsibility to push the envelope. It’s the rather awkward method evolution has provided for growing up and developing unique personalities. Mistakes are bound to happen and it’s okay. But I was carrying my responsibility too far; I had gone beyond dumb and plunged into really stupid.

How dumb do you have to be to cuss out the police of chief of a town that is known as Hangtown?

A hundred years earlier, I might have found myself next to this guy. He was hanging there in 1961 and is still hanging there today.! Would-be hoodlums beware!

“Keep driving,” I uttered with all the hope of the irrevocably damned, “maybe he is too busy and will ignore us.”

Sure, like maybe the sun won’t rise tomorrow. The poor stalled guy could still be sitting in the middle of Placerville for all of the attention the police chief paid to him after my little admonition. De Natly jumped in his car, slapped his flashing light on his roof, hit his siren and sped after us. Not that he needed to speed fast or far. We were creeping up Main Street in sheer terror about one block away. I am sure my car-mates were wishing fervently that one Curtis Mekemson hadn’t gotten out of bed that morning, had never made their acquaintance, and was, at that very moment, facing a group of starving cannibals in some far-off jungle.

We pulled over with De Natly literally parked on our rear bumper and resigned ourselves to the firing squad. Luckily, for my friends, the Chief had no interest in them. He appeared at my window red-faced and shouting about five inches away. Under the best of circumstances, he was known for having a temper and these were not the best of circumstances.

“Get out of that car,” he yelled. “Get out right now!”

I moved fast. This was not the time for bravery and stubbornness. It was a time to be humble— it was groveling time. And I groveled with the best. I blathered out apologies and managed to work “sir” into every sentence, several times. I trotted out my friendship with his stepson, I threw in the City Treasurer who was a mentor, and I even brought in Father Baskin, the Episcopal minister, as a character reference.

“Get in my car,” he ordered. My groveling seemed to be having minimal impact. At least he hadn’t handcuffed me.

We drove up to City Hall and I had visions of being booked and thrown into a cell with some big hulking giant who either didn’t like young men or liked them too much. I thought of having to call my parents and explain how their son had become a common criminal. But De Natly had an even more diabolical plan in mind. We slowly made a turn through the police parking lot to give me a sense of my future fate and then, to my surprise, hopped on Highway 50 to Canal Street and drove up to the high school. I was going to have to explain my actions to the Principal. My chances of graduating that night slipped another notch. I doubted that the Principal would have much of a sense of humor about one of his students cussing out the Chief of Police. But explaining my inexplicable actions to the Principal would have been mercy in comparison to what happened.

It was a beautiful late spring day, this last day of school, and it seemed like half of the student body and a significant portion of teachers were enjoying their lunches on the expansive lawn in front of the school. De Natly pulled up to the sidewalk beside the lawn and ordered me out. The Chief of Police arriving with me in tow was enough to capture the attention of several students sitting close by. Then he made sure that everyone was aware of our presence.

“Do you want to spend the night in jail or graduate, Curtis?” he asked in a voice that was easily equivalent in volume to the one that I had used in suggesting he move his car. Conversation on the lawn came to a dead halt. Every ear in the place honed in on us with the intensity that a cat reserves for a potential mouse dinner. And I was the mouse. This was a Kodak moment, not to be missed. My answer was easy: Of course, I wanted to graduate, SIR. And so it went, De Natly barking questions with the voice of an army sergeant and me responding as the lowest of recruits. Finally, after a few minutes that felt like eternity, the Chief got in his car and drove away. I was left to deal with the not so gentle humor of the students and faculty plus a Principal who wasn’t quite sure whether he should take over where De Natly left off or laugh at my predicament. At least he had the grace to wait until I left his office before he chose the latter. I could hear his laughter echoing down the empty hallways. And yes, I was allowed to graduate that night.

This concludes my MisAdventure series for now. On Sunday, I start my 1,000-mile backpack trip and in a week or so, my posts from the trail should start arriving. Please join me as I make my way south following the Pacific Crest Trail.  It will be an adventure!

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Trail Angels of the Pacific Coast Trail… I Have My Own

I am ever so lucky to have my wife, Peggy, out on the route supporting me. Most PCT hikers mail their resupply to Post Offices along the way. Peggy will be at trailheads to supply mine plus give me a day’s break from hiking. I suspect that there will be a cold beer in there as well.

 

People who go out of their way to support through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail are known as Trail Angels. My barber, Ed McBee, is such a person. He has written a book on vehicle access locations on the PCT in Oregon. But, more to the point, he also goes out on the trail to greet through-hikers and provide them with fresh food and cold beer. One of his favorite locations is on the Oregon-California border. Trekkers who reach there have hiked from the Mexican border and are ready to celebrate! Knowing how much a cold brew is appreciated out on the trail, I contributed to Ed’s beer fund last summer.

Ed is now working on a book about people doing the PCT. “I feed them hot dogs,” Ed told me. “They are much more likely to talk to me.” I’ll bet. There is no telling what somebody who has been hiking 20-30 miles a day while living off of backpacking food will do for a hot dog! Now, make that a beer and a hot dog…!

Backpacking food is adequate for getting down the trail. Just barely. I have never seen a fat through-hiker. The food has to be light and compact to carry on your back. And while you try to find high calorie food, it’s hard to pack much more that 2 to 3,000 calories for each day. Now, consider that you are burning 4-6,000 calories, daily. Hot Dog? Bring it on!

Below is what my food for 90 days looks like. I tried to compromise between things I like and things that might be a little healthy. Those Oreos you see in the back certainly don’t meet the second criteria,  but they are a treat. I’ll be eating two per night, along with my 16 ounce cup of tea. (When I was a poor student at UC Berkeley ever so long ago, lunch was always a cup of coffee, a baloney sandwich and four Oreos.) The #10 can you see in the back is chicken teriyaki. It includes 10 dinner’s worth of food. Instructions are: Add one cup of the freeze-dried dinner to 3/4 cup of boiling-hot water. Cover. Wait 4 minutes. Stir. Cover and wait another 8 minutes. Eat. Life is pretty darn simple out on the trail.

Peggy organized my food for me while I was taking care of other miscellaneous chores and then took this photo. It’s what I will be eating on the trail over the next three months.

Here is the resupply packed in the van. Our sofa/bed comes down and actually covers the food.

Most PCT-ers would kill to have the kind of back-up I will have on my thousand-mile trip. I have my own trail angel, Peggy. Once a week or so, she will meet me where the PCT crosses a road and resupply my food, plus have a cold beer ready (grin). Our plan for most resupplies is to work in a layover day where I can shower, wash clothes, pack in some calories (imagine being able to eat whatever you want to eat), and put up a post or two on my previous week’s experience.

Peggy assumes her ‘where is Curt’ pose. She sees her role as backup (when she isn’t hiking with me) as her own adventure since she will be traveling and camping on her own.

Who knows!? Actually I carry an emergency Spot geo-tracker that I can use in an emergency, if needed, and can keep Peggy and family informed of where I am each night.

Anyway, here I am in black and white, ready to hit the trail. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I even developed my own ‘business card’ for the trail. (grin) The photo is taken from our front patio. Next week I will be hiking around the mountains you can see in the distance on my way south!

FRIDAY’S POST: I wrap up my MisAdventure series for the summer. Was I actually able to stay out of jail on my graduation day from high school.

SUNDAY’S POST: I am going to reblog a really nice post from my friend and fellow-blogger out of Sedona, Arizona, JoHanna Massey, that she wrote in support of my journey.

 

On Dates, Squished Skunks, and Flat Cats… The Misadventure Series

At this point, down where the speed limit sign is, I ran over a skunk in the summer of 1958, undoubtably impressing the young woman I was on a date with.

Do you remember your first dates in high school? Were they roaring successes or unmitigated disasters? I suspect probably somewhere in between. But I doubt you ran over a skunk. As you may recall, I had no dates my freshman year. In fact, girls scared the heck out of me. Things began to brighten up the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, however. Read on…

 

I actually had a couple of real dates the summer of my freshman-sophomore year thanks to Paula and mom. Her mother was obviously encouraging the process. Our first date was a joint activity that included Mom, Boyfriend, Paula and me going out to dinner in the small town of Sutter Creek, about twenty miles away from Diamond Springs over curvy Highway 49. After we filled up on Italian food, Mom and Boyfriend promptly climbed in the back and suggested I drive home.

Small foothill towns like Sutter Creek along California’s historic Highway 49 are fun to visit and often have great restaurants.

“Um,” I noted nervously, “I only have a learner’s permit.”

“That’s okay, it will be good practice,” Mom jumped in and stated before I could add that I had just obtained the permit the week before.

Paula, meanwhile, was waiting for me to open the door for her on the passenger side of the car. She gave me an encouraging smile and my options dropped to zero. Any further hesitation would appear wimpy. After doing the gentlemanly thing for Paula, I dutifully climbed into the driver’s seat and miraculously found the keyhole and lights. Minimal gear grinding got us out of town and I breathed an audible sigh of relief. We had made it just past Plymouth when I ran over the skunk. He reeked revenge by becoming a virtuoso of glandular activity.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Boyfriend said as the first powerful whiffs of eau de skunk came blasting through the air vents, “it happens all of the time.”

“Yeah, sure,” I mumbled to myself through tongue-biting teeth, “young men always run down skunks on first dates, especially first dates with Mom and Boyfriend along.”

Fortunately, I made it home without further incident. Before continuing my ‘Perils with Paula’ story, however, I am going to digress to a similar odoriferous event that took place in the same general area some 25 years later. While working for the American Lung Association of Sacramento, I had created what is known as the Trek Program, a series of multi-day outdoor adventures that people go on as fundraisers. At the time this particular event took place, I was living in Alaska and ALA Sacramento had hired George and Nancy Redpath out of Davis, California to run its Treks. They had a popular three-day bicycling event that incorporated a portion of the same route that I had traveled the night of the fateful skunk incident. To add another element of fun to their Trek, the Redpaths had incorporated a roadside scavenger hunt with a sail-cat as one of the items.

To the uninitiated, a sail-cat is a cat that has had a close encounter with a logging truck’s wheels, after which it resembles a furry pancake with legs. Given several days of curing in the Sierra foothill sun, the cat can actually be picked and sailed in much the same way you would a Frisbee, hence the name. Although tossing one has provided dogs with a new way to chase cats and play Frisbee at the same time, it is a sport without many adherents. Even dogs have serious reservations.

Not surprisingly, one Trekker managed to find a sail cat, load it on his bike, and dutifully turn it in at the end of the day. The person won the scavenger hunt, which he should have considering his extended association with an umpteen-day dead cat. But this is not the end of the story. Two other couples became involved in the dead cat saga. I’ll call them Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice to protect the innocent.

Bob and Carol finished the Trek, hopped in their car and naively drove home that evening unaware that they were carrying a fellow traveler. When they arrived back in Sacramento and opened their trunk, lo and behold, there was the dead cat. Bob and Carol had a good idea it was Ted and Alice who had stowed the unwanted passenger in their car. They vowed to get even. As it turned out, both couples had spouses who worked for the State of California. A devious plot was hatched. The next day Ted received one of those large, inner office forwarding envelopes in his in-basket. It was rather bulky so he opened it with interest. Out slid the sail cat, your tax dollars at work.

Unlike Aunt Tilley’s fruitcake, the cat apparently ended his strange after-life journey at that point.

Likewise, one might assume that running over the skunk would have ended my relationship with Paula. But there was one more date. It is a testimony to how much Paula’s mother was committed to the relationship that she loaned us her car, which I drove illegally on my learner’s permit. Paula and I went on an old-fashioned picnic to Buck’s Bar, a 49er-mining site on the Consumnes River. I actually had a young woman, out in the woods, alone. It was my fantasy date. As far as I can recall though, and I would recall otherwise, I behaved myself disgustingly well. So did Paula.

The Consumnes River. My kind of place to go on a date.

You won’t want to miss next Friday’s post where I wrap up my MisAdventure series for now. I actually survive high school and on graduation day am offered a choice (in front of the student body): Graduate or go to jail.

TUESDAY’S POST: It’s time. My thousand my trek starts on June 17th! Am I ready?

A Pear Picker’s Guide to Mental, if not Physical, Balance… The MisAdventures Series

I am in the middle of the top row, here, looking a bit awkward and geeky. The group is our men’s ensemble from chorus. My brother, Marshall, btw, is in the center of the bottom row. He was a senior when I was a freshman and this was about the only time our paths crossed in high school.

 

As I have reported in MisAdventures, my freshman year of high school was something of a disaster. My social life tanked, dance class sucked, my political aspirations were reduced to running a friend’s campaign, and my success in sports was mediocre at best. I became depressed, although I didn’t recognize the condition at the time.

 

A number of things combined to pull me out of the doldrums. For one, I ceased being a freshman. Hormones slowed down, my voice abandoned octave leaps and I bought a pair of contact lenses. Academics were a plus, even during my freshman year. Lacking a social life, I studied full-time and managed to get straight A’s. If I couldn’t be ‘ruler of everything,’ ‘sex symbol’ or ‘sports hero,’ maybe I could at least be ‘the brain.’ Was I driven or what?

I also believe that having a job helped. I began working in the pear orchards around Placerville starting the summer of my eighth grade graduation and continuing through high school. The general rule in our cash poor family was that basics were covered. We were responsible for the extras. My income went toward clothing, books and entertainment. Later, the money I earned paid for my college education.

Pear picking consisted of hazardous duty without hazardous pay. We were each given a 12-foot ladder, a sizing ring, and as many boxes as we could fill. The pears we plucked from the trees were placed in a canvas bag that fit around our front like a pregnant belly and carried up to 50 pounds. We had the option of working by the hour at $.90 per hour or by the box at $.20 per box. I chose the latter under the assumption I could earn more.

The ladder was a suicidal three-legged device with two legs playing standard ladder while the third served as a balancing arm we threw out to provide ‘stability.’ I use the quote marks here because the stability was questionable. There was always a chance that you, your bag of pears, and the ladder would come crashing down. The first few rungs were solid; it was on the top four that life became interesting. Even here it was tolerably safe, assuming you focused on easily reachable pears.

The problem was that the best pears had a way of hiding away in the highest, most unreachable part of the tree.  Such premium fruit couldn’t be left hanging, even if it meant taking risks. Success meant performing a one-legged-ballet-balancing act. I became quite proficient at the move. Only once did I reach beyond the imagination of my ladder and follow a rapid descent path straight to the ground. Fortunately, the only limbs broken belonged to the tree. I wrote the experience off as a lesson in Newtonian gravity.

A greater challenge was entertaining myself for nine hours a day. Reaching out and picking a pear requires a minimum number of brain cells and very few of those are located in the frontal lobes. My favorite ploy was singing at the top of my voice. Harry Bellefonte’s tune about picking bananas was a natural but I also belted out many other popular tunes of the day.  “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight” was a mistake. I couldn’t get it out of my mind; I would wake up in the middle of the night humming it. To this day I have to be careful in bringing it up or it is right back there on the tip of my tongue, waiting to escape. Like now.

A more productive form of amusement was challenging myself to pear picking contests. The more I picked the more money I made. When the fruit was plentiful and well sized, I could pick 60-80 boxes a day and earn big money, $12-$16. Once I even reached a magical 100 boxes. My goal was to try to match the professional pickers, the folks who made a living helping harvest crops. On really good days, I almost could. Over my five-year career in the pear orchards I worked with Filipino crews, Braceros, and the usual contingent of semi-nomadic types who followed the various crops as they ripened from state to state. Most were good, even excellent workers. Of course, there was also the occasional guy who worked just long enough to buy a gallon of Red Mountain Wine and then disappear.

After my first year of working in the fruit orchards I graduated to swamper status, which meant I delivered empty boxes to the pear pickers and took out their full boxes. I also learned such fine skills as tractor driving, tree trimming, sprinkler changing, post hole digging and crew bossing. And, I might add, enjoyed most of it. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from doing hard work, challenging your body, and being dead-tired at night. I also gained a farmer’s satisfaction that comes from seeing a crop evolve from spring bloom to fall harvest. And finally, as my pear orchard responsibilities increased, the work helped me overcome the puberty blues and regain my confidence. Becoming buff didn’t hurt either. Picking pears and stacking 50 pound boxes above my head guaranteed muscles from my big toes to my hair follicles.

Almost on cue, girls reappeared in my life. Admittedly it was a slow process, in fact far too slow for my hormone driven fantasies. But there the girls were, tentatively giving me the eye and practicing a wiggle or two to see if anyone was home. There was.

TUESDAY’S POST: I will finish up the Rogue River series

FRIDAY’S POST: I go on my first high school date the summer between my freshman and sophomore year— and promptly run over a skunk.

Hiking the Rogue River Trail… Part 2: From Horseshoe Bend to the Rogue River Ranch

A view of the Rogue River from our camp on Quail Creek.

 

Today marks the second of my three-part series on hiking down the Rogue River Trail. It’s a beautiful 40-mile hike, best done in the spring or the fall. Peggy and I made a leisurely six-day backpack trip out of it, both to enjoy the beauty and to condition our bodies for our summer of backpacking where I will be hiking 1000 miles from Mt. Ashland to Mt. Whitney. Peggy will be joining me for parts of it plus doing back-up, a true trail angel!

 

Dark skies were suggesting rain when we rolled out of our tent at six. ‘Rolling out’ is a good description. My sore muscles and creaky joints were complaining about our first two days of hiking down the Rogue River Trail. They refused to cheerfully jump up; they threatened to go on strike. I told them to behave or I would double the number of miles they had to travel and cut off their Ibuprofen. They whimpered— but the Ibuprofen got their attention.

I have yet to tell them that they are going on a thousand-mile backpack trip this summer. And I may not, at least until the first 500 miles are over.

Things began to morph. My down pillow of the night before became my down jacket. My Thermarest air mattress changed into a comfy breakfast chair. Fifty years of backpacking have taught me that anything that can serve multiple purposes is a good thing. Routine is also good. I had packed my sleeping bag, clothes and personal items before leaving the tent. Now they were waiting to be packed into my backpack. Right after I put my chair together, I went to gather our food.

It was dutifully waiting in the middle of the ranger-built, electric fence enclosure. No bears had made a feast of it. Either they hadn’t been by to visit or they truly don’t like being zapped. I suspect that a tender nose coming in contact with a live wire is not a pleasant experience. If I were a bear, I’d skedaddle out of there on all fours and look for a ranger to eat.

Breakfast was next; I’m the camp cook. My job description is to boil up two 32 ounce pots of water per day, one for breakfast and one for dinner. Takes about five minutes each. Peggy arrived from doing her chores about the time the pot began to boil. We sifted through our food bags and pulled out instant oatmeal, breakfast bars, Starbuck’s instant coffee, and dried apricots. The latter are to help keep us digging cat holes. “Meow.” Or maybe I should say, “Purr.’” Being regular out on the trail is important.

The literature had promised an outhouse at Horseshoe Bend, but it had been decommissioned, i.e. filled up. The same is happening with the other ‘bathrooms’ that the trail maps promote along the river. Be prepared. Rafters are expected to carry their own port-a-pots. Backpackers are left with digging cat holes. We are used to it. Watch out for the poison oak. (grin)

With breakfast over, we took down the tent and packed up. A few drops of rain encouraged us to put on our rain jackets and pack covers. It promised to be a cool day, which was welcome after the heat of the first two days.

The trail continued its ups and downs, starting with the very steep up we had hiked down the evening before. At times our route dropped almost to the river. The closer we got, the thicker the poison oak and blackberries grew.  Peggy and I stopped and laughed at one point. The blackberries were occupying a third of the trail and the poison oak the other, leaving only a few inches for passage. It was like the plants had an agreement to drive you toward one or the other. We chose the blackberries on the theory that it is much better to suffer a few scratches than be covered in an itchy rash.

We also crossed several recent slide areas where the trail was minimal, about a shoe wide. Careful attention was called for and looking down not recommended. On one slide area, a tree trunk was stretched across the trail, forcing us to balance precariously while climbing over. It was not for the faint-hearted, or for people with a fear of heights.

Beyond that the trail was quite pleasant; passing through woodlands, providing dramatic views of the river, and crossing over brooks and streams on attractive bridges. Once again, cheerful flowers kept us company.

We found that the bridges along the trail were well built and fit in with the environment. This is Meadow Creek Bridge.

Another view of the Meadow Creek bridge.

Peggy on the Kelsey Creek bridge looking down at the water. A rain cover is on her backpack. It never did rain.

Our views of the river ranged from raging rapids…

…to more tranquil scenes.

A number of flowers were found beside the trail, including this wild rose…

This Pretty Face brodiaea…

And a Columbine.

A snack at Ditch Creek provided this view of several small waterfalls tumbling down the hill. Zane Grey’s cabin was a mile or so down the trail.

We missed Zane Grey’s cabin. The trail to it wasn’t marked and we weren’t paying attention to our map. Too bad. I had been an avid fan of his cowboy books during the Western phase of my youth. Such classics as Riders of the Purple Sage had kept me glued to my seat as good triumphed over evil in the Old West of six-gun justice. Grey had used the cabin as a fishing lodge in the 1920s. He even wrote a book about the area, Rogue River Feud.

Our campsite that night on Quail Creek made up for missing the cabin. Located on the edge of the Rogue River, it provided the striking view that is featured in the photo at the beginning of this post. Geese, buzzards, rafters and lizards provided entertainment. The buzzards seemed to be following us. “Maybe they think we are old,” I suggested to Peggy, which elicited a snort. The lizards were just curious, checking out all of our gear and climbing up on convenient rocks to watch us.

Rafters waved at us from the Rogue as they passed our camp on Quail Creek.

And a pair of Canadian Geese kept their offspring in a careful line.

The morning part of our hike the next day took us in to the Rogue River Ranch, which is a gem. Now on the National Register of Historic Places and operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the ranch was established in the early 1900s by George and Sarah Billings, becoming a lodge for travelers, the post office, and a social center for a small but growing community. In 1927, Billings sold the house to Stanley Anderson, the builder and owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. The Andersons upgraded the property and used it to entertain their friends from Los Angeles and Hollywood up until 1970, when they sold it to the BLM.

An old barn on the Rogue River Ranch. One of the volunteer caretakers, Sally, can be seen raking up grass the old fashioned way. It went with the barn.

A close up of Sally.

Looking toward the river from the ranch.

Sally and Frank, the volunteer caretakers for the ranch, took a break from raking up grass and gave us an overview of its history. Peggy and I then visited the main house that had been turned into a museum. I was amused to find this description of the one room upstairs lodge provided by an early visitor:

When the place was full at night, it was a nightmare. There was almost continuous coughing, snoring, grinding of teeth, urinating in a can or out the window, and other night noises. There always seemed to be someone walking around the room or to the window or stairways, which shook the floor and building. Sound sleep for any length of time was impossible.

Not quite as fancy as the modern lodges that are found along the river today. But then again, three meals and a bed for the night could be had for a dollar, a far cry from the $150 plus per person charged today by the resorts.

A view of the main house at Rogue River Ranch. A single large room upstairs provided lodging for early travelers.

The ‘Tabernacle’ is located behind the house. This building served as a barn for horses and mules on the first floor and a meeting hall, dance floor, and church on the second floor. Today the building houses a number of artifacts.

Such as this old coffin…

A pot bellied stove…

And cooking stoves.

I’ll close today with a view of Mule Creek, which flows beside the Rogue River Ranch. The creek was named after a mule named John who wandered off and became lost. The story has a happy ending. Several years later his owner found him. I assume they lived happily ever after.

 

FRIDAY’S POST: What does a skunk have to do with my first date in high school. The MisAdventure series.

TUESDAY’S POST: I’ll wrap up my Rogue River series.

Bleeding Like a Speared Mammoth… The Chemistry of MisAdventures

Miss Wilkerson, my high school chemistry teacher, whipping up a batch of something stinky. Oops, sorry, I mean performing a scientific experiment. I liked Miss Wilkerson, in fact, I might have had a slight crush, but I just couldn’t get excited about lab work.

 

Looking back, (hindsight, mind you), I am not too surprised about the paths I chose to follow in my life. But given that science is one of my favorite subjects from a lay perspective (Scientific American, for example, is the only magazine I read cover to cover), I find it a bit perturbing that I was so ready to drop science as a high school and college student.

 

I’ve never required much help in eliminating options from my life. Chemistry was like that. I would have made a good Greek Philosopher, working out problems in my head. Lab work and I don’t get along as a general rule. I quickly learned in high school that I am not particularly fond of long dead frogs pickled in formaldehyde or chemicals that smell worse than an old dog’s fart. But there is more to it than that; I am convinced that good lab technicians are mechanically inclined. They like to tinker.

I have lots of friends like that. They love to take things apart and put them back together. They can fix anything and go out of their way to find things that need repairing. I knew kids in high school that enjoyed tinkering with automobiles.  Ask them anything about carburetors, water pumps, generators, horsepower or timing and they have a ready answer. I admired them for it, but my interest in carburetors was zilch and my primary interest in automobiles was that they get me from point A to point B without breaking down. Still is.

My friend, Tom Lovering, is a dedicated fix-it-man. I can’t imagine him going anywhere without his tool chest. He breaks it out at there slightest provocation and begs to fix things. Here he is with a pickled frog that doesn’t need dissecting. We were in Mexico sampling tequila.

I feel pretty much the same way about other fix-it items. I am just not excited about getting into the bowels of a toilet and replacing its thing-a-ma-bob. Nor am I interested in replacing light switches to see how much voltage I can send coursing through my body. Yeah, yeah, I know; you turn off the electricity first.

I am not sure where this lack of enthusiasm for things mechanical came from but it was probably a combination of aptitude and attitude. My father wasn’t particularly fond of working on automobiles and some of that may have rubbed off. But he was very handy. In addition to being a skilled electrician he loved puttering around outside making things. I classify all such activities as chores to be avoided if at all possible. In fact, over the years I have developed a number of strategies for not having to fix things. Here are a few. You may find them valuable if you are a mechanically disinclined male.

 

  • Don’t own any tools. You might be tempted to use them, or even worse, someone such as a wife might suggest that you use them.
  • Don’t buy a house. Every scientific study ever done confirms that the single most important reason for having to fix things is owning your own home. I was 53 years old before I made that mistake, and then it was a condo with minimal fix-it responsibilities.*
  • If something doesn’t work, go buy a new one.
  • Plead ignorance. “What do you mean there is more than one kind of screw driver?” As a corollary, hide your repair manuals. Peggy has the irritating habit of looking up things that need fixing and then saying sweetly, “Oh, this looks easy to do, Curt.”  My manliness has been challenged. It doesn’t matter that this ‘easy’ chore requires that I make four trips to the hardware store, purchase $500 worth of new tools, work ten hours straight and injure myself at least once.  I have to do it.
  • Curse a lot. Your partner may figure that leaving something broken is easier than listening to you.
  • Stall. “I’ll do it right after I cook your dinner, honey.” Stalling is easier if you are doing something the other person finds desirable.
  • If all else fails, compromise. I have an agreement with Peggy that I will do one manly chore per month. That’s my quota. Some activities such as fixing toilets even earn two months of credit.

 

* Unfortunately, these rules no longer apply. Eight years ago, Peggy and I decided to buy a home on five-acres of property. Everything I feared about home ownership has come to fruition. I now have a shed full of tools and have to use them. Sigh. The good news here is that Peggy loves to repair things. Just a wee bit of procrastination…

Even my hobbies as a kid reflected my non-mechanical tendencies. Building model ships, airplanes, cars, trains, etc. had no interest. My concept of a great hobby was rock collecting. I would hike along the Southern Pacific railroad tracks and pick up interesting rocks until all four pockets were bulging and my pants were about to fall off. I would then go home and smash them apart with a hammer to figure out what I had found. Geology became a life-long interest.

I do understand the arguments for being able to fix things: saving money, being self-sufficient, and obtaining satisfaction from a job well done. These same arguments, however, apply to going out in the pasture, shooting Elsie the Cow, gutting her, bringing home the meat, grinding it up and throwing it on the grill. Just think of the satisfaction involved and dollars saved! Or, you can go to the local fast food joint and help employ a kid who might otherwise turn to a life of crime.

Now, back to chemistry, one day we had to shove little glass tubes through rubber stoppers. Apparently, this is an important skill for budding chemists. It’s not a difficult task if you ignore the fact that the holes in the stoppers are approximately half the diameter of the glass tubes and, more importantly, you have a gallon of Vaseline. I was half way through my first masterpiece when the damn tube broke and ended up jabbed into my hand. Bleeding like a speared mammoth, I was carted off to the emergency room of the local hospital and sewn up.

There was plenty of time while sitting in ER to contemplate my future as a scientist. My conclusion: there wasn’t one. I decided that the best way to avoid long-dead animals, smelly chemicals and miscellaneous dangerous objects (not to mention higher level math skills) would be to choose a career that depended on verbal agility. In other words, my future would be based solely on my ability to bullshit. I determined then and there I would either become a politician or a writer.

TUESDAY’S POST: Part 2 of the Rogue River Trail series.

FRIDAY’S POST: MisAdventures: I rediscover girls and run over a skunk on my first ‘date.’

Hiking the Rogue River Trail: Part 1… Over the Side I Went!

The Rogue River is noted for both its beauty and its rapids. The Rogue River Trail has been cut into the steep sides of the canyon, providing spectacular views of the river as well as an introduction to the interesting plant and animal life of the region.

 

Peggy and I backpacked down the 40-mile Rogue River Trail last week. It has been on her bucket list ever since she rafted down the Rogue a few years ago. I, too, wanted to explore the area but also needed to do a conditioning trip for my thousand mile backpack trip from Mt. Ashland to Mt. Whitney this summer. My new gear and my 75-year-old body needed to be tested. Both worked, more or less. This is the first of 3-4 posts on the trip.

The Rogue River Trail starts from a large paved parking lot named Grave Creek.  (The daughter of a pioneer was buried nearby in 1846, thus the ‘Grave.’) The site is mainly used as a kick off point for people rafting the river. No surprise. This section of the Rogue is world-famous for its rafting. And the majority of people traveling this way prefer to have a raft carry their food and gear as opposed to carrying it on their back. As my friend Tom Lovering the boatman says, “Why wouldn’t they?”

We arrived at 11:00, an hour later than I had hoped, and the sun was beating down mercilessly. Summer had arrived early, it seemed. The day before had been yet another cool spring day. We had been whining that it was never warming up! Go figure. I could see the trail snaking up the side of the canyon without an iota of shade. Peggy and I futzed around: slathering on sun-block, filling our water bottles, putting on our boots, and taking advantage of the out-house (twice). But inevitably, the time arrived, as it always does; we shouldered our packs and headed up the trail.

The beginning of the Rogue River Trail as seen from the Grave Creek parking lot. Up and in the sun.

Face it, backpacking can resemble work. There’s a part of your mind that lets you know this when you load everything you will need to live in the woods for a week on your back and start hoofing it up a mountain in the hot sun. Mine usually has some unprintable comments for me. If it’s the first trip of the year, if you are out of shape, or if you are over 50, the mind might even say a bit more. Well, Peggy and I were in fairly good shape (score one for us), but it was our first trip of the year, and, at 67 for Peggy and 75 for me, we definitely resembled the over-50 crowd.

There are also rewards, of course, otherwise people wouldn’t go backpacking unless they were forced to— or had masochistic tendencies. “Ah yes, pain, bring it on!” They’d stay home in front of their big screen TVs and veg, or write blogs. While our trail shot up the mountain, it also provided us with great views of the Rogue River. And we soon noted an abundance of wild flowers. The trail even seemed to flatten out a bit and trees provided welcome shade.

Peggy at the beginning of the trail with the Grave Creek Rapids behind her. A few years earlier I had waved good-by to her as the rapids grabbed her boat.

The canyon walls were often covered with flowers, especially if springs provided a bit of moisture.

The yellow flowers above are monkey flowers, one of my favorites, as you’ve probably noted from past posts. A friend once told me you can hear them say “eek,eek, eek” if you listen. I’ve never heard them, but I still listen. (grin)

These colorful stonecrop flowers also decorated the cliff sides. Their succulent leaves provide water for dry times.

More shaded spots provided a variety of brightly colored iris flowers. This is a golden iris. We found several other varieties along the way. You will see more!

Shaded trails like this one provided welcome relief from the more exposed sections of the path.

As did the frequent cool streams along the way. We stopped often to refill our water bottles. (Water along the route needs to be filtered.)

Most of the streams have bridges built over them, which eliminates the issue of fording.  I’ll show several in the next posts. Many were quite attractive.

It was a river trail, however, and that means ups and downs. They come with the territory. I was on a down when the accident happened. The path had dropped to maybe 50 feet above the river and the sheer drop-off cliff had switched to a steep embankment. My left foot, i.e. the foot on the river side, slipped on some loose gravel. No biggie. Years of trail hiking have given me an automatic sense of balance and fancy foot-work to deal with such contingencies. This time, however, I was using walking poles and I set the left one to provide the necessary balance.

The next thing I knew, I was toppling over. Peggy, who was behind me, said it was in slow motion, like I had fainted, or suffered a heart attack, or had a stroke. You can imagine how she felt. I didn’t have a clue what had happened. All I knew was that I suddenly found myself stomach down, head first on a crash course for the river. You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes in such circumstances? All that flashed in front of mine was another 40 feet of rocky slope topped off by a cold bath. Not good. I would have loved to have had my pack where I could have used it for a brake. But it was on my back, along for a free ride. Whoopee! Packs are like that. I used my left arm instead, pressing it down. I could feel the rocks ripping off my skin. But it worked. I slid on for a couple of more feet and stopped.

“Are you okay?” Peggy yelled. Apparently, I didn’t answer quickly enough because she threw off her pack and scrambled down. I was busy checking out my arm. It looked a bit like hamburger. To paraphrase an old Tex Ritter cowboy song, there was blood on my pack and blood on the ground, there was blood on my arm and blood all around. But the arm felt fine. At least it wasn’t broken or gushing. Peggy helped me get my pack off and I stood up and carried it back to the trail while she gathered up my walking poles.

We hiked back up to some shade and I took out my water bottle and washed my arm off. Good news. It was mainly a scrape with some 14 small cuts providing the blood. Only one seemed worthy of attention. Another couple came by at that moment. “My husband is a nurse,” the woman announced. He glanced at my arm, pronounced “You aren’t going to bleed to death,” and hurried on. So much for the medical profession, I thought. Peggy smeared on Neosporin and slapped a band-aid on the larger cut. We were good to go.

We hiked down a few feet and I picked up my walking poles. One was considerable shorter than the other. And then it struck me. The left pole had collapsed when I had shoved it into the ground for balance, and I had collapsed with it. There is probably something in bold letters, or at least the fine print that suggests you check them before use. Otherwise, the poles would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. I was relieved to know that the cause of the fall was the poles and not me!

Eventually we reached our first night’s camp, a lovely tree-shaded site below Whiskey Creek. Booze Creek is the next stream down, which may say something about the early gold miners that populated the area. We got out our flask of Irish cream liquor and toasted them— and ourselves, for surviving day one. Chores that evening included setting up camp, a quick, soap-less rinse of our clothes and selves in the icy river, and dinner. At one point, I had the mother of all cramps, as my leg protested against what it was sure was abuse. Were we having fun, or what? It was early to bed. Peggy crawled in at the sign of the first mosquito. I hung out for another hour or so.

Every bird in the world arrived at our camp at 5 a.m. the next morning and immediately burst into song. It was a virtual cacophony of noise as each bird competed with the next over who could trill the loudest and the longest. I rolled over and pretended to go back to sleep.  We crawled out at six and started our second day.

It was a lot like day one except I managed to stay on the trail. The trail continued its ups and downs, climbing down to cross streams and immediately back up afterwards. Once again it was hot. We were treated to great views of the river.

There were many more views of the river on the second day such as this, which featured rapids that the river runners love so much.

At one point, I spotted a snake out of the corner of my eye beside me on the trail. There is something primeval about seeing snakes, especially when they surprise you. Alarms go off deep in your brain while your leg muscles bunch up for a humongous leap. Almost simultaneously, I recognized that this fellow was one of the good guys, a king snake. I thought ‘photo-op.’ It’s difficult to photograph snakes when Peggy is around. She gets nervous. “Don’t get too close, Curt,” she urged. “It might bite you.” Possibly, if I grabbed it by the tail. But king snakes prefer to crush their food, winding around them like a boa constrictor. That’s what they do to rattlesnakes, even rattlesnakes that are bigger than they are. And then they swallow them, whole. I’d like to see that. Apparently, they are impervious to the venom.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a snake making its way along the edge of the trail…

Having noticed me, the snake made his way up the cliff, providing ample opportunity for me to take pictures. The closer I got, the more nervous Peggy became. I don’t know what the snake thought.

Later, Peggy noticed a large slug. At first we thought it was a banana slug, given its size. Banana slugs are well known as the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz, a fact I love. You really have to like a college that selects a slug as its mascot. But our guy/gal lacked the characteristic yellow color. It seemed fat. “Maybe she’s pregnant,” Peggy mused, which led me to wonder how slugs mated. “Slowly,” Peggy suggested.

This large slug checked out Peggy while I took its photo. The walking pole is Peggy’s. Mine stayed affixed to the back of my pack after the accident for the whole trip.

Our greatest excitement of the day was getting from the trail down to our campsite at Horseshoe Bend. It was a long way down, and apparently, the Bureau of Land Management adheres to the philosophy that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Anything resembling a switchback was totally coincidental. The trail was so steep in places that we had to side step. We eventually arrived in one piece and discovered a new way of protecting our food from bears. It was shocking. BLM had created a small enclosure with an electric fence. I sat up that evening hoping to see a bear try to break in. No such luck.

Peggy provides her commentary on the trail down to Horseshoe Bend.

The electrified enclosure built to keep hungry bears away from rafters’ and backpackers’ food.

Do you think bears can read?

Our new, ultralight Big Agnes tent overlooking the Rogue River at Horseshoe Bend. We love the tent! It is big enough for the two of us (we like each other), and light enough that i can carry it to use as a solo tent.

The view from our campsite…

And finally, for those of you who were concerned about Bone being left behind this summer, here he is, happily ensconced in one of my belt pouches, peering out like a baby kangaroo.

 

FRIDAY’S POST: Smelly chemicals and long dead frogs discourage me from pursuing a career in science in the MisAdventure series.

TUESDAY’S POST: Part 2 of the Rogue River Trail series.

How in the Heck Did I Get Here? Part 1… The MisAdventure Series

I’ve always enjoyed writing. Here, some of my fellow journalism students are conducting a practice interview with me at El Dorado Union High School where I wrote a column for the newspaper. I have often wondered what my life would have been like had I pursued a career in writing. It’s never too late, right.

Many things determine who we become in life. Sometimes it seems like destiny, but I am more convinced that it is predilection and happenstance. I am a great believer in Joseph Campbell’s ‘follow your bliss.’ Do what makes you happy. Do what you are good at. Genetics can play a big role here, and circumstances even more. It’s much easier to become a billionaire if your parents are. But mentors, the times you are born in, situations you experience, luck, and hard work all have a role to play. I’ve already explored some of the factors that led me down the path I have followed. In today’s and next week’s MisAdventure posts, I continue the exploration.

 

In the fourth grade, I discovered that long division was nasty. I got beyond that but word problems gave me a real complex. Two trains are hurtling at each other on the same track with Train A going 90 miles an hour and Train B going 70. They are 252.5296 miles apart. How long will it be before the Train A conductor says, “Ooooh shit!”  Not nearly as soon as I did. My own expletive arrived on my lips .0000001 seconds after seeing the problem. There was no waving of hands and saying “me, me.” I concentrated intently on sending vibes at the teacher. “Curt is not here today. You do not see Curt. You will not call on Curt.”

Spelling was another personal bugaboo in early elementary school. I inherited my spelling genes from my father who fervently believed that words should be spelled exactly as they sounded. “The hors cant come in the hows becaws he is to big to fit in the dor.” It drove Mother, whose grandfather had been a newspaper publisher, crazy. I learned in the third grade that I could compensate for my handicap by writing the really tough words in the palm of my hand just before spelling tests. After I aced several quizzes, my success became a little too much for my main competition.

“Miss Jones, Miss Jones, Curtis is cheating!” my nemesis announced loudly to the teacher, class and world. Boy, I was beginning to dislike her. Miss Jones solemnly checked my hand before a fast tongue and pants wipe move could destroy the evidence. She was not happy with her Godchild. Apparently, Moses had come down off the mountain with an Eleventh Commandment: Thou shall not cheat on your spelling test.

“Curtis I am giving you an ‘F’ on this test and you are to stay in class during recess the rest of the week,” she announced to me while the competition smirked. It was more than embarrassing; it was devastating. And what valuable lesson did I learn: no amount of effort is too much for revenge.  I spent an exorbitant amount of time on my spelling assignments after that with the sole purpose of beating the obnoxious little fiend. Unfortunately, she was equally inspired. I don’t think either one of us missed a word the whole rest of the year.

There’s an old adage that we are supposed to work hard at those things we find difficult, that it gives us character. My belief is that I already have plenty of character. If I had any more, little men in white coats would be chasing me with nets. I prefer to spend my energies on things I enjoy, like reading a good book or hiking in the wilderness. I have little tolerance for doing things that I don’t do well or fail to interest me. In other words, the Protestant Ethic and I have serious compatibility problems. But I can be stubborn. Math is a good example. I continued plugging away up to my junior year in high school. I even managed to get As in Algebra 1 and Geometry. That’s when I ran head on into Miss Caste, or Nasty Casty as she was known. It was definitely a character building experience.

Miss Caste taught Algebra II and, according to those who were seriously into math, was very good at what she did. Students leaving her class were reputed to have a solid foundation in the basics and be well prepared to move on to the ethereal worlds of calculus and trigonometry. Basics, I quickly learned, meant that there was one way of coming up with answers and that way was chiseled in stone. One did not diverge from accepted formulas or leave out steps; right answers obtained the wrong way were wrong answers. Wrong, wrong, wrong! This created a problem. I had a talent for coming up with right answers the wrong way— and this brought me unwanted attention. I could have lived with the extra attention except for another problem, Miss Caste’s teaching technique. She oozed sarcasm. My response was to freeze up. I started dreading her classes and developed the proverbial ‘bad attitude.’ I received my first C in high school and vowed never to take another math course. Life is short and then you die.

Of course, it was my loss. It was one of those life-altering decisions that speak to the power of teachers to turn students on, or off, to various subjects. I wasn’t a total dunce at math; in fact, I scored in the 98th percentile on the Iowa Test in math the same year. But I certainly wasn’t a genius. I was not going to make a career out of mathematics or jobs that were primarily math based. Unfortunately, I eliminated a number of options, particularly in the fields of higher education, almost all of which required further math.

Next Tuesday’s Post: Hopefully, I will have glowing things to say about Peggy and my 40-mile-hike down the Rogue River: Things like ‘piece of cake,’ ‘no problemo,’ and ‘let me at the PCT!’

FRIDAY’S POST: Bleeding like a speared mammoth, I decide to skip chemistry in the future. The MisAdventure Series

The 2nd 500 Miles on My 1,000 Mile Trek… From Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney

Highway 395 is one of America’s most scenic drives. This view looking up at Mt. Whitney (center top) is one of the reasons why. I’ll be ending my thousand mile trek here. From the top I will hike down several thousand steep feet to Whitney Portal. Peggy plans on being with me for this section of the trail. The hills in the foreground are the Alabama Hills, the backdrop for many of Hollywood’s early Westerns.

 

The first 100-mile backpack trek I ever led was from Squaw Valley to Auburn in 1974. Considering I had 60 people age 11-70 with me and that I had minimal backpacking experience, it was an insane adventure. Our last 50 miles had involved hiking in and out of river canyons with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees F (37.8 C). As steep as the canyons had been, my learning curve was much steeper! I was lucky the participants didn’t kill me. Fortunately, most of them were eager to go again and I went on to lead long distance adventure treks up and down the Sierras and in Alaska for the next 30 years. I limited the participants to a number that was compatible with my sanity and the environment, stayed at higher/cooler elevations, and required that anyone under 16 be accompanied by an adult guardian.

The second half of my thousand mile backpack trip this summer starts at Donner Summit on old Highway 40, some 12 miles away from Squaw Valley. I once had access to a winter cabin in the area and it wasn’t unusual to have 20 or more feet of snow on the ground. The cabin was warm and cozy. The Donner Party of 1847 wasn’t nearly as fortunate. Caught by bad weather, they were forced to camp out for the winter at Donner Lake, seven miles down the road from the summit. By the time they were rescued, half of the group had perished and the remainder had been forced to turn to cannibalism to survive. I’ll make sure that there is plenty of food in my pack.

My journey from here on will all be in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I will pass through a number of wilderness areas plus Yosemite National Park. My last 180 miles will be spent in what is known as the High Sierra, following the John Muir Trail. Here are some ‘eye candy’ photos to introduce you to the beauty of the route.

This photo is from the Granite Chief Wilderness. Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is on the other side of the mountain. The field of yellow flowers is mule ears.

Looking south from Granite Chief, the mountains in the distance are part of Desolation Wilderness, that runs along the west side of Lake Tahoe.

The area is filled with flowers. These are monkey flowers.

And this is a Washington Lily.

Another view of the Desolation Wilderness.

Those who follow my post know I have a weakness for reflection shots. I took this ‘face’ at 4 Q Lakes in the Desolation Wilderness. It’s off the PCT but I may go there for old times’ sake.

I also took this old tree blaze in Desolation Wilderness.

Moving south of Carson Pass, where Kit Carson once ate his dog and his horse, this is part of the Mokelumne Wilderness. The small mountain is known as the Nipple.

One of my favorite hikes on the PCT is between Sonora Pass and Tuolumne Meadows. This is Nancy Pape who may join me for a portion of this year’s journey. As I recall, 1977 was the first year that Nancy trekked with me.

This is a view of Tuolumne River Falls in Yosemite National Park just before Tuolumne Meadows and the beginning of the John Muir Trail.

Some of you have asked if 4.9 ounce Bone will be going on the trek. He was squawking loudly about the possibility of being left behind. I finally conceded, but I told him that it would be a bare-bone journey.

John Muir called the Sierras that he loved to wander through ‘the Range of Light.’

I thought I would add a black and white photo to provide a different perspective on the mountains I will be hiking through. During heavy snow years, which this one isn’t, the passes can be covered with snow and the stream filled with fast flowing water, adding another element of danger to the trip.

This is a view of some of my trekkers making their way over a snow filled pass, carefully. Slipping could have led to a fall of several hundred feet.

In this photo, Peggy makes her way across a fast flowing stream. Water is powerful. It is easy to be swept off your feet. Two through-hikers drowned last year in the southern Sierras.

The incredible beauty of the High Sierra makes the journey worthwhile, however. Always.

Alpenglow lights up a peak.

The view coming down from the John Muir Pass and hiking into Le Conte Canyon. I sprained my ankle once following Peggy as she ‘ran’ down the mountain and ended up hiking 80 miles on it.

Eventually my journey this summer will come to an end as I reach Mt. Whitney. Peggy is pointing out where it is.

This is my 16-year-old nephew Jay Dallen on top of Mt. Whitney. Jay joined me for the last portion of a hike I did from Lake Tahoe to Whitney to celebrate my 60th birthday in 2003. Jay is hoping to join me again this year.

I’ll conclude my preview with this photo looking down from Mt. Whitney.

Peggy and I are out this week backpacking the 40 mile Rogue River Trail. It is both an opportunity to check out our gear and continue our conditioning program. It is also a test to see what kind of sense of humor my 75-year-old body has. Wish me luck! (grin) I’ll respond to comments and check in on your blogs when we return.

FRIDAY’S POST: What factors in your youth led you to choose the path you have chosen to follow in your adult life? I explore some of mine as part of my MisAdventure series.

From Captain and Quarterback to Second String Guard… The MisAdventure Series

The 1959 school yearbook had this photo of Junior Varsity members of the EL Dorado Union High School football team. I am on the upper left corner.

 

I discussed my elementary school desire to be ruler of everything in my last MisAdventures’ post. I wrapped up my blog by mentioning that since I had cornered the market on being president of this and that, I should also be a sports hero. I’ve made better decisions in my life. Lots of them.

Sports presented a totally different type of challenge in meeting my need to be leader of everything. I am not a natural jock. It isn’t so much physical as mental. You have to care to be good at sports and I find other things more interesting. Part of this evolved from a lack of enthusiasm on the home front. There was little vicarious parental drive to see us excel on the playing field. Being as blind as a bat didn’t help much either. Like most young people I was not excited about wearing glasses. When Mrs. Wells, the school nurse, came to class with her eye charts, I would memorize the lines and then breeze through the test. As for class work, I would sit close to the black board and squint a lot. While I got away with this in the classroom, it became a serious hazard on the Little League field.

I remember going out for the Caldor Team. All of my friends played and social pressure suggested it was the thing to do. Nervously, I showed up on opening day and faced the usual chaos of parents signing up their stars, balls flying everywhere, coaches yelling, and kids running in a dozen different directions at once.

“Okay, Curtis,” the Coach instructed, “let’s see how you handle this fly.”

Crack! I heard him hit the ball. Fine, except where was it? The ball had disappeared. Conk. It magically reappeared out of nowhere, bounced off my glove and hit me on the head.

“What’s the matter? Can’t you see?” the Coach yelled helpfully. “Let’s try it again.” My Little League career was short-lived. I went back to carrying out my inventory of the number of skunks that lived in the Woods. This didn’t mean I was hopeless at sports. In the seventh grade, I finally obtained glasses and discovered the miracle of vision: Trees had leaves, billboards were pushing drugs, and the friendly kid waving at me across the street was flipping me off. I could even see baseballs. It was time to become a sports hero.

My brother, Marshall, actually made the Caldor Little League Team. He is shown here with our dog, Tickle. (Looking back on it, I think Tickle may have been a publicity hound since we have few photos without him.) Marshall also had vision problems that made it difficult to play. He was born blind in one eye.

It says something about your future in sports when your career peaks in the eighth grade. Thanks to Mrs. Young kicking me out of school in the first grade, I was slightly older than my classmates and, thanks to genetics, slightly bigger. More importantly, I had mastered the art of leadership: make noise, appear confident and charge the enemy. As a result, I became quarterback and captain of the football team, center and captain of the basketball team and pitcher and captain of the softball team. I even went out for track and ran the 440 but they didn’t select me as captain. That honor went to a seventh grader. I was severely irritated.

A Penguin’s Guide to Long Distance Running

When I arrived as a freshman in high school, I still had the desire to be ‘ruler of everything in sight,’ but my success in this field of endeavor was about equal to my success with girls. It wasn’t hard for me to remember I had come close to my desired goal the year before. Now I lacked the confidence to run for Home Room Rep. Instead I managed a campaign for my friend Ron Williams to become President of the Class. His parents owned a small ranch on the southeast side of Diamond. The year before he had taught me how to milk a cow. I owed him big. I put a dog collar on Ron’s neck, attached it to a chain and led him from class to class. Of course, he won.

Sports were another area where I blew it. Any red-blooded American male knows that you have to go out for football to become a high school sports hero. There’s some glory in basketball and a little in baseball, but other sports are pretty much on the level of “Oh I didn’t know you did that.” What did I do? I let Jimmy Butts talk me into going out for the cross-country team. Now if you are really, really good at cross-country, like best in the state, you might get a mention in your high school paper when you win the state meet. But say you are the quarterback of the football team and you throw a winning touchdown pass in the final seconds of the homecoming game against your school’s primary rival. You are immortalized. You get the front page of the school paper and major coverage on the sports page of the community paper. As for the babes, they come out of the woodwork. Fifty years later, classmates are still reliving the experience at the class reunion. It doesn’t matter if your team lost every other game that year.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the best runner in the state, or in the community, or in the school, or the freshman class for that matter. In fact, I am not really built for running. My friends sometimes describe me as penguin-like. I have the upper body of a six-foot-six basketball player and the lower body of a five-foot-five VW bug racer. It was only excessive stubbornness that usually found me somewhere near the middle of the pack in my cross-country races. It certainly wasn’t a love of running. There was to be no glory in the sport for me, and certainly no babes. But a lot of character building took place. Great.

Smashing My Way to the Top: Not

By my sophomore year, I decided that I would have more fun playing football. But it was too late. I didn’t eat, dream and sleep football. I lacked the necessary motivation to smash my way to the top. I would come to practice after a long day of work in the fruit orchards where I had put in nine hours of hard, physical labor. The first thing I did was don miscellaneous body pads that were still slimy with yesterday’s sweat and smelled like week-old dead fish. By then the coach would be screaming at us to hurry up and get out of the locker room and on to the field. He did lots of yelling. I decided there must be a high correlation between football practice and boot camp including push ups, wind sprints, humiliation and more push-ups— everything it takes to turn a wild bunch of undisciplined young men into a snarling group of fanatics eager to go out and win one for the Gipper. (Remember the Ronald Reagan movie?)

The hard work was okay, but I was highly allergic to being yelled at. I still am. My rapidly waning enthusiasm took a sky dive leap when the coach decided my position would be second-string left guard. Now don’t get me wrong, guards and tackles are critically important to the success of a team and I confess that smashing into opponents and sacking the quarterback resembled fun. Where else could I practice physically aggressive, anti-social behavior and be applauded? I even remember feeling proud about breaking some unlucky kid’s rib. Shame on me.

Even second-string made sense. The other kids had played freshman football and earned their places. But I lacked the psychological orientation for being second string and had something else in mind in terms of position. I envisioned myself charging down the sidelines with the people in the stands on their feet cheering wildly.

It was not to be. I dutifully put in my time, finished out the year and decided to forgo a career in sports. I am glad I played. I gained new friends and new experience, both valuable. But I can’t say I learned anything of great significance. What I recall from the season was there was little ‘thrill of victory’ and lots of ‘agony of defeat.’ We were not a team destined for glory.

TUESDAY’S POST: I review the second part of my Thousand Mile Trek.My route will take me from world-renowned Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney, where I will finish my journey by climbing the 14, 505-foot (4,421 m) mountain— the highest peak in the contiguous United States.

FRIDAY’S POST: In my next MisAdventure’s post, I explore some of the things that led me to choose the path in life I did. It’s a question that always interests me, not just for myself but others as well. For example, what role did Miss Casty, aka Nasty Casty, play in my deciding not to pursue a career in anything involving higher math?