(written two days ago where internet hasn't been invented yet)
Well, I’m either old… or I’m living the life. I’m currently freshly showered, sipping a Corona and sitting in a rocking chair on the second floor of the public Frenchglen Hotel in Frenchglen, OR. There is a window open behind me, and another window on the other side of the room blowing a nice breeze over my shoulders. I’ve got my laptop with no internet in front of me, and I’m trying to figure out where to begin.
I just finished a very good ‘family style’ dinner out on the deck. Along with Dad, there was a retired couple sitting across from us, and an 80 year old doctor who rode a motorcycle down from Portland. Frenchglen is in Southeast Oregon, so it is quite the drive from Portland. His motorcycle is parked out front, and it has a futuristic-looking side-car. Instead of a wife, he keeps a 10-gallon fuel tank in there for the long rides.
During our meal of rice, spinach and artichoke dip, chicken, rolls and salad, we all shared stories. The older couple (in their 60’s) had some really neat stories, including taking a train from Eugene, OR to Miami, FL. They went down the coast on the Starlight Express (I believe?) then took a train from Los Angeles to Miami. They stayed a few days in San Antonio, New Orleans, Miami—-then flew back to Eugene. Not bad! We had a good dinner, filled with laughs, and I wasn’t meant to feel too out of place, even though the rest of the table had a good 40 years on me.
I scooted out early from dinner and played with Ichi a bit. He’s had quite the day. I went and got Dad from the hotel this morning a few minutes earlier than scheduled, re-introduced him to Ichi, then the next thing Ichi knew, he was trapped in the Explorer with his grandpa! It was a pretty hot drive from Tahoe to Frenchglen, and Dad finally admitted at dinner that the thermometer in the Exploder hit 101 degrees somewhere in rural Nevada. Luckily for Ichi, he had air conditioning this trip! After the normal Ichi freak-out, he settled down, and at almost every stop along the way, he was curled up in a ball on Dad’s lap. Ichi is going to spend the night out in the Exploder tonight, but tomorrow night we have a hotel in Pendleton, OR that allows cats—-so he’ll get to come inside then.
I don’t feel too bad for Ichi though, because I was out in the 100 degree weather all day on my ninja. The drive today was about 400 miles, and it consisted of pretty much staring at the back of the Explorer for 8 hours. It wasn’t that bad though. Dad planned the route through Nevada and Eastern Oregon, and I agreed because I’ve really only drove I-5 from California to Seattle. Dad said he had some amazing country to show me, so I obliged to let him plan the trip.
His favorite part of today’s trip was about 30 miles north of Winnemucca, NV. We turned off of I-95 and took Hwy 140 through Denio to Frenchglen. At the turn off onto Hwy 140, there is a straight-stretch of road that must of lasted 30 miles, not a single turn. It felt like you could see forever, and there was not a single car in sight. You can go the entire drive from Sacramento to Seattle and never lose sight of another vehicle. Dad and I drove for a good 20-mile stretch without seeing another soul. The scenery was amazing, and even though there were ‘open ranges’ along the highway, it felt pretty safe to take my gaze off of the Exploder’s license plate and glance around. A couple things struck me on that long, straight-stretch. First, whoever had to build all those telephone poles along the highway must have had one helluva-long summer. There were telephone poles every hundred feet along the highway, and we sometimes crossed a different stretch of telephone poles heading perpendicular to the road. They stretched on as far as I could see… hundreds, maybe even thousands of telephone poles, out in the middle of nowhere. Power has to get from the Hoover Dam somehow, I guess—but damn if those telephone poles aren’t going to be obsolete in twenty years.
Since there weren’t any other cars or police cars within our miles of sight, I decided to pass Dad and punch the ninja up to 100 for a little giggle. I couldn’t think of a better, safer place to do it (although I was a bit worried about the ‘Open Range’). I crouched down and gave the bike lots of throttle, and it responded with a zoom. I hit 100 and decided that was enough for me. I checked my rear-view mirror and was surprised to see the Explorer so far behind. I popped in the clutch and let the bike coast for a good mile until Dad caught up. I moved back over to the left lane and let him pass me on the right side, as if we were rewinding the tape. Good times.
Other than the fun stretch between Winnemucca and Denio, the ride was a good endurance test. It was almost as long as the ride to Vegas in June, but it was a much easier ride, because I was following Dad. Going it alone is pretty tough, I wanted to stop more often on my ride down to Vegas than I did with Dad today. Some of that might have to do with the hike we just got through, and my patience and stamina are near an all-time high.
Speaking of hiking, the hike was amazing. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime hike. We had near-perfect weather. 70-75 degrees, blue skies, no lightning storms and no fire/smoke until the last day hiking out. We got incredibly lucky with the weather. You can pretty much rely on sunny weather for August in California, but camping at 10,000ft in rock bed, lightning storms are not your friend—and they are mighty frequent on sunny, August days. Also, if luck is not on your side, the months of planning a hike can quickly be for naught if a wildfire strikes.
On our last day, we saw a bit of smoke on the 5.6 mile hike out, but it didn’t seem too bad. It wasn’t until we got to the car and started driving back to Mammoth to pick up the Exploder, that we noticed how bad the smoke was. You could hardly see the mountains when we got back to Mammoth, and we knew the mountains were there, because we had seen them four days earlier on our entry into the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
The wilderness is aptly named, and it definitely rivals the Cascades. Some of the view we got were just incredible. We camped at Thousand Island Lake our second night, which sits at 9800ft. Mount Banner shades the lake in the afternoon, and it is 13,000ft high, standing just to the Southwest of the lake. Our hike up to Thousand Island Lake was a bit of a grind at 8.5 miles and probably around 2k elevation from Agnew Meadows—and I promptly stripped down to my shorts and hopped into Thousand Island Lake when we arrived. I could see the glacier which fed the lake, but that didn’t stop me! It actually wasn’t that bad, until Dad saw me getting out after diving in and said, “Mind doing that again for the camera?” I didn’t, but that second dive seemed much more brisk than the first!
From Thousand Island Lake, we climbed Island Pass, descended into a really nice valley with a picture-perfect stream. I got a few shots of Dick pumping water at the stream where we ate lunch. There were foot-long fish swimming around in the stream, lush grass, and the constant trickle of the stream to make you feel at home in the wilderness. That great feeling caught us a bit off-guard, because from the top of Island Pass, all we saw was a valley with trees, and we were all staring across the valley at Donoghue Pass, which we were going to climb the next day. If we had a bridge across the valley, we could have saved ourselves a few thousand feet of elevation, so every step down into the valley, we knew would be a step up the other side. The perfection in the valley got our minds off the hike back up though, and we made it to within 1000ft of Donoghue Pass and camped at over 10,000ft our third night on the trail. That third day was pretty rough, because it was spent at or above about 9800ft, and we did quite a bit of climbing.
Back to my all-time high in patience, climbing isn’t exactly my Dad’s forte. He makes his money with his long strides in the flat meadow. When the path gets steep, he shuts down into 1st gear and his long stride collapses into a literal toe-to-heel grunt up the hill. The steepest part of the entire 27-mile trail was about five hours into our first day. We had a 0.6 mile stretch that rose 600ft. That’s 1000ft/mile. We averaged 2h/mile. Two hours per mile. Not two miles per hour. It took us over an hour to hike 0.6 miles. I love my Dad, but that pace was a grind on my patience! It seemed to me, that if he just took bigger strides, he’d go at least two times faster—but I didn’t say anything. He knows his body well enough to know what pace he is comfortable with, and the fact that he is even doing a 27-mile hike at age 65 is a pretty impressive feat in and of itself. I feel very lucky to even have the opportunity to hike with my Dad when he is 65. I really doubt I’ll be doing any 27-mile hikes when I’m his age.
I tried my hardest to stay positive about his pace, and for the most part I think Sarr, Dick and I did a good job. It was difficult at times, because we all (including Dad) were very cognizant of the fact that Dad was the slowest out of the group, and we kept a pretty good attitude about it. It had me thinking a lot during the hike though… what is the best way to handle a situation like this, where there is one weak link. I plan on both teaching and coaching within the next few years, and I’m sure I’ll face this issue again in the future. You don’t want to hold everyone else back, but you also want to try your hardest to boost them up. A few times during our hike, Dick and Sarr would go ahead of us and find a spot for lunch, or a spot to camp once we got close to the campsite. That seemed to please them, but over dinner tonight in Frenchglen, Dad commented that sometimes on our hike Dick and Sarr would race ahead to a stream for a stop, but by the time Dad and I got there to rest, they’d be ready to go again, and Dad would get no rest! I guess another unique thing about our situation is that Dad is 65, and isn’t afraid to speak his mind, or request a rest stop. It probably meant more rests, but it also staved off any serious problems from occurring, because Dad knows his body and isn’t afraid to make us wait if he needs a rest. I can see the opposite of that having a very bad outcome in a classroom sense. If the kid isn’t willing to raise his or her hand and admit to not understanding, or get their parents to do their homework, or any other number of things, the problem is just going to get worse and worse.
OK, I’m getting a little off-track, but I would like to hear any advice about what to do when there is a weak link in a group. I think we did a good job, but I felt some of our tactics were either a little too childish, or just not right for the situation—but I was at a loss for how to handle the situation any better. We didn’t really have any way of making him go faster, so the hike was pretty much testing his speed and our patience. Dad also admitted after the hike that he felt rushed for most of the hike, but I don’t really think we could have accomplished the hike in the number of days we had allotted going any slower—so it was more a planning thing than anything else. He also likes hikes where you backpack in, then spend a few days without your pack going on day hikes and coming back to base camp every night—and this hike was definitely not that! All told, I think we all still had an unforgettable time, and it was the perfect way to cap off my six months in Tahoe. To make the matter a little less stressful, Dad and I had an amazing pace on the last morning, when we hiked out to the car. The trail was 5.6 miles of meadow, and Dick and Sarr gave us a little head start like they had become accustomed to—but they didn’t catch up! Dad was zooming in the flat, shaded meadow, and we had a great talk along the way. We got to a little junction of trails about 0.6 miles from the parking lot, and I left a false note for Dick and Sarr, saying we arrived there at 8:30am (when I left the note it was closer to 9am), and for them to move their butts! Dad and I waited around the corner for them, so we could all hike out to the car at once, and we had a good laugh… Dick said he’s going to frame the note.
After the four-nights of hiking food, which was actually amazingly good, we hit Burgers Restaurant, in Mammoth, CA. We all had ½ lb burgers, and three of us had chocolate shakes to go with our burgers. The food and shake were the objects of my desire for the last few days—but in hindsight, I have to say eating all that food wasn’t the smartest idea, because I think all of us were a bit sick after gorging ourselves. The freeze-dried meals we had on our hike were the best I’ve ever had. Our normal dinner consisted of chicken noodle or cream of chicken soup to start, an entrée of Beef Stew, Chicken Teriyaki, Beef Stroganoff and Lasagna, a vegetable dish of peas, green beans, corn and vegetable surprise (not our favorite), then we’d finish up with hot chocolate or apple cider. The portions were great too, not too big, not too small, just enough to fill you up. This was the ninth hike Sarr and Dick have done with Dad, and they have got dinner down pat (except for vegetable surprise!).
I drove Dad and I back to Tahoe after the burgers. I was driving because I lost a prop-bet during the hike. From our camp at 10,000ft, I guessed there would only be 201 of these awful stone-steps on our hike up to Donoghue Pass. Dad guessed 313 and there turned out to be 423… argh! I counted them all, and after we passed Dad’s 313 guess and still had quite a ways to go, we bet again—he picked 560 and I picked 500. I don’t think I actually won anything on that bet, nor did I win anything on our time bet from the same spot. I guessed 10:30am to the top and he guessed 10:45am—we got there at 10:15am. I need to work on my betting strategy.
Other than the meals and the prop-betting, another thing that made this hike so memorable was all the wildlife we saw along the way. In order from largest to smallest, we saw: horses, mules, a buck with a 9-point rack, a doe, a coyote, a golden hawk, a fawn, a red fox, a marmot, a different hawk, bunnies, dozens of different birds, plenty of squirrels and chipmonks, a caterpillar, big biting ants, horse flies and of course—mosquitoes. One of my best pictures yet is of a lady passing us on her horse, leading what looks like a few pack mules up the trail. The light through the trees hits the dust coming up, and it just looks pretty neat to me. I have a minute-long video of the buck, who was eating some grass across the river from us while we were on a siesta. The golden hawk was really neat, and was perched atop a dead tree at our 10,000ft camp, the doe and her fawn were seen at the very end of the hike near the ranger station. Dad got a picture of the fox. We saw a few different marmots, but the one I remember the most was the one we came across on our descent down the Yosemite-side of Donoghue Pass—it had just been bathing in the stream and its fur was all spiked up as it waddled to safety. The second hawk we saw was one of the coolest moments I’ve seen out in nature. We had just crossed a bridge and were entering a forest when we heard commotion up ahead. The hawk had dive-bombed a squirrel, and the squirrel dodged away at the last second and started climbing a tree. The hawk flew up after it, but the squirrel kept running around the diameter of the tree—and it could run fast enough to always be on the opposite side of the tree. The hawk was having a devil of a time trying to fly around the tree and get to the squirrel, and eventually gave up and perched itself on a branch of another tree, trying to spot the squirrel’s escape. The hawk was pissed that he missed that squirrel! I saw some bunnies in the grass just before Thousand Island Lake, but wasn’t able to get any pictures. Dad and I spent time bird-watching, but I wasn’t able to get any good shots. Shooting birds isn’t easy, especially when the terrain reminds you of Oregon Trail and you drift off, imagining a buffalo sliding into your field of vision, then quickly running back off-screen. It wouldn’t have mattered though, because I only could have dragged 200lbs back to the wagon.
Picture Dump Time:
Labels: Dad, Hiking, motorcycle, Pictures, Tahoe