Installment #19 - July 16, 1999 - Enough Is Enough (For This Year)

On Saturday, July 10, I drove to the Berkeley home of Rita’s son Shashi and his wife Sheela. They were planning to hike with me for a couple of days in Desolation Wilderness, and it was my date with them that gave me the deadline I needed to move me from home and back to the trail. We organized our packs, and set out for Echo Lake, arriving about 11:30AM.  As we approached the store at Echo Lake Resort, I heard someone call my name, and there were Smokey, Goforth, and Tom sitting in front of the store.  It was great to see familiar faces, and I was psyched to hike, despite the fact that I felt a little punk from a cold which had been developing over the last couple of days.

The sky was clear and the air was hot as we headed out with a goal of camping near Dick’s Pass.  During one rest stop, who should appear but brother Jim.  (Back at Vermilion Valley Resort, the owner’s nine-year-old daughter had a conversation with me, then later with Jim, and she told him that she had seen another guy around with glasses and beard that looked a lot like him but uglier, and asked if we were brothers.)  I hiked and visited with Jim for a while, and soon we were ahead of Shashi and Sheela, so I stopped to wait for them to catch up.

When they did catch up, Shashi decided that he had had enough, and it was time for them to turn around.  [See the report by Sheela at the end of this Installment.]  So we said our good-byes, and I headed on alone, soon catching up with Goforth and Tom near Lake Aloha.  Somewhere between Lake Aloha and Susie Lake, my right knee began to give me problems.  My knee has given me problems in the past on steep downhill when I was not in good condition, but it has not bothered me for more than two years, and I am in good condition - I’ve hiked 3000 miles in the last 15 months.  Anyway, I limped on to Gilmore Lake and spent the night, eating supper in my tent to avoid the mosquitoes.

The next morning my knee seemed fine and I hiked over Dick’s Pass, but the descent on the north side of the pass was snow-covered and steep, and by the time I was down, my knee was again hurting.  Brother Jim came along and we hiked together until noon through swarming mosquitoes that made it necessary to cover every square inch of skin, or be badly bitten.  The warm temperatures (in the 90’s) made the extra clothes very uncomfortable.

I was not a happy camper.  I was hot, bugged by mosquitoes, limping due to my knee, and feeling dizzy and weak due to my cold.  This was not what I was looking forward to for a PCT hike.  When Jim and I stopped for lunch, I decided to pitch my tent and take a nap, hoping that after a couple of hours rest my knee would feel better, and I’d feel stronger.

Jim left within an hour; I stayed 3 1/2 hours and was packing up to leave when Goforth and Tom arrived.  Goforth graciously helped with medication and instruction on how to reduce strain on my knee.  When they left, I finished packing up, and headed out alone.  As I hiked, I thought about how bad I felt, and about how I was not enjoying myself, and wondered when things would change.

My cold might last several days, the heat would probably become more common as the summer progressed, and the mosquitoes could be expected most of the way to Canada.  I didn’t know what to expect for my knee, but I certainly knew that I was not enjoying myself, and I felt that if things did not improve, I would probably leave the trail at my next resupply point.  About this time, I came to a fairly common obstacle - a fallen tree blocking the trail.

The tree was about 18 inches in diameter and it crossed the trail at about waist height with no easy way to go around.  Moving quickly because of the mosquitoes, and cautiously to protect my sore knee, I got my right leg over and straddled the log.  But as I changed position, I lost my balance and fell backward and to my left, pivoting around the log and landing on my left shoulder or upper left arm.  I heard a crack and felt a sharp pain in my arm, and as I struggled to get free of my pack and stand up, I thought I had broken my arm.  But the arm appeared not to be broken, the pain subsided a little, and I concluded that the cracking sound came from a branch I had landed on.

I continued on my way, and I think it would have been funny to watch me limping along, not using my sore left arm, and with my right arm alternately swatting mosquitoes and using my hiking pole to favor my sore right knee.  My back had been rubbed sore by the pack, and my left shoulder was too sore to bear much weight, so my pack wobbled along supported mostly from my right shoulder.

I camped alone near the outlet stream from Bear Lake, sleeping poorly, and in the morning my left arm was almost impossible to use as it hurt to move it.   It was apparent that I should not continue.  I packed up as best I could (it is quite a challenge to pack up one’s camping gear in a small tent with one good arm) and continued on to Forest Route 3, which I took toward Lake Tahoe.  A vacationing wine country couple picked me up, took me to Tahoe City, and got me aboard the first of a series of four buses that finally got me home about 6PM Monday night.

I’ve run out of steam.  I’ve completed about 1000 miles of the PCT, and that seems to be about my limit.  Once my arm and knee heal, and my cold subsides, I would be physically able to continue and there remains about six weeks in which I could hike before I would have to be home to move.  But all of the enjoyment has gone out of it for me.  I know that the last few days were unusually bad, and I can expect things to get better, but even so, returning to the trail does not appeal to me.  For now I’m hiked out.

I’m sure my desire to hike will return, and maybe I’ll be motivated to continue and finish the trail at another time.  But now, I’m happy to be with Rita, eat fresh food, watch TV, vegetate, and recover from my cold.  My next projects will be to clean up the house in preparation for Aruna’s wedding, and to get rid of excess stuff in preparation for the move.  I will plan to review the 18 installments of the Great PCT Adventure on Dave’s web site to correct some of my mistakes and perhaps, with Dave’s help, expand some areas. There are three more rolls of film at the developers [down to two] which I hope Dave will be able to add to the site.  In a couple of weeks I will plan to write a final installment in which I will try to summarize what the PCT experience has meant to me.

It was a great adventure while it lasted.  I’ve learned a lot about the mountains of southern California and the Sierra and about myself.   I’ve met some wonderful people both on and off the trail and I’ve made some great friends.  It has truly been an experience of a lifetime.


The following is a report written by Rita's daughter-in-law Sheela about her experience hiking with Allen:

Prior to Allen beginning the PCT, Shashi, Allen and I had agreed that we would hike the Tahoe portion of the trail together. Well, at first the trip was scheduled for four days with Shashi's mom Rita staying behind in Tahoe. She was to come up with us and spend a day with Allen and then we would bid her farewell and hike into the sunset ...

Anyway, that plan got watered down, because of tight work schedules, to a weekend of hiking with Allen ... which got watered down ultimately to one full day of hiking, an overnight stay along the trail and then Shashi and I and our dog Rumi would hike back and jump into our Toyota Corolla and cruise back to urban living in Berzerkeley! Rita decided not to come, as Allen had just been on a break from the hike and so she had had a chance to visit with him.

Allen came to Berkeley around 7:30 Saturday morning with all the gear - backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, food, cooking equipment. We packed our few clothes and water and Rumi's food with the gear ... making sure that I got the lighter pack!!! ... and we were off for our great adventure.

As an aside ... I have always had the opinion that if I want to be bitten by bugs, sleep outside, feel dirty from the heat and dirt, feel hot and thirsty but not really want to drink too much because of the limited facilities ... well, I could just store up all those desires and wait until I visit India. My family, as I think is true of many Indian families, never even considered camping, let alone make a vacation out of it. Therefore, to me it has always seemed more of a chore than pleasure. But so many people seem to enjoy it that ... well ... you start to wonder if you just have missed something. My boss told me that she and her husband and dog just love camping because it relaxes them. Hiking, sleeping outside, away from the hubbub ... well, I never have felt that way in my limited experiences, so I was pretty psyched to be with a person who really knew what he was doing and actually knew how to put the tent up ... so I was ready to give it a second chance.

We got to Echo Lake, and lots of Allen's friends were there. Goforth, Tom, and a bunch of others were very psyched to see Allen, and that was really nice. Tom, who carries a very heavy pack because he likes to camp in style with filtered coffee in the morning and all (my kind of guy ... if I could only carry such a heavy pack for 2,700 miles!), is about 55, as is Goforth. They say that Allen hikes much faster than them but they had made it that far! It seemed that people were either in their 20's or 30's or 50 and above from our limited viewing. But it was nice to get to Echo and have people greet Allen and us.

I think the first sign of impending doom was when Allen told us we would hike 12 miles that day to some lake (I never could remember any destination’s name) and Tom indicated that we were more likely to get only 7 miles tops as it was almost 1PM and hot when we started.

Tom and Goforth went ahead. We trailed behind, first adjusting to the packs, then to the heat, then to the uphill (we were in Tahoe after all) and then to the boulders (or so they seemed) that never ended. I mean I have hiked before, but hiking to me means dirt trails, climbing up grassy or slightly rocky terrain.  But hiking on a bed of large rocks was not what I had in mind. I had flashes of Katz all of a sudden and wondered if I appeared as useless as he was in A Walk in the Woods as I bumbled around, shifting the backpack, trying to keep Rumi on a leash while trying to walk on these rocks at the same time ... and, of course, constantly ascending this mountain, working to reach the snow (Yippee ... I couldn’t wait to walk in my Tevas in the snow for another God knows how many miles).

Well, as we wound around beautiful Echo Lake and looked down, I wondered how much nicer it would feel to be, instead, vacationing on the lake as I saw people doing ... drinking a pina colada, catching some sun, jumping in for a dip, reading a book, taking a late evening hike, barbecue some fish ... but nooooooo - there I was on the ridge above, carrying 40 or so pounds of weight so I could sleep on the ground and enjoy the dried food Allen had so lovingly (and I say that honestly because he is the GREATEST!) brought for us.

We left the Echo Lake area and then the real ascent started and the real boulders pounded my feet ... but I trudged on. Actually, things were looking up because Allen at some point showed me how to get the backpack’s weight onto my stomach rather than my shoulders, and it was like a whole new world. The little things in life ...

We made it to the snow in 3.5 hours. And then we decided to head back!

Shashi and I had been talking when Allen had met up with Brother Jim and shot ahead of us (it was then that we realized how slow he was going because of us!). We had enjoyed the experience, as it was the first time either of us had backpacked, but realized we would just be much happier if, rather than sleep on the ground, we could sleep in our queen size bed after a shower and some good food ...

     Sheela Bhatt

Not to fear - when one Downs pulls back a little, there's always another one waiting in the wings to pick up the slack.  Here's a photo of Allen's two-year-old niece Marisa, inspired by Allen's example and ready to pound the trail!

Looks like my contract's about to run out and I'll have a little more time this summer.  Hmmm - maybe I'll consider an ascent of Dedham's majestic Mount Wilson and Allen can do the web site ...

Allen's seventh set of slides arrived.  You already know that the newly added photos are linked in where they belong in previous installments, but can also be found right here: 

Added from scans of Allen's slides on July 16:
A panoramic view of the much-mentioned Kennedy Meadows
The Kennedy Meadows General Store
Allen at home, dining on real food
Allen at home, sleeping in a real bed
Laying out the contents of the resupply packages
Looking east through gaps in mountains toward Owens dry lake
A natural bridge - one of the easier stream crossings
Another gentle stream - hey, this is easy!
Forester Pass
Another portrait of our hero

Well done, Mr. Downs!  You've hiked 1000 miles and given us all untold inspiration and entertainment!


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