Trail work and deer chats and stuff.
Trail work in the Angeles National Forest. Photographs attached.
Trail work and deer chats and stuff.
This past week end I tagged along with volunteers from the San Gabriel Mountains Trail Builders who teamed up with student volunteers from Mt. San Antonio College to repair a hiking trail in the Angeles National Forest in the National Park known as Crystal Lake. The trails are maintained in an attempt to limit human erosion and pollution in the National Forest, and -- it's hoped -- maintained trails makes access to the wilderness open to people who will take with them some measure of respect for our woodland areas.
If I may, I'd like to diverge considerably from the way I usually describe how these efforts go. The trail work itself went pretty much as usual. The MT. SAC and SGMTBs volunteers worked a fairly lengthy nature trail very quickly and it was done by lunchtime. After lunch the teams started repair work on another lengthy trail which will require a few more weekends to rough out.
Things started for me a little differently, though, and the rest of the weekend was different than usual since I spent the night up there with my bicycle. I'm going to describe how the weekend went from my perspective and pretty much just note in passing the trail work.
The volunteers gathered at the usual place and Tom let me throw my single speed 30-year-old bicycle into the back of his pickup along with my backpack and my nap sack. We all motored up to the Rincon Fire Station where we acquired all the hand tools we'd need for the day's work.
The first time I'd done this (several months ago, it was) I'd been driven up the long and winding highway up to Crystal Lake -- 23 miles from my house which I usually do on my bicycle -- it felt very strange. Tom had driven me up that time, too, and I commented about how strange it felt to get along up the highway, climbing up through the mountains without any effort at all.
It usually takes me 2.5 sweaty hours to just get to the Fire Station but by motorized vehicle it's something like 15 or 20 minutes, all without effort, and it just feels unusual to be swept along without straining in bipedal locomotion wearing a backpack in the midnight hours. Going up in the car feels like magic though I'm not sure I actually like it even if it is so easy.
When we got our tools we headed up to the Crystal Lake area to the staging area where a guy named Adam was working on establishing a restaurant there -- which will open some day if the USFS ever decides to open the lake. Until then he's there paying taxes, working on the place.
Some of us got a tour of Adam's proto-restaurant. It was still being built but it was already spotlessly clean and scrubbed even though he didn't have customers. I got the impression that some of the walk-in storerooms had been dug into the hillside behind the place. When the place opens, it'll be great -- I'll certainly stop in even though I'll probably not actually stay since the area will probably have crowds of humans when it's open.
Adam asked what I did for real work and I mentioned I worked with computers. That landed me the job of cabling up his computer and installing his printer, checking to make sure that the software he had on it was good stuff -- it was. Later I got to install his FAX machine and test it once before running to catch up with the trail workers who had already started without me. Ha! I could have spent the day installing Internet access and stuff for Adam but I'd come to the area hoping to use the hand saw so that's what I did.
I walked the length of the first trail, sawing dead tree limbs, killed by fire, beetle infestation, or both. At one point the trail disappeared so I turned around, found and asked Ron where the trail was, and we found where the missing trail resumed. The Mt. SAC volunteers did a very good job cleaning that section up and making sure the trail segment won't get lost again.
After the saw was no longer needed on that trail, I walked back up to the staging area and traded it in for a Polaski which I leaned on for the rest of the morning, pretending to be working. (We get paid the same whether we work or not, you see.) The Polaski is kind of an ax with a kind of a hoe on the other side of it, not exactly the right tool for the trail we were working on.
When that trail was done we broke for lunch. Everyone but Tom and I went to the lake for lunch. That's when Adam tried to feed us BBQ chicken -- made right there in front of us, no less -- and a really nice salad that had Greek olives and cheese in it. I don't eat animals, and I don't eat cheese, but I took the wheat bread he offered, absolutely -- great stuff!
After lunch Tom and I went to the lake to see if anyone wanted to get back to work. It took a few minutes but everyone headed to the second trail, the one that was mostly obliterated and needed to be roughed out.
Again I took the saw up -- I took the saw because I _like_ that puppy. I goes through dead and burned wood quickly and cleanly with no real effort, a much easier tool than the McClouds most everyone else was using. Ben and I started trading off on that saw after I started experiencing dizziness -- which I jokingly blamed on the cocaine and heroin but was probably just the Sun and the altitude -- 5600 plus feet -- or was it 6500 feet?
My lightweight GPS says 5642 feet, North 34 degrees, 19.313 by West 117 degrees, 50.023 and that sounds right. Some of the upper ridges are around 7000 feet so that sounds right.
Um, perhaps I should clarify. An aging hippie I might be, and raised and educated in California I might be, but I've never taken any illegal narcotics in my life, never smoked pot or tobacco, and I avoid alcohol, meat, eggs, milk, and cheese. I like my reality straight up and find the beach, desert, and mountains all the high I could ever want.
So blame it on the altitude, yeah, and the hard work: I ain't used to working for a living -- I mean _actual_ work where you have to lift and swing heavy objects, move boulders, dig holes and ditches and _real_ work like that.
When the work was over for the day, most of the crew headed back down the mountain. Mike, Ben, Jannet (spelling?) Tom, um I-can't-remember-his-name, and I drove back to the staging area and from there to the amphitheater that's near the trail head to Pinion Ridge and Soldier Creek Trail. The place is in fairly good shape, needing some cleaning, but the young labor that built the place -- back in FDR's day, I believe it was -- did a great job and there was no actual physical repairs that were needed.
I got my bicycle and stuff out of Tom's pick up and the rest left me there. I checked over my bicycle (You ready for this, Bike? Sure am, chum! Ready when you are!) and walked it through the first part of Soldier Creek Trail where I found a place in the middle of what used to be the trail for my tent. I'd abandoned my bicycle at the little bridge there where Pinion and Soldier diverge (You're not leaving me here, are you, chum? No worries, Bike, I'll be right back.)
The trail there is pretty much gone, and much of it just sloped down into the canyon where a large volume of water went roaring -- music to my ears! -- which I believe will eventually meet up with the river and from there into the cities below. Still, I scraped out a fairly flat area with my shoe and put up my tent right across the trail.
Normally I wouldn't bother with a tent regardless of the weather. I sleep in the rain on a blanket up there in those mountains some times, no problem, but it's the ants I wanted to thwart; them and those DAMN SWAT-THEM-ALL-TO-DEATH! little gnats that fly around my sweaty face trying to suck the salt from my eyes. Vampire gnats!
After I got everything set up, I took stock of my meager possessions: vegetarian beans, some chips that Adam had given me, cans of soda pop, a can of mixed nuts, canteen half full of water, spare clothes I wouldn't need, a tarp I've never used, small flashlight, and "Minds Unleashed," a collection of science fiction stories written in the 1940's, paperback, falling apart. GPS, camera, medical gloves (turn your head and cough, please) and some other first aid stuff, aspirin, batteries, crushed red pepper, salt.
One of the things I worry about is getting a flat tire up there in the mountains miles into the wilderness. I leave the roads much of the time, carrying my bicycle (groan) and carefully treading my way over the next ridge or two to get away from humans and their stink, noise, and stupidity. It's a safety issue.
I've had bullets impacting my bedding before because I'd camped too close to the road so now I make it a requirement to get out of the line of fire. People -- if you can call them that -- drive up to where the road is closed, walk up the road a short ways in the middle of the night, and just pepper the hills and canyons with bullets some nights. Rambo wannabe males trying to be real men, perhaps - who knows what motivates them?
Way back at Indian Springs Air Force Base (I was never a dues paying member) we were taught what to do in that situation: don't shoot back, don't yell out, quietly and quickly scramble to cover and hunker down, and if possible call in the jets to napalm those suckers. People shoot into the hills just to hear the BANG or to fantasize about family members or co-workers they're shooting, not a care in the world that people camp, hike, and bike in those canyons at night and there may be people they're shooting towards. If they don't know you're in there, you don't tell them by calling out, "cease fire!" Many times they're drunk or on crack cocaine and you don't want to call out and _focus_ their fire on you.
This time, of course, nobody was around but Adam about a mile away, safely tucked into his bed, perhaps, dreaming of customers that'll never come - like the hotdog stand owner on Mars in Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles." Because I leave the road and carry my bicycle tiptoe among the brush, I worry about getting flats. I turn my bicycle upside-down when I stop, but that's no guarantee that I won't get flats, and I drop the poor thing often enough.
So after I set up my camp, I walked back to my bicycle to check it out. (How're ya doing, Bike? I feel fine. Want to check you out to make sure. Fine by me, chum! Rear tire's nicely round and firm. Glad you noticed, chum! Yes, well, let's check your front. Yes, front nicely rock hard. Always, chum, always! That's good because I'm going to have to leave you here for the night. What? There're bears in these woods! Friendly bears, Bike, friendly bears. Think Christopher Robin. If you say so. I do and good night, Bike.)
The creek itself was actually two streams that combined, and I was at its fork. The left stream was mostly underground but came up to flow over boulders before dropping into a plunge pool about two feet deep with a sandy bottom -- a good place for gold panning and if I'd of thought about it, I probably could have gotten a couple of gold flakes. The other stream had a much higher volume and formed a fairly large waterfall.
After drinking about a gallon of the larger stream, I shuck off all of my clothes -- photographs available upon request! -- and climbed up against the rocks and just let the cold, cold water soak in. It was great after -- oh, maybe five hours of actual hard work with the trail builder volunteers. The loud babble from the river pretty much drowned out any other noise that might have been made in the forest, and it certainly canceled out the endless jet aircraft noise-stink that's so difficult to get away from.
There was some rocks one could sit upon if one didn't mind some discomfort, and I figured that if I'm taking a shower in several million people's drinking water, it can't be worse than what our fellow woodland creatures and furry little forest friends dump and squirt into these streams every day.
There's a point -- you must have reached it yourself at times -- when you're resting naked in a freezing cold stream in the middle of the National Forest, eyes closed, letting the water pummel and shiatsu you to sleep when you decide you'll never go back to civilization. "Right here's good enough," you've probably told yourself. And if you're as vulgar as I am, you might even add, "Fuck civilization" aloud as you sat there.
Slowly, gradually, as your ass goes numb followed by your arms, your feet, then your legs, you've probably realized that maybe you can't just sit there for the rest of your life -- unless you _want_ to freeze to death, the unsightly remains to be found a week or so later, contented smile on your face and no clothes on.
I settled in to read at around 6:00 p.m. and it didn't start to get dark until around 8:00 p.m. or so. It had just started to get dark enough to need a light to read by when I noticed someone at the tent window looking in. I looked up and said aloud, "Hey! A sheep!" The doe wiggled her ears and said, "Very funny."
We chatted a bit and I got some photographs through the screen -- which I hope turn out (they didn't.) "Sorry about being in the middle of your walkway, deer," I told her. "It's okay so long as you're not going to eat me." I laughed and told her that I don't eat animals but, you know, I _am_ kind of human and you -- being a deer and all -- should fear humans. "You don't look dangerous," she told me. "We're all dangerous," I told her, "even those of us who don't eat meat. Part of being human, deer."
Since she decided to visit, I got out of the tent so we could talk better. She walked to the top of the ridge and posed for some more photographs while staring at me -- though with the Sun setting behind her, they'll probably turn out worse than those taken through the tent screen (they turned out fine.) We'll have to see how they turn out (I told you already: they turned out fine.)
"Doe, a deer, a female deer" I sang loudly. She wiggled her ears again and asked, "Are you in respiratory distress? Should I call a doctor?" "I was singing," I told her. "Is that what that was?" "Hell, music critics everywhere, even in the forest. I'll have you know," I told her, "that what you call 'respiratory distress' is profound musical talent, something you'd know if you had culture -- and opposable thumbs." When she stopped laughing she told me it had been nice to stop and chat for a while but dinner was probably waiting so she had to be going.
The whole forest area has been pretty much closed to humans for the past four years because of the fires and for other reasons. The deer up there -- most of them, any way -- have never seen humans up close. Humans aren't supposed to hunt other animals up there -- but you know humans! -- but they're not hunted because it's an effort to hike or bike up there so criminals hunting deer doesn't happen. So this one saw the tent blocking the path and decided to investigate, saw me reading, and decided to stop a while and chat with the new - and freakishly bipedal! -- woodland creature. Maybe she recognized a fellow vegetarian, come to think of it.
A half-hour later a squirrel come through and started scolding me -- screaming actually -- speaking in French. He started yelling over on the right hand side of the trail, up in the trees, and continued screaming French at me while he worked his way through the branches above my tent to the trees on the left side of the trail. Man, he was pissed about something. He reminded me of a guy working at a police vehicle impound lot I met some 30 years ago, utterly incomprehensible and spewing at high speed.
After about 15 minutes of this, I sat up and yelled, "I don't speak French!" which caused him to go silent. The guy eventually stalked off -- quietly, thankfully, and I didn't hear from him again that night.
Dinner was a can of cold beans with corn chips - chips donated by Adam -- tossed on top, crushed red pepper sprinkled heavily through out the whole mess. There was also a can of diet soda of some kind and about another gallon of water from the creek. (Adam had also given me something called "Flaming Hot Cheetos" or however it's spelled, but I couldn't eat it because it had cheese culture in it. I in turn donated that to a long line of ants further down the trail. "With complements from Adam," I told them as I watched them start to carve up and carry away the stuff. "Snack responsibly," I added since it was something I'd read on the side of my can of mixed nuts, not knowing what it meant, feeling that maybe the ants would find the admonishment meaningful even if I didn't. Snack responsibly? Why, so nobody gets killed?)
I have to constantly remind myself that I'm not in a Stephen King novel. You probably do also and probably because of the same things. Around 10:00 p.m. or so the fog started to drift in, climbing up the canyon, muting ever so slightly the roaring of the creek to my left.
There are _things_ in the fog. Things that aren't in the wilderness when the fog isn't there to hide them also. The fog settled, smothered, engulfed down over my tent and I, and with it came the certainty that those _things_ that hide in the fog were out there, waiting, looking for humans who they can fly out of the fog on to, splatting against their backs and laying their eggs in their unfortunate victims before moving on in search of other incubators.
Those are the round _things_ that come with the fog, you might already know. And if you know that, you probably also know about the rectangular _things_ that also come in out of the fog, flying in on short wings, things that like to attach themselves to your neck, enjoying the ride while you hop around screaming, "Get it offa me! Get it offa me!"
Those triangular _things_ suck the bone marrow out of people through their necks, leaving behind an unsightly quivering pile of disgusting remains that try to stand up and run only it can't because most of its bones have been sucked dry and it's too late to try to run any way. No point trying to run after the fact, is there?
When the fog descended, the anxiety of being attacked or otherwise snuck up upon by the fog _things_ settled in with it. There are bears in those mountains and I had food -- at least the remains of canned beans that I only now thought I should have rinsed out in the stream least the bears smell it. When I once again realized that I wasn't in a Stephen King novel, the anxiety lifted even as the fog got even heavier.
That night I dreamed one of my many reoccurring dreams. No, not the one with Michael Jackson in it where I wake up screaming, the one with Drew Barrymore in it, back doing that ole setting buildings and people on fire when they pissed her off thing. I'd had Stephen King on my mind just lately (snicker) so one of my favorite book's primary character -- Charlie -- had come walking in from the Id.
I won't disturb you with the rest of the dream. It would... well it would disturb you. Some where in all of it Hal from the movie "2001: A space Odyssey" put in a cameo appearance and kept saying, "I can't let you do that, Dave." (Ha! Try and stop me, Hal! Watch this! That's disgusting, Dave.)
In the morning I had another can of beans and corn chips, then packed things up. I carried my backpack over to my bike (How ya doing, Bike? Fine, great to see you, chum! Mind of I feel your tires again, Bike? I'd appreciate it if you did, chum! Still tight, I see. Always, chum, always.) Then I went back for the tent and bedding, walking around the place to make sure I didn't leave any sign that I'd been there.
Back at the staging area I dumped my empty cans into the Dumpster, wondering if I should stick around and set up Adam's Internet access. I didn't see anyone around, though, so I got on my bike and started rolling. I also started singing, "My dog Sam eats purple flowers, we ain't got much but what we got's ours, diggin' the rain and the snow and the bright sunshine." Kind of a fitting song, I'd thought. (It's _so_ stunningly nice up here, and I was heading back to the stink of the city, so there's usually a song trying to escape.)
The lake area is around mile marker 37 or 36 along Highway 39 which used to go on further up all the way to Angeles Crest Highway (number 2.) I rolled down hill to the gated entrance and stopped to chat with four bikers who were resting there after their trip up (yikes! All the bikers up here (except for me!) wear spandex, helmets, and gloves. They look like freakishly bipedal insects.)
If the restaurant would ever open up, they could have gone up and had some nice avocado and bean sprout sandwiches (Oh, yummy!) or something with iced tea, maybe. About 100 yards down hill were another two heading up (spandex, check!) and about a half mile later, another two heading up (spandex again? Yep!)
It's a shame the restaurant isn't open otherwise all of us could have had a cold avocado vegetarian sandwich. I'd like firm avocado slices dipped in lemon juice, please, placed between toasted sourdough bread with mustard, sprouts, tomato, and salt -- a side of peppers, please. Oh man, and after that, another one, please, this time with sour pickle slices, if you have them.
Coming down hill I reached speeds just touching on 50 MPH according to the GPS I was holding, my bicycle shaking because the rims aren't exactly circular any more. From the lake all the way down to around mile marker 26 it's all down hill and since the road is closed to motorized vehicles around mile marker 29 one can work up a high rate of speed -- and just hope that nobody's coming up. (Or, more accurately, just don't _care_ if anyone's coming up.)
Some of the trip down was spent at high speed but I like to stop and sample all of the water that flows from the hillsides that either go under the highway or follow the highway a bit before they go underground. The water up there -- all the different streams -- taste differently though most of them still have the charcoal taste of the fires that came through. There are streams that are muddy which you can pick up again a bit further down that are now crystal clear and _so_ good.
Now one of these days I'm going to splatter myself on that highway coming down like that, no shirt, no helmet, bugs splaying themselves to death against my teeth as I grin a happy grin singing a happy song wondering if today's the day I'm going to kill myself. Lots of people do on this highway though they're almost always in cars, drunk or racing other morons, all of whom, I must suggest, might very well deserve to die for their dangerous, irresponsible stupidity.
What's that you say? I'm just as stupid for not wearing a helmet, for rolling down out of control at 50 miles an hour with no shirt on? Well yes, but _my_ willful and irresponsible stupidity doesn't put any other driver in danger. I've been up there when five people have died, missing getting killed by one of them by less than 30 minutes as he came ramping off the road into the canyon and the water below when he'd been racing his school buddy down the highway in Daddy's car. I got there as the helicopters from air search and recovery were trying to figure out just how far he'd ramped off (it was a good distance; they didn't find the vehicle that day.)
I may kill myself biking down the highway some day, sure, but I won't take anyone else out with me, not like some of these people in cars do. By far the greater danger is car drivers, many of them drunk before noon, most of them drunk after midnight -- with me taking to the side canyons when I hear them coming, making sure I'm out of their way, climbing up or down the embankment in the dark as needed.
Around the 30 mile marker something in my rear axle went BANG and started grinding -- which slowed me down considerably. I stopped in the middle of the road (still a mile above the barricade) by dragging my left shoe along the highway until something in my show went BANG also and my shoe shredded, then I examined the damage. My old bike -- 30 years old -- has the old Bendix coaster break and the break bar that's clamped to the frame had bent in half, deforming the frame where the bar is clamped to it.
Thing was, the wheel continued to spin with only a bit of grinding and squeaking, and honestly I wouldn't need the breaks so long as everyone else got the frocken Hell out of my way for the rest of the trip down. I got back on (after picking up parts of my shoe) and biked over the barricade at full speed, ramping off the mound of dirt that's on the left, coming back down with a heavy crunch which probably didn't help my axle any.
This is with a full backpack and a tent with bedding roped to the handlebars so there's considerable weight on the axles.
No problem, though, I continued to roll on all the way to the Rincon Fire Station where I stopped and talked with the two dogs there that live with the professional trail builders, Marvin and his crew. His crew had done the Bear Creek trail and I'd stopped along the way to check it out because there was a USFS Jeep at the trailhead. (I walked the trail a bit but didn't see the Freddie until I was back on my bike and only then I saw him just as he crested a ridge and hiked out of view, like Charles Bronson in that movie in Alaska. You know the one.)
I stopped by the Elmer pen and was amazed at the number of Republicans puttering around in there. I mean the place was FULL of Elmers and there was a line heading back down the road, all of them waiting to get in to the pen. There's not much room for them because the water is up high. They would pay their entry fee, putter around in their little pen, air conditioning on FULL, pretending they're great desert explorers or something.
I had to laugh. Down below along the river bottom the USFS has signs that talk about the "great off road mountain explorer adventure" that could be had by puttering back and forth down there at the river bottom, and I have no doubt that all of them -- every one -- believe they're manly, subduing Mother Nature, all that happy male wannabe horseshit. Do I hate them? Oh, yes, a little, but not much because I'd expect that their upbringing involved Tonka Trucks and stuff -- whereas mine was spent at the beach nearly every day, body surfing, eating sunflower seeds, stepping through tide pools and stuff.
On a down hill section after East Fork Bridge my rear axle seized up and my chain broke, slowing me down even more and causing me to have to go back and pick it up off the road - along with most of the contents of my right shoe this time (I purchase cheap shoes, you might have noticed.) With the axle sprocket probably predominately wedded to the hub now I'll have to probably find another wheel, alas, before I can bike again. So now not only was my bike's break gone but I couldn't pedal on the rare flat section, nor could I get to up speed on the down hill sections unless they were considerably down hill (then there'd better not be anyone in my way 'cause I'm coming down full speed, no breaks, no shoes left, so move it, pal!)
Since I wasn't traveling quickly much any more I took my hat out of my backpack and started wearing it, something I should have done before setting out because I was pretty badly sunburned by the time I got down. The hat itself is a dead cow -- a section of skin from a dead cow, any way. Or maybe I should say "presumed dead" because there's always a chance the poor thing survived the operation.
Around mile marker 23 there's a ravine that has a creek in it that runs all year around though only during these months do I think it's reasonably safe to drink it if I have a canteen full of water. When I'm out of water I'll suck water off of mud flats and I probably get away with it because I've done it for at least 20 years and my immune system kills everything that would normally give humans, um, er, how do I put this, a disgustingly runny problem the next day or more.
Since I was on foot I stopped and checked it out, then walked down to the bottom -- choked with trees and brush -- and checked out the plunge pool. At that point the pool is about four or five feet deep (another good place for gold panning) and I've used it before in the height of Summer to cool off -- after hiding my bicycle since it's only about 30 feet from the highway. This time I topped off my canteen, drank about 40, 50 gallons of the stuff, then filled my maybe-dead cow skin hat which I then put on my sunburned head.
The rest of the trip down was uneventful -- hell, all of it was boring, wasn't it? One thing I noticed was how all the people on bicycles wave or give a thumbs-up to each other. The same for hikers -- there's a camaraderie among the people who utilize these mountains for healthy exercise and enjoyment and we all seem to have a great disdain for the ones that come to beshit and befoul the air with their fumes and their noise just because.
It was great to have the whole mountain top to myself, a privilege that I savored. The next time up it'll be National Trails Day, I believe it's called, and there should be about 300 people around the lake up there doing cleanup work. I'll need to fix my bike and get new shoes for that.
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