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A week in the San Gabriel Mountains

A week spent along in the San Gabriel Mountains with nothng to do but read and enjoy the lack of humanity for a while.
It had probably been a stupid mistake, one that could possibly be the last stupid mistake I would ever make if I didn't find water soon. The heat was the problem, punishing and relentless, escaping past my old leather hat, frying the rocks and hard packed, sterile dirt I was walking on, burning my eyes, drying and then baking the snot buried in my face, cooking the brain in my head, squeezing whatever water out of my very skin that might still be left after seven hours -- the last four hours agonizing and terrible -- laboring, struggling up this mountain ridge.

Ten miles behind me as the crow flies, about double that distance by foot, and about four thousand feet below I had contemplated this mountain trek from the relative comfort and safety of the Rincon Fire Station, a refuge for the U. S. Forest Service Freddies and the hotshot fire crews that protect this section of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Very early this morning I had walked my single speed bicycle -- bought for ten dollars, a 30 year old rusting relic dragged out of someone's garage and sold to me on a front lawn -- fifteen miles from my home, through the canyons along Highway 39, in the heat of the night, taking to the hillside when ever I saw the lights of motorized vehicles coming.

On the highway, I usually walk at night and in the early morning hours, pushing my bicycle up hill with my backpack firmly strapped in place, my bedding and tent roped to the handlebars of my bicycle, riding down hill when ever the highway dipped down briefly before resuming its upward climb, singing songs aloud to myself, thinking about water, thinking about sleep, hay foot, straw foot, sweat slicked balls swinging loosely from left to right and back again as mile gave way to more mile, as "way gives on to way," as any weary Hobbit would tell you.

At this time of night it's certain that each driver will be drunk, stoned, crazy, and heavily armed so every time I saw the glow of headlights down below coming toward me, I shouldered my metal frame backpack, lifted up my old bicycle off of its tired feet and on to my own, then I'd scramble up the hillside against the highway, there to hide in the shadows in hatred and distrust until the drunk, stoned, whatever driver went past, leaving behind the usual offensive cloud of stink.

With the threat safely past I'd come out from hiding behind rocks, cactus, and scrub, lift my bicycle again, then make my way carefully back down to the highway, consider taking a drink of water, then press onward, rolling up the highway until the next vehicular threat approached.

There had been fifteen miles and three sweaty hours of this until I reached the foot of the Rincon recreational area and ready access to the San Gabriel River, there to peel off my sweaty, clinging clothes, stretching them out onto rocks to dry in the hot night air while I walked naked down into the cold, swiftly flowing water.

I had sunk into the river, screaming aloud at the expected, wonderfully agonizing pain of the cold water as it enveloped my head, flooding my mouth, throat, and guts, cutting off my screams. I lay there under water, feet pressed against rocks down river, arms clinging to rocks up river, buffeted and given new life from the heavy flowing river outside my skin, the rumble of the flow over the rocks, their voices pounding their insane babble into my ears.

Air? Who needs air? Outside of my river, out in the air I had rejected, it was over 80 degrees, probably around two in the morning, some thirty degrees cooler than it had been during the Noon of the day, but still pretty hot weather to be hiking in up hill pushing a heavily loaded bicycle and carting a moderately heavy backpack.

I lay there at the bottom of the river, bouncing on my feet, sipping the river now that I'd filled my guts, putting off my return to the warmth of the outside as long as I could, music meandering through my head. Brooke Benton sang to me about rainy nights in Georgia, worried that it's raining all over this man's world.

Brooke says it's just life and we all have to play the game, but as I lay there I couldn't have disagreed with him more. Life isn't a game we're forced to play, it doesn't have to be a big Monopoly game where everybody plays until there's only one winner, the rest of us losers. Those of us who are dealt hands that are so-so, neither winning hands nor truly losing hands, have options outside the realm of playing out the cards we're dealt. We can leave the board, either forever (deliberately or by accident) or leave for short periods of time -- like I had done, as I was doing.

Finally I couldn't stay down any longer, dragged my knees under me and stood up quickly before I could be swept down stream. I sucked down a lungfull of air and then screamed it back up again, something I had no control of, surely. I had gone into the river screaming and that's the way I had come out of it this dark morning.

I walked back to my bicycle and looked over my bedding wondering if I wanted to unrope things to get comfortable to sleep the rest of the morning. If morning was just a few hours away, unpacking my bedding to sleep for those few hours only to repack everything up again might not be worth the effort. On the other hand if it really was two in the morning (according to my best guess) it might be worth at least spreading out my tarp.

I searched the sky, looked for Jupiter, Casiopia, even the Big Dipper would have helped give some indication as to how much longer I had before morning came. The lights from the cities to the South of me and those to the West made the identification of useful constellations difficult, and as I put off the decision I fell asleep, putting an end to the argument.

By the time the Sun started to suggest itself in the East, I had refilled my canteens, inspected my feet (a toe on my left foot always liked to get dislocated on long hikes) donned my clothes before the first of the Forest Service employees and volunteers showed up, then got my first look at the mountain ridge line I contemplated hiking up.

From down below it had looked easy enough. It was a climb, sure, from around fifteen hundred feet to just over five thousand, a ridge line some twenty miles long with the promise -- according to old US Geological Survey maps and more recent satellite photographs -- to have water at a few places I might reach. Maybe. If the water hadn't dried up by this time and if I could find it.

July in San Gabriel can be cool and sweet, filled with gentle breezes that lift tired and sweaty hair from one's brow, bringing with it the fragrance of cactus and pine, coyote shit and water, precious water.

July in these California desert mountains can also be brutally hot, the suffering land literally groans aloud at times -- as I had been groaning for some time now, having hiked up this far in the hot morning Sun while running out of water. My bicycle was safely stored down at the fire station, and here I was hiking carefully among the scrub along a ridge in July -- one of the hot Julys.

I unsnapped my backpack and let it drop heavily to the ground. In fact I hadn't the strength to carefully set it down anyway. Checking around in my pack for my canteens I found what I knew I'd find since it'd already done this. Each canteen was empty, not even drips left. At over one hundred and ten degrees, the time it takes between unscrewing the cap and bringing the canteen to one's lips results in half the contents evaporating -- or so it seems.

In any event I had been out of water for a long time. I was dizzy and light headed, black splotches came and went before my eyes when ever I lifted my head and bright streaks of light occasionally crossed my vision. I lifted the hat from off of my head and held it up to block the Sun, allowing the evaporation to cool my brains, if possible, and restore some sanity.

"Time for sanity's long past, asshole," I told myself, not unkindly. "Sanity -- not to mention water -- is that way," I told myself, jerking a thumb behind me, across the burning haze and down into the canyons below were the San Gabriel River lay somewhere.

"Go back?" I argued. "You want us to go back? According to my calculations there's water here, about 100 yards along that crack," I told myself pointing.

"No, I don't want to go back but how can you be sure this is the right ravine? They all look alike and we're dying up here. You want to struggle down that ravine looking for water that might -- just might -- be there, relying on maps made before you were born?"

It was an argument we'd had lots of times, endless times. Some times I won the argument, other times I lost. I reminded myself of this and said, "Look, the fact that we're still alive and standing here arguing about what to do tells us something about our judgment and navigation skills, right?" Grudgingly he admitted this was so. "Lamb Springs, that October, remember that?" He remembered.

I dragged my backpack into the shade of a boulder and sat down behind it to rest, taking off my hat and rolling it up to try to contain its moisture for later. Digging further into my pack I pulled out a can of peaches. From around my neck I took my old Army rations can opener, punctured the can in a few places, and drank -- hot, hot, sweet syrup I choked down before opening the can the rest of the way and eating the peaches.

"You said it would be cooler up here," I told myself, finding more energy to resume the argument now that I had some liquid in me. "Twenty degrees cooler, you said." The thing of it was, sitting in the shade under this boulder it was cooler -- much cooler. Without the Sun's rays pounding into my skin, bouncing off of my hat, it really was much cooler.

I looked around me and opened the side pocket on my backpack and pulled out my folded paper maps. These maps had been with me for years, printed by computer off of the US Geological Survey's set of photographs taken long, long ago. These maps had survived rain, mud slides, periodic attacks of sweat, bears and deer pawing through my stuff looking for food, snowfall, slippery accidents while crossing rivers and streams, and Mojave Desert flash floods.

Why not get real maps? Maps that were made within the past 20 years, say? Maps that would be more accurate and improve my chances of survival? I'll tell you why later.

Right now my maps were bone dry and crackled as I carefully peeled them open, selecting the first sheet covered in pencil marks. I shaded my eyes out of habit even though I was sitting in the shade and looked around. This could be the ridge I was looking for. "It's more like half a mile, not 100 yards," I said aloud. "Maybe even a mile." I paused. "Could be two," I admitted to myself.

I stood up and walked to the edge of the ridge line and squinted into the sunlight. The Sun was heading down the sky, slaying my eyes. Unrolling my old leather hat I reshaped it and set it on my head, tilted down and cocked to the side to let air flow under it. Looking from map to rock, from map to dirt, from map to the distance, I was convinced that I was on the ridge I wanted.

I decided to press on, hoping, taking it on faith that there would be water at the end. If not I would wait until night fell and make my way back down to the fire station, assuming it would take less than half the time it had taken me to get up here -- doable without water, I supposed, though it wasn't going to be pleasant. "Pray for rain," I suggested, then laughed, the invocation of deity a sure sign of impending heat stroke.

Shouldering my backpack took some effort. Despite there being no water in my canteens, and despite having eaten the contents of a can of peaches, I could swear my pack was twice as heavy now than it had been before I'd set my foot on the Rincon Shortcut.

See, I had parked my bicycle down at the Rincon Fire Station, checked in with some of the fire crew and Forest Service people there, then started hiking up the Rincon Shortcut, a wide dirt road that was built supposedly as an escape route for the people of Los Angeles City in the event of nuclear attack which unfortunately never transpired.

The Shortcut is a magnificent hike in the Winter or in the rainy season, winding its way through the San Gabriel Mountains all the way up to Angeles Crest Highway -- Highway number 2 -- some 30 or 35 or more miles away. Along the way -- if one's on foot, anyway -- one can appreciate the flowers and the occasional streams, and depending on how heavy the haze is, one can see for hundreds of miles at some points along the Shortcut. I had left the Shortcut after hiking along it for several miles, and had stepped off of the road and trekked off into brush long ago.

People hike and jog along the Shortcut up to Pine Mountain and back down again, usually, despite the fact that the U. S. Forest Service allows dangerous and uncontrolled, unsupervised motorized vehicles on the Shortcut if drivers pay a fee. Who drives the Rincon Shortcut? Sissies in pickup trucks, dickless pansies who think driving big pickup trucks and pretending to be men will finally make it so as long as they can subdue, rape, and torture Mother Earth, that's who. Clowns who think they're rugged mountain men because they can press a gas pedal while drunk, that's who.

Can I express how much I hate them? Probably not. The things I've seen people do up there with their pickup trucks, motorcycles, firearms, road flares, wood matches, cans of gasoline, alcohol, crack cocaine, spray paint, and their endless, enduring human stupidity justifies my hatred of every one of them who intrude into my forest.

So many of them drive through my wilderness, comfortably wrapped in their air conditioned monster pickup trucks, clown tires ripping up my forest, killing my plants, slaughtering my wildlife, thinking the laws of the country don't apply out here. And yes, I watch them some times, perched high above them on ridge lines looking down, seeing them, these dickless morons who don't know anyone else is around to see them.

They park, spray bullets down into the canyons and the hillsides around them with not a care in the world they might kill someone. This they do while drinking beer, smoking pot or crack cocaine. When that proves to be boring, I've watched countless morons drop their pants to piss off some of that beer they downed while spraying bullets at rocks. I've watched countless pause a while, whacking off afterwards stopping only if they finish or hear either vehicles coming toward them or my disembodied laughter coming down to them from my ledge above them.

And when they're not destroying my forest, setting fires, shooting up the place, whacking off, getting drunk, and the usual activities those in pickup trucks usually engage in when they believe they're not being watched, they're dumping their garbage on the ground. Beer cans, beer bottles, the boxes the beer came in, McDonnald's Hamburger wrappers, used baby diapers -- all the garbage that's in their vehicles winds up on the Rincon.

Some times when I catch such people setting fires, I'm close enough to stop them. You'll be relieved to know that when I do, I hardly ever think about sneaking up on them, clubbing them down to the ground with a rock while yelling, "ah ha!" and then gently nudging them over the edge of the road, there to roll gently and rapidly over the cactus and boulders to the canyon floor far below to be followed by their four wheeled surrogate penis. Hardly ever think about it.

I'm not quite so crazy. The fact that I look crazy when I've been in the mountains hiking and sweating for days is enough to convince firebugs to put out their fires, usually, and often enough I just come up and dump their own ice chest on the fire they're standing around, cans, ice, water, and all, reminding these mother fuckers that only they can prevent forest fires.

I had left the Shortcut in part to escape the enemy and because no road or trail leads to where I was going. I'd taken out my oil-filled compass and taken a heading, sighting along the most likely ridge path before leaving the dirt road. That led me to the ridge I now stood on, backpack once again in place and planning to step off into a new, perhaps fatal direction.

I started across the face of a cliff, paying attention to my feet and trying to ignore the overwhelming thirst that was creeping back now that I was in the sunlight again. Noise above me. High above a pair of hawks circled and circled, wings not moving at all, being lofted higher and higher by the rising thermals. I stopped to watch, fascinated as they soared ever higher, spiraling up without moving a finger until they were just spots then lost to sight.

I moved on, stepping over rocks clinging to the cliff face, stepping on some of the heavier plants where I could (pardon me, won't be a moment, this won't hurt much) for safety -- well relative safety. Half a mile or so, I found a place to remove my backpack and sit down, arming the sweat out of my eyes to look around.

There, below me about thirty feet and another fifty feet or so ahead was a spot of black -- shadow -- and what I was looking for, right where my old maps had said it was. Here I found myself looking at two hills rammed up against each other forming a ravine which came to a weathered point, rather like the cheeks and crack of someone's ass, perhaps, sagging and covered with scrub brush. A squint into the sunlight and yes, within the shadows are green trees, a grand total of two of them. My home for the next week.

I shouldered my backpack again and clambered down and in to the cool shade of a box-shaped cleft about 20 feet deep and maybe ten feet across, a fair amount of water dripping down the back of the little box and forming a small plunge pool perhaps six inches deep with a few worms laying dead at the bottom.

Two pine trees, not in the best of health, I'd say. Looking out of my new home for a quick check before ducking back into the coolness again, I thought that the trees and the spring itself should be in the Sun in an hour or so. Shade and water -- I dropped my backpack and shoved my face into the small plunge pool, stripped off my clothes to dry, then had myself a shower of sorts.

Where was I? I couldn't say but what I will say is that you can check your maps and not find this place, not unless you have a map that's older than I am. This little spot of green -- an actual oasis -- is virtually unknown.

There are a number of springs with vegetation like this all through the San Gabriel Mountains. I know of a good one that can be reached from the main highway around mile marker 30 -- if you're willing to climb up a long ravine to find the source of the water that disappears into a grate along the highway. Had that particular stream gone underground and disappeared far from the highway, it might likewise be relatively unknown, a oasis like my new home.

There's water up here in places people in vehicles never know and people on foot rarely do. Flowing springs and streams are numerous some parts of the year, less numerous during the Summer months, some flowing in various volumes all year around. My spring was producing perhaps one gallon of water a minute -- a large volume of water, collecting in a wide and shallow pool which drained into a wider and even more shallow pool before flowing out of the rock box and down the ravine, disappearing entirely maybe thirty feet further down, soaking into the ground -- perhaps to resurface further on down but I rather doubted it. Evaporation probably claims it all.

Old maps have things not on new maps. New maps have things not seen on old maps. These truths are often due to deliberate attempts to mask the location of some things that someone has decided should not be found. I think it possible that this spring, this quality source of wonderful water is one spring that has been deliberately hidden from contemporary hikers.

I pulled a fresh pair of socks out of my backpack, sat down and examined my feet. There's hard ridges of dead and yellow skin stacked up on the side of toes, the balls and heels of my feet, and on the right foot half way up my ankle where my shoes always seem to scrape despite the make or size of the shoe. After particularly long or difficult hikes my feet get blisters or start bleeding; not so today.

Smacking my shoes against the rock face to dislodge any unwelcome visitors, I put my old shoes back on top of fresh, clean white socks. The ground here is broken rock, loose dirt, and scrub brush of some kind -- I never did bother to learn the names of the plants up here except for some of the plants I either eat or avoid. The two trees are short -- 15 feet tall or so, I'd guess -- and squat, bushy with piles of dead limbs, dried mouse and bird shit, and needles under each.

Pawing through the dead branches and twigs I found seeds I couldn't identify. Out of the Sun once again, my guts sloshing full of water once again, I sing, motivated by the seeds -- bayonet yucca, perhaps? -- I'd found. "Holly holy love, take a lonely child. And the seed, let it be full with tomorrow. Holly holy," I sang, thinking the phrase appropriate. Here were seeds holding within themselves the promise of life tomorrow.

I placed the seeds back where I had found them and covered over my little hole, then I looked around. I wouldn't disturb somebody's tomorrow. I'd disturb as little as I could while I was here, I vowed, and as I sat there on the loose dirt, naked except for shoes and socks, something kept nagging at my conscience. It was hot. Check. My clothes were drying. Check. Sunburn is starting to sting a bit. Gotcha. Hungry? No, not really. Water? Drank plenty. Missing, something missing.

Animals were missing. I stood up and walked to the edge of the box to look around in the sunlight once again. Where are all the animals that use this water for survival? For that matter why wasn't there an animal track or two? Most of the well known springs and streams I've visited over the years have had "goat trails" leading to them, little narrow ledges carved into the side of the cliff face by the feet of deer and other animals. This spring had none despite a good volume of water.

Or was it good water? I turned and walked back to the plunge pools and examined the bottoms again. Yes, worms and a few of those damned annoying insects that skate on the top of the water I want to drink so often. These animals live so I should. Animals aren't avoiding this water because it's poison, at least, but the mystery of why larger animals haven't carved a foot trail is a mystery I ponder over.

The only thing I could think of was that there was a bigger, better spring somewhere nearby, one easier to access. There was no clue as to its location, if there was one, not along any hill side or cliff face I'd seen so far. Besides, my old map indicated a single spot marked "spring" -- unless the map point meant a pair of springs, maybe?

I laughed and said, "hell with it." While my clothes dried, the Sun swung into view, shining down on to the pine trees, then on to the lower plunge pool to illuminate the rocks therein, and finally across my shoes, prompting me to stir from my near sleep. I had things to do -- like try to figure out how to contrive a place to sleep on the rocks that was at least flat enough that I wouldn't slide much while asleep. Avoiding ants where possible is also preferable to plopping down right in the middle of them.

I got up and much to my surprise nearly fell on my face. My knees had stiffened up and the pain of rising had been unexpected. Stupid of me to hike a hard distance and then rest in the shade for hours without moving. I stayed down on my hands and knees, lifting rocks and stacking them out of the way until I had a fairly rockless patch of dirt, sand, and twigs. It wasn't exactly flat -- nothing much is flat in these mountains -- but with enough rocks moved out of the way I'd have a bed. I'd put the rocks back before I left.

I lay down on the ground to try it out, moved another rock, lay down again, moved left and right, removed still another rock, then was satisfied. On top of my less rocky dirt bed I put down my old green tarp, folding it over twice into a narrow cover about three feet wide, eight feet long. I folded the upper edge a couple of times until it was three feet by six, then I untied the rope around my blanket. Tent? I lugged that bitch all the way up here, weighs about four or maybe six pounds and yet here I was not going to use it?

Thing was, there was no room for the tent and no need for it any way. During the Summer months I use my tent as a means to escape insects, and during the rest of the year I use the tent to reduce ants ending up in my clothes or deer ending up in my bread. When it rains I'll put my tent up, throw my tarp over it (folded) to keep my sleeping bag or blanket mostly dry. I didn't need my tent but I'd hauled it all this distance, I should use it.

I folded up my tarp again, unrolled my tent and spread it out half way, laying my tarp down on top of that, making a good large pillow before unrolling my blanket on top of that. Perfect! Comfortable, too.

I sat there on my comfortable bed and emptied my backpack. Cans of vegetarian beans (six meals) box of crackers (four meals, maybe five) four cans of Diet Coke, two cans of mixed salted nuts, flat bread of some kind (six large pancake-like and hard slabs) container of crush red pepper, salt, a jar of instant coffee. It's enough for one meal a day, or if I cut my stay here down by a couple of days, maybe two meals a day.

Also from the backpack came an unexpected bag of "Good and Plenty" candy and an empty Pez candy wrapper. When was the last time I'd eaten Pez candy? Ten years ago? Longer? The surprise candy was hard and I couldn't remember when I'd purchased it. Still, it was a welcome treat.

Aside from spare socks and a not very clean T-shirt, two books and two little stoves were the last of my possessions from the backpack -- tuna cans (the fish long ago fed to stupid and lazy cats) with rolled up and tightly packed cardboard stuffed into them, melted wax poured on top to create small, light weight, safe-to-use stoves.

Looking out, I saw that the light was going. I walked to the edge of the cliff wall and looked out, a naked and Pagan savage, of sorts, saying "good night" to the tormentor of his day. Doomed to a night of being incapable of burning me any longer for a while, the Sun was still nonetheless hot, not giving up just yet, sending its heat toward me in one last effort to boil my blood.

I watched Old Man Sun setting on my right, sinking behind the San Gabriel Mountain range to the Southwest, by my navigation reckoning. (Gazing straight out from this ravine I gaze due South.) The Sun sets early up here, earlier still down in the canyon bottoms, and in the cities down below it would be hot still, another hour before the last rays of the Sun dipped below the city's' horizon.

Standing, watching, the blazing Sun's threat diminished though its grandeur increased. As it set, the Sun turned orange, then red, flattening out and growing wide, shimmering and dancing as the stored heat of these mountain ranges gave themselves up into the slowly cooling air.

Time stopped. The last merest edge of the Sun hung above the mountain tops far to the West and held there, reluctant to go. A pulse of light exploded from the rim of the burning globe, a pause, then another explosion of light and then the Sun was gone.

The sky before me was still bright; it wouldn't be truly dark here for hours yet. Still, all around me the world let out a massive sigh. Insects started buzzing around my face, seeking my salt now that twilight was upon the world. Bats filled the air around my temporary home, darting in crazy, swooping, zigzag paths, clicking and buzzing as they bounced their echoes off of me as well as off of the insects they hunted.

I unloaded some of my stored water on to the ground, calling, "Salt! Come get your salt!" to any creature who cared. If I had been up higher and further North near Crystal Lake and the designated wilderness area, I could expect to be visited by many deer who would appreciate whatever salt I cared to piss for them. Here, though, I was still puzzled by the apparent lack of deer and coyote. I'd have to keep my food out of the hands of mice and ants, but wouldn't worry about deer.

While darkness settled around my shoulders, I stood there, inexplicably sad. I took a systems check to see if I could discover why. Nothing was broken, I had food and water though I wasn't really hungry, and while knees, back, and neck reported minor damage from Sun and effort, there was no discernible cause to be sad. My bicycle? Was that it? Was my friend safe there at the fire station, there in the dark? Probably. That wasn't it.

I pondered my emotional state while a tune played its way through my consciousness, subconsciousness, unconsciousness -- or whatever it is they call that collection of ego, super ego, and id babble that comprise the adult Homosapien Sapien primate's mind. Music bubbled up through my melancholy, the tune taking on words in my mind, now recognizable. A female singer, as it turned out, stepping forward to explain to me why I was feeling sad as light bled out and disappeared from the world.

Olivia Newton John slipped out from my lips, whispered quietly to the barely seen bats that continued to hunt around me.

Keep me suspended in time with you
Don't let this moment die
I get a feeling when I'm with you

homepage: homepage: http://www.elmerfudd.us/

purple skies over rocky mesa 25.Aug.2006 01:21

slim

Sounds like nice times frederick. Glad you could be there. Watch how you pick the drunk yahoos to which you choose to offer an educational lesson about what shouldn't be done in the wilderness. Some of them are crazy enough to kill people.

Oh man, that's the truth 25.Aug.2006 13:17

Fredric L. Rice frice@skeptictank.org

Some of the outrageous things people do out there.

There's been murders up there while I've been up there, sleeping just a mile or so from where the murders took place. Guns, drugs, and alcohol combined with an impression that there's no law up there makes the place ripe for homicides despite the fact that the Sheriff's office patrols.

Night time the drunks race up and down the highway, sliding around turns and into on-coming traffic lanes, surviving solely because probability is that there's nobody coming the opposite direction.

I've sat on a boulder at the first water authority building up there just below Morris Dam, resting after the first long hike section where it's a good place to rest and drink, and I've watched clowns racing up the highway, racing each other around the curve and winding up on the shoulder before they fishtail back on to the pavement.

People walk and bicycle along the highway but these drunked clowns don't care.

I've been up there when racing High School students missed me by 30 minutes and one of the racing students rampped his daddy's car off the edge and into the canyon water above Morris Dam. It took three days to locate the vehicle using helicopters and ground divers.

The drunks building fires are even worse, yep.

Some of the volunteers have Forest Service uniforms and I've found that that helps reduce violent responses considerably.

Our USFS people in the San Gabriels are good people, honestly care about the environment they're honestly trying to protect. Their opinions of their colleages in Washington are about the same as the average environmentalist -- Washington USFS people are either totally disconnected from what the real world is like or they're corrupt and selling out to corporate sponsors.

Oh, article is only half posted. 25.Aug.2006 13:18

Fredric L. Rice frice@skeptictank.org

I see that only half of the article got posted. I'll have to post the rest this evening.

Freric L. Rice 26.Aug.2006 10:25

Rest of the article

None of the rules apply
But I know for certain
Good-bye is a crime
So love if you need me
Suspend me in time

Good-bye is a crime, one moment is stolen from us even as the next is given. Unbidden here was the timeless appeal to the gods to hold a cherished moment timeless, abolish forever the tyranny of time that takes things away from us.

We humans stand motionless as future streams toward us, displacing present, shoving it into the past, a flood of time sweeping from us everything -- everything. We're left with a frail, untrustworthy memory, memories of the places and people we met in that flood, desperately trying to capture the moment on photographic plates, trying to fix images of people and places firmly in our minds even while knowing the futility of the attempt.

I had just arrived here and I was already lamenting the day I would have to leave. Silly, absolutely stupid.

Through my own stupidity and clumsiness I've suffered over the years while camping, hiking, and biking in these mountains. I've been speared clean through by cactus, had the flesh ripped away from various bones among my anatomy far too many times to count, ran from vicious, starving dogs snapping at my heels, dodged bullets and cars, plodded endless miles on broken and bloody feet. I've knocked bone fragments out of my skull, lost yards of skin to the sandpaper scalpel of asphalt and rock, come close to drowning myself a dozen times, near freezing to death in the snow once, and no end of painful, wonderful discomforts.

I'd always laughed through such pains -- or at least laughed after they ended or after I regained consciousness. Nary a whimper over the years. I do what I like doing and the dangers and scraped, dislocated bones, blood loss and Emergency Room visits for antibiotic shots are accepted and expected parts of the fun, not something to cry about, certainly.

"Don't let this moment die," I repeated. Suddenly I started laughing, outraged at my stupid self. I vowed first off that when the time came to leave, I would leave. I wouldn't attempt to make my food last beyond one week. I also vowed that I'd return four months hence. It would be cold then, and I'd carry warm clothes and a sleeping bag. And if there was rain, that'd be better still.

Darkness swept in. Now would be a good time for dinner, beans and crackers, and I'd try one of those hard slabs of bread things. The tuna can stove was set on fire and placed on the ground, surrounded by a half circle of rocks. While it burned and the fire spread across the whole face of the waxed cardboard, I opened a can, bending the lid open to act as a handle once it was all hot.

This type of stove works well when a small rock is placed on top of the burning cardboard and the can is set on top of that, leaning against the circle of rocks surrounding the can. There it sat, paper wrapper burning, slowly coming to a boil. Into that I dropped a chunk of crushed red pepper, scooped out of a container with its own plastic lid, followed by an unhealthy amount of salt, stir with a dirty stick until bubbling -- ambrosia!

The hard flat slablike bread was surprisingly good, something called "pita bread" that I'd never seen before.

Somewhere under the trees crickets took up their singing, joined be a solitary fog chirping up against the wall where the water seeped and dripped, creating a music of its own. I'd have company after all! The enjoyable kind of company: non-human.

With the stove burning, I could see fairly well in the alcove I was camping so long as I didn't look directly at the flame. Looking out at the world from the edge of the ravine, the small stove burning behind me and nearly complete darkness spread out before me, I searched the surrounding mountains and canyons for any hint of light. Aside from the glow of the cities to the South, not a light showed; no car headlights could be seen from here and illegal fires set along the San Gabriel River were likewise out of sight.

Returning to the stove I sat down before it, leaned over and blew air against the flame, extinguishing it. The crickets paused, decided the loss of light wasn't a threat, then resumed their songs. It had been a difficult and exhausting day so I slipped off immediately to sleep.

Morning almost didn't come. Lacking any real reason for opening my eyes and checking into the day, I lay there on my blanket, trying to think of reasons why I should get up. Honestly there wasn't any, and already I could tell that my legs were sore, a good reason against getting out of bed. It was actually cold, now that I noticed it. Wearing just my socks and beat up shoes, on top of my blanket with the Sun just coming up over the mountain range to the left of my ravine, it was cold. That might be a reason to get out of bed though I imagined that waiting a half an hour, hour at the most, it would quickly become hot again.

Sitting up eventually I checked my legs and found bending the knees to be as painful as I'd expected. Having decided it was time to sit up, I then face another decision: Should I try to stand? Maybe stump around the place and work out the kinks? I'd have to get up eventually if only to water a bush, I eventually decided, prompting me to get to my knees then to my feet. I groaned. I wouldn't be dancing the Riverdance today, I could tell.

I stumbled to the edge of the ravine, carefully walked a ways toward the East and watered a plant, "Here ya go, fellow," I told it, "rain from the gods."

The Sun this morning was red, probably another fire somewhere in the San Gabriel Mountain ranges far to the East, or maybe just blowing dust this time. Above me there were dark clouds, making me turn around to stare West where there was dark clouds all the way to the horizon. Rain? It could happen. A week or two of extremely hot weather could some times break with a long and heavy rain for a day. Maybe my tent would be needed after all, I hoped. Probably not, but one could hope.

The day was spent reclined on my back, reading. "'Well then,' went the Badger, 'We -- that is you and me and our friend the Mole here -- we'll take Toad seriously in hand. We'll stand no nonsense whatever. We'll bring him back to reason, by force if need be. We'll make him be a sensible Toad.'" I'd never read The Wind in the Willows before and was struck at how Republican Toad was. When Rat strapped on his firearms, took up swords, and entered the dark woods, he went "manfully." Rat couldn't have been "manful" without wearing numerous hand guns. It was the only time that humans were definitively referenced and when it was, it was to underscore humanity's wed to our tools for killing.

It didn't take long to read "The Wind in the Willows." Some how the book started out about the Mole and ended up being almost entirely about Toad of Toad Hall. Still, it was a fairly good read. By the close of the last page I'd discovered that the day had come and gone without a sound and without the heat of the previous weeks. Dark would be upon my camp in less than an hour, it looked like, and I'd done absolutely nothing but read all day.

In the time left I decided I'd go for a walk, crab my way along the face of this cliff a bit further and see what the next ravine held. It wasn't likely that there would be water in the next ravine but this range of hills flowing along side this mountain might have more than one seep.

Stepping out into the gloom I saw that there were dark rain clouds now from horizon to horizon, a suggestion of rain but here in Southern California during the Summer not a promise of rain. A slight breeze from the West was warm, any way, so I shouldered my canteen, tightened my shoes, thought about putting some clothes on and decided against. My clothes and my blanket were folded under my tarp where they would stay dry if it actually did rain.

The scramble along the dirt, rock, and scrub Westward was easier than I'd expected, probably because the trip here had been with a backpack and while holding my tent and blanket wrapped up in rope.

The next ravine was a waterless crack though I could see from the exposed rock that water ran through here in the rainy season. There might be a seep further up but it was unlikely -- and in any event unreachable unless a rope was thrown over from a secure station point some 500 feet higher toward the top.

We have floods up here, and after the series of fires -- the Williams Fire and the Curve Fire -- flooding in certain areas has been so extreme that whole micro environments have been wiped out to be replaced with mud that filled canyon floors and then worked its way to the drinking water basins of San Gabriel Dam and from there to Morris Dam. (Ironically, the fire watch tower East of Crystal Lake burned down in a fire that killed damn near everything and everyone in the region except for two men and one dog, all of whom took refuge in the center of the lake.)

So looking up my neighboring ravine, two and two came together and I wondered if parking my camp where I had was such a good idea with rain maybe coming. I probably wouldn't get flooded out, though. I might have to move things if it rained but I wouldn't get washed out to land along side my bedding and canned food a couple of thousand feet below.

Heavy rains are a sight to see up here. It's a rare treat to be standing along side the main highway or to be parked under oak trees in a tent as the heavy rains fell in buckets.

There's a place along the highway around mile marker 24.42 where a wide side canyon opens up with a stream flowing down the bottom to add its strength to the San Gabriel River. The canyon walls to the left of the side canyon are high and fractured and when it rains, there's one huge waterfall that flows down a rock sluice, springs into the open air at a few places, then accumulates a little further on down the canyon wall to splash into a deep pool at the canyon bottom.

In the heavy rain, with the water from that seasonable flood roaring down into the canyon, I've stood there on the highway beside my old bicycle, the rain pounding on my old hat, soaked through my clothes, my backpack having gained another thirty pounds or so from the water, and I've been enraptured. With the coming of the rain the motorized morons in their god damned SUVs have all gone. All that remains are the nature lovers and their nature.

When it rains up here, it's the rain that takes over the world completely. Want to stay dry when it rains up here? You must work at it, planning where to put your camp and what you'll bring along with you carefully. After finding a good place that will drain, hanging your tarp before the rains come is probably pointless since you'll soon have drips anyway and have to get up and shift your tent, your tarp, or maybe tighten whatever strings you've used to try to hold them in place against the wind.

It's best to spread your tent on the top of a ridge out in the open, then drape your tarp over your tent. Even then there will be drips so you'll either accept the fact that you'll sleep wet or resign yourself to rolling up against one side of the tent while the rest is taken over by a growing pool of water. Even then you'll wake to find that half of your sleeping bag or blanket are soaked, the rest damp.

The smarter thing to do is accept the inevitable and admit before hand that you'll be enjoying cold, wet nights with little sleep. I've spent days camped under oak trees six miles down along West Fork Road, spreading my bedding and clothes out in the road to dry by day, sleeping in six inches of water by night -- and loving it. I found that if you accept the rain, live with it and don't fight it, it's the best of times.

Standing here along my neighboring ravine I marveled at how quickly the weather could change. Yesterday I had been laughing about praying for rain to ease the torment, and this evening here I was wondering about what I should do, if anything, about the very rain that looked like it might actually come.

I turned around and worked my way carefully along the cliff face back to my camp, turned and watched the Sun go down again, this time only a vague brightening in the clouds in the West slowly darkening until it was dark -- truly dark this time. It was so dark that it had surprised me. It took some effort to paw around the ground for my old box of wooden matches and the tuna can stove I'd used last night.

Once again with the small flame behind me I looked out toward the South, a naked and Pagan savage standing on the brink of the world, scanning left and right for any hint of light, scanning the sky, too, finding not even a hint. My neighbors behind me had taken up their songs again... No, I heard crickets this evening but Mr. Toad was silent.

I sat on by bedding and stared into my stove's small fire. Dinner? I hadn't eaten yet today. I was thin enough and frequented these mountain canyons often enough that some of the Forest Service people were of the opinion that I was homeless. I really should eat more, shave on occasion, scrub some of the top soil off in a real bath tub with actual hot water, do a little maintenance to dispel the rumor that Fred was one of the growing crowd of half starving, unwashed homeless.

I'd laughed once some months back when told by one of my Forest Service acquaintances that he hadn't expected me to be a "professional man" after I told him what I did for a living and about how much I was paid. What would he think of me now? Sitting naked in the dark, rain threatening, staring at a small fire contemplating whether I should have dinner? Would he still consider me a "professional man?"

I decided that he would. He'd joined the Forest Service because he loved nature as much as I do. The exact specifics of which I won't mention because that could identify him given as he recounts the story of how he came to want to be a Forest man when barely prompted to do so.

I climb out of my professional box, out of my clothes, and into the woods every chance I get, and doing so made me less of a savage than those rut-entrenched among us who plod from home to work and back to home again in their god damned SUVs day after day, screaming in horror when finding a harmless bug in their sugar-packed breakfast food. Such savages whose first response to a garden snake sharing their bed would be to leap up screaming and kill it with a volley of shoes thrown from a safe distance.

Contemporary man, the Latin "Mobilius Moronica." We'd see who died first, either the complacent, fat moron who sat dull and stupid in front of FOX "News" or "The Simpsons" every evening, being lied to and brainwashed into gross ignorance and the compelling frenzy of needing to purchase purchase purchase things he didn't need. Or me: someone who avoids television, hates SUVs (and their drivers! Die, fuckers, die!) who exercises to near extinction every week, doesn't eat meat, doesn't drink except on extremely rare occasions (once every five years? More?)

True, I stood a good chance of some god damned SUV fucker killing me in the highway, or I might some day drown in one of these streams out here or fall down a mountain face, but at least I'd leave otherwise healthy remains.

Another can of beans and the last of the flat bread was followed by long minutes of wondering if it was worth getting up to get water for coffee. As I sat there, thinking about rinsing out my empty bean can to heat water, the first few drops of rain fell. I looked up and saw bright specks of rain falling, reflecting the light of my meager stove, coming down at me from a completely black sky.

That decided it. I got up and walked to the end of the shelf, under the seep, and filled my bean can with water, then swished it around and threw the contents into the dead brush under the trees, then filled my can again and set the water on my stove, balancing it on the rock in the center of the slowly burning cardboard. If it was going to rain, coffee would go well with it.

Through the night it did rain off and on though never very hard. Laying on my tarp with my blanket, shoes, books, and clothes safely dry under the tarp, the rain was welcome. I found myself gushing out great sighs of relief that night, imagining my Sun-baked skin soaking up the water and restoring the flow of the blood that surely must have dried in my veins during the hike up here. The rain pattered against my tarp, stopped for a time, then resumed, music that joined that of the crickets -- still no sign of Mr. Toad.

By the time I woke up and stood to see what the morning had brought, the rain clouds had gone, leaving behind a cool breeze still sweeping East toward the rising Sun. Today would be a day of action, of doing things. I'd finished my first book and would start the next tomorrow, but today wasn't going to be spent dozing.

The socks I'd worn yesterday now were pulled out of my shoes and inspected. Stiff with dirt and the occasional sticker, I added my socks to the plastic bag containing my trash collection then selected a set of old, mismatched, but wonderfully clean white socks. I smacked my shoes against the rocks upside down to dislodge any inhabitants and set them on my feet.

With my canteen strapped over my shoulder I left my camp and headed back toward the ridge line I'd hiked to reach this place. It was a much easier hike in the cool morning and took a much shorter length of time to get there. I piled a few rocks up and hiked East, going further along the ridge line that climbed higher for about 500 feet or so.

From the top of the ridge I stopped hiking and turned around to look. From there, looking South, I could just make out the far mountains that formed the South walls of the San Gabriel Valley. Unseen at the foot of those mountains were the cities: San Dimas, Glendora, West Covina, Covina, other cities I never visited. To the East rose the rest of the San Gabriel Mountain range, Mt. Islip, Windy Gap, Mt. Hawkins. West was an unspeakable swamp of still more cities too disgusting to even name. North were more mountain peaks, too sacred and holy name.

It was quiet up here, just as it has always been. I was above the timber line, I could see, though there were no trees on the ridge or down the slope around me. Across a canyon there were trees, growing sparsely, isolated from one another. Why no trees here? Other than my two stunted companions back at camp there were none on this mountain top or its sides.

To get to those trees I would have to try to work my way carefully down the slope then back up the next. It would be difficult going down just as much as it would be difficult climbing back up again. I sighed and said, "No frocking way, pal." "We could do it, easily," I argued with myself. "You might, but not me," I said. "Why? Why not?" I looked over the proposed route to the trees and back again then answered, "Because if you slip we're both going to die out here, probably at the bottom of this ridge."

This wasn't much of an argument. Die out here I might some day, and be the better for it. The only problem was that it might hurt like a bitch, was the problem. I began to see reason. "It was hard enough just to get here," I continued. "And you have two library books out that'll become over due."

That decided it. I returned to my camp and read for the rest of the day, having decided that I was having enough of an adventure without trying to break bones I'd need to get back down the mountain. I lay back and opened my book, joining Luis Wu, wirehead, and his kidnapped Kazin. "You scream and then you leap." This was better than sweating up and down mountains now that I was actually here and comfortable.

The rest of my days here were much the same. There would be a day of hot weather followed by a night of rain. I'd eventually put up my tent after putting my tarp down. I'd sit in the rain eating my beans and soggy salt crackers after it was dark, read during the light of day, and sleep when I wished, getting up on rare occasion to walk around the hills short distances. I ran out of bread first, then coffee, then the rest until the only thing left was the old stale and rock hard "Good and Plenty" candy which I returned to my back pack uneaten.

One morning I decided it was time to pack up and head down the mountain. It had been a good camping trip of doing absolutely nothing but getting away from the stink of humanity -- the best kind of camping.

I pounded my tin cans flat using rocks, collected my plastic bag of trash, and stuffed it into my backpack. My tent and blanket followed now that there was room for them. I replaced the rocks I'd piled up out of the way, filled my canteens one last time, and took one last bath before putting my clothes back on, shouldering my pack, setting my hat back into place, and stepping out into the Sun.

I'd be back, no doubt to do nothing more than sit here and read. When I did, though, I'd be wearing thermal clothes and packing a heavy sleeping bag, but I'd be back.

A Well Said Story 20.Sep.2006 18:56

PJ Emma MtnThnder@yahoo.com

I've lived in Southern California for 25 years and I've always enjoyed getting away from the city life and venturing into the San Gabriel Mountains. The vast beauty and the "different world atmosphere" takes my mind away from the rat race crap going on below. But unfortunately, like Fredrick had said, some of these dumbasses take their stupidity and their trashy lowlife cancer up to this place to remind us more "civilized humans" just how more idiotic they really are away from their rat holes in the city. Most of these drunk, high, cracked out assclowns are the ones you see in their car 2000 feet down a canyon upside down. Serves them right I guess.


Oh, God, where to start... 01.Oct.2006 13:05

Dave Brown

There are so many things that're just plain wrong with this piece that I'm not even sure where I should start. So, diving in:

Frederic L. Rice, you're a pompous little twerp, a tiny frightened man lacking in objectivity and graced with an air of entitlement that puts the average Southern California bimbo-in-a-BMW to shame. This is YOUR forest, YOUR mountains, YOUR wilderness? Wrong. It belongs to everyone, and clearly it upsets you that you have to share your toy with the other kids. But let's move on from my personal opinions of you and start in on the inaccuracies in the piece.

"the U. S. Forest Service allows dangerous and uncontrolled, unsupervised motorized vehicles on the Shortcut if drivers pay a fee." Wrong on two counts: travel on the Rincon Shortcut is free (and by all means go ahead and verify this with the San Gabriel River Ranger District at 626 335 1251 if you don't believe me) for ANY type of travel. On to the next fallacy: anyone driving the trail is required to fill out a form at the ranger station detailing the make and model of their vehicle, its license plate number, their driver's license number, how many people will be in the vehicle, and personal contact information - no form, you don't get the combination for the locked gates at both ends of the trail. This must be done for every vehicle in a group; one permit does not cover multiple vehicles. And yes, I have seen both the USFS and LA County Sheriffs enforcing this requirement.

"a wide dirt road that was built supposedly as an escape route for the people of Los Angeles City in the event of nuclear attack..." Horseshit. It was built as alternative access (mainly for fire control) between Azusa Canyon and Angeles Crest in the event that highways 2 or 39 were closed. You're going to drive eight million people fifteen miles up a canyon to filter them all down onto a dirt road barely wide enough for a Jeep in places only to have them drive back down another ten miles at the other end towards the nuke blast they're trying to escape? Yeah, that makes sense. The next time you feel the need to pull a backstory out of your ass, at least fabricate one that's credible.

"Who drives the Rincon Shortcut? Sissies in pickup trucks, dickless pansies who think driving big pickup trucks and pretending to be men will finally make it so as long as they can subdue, rape, and torture Mother Earth, that's who." Which is funny, because the last people I bumped into on the trail two days ago (September 29th, 2006) were doing a USFS-contracted survey of the fish stocks in the stream five miles west of the Angeles Crest gate. They're fairly typical of the people I encounter up there, but then again I'm not possessed of the same timidity you are and generally have no apprehension of approaching them. Kind of makes me wonder about the "dickless pansies" comment - I mean, for all of your pompous superiority, it sure sounds like you're the one who fears them. Of course, I would expect that the cute fish survey girl driving the Xterra is dickless, but she's likely got way more balls than you'll ever have.

Oh, wait, I just figured out the whole thing about the monster pickup trucks. Had to think about that for a moment. For the benefit of anyone not familiar with the canyon, there's an OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) area in it about 10 miles north of Azusa. Pay $8 and go play in the mud at the weekend. It's pretty much the Disneyland of Southern California off-roading, and yes, it does attract the overcompensating monster truck crowd. But guess what? THE RINCON SHORTCUT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE OHV AREA. The people screwing around down in the mud don't have the motivation to go through the motions to get the combination for the gates, so pretty much remain contained within the OHV area. Unfortunately, the author has made it sound as though they're one and the same - but perhaps in his delusional mind they are.

"Often enough I just come up and dump their own ice chest on the fire they're standing around..." Ah, he found his nads. Good for him. But I'm a little surprised that the crack-addled, heavily-armed thugs, murderers, and other assorted crazies whose cooler he's just dumped out don't shoot him with their big, scary firearms and then rape the new holes they've just made in his body. I know I sure would if I were one of them.

I could go on, but really there are other things I need to accomplish today. See ya on the trails, Frederic!

LOL! "Dave Brown." 21.Jan.2007 15:54

Frederic L. Rice frice@skeptictank.org

Imagine my amusement to return to this web page a long time later to find somone complaining about the truthful and accurate description of the type of inbred, uneducated, dickless morons who drive on the Rincon Shortcut. }:-}

"Dave," you're funny. Pretending that Fisheries volunteers and employees are the rightarded clowns of which I speak kind of places you in amongst the idiots, huh?

In fact everything I described about the Rincon Shortcut is entirely accurate. It's an artifact of the "pocket forest" we have which is surrounded on three sides by some of the most densly populated city urbanization in the country, and populated by sparseley populated desert/military on the North. In the San Gabriel Mountains -- more so in the San Gabriel River Ranger District -- the percentage of abject moron to rational visitor is about 99% to 1% -- and I'd hazard a guess that "Dave" here ranks among the 99%.

No offense, I'm sure.

If anyone believes "Dave," check out  http://www.elmerfudd.us/ and get a good look at the types of people who beshit and befoul the Rincon Shortcut.