Sunday, March 31, 2013

Part 31 - The Call From the Mountain

There were a dozen hikers lounging in the shade when I arrived.  Some I knew and some were new.  Some are resting while others were preparing meals, but everyone was taking advantage of the shade as they wait out the heat of the afternoon sun.  Forest Service personnel, a female captain and two grunt firefighters, were working with the water system.  Apparently, there was a leak in one of the underground connections, which meant periodically having to turn off the water to the building in their effort to fix the leak.  It was this lack of water that had caused a backup of hikers at the fire station.  

The next reliable water was seventeen miles away at another Forest Service campground, and no one was moving without sufficient water to get them there.  My legs and feet were covered with grime and soot from having walked through the black ash residue of the forest fire.  Even though the Forest Service employees were not able to fix the leak in the time we were there, the captain ordered the water to be turned back on.  Water being as precious as it is here in the desert, I didn’t feel it appropriate to try and take a sponge bath, but I did go to the side of the building out of sight of all others and quickly washed the dirt and grime off of my legs and feet.  

In the late afternoon, I left the fire station.  No one was with me.  Some would follow a short time later and quickly pass me, but for the moment I walked alone.  This evening, after making camp on a deserted road, I placed a call to my friend, Lee Benson, who writes a weekly column for the Salt Lake City Deseret News.  Lee followed my rowing excursion across the Atlantic Ocean.
Recounting that time on the ocean, every few weeks, using my satellite phone, I would place a call to Lee and give him an update on my progress and anything else of interest, and then he would write a column for his paper.  After being shipwrecked on a small island in the Bahamas, and losing all communication with the outside world for five days because I was on a freighter with no satellite phone, Lee’s editor sent him to Miami to try and locate me, something like Stanley’s search for David Livingston in Africa. 

Before leaving for the PCT journey, I talked to Lee and asked if it would be of interest to him to do a story about a seventy-year-old senior walking 2,665 miles – Mexico to Canada.  He was enthusiastic about following my journey.  I said,  

“Okay, but let’s wait until I’ve been on the trail for several weeks to make sure I haven’t quit.” 

At my spot on the trail this evening, with good cell reception from the Lancaster area, I was able to place a call to Lee.  We visited for nearly a half hour and at the end of the conversation, I noted that I had used more than three-quarters of the phone’s battery power.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Part 30 - Jess and Lady Killer

Lady Killer consulted his GPS, and this time zoomed out a bit further so that the screen showed a wider area of terrain.  It confirmed that we were indeed headed in the wrong direction, so we did a five-mile round-trip for nothing.  By the time we got back to the point where we had made the wrong turn, Night Crawler was lagging far behind; we could see she was limping.  We waited for her and she told us she was having considerable trouble with her shoes.  We continued on, and again Night Crawler lagged far behind.  Eventually, we came to Eagles Roost Campground where Lady Killer and I waited for her.
She was crying and obviously in a great deal of pain.  We had her sit on a picnic table and remove her shoes and socks so we could have a look at her feet.  They were horrible.  She had large blisters on her big toe and between her toes as well as on her heels.  She had some bandages and tape on her sores, but they weren’t doing much good.  We washed and cleaned her feet, and then I reapplied tape and 2nd Skin adhesive pads to the blisters. 

The problem was with her shoes; they were too narrow in the toe box causing her toes to rub together forming blisters.  Jess said she was to receive new shoes in a few days.  We told her we would walk with her to the next campground, but she said she would be fine and told us to go on, which we did.  

Lady Killer and I walked together until 8:00 p.m., at which time I decided to retire for the day.  Lady Killer continued on.  By 4:30 a.m. the next morning, I was on the trail and found Lady Killer, who had camped only a half mile from me, still in his tent.  He told me he didn’t usually rise until seven in the morning.  I learned later that Night Crawler had passed both of us during the night. 
While we were helping her the day before, she mentioned she was meeting her aunt and uncle at a road crossing off Highway 2 at 9:00 a.m., which was this morning.  Her meeting was to have breakfast with her relatives and to receive a new pair of shoes.

I would say that Night Crawler is typical of the female hikers on the trail – tough, resilient, determined, and focused.  They set a goal and do not veer from it, despite the hardships, severity, and harshness of the trail.  They don’t complain or whimper when times are tough, when things don’t work out as planned.  They’re very flexible - jumping to plan B or C should plan A fall through.  Yes, they cry, they get scared, and they have the same hiker aroma as their male counterparts, but they chalk it all up to experience and keep moving forward.  Quitting is not a part of their game plan; they have come to realize early on that just because the trail is steep, their pack is heavy, the sun is brutally hot and it’s a long way to the next water source – all these were no excuse for quitting.  

Water is my most pressing need for the day, and I located it early in the morning at a Boy Scout campground called Camp Glenwood.  The water was from a water tap located in the campground.  A sign next to the tap said the water was not potable, so I took the time to treat it with household bleach I carry with me for this purpose.

A few hundred yards from where I was standing, I could see smoke rising from a campfire and a hiker named Dusty getting his gear ready for the day’s hike.  

The four liters of water I had with me would get me to the next reliable water source at the Forest Service Mill Creek Summit Ranger Station, located at yet another crossing of Highway 2.  I hadn’t kept track of the number of times the trail crossed back and forth across this highway, but it had to be close to ten. 

The trail at this point is still high in the mountains; to the north, I could look down on the Mojave Desert and vaguely see the outlines of streets associated with the city of Lancaster and Palm Dale.  And because the trail is nearing the desert, the vegetation covering the mountains was beginning to reflect a landscape that doesn’t receive a lot of water.  Nevertheless, there were still shaded valleys that had a thriving population of live oaks and big-cone spruce trees, and in and around these scattered oases of green were Forest Service campgrounds and springs. 

On my descent to the Forest Service Fire Station at Mill Creek Summit, I passed Buckhorn Campground, Cooper Canyon Campground, Sulfur Springs Campground, and Bandido Campground, just to name a few.  

A long way before arriving at the Forest Service fire station, there was a detour aptly named the Burn Station Detour, which required about five miles of roadwalking.  Because of a massive fire in 2009 that destroyed the vegetation along the trail, the trail had become unstable as a result of subsequent rains that washed parts of the trail down the mountainside.  (Sahagun)

For many miles, the trail/road descended through a landscape devoid of vegetation, with only the charred remains of once-mighty oak and large-cone pine trees dotting the mountains like fallen warriors after an epic battle.  Nothing was spared as the Station Fire devoured everything in its path.  Believed to have been started by arson(s), the fire quickly got out of control and became one of Southern California’s most expensive and wide-ranging fires.

It threatened the Mount Wilson Observatory and numerous communication towers located on top of the mountain, but were miraculously spared as the fire roared by on both sides of Mount Wilson.

Tragedy struck the firefighters when two of their members were killed when their fire truck careened off a cliff as they were speeding down the mountain trying to elude the flames that were rapidly overtaking them.  (Alexandra)

From the Forest Service dirt road overlooking the Mill Creek Summit Fire Station, I could see dirt trails departing the road and moving directly towards the fire station.  When I finally reached the trails, I too left the road and followed them to the fire station which appeared to be brand-new.  Perhaps the old one was destroyed in the 2009 fire, however, I never thought to ask.  

When the new station was built, the planners might have had the welfare of PCT hikers in mind, for there was a nice cement patio with a wooden lattice covering which provided a modicum of shade situated behind the station.  In this area, there were two water spigots and several wooden picnic-style tables for hikers to use.  

Two hikers debating whether to take water from this meager source. Because I always carry extra water with me, I was able to bypass this muddy pool.

 The Millcreek Fire Station. I didn't think to ask, but this station may be new. The older station having been burned in the Station Fire burn.

 On the back side of the fire station is a patio with tables where hikers can rest a bit and obtain water.

A very tired hiker, taking advantage of the shade, cool cement and water.

There was only a female captain and two grunts at the station when I arrived. The three were trying to fix a leak in the main water system.

 The result of the 2009 Station Burn fire.

Blow downs, called snags, littered the trail. Dead trees were easily toppled by heavy winds that frequent the area.

Fire decimates everything, but in 100 years, there will be a whole new forest here.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Part 29 - We're Not Lost

After a long and arduous climb, I reached the summit of Baden-Powell, but let me clarify what this means.  The summit itself is at an altitude of 9,399 feet.  The trail passes underneath the summit at an altitude of 9,245 feet.  Thus, the summit is still 154 feet above the Pacific Crest Trail.  Many hikers will drop their packs at the saddle and make the ten-minute climb to the top of the Baden-Powell Summit.  So when I say I reached the summit, I reached the end of the switchbacks, with the actual Baden-Powell Summit still being 154 feet above me. 

The climb up the forty switchbacks was exhausting, and I really didn’t feel up to climbing any higher than was absolutely necessary, so I moved on.  The vistas from the top of the Baden-Powell ridge were stunning; to the south, I could view the canyons and rugged terrain of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, and beyond that the Los Angeles Basin, while to the north, the desert communities of Pinion Hills and Phelan were visible.

Somewhere on the downhill side of the Baden-Powell Summit, I made camp for the evening.  As night came on, the lights of the desert communities to the north began to glow brighter and brighter, and while they looked like they were the lights of one continuous city, I knew that they were lights from communities and individual homes and ranches spread far apart.

My next water source was Little Jimmy Springs, and then the trail, after crossing Highway 2, would begin an eighteen-mile detour to protect an endangered frog species called the Yellow-legged frog.  I was concerned about finding the right trail for the detour, as my last resupply box did not have maps for this section of the trail and I no longer had my Garmin GPS unit with me.  I wasn’t using it and felt that it was just extra weight, and thus sent it home with my wife at our Cajon Pass rendezvous.
I obtained four liters of water at the spring, then uttered a silent prayer and asked my Heavenly Father to assist me in locating the right detour trail in case it wasn’t obvious to me.  A short distance from Little Jimmy Springs was Little Jimmy Campground, and as I passed through it, I noticed there were quite a number of hikers camped around the area.  Some were still in their tents and a half dozen or so were standing around a campfire.  Approaching from a side trail was a middle-aged hiker ready to leave camp and hit the trail.  In his hand he was carrying the same Garmin GPS as I used.  I knew instantly that my prayer had been answered
I introduced myself as Rabbit Stick and asked if I could walk with him for a while, at least until we got through the yellow-legged frog detour.  He was fine with that, but said he was a slow walker.  I told him I was too.  We walked together for several miles, crossed Highway 2 for the third time, found the detour trail, but elected not to follow it.

The hiker’s name was Lou the Lady Killer.  I was glad I was with him, as I would not have found the correct trail without maps or GPS, of which I had neither.  We hiked for another six miles until the trail again crossed Highway 2.  When it hit the road, the trail ended at a cliff across from the road and it wasn’t clear whether the trail went to the left or right.  Lou consulted his GPS and determined we should go left.  As we proceed left, coming down the trail from off the mountain was Jess, aka Night Crawler. 

We invited her to join us on our walk.  We went about two miles, passed through several tunnels, and eventually came to a wide bend in the road.  Sitting at a roadside table were two elderly bicyclists.  We struck up a conversation with them.  One was eighty-three and the other was seventy-five, and both fit as a fiddle.  In the course of our conversation, they assured us we were heading in the wrong direction, and that if we kept going we would eventually end up back at Wrightwood.  

From the top of Mt Baden-Powell. Underneath those clouds, looking towards the west is the Los Angeles Basin.

This tree lives right on the ridge line, at the top Baden-Powell. It is constantly buffeted by winds, and frequent storms, yet it survives.

Little Jimmy Springs. It's been developed for a long time and the water is excellent.

 Lady Killer and Night Crawler heading down Highway 2 - in the wrong direction.

Thanks to these two gentlemen bicycle riders, 75 and 83 years old respectively, they informed us that if we stayed on this road, we would soon be back in Wrightwood.

Lou, the Lady Killer.

After Lady Killer and I separated for the night, this was my camping spot for the night. No need for a tent.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Part 28 - The School: Part 4

The School - Part 4

Montgomery asks Wolfe what’s the connection between looking in the mirror and building a better airplane.  Wolfe responds that it gives the viewer the opportunity to review the ten thousand agreements made with professors, school educators, and other engineers as to why your abilities are not sufficient to do the job at hand.  These homeostats which control the viewer’s thinking will be examined, some will be kept, and most will be discarded.  In summation, he says that accepting anyone else’s solution to a problem, without thinking it through yourself, is a form of homeostat.

Via the mirror, Montgomery obtains an unadulterated view of who he really is and it horrifies him.  The persona that he has built up over the years is stripped away and his true nature is revealed to him.  He realizes that even though he has an engineering degree, he’s not an engineer.  He knows the formulas and knows where to find stuff in a textbook, but if required to do original thinking, without the aid of textbooks, he knows he would flounder.  

He realizes he’s a phony and a fake, and the façade he presents to the outside world is just that, a façade.  He tries to console himself that his position as liaison officer between the civilian contractors building the XB-91 and the Air Force was an important one, and had he not been there the project would have been delayed by at least a year.  But it’s no use; the mirror shows him what he really is, a totally incompetent bumbling butterfingers with gold braid who struts about his office and basks in the limelight of his association with real engineers.  To say that Montgomery is devastated would be an understatement. 

In frustration and anger at the revelations presented to him, he takes off his headset and throws it at the mirror, damaging it somewhat.  He stalks out of the room, and moves towards the beach.  With the illusion that he was somebody ripped away, he picks up a stick and begins to draw in the sand as a way to vent his frustration.  He draws an aircraft wing, but not a conventional wing.  This one has an irregular shape.  With a burst of insight, he realizes that the design of this wing could have shortened the wingspan of the XB-91 by 20 percent.  He had had such thoughts and premonition during the time the aircraft was in the drawing stage, but he was reluctant to voice his opinions. 

Montgomery consults with Wolfe about his experiences with the mirror, but Wolfe has already reviewed the tapes and knows what Montgomery has seen.  He encourages Montgomery to go back to the mirror and probe farther to try and discover the reasons why he was content to being a phony big shot instead of a productive individual in his own right. 

Montgomery reports back to Colonel Dodge his findings, but this time not as an inside agent for the colonel, who wants to shut down the school, but as an institute agent to convince Dodge that the school has merit and should be kept open.  He relates to Dodge everything he’s experienced and invites the colonel to come and see for himself, and he will prove to him the value of the school.  The colonel accepts the invitation and says he’ll arrive in three days. 

To convince Colonel Dodge of the validity of the school, Montgomery uses the 3-D box to construct an exact replica, in very small scale, of the XB-91 using his modified wing.  Then, as though he had a modern 3-D printer available to him, he prints a copy of the model in plastic.  He gives the plastic model airplane to his colleague, Norcross, and asks him to take it to the testing facilities at Firestone Aviation and have the engineers there test it in their wind tunnels and bring him a printout of the results.  Norcross completes his assignment before Colonel Dodge arrives
The upshot of Colonel Dodge’s visit is that the school is saved from closure.  The colonel, upon reading the printout of the wind tunnel trials for the altered wing design of the XB-91, is astounded by the plane’s increased performance and possible reduction in overall size.  But what he’s even more astounded by is the fact that the creator of the altered wing is Major Eugene Montgomery, an individual he considered to be nothing more than a strutting peacock in dress blues.  His parting comments were that if this institute could do for other men, what it has done for Major Montgomery, the school has great value and should be protected. 

After Colonel Dodge’s departure, Montgomery and Dr. Nagle confer together.  Montgomery tells Dr. Nagle that he wants to continue working with the mirror.  When pressed for specific reasons, Montgomery says that while the mirror laid bare his total being for him to reflect upon and to contemplate the various segments of his personality, he also caught a glimpse of who he really is.  

“I’ve come to realize," he said, "that I’ve had a long existence before I ever entered into mortal life.  It’s like I’ve lived forever and all knowledge and all wisdom are already a fundamental part of me.  It’s in all of us, all of humankind," he says, "and I want to explore, to the fullest depth possible – who I really am.”  (Jones)

Epilogue:  So who can teach the best and most advanced experts?  Who is capable of instructing the Einsteins, the Steve Jobs, and the Bill Gates?  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Part 27 - The School: Part 3

The School - Part 3

“You could say," continued Dr. Nagle, "that our school is designed for de-education.  We strive to remove the homeostatic controls imposed by education, to whatever degree you desire and from whatever source your education was derived.” 

Montgomery is invited to take a tour of the campus and to see students in action.  The first room they visit is a music lab.  Upon entering the room, Montgomery notices a large stage at the far end of the room and a hundred-piece orchestra.  There are only five people in the room – one is conducting the orchestra and the other four are watching him and not the orchestra.  Montgomery can only see the backside of the conductor, but thinks he knows him.  When the conductor finishes his piece and collapses on the couch, Montgomery recognizes him as Norcross, the engineer from Boeing.  

Montgomery is more than surprised to see Norcross, and comments that he had no idea he had any interest in music.  Montgomery is also stunned to see that the stage and orchestra has disappeared from the far end of the room.  Norcross indicates that he wasn’t sure he was going to make it through the last movement, but he felt this performance was his best thus far and wanted to be sure his wife would see the final video recording.  

When Montgomery comments about the stage and orchestra disappearing, it elicits an audible laugh from the others in the room.  Dr. Nagle explains to him that the stage and orchestra were never real; a shadow box projects onto a wall what a student’s mind imagines via a headset the student is wearing.  Mental images, once conveyed to the mechanisms inside the shadow box, become visible and audible when projected onto a wall.  Whatever an individual can imagine is capable of being viewed on a screen. 

As the engineers are leaving the room, Dr. Nagle assures everyone present that the mental exercise of arranging music and conducting an orchestra is on par with anything they would ever do in creative science.  He asked them to consider the number of factors that had to be coordinated, manipulated, and kept under absolute control at all times in the demonstration they had just witnessed.  

Norcross gives another demonstration of his mental powers by projecting onto a whiteboard, via a headset, a schematic drawing of an airborne radar with a capacity of thirty miles.  It takes him about ten minutes to complete the very complex drawing, but once finished both he and Dr. Nagle are confident it will be successful.  

The final demonstration utilizes a 3-D box into which Norcross projects his imagery of a jet aircraft.  Realistic jet fire poured from the jet engines, and the aircraft maneuvered as if in actual flight, diving, climbing, and rolling.  Norcross offers the headset to Gunderson and suggest he give it a try.  Gunderson tries to create the XB-91, but the aircraft appears in the box, minus a tail, and he’s unable to keep the engines on the left side of the plane ignited, but the effect is overwhelming to both Gunderson and Montgomery to realize that what their mind can imagine can be visualized on a whiteboard.
The next morning, Don Wolfe, an assistant to Dr. Nagle, introduces Montgomery to the mirror.  He tells him the mirror will give him a reflection of himself that is stripped of any phoniness, false front, or façade that he may have built up over the years.  

“It will not interpret you to yourself," he says.  "It will only hold up a reflection of yourself and allow you to draw your own conclusions.”  

Wolfe goes on to explain to Montgomery that the mirror has only one control – fear control, which controls the magnitude or extent of the reflection being viewed.  He tells him that it’s a fearful thing to attempt to know oneself all at once; it would be best to take only a peek, get used to what you’re seeing, and then when comfortable, move on.  Wolfe explains that the mirror allows you to ask:  Who am I?  What am I doing?  What do I know?  It gives the inquirer a perfect, undistorted answer:  you.  Finally, Wolfe cautions Montgomery to go slow with the mirror and its fear control feature, as a full reflective view can be filled with terror.  He says again to look at himself in a piecemeal fashion.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Part 26 - The School: Part 2

The School - Part 2

Montgomery inquires about his future plans and Gunderson says that he’ll probably do a little fishing, a little traveling, and go back to school.  Montgomery is taken back at his suggestion that he would go back to school, for he knows that no engineering school could teach him anything about aircraft design.  He knows that Gunderson could walk into any aeronautical school in the country and make their professors look like hicks.  

Gunderson tells Montgomery that the school he’s contemplating is a different kind of school, one that purports to having a totally, unorthodox way of learning.  He says he heard about the school from a fellow named Norcross who worked for Boeing.
After his conversation with Gunderson, Montgomery reports to his superior in Washington, Colonel Dodge.  He tells Dodge about Gunderson making application to go to a school.  Colonel Dodge is aware of this school, which goes by the name of Nagle-Berkeley Institute.  He’s concerned about the nature of this school because in the last year, over two hundred, highly qualified, top of the line engineers have quit their positions in military-related projects to attend this school.  For a long time, Dodge has wanted to get one of his own men into the school, to learn more about it, and he asks Montgomery if he can procure an invitation to the school, if he’d be willing to attend.  Montgomery agrees to give it a try. 

Montgomery confides to Gunderson that, if at all possible, he’d like to attend the school, as students are by invitation only.  Gunderson says he would make inquiry.  Six weeks later, when the Air Force accepts the XB-91, Gunderson resigns from Firestone Aviation, and together with Montgomery, they head for the school’s campus which is housed in an unsuccessful summer resort in Northern California, just below the Oregon border. 

Gunderson has an interview with Dr. Berkeley while Montgomery has his initial interview with Dr. Nagle.  The first question Dr. Nagle asks Montgomery is why he wanted to attend this school?  In anticipation of this very question, Montgomery recites the answer he’d been working on for six weeks.  He borrows heavily from Gunderson’s perception of why the XB-91 is a failure; then he concludes his remarks by disparaging the inability of engineering schools to find solutions to prevent another occurrence of the next generation of XB-91s.

Dr. Nagle picks up on this line of thinking and adds his remarks.  He agrees with Gunderson’s assessment that the XB-91 is a failure, and that it’s simply the end result of the concept that bigger is better, that it was built from a mound of data, and not from invention and research.  He states the problem succinctly as being a “lack of new basic ideas.”  He says the problem is not for lack of engineering schools, but the inability of the schools to solve the problems as represented by the XB-91.  He asks Montgomery what public education is supposed to accomplish, but then goes on to answer his own question.  He says,

“Schools are public property, whose controls are mandated by the community.  Since time immortal, schools have existed to enable the individual to become an integral part of cultural life – whatever form that culture might be.  Cultures demand a minimum degree of stability for its existence.  Accordingly, customs, thoughts, and habits all contribute to this stability and excursions from the norm are highly frowned upon.” 

He asserts that schools provide students with textbooks with the collective results of data gathering and present it in the form of a Handbook of Wing Design for Aeronautical Engines. 

“This," says Dr. Nagle, "is the homeostatic process, the process of maintaining internal stability by not venturing into the unknown.” 

“The sole purpose of the educational system is to preserve the cultural norm through indoctrinating the masses with the data currently accepted as truth.  Schools do not necessarily concern themselves with the individual by inviting the individual to engage in original thought.  Schools give information and if the student, during an exam, can regurgitate back to the teacher the exact same information, you are labeled as brilliant, or at least better than average.” 

Montgomery takes this all in and asks what it all means, to which Dr. Nagle replies,

“What happens when the homeostatic controls are pushed too low, when expectations for internal stability are marginal, when education is substituted for learning and data collection is substituted for research?”  

“The predictable end result will be a continuation of XB-91s.  The problem can only be solved by tackling the way minds do the thinking.  Building more wind tunnels, more complex computers only evades the fundamental problem.  We must find out the nature and purpose of humankind.”  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Part 25 - The School: Part 1

"The School" – My Favorite Science Fiction Story

The story has to be taken in the context of the time frame my father was writing, which was December 1954; the other two being written in 1952 and 1953, respectively.  All three stories appeared in the science fiction pulp magazine Amazing Stories.
This was a time when computers were still in their infancy, a time of transition from vacuum tubes to resistors, from punch cards and punch tape to magnetic tapes and magnetic drums, a time when the U.S. Air Force was still flying the B-29 Superfortress, one of the largest long-range bombers ever built.  It was the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. 

The subtitle of the story begins with,

“Who can teach the best and most advanced experts?”  The answer is easy…but a method of making it work?  For how can a man teach himself?” 

The story opens with military and civilian personnel gathered at an airfield to evaluate the performance of the military’s newest long-range prototype bomber simply named XB-91.  It was built by the Firestone Aviation Company; Soren Gunderson is the chief engineer for the project; Eugene Montgomery is the Air Force Liaison Officer between the Air Force and Firestone Aviation, and Colonel Dodge is Montgomery’s superior in Washington.

The XB-91 is a monstrous plane; nothing like it has ever been built before.  It weighs 230 tons, has sixteen engines (the B-29 Superfortress only had four propeller-driven engines), generates power the equivalent of thirty railroad locomotives, generates enough heat to warm a town of fifteen hundred, and has enough wire to supply the town’s power and telephone systems.  It has an advanced missile defense system, meaning its onboard missiles can engage and destroy any inbound missile.  

After the plane completes its trial runs and lands at the airfield, Gunderson and Montgomery engage in conversation about the plane’s amazing performance.  Gunderson, the chief engineer who had total oversight responsibility for the production of the plane, declares it a total failure.  Montgomery is stunned by Gunderson’s declaration and asks why.  

Gunderson rattles off a litany of complaints he has concerning the plane, chief of which  are that the manufacturing processes aren’t good enough to eliminate the duplication and reduplication of backup systems necessary to ensure that the malfunction of a ten-cent resistor doesn’t bring down a hundred-million-dollar aircraft.  He rants about how data collection has taken the place of research and building a boatload of ingenious gadgets has taken the place of genuine invention.  

He says that engineers look at data and gadgetry for inspiration for basic new ideas, but it’s not there, so they build another flying monster.  As big and strong and powerful as this aircraft is, its vulnerability lies in its complexity.  

Montgomery asks Gunderson why the plane wasn’t built smaller, to which Gunderson points to his head and says,

“We don’t know how to do it.” 

“What you see standing on the tarmac is the best the engineering schools could produce, and if that’s the best we can do, declares Gunderson, I will never build another airplane.”

When the aircraft is finally accepted by the Air Force, Gunderson says he will resign from Firestone Aviation.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Part 24 - O Lovely Bakery

After a short ride down the canyon road, we arrived in town, and Molly Ann dropped me off at the bakery, but not before giving me her cell phone number.  I thanked her again for her kindness, and walked the few steps to the bakery’s entrance.  

The building had a smidgen of Bavarian architectural flair to it, as evidenced by the symmetrical curved slates in the railings surrounding the outdoor seating area.  As I climbed the steps to the outdoor porch, I found a number of other hikers sitting at the tables enjoying their sticky purchases.  Most of them I had met before and could remember all of their names; there was Rum Monkey from Canada, Hummingbird, Clair and Doodles, Frosty and Anna.  Atlas and Peter Pan were in town, but I didn’t run into them, and it’s at this point that I pass them and never see them again
I found an empty place at one of the tables and sat my pack down beside it, then went into the bakery and ordered several scrumptious-looking items.  Out on the porch, I enjoyed small talk with the other hikers as I consumed my pastries and container of milk.  Not content with what I had just eaten, and knowing it would be a long time before I came across another bakery, I went back for seconds, this time ordering different items than what I had eaten the first time.  This is indeed the fun part of hiking the trail. 

Even though I had Molly Ann’s cell phone number, I chose not to call her; instead, I walked to the edge of the road leading out of town and stuck out my thumb in the time-honored manner of soliciting a ride.  Within a few minutes, a vehicle stopped and offered me and two others a ride back to the trailhead put-in.

All told, my foray into Wrightwood and back was less than an hour, about the same time I would have taken had I stopped for lunch on the trail.  As I continued on up the trail, I was still trying to process my encounter with Molly Ann and what exactly her compassionate service meant to me, and more so, how I had been affected by it.
Leaving Highway 2, the trail began a steady upward climb of Mount Baden-Powell, so named after the founder of the Boy Scouts.  It started at about the seventy-two-hundred-foot level and continued until it reached the spur trail to the summit of Mount Baden-Powell at 9,245 feet.  I was alone as I began the ascent, but it mattered not; company was not important to me, as I always had my inner thoughts to entertain me.  I knew from studying my maps that there were forty switchbacks to traverse before arriving at the spur trail leading to the summit of Baden-Powell.  

To ease the drudgery of the climb, I concentrated hard on trying to remember the details of one of my favorite science fiction stories my father had written in the early 1950s.  It was simply called "The School", and it was the third story in a trilogy set, the names of the other two being "Trade Secret" and "Noise Level". 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Part 23 - Unbelievable Molly Ann

Standing on the other side of Interstate I-15, I looked back to see if I could see my wife and friends, but to no avail.  McDonald's, friends, and family were now behind me and I needed to push on and make miles.  Within a short distance, I came to a set of railroad tracks belonging to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.  These I crossed, as well as a second set, and continued up the hill.  In the distance I could see a long line of Union Pacific railcars making a gradual ascent up the famous Sullivan Curve.  (TrainWeb)

This graceful curve was added in 1913 to the original tracks laid down in 1885, to reduce the grade from 3 percent to 2.2 percent and adding two miles to the original route.  Because of the length of the curve, it provided photographers and rail fans with a unique opportunity to photograph trains and locomotive engines in action. 

Herb Sullivan made this curve famous with his photos from the 1940s to the 1950s of Union Pacific trains traveling along this route, with the Mormon Rocks landscape in the background.  As a tribute to his photographic skills, and exceptional images of trains, the curve now bears his name.  (Murphy)     

Passing over this last set of Union Pacific rails, and moving beyond the Mormon Rocks, an outcropping of sandstone conglomerate, the trail ascended to a sandy ridge overlooking lower Lone Pine Canyon.  As the ridgeline climbed higher, on the maps it acquired the name of Blue Ridge.  Numerous dirt roads intersected the ridge and trail, with most descending to ranches in Lone Pine Canyon.  Gobbler’s Knob was a prominent feature on the trail, and lying just west of this formation, was the Acorn Trail that snaked its way down to Wrightwood.  Hikers who needed to resupply in Wrightwood could use this trail, or they could wait until they crossed Highway 2 in a few miles, and then hitchhike into Wrightwood. 

As I approached Highway 2, I was faced with a dilemma.  I did not need to go into Wrightwood to resupply, as I had sufficient food to see me through to Agua Dulce, my next resupply point; however, I knew there was a great bakery in town and I hated to pass up a bakery with the opportunity to sit awhile and savor a few sticky buns or bear claws.  I also knew there was not much traffic on the highway; accordingly, I didn’t want to waste time trying to get in and out of the town, just for the sake of a cinnamon roll.
I decided that if by chance there just happened to be a trail angel at the road crossing that would be willing to drive me into Wrightwood, I would go; otherwise, I would keep walking.  Just as I walked down the hill to the paved highway, I saw a single car coming up the road.  When it got close to where I was standing, the driver made a U-turn and came to a stop right in front of me.  The passenger side window rolled down and a young female beckoned me to come close to the car.  She asked me if I’d like a ride into town.  I couldn’t believe what I’m hearing; the very conditions upon which I agreed with myself to go into town, are transforming right before my eyes.  Of course I said, 

“Yes,” but then added,  

“I know there’s a great bakery in town, and I’d love to visit it, but I’m concerned about getting a ride back to the trailhead.”  As though reading my mind, she replied,

“I will be glad to take you into town, and drop you off at the bakery; and I’ll give you my cell phone number.  When you’re through with your errands, give me a call, and I’ll come and pick you up and bring you back here to the trailhead.”  

I opened the back door, placed my pack and trekking poles on the back seat, then climbed into the front seat beside her, and away we went.  She introduced herself as Molly Ann.  She said that she and her husband, who worked at a nearby military facility, lived in Wrightwood.  She added that several times a week she drove this section of Highway 2 looking for hikers, to offer them rides back and forth between Wrightwood.  As if that wasn’t enough, she turned to me and said,

“Before I left home this morning, I made this hoagie sandwich to give to someone, and it looks like you’re it; would you like it?” 

I was humbled to the depth of my soul by the generosity and compassion of this complete stranger, who had gone out of her way to provide compassionate care and service for no other reason other than she could.  I accepted her generous offer and said, “Thank you,” but it seemed like a pitiful response in relationship to the magnitude of the service she had provided to me. 

After this encounter with Molly Ann, and for the rest of my time on the trail, I would reflect often on what it meant to reach out to another human being and offer assistance and help, never expecting anything in return.  I determined that the only way I could really express my thanks to Molly Ann was to emulate her unselfish behavior and pay it forward.  

Union Pacific trains making the long sweep around Sullivan's Curve.

In Wrightwood, Molly Ann let me out at the bakery. Seated with Rum Monkey, Humming Bird, and clair. Clair's friend Doodles is taking the picture. Though we've known each other for only a short time, we truly enjoyed our camaraderie.

My good friends Ken and Lois Cutler. Ken and I were in high school together.

From Wrightwood, it was a straight up climb to Mt. Baden-Powell, named to honor the originator of the Boy Scout movement. Many scout troops will make the climb to the top of this mountain.

At the top of the mountain, there were many trails leading off in all directions.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Part 22 - Her Name was Cookie

 I told Jodie and the Cutlers that I wanted to be on the trail no later than seven in the morning, and as the motel provided a continental breakfast, we agreed to meet in the breakfast room at 6:30 a.m.  After breakfast, and while passing through the lobby, we met Atlas who was carrying a two-liter bottle of Coke.  He said he’d just finished the continental breakfast and was now headed to McDonald's for another breakfast.  When asked about the Coke bottle, he said it was to sustain him while on the trail.  

I was very glad to have a break from the trail; I needed the rest and it was wonderful to have a visit with my wife, who faithfully supported me on my trek.  She served as the logistical command center for all of my resupply packages, and supplied me with additional equipment and food when requested. 

In a small, waterproof notebook, I kept track of the trail names of hikers I met on the trail.  In all, I recorded the names of ninety hikers.  I also kept track of their ages, as I was curious as to the average age of these hikers.  In the beginning of the hike, I estimated the average age to be around twenty-eight or twenty-nine, but after gathering names and ages for several months and crunching the numbers, the average age turned out to be 34.5 years.  Most of the hikers were young, in their twenties and thirties, only a couple of nineteen year olds, just a few in their forties, a few more in their late fifties and early sixties, and only three in their seventies that I was aware of, myself being one of the three. 

Of the ninety people I met on the trail, all passed me at one time or another.  Being slow had its advantage in that it allowed me to meet and interact with so many different and wonderful people.  Of the ninety hikers who passed me, about ten eventually ended up behind me, people like Peter Pan, Atlas, Swiss Army, Fun Size, and Night Crawler.  I would estimate that there were another sixty or seventy hikers ahead of these ninety hikers I met, people I never saw or interacted with.  These were hikers who started on the trail before me, and who crossed the Canadian border several weeks before I did.  In addition to those in front of me, I am guessing that there were about a hundred hikers behind me, many of whom were not able to finish their hike to the border because of early winter snows in the Northern Cascade Mountains.
Of all the hikers I encountered on the trail, Cookie was the only one that I had occasion to interact with from near the beginning to the end of the 2,665-mile journey.  Rarely did I ever hike with her, and on those occasions that we did walk together, it was because she slowed down long enough to listen to a story I was telling her.  On the trail, there was a bubble of hikers that I tended to walk with; we all moved along at about the same pace, and Cookie was usually at the front of the bubble, while I brought up the rear.  I could stay with this group of hikers because I was always on the trail so early and could make twelve to fifteen miles before this group would start passing me.

At times, I would bump into Cookie in trail towns – in grocery stores, at the post office, at a restaurant.  Her story is an interesting one.  She is thirty-three years old and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Equine Science from a Colorado agricultural school at age twenty-two.  Upon graduation, she was offered a position as ranch manager for a fifteen-thousand-acre ranch in Oklahoma. 

Under her supervision, the ranch grew to two thousand head of cattle and two hundred horses.  She was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the ranch, but let the cowboys and ranch foreman watch over the cattle while she and her assistants tended to the horses.  Nurse Betty, who has been hiking with Cookie, was a veterinarian assistant who often came to the ranch to provide medical help to the animals.  Cookie stayed eleven years at the ranch and quit to hike the PCT.

After our visit at McDonald's, I would not see her for another eight hundred miles.  Atlas and Peter Pan took time off in Wrightwood, allowing me to pass them, and I would not see them again on the trail.  Nurse Betty and Cookie decided to separate and hike solo, as they had different hiking speeds, and I would not see Nurse Betty for another twenty-three hundred miles.  Such was life on the trail; people were constantly coming into and out of my life.  

I was grateful that Jodie and the Cutlers had the opportunity to visit with other hikers at McDonald's.  Before that encounter, they really had no concept of what it meant to set out alone on such a long journey, carrying all of one’s supplies in a backpack, and camping out each night in the desert or the forest.  Now, having met other hikers, seeing the heavy packs they carried, the ragged and dirty appearance they presented and the aroma that accompanied this group of merry adventurers, they were more informed and enlightened about the realities of trail life for the PCT hiker.  

Above all, they could see that hikers, though they may hike solo, are really a large community of fellow travelers, with each looking out for one another.  The hiker may not have much, but he or she was willing to share what they had.  It was a great firsthand experience for them to meet Atlas, Peter Pan, Cookie, and Nurse Betty. 

I placed my heavy pack in the back of the rental car and the four of us drove the quarter mile back to the trail.  It was a little cool this morning, so I was wearing my synthetic North Face jacket.  At the spot where I had emerged from the trail yesterday, I got out of the car, opened the door for my wife, and went to the back of the car to retrieve my belongings.  

The pack, with nine days of food, four liters of water and additional supplies, was exceptionally heavy; nevertheless, I muscle it up to my shoulders and onto my back, buckled the hip belt and chest strap and embraced my wife.  Although I had showered and put on clean clothes, the ubiquitous hiker odor still permeated through my backpack, but we didn’t let that stop us from enjoying a long embrace. 

 I dried her crocodile tears, told her how much I loved her, and thanked her for the umpteenth time for her support of my journey.  With trekking poles in one hand and a muffin from the continental breakfast in the other, I bid my wife and friends good-bye, turned and proceeded to enter the tunnel that passed underneath the I-15 Interstate.  Before leaving, we agreed that we would meet again at Donner Summit on I-80 near Truckee, California, some nine hundred miles distance. 

Saying good-bye is never easy.  The heart is torn between wanting to stay, to provide comfort and solace if appropriate for the occasion, and the reality that you must proceed on to whatever destination has required that you leave in the first place.  You can’t help but wonder if the loved one you’re leaving behind will be able to get along without you, but in the greater scheme of things leaving may be the catalyst the loved one needs to further their personal growth and maturity.  

It's time to get back on the trail. Jodie and the Cutlers drive me back to the trailhead, where I made preparations to leave.

I'm packed and ready. We agreed that we would meet again at Donner's Pass on I-80, just beyond Reno, Nevada, some 900 miles up the trail.

Once I pass under the I-15 freeway, I will be out of sight of my friends.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Part 21 - Away from the Trail

I knew that the mountain ski resort of Wrightwood was about twenty miles away, so we decided to go visit the area.  At the junction of Highway 138 which goes to Lancaster, California, and Highway 2, which goes to Wrightwood, we spotted a quaint-looking restaurant called the Mountain Top Café, and decided to stop and have dinner.  The café was almost empty when we arrived, and the waitress gave us her full attention.  We chatted with her and asked lots of questions about the café and its history. 

Her name was Helen and she had been with the establishment for many years.

“Yes,” she said, “It’s kind of quiet nowadays; it’s not like it used to be when military personnel would often stop by.” 

The military personnel Helen was referring to were the men and women stationed at George Air Force Base near Victorville, California.  It was built just before the outbreak of WWII and used as a training base for pilots and bombardiers during the war. (Shaw)

After the war, it was established as a surplus storage facility for aircraft, which included such monstrous flying machines as the B-29 Superfortress.  Mothballed for five years, the base was again activated for training during the Korean War.  In 1992, the base was again declared surplus and shut down, and now serves primarily as a training base for drone pilots.  We all agreed that the food and service were superb, and if in the area again, we would revisit the place. We thanked Helen for her graciousness, got back into our rental car, and drove the few remaining miles to Wrightwood. 

Wrightwood, situated at approximately six thousand feet in elevation, was protected from the desert environs of the Mojave Desert by high mountains on the north side of town.  The town traced its origins to early Mormon cattle ranchers, brothers Nathan and Truman Swarthout.

Sometime after 1900, the main ranch owned by Sumner Wright, was broken up and subdivided into residential and commercial lots, and by 1920 a community had taken hold.  Ski enthusiasts from the Los Angeles area were quick to discover the north-facing slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, and construction of ski runs and lifts began in the 1930s.  (Wrightwood)

Our drive through town on Highway 2 revealed a charming and delightful community full of quaint homes tucked back into the pine trees on the south side of the highway, and aging commercial buildings lining Main Street, some that looked to be as old as the beginning of the town itself.  We were pleased with our excursion to this little mountain community, and Ken Cutler declared that if the town had a golf course, he could live here.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Part 20 - Where Did You Come From

I didn’t know if I had arrived at McDonald's before my friends or not, but as I exited Aloha’s car and shouldered my pack to enter the restaurant, Ken and Lois Cutler walked up behind me.  They had been sitting in their car in the parking lot, saw me get out of Aloha’s car, and recognized the North Face orange-colored, short-sleeve shirt I’d been wearing since day one.  We embraced, sort of.  I apologized to them for the way I smelled; it’s just something that went with the territory. 

Hikers acquire a certain, unfamiliar aroma about them after being on the trail for a while; it’s called "ripeness."  Hikers get used to the smell, and are not offensive to one another, but it’s hard on others when they come into our presence. 

We entered the restaurant and sought out an empty booth.  The place was packed with other hikers, all enjoying the cool, air-conditioned air, and slurping cold drinks and chocolate milk shakes.  It was noisy with chatter as the hikers conversed with one another.  It was apparent they were enjoying this brief respite from the severity and harshness of the trail. 

Ken asked me if I’d like something to eat and drink, and I told him anything as long as it included a giant-size chocolate milk shake.  He left and made his way to the counter to place the order.  As I was sitting in the booth, looking around at the various hikers, most of whom I recognized by face and not by trail name, my eyes lit upon a somewhat familiar figure standing in the middle of the dining room.  

To my astonishment, it was my wife, Jodie.  Stink or no stink, I rushed to embrace her.  It was a total surprise to see her; I had no idea she would be coming with the Cutlers.  We hadn’t even discussed the possibility in our phone conversations, but the Cutlers felt it was important for us to have the opportunity to visit with one another, so they convinced her to fly to San Diego and stay with them in their condo. 

Stacked in front of me were the empty containers from Big Macs, cold drinks, chocolate shakes, and fries.  Undoubtedly, I had consumed a couple of thousand calories at this one sitting, and I enjoyed every bite; with the number of calories I burn each day, I can afford to eat like this.  However, I can only imagine what happens to people’s bodies who don’t exercise like hikers do, and who eat this much high-caloric food at one sitting. 

In previous phone conversations with Jodie and the Cutlers, in answer to their question, “Are you having fun?” my response to them was in the form of an analogy that I called the Fun Meter.  I told them the negative side of the meter could be represented by a man digging a six-foot-deep sewer trench in the hot sun, while the positive side would look like the four of us enjoying a frosty mug of Hires Root Beer and a large order of fries at our favorite air-conditioned restaurant in Salt Lake City.  As we’re sitting in the booth and they’re watching me consume my Big Mac and fries and enjoying the cold chocolate shake with whipping cream on the top, I told them the Fun Meter has gone off the charts. 

Seated across the aisle in another booth were Cookie and Nurse Betty, and across the floor, chatting with other hikers, was Peter Pan.  Cookie and Nurse Betty knew each other from work, and together they have been hiking with Peter Pan.  I introduced Jodie and the Cutlers to the three girls, and we all posed for pictures using each other’s camera.  

Anytime hikers come to a place that has electricity, they’re on the alert to find outlets to recharge their electronic devices.  For some reason, this McDonald's, in addition to having outlets in the walls where one would normally expect to find them, also had outlets in the tiled ceiling.  Looking around the room, I could see several cell phones dangling from recharging cords plugged into ceiling outlets, like so many Christmas ornaments.
Jodie had reserved a room at a motel across the Interstate, which was a most welcome and refreshing break after days on the trail.  While I showered, she put my clothes and sleeping bag in the laundry.  I’ve never seen such black water go down a drain hole as what I observed in my shower stall.  Showered and clean-shaven – I chose not to grow a beard during the hike, the Cutlers, Jodie, and I ventured out to see the countryside. 

The trail ends at parking lot, with this sign to greet the weary hiker.

Jess, aka, Night Crawler is already in the restaurant, going to town on her 2nd helping.

Cookie, myself and Peter Pan.I was intrigued with Perter Pan's pants, as they were made with Elastine. I would end up getting a pair just like them in Bend, Oregon, at the REI store.

Hikers set their packs on the floor while they go stand in line.

Myself, Cookie and a photo bomb in the background.

Showered, clean shaven, clothes washed, Jodie, and I and our friends the Cutlers are off to visit Wrightwood.