Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Part 5 - Trying to Help Others

 I needed extra water bottles for the journey.  In my immediate vicinity were four other tents.  I went to each tent site, introduced myself, and explained my need for water bottles.  In doing so, I made the acquaintance of Veggie, Donkey, Red Beard, Jackson, and Stats.  Because these fellows were young and fast hikers, I was hoping one or more would volunteer to hike back down the trail, locate the older hikers, and deliver them the water that I assumed they needed. 

But, I got no takers.  I collected four one-liter bottles, filled them, and made preparations to leave in the morning around 5:00 a.m.  Of the five new acquaintances, I would only see Veggie and Stats periodically along the trail.  Donkey and Red Beard would always be behind me, and Jackson was a super hiker who blitzed the trail and crossed into Canada several weeks before me.

From another hiker, I learned that there was a shortcut back to the PCT.  The vague instructions were, 

“Follow around the south end of Lake Morena, then turn left at the third dirt road and follow it uphill until it intersects the PCT.”

 I left the camp at 5:00 a.m. as planned; no one was stirring.  I located the road that wound around the south side of the lake and followed it for an hour, always looking for the third dirt road.  I passed a long-abandoned ranch house and dilapidated wooden barn, and several dirt roads, but never came upon a dirt road that I could identify as the third dirt road.  I followed the road around the lake until I came to a large sign that said ‘no trespassing beyond this point.’  

To emphasize the no trespassing message, there was a single, six inch iron pipe, that formed a gate across the road and, and off to the right of the road were several small, wooden structures that had the appearance of kennels, such as may have been used by guard dogs. Seeing that there was a well-worn path around the gate, I decided to press on.  Beyond the gate and several bends in the road, I saw the reason for the no trespassing sign; the iron gate and the kennels for guard dogs; it was a dam that impounded the waters of Lake Morena. 

 I hadn't realized until this point that Morena was a man-made lake, and a primary source of water for San Diego, and one of the infrastructures guarded by the Buffalo Soldiers from Camp Lockett during WWII.  

Buffalo soldiers were black soldiers who were given this name by the Indians who thought their kinky hair resembled the hair of buffalos.  (Lehmann)

Disappointed at not finding the shortcut to the PCT, I retraced my steps back along the lake to the campground, and consigned myself to the grueling reality that I was going to have to backtrack the PC trail that I had followed coming into the campground the day before. 

At 7:30 a.m., I passed the ranger station where campground reservations are made.  I saw personnel moving about in the office, so I entered the building, intent on making the rangers aware of the two older hikers back along the trail who probably needed help, and to ascertain where the shortcut to the PCT was that I didn’t find.

The ranger I spoke with pulled out an area map and showed me where the shortcut was located, and said I probably never would have found it, as the trailhead was behind the abandoned ranch house I had passed.  As for the two hikers, he said it would be easier to catch up with them starting from Campo, rather than starting from Lake Morena.

My effort to help a couple of total strangers was becoming more complicated.  I should have just written them off, gone to my campsite, packed up, and headed up the trail.  But I knew I couldn't; I had to see this endeavor through, no matter where it took me.  I had to know that the two hikers weren’t in dire straits. 

So how would I get back to Campo?  I had walked twenty miles from Campo to Lake Morena, and I assumed it would be twenty miles going back.  The only people in camp who had cars were Jackalope and Yogi.  I approached them, and explained the situation to them, and asked Yogi if she'd be willing to give me a ride back to Campo.  I knew she was big into trail magic, meaning a willingness to help others, and was quite certain she would lend assistance.  She said, “Yes,” but I could see that it was going to be a big inconvenience for her to do so, as her car was loaded with supplies for the upcoming ADZPCTKO event, and to accommodate me she had to first unload her car.  

As she was doing so, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was hanging around the camp. He said he was from Texas and was interested in hiking the PCT at some future date.  He was at Kickoff to learn more about the trail.  I explained my situation to him, and asked him if he’d be willing to drive me back to Campo.  He said, “Sure,” as he didn't have anything more pressing.  I spoke to Yogi and told her I had another ride and thanked her for her willingness to assist.  I could tell she was relieved at not having to drive me back to Campo. 

A few minutes later, the aspiring PCT hiker and I were headed back to Campo.  We passed through the small town of Morena and soon connected with Highway 94 leading to our destination.  To my surprise, a road sign said Campo –three miles.  By the PCT, it was twenty miles from Campo to Lake Morena, but by car, it’s only three miles - such a deal. 

Within a few minutes we were in Campo at the turnoff to Forest Gate Road.  It occurred to me, as we turned onto Forest Gate Road, that rather than re-hike the PCT myself, trying to catch up with the two hikers, why not give the extra water to a hiker just heading up the trail; that way, the hikers will get the water they may need, and I wouldn't have to re-hike the trail
No sooner did I have these thoughts than I spotted a hiker crossing the road in front of us. We stopped; I got out and called after the hiker.  He returned to the side of the road.  

He looked so sharp and spiffy in his clean hiker outfit, a wraparound kilt, a white polyester short-sleeve shirt, and a white legionnaire hat with side flaps that protected his neck, ears, and cheeks from the sun.  Wearing such a hat looked a bit dorky, but it offered great protection against the burning rays of the sun.  

I explained the situation to him, and asked if he'd be willing to carry a couple of extra liters of water to give to the hikers, who I was certain by this time were dying of thirst.  I asked the hiker his name and he identified himself as Kassie, who later acquired the trail name of Commando.  Kassie said he was already carrying eight liters of water for the twenty-mile hike to Lake Morena, and if he came across the dying hikers, he'd share with them.  That sounded good to me, and I felt I had fulfilled my Good Samaritan duties to these two elderly hikers, and I could, with a clear conscience, continue on with my own journey.  

Kassie would be one of five others I encountered on the trail who wore a kilt.  Two others who immediately come to mind were Brave Heart and Hooligan, a hiker from Ireland.  I assumed that Kassie acquired the name Commando because in today’s youth culture, “Going Commando” means to wear a dress or pants without underwear, and most certainly anyone wearing a kilt – a wraparound garment, was not wearing underwear. 

 However, I learned later, 2,420 miles later to be exact, while helping Hooligan with his laundry at Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven in Washington, that the kilt, made by Mountain Hardware, has a sewn-in brief, so the kilt wearers are never completely naked underneath their wraparound garment. 

The third dirt road was hidden behind this abandoned ranch house. I never found it.

Hiker "Stats" showing off his new, light weight pack.

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