Monday, March 11, 2013

Part 11 -- I Can Do It

Anxious to get on the trail this morning, I skipped breakfast; but now with the worst of the storm behind me, hunger set in and I took a break for lunch.  In the swirling mist that still had a slight drizzle to it, I found a log to sit on; from my pocket I pulled out a PowerBar, carefully unwrapped it, and devoured it in only four bites.  The mist was still moist and wet, but not like the pounding rain on the other side of the mountain, and it shrouded the woods around me with an eerie whiteness that blurred the details of individual trees, shrubs, and vegetation of all types.

While sitting on the log enjoying my snack and surveying my surroundings, to my astonishment, from up the trail, moving slowly through the white mist, I saw a figure approaching.  It was a young man with no backpack and not wearing any rain gear; he was clad only in hiking shorts and a coat totally unfit for this weather.  I couldn’t imagine where he had come from or what he was doing here on the trail.  When he was within earshot, he asked me, of all things, if I’d like something to eat.  No hiker ever turned down an offer of food, and of course, I said, “Yes.”

He said there was a trailhead parking lot a mile up the trail, and he was there with his older brother and father.  He and his brother had come to meet their father who was hiking the trail, to bring him food and other assistance, and who was now in their car getting warm and having a bite to eat.
His father, whose name was Matt, had been just ahead of me on the trail and so I never met him.

Matt had seen two female hikers on the trail the day before and had sent his son back down the trail to see if he could find them, to offer them assistance if they needed it due to the intensity of the storm.  I had met the girls named Rachel (Tears for Beers), and Robin (Toots Magoots), the night before as they were making camp, and as they hadn’t passed me this morning, I thought perhaps they may have hunkered down in their tents to wait out the storm.

I followed the young man to the parking lot, where I met the other brother and their father, Matt, who was bundled up in the back seat of the car trying to get warm.  They offered me all the food they had – apples, bananas, and pears, which I gratefully accepted.  They said they were going back to Idyllwild to spend the night.

With fresh fruit and full water bottles, I began the twenty-mile hike down the mountain to San Gorgonio Pass and Interstate 10.

The trail down Mount Jacinto was never-ending; the switchbacks went on forever.  The trail builders seemed to relish making the switchbacks play out as long as possible before changing directions.  Towards the bottom of the mountain, the trail wound its way through twenty- to thirty-foot-high boulders, and then dropped into Snow Canyon.  I walked until 7:30 that evening, but still couldn’t reach the end of the trail.  I was weary and exceedingly tired and with the wind blowing and not finding a place to camp, I finally just quit for the day. 

I walked a few feet uphill from the trail, then using my shoe as a miniature bulldozer, scraped out a flattish place in the dirt and bushes, laid out my ground cloth, air mattress, and sleeping bag, declared the day a success, and settled in for the night.  And then the coyotes started their plaintive howling. 

 The guidebooks for the PCT talked about a drinking fountain in Snow Canyon as being the next source of water before heading across the desert.  This, I was anxious to see.  I couldn’t visualize how a drinking fountain could exist in this dry, desolate country.  But within a couple of miles of my camp last night, the answer became obvious.  A stream of crystal-clear water flows down from the mountains and into Snow Canyon and has been tapped by the city of Palm Springs as a primary water source. 

A pipeline brought the water from its source to the city, and where the pipeline crossed the PCT, city engineers had poked a hole in the pipeline, then inserted a pipe with a drinking fountainhead on the end of it.  As a water source, it worked pretty well except when the wind was blowing, and then it was virtually impossible to fill a water bottle as the water was all over the place.

Periodically, as I walked the four miles across the desert and the San Gorgonio Pass to Interstate 10, I would turn around and look at the San Jacinto Mountains I had just descended.  Not only was it massive, it was a huge chunk of real estate that blotted out the entire horizon.  The upper third of the mountain was still shrouded in menacing gray clouds, remnants of the Pacific storm that was still smoldering at its summit. 

There was no official trail through this part of the desert, as four-wheelers and dirt bikes have made the dry San Gorgonio riverbed a playground for their recreational use.  Instead, the route was marked by wooden posts and steel pipes that followed in a straight line and were emblazoned with PCT triangle logos.  The line of posts and pipes made a beeline for Interstate 10 and three concrete bridges that supported the I-10 Interstate and the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The bridges, marked with large PCT logos, allowed the PCT to pass under the freeway and continue north into the San Gorgonio Mountains.

The shade offered by the bridges was a welcome respite from the desert sun.  Trail angels had placed benches along the concrete walls for weary hikers to sit a spell and rest and partake of a cold beer, soda, or water.  The drinks, fresh fruit, and granola bars were stored in Styrofoam containers with a note attached instructing hikers to dispose of their trash in the trash cans provided.

A tattered, three-ring binder register for hikers lay on the bench, its green cover torn and faded, with pages that were no longer attached to the rings, and which spilled onto the ground when the book was opened.  A cursory glance at the dates on the first page indicated that the register had been here for several years.  The comments were mostly expressions of thanks and gratitude for the refreshments provided, and was then signed with the person’s trail name.  As mentioned before, trail names are a big part of the trail experience, and the names that hikers are known by are hilarious to read, i.e., Geared Up, Spitfire, Hiker Box Special, Fun Size, Grand Entrance, Sir Poppin, Sailor Moon, Laptop, Swiss Army, etc.

I had been hiking for twelve days now and had traveled 208 miles at an average speed of seventeen miles per day.  I started this section with enough food for 170 miles and still had sixty-five miles to walk before I picked up my next resupply box at Big Bear Lake.  I was ready for a town break, but Big Bear Lake was still four days away.  My feet hurt, but not from blisters.  They’re just tired; after all, it’s not normal to walk seventeen to twenty miles a day.

I was alone all day with just my thoughts and the same conversations run though my mind continuously.  I had argumentative conversations with those I disagree with, and of course, I always win the arguments.  Anyone who’s alone for long periods of time finds safety and comfort in the inner realms of their mind.  When one has prodigious amounts of time to kill, i.e., POWs, jailed personnel, hostages, etc., great gaps of time can be bridged by turning inward to the comfort zone of the mind.  POWs in solitary confinement survived their ordeal by inventing all kinds of mechanisms to keep their minds occupied. 

In My Mind, I Can Do It

In the mind, one can find a purpose for being, for surviving regardless of what’s happening externally.  Mathematical equations are formulated and refined, business ventures are organized, music is composed, and riddles are solved.  It matters not what the subject is about; what matters is that the mind is kept occupied with something meaningful for the incarcerated person. 

Five months alone on the ocean with my small rowboat, with no way to get up and walk around, was almost like being in solitary confinement.  However, I was never bored or lonely, for my mind kept me busy during the entire five-month voyage.  I had several entrepreneurial projects that I worked on simultaneously, and when I got tired of thinking about one, I would switch to another.  One of my favorite projects on which to fantasize was the development of my antique car business.

As a young man in my twenties, I purchased a 1931 Ford Model-A, 5-Window Coupe, complete with a rumble seat for $600. I immediately began to disassemble the car, thinking I could restore it in one summer for about $800, the same amount I was making that summer as a river guide.  Thirty-two years and thousands of dollars later, when I set out to row across the Atlantic Ocean at age fifty-eight, I was still working on the restoration project.

Sitting on the rowing seat and rowing for twelve hours a day, I had plenty of time to think.  For the most part, the ocean was relatively calm, and I didn’t have to do battle with giant waves which would disrupt my times for thinking. 

In my mind, I began to disassemble the 5-Window Coupe, replacing, repairing or painting every nut and bolt, every wire and body panel in the car.  I rebuilt the engine, the transmission, the driveline, and the differential.  I replaced all the wiring, installed new lights, put a soft top in the roof, and redid the upholstery.  Finally, I painted the car in two shades of light green. 

When the project was completed, I gave the finished car to one of my children and bought four more Model A’s, and began working on them simultaneously.  I have a large, four-car garage/workshop to work in, and in which I installed industrial-strength shelving, the kind one sees in big-box stores.  I removed the bodies from the cars and stacked them two high on the shelves.  Then with assembly line precision, I would remove the same item from each of the four chassis sitting on the garage floor, i.e., generators, starter motors, engines, transmissions, etc., restore them, and place them on the shelves to await final assembly.

Finally, there would only be the four frames sitting on the floor.  These would be sandblasted to remove all traces of paint, rust, oil and grease, then powder coated with black paint.  When the four frames and their associated running gear had been restored, they would trade places with the car bodies stacked in the industrial shelving.  When the four automotive bodies were completely restored with new paint and upholstery, they were reassembled to the frames and the completed car would be taken for a test drive. 

These cars would be given to additional children and the process would be repeated.  By the time my mind began to lose interest in this project, I had a fleet of over two hundred restored Ford Model A cars, spanning the years 1928-1931 with such names as Business Coupe, Phaeton, Victoria, Roadster, Touring Sedan, Leatherback, Sports Coupe, etc., and I was promoting automobile tours through the national parks. 

Clients could sign up for a tour through Zion or Bryce National Park, driving the Ford Model A of their choice.  Unlike today’s cars that start with the twist of a key, the Model A has a manual transmission, and it is temperamental; it won’t start unless the choke rod and spark lever are in the right position.  When these two settings appear correct, the key is turned on, the starter motor is engaged with the right foot, and the four-cylinder engine springs to life.

Before being allowed to drive the car on their own, each driver would have to sit through a demonstration of starting procedures and pass a driving test. 

This restoration dream was such great fun; I could hardly wait for the new rowing day to begin so I could relive the excitement of working on these projects and seeing quality craftsman work transpire under my own hands.

This car restoration project helped to fill in four to six weeks of otherwise unproductive and very boring time, just sliding back and forth on the rowing seat, staring out at the ocean all day.  Other entrepreneurial projects that helped fill in the hours of the day were the establishment of a nationwide cookie empire and the founding of an e-commerce business selling outdoor camping and backpacking equipment.  The online store was supplemented with brick and mortar stores located in every large city of the United States. 

Car projects always start with finding a vintage  car to work on. I found this one in Hawaii and had it shipped to Los Angeles where I picked it up and brought it to St. George, Utah.

The vehicle was stripped down, the body parts sandblasted and then the engine was removed.

Sandblasting is a slow and dirty job.

With all the body parts and engine removed, the frame and running gear can be repaired and restored.

For a thorough and complete restoration, it's necessary to disassemble the car down to its most basic parts. 
This is the way these cars were built at the factory - piece by piece.

After sandblasting, all metal parts are coated with a black primer to prevent further rusting.

Always testing to see if the body parts will fit together again, just as they did at the factory in 1931

After sandblasting, and spraying with a primer coat, it's easy to ascertain the damaged parts that need to be repaired. This is a quarter panel that sits adjacent to the back wheel. These panels always need repairing.

 Often, it's necessary to fabricate a new part, in order to complete the restoration of a body panel as is the case with this front fender

This photo shows a fabricated part spot welded onto a rear fender that had rusted out. 

The doors have temporarily been reattached to see if they will shut properly.

When fully restored, this is what the 1931, Model A Ford Phaeton will look like.

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