Confessions of an Aging Forest Hippie
Fredric L. Rice
Copyright 2017 by Fredric L. Rice
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or be given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please acquire an additional copy for each recipient from the author’s Smashword web page. If you’re reading this book and did not acquire a copy of it yourself, then please visit the author’s Smashword account and acquire your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
And in her most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine, within which rift
Imprisoned thou didst painfully remain
A dozen years; within which space she died
And left thee there, where thou didst vent thy groans
-- Shakespeare, The Tempest
After spending so much time playing and working in the Angeles National Forest for so many years I have managed to accumulate a collection of stories about my forest adventures which, in recounting on social media web sites such as Facebook and Twitter, helps me to remember some of the things that I have done and some of the people that I have encountered along the way. In doing so I at times look back and honestly wonder at how humanity itself (not to mention my own self, at times) has managed to survive as a species.
I’ve had forest adventures ranging from the only mildly interesting to the abject fascinating; adventures ranging from the moderately frightening to the potentially deadly horrifying; adventures ranging from laughingly humorous to the screamingly outrageous.
Some things I would like to include in this collection of memories can’t be included for a number of reasons, from the fact that some of the people involved in events I would like to include are still alive, some people still work for the Forest Service, and also some incidents that I have observed from a distance are better off left un-reported because of the legal consequences of their activities (such as drunk drivers who have been arrested, people with guns who have been arrested, child endangerment people who have been arrested, lots of unhappy stuff that one can some times see from a distance if one hikes and bikes virtually every weekend in mountains surrounded by 23 million Americans, some of whom are not very nice people.)
Hiking, camping, bicycle riding, playing, working, and occasionally spending weeks in the forest over the past 30 years or so has resulted in a great many adventures, most of which I have only vague memories of, many of which I remember fully and have touched briefly upon in this short collection of things I have encountered in the Angeles National Forest.
Not so amusingly, it is the people I have encountered in the forest which stand out the most in my memories and which feature mostly in my stories. The thing is, I go to the forest to escape from humans, the filth, noise, and stink that we all (those of us who are not wealthy) wallow in while living in the cities below: The police, the concrete, the gunfire, the helicopters, cars, all the turmoil and mind-numbing stupidity of seething, festering humanity of which only retreat in to the mountains or desert offers any hope of quiet solace.
At least that’s what one would normally expect when taking to the forest: Escape from all that is humanity, if only for a short time. Yet the sad fact is that there is no escape, not really, not when one lives near the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California where an astonishing 23 million people live pressed up against the mountains, many of whom also seek solace and escape in the mountains, all of whom – myself included! – bring their city with them, by various degrees.
Nature Herself has often been relegated to a footnote in many of my stories here which, in retrospect, is rather sad. The environment has been friendly to me at times, and in other times the environment has been actively hostile, or so it has seemed, even though Nature Herself is utterly indifferent to human suffering within Her environs.
I have been hot and Sun-baked to the point of experiencing hallucinations, and I have been so cold and wet at times that I’ve lost awareness of my surroundings. Some times I have been so exhausted from walking up mountains that I have sunk to the ground when my legs gave out and slept on the ground where I stopped until morning.
Yet in all environmental and physical extremes, Mother Nature has been utterly indifferent, and anyone who hikes and exercises in the outdoors can easily understand why so many people need rescue or die in the outdoors every year.
I find so many people on Social Media who venture out of the malls and in to the forests, beaches, and deserts who injured themselves, post comments about their dismay that Mother Nature tried to kill them, yet the truth is that Nature is indifferent, and if She notices humans at all, She notices the trash, toxic dung, spray paint, and endless fires that they inflict upon Her.
She certainly doesn’t lift a finger to either hurt or harm people out of malice, she does what She does and any humans – or squirrels, rabbits, deer, bears, cats, ants, bats, you-name-it – who suffer along the way or benefit along the way is purely happenstance, it’s nothing personal.
Living in Southern California, the only true escape possible is for the people who have money; specifically the only escape is to drive, fly, or walk long distances to where humans are infrequent, perhaps out in to the Mojave Desert where the only shade one has is the shade you bring with you, perhaps to Northern California where there are still stands of trees and deep forest where one may abandon one’s car, shoulder a backpack, and walk walk walk in to the embrace of The Green.
Yet for penniless aging hippies like me, we must make do with what we can find, and in the Angeles National Forest there is plenty to do, to see, and to experience, enjoyable despite the odd humans one can not avoid (indeed despite the very odd humans one can not avoid, this being Los Angeles County and the “Craziest State in the Union” that we all affectionately call “California.”)
One a positive note, I must say that over the years, over the decades, the U. S. Forest Service people that I have talked with and have seen have always been polite and professional, doing an extremely difficult job with a budget that continues to shrink. Fire, Resources, and Recreation must contend with growing human populations, a worsening drought, an oppressive political environment, a warming climate, more frequent and more severe wildfires, and budgets that continue to be cut or eliminated.
They are dedicated people working to salvage, save, retain, and at times restore some of what’s left of our public lands, out watersheds that we rely upon for our very lives, our wilderness areas, the flora and fauna which we call our public lands their homes.
May the gods smile upon the men and women of the Forest Service. The work they do on behalf of all Americans needs the support of the Angels. Their tasks are difficult and only getting harder.
I’m constantly reminded of Shakespeare’s Tempest. To be imprisoned in a cloven pine on some mountain far from other humans, unable to escape because one is unwilling to escape, that would seem to me to be something of a blessing rather than a punishment. Point being that solace is where one finds it, and in the Angeles over the years I have found some.
I have vented groans, yes, but overwhelmingly I have also vented contented sighs of relief when escaping to my beloved mountains.
In a cold September or October something like six or seven years before I wrote this I had walked my ancient single-speed bicycle up the mountain along Highway 39 in the dead of night, beginning my 14 mile hike from the base of the mountain up to the West Fork of the San Gabriel River starting out around nine that evening and expecting to get to where I wanted to spend the night some time around midnight.
It was a cold and rainy night but I had my ancient Army rucksack on my back, a tent roped to my handlebars, and a plastic-wrapped sleeping bag bungee corded to the rack bolted to the back of my bike.
On my head was an old dead cow-skin hat keeping the light rain out of my eyes as I slowly worked my way up the highway, dodging the occasional drunk driver by picking up my bike and dragging myself up hillsides or over safety railing to avoid getting run down as the drunks tottered from one side of the road to the other seeking the center line.
At the base of the mountain along Highway 39 there is a mile marker, number 18.00 which is planted on the west side of the roadway in concrete just past a bridge which has been in numerous famous movies.
Bruce Willis killed a lot of bad guys in the old Canyon Inn Encanto that used to stand near the bridge in one such movie (called “Hostage,”) after which the helicopter camera panned up and back, showing the Inn, the concrete bridge, the famous palm trees which still stand there, and showing the mouth of the San Gabriel Canyon heading Northward.
The destination I was aiming for was around mile marker 26 so I only had about eight or nine miles to walk my bicycle before I would turn left on to West Fork Road, an eight mile long water company paved road which leads to Glenn Campground and then eventually to Cogswell Dam.
When I walk at night I always like to go slowly, taking my time, stopping to rest when gaining altitude, and riding my bicycle on the rare occasion when there is a down grade.
On this particular night, I walked even more slowly than I normally do because it was very dark, no stars, no Moon because of the heavy overcast and rain, and far from all city lights, with only the occasional car driven by drunks illuminating the road.
Because even in September and October rattle snakes rest on the warm road at night, I had learned to treat every shadow on the asphalt as a potential sharply-fanged threat (more on that in my next story) so I walked around long shadows on the road despite the cold and rain: Rattlesnakes do come out at night when it’s cold, they don’t just come out during the Summer months.
After just passing mile marker 24.24, I let go of my bicycle and dove to the ground in the turn-out I was walking in because some “well-regulated militiaman” parked in a turn-out on the West side of the road some 30 feet ahead of me started shooting a gun, presumably shooting across the highway and in to the Morris reservoir.
This was in the dark, mind you, in the absolutely darkness where seeing one’s hand in front of one’s face was difficult, yet here was some clown shooting what sounded like a handgun in the turnout.
After I decided that the “militia” wasn’t shooting at me, I sat up and waited for the shooting to stop, then after about 15 minutes the driver got in to his vehicle (gunloons always seem to be males) and drove off, allowing me to stumble around in the dark for my bicycle, get it back on to its wheels, make sure that I hadn’t lost my tent or anything, then I continued onward North toward the West Fork Road: Just a typical night in the Angeles along Highway 39.
Once I got to the bridge that crosses the West Fork, I paused and dug my notebook out of my Army rucksack, got my ancient penlight working, and wrote down a note of the date, time and mile marker where the shooting had taken place, then I packed everything up, and walked my bicycle on to the West Fork.
Normally I would ride my bike along the West Fork road, even at night since usually there’s enough faint starlight and Moonlight to see the side of the paved road as it follows Bear Creek along for eight miles all the way to Glenn Campground, with the canyon walls widening and narrowing at various points, choking off the starlight at times.
Because the lighting down in the West Fork canyon can be non-existent at times, usually I would bike and walk, riding when I could see and walking with my sneaker seeking the edge of the road when I could not.
This night was pitch black, and I literally could not see my hand in front of my face after entering in to the narrow canyon, so I walked along the left hand side of the road, rubbing my sneaker along the side to find where the paved road ended and the dirt began.
The thing to remember was that I was going slowly and quietly, checking where the road was from time to time but making fairly good speed despite not being able to see anything at all. I had always taken great care of my ancient single-speed bicycle, including keeping it lubricated and keeping all of the bearings on the bicycle packed with clean red grease.
So I was very quiet humping my way slowly up the mountain and then in to West Fork, quietly enough that the mountain lion did not hear me and, presumably because there was no wind to speak of in the light rain, did not smell me.
That’s the thing with wildlife, hikers and campers who hike in often wear bells to let bears and other critters know that humans are coming, or if they don’t recognize human noises, let them know that something is coming long enough that they can retire off of the trail and observe the human passing quietly from a distance.
What I did was walk in about three miles, exhausted from the constant effort to find the edge of the road and the cold and damp from the light rain. So when I got to about three miles in, I stopped, unhitched my sleeping bag while leaving the tent in place on the handlebars, then I turned my bicycle upside down and set it right on the edge of the road to avoid punctures which are common along the West Fork when everything is dry, less common when things are wet and thorns pliant.
I walked to my left a couple of feet on to the side of the road, took my Army rucksack off, heard wet leaves and stuff moving in front of me and ignored it, thinking it was just a squirrel or rabbit since it sounded fairly large, not just a small mouse.
As whatever it was stepped carefully and slowly to my left trying to head East, I spread out my sleeping bag, laid down, then took my dead cow skin hat off of my head and slapped the muddy ground with it, making a loud noise which caused the rustling in the leaves to stop.
Of course I was tired, with the wet and cold after walking something around 12 or 13 miles it was tiring, but adding the dark and constant effort to find the road to make sure I didn’t walk off in to Bear Creek, I was tired and admittedly not thinking very well.
So I laid down and dozed off and on for the next 3 hours or so, then when it started to seriously rain, I moved my hat to cover my face and to my right, up against the hillside, a mountain lion growled and then screamed! Without being able to see it, the mountain lion leaped behind me and to my right about 20 feet or more in a single leap, all while growling and screaming.
I sat up quickly and put my right arm around the back of my neck, then I stood up slowly while the mountain lion continued to yell behind me.
The first thing I did was I wrapped my wet sleeping bag around my left arm in case I was attacked while with my right arm I searched for my 2 meter Ham radio in the dark, then I found my pack, got my stuff together, and started feeling for my bicycle, all while the mountain lion continued to perch on the ground now to my right literally within about 10 feet or so from me, “barking” at me, for wont of a better word for the mountain lion’s sounds she was making.
Was I scared? Frightened? Oddly enough no, I wasn’t. As a some-times volunteer working on maintaining hiking trails and nature trails, I had enough formal and regular training and enough experience in the wilderness to know that mountain lions don’t attack humans unless there is some mitigating problem, either it’s a diseased animal, a barking dog near the human, or an animal that is confused by a human on a bicycle which makes the human look like fleeing prey.
I quietly and calmly got my stuff together, found the bicycle and got it back on its wheels, and I started walking slowly Eastward, leaving the West Fork. Behind me the mountain lion heard me leaving, and mixed in with occasional growls and screaming, it continued to mostly just bark, not at all like like a dog does but more like “Yark! Yark! Yark!” with kitty growls and snarls tossed in.
As I worked my way East through the dark, I kept my sleeping bag wrapped around my left arm, guiding my bicycle with the right hand, listening to the mountain lion receded in to the background until I turned another corner and could no longer hear it.
When I got back to Highway 39, I unslung my Army Rucksack, shook off my wet sleeping bag, and repacked my bicycle. Now the question of where to spend the rest of the night came up, so I returned South to where a drainage culvert went under the highway and I carried my bicycle in to the metal culvert, spread my sleeping bag under there, and slept out of the rain until a watery Sun came up.
This behavior is common with mountain lions who feel trapped, and I undeniably trapped this one up against a hillside. I was a human that had literally walked up to the mountain lion, sat down in front of it, made an aggressive move and sound with my hat, and then I had laid myself down right in front of the animal, all of which is the actions of a carnivore, not prey.
The mountain lion was being polite when he or she had had enough until I made another move to cover my face with my hat. Until then the mountain lion had giving me the opportunity as a fellow carnivore (I’m not, I’m a vegan but she didn’t know that!) to back off.
This behavior by the mountain lion is difficult for non-hikers and non-campers to understand, they see in the news many instances of police killing mountain lions every time some novice hiker or nervous resident in a housing complex next to the mountains calls the cops and reports seeing a mountain lion, they think that mountain lions are dangerous to adult humans. They’re not.
Mountain lions work to avoid humans when possible, quietly getting out of the way when they hear or see or smell a human heading toward them. Hikers and campers rarely see mountain lions because they work very hard to avoid us, yet in popular news accounts people get the wrong opinion, they see trigger-happy police gleefully availing themselves of an opportunity to kill a harmless animal while pretending they’re heroes saving people from the harmless carnivore with sharp teeth.
Mountain lions forced to speak are mountain lions that are being polite, much like rattlesnakes are rarely heard or seen when they know a human is coming and manage to get out of the way in time, it’s only when a rattlesnake feels threatened do they announce themselves by shaking their rails, they are being polite by doing so, they are giving potential fellow carnivores the opportunity to avoid being injected with venom which the snakes don’t like to use on animals too large to swallow.
When it comes to rattlesnakes, I’ve encountered plenty, some of them dangerously so, which brings me to my next adventure.
When I first started to volunteer working on repairing hiking and nature trails within the Angeles National Forest, one of the trails that we worked on was Sunset Ridge Trail which overlooks the Group Campground within the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.
The campgrounds themselves were closed to visitors since the repairs in the aftermath of the 2002 Curve Fire were still underway, as were the repairs of the 2005 flooding that happened. Contractors were performing repairs within the campgrounds themselves and volunteers were working on getting trails that were in the burn footprint fixed, and Sunset Ridge was a trail that burned on the South Eastern side of the mountain.
While working on the trail, someone close by started shooting a rifle, and the person was very close to us, within 50 yards or so in among the trees, causing us trail crews to run for cover.
While volunteers were scrambling to get everyone evacuated, the shooter continued to exercise his “well-regulated militia freedoms” apparently shooting randomly at trees and rocks since there were certainly no deer anywhere near where our crews were working.
While volunteers were getting together and trying to evacuate quickly, I jogged over to the water tank at the end of the Group Campground, climbed on top using the ladder, and looked for the shooter.
While I was on the tank, the shooter became visible: Another dimwitted hunter wearing camouflage clothing, striped paint on his face, with a rifle slung over his shoulder and walking through the campground under the water tank.
I called down asking him to stop a moment so I could come down and talk to him to let him know that we had people in the area where he was shooting. He was very belligerent, demanding to know “what for?!” among other exclamations which he uttered with anger, suspicion, and sullenness.
I called down saying I just wanted to talk to him about people being in the area, then I turned around and climbed down the ladder.
When I got to the bottom and walked around the tank, I found that the man had run and, even more disturbing, he had fallen to ground somewhere in among the shallow ravines surrounding the water tank to the South and hidden.
The man had fled and then had fallen to ground, hiding behind his rifle.
I walked quickly back to the other volunteers just a short distance down the road; they were trying to get law enforcement wound up and on their way but were having difficulty getting an answer on the radio. Instead we fled, knowing there was a potentially deadly National Rifle Association (NRA) member behind us.
That incident was one of many with illegal hunters in the campgrounds trying to kill deer (or there just to shoot up rocks and trees) while crews were working in the campgrounds trying to get them repaired and re-opened. On numerous occasions law enforcement had to be called because of gun loons shooting up the place near workers, and of course every one of them knew that Federal and State law bans hunting inside of campgrounds! (Whether they are open to the public or not.)
Some times law enforcement captured the people, some times they did not, and in cases where the gun loons were caught, their guns were run through crime databases and were confiscated.
Poaching can be a felony depending upon circumstances, and poaching coupled to putting people’s lives in danger hopefully got prosecutors to remove guns from the hands of such people forever. “Hopefully” since obviously these people had zero regard for the health and safety of others and could not be trusted with guns.
One Summer when the nights were hot and muggy with temperatures in the mid 80s, I had been walking up Highway 39 intending to spend the night under the East Fork Bridge around mile marker 26 or 27.
Some times when I’m walking my bicycle up hill and riding the few down hill sections, I will walk along and kick debris off of the highway, usually rocks that come down the mountain all the time and end up in the road. Much of the time there are dead tree branches and yucca plant stalks on the highway and I will often kick them to the side of the road just to get them off of the road.
I don’t do it for the cars, though. I have shredded endless numbers of car tires on the road in later years thanks to driving my old, worn out tires over rocks on the highway, but that was my own stupidity, my fault for not paying attention. (Yes, I finally bought a car after 10 years of not driving.)
I remove debris from the highway when I hike and bike because some times when there are rocks in the road and cars drive over them, their tires kick the rocks in to bicycle riders and people who walk up and down the highway, people like myself, so it’s something I do solely for self-preservation, not as some effort to help fellow humans.
That summer night I had walked up to around mile marker 20 or so, near Morris Dam, when I approached a branch laying in the road. Pushing my bicycle holding it with both hands, I was on the left side of my bike, then as I started to draw back my right foot to kick the branch to the side of the road, the branch reared up and moved away from my foot.
Suddenly without any time seeming to pass, I was over the handlebars on the right hand side of my bike and the huge rattlesnake that I had been about to kick had struck my bicycle’s rear tire and had punched through two of the spokes, breaking them. When I found myself suddenly on the other side of the bicycle, the snake pulled its head out of my spokes, pulled back, and started to shake its rattle, confirming that, yes, that’s not a tree branch, that’s a rattlesnake.
I humped my bicycle North quickly, listening as the distance increase between myself and the rattlesnake while the two newly-broken spokes of my rear tire clicked and clacked every time they dragged across the bike’s frame.
Some how I had performed an unconscious acrobatic stunt without any cognitive volition at all, vaulting over the handlebars and landing on the far side of the bike with the striking rattlesnake on the other side of my bike.
When I got to the East Fork Bridge, I rolled my bike down in to the San Gabriel riverbed, turned the bike upside down, and examined the damage. Thankfully I was able to wrap the broken spokes around other spokes before laying out my sleeping bag and getting some sleep before morning.
Lots of things happen at night that people in cars simply never see, but also during the day when people are driving up and down the mountain, or people are on their bicycles going quickly up and down, there are many things that such people traveling quickly don’t see, things that are seen only at night by people going slowly and quietly up or down the mountain.
The next few stories talk about some of the things one can see if one is willing to walk in to the mountains long distances at night.
During the Summer months if you have the opportunity to walk up in to the Angeles Mountains along a highway – Highway 39, Angeles Crest Highway, Glendora Mountain Road, the “back way” in to Big Bear and Baldy, what ever way you can – you should do so as evening starts to fall, starting your walk after the hot Summer Sun starts to dip in to the Western sea.
As the roadway cools off and you work your way up the mountain in the gathering dark, you’ll see flora and fauna come out and walk around in far larger numbers than you can see during the heat of the day. (Yes, flora does so come out at night!)
One Summer evening I was walking my bicycle up Highway 39, dozing off while walking like I some times do, when suddenly an extremely loud BANG! Let loose to my right just a couple of feet from me.
I screamed a little, ducked my head down and started to hit the floor when I realized that what sounded like an explosion was the high-tension turn-buckle-tightened safety railing along the highway adjusting itself as all the metal in the railing contracted and the metal cooled, suddenly giving up enormous tension that had accumulated during the day as the metal expanded from the high temperatures of the day.
The first time it happened I screamed. The next couple of times it happened I merely clutched my chest and waited for my heart beat to subside back to normal levels. After that, every time the safety railing let go at the end of a hot day, I was startled but not enough to leap for cover.
That’s one of the things about hiking up and down the mountain along roads at night has to offer which bicycle riders and car drivers rarely encounter. You might think that it’s not much, that it’s hardly significant, but it’s highly significant, highly interesting, it’s an experience that few people aside of jobless hobos and the homeless encounter.
It you look at safety railing, at least along these Angeles mountains, the equipment is mounted in part on thick and heavy rubber blocks mounted on heavy wooden posts which are driven in to the ground.
Rail sections are often anchored left and right by steel cables which are adjusted through heavy turn-buckles which Caltrans tunes according to their engineering requirements for any given piece of the roadway.
The anchors themselves at end points are often huge eye bolts sunk in to concrete, a short section of cable going to a turn-buckle, and then a long cable from the buckle gets fed through holes and bolts along the back of the wooden blocks which steel railing is tied to through large rubber blocks.
When vehicles strike the steel rails, the rubber blocks absorb much of the shock which is distributed among a number of the blocks. If there’s enough impact force, the steel cable running behind the wooden blocks starts to pick up the force and that gets distributed along the length of the safety railing run, through the turn-buckles, and in to end anchors.
That’s a lot of metal for the Sun to heat up and expand during the day, and even along a 30 foot section of railing, the rail can expand some three inches or more. You may see slight bulging in spots as the tension in the metal becomes visible during the day, and the system as a whole attempts to distribute that load to avoid a critical failure.
When the Sun goes down, as soon as Sunlight no longer falls on the railing, the heat starts to leave the metal, and it will often do so quickly, quickly enough so that as tension leaves some sections of the safety railing, other sections which have cooled still retain all of the tension that they accumulated during the day.
Eventually large sections of the railing will suddenly and violently surrender their expansion load, moving the whole construction a full three inches, letting go with a very large bang!
Another thing that people who drive and bicycle during the day don’t see when walking through the mountains at night is the way that starlight and Moonlight can glint off of mica in rocks, causing flashes of fairy lights to flicker far off in the distance on hillsides where you would not normally expect lights to be.
You can walk through the mountains or along the highway in the gentle fall of starlight when there is no Moon as yet and, if you pay attention to what’s around you, you can see the ground sparkle at times, or if you’re gazing off in to the distance you can watch what appears to be a light appear, slowly gaining in brilliance, peaking, and then declining in brilliance as a star’s light reflects off of a piece of mica on the mountain and in to your eyes.
But it’s not just starlight and Moonlight that one can encounter as one walks, there is also another phenomena which is much rarer and much more fascinating.
Saint Elmo’s Fire, caused by electrical disturbances usually when there is the potential for rain, is one such phenomena that is extremely rare and something I have never encountered, but there is a cousin to the famous Saint Elmo’s called the Piezoelectric Effect which can generate electrical disturbances which can give rise to bright photon effects large enough to light up a large area.
One Summer I walked my bicycle up Highway 39 and up to somewhere near mile marker 22 or so. It was a hot and sweaty night and I was tired, enough so that I left the highway and entered the San Gabriel Riverbed which at the time had only a very narrow ribbon of water flowing.
People aren’t supposed to be down in there since it’s water authority property yet unfortunately many people who do go down in there during the day leave their human dung, urine, and mountains of trash behind, something I would never do and have never done, so I felt entitled enough to ignore the rules. (Well on rare occasions, any way.)
I left my bicycle near the highway and carried my Army rucksack and sleeping bag with me, then laid my sleeping bag down on the sand and dried dirt along the thin ribbon of the river, took off all of my clothes so that they would dry, and laid down to let the sweat evaporate, closing my eyes and using my rucksack as a pillow.
While dozing off and on, crowds of coyotes talked and yipped among themselves down along the riverbed, some of them quite close to me, most of them calling to each other from afar.
While dozing with my eyes closed, suddenly it started getting bright. Normally I would associate sudden brightness with a car’s vehicle lights starting to sweep over me since I often sleep very close to the road or under the road when a drainage ditch offered reasonable protection from drunk drivers.
This time, however, I was beyond the reach of car headlights so I immediately thought “meteorite,” a large meteorite which I’ve some times had cross high over head before, yet large enough to illuminate the ground some, yet when I opened my eyes I knew it wasn’t a meteorite crossing overhead.
Around me the ground was glowing bluish white, but also to my left, far to my left, the hillside was also glowing. Looking around, the air itself appeared to be glowing for a fairly large area, roughly in the shape of a oval which hugged the bottom of the canyon riverbed.
Around me the coyotes had fallen silent as, presumably, they also paused in their social gossiping to gaze at the phenomena brightening the area around us all.
I sat up and wondered “what the Hell” yet even as I started to sit up the phenomena left, the area darkened as if someone had thrown a light switch.
The only thing that I could think of was that I was watching a major amount of rock and soil under and around me suddenly undergoing the Piezoelectric Effect, huge amounts of rock on the far Eastern side of the canyon getting compressed by a minor local earthquake, releasing electrons in a vast amount, giving up some of the energy as photons.
After a while, when it looked as if the light show would not resume, I laid back down and eventually the coyotes around me resumed their talk.
When you’re on a bicycle coming down the mountain, and when the wind is right, you can surprise wildlife out on the highway in the forest by sneaking up on them before they can hear, see, or smell you. On a bicycle in the morning, you can see forest critters up and about in the early morning, critters that may be returning home after spending the night hunting, looking for mates, visiting water sources, or just out socializing.
I have spent the night in many places North and East above the Crystal Lake Recreation Area, along Windy Gap Saddle where the Pacific Crest Trail meets up with Windy Gap, or on the Northern side of Mount Islip, and hours before Sunrise I’ll gather my pack and sleeping bag, hike down the mountain to where I’ve hidden my bicycle, then climb aboard and head slowly down the mountain while it is still cool and dawn is just breaking among the canyon floor.
Surprising wildlife can be dangerous, yet bobcats can be surprised with minimum threat to one’s life, though accidentally surprising bobcats can make them feel the need to defend their cubs if you seem to be a serious threat to their cubs, just as bears and mountain lions will defend themselves even though they really don’t want to, not against humans.
I recall one particular morning on a cold Winter day, a couple of days before snow was expected to drop above the 3,000 foot altitude mark, when I was riding my hand brakes coming down, going very slowly and quietly, enjoying the morning when on my left, a bobcat was in the Northbound lane examining the splattered remains of some roadkill, a squirrel I think it was.
She looked over her right shoulder as I came around the curve and she crouched down. I was moving fast enough that she must have thought that if I was going to make a meal out of her, there was no time to run so she just hunkered down, but the on the poor little critter’s face was priceless. I got a look of such while she watched me slowly ride on past watching her that I couldn’t help but break out in to laughter.
Since I’m usually in tattered ragged cut-offs and often without a shirt while I bike, and because I’m often covered in dirt and grime, it’s not surprising that some of the wildlife up there distrusts me as I go past, but still, despite surprising wildlife from time time on my bike, that particular morning always stands our since bobcats do have facial expressions, and this one surely expected nothing but naughty behavior from me.
In the aftermath of the Curve Fire there were not many cabins left standing in the footprint of the fire, yet one of the cabins that remains is owned by a woman who did her laundry and set her clothing out on lines to dry.
Years ago before I started volunteering in the forest I had bicycled past the cabin, looking homeless no doubt, and pretty much on the highway frequently enough that some people – including some Forest Service employees – though I was homeless.
Eventually I heard that the owner of the cabin thought that I was stealing her clothing because she would lose garments that she had hung out to dry. Presumably wild animals (rather than the unwashed aging hippie that would be me) was taking clothing from time to time, yet the cabin owner had asked people – presumably Forest Service people – if I was taking her clothing.
For a couple of years the other volunteers would joke about it, asking me which of her clothing I liked best when hiking up the mountain, among other jokes at my expense.
Sleeping under Highway 39 at night is a behavior I really should reconsider seeing as how I’m getting on in years and there is an increase in the number of people who actually are homeless who share various drainage culverts at night.
There’s just so much hotel space under the highway and more and more people are unfortunately driven to escape the city at night to seek “safer” places to sleep in the mountains, and drainage culverts under the highway can stay warm and dry during the night.
I’ve slept all over the cities below, back alleys in residential neighborhoods out of sight, in commercial complex after the shops have closed, and in drainage gutters along various public parks, out of sight, showing up after night has fallen and moving on long before daybreak to avoid being seen.
The point here is that when you’re sleeping in places where other people don’t know you are there, you often get to see people doing bad things, stupid things, silly things, and things they should not be doing out doors. I’ll mention some of those things eventually yet one of the most frustrating, dangerous, and annoying things I have seen was when I was sleeping under Highway 39 in the forest.
Along Highway 39, if you hike up or bike up, check out mile marker 30.30. Under the highway is a fairly wide drainage culvert, an uncomfortable corrugated metal tube which used to be dry even when it rained lightly, only filling up with water once the rainfall collected enough at the lip of the culvert to start draining through the tube.
This is a good place to spend the night. You can drag your bicycle in to the culvert so nobody can see it, find a section of the flooring where soil has accumulated so that you can sleep mostly comfortably on it, lay out your sleeping bag and spend the night.
If you park yourself near the Eastern side of the drainage culvert, eventually the Moon may come up over the mountains across the North Fork of the San Gabriel River and you can read a book from the light of the Moon, perhaps. (These days I have a Kindle Paperwhite which lets me read day and night, so no external lighting is needed!)
One Summer night I had set up camp inside the drainage culvert, then I climbed out and sat on the side of the highway slowly eating saltine crackers and sipping water from an old plastic iced tea container when suddenly to the South I saw a bright green spark of light climb in to the air, tip over in to a curve, fall download a short distance before the light winked out.
I could not think of what it was as I sat there gazing South, and then another green spark rose and fell, and then a minute later another.
Years later I realized that it was some asshole somewhere on the highway below me with a flare gun, firing flares in to the Summer night sky. I realized this when I was up on Glendora Mountain Road in a car when I saw the same thing. I got in to my car and drove South until I found people in a turn-out shooting flares over the canyon below, the San Gabriel River Canyon far below the road yet above Morris Dam.
You can imagine how dangerous that is, deliberate arsonists often use flare guns, yet these people – both times, the time I was sleeping under the highway and the time when I was on Glendora Mountain Road – the people shooting flare guns were just being dangerous assholes, not arsonists.
I wrote down the license plate of the vehicle after getting out of my car, making no attempt to hide what I was doing as the people watched me write down their license plate number. I drove down Glendora Mountain Road and reported that number to the Forest Service and to the local police by telephone yet I don’t know if anybody went up and arrested the bastards.
You might remember the 2002 Curve Fire that swept through the canyon along Highway 39 and points East and West, North and South. That fire was a bad one, necessitating the evacuation of something like 20,000 people recreating in the area, including evacuations to the North along Highway 39 up to Angeles Crest Highway.
In the aftermath of the fire, Highway 39 was closed with a Caltrans gate being placed up around mile marker 28.6 or so. Just beyond where the gate was placed is a side ravine which heads West a bit before it steeply climbs up the hillside.
That gate was South of the burn footprint, a fair distance from where the fire swept through at the line where fire crews got a handle on the Southern edge of the fire. The gate was placed, gasoline-powered lights were erected, and for a time a live human guard was posted to make sure that people did not enter in to the burn area since rocks, soil, and burned trees continued to fall and there is always a significant safety issue within any such fire burn footprint.
A year or two after the fire was extinguished, the lights and the guards were removed however the gate remained closed across the highway.
For the coming years after the fire, Forest Service employees, electrical construction employees, biologists, you-name-it were allowed past the gate to do repair work, and eventually volunteer groups with permission and safety oversight were allowed past the gate to do trail repairs.
That was a couple of years before I started to volunteer, and at the time when I walked some 16 or 17 miles up the mountain pushing my bicycle one Summer, I lifted my bicycle over the gate, went over the gate myself, and continued on North another 100 feet or so and in to the little side ravine to the West.
Technically the area beyond the gate was forbidden to bicycle riders as well as people on foot, and anyone caught beyond the gate was subject to being accosted and told to leave, yet they were also subject to being arrested and fined, if necessary.
After a few years, with the highway still closed and most of the highway had been repaired, enforcement slacked off some, and bicycle riders caught past the closure were routinely ignored, so I don’t feel too bad about violating the rules when I did.
On hot and sweaty Summer nights after hiking long distances at night, I usually take off all of my clothing and I lay it out on my old blue tarp to dry, always making sure there is almost zero possibility of being observed, keeping in mind that a lot of times there is no way to know if someone is close by and possibly watching.
Up against the road the shallow ravine offered a sandy bottom. Behind me the narrow ravine went a short way Westward among some fairly thick trees and brush. To my left was a hillside, at my feet was Highway 39, and to my right another hillside.
I had spread out my blue tarp, set my sleeping bag laid out along it, taken off all of my clothes and laid them out to dry, then I had laid down to rest and dry off myself, watching the stars above me and listening to the Summer night creatures as they walked through the dry leaves and, occasionally, calling out to other critters.
I was dozing off when I was awaken by gunfire close by which caused me to sit up. Someone was on the highway shooting which is very common pretty much everywhere in Southern California at night.
Mind you this is at night, in the dark, and the guy was shooting at rocks, shooting up and down the road, and just blasting away without a care in the world that anybody else was anywhere in the area.
When I was very young I had had some informal military training, sort of, so I knew that it would be a bad thing to call out and tell the person know I was there. The reasoning is why so many police officers do not turn on their flashing lights when they pull someone over for speeding at night: Flashing lights or calling out to let drunk people know you are there often means that drunk drivers zero in on your flashing lights and will kill you, or means that drunken well-regulated militiamen will zero in on your voice and keep shooting.
So the rule of thumb is to keep quiet, stay put if possible, and await developments.
The problem here was that the man was walking North past the gate towards me, shooting and reloading as he did from clips he had filled before hand (I recovered 9 millimeter bullet casings in the morning.)
As he walked past a certain point, bullets started to impact the hillside on my left and then a bullet hit the tarp I was laying on.
I grabbed my shoes and, naked, scrambled up the little ravine, got in behind oak tree segments which fire crews had bucked up from a previous fire, and stayed behind them while the guy continued to shoot. There I sat waiting on the rock and dirt behind the bucked oak until the gunfire stopped, then I waited half an hour before returning to my tarp.
I grabbed some clothes, my socks, and my pack, abandoning my bicycle, sleeping bag, tarp, and books, and I ran North up the highway for about a mile before I got off the highway and spent the rest of the night dozing off and on along the North Fork of the San Gabriel River.
In the morning I returned and gathered my things, collected some of the bullet casings and pocketed them, kicking the rest over the side off of the road and out of sight least some other militiaman could see them and think how much of a wonderful idea it is to shoot from the highway at night.
Over the years, at times when the highway was been closed for various reasons as well as when the highway was fully open, on my bicycle at night I would encounter lines of broken glass bottles that people have set up along the center line which they then shot full of holes, leaving piles of broken glass along the center line.
These people are the “responsible gun owners” who are keeping America safe from the Invading British, the “well-regulated militia” we rely upon to ensure that we have “freedom.” Ironically when it comes to hunting season, they really are the responsible ones, these people who line up cans and bottles along the highway and shoot at them, when they’re compared to the “well-regulated militia” people who turn out for hunting season in these mountains. (More on that outrageously insane phenomena later.)
When you come up Highway 39 and reach mile marker 29, there is a sharp right hand curve, a curve that seems to surprise a great number of people, people who are surprised for the last time because they die there.
Coming down highway 39, of course, it’s a sharp right hand curve and despite the large number of people who die there coming up, the body count of people who are coming down at high speed is much higher. (Go and look at the skid marks on the road there, they tell an interesting story, every one of them.)
At mile marker 29, the bow of the sharp curve has a drop off of about 30 feet or so. People coming South at high speed who miss the turn will often hit the dirt berm, plow through the light brush, and then go plunging down to the floor of the canyon about 30, maybe 40 feet below.
Some of them impact front end first, some end up upside down, some of them end up landing hard on their wheels, and while most people manage to avoid dying, there have been a lot of people who did not survive the drop and the resulting crunch at the bottom.
Multiple times during the year, or so it seems, there will be a fatality there, and then the monuments that people place along the highway come back for a while, only to be removed by Caltrans after a suitable time. If nobody cleaned up that curve in the highway, the Christian crosses, plastic flowers, little shrines to the dead would accumulate and that curve would be adrift in trash – which might be a good thing if it got people to slow down after seeing the little shrines.
One fairly ugly fatality was something of a low-energy crash which one would normally have expected any passengers and the driver to survive, however the fatality was caused when the pickup truck went over the side for maybe five feet only, the vehicle coming to rest with its tail end perhaps five feet from the highway, nose down. It should have been survivable except that equipment in the back of the pickup was loose, came through the back window of the vehicle, and crushed the guy’s head.
The body was removed the night of the incident yet in the morning people kept calling in the crash, Forest Service employees and volunteers kept calling it in until Search and Rescue came up and marked the highway with OTS SDSAR and the date – Over The Side, San Dimas Search And rescue.
Yet the vehicle remained for a number of days until a wrecker was brought up to remove the vehicle. Because it’s a sharp curve and visibility for people heading South around the curve is zero, traffic control needed to be scheduled to stop traffic so that the tow truck could extract the vehicle safely.
I have been the first at the scene of numerous accidents at that curve. Some of them:
A motorcycle rider who had acquired his motorcycle only a week prior was lying on the ground with his feet propped up on the motorbike, laying on the ground while other people blocked the Sunlight falling on him. He was complaining about back and neck injury so I called for medical. When the Forest Service showed up, they called for a helicopter. During the helicopter evacuation I worked on traffic control for Southbound traffic while a police office kept people away from the helicopter.
A woman heading North managed to miss the curve and ended up upside down up against the hillside in the shoulder of the roadway. She was sitting outside the over-turned vehicle as people driving past her that morning took photographs. When I came to her I asked if she needed help and she uttered a plaintiff “yes!” I got my fire extinguisher, a bottle of water since she had been stranded all night, and radioed in the collision. A Forest service employee showed up and was, I felt, somewhat rude to the woman. When the employee was talking to the Dispatch center, he asked “Who is the original reporter of this incident?” even though I was standing less than 10 feet in front of him and he must have heard me call for professional help on the radio (which is why he responded!) When Dispatch mentioned my volunteer number, he continued to ignore me and went through his written form virtually interrogating the woman, never once asking her if she was okay and needed medical help – or a drink of water. (I got a “thank you” from the crash victim, that was my reward.)
Another upside down vehicle in the same exact spot as the previous woman, except that this time what I noticed first while coming up the mountain was the ground fire that the people had set next to the vehicle because it was cold. I evaluated the injuries and decided to call for medical even though I could not get the teenager to speak. The adult driver would speak – yet he spoke very badly, haltingly, and I at first attributed it to English not being his first language. A Sheriff showed up before medical did, evaluated the non-responsive teen and the adult that I had felt, was going “wonky” on us, and decided that he would call in to have the teen taken to the hospital as quickly as possible since the teen was cold and unresponsive.
Over the years I have attended a large number of crashes, most of them people who just got knocked about some, some people with broken bones, some with hideous bleeding wounds which required direct pressure, most of which had ground medical arrive from the Rincon Fire Station’s crews, some of which were bad enough to warrant the EMT, fire crews, or police officers to call for helicopter evacuation.
One of the most stupid stunts I’ve observed over the years are skateboard riders heading down the mountain, always followed by vehicles which try to keep the skateboarders from being slaughtered from behind.
That doesn’t always work, of course. One afternoon while driving down the mountain around mile marker 34 or 35 I came to vehicles stopped in the road, a person lying on the ground, and people standing over him blocking the hot Sunlight and giving the guy on the ground sips of water, it looked like.
The guy was a skateboard rider who had been run over by a very large pickup truck which was also parked in the paved turn-out. Some details are fuzzy, some people noted that a second vehicle also drove over the skateboarder while others noted that it was just the pickup. One vehicle was enough to be a worry.
I didn’t want to evaluate the situation too closely since I knew one of the people involved, and if a fatality or serious injury was involved, and if criminal charges were levied against the skateboarders, I could not get involved to any degree, so I called for medical, noting that the individual had been driven over, and Dispatch sent a helicopter.
Usually the Forest Service Recreation and Fire people have shown up quickly after I call in a crash or a fatality, though some times police show up first. Some times with people lying on the ground, the helicopter would show up first and then I would ask people who have stopped to see if they feel comfortable conducting traffic control by standing out of the way North and South and flagging down vehicles to stop or slow down at curves.
Because of the way the highway curves, people coming up or down can come across a stopped vehicle at an accident very quickly, so quickly that they have no hope of stopping themselves, compounding the problem.
Usually citizens will be conducting traffic stops already without needing anyone to suggest it, yet there have been occasions when people have come to a stop and apparently have not felt empowered enough to walk up or down the road to try to slow vehicles down.
When conditions are dangerous, and if I’m alone, I’ll note that “someone” should really “go up there” and slow traffic down and people will volunteer to do so. (I don’t like to ask, it’s always better to suggest and let people decide for themselves what they want to do or don’t want to do without social pressure.)
I’ve got photographs and video that I will never share, videos that are useful for the training of other volunteers up to a point, but also I retain videos for any follow-up legal issues which might some day crop up though so far none ever have.
The important thing to remember when applying First Aid is to do only as much as one is trained for and no more. A volunteer (on duty of off) can be reasonably expected to safeguard the area to avoid further injury, attend to anything that is immediately potentially fatal, and to make the radio call to summon people with far better training.
One Summer I spent the day at the Crystal Lake Recreation Area, waiting for the mountains to cool off before I headed home, a bike ride of about 25 miles.
Leaving Crystal Lake means taking a winding paved road from the Visitor Center for about 2 miles before it empties on to Highway 39, and that particular evening after the Sun had set I was coming down fairly slowly, turned left on to Highway 39, then my bicycle’s rear axle shattered, causing the rear wheel to seize up and “taco,” throwing me over the handle bars.
I hit the ground hard and lay there face down listening to ball bearings and other parts of my bicycle getting ripped off and thrown around the highway.
For the next 15 miles I carried my bicycle, backpack, tent, and sleeping bag all roped together, all the way down to the Rincon Fire Station where I spent the rest of the night waiting for morning, limping all 15 miles along the way.
Lois, one of the Forest Service employees, saw my scraped up face and my ruined bicycle and have me a “public assist” down the mountain after which I got to walk another 5 miles to my home.
It took me a long time to get that bicycle repaired, the old Bendix coaster brake on it had shattered, breaking the axle and throwing all the pieces all over the road so I ended up with an empty hub.
Replacement hubs with Bendix coaster brakes were very expensive, but I found a trashed bicycle set out in front of someone’s curb for trash pickup, grabbed that puppy, and spent days working with a spoke tool rounding that wheel and hub out until it was perfect.
I think it was maybe two years later that the rear axle broke again, this time taking that ancient single-speed bicycle off the highways for good. Losing that bicycle was like losing an old friend, and over the years while I’ve had 10 speed, 12 speed, and 15 speed bicycles come and go, none of them were ever as wonderful as the old single speed I had put thousands of miles on.
After the 2002 Curve Fire while the hiking trails in and around the Crystal Lake Recreation Area was being repaired, I had spent a Saturday working on clearing brush from the Soldier creek Trail, one of the trails within the Recreation Area that burned.
Since I had my bicycle and my sleeping bag stashed away during the day, when night came I bid “farewell” to the other volunteers, then I return to Soldier Creek Trail and climbed down in to the light stream of Soldier Creek’s water (which rarely flows these days, alas) and scrubbed myself clean with sand and water.
Late that evening after it got dark I bicycled to the Crystal Lake Visitor Center and filled seven 2-liter plastic bottles with water from the faucet, stashing some of them in my Army rucksack, bungee cording others to my bicycle rack, and putting others wrapped up in my tent roped to my handle bars, then I headed down the mountain fully loaded.
It never even occurred to me that I might be exceeding the weight limit of that bicycle. By now I had been using a 12-speed bicycle that I had pulled off of the scrap metal trash heap at the Rincon fire station.
I had taken that trashed bicycle home, replaced its tires for $30, then I cleaned it up, repacked the bearings after stripping it down, and got it working well enough to plod up and down the mountain quite abit.
Unfortunately I did not replace any of the cables, the two derailer cables and the two brake cables I left alone since cables cost money and they all seemed fine, if a little rusty in places.
Using the two handbrakes on my bicycle I made my way slowly down the mountain in the dark, squeezing hard since the bike wanted to pick up speed while being so heavily loaded down, and everything went fine until around mile marker 32 just South of Coldbrook Campground the left brake cable snapped followed about two seconds later by the right brake cable, sprionk! Sproink! I heard them go one right after the other.
The time to have abandoned the bicycle and bail out would have been right then while I was still going slowly, but instead I thought that maybe I could stop by dragging my sneakers along the roadway.
I dragged my sneakers and started to slow down some, weaving side to side a bit since my bicycle was unevenly loaded with lots of water. It didn’t take long before the sneakers wore away to nothing and I left synthetic rubber in chunks behind me as the bottom of both sneakers went, shredded down to nothing, and left me with my socks.
After the shoes went, I started grinding through my double layer of socks, gaining speed heading South. When the socks were gone, I dragged my feet along the roadway trying to slow down, chewing through the heavy calluses on my feet which slowed me down some but not enough to stop.
Ahead of me was a right hand turn which, if I didn’t stop, would see me launch off in to the North Fork of the San Gabriel River.
Still dragging my feet, leaving smears of blood behind me, I leaned over to the left, got the bicycle under me, and slid off the road and on to the dirt shoulder, coming to a stop before going over the edge – just barely.
I walked for a mile pushing my bicycle, leaving bloody footprints the entire way before 88 Boid, one of the Forest Service law enforcement officers, picked me up and took me down to where I could call my wife and get picked up along with my now-broken bicycle.
You should have seen my feet. I took photographs the next morning.
Years later after talking about this with other bicycle riders and skateboard riders, I was told that the way to stop when that happens is to cram one’s shoe up against the rear tire of one’s bike, under where the wheel is closest to the seat of the bicycle.
That way the shoe can be controlled yet still can be crammed between wheel and bicycle frame enough to slow to a stop. You can damage a foot if your shoe gives out but even if you break your foot, you’re still left with a good foot to walk on (assuming you started with two feet.)
The way I did things, I left a long string of bloody footprints streaming off of two feet that were thankfully mostly numb at the time.
In the morning, after having cleaned my feet and soaked them in hydrogen peroxide immediately after getting back home, my feet were a hideous mess of raw and blistered red, with the bleeding stopped thanks to wrapping them well and properly.
That trash bicycle sat in my back yard for a year or so before I stripped it down and set the frame our in the trash, likely where I should have left it in the first place.
A year or two before I started to volunteer repairing hiking and nature trails in the Angeles National Forest, I biked my way up Highway 39 up to the Rincon Shortcut, a long and winding fire road that was supposedly created to assist in the evacuation of Los Angeles in the event of a nuclear war, just as the old (and long since destroyed entirely) East Fork road and possibly Shoemaker Road were created for, I’m not entirely sure what the history of such vehicle access routs are.
The Rincon Shortcut is across the highway from the Rincon Fire Station on the West side of the road, and the Shortcut itself is a well-maintained dirt road that goes through the mountains, past Pine Mountain where there is a radio repeater station, and then continues on all the way up to Angeles Crest Highway. The route itself is something near 30 miles or so.
It was the second time I had hiked up the Rincon Shortcut pushing my bicycle up hill, riding it down hill when possible, with my backpack on, tent strapped to my bicycle’s handlebars, and a sleeping bag and tarp tied to the bicycle’s rack mounted above the rear tire.
This particular hike up to Pine Mountain had my ancient single speed bicycle fairly heavily loaded since on this rare occasion I brought food to eat, something I rarely did. I carried up a can of vegetarian chili beans, a can opener, some matches, and a cardboard stove I had made by cutting narrow strips of cardboard, rolling them up so that they fit in to a used tuna can, and covering the whole mess with melted wax to make a safe, convenient, controllable yet light-weight stove.
I also had with me one of the first iPod Shuffle MP3 players which I absolutely adored for the few years that I had it. Nirvana, R.E.M., U2, some Elllllvis (I always draw that name out) and mixed in with my whitebread hard and soft rock was some heavy metal, some epic Negro gospel Rock-N-Roll, and some classical musical pieces, pretty much a sample of everything but “rap” (which is utter crap!) “elevator music” which makes me tired, and Christmas music (which makes me violent and wanting to slug somebody, anybody!)
The hike up the Rincon Shortcut in daylight can be a strenuous one, more so during the Summer months however I went up during a cool Spring day before the heat of Summer set in, and even then the distance from Highway 39 up to my destination at Pine Mountain is long and difficult.
During the first couple of miles seasonal water crosses the Shortcut in three places, so every time I came to flowing water I availed myself of the opportunity to cool off and suck up muddy, bug-infested water when I found it, knowing one’s not supposed to dink from muddy seeps but also knowing that I had been doing so for some 20 years and had never had any problems.
It took me a long time getting up to the Pine Mountain Saddle, so much time that trail runners had jogged past me on their way up the mountain, reached the Saddle, turned around, and ran back down the mountain passing me again, giving me two opportunities to throw pine cones at their retreating backs as they effortlessly ran up and down the mountain that I struggled to climb up, breathing heavily.
Some time in the afternoon I reached the base of Pine Mountain, set my ancient bicycle upside down on its seat and handlebars to keep the tires from getting thorn punctures, then I laid out my small blue tarp, set my tent up on top of it with the opening facing South toward the cities below, laid out my sleeping bag in the tent, then laid down to relax and cool off while I read my book.
(It should be noted that usually on hot days after much sweat and toil I would have reached my destination in the dark, sufficient to allow me to remove my clothes, the unavoidable nudist that I am, to let things dry out and to cool off better. This time in daylight with hikers and runners coming and going, removing my shoes and socks was as far as I could go.)
As the Sun dropped down to the Sea far to my right (about 93 million miles to my right) the last of the day’s hikers and runners disappeared, humping quickly to get back down the mountain to reach Highway 39 before the coming of night.
During the day I had talked with a number of people who thought about bringing their tents some day and parking where I had parked. It was amazing to hear so many people talk about wanting to do just that and, for whatever reason, so few of them ever carried out their desire to bring a tent, sleeping bag, and spend the night at the Saddle there.
At the time it struck me that so many people want to do things that they promise themselves they’ll do “some day,” yet for so many of us, “some day” never comes, just like that old CCR song where the lesson is something you had better learn it fast and you had better learn it young.
Many of the people I spoke with that day came over and the first thing out of their mouths was, “I always wanted to spend the night right here” and variations on that theme.
After everyone had left and I had Pine Mountain to myself and to the fuzzy warm forest critters who really live here, I settled in and set down my book as the Sunlight drained away, listening to the mountain.
Mixed in among the gentle breeze which blew from the South ever Northward, I could hear the bustle and turmoil of the so-called “Foothill Cities” below and far off in the distance to the South.
The 210 Freeway is a serpentine monster that never sleeps, it runs 24 hours a day, never stopping, never pausing, and the sound of all those vehicles traveling Eastbound and Westbound washed over my quiet spot on the mountain in waves, some times loud enough to hear individual cargo trucks stepping through its transmission gears, some times the sound of the freeway fading away until t was nearly gone, the volume of that serpent rising and falling in waves.
After night had fully fallen it was time to heat my dinner. Out in front of my tent I set down my cardboard-and-wax stove, setting two rocks close to each other behind it, and setting the cardboard alight with a match.
After the stove started burning fully, I placed a small rock on the lip of the burning cardboard nearest to me, then I set the opened can of vegetarian beans on the cardboard and rock, leaning the back of the can against the two rocks: The small rock lifted my beans off of the burning cardboard while the rocks behind kept my beans from falling over, letting the beans heat.
A wooden stick served as a spoon to stir with, though I had to go off and find a second stick after my first one broke off while using it to stir with, leaving me to find another to hunt with for the first stick to dig it out of my beans.
When the beans were hot, a single heavy blow of air across the cardboard stove extinguished the fire and I used my stick to scoop beans out of the can in to my yap, an excellent dinner after a long hike.
With the cardboard stove extinguished, insects came to investigate me, looking for the salt of my sweat and the blood that could be had. I zipped up my tent to keep the insects at bay and I relaxed, turning on my iPod Shuttle and screwing the earbuds in to my ears, closed my eyes, and dozed off.
I awoke suddenly to the sound of a bear outside my tent, and from the sound of it, a very large bear just a couple of feet from my tent flaps. It was huffing and puffing, blowing air through its nose and mouth while it pawed the ground, just a few feet from my tent, drawn by the smell of the now-mostly-empty can of beans that I had left outside the tent.
The bear wanted the can but it could also smell a human inside the tent, a human it could not see but knew was in there by the smell.
It was torn between drawing closer to snatch the can away and lick the insides, if possible, and the desire to avoid the human, something which all bears who had not been fed by humans attempt to do. Bears avoid humans when possible if they have not been fed by humans before, and this one was a long way from any humans who might feed it regularly.
What would you have done if you were me? Scream? Open the tent and flee? I did neither, instead I turned the volume up on my iPod, screwed the earbuds tighter in to my ears, and went back to sleep, ignoring the bear outside the tent.
In the morning I found bear prints and claw scratches in the dirt outside my tent, but the bear had not touched the empty can of beans. It seemed that the lure of the empty can was not strong enough to overcome the fear of the smell of the unwashed human inside the tent.
That old iPod Shuffle was one of the few electronic gizmos that I have bought, it cost something over one hundred dollars at the time yet it was so light weight and held so many songs that I had to have it, and I put thousands of miles on it until I lost it one volunteer work day along East Fork Trail.
Now I have a Sanza Fuse with the Rockbox software hack on it which is even better than the old iPod was, yet I still miss that iPod shuffle. Ah, well, someone picked it up when I dropped it, as soon as I noticed I had lost it I knew exactly where, went back and searched for an hour or more, but the East Fork Trail has lots of hikers and someone picked it up.
In the aftermath of the 2002 Curve Fire, bear habitats were greatly diminished, and the area’s bears were having a difficult time of it.
Access to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area has been closed due to the fire, with trees, rocks, and ground still shifting and moving after the covering brush had burned away, however volunteers were permitted to restore and rebuild hiking and nature trails in the Recreation Area so that when Highway 39 was re-opened, trails would be in a usable condition and be ready for hiking to resume.
One work day included a number of Boy Scouts, something around 15 or so Scouts who had worked on Soldier Creek Trail clearing brush, dead tree limbs, and uprooting Yerba Santa from the trail, a plant which likes to grow after a fire has come through.
At the end of the work day the Boy Scouts stayed, and while all of the other volunteers left, I stayed because I had a radio and a borrowed key that would let the Scouts pass through the locked gate in the morning when they left.
The plan was to have the Scouts spend the night, then I would bicycle down about 13 miles to where the gate closed the road and await the Scouts who would show up in convoy, opening the gate for them and then locking the gate behind them, then I would bicycle another 15 miles home.
The Boy Scouts started cooking hotdogs in their camp sites after dark, boiling some of them and frying others, right inside their camp sites after they had established their tents for the night.
Because their habitats had burned, pretty much every bear within a five mile radius, or so it seemed, came to join them in their dinner, and as I laid down and read my book by the light of my flashlight, I smiled when I started hearing Scouts pounding frying pans and yelling, trying to drive off what sounded like an Army of bears.
While I was relaxing and listening to the yelling going on about 50 yards from where I had placed my own tent, a bear claw came ripping through the side of my tent, and a bear entered through the rent, grabbed my ancient canvas backpack, ripped it open while it dragged the pack out of my tent, and got the can of mixed salted nuts that I had stupidly left in there.
Needless to say I quickly exited the tent through the rip.
The bear had eaten the nuts quickly, it only took the bear a few seconds to get the lid off and up-end the can of nuts in to her mouth, then when she was certain the can was empty, she ran toward me while huffing loudly.
I leaped up on to one of the newly-added concrete tables that had been installed at most of the camp sites as part of the campground’s restoration after the 2002 Curve Fire and the 2005 flooding (which had inundated a number of camp sites which were never recovered.)
The bear reached the table and put its front paws on the bench while I thought about taking off one of my shoes, cramming my fist in to it, and using the shoe to punch the bear in the nose as hard as I could and as often as I could to maybe drive it off.
But as I climbed on to the table my hand encountered the small 7 inch frying pan that I had brought with me and had not used. I had left the frying pan on the table along with various other odds and ends, yet my hand found the pan and I immediately started pounding the concrete table with it.
The bear climbed off of the bench seat and started pacing back and forth while looking at me, Moonlight glinting off of its eyes and it huffed, puffed, scraped the ground with its claws, and paced back and forth.
Something like half a minute or so after I climbed board the table and pounded away, the bear left, presumably deciding that the hotdogs it could smell in the other camp sites was a more likely source of food.
After the bear left I walked over to the adults who were supervising the Scout camp-out, still holding my frying pan. They told me that bears had charged them also, running at them and then stopping just a few feet away, huffing and clawing the ground, only to retreat and then charge them again.
The adults had stood still, stool as tall as they could, and had stomped their feet and waved their arms while yelling, eventually driving the bears off.
Over the next half hour there was an endless effort to drive the many bears off, the campsites were surrounded by bears circling the campsites and occasionally darting in only to be driven off again.
The adults discussed what they should do and eventually they decided that nobody was going to get any sleep that night so it was agreed that everybody would pack up their tents and equipment while making noise to keep the bears at bay.
After everything was collected up and heaped in to pickup trucks, I tossed my bicycle on top of the heap, climbed aboard, and we fled, leaving the campgrounds to the bears. I got dropped off in the cities below and made my way back home.
It turned out that some equipment had been accidentally abandoned in the dark because of the bears, left behind because they were simply missed. Two weeks later when the volunteers resumed work on the hiking trails, the abandoned camping equipment was recovered, including my poor ripped-up tent which was a total loss.
As for my ancient canvas backpack, a two-foot-long rip required much needle and thread to set right though it was never the same after that. I continued to use that old backpack for something like ten more years before the old canvas bag simply wore away.
That bear behavior was unusual, to say the least. Normally such behavior would be due to humans feeding the bears so frequently that they consider humans to be a source of food, and when humans have food they’re not sharing, such bears get aggressive.
These bears had almost certainly not been fed by humans since the campgrounds were closed. Their habitats had been destroyed in the fire so they were desperate.
Years before I started volunteering repairing hiking trails in the Angeles National Forest, I had hiked up Highway 39 and parked my bicycle and myself on a blue tarp on the West hill side of the canyon overlooking the Off Road Vehicle area around mile marker 26.
I was under the shade of oak trees, in among the poison oak and relaxing on my blue tarp, cooling off and intending to read my book while there was still daylight.
There was a slight cooling breeze coming down the canyon which helped cool me off, plus there was water flowing in various places in the hillside, so I had an easy means of staying cool in the Summer heat.
Across the highway I watched as Off Road Vehicle after Off Road Vehicle checked in at the Forest Service gate, and watched as the USFS employee got their paperwork and fees squared away, where-after the driver would find a place to park and go off and putter back and forth uselessly driving on dirt as if that were some kind of fun or something.
I watched and listened as the USFS employee took the entry fee from a driver, asked the driver to hold right there for a minute as the employee walked in front of the driver’s vehicle to take note of the vehicle’s license plate.
Instead of holding there, the driver of the vehicle drove forward, nearly running in to the employee who had to leap aside with some degree of acrobatic quickness to avoid getting hit.
What struck me is that the Forest Service employee remained polite and professional after nearly getting run down, he asked the guy to “stop, stop” and “hold right there, please” even after he was nearly run down by the guy who seemed to me to have not understood the employee’s previous request to stay there and wait while the plate number was retrieved.
That’s been my experience with Forest Service employees, they are overwhelmingly polite and professional, dedicated and seemingly fearless in administering the public lands, handling serious threats to people’s safety, threats to our public lands, and assisting with potentially hazardous situations – such as drunk drivers, people with guns, domestic assaults in the forest, people racing up and down the mountain passing each other, the endless parade of safety hazards they must deal with.
I’ve known some fire fighters working for the Forest Service who have been rude, yet within the Recreation and Resources arena of the USFS, I have never once seen an employee be anything but professional, and that has always made an impact on my adventures in the Angeles.
There was a Saturday where trail repair volunteers were gathered to work on Lost Ridge Trail, among them a fairly large number of students from Mount San Antonio College, or “Mount SAC,” as the locals call it.
What’s interesting about college students is that for most of them, it seems, they have never been outdoors outside of cities before and have never used hand tools like shovels before. Even more disturbing, many have never encountered wildlife before since they have literally never gone to the mountains, beaches, or deserts, not as children and not as adults.
So students who join trail repair activities at times are handling shovels and handling ants and other forest critters for the first time.
When working on the trail, a boulder in the trail needed to be excavated so that it could be broken in to manageable pieces and get removed from the trail, and while college students were doing that, thousands, maybe millions of ants came boiling up out of the ground and at first the volunteers didn’t notice, yet when they did, there was actual screaming and fleeing.
While that was going on, while the braver volunteers continued to work near the boulder covered in ants, I watched a moth fly towards a woman who also fled from that, screaming lightly while flailing her arms.
At the time it struck me as funny, but not “funny” as in “ha ha” but rather funny as in the possibility that in their admittedly young lives they had not encountered insects before, perhaps, or maybe being in the woods heightened a sense of uncomfortable access to the flora and fauna of the forest.
Eventually, within minutes for some, within tens of minutes for others, the ant-screamers-and-fleers returned to the effort and, while prudently keeping their distance, resumed working on the trail.
That’s part of why students are invited to work in the forest, it’s a learning experience, it’s a means of gaining experience that they might not be able to get while living in the cities.
Volunteering to repair hiking and nature trails in the mountains is not gardening, it can get to be a very difficult, sweaty, and dirty effort which leaves volunteers exhausted and covered in grime at the end of the day.
When High School students, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and College students join trail efforts, a lot of times it is their parents who send them to join the work effort, and seemingly many of them (who are first time volunteer parents who are delivering their sons and daughters for the day) believe that what their sons and daughters will be doing is light gardening work.
On some occasions at the end of the day, parents will send E-Mail to the coordinator of the trail repair efforts and complain that their son or daughter was “returned” to them dirty.
Pause a moment and let that sink in.
They were in the mountains shoveling dirt, scraping dirt, trimming brush back from the trail, uprooting Yerba Santa growing along the trail, moving rocks, breaking boulders, helping to remove dead trees blocking the trail, repairing erosion and rock slides, widening the trail, installing water bars to slow down water, everything that trail work involves, and the parents were concerned that they came home dirty.
Related to that phenomena is College students who complained to their teachers that they were “forced” to perform work that they did not want to do, either performing trail activities they were not comfortable with, else “forced” to work long after they were tired.
That complaint has some validity in that students should have been told by their teacher advocates that the work is voluntary and that anyone is free to decline to do anything they don’t want to do, and free to step back, relax, and enjoy the day rather than press onward with working the trails if they wish. It’s their teachers advocates’ jobs to inform them of what they should expect long before they walk up the mountain with trail-working tools.
For the trail crews, the morning safety meeting there-after started to include the verbal confirmation that no volunteer is required to do anything if they did not want to, that’s the whole meaning of “volunteer,” after all.
On some of the occasions when I have joined volunteer trail repair efforts, all I have done is hiked up the mountain, maybe helping to haul up equipment, then I have found myself some shade, had an early lunch (of bread, mustard, and green olives, usually) and relaxed, reading books from time to time, having a nap, not doing a bit of work.
That’s the nature of volunteering: It’s not gardening, it’s seriously difficult and seriously useful work, but you do as little or as much as you please, and yeah, at the end of the day you go home dirty, possibly Sunburned, maybe even exhausted and ready for a quick shower and bed.
Some times you go home only to break out in a heavy poison oak rash after a couple of days. It;s not gardening.
Since I run the Crystal Lake web site as a private web site (not affiliated with any governmental agency) I answer a lot of Emails that people send about hiking, camping, the Crystal Lake campgrounds, fishing in the lake (which is actually a very small pond after 6 years of drought) and perhaps swimming, among so many other questions.
One Email that I received asked me who held the contract to water the plants up at the campgrounds. The man asking the question had a gardening business that employed a number of different crews, and he was wanting to find out who held the current contract to water the plants in the forest so he could research what the contract was bid for so he could put in a bid and perhaps take over the contract.
Needless to say I never responded to the Email though I did bray with laughter like a jackass for a couple of days every time I thought about it. I could envision tens of thousands of people taking to the mountains three times a week holding watering cans, making sure to water each and every plant across the Angeles National Forest, all 700,176 acres of it.
I can’t imagine what the annual cost of paying all those tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people would be.
Another interesting question that I get a lot is from people who hear about the volunteers who buck up and remove dead trees obstructing hiking trails is what we do with the “fire wood.” They ask whether they could get some of that wood which would otherwise “go to waste” and whether they could purchase the wood.
Dead trees across the trail usually have a diameter anywhere between 6 inches all the way up to just over three feet across, and while the average circumference is around 12 inches or so, within the various burn footprints and areas where Bark Beetle infestation has killed millions of trees, when bucking dead trees which have fallen on to hiking trails, we make as few cuts as possible, leaving as large a section of bucked tree as possible so that it can be maneuvered safely off of the trail.
Each section can weigh anywhere from a few pounds up to around 400 pounds, it depends upon whether we have metal rock bars with us, and depends upon how many trained volunteers there are such that each bucked section is cut to a length which is consistent with the safe and professional handling of the newly-cut section of tree trunk and limb.
For some reason a great many people wonder why we don’t carry that wood down the mountain, presumably in our arms or on our backs, down to where the wood can be used as firewood.
Normally I don’t like to bring food on hikes and overnight camp-outs, I don’t like to cart in the extra weight when I’m going long distance unless it’s something I can lash to my single speed bicycle’s bike rack, getting that weight off of my back but adding the extra effort needed to push the weight up the mountain.
On extremely rare occasion I’ll bring canned food or crackers or something else. Having food or even the smell of long-gone food on one’s backpack or one’s clothing invites bears and other fuzzy warm forest critters to come join you in your sleeping bag, so that’s another reason why I usually don’t bring food with me.
One Summer night I had walked up Highway 39 in the dark, leaving my place around Nine in the evening and taking my time hiking up the highway up to the West Fork Road, something around 13 miles, but this time I had in my old Army rucksack two Ziplock baggies filled with cold pancakes with sliced jalapeno peppers mixed in.
Being the Summer, by the time I reached the bridge that gives access on to the West Fork, I was hot, sweaty, and exhausted, so I leaned my bicycle up against the bridge railing, sat down there on the ground in front of the West Fork gate, and rested myself, drying off and cooling off while around me the accumulated heat of the day drained away and the mountain seemed to give a sigh of relief.
No cars passed me. Bicycle riders had long since abandoned the mountain. I sat there quietly with no other humans anywhere in the area making noise or behaving badly, I was all by myself sitting there along the highway, back up against the locked gate that leads in to the West Fork, Glenn Campground, and eventually to Cogswell Dam.
For some reason that night remains special to me though nothing actually happened, no amusing or outrageous incident, no animal encounters, no gunfire or anything else, yet for some reason that night remains special.
After cooling down and resting, I sat there on the ground for the next two hours slowly eating cold jalapeno pancakes, watching the forest darken as the Moon set and all that was left was starlight.
After finishing my pancakes, I set myself back on to the bicycle, went through the turnstile for pedestrians to get past the gate, and I biked another 8 miles to Glenn Campground and spent the night.
Nothing extraordinary happened, but sitting there while the world spun under me, sitting there eating cold jalapeno pancakes was one of the best nights I’ve had in the Angeles.
Over the year I have encountered a large number of medical emergencies due to vehicle crashes along Highway 39, and even some bicycle crashes which have been fatalities. As a trained volunteer with numerous current First Aid medical certifications in, every time someone has been injured or there has been a vehicle roll-over or a vehicle has plunged over the side, I’ve checked to see if I’m the first medically trained person there and if so, I’ve called it in on the radio, attended as best I could within the scope of my training, and awaited professional medical responses.
Over the years I grew to learn that the local United States Forest Service employees have no idea about how frequently volunteers attend to medical emergencies.
Volunteers are supposed to work only during the day and in pairs, at minimum, yet for people like me who are in the mountains at night and often alone just being citizens out in the forest, there are so many people crashing, bleeding, and driving off the road that it became easy to encounter much-needed medical needs day and night, and because Highway 39 and Glendora Mountain Road as well as Angeles Crest Highway are not patrolled frequently by trained employees, fatalities happen when medical assistance is delayed.
When volunteers encounter an incident, even when they’re off duty, calling it in on the radio saves lives, and in my case, I have called in many and gotten reprimanded for doing so. The Forest Service seemingly would rather have people die than have volunteers use the radio to call for medical help after dark when volunteers are forbidden to work.
One memorable incident was a bicycle rider who had hit the safety railing around mile marker 34, flipped over the railing and plunging several hundred feet over the side while rolling and hitting boulders, crushing the life out of him so that when the helicopter Air 5 crew landed on the highway to pick the rider up, the bicycle rider was classified as DRT – Dead Right There.
I mention this incident because for that person, calling for medical assistance would have been a low priority. Alerting Dispatch of the possible fatality would be the thing for all such incidents where fatality is assured, allowing Dispatch to make the decision to call for medical help.
When it comes to living people, bleeding or not, broken or not, conscious or not, employees as well as volunteers must make the decision on whether medical is appropriate to call, so one requests from Dispatch a medical response. Usually even when a medical crew is not requested, Dispatch will send medical, then when a USFS employee, fire crew, or police officer arrives at the incident, if it’s in the professional’s judgment that medical is not needed, they will ask Dispatch to cancel the medical response.
My experiences has been that some of the Forest Service people sitting in their offices far from the field have no clear idea what goes on in the forests they’re charged with administering, or so it seems to me. They have second-guessed my requests over the radio for medical responders repeatedly, reprimanding me for calling for medical help when clearly people are literally laying face down on the ground bleeding with broken bones.
Presumably paid employees don’t run in to such second-guessing-from-afar and only unpaid volunteers are subjected to disciplinary action and subject to being fired for doing what they’re trained to do in medical emergencies by Forest Service administers who are unconnected with the stark realities of day-to-day boots on the ground.
One night when I was driving up Highway 39, around the 32 mile marker just past Coldbrook Campground there was somebody standing in the middle of the road, pants down around his feet, urinating along the center line.
As I slowly drove up to the guy and started to pass slowly to the left, he turned and waved with his free hand and yelled, “Hi, Fred!”
I kept going, having no idea who that person was.
Some times late at night in the dark even when the road is downhill I will get off my bicycle and walk. Riding down hill the 25 miles or so that I normally do on weekends usually takes something around 45 minutes whereas heading up the mountain I’ll take maybe five hours, yet some times it’s nice to ride and walk down hill, taking one’s time to enjoy the night.
One night I had dismounted my bicycle and was walking along “Bar Bee Que Alley,” a section of the North Fork of the San Gabriel River along Highway 39 where it’s all down hill or flat, a section where I normally would ride through since during Summer months there are far too many humans crammed in there along the river and lining the road and I don’t like to linger.
That particular night I had dismounted and was walking when I picked up a very drunk Hispanic friend who decided to join me on my adventure walking down the mountain.
We talked back and forth, mostly English, some times Spanish since I had managed to pick up some common Spanish words and phrases during the rare and infrequent days I spent in High School classrooms, and every now and then while we walked and talked down the mountain I would comment about how far he’s gone and “shouldn’t you head back, now?” trying to shake the guy loose politely.
BBQ Alley is around mile marker 26 or 27. By the time we reached mile marker 24, I stopped walking, my newly-acquired friend stopped walking, and I made a serious effort to convince him that walking down the mountain while drunk is not a great idea, that eventually I was going to get on my bicycle and leave him behind and he would have to find his way back up the mountain back to where his family was spending the night.
Have you ever tried to convince a drunk man to do something? This guy kept saying the equivalent of “No, no, lead on, Macduff!” in Spanish and gesturing down the road, wanting to continue hiking with me, so I surrendered the effort, climbed aboard my bicycle, and left him standing there, perhaps feeling abandoned because I had abandoned him.
I have to assume that he made his way back up the mountain the 2 or so miles we had walked, maybe he hitched a ride, I don’t know, all I know is that the next time I bicycled past that spot on the highway, there were no human remains on the road so I assume he made it back okay.
I’ve encountered drunk drivers before who did not know which direction to drive to leave the forest, and which direction would get them deeper in to the forest. On rare occasions I have managed to flag down law enforcement to take the individuals in hand and keep them off the highway, yet because many drunk drivers don’t know which direction to go, I have to assume that drunk highway walkers might also not know which direction to walk, so as the years have piled on I still wonder if the guy lived or not. He probably did.
Some years before I started volunteering to repair hiking trails, I was coming down the mountain on my ancient single-speed bicycle, doing so at speed through the section of Highway 39 that’s called “Bar Bee Que Alley” when out of the dark I saw a toddler maybe 2 years old standing in the center of the road.
I slammed on the hand brakes and dragged my sneakers along the road to stop, set my bicycle along the side of the road upside down, took the child in hand, and walked from camp site to camp site, car to car looking for a responsible adult.
I eventually found a brother of the toddler and he took possession of the kid, after which I regained my bicycle and continued on, wishing I had a radio to call Child Protective Services with.
Something like two years later, the same thing happened only this time I found a parent for the child, the parent was unpacking camping equipment from her vehicle and the kid had walked off in to the center of the road.
On a bicycle it’s easy enough to swerve around a child in the road or stop in time, though I can’t imagine that stopping in time would be quite so easy when driving a car.
When I told the Forest Service about the first incident of finding a child loose on the highway, I was greeted with disbelief. I have to assume that because in the daylight when kids go missing, a responsible adult will eventually notice the child is missing and go looking for it, yet few Forest Service employees seem to know the extent of what takes place at night, so encountering children in the rode in the dark of night was greeted with disbelief.
Around mile marker 24 there is a side road that has a gate where a windsock rides a tall metal pole. About a quarter of a mile further up the highway is another gate on an ancient paved road, only that gate is covered with plant growth so while it’s not exactly hidden, it can be hard to locate.
One night I had walked my bicycle up the canyon and turned off on to that overgrown roadway, tossing my bicycle over the gate and laying down my blue tarp and tent in among the trees and brush just off of the highway.
During the night there were ducks and geese making noise, some of which came and landed near me, talking among themselves and perhaps wondering what the new thing was (that would be the tent) and what that horrible smell was (that would be me.)
Further down in to the riverbed there were coyotes yipping and talking like they do, and even more ducks, geese, and other forest critters making noise during the night.
In the morning I woke up, left my tent, and sat on the ground. Dawn had just come to that part of the highway and Sunlight was filtering through the tree limbs and leaves, cutting through the light mist, looking like rays of Sunshine hanging softly in the morning air.
The morning had a feel to it that is indescribable so I won’t try to describe it other than to say that the air and the surrounding trees and brush all felt unreal, the quality of the Sunlight in the air and the dappled shade of the brush moved lightly by the breeze had the feel of something out of a fairy-tale, reality itself felt unreal.
I sat there waiting for the world to solidify around me, and after maybe ten or fifteen minutes went by, the light fog mist evaporated, the beams of Sunlight went with it, and the real world took hold again, but for that brief moment in time, I felt cut loose and floating from reality, drifting in a candy-land storybook story.
Do you remember those hideous H2 “Hummer” vehicles that were popular for maybe two years quite some time ago? The stupid things were cars built on top of Chevrolet Tahoe chassis only with an extra ton of squared-up metal added in an effort to make the vehicle look quasi “military,” sold to dimwitted idiots who thought that driving one would finally make them “manly” some how, and maybe, just maybe, they would get sex at long last some how (this time with a real woman, maybe.)
The whole world hated these idiot vehicles except for the few people who actually bought one in an effort to finally be men, and the whole world hated the idiots who drove them, so much so that a web site called FUH2 was created which kind of summed-up the universal sentiment.
At the time, every time one of these idiots roared up and down Highway 39, engine going flat out, either trying to hump all that heavy metal slowly up the mountain or trying to keep from tipping over while going slowly down the mountain, when I was on my bicycle I would give the driver my middle finger.
Everybody was doing it, and I mean everybody. Fellow bicycle riders would flip The Bird, not just those on Highway 39 with me but nationally, from coast to coast H2 drivers got The Bird, from people walking on sidewalks to people on bicycle, from other drivers to grocery shoppers who watched the guy park his H2, owners of these things were getting the finger so much and from all quarters that newspaper articles and magazine articles were written about just how much people who drove the things hated the fact that everyone, absolutely everyone flipped them The Bird everywhere they went.
One morning I had stopped my bicycle around mile marker 25 on Highway 39, resting from the morning’s heat while sipping some water from my ancient plastic iced tea container when I heard an H2 struggling to make it up up the mountain.
Seconds later there came the H2 “Hummer,” bright yellow and doing maybe 15 miles an hour, struggling up the mountain with the engine revved up and going flat out trying to climb the slight up-hill grade.
Behind it were 30 or 40 cars, many of their drivers honking their horns, some people leaning out windows screaming, waving their arms, red faced, stuck behind the bastard going 15 miles an hour in a 45 mile hour zone.
Since I had both hands free I have the guy both middle fingers. It’s what anybody would do, once more in to the breech, dear fellows, all of that.
The driver glared at me with his teeth clenched, red faced and no doubt with spittle flying. He and his angry parade stuck behind him went slowly past while I sat there and drank water, but then beyond the curve in the road, the driver had not only finally pulled over to allow people to pass – every one of them honking their car horns long and loud as they finally got past him – but the guy turned around and decided to come back down and kick my ass.
I could hear his forty ton vehicle struggle to turn around in the road, then heard it coming back down toward me so I turned around and saw that, yep! he was coming back to kick my ass.
He came slowly back down the road toward me and then slammed on the brakes, trying to leave a skid mark and try to frighten me or something.
No telling with some people what runs through their idiot brains, but whatever his plan was when he slammed on the brakes, instead of skidding to a stop, only his rear right tire stopped rolling while none of the other tires did, they kept rolling.
Something under his idiotic, childish, wannabe tank went “BANG!” and the cake-hole in the center of the guy’s face spread in to a wide “O” shape as he lost control of the vehicle and it shook side to side, drifting across on-coming traffic and headed for the dirt shoulder – and toward possible death, if he should go over in to the Morris reservoir.
Something under the vehicle had broken loose and was clanging and slapping around under there while he headed for the edge of the road, driving along the shoulder, trying to stop the thing.
He never did manage to come to a stop so far as I could tell. Still screaming and throwing the wheel around while presumably stomping on his brake pedal, the guy continued slowly down the mountain until he ran out of shoulder, crossed on-coming traffic again, and then continued on back down the mountain, going slowly until he was out of sight, going even slower than his usual 15 miles an hour.
Temper, temper, asshole! You almost killed yourself, there, pal. You bought your H2, you knew what you were getting in for, sit there in your pretend tank and take it like a man.
Another opportunity to give people The Bird is when you’re on your bicycle hugging the side of the road going up or own the mountain and someone in a car behind you honks his car’s horn.
Some times they just want to let you know that they are behind you, yet many times they’ll lay on their horn in anger, pissed off that you’re using the road like anybody else only for some reason you’ve “forgot” your car and you’re using a bicycle.
Many times while I have biked up or down and even when I have been parked in a turn-out resting, people have thrown things out of their cars at me, usually glass bottles or beer cans, some times plastic or Styrofoam containers that may or may contain the remains of food, whatever the driver has handy at the moment to throw, out it comes through their windows in an effort to hit bicycle riders.
Some times after they throw things they’ll also lay on their car horn, so you can get people honking behind you, along side you, and in front of you, people who are angry and screaming mad that you’re on a bicycle getting exercise while they’re getting fatter and stupider in their cars. Or something. No telling what runs through people’s “brains,” for wont of a better term.”
Coincidentally another morning while coming down the mountain I was resting in a turn-out at around the same place where the H2 “Hummer” guy thought he might try to avoid accidental suicide-by-stupidity. I was again sitting on my bike leaning up against the safety railing when behind me a vehicle honked its horn in a long honk, so naturally my middle finger came up and I waved it above my head, sight unseen.
A few second later, a very confused Forest Service employee in a Jeep drove past me, probably wondering why I’m flipping her off.
Call it “reflex,” call it “conditioning,” call it “habit,” or just call it “Fred’s generally an asshole” – call it whatever you wish, but that’s my finger coming up without volition, it acts on its own, I have little control of it.
I never did hear anything from the employee after that, she never ask why I flipped her The Bird one fine Sunny morning.
Still, from that point onward I had learned a valuable lesson, and when occasion necessitated giving my middle finger to people on the highway, I always look first now to ensure that they deserved it.
Many years before I started volunteering on hiking trail repairing in the forest I used to walk up the mountain pushing my bicycle wearing only very short shredded cut-off jeans, no shirt, maybe shoes though not always, backpack either on my shoulders or laying across my bicycle seat and handlebars as I walked everything up the mountain sweating and very tired.
That was back when I still had some hair, back when I weighed maybe 140 pounds and was slim to the point of looking starved. My ribs showed, and wearing just shredded cutoffs I appeared to be fairly young and homeless.
One evening just as the Sun was going down I was heading up the mountain and had gotten to the Rincon Fire Station when a guy in a white pickup truck drove past me heading South down the mountain.
The guy turned around behind me, probably at the Off Road Vehicle area and headed back, passing me again only this time when he reached the Rincon Fire Station just ahead of me, he turned around again and slowed down and asked, “Heh heh need a lift?”
I said “no thanks” and his face went angry, then he screamed “FAGGOT!” and slammed his foot on his accelerator and his pickup roared away back South, down the mountain.
He had thought I was much younger than I was, is my guess, and was trolling, looking for young men to pick up. When he got a second and then a third look at me, I guess he decided, “why not?” and tried to pick me up. I declined so of course he got angry and yelled “FAGGOT!” and drove off.
Some times I do in fact accept rides from strange men who offer them, but never from men driving white pickups, not unless they have candy.
A bicycle ride was organized on Facebook one Saturday and I went along since the ride would be a fairly long West Fork Road all the way to Glenn Campground, an 8 mile mostly flat ride that would be a rare opportunity for me to take the road during daylight hours.
Something like half a mile in to the ride while in a group of about 15 or 20 people, I found a guy on the side of the paved water company road with a hand gun, he was pawing through the brush looking for a harmless snake that he had seen after he went to his camp site and got his gun, and had returned with the hope of shooting it.
This was 6 inches from the road, mind you, a road where hundreds of bicycle riders and hikers on foot were passing, an area where a hundred others were sitting having lunch and camping out in the West Fork parking lot.
I stopped to observe the guy with the gun as he searched and as he talked to himself about how he was going to kill the snake, getting left behind with the other bicycle riders continued on past, debating with myself on whether I should call the gunman in using the radio.
I decided against it and took off to join the bicycle crowd. No telling if the guy killed anyone, snake or human.
From what the well-regulated militiaman was muttering to himself, he thought he was being a hero, saving people from the harmless snake. He told himself that the snake he saw was dangerous to children swimming in the water among other mutterings, and he was going to be the hero and save the day with his gun.
The second time my bicycle’s rear tire seized up I was heading down the mountain in the evening while there was still some Sunlight. I was around mile marker 23, just a mile or so North of Morris Dam when I came around a curve, my rear tire locked up, and I found myself stopped in the middle of the Southbound lane.
Before I could get off the road, a noisy Volkswagen with the radio turned all the way up and crammed full of Hispanic men came around the curve, saw me in the road, and swerved around me, after which they started yelling out their windows.
I knew they were going to turn around and come back so I picked up my bicycle and tossed it over the side down in to the canyon on my right, then I jogged South, over the safety railing, and down the canyon after my bike.
Down in the bottom of the ravine I headed West and climbed the hillside a bit, getting behind brush quickly, and just as I had expected, the Volkswagen came back up the mountain, pulled off in one of the turn-outs, and parked, music playing at full volume while the people inside were presumably wondering where I disappeared to.
I sat there on the hillside hidden until night fell completely and they finally drove away. When I got back to my bicycle I saw that the old Bendix coaster brake assembly in my rear hub had shattered, so once again I had to shoulder my bicycle, pack, sleeping bag, and tent, and walk the rest of the way home.
Every year the mountains are home to dimwitted recreational killers, hunters who truly lack the wit to operate a rubber band leave alone be trusted with a loaded rifle. The first day of hunting and the last day of hunting are days that hikers, bicycle riders, campers, you-name-it don’t want to visit the forest thanks to the abject stupidity of the common hunter.
Some times (despite not wanting to) I’ve had to assist hunters, often because they were lost, often because they had injured themselves.
I have sat on the road with my bicycle in the evening, resting or at times waiting for nigh to fall so I can spread out my sleeping bag along the side of the highway, and while sitting there at times during hunting season I have talked with quite a fairly high number of the hunters who have passed by, and overwhelmingly, virtually without exception they have been the dumbest people one could ever wish to never encounter.
I shouldn’t generalize but hell, it’s the truth as I have encountered it in the wild. Perhaps it’s because this is Los Angeles County and there’s no real hunting in the Angeles, not like people do in other parts of the world, yet for here, something seems to be in their drinking water because on the whole I’ve found local hunters to be profoundly stupid and extremely dangerous.
Some hunters, I crap you negative, wondered aloud which was closer, the Moon or the clouds above them. Some hunters have asked me to point out where Earth is when looking up at the stars when the hunters have found themselves on the highway trying to find their vehicles after Sunset. I Have had hunters ask me if squirrels might bite me while I’m sleeping on the ground at night.
One of the core problem with hunters is that they watch television and, being stupid, believe what they see. They watch fake “reality” television shows and think that what they’re seeing is real. They think that “survivalist shows” on television are real, they are that stupid.
So they bring their stupidity in to the mountains, carrying the stupid ideas that they got from television with them, and the results are “stupidity times twelve” to the point where I have had some truly astounding conversations with hunters over the years that have had me wonder why they’re not sitting in a prison cell somewhere far from their guns, far from other people, being kept safely away from society, they’re that frothingly stupid.
I have been asked by hunters to help them go get the deer they just killed and carry it back to the highway with them. They kill animals that are too heavy for them to drag a few feet leave alone the 100 or 200 feet or so they need to drag them to get back to the highway.
There was one disgusting incident when the highway was closed and crews were working on rebuilding the highway after the 2002 Curve Fire. Someone had poached a deer along the highway and dragged it along the highway for about a mile, leaving blood and bits of fur and a gore-filled mess until the person gave up and left the shredded mess in the middle of the highway.
That incident was unusual in that the gate across the highway was about 7 miles South from where the hunter had poached the deer, meaning that the hunter had walked that distance. Usually they hunt along the highway, on easy hiking trails for the first mile or so, they’re usually so out of physical shape and utterly clueless that they drive up with their guns and expect to kill Bambi within walking distance of the highway, and if the highway is closed to vehicle traffic, on rare occasion they can.
One night long before I started volunteering to repair hiking trails I had walked up the mountain with my bicycle again, turned West on to West Fork Road, went through the gate and headed up to Glenn Campground, about 8 miles from where Highway 39 meets the West Fork.
It was cold and dark that night, and inside that narrow canyon it was even darker though unlike the night of the mountain lion, I still had plenty of light to see by thanks to the Moon overhead and starlight.
I walked quietly, occasionally riding my bicycle on the flat sections, got to Glenn Campground and spent the night, leaving that canyon in the morning where-after I stopped at the Off Road Vehicle area to rest.
I told the Forest Service employee there that I had spent the night at Glenn Campground and she wanted to know why I did not help the hunter with the broken ankle that had been screaming all night and most of the morning until a hiker heard and reported him.
I hadn’t herd anybody in the canyon, certainly I didn’t hear anybody screaming, yet for a while after that, I think that some of the Forest Service people thought that I had deliberately walked past a screaming injured hunter, for whatever reason.
Another time during hunting season I had set up my tent about 4 miles in along West Fork Road in among a stand of 5 oak trees. It had been raining off and on during the week that I had parked there, and on the rare occasion when the rain would stop and the Sun would shine down, I would spread out my sleeping bag and my socks and shoes on the paved road and try to dry things out a little before the next rain came.
One day during that five-day camp-out under those oaks, a man with a rifle slung over one shoulder and a cardboard case of 24 cans of beer hoisted on his other shoulder walked past me. He was wearing camouflage and a black ski mask playing pretend so I pretend not to see him.
That image, the gun loon with beer, that’s my opinion of the kind of hunters that the Angeles National Forest gets, it’s an image that was reinforced the next year when I was walking my bicycle up the mountain and got to mile marker 32.4 at the Valley of the Moon parking lot on opening day of the hunting season.
Parked at the Valley of the Moon parking lot was a guy sitting with the door open to his huge white pickup truck, the litter of about 20 or 30 empty beer cans strewn around the outside of his vehicle while he sat in the cab swilling down more beer, tossing cans out after he was done with them.
I walked past him just as midnight came, the ancient digital watch buried deep in my Army rucksack gave off a BEEP! as the day ticked over, and promptly as I walked past, the guy in the pickup fell out of his vehicle, stumbled to his feet, reached inside and got a rifle, struggled to get it on his shoulder, managed to get the door of his pickup closed, then I watched as he stumbled up Upper Bear Creek road, drunker than anything, weaving around but still managing to make progress.
He had sat there in the evening waiting for hunting season to officially open, getting drunk, and when midnight clicked over, he was off and running… stumbling his way up the trail, presumably to shoot something.
Along Highway 39 up around mile marker 31 there is an abandoned side road which used to lead down in to the North Fork of the San Gabriel River. The road is destroyed now, covered in boulders and soil which has come down the hillside to cover the road.
The paved road used to cross the river before turning to dirt and continuing on to where there used to be cabins.
That little bit of abandoned roadway is actually the trailhead for the Bitchota Canyon Trail, (North 34 15.790, West 117 50.667 according to one’s GPS receiver.)
One night I had walked my bicycle up the mountain and I had set my bicycle on the ground on the old abandoned section of road, then I walked my pack, tent, and sleeping bag a short distance in to the bottom of the riverbed, away from the flowing water.
Since ants can some times be a problem I always check ahead of time to see how many ants there are where I want to lay down, and I use the tent if ants or insects look to be an issue, otherwise I lay out my tarp and spread out my sleeping bag.
That night I didn’t need my tent. In the dark I laid out my tarp and sleeping bag, set my backpack to use as a pillow, and laid down to sleep.
Some unknown number of hours later a hunter literally stumbled over my legs in the dark. He was utterly lost and when he found out that what he had just tripped over were human legs, he loudly professed much gratitude to his gods for “saving him,” thanking his gods for “sending” me to save him – keep in mind we were maybe 100 feet from Highway 39 at the time, a location where getting lost wouldn’t seem to be very easy.
The guy had been out hunting and drinking, had set his pack and his rifle down to urinate in the dark, and when he was finished he had turned around and could not locate his pack or his rifle. He searched around in the dark looking for his stuff and got more and more turned around and lost until he tripped over my legs.
I took him up to the highway at first daylight and pointed him South since he didn’t know whether his vehicle was North or South of our location. To the South was the Rincon Fire Station and beyond that a very short distance was the Off Road Vehicle area, and after pointing him South I suggested that he go to the ORV area to report his lost rifle.
I climbed aboard my bicycle and rode down to the ORV myself, telling the Forest Service employee there that a guy up the road was walking down and would be reporting losing his rifle.
You would think that having a hunter stumble over one’s legs in the forest at night would be a rare thing, but over the years it has happened to me twice, both times the hunters have been lost despite being within visible distance of Highway 39.
When it comes to bow season for hunting in the Angeles, recreational killers are still dangerous but less so, being relegated to using compound bows to get their jollies while they are putting innocent people’s lives in danger.
One morning while I was riding my bicycle down the mountain it was once again the last day of bow season.
Up around mile marker 30 I rode past a man wearing camouflage clothing with a compound bow. He was literally laying along the highway behind some bushes waiting for Bambi to walk down the road, I kid you not. He was literally “hunting” by laying on the ground along Highway 39 while cars and bicycle riders went past him, waiting for a deer to come within reach of his compound bow.
This time when I stopped at the Off Road Vehicle area to report a potentially dangerous human behavior, a law enforcement officer at the OHV asked me where the guy was and he got in to his vehicle and went to find the guy, he went to find the hunter trying to pick off Bambi from the side of the busy highway.
Hikers can ask stupid questions some times, and being the helpful individual that I am (and always polite and professional, that’s me!) I like to help answer questions when I know the answers, and I’ll even offer advice when I don’t know the answers!
While hiking along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River I have had a number of fellow hikers ask me “where’s the nearest Coke machine” for some reason. Of all the hiking trails I’ve been on over all the years, for some reason it is only the East Fork Trail that I have had people ask me where the nearest Coke machine can be found.
That phenomena might be due to the fact that there is a hideously unfortunate and apparently unlicensed bungee jumping amusement park along the East Fork on private land in the middle of our public property, a small plot of private property that was apparently grand-fathered to the guy who runs the allegedly unlicensed amusement park, and while there have been extensive efforts to get the guy and his horrible trash removed from our forests, people who should probably not be out in the forest in the first place hike to the amusement park to bungee jump off of the old bridge that has managed to still stand after the rest of the highway was washed away long ago.
On the East Fork Trail of the San Gabriel River I have encountered a great many people who lacked any experience hiking, so I might expect to get a lot of highly stupid questions from them.
If I were to be fully forthcoming to everyone who asked me where to find Coca Cola, I would tell them about the loose cans of Coke that might be found at the Rincon Fire Station, and the possibility of there being a working ice maker there, yet those Cokes are for the fire crews so I tell them that the nearest Coke can be found at Camp Williams at the Cafe there.
What’s amusing about this story is that when I tell people where they can find Coke to drink, they get disappointed and seem to blame me that there’s no Coke machine any closer, they’re annoyed that there is no Coke machines out there along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River within a few minutes walk or something.
It can get very hot down in that canyon along the river, so Coca Cola on ice would be marginally desirable for people who don’t usually hike. Experienced hikers drink water or possibly Gatorade, something without caffeine and without a lot of the High Fructose corn syrup that is disgusting as well as not something hikers drink when they’re out hiking in the heat.
Some times when I have been asked about where the nearest Coke machine is, after I tell them where I suggest that they go to the river and cool off, dump water over their heads, take off a shirt and soak it then put it back on, use the river water to cool off.
Some of the responses so that suggestion have been met with faintly outrageous shock, with the hikers complaining that the water isn’t “clean” enough for them to do something like dump the water over their heads.
No other hiking trail that I have ever been on had seen such phenomena among the hikers, it is only the East Fork Trail where I have encountered such an interesting human behavior.
In the same tone, I was once asked by a hiker on East Fork whether there was a campground with showers further down East of where we were standing, a campground with drinkable water, hot showers, and water flush toilets.
I assured the hiker that there was indeed such campgrounds East of here but I neglected to mention that the closest one was likely 400 miles to the East.
People ask a lot of questions, most of them are about the flora and fauna, many are about how much further it is to something (like Coke, drinkable water, a flush toilet) and many of them are simply stupid questions.
I once had a hiker ask me if the Moon could be seen from down in the East Fork canyon. I assured him that some times it could be seen, so he asked me if the Moon would be visible that night from down in the canyon. I told him that I did not have an almanac so I couldn’t give him an answer. He asked me what an “almanac” is.
Once I had a woman who was hiking along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River ask me how she could cross the river without getting wet. I told her the only way she could be assured of crossing without getting wet would be to get herself declared a Saint by the Pope thereafter she could float across without her feet touching the ground.
I got such a confused look from her that I relented and informed her that she was going to get wet, there was no way to avoid getting her shoes and feet wet if she wanted to get to the other side of the river.
One Summer evening I had stopped my bicycle to rest along Highway 39 after having spent the night somewhere up in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area. I had stopped along a dirt turn-out along the highway at around mile marker 25 or 26, just short of where the East Fork Road bridge crosses the river.
Above the span of the river there are high voltage power lines which are threaded with large red and yellow plastic balls, and while I was sitting there cooling off and sipping water, a woman pulled over and stopped, leaned across her passenger side seat and asked me what the balls were for on the power lines.
I informed her quite seriously that the balls are to keep squirrels off of the power lines because they drop nuts on to people down below, and dropped nuts from such heights can cause injuries.
She told me, “Oh, I didn’t think of that, that makes sense, yeah” and she drove off, leaving me sitting there with a smile on my lying face.
In fact most people know that the large plastic balls on power lines are for fire fighter helicopters and for fixed-wing aircraft so that they know where the wires are located. Fire crews can take water out of the San Gabriel Dam’s water, and they can also draw water from the Morris Dam’s held water, yet for the San Gabriel Dam, aircraft drawing water from it stands a good chance of not seeing the cables had there been no balls strung along them.
To this day I have some hope that she offered my explanation about squirrels to other people, maybe to her own children, and thereby set off a chain reaction where now thousands of people believe to this day that the balls are to keep squirrels off so they’re not dropping nuts on people.
One of the hazards of walking long distances in hot weather and then setting out one’s sleeping bag and resting is getting “Charlie horses,” the temporary medical condition that happens when your muscle locks up and often constricts, turning the muscle hard and immovable. They can be quite painful! If one is driving or swimming while having a Charlie Horse, they can also be fatal so they’re something to avoid.
On a very hot Summer night I had walked up Highway 39 pushing my bicycle all the way up to the West Fork Road, the road that goes on to Glenn Campground for another 8 miles after leaving Highway 39, and from there onward to Cogswell Dam.
Since I was very tired, hot, and sweaty when I finally reached the West Fork, I got on my bicycle and rode for about two miles toward Glenn Campground, dismounted, and decided I would spend the night right there, no further.
I got my blue tarp spread out, got my sleeping bag spread out, then I laid down, and within about five minutes my right leg locked up and, so help me, I screamed like a demented banshee, all the while bent over and pounding on my leg with my first trying to get my muscle to unlock.
Even though I was some two miles from the West Fork parking lot, people who were there after dark heard me, because in the morning when I stopped off at the Off Road Vehicle area on my way home to get more drinking water I was asked if I heard anybody screaming during the night. Someone in the area had reported screaming.
Incidentally, the way to avoid getting a Charlie Horse is to not do what I did, not to exercise heavily and then simply stop. The smart thing to have done would be to lay out my sleeping bag and instead of laying down, I should have walked back and forth, up and own the road a short distance while cooling off and working slowly down to the point where it would be safe to stop without my muscles locking up.
The problem was that I was simply too tired to walk and cool off slowly, but within minutes I was wide awake, screaming, and pounding on my leg anyway so from then on, having learned my lesson, I properly slowed down before stopping entirely for the night.
After walking up the mountain to around mile marker 22, I turned off on to one of the abandoned (and destroyed) “truck trails” which are across from Morris Dam on the West side of Highway 39. That particular night was a fairly cool one since it was in the Spring months, and the number of cars going up and down the mountain were few.
That old Truck Trail used to give access to Silver Fish Truck Trail and other tracks that are on the West side of the mountain up on the top of the canyon that overlooks the San Gabriel River, and for the first 300 or 400 feet, the Truck trail was wide, about 12 feet wide, before a landslide choks the trail off to about 6 inches of dangerous-to-cross scrambling out over a 100 foot drop.
I had gotten to the place that I camped late at night, like I almost always do, and spread my tarp out on to green vegetation growing on the Truck Trail, then I placed my sleeping bag on top of the tarp and laid back to spend the rest of the night and early morning hours before getting back on my bicycle and riding down the mounting at first light.
I was awaken by someone down on the Highway yelling unintelligible things using a Public Address system, a loud speaker mounted in his vehicle. At the time I couldn’t understand what the guy was yelling on his loud speaker because the words were echoing in and out of the side canyon I was in, so I walked East on the Truck Trail until I was on the lip of the trail overlooking Highway 39 and Morris Dam where I could look down and see the guy.
He was in a white pickup truck, standing outside with a microphone in his hand, a cord leading inside the vehicle’s cab. Mounted in the hood or under the vehicle was a PA speaker, or maybe it was in the bed of the vehicle, I couldn’t tell from my vantage point above exactly where the speaker was.
After I got close enough to get out of the canyon’s echo, I could hear what he was yelling. He was screaming about his father, “You were a horrible father!” and “I fking hated you!” and an endless string of complaints about his father, being screamed out here in the canyon overlooking Morris Dam, getting broadcast loudly, getting it all off of his chest.
That’s one of the things I’ve encountered a lot over the years, people come to the mountains and do a lot of unusual things at night and even during the day when they are unaware that there is someone (that would be me!) watching, usually above them up on a ridge line or on the trail above them.
A lot of times it’s merely masturbation – men mostly but some times women, some times in pairs or larger groups. Yet a lot of times it’s clothing-optional behavior such as removing one’s clothes and enjoying the night where-after they get their clothes back on and leave the area, innocuous behavior yet things people would not normally do if they knew someone was in the area.
There was a major hiking trail maintenance project which involved dropping off chainsaw crews up at the Little Jimmy Trail Camp where-after they would work their way to Windy Gap Saddle, across Mount Islip, down Islip Trail to the Wawona Trail, and come down the mountain all the way to the lower parking lot of Crystal Lake, bucking up dead trees laying across the trails as they went.
In all the distance was about 5 miles, almost all of it down hill yet every step of the way is a hike carrying large and medium sized chainsaws, fire extinguishers, medical kits, gasoline, chainsaw oil, axes, radios, and everything else needed for safe chainsaw work in a National Forest.
I had dropped the volunteers off at Little Jimmy and drove my vehicle the long way around back to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area, keeping infrequent radio contact with the two chainsaw crews as they leap-frogged their way down the mountain working on removing dead trees from the trails.
It was a very hot day, even at the upper altitudes, and the chainsaw crews were expected to run low of water so one of the tasks that I was involved in that day was to bring spare drinking water up Wawona to replenish the chainsaw crews’ water containers.
It turned out that the saw teams were having a hot, sweaty, difficult time of it, and because the Project Activity Levels (PALs) for the day dictated that the chainsaws could not be run past 13:00 hours due to environmental hazard conditions, the crews had to work fast if they were to accomplish the bucking of every dead tree along the way.
So I worked my way up Wawona about one and a half miles, then I parked myself and a large plastic container of drinking water in the shade and waited for the saw teams to pass my position. On my hike up there was only one small dead tree down across the trail but it was a tree that the teams were not going to be able to get since the cut-off time (pun intended!) of 13:00 was approaching.
I laid down in the shade, using my ancient Army rucksack as a pillow, covering my eyes with my equally-ancient dead cow skin hat and awaited, listening to the radio in case I was called upon to continue up the mountain with drinking water.
While I was waiting there in the shade, I heard people coming down Wawona above me, though I could tell that they were not the chainsaw crews. Chainsaw crews often clank and make a lot of noise as they haul their hear up and down the mountain, yet what I heard was fairly quiet feet on the trail.
After a minute or so, as the hikers passed me I heard a very young girl’s voice ask someone, “should we ask him for water?”
I opened my eyes and there were three children, ages from eight years old to eleven or so, standing there on the trail looking at me and my water bottle. They were by themselves, about two and a half miles from the campgrounds, no water, no hats, basic tennis shoes on their feet, and likely very thirsty with the heat.
I told them to take the water and use it, that they could have all of it and that that they should take the bottle with them. Then I laid back down after they went on their way, knowing that the chainsaw teams might be dry but these kids needed the water more than the saw teams did.
It was several days later that it occurred to me that I should have asked them what the hell they were doing walking up and down Wawona such long distances by themselves without any adult supervision. It was also days later that I wondered if they made it to the campgrounds or not. I had not heard of any missing children or any requests for search and rescue over the radio so I assume that they got to where they were going.
Still after the years have gone past that incident makes me wonder about those three hikers. They were not experienced hikers who were equipped, they had no water containers with them, no hats, shoes not really good for the trail they were on, so they weren’t prepared to be where they were. If they had been properly equipped, hikers that age aren’t really a safety hazard though it’s kind of dangerous for kids to be out on those trails alone.
After volunteering in the mountains for the day, the trail crews were returning down the mountain when someone on the highway flagged us down. This was around mile marker 24, the exact GPS coordinates I made note of later after an illegal marijuana grow site was located above the place where we were flagged down.
The person on the highway flagged us down because, he reported, there was a dead guy along the side of the road in the next turn-out. The body was reported to be right up against the busy highway with the potential to get run over.
So the volunteers eased carefully back on to the highway, drove a short distance and came to the turn-out where the person was laying.
It was a man laying on the ground inches from traffic, yet a check of his pulse showed that he was still alive, and visible checks didn’t find any obvious wounds. He did not seem to have been struck by a car, and there was no indication that the man was actually injured.
The “person in possible distress” got called in and medical was dispatched along with law enforcement, so the volunteer’s task was to secure the man’s safety from vehicles until the professionals arrived.
When medical showed up, the volunteers were free to leave however we waited a bit while the man was roused – after much effort! – by the medical crew, and eventually it looked like he was a Mexican national who was maybe working on a marijuana grow in the hillside West of where we were, up the mountain about a mile and a half.
The medical respondent’s testing on the spot showed that the man was not drunk, so the medical people did not have to treat the guy for alcohol poisoning, but the guy had maybe walked a long distance without drinking water in the heat, working his way down the mountain from the grow site to the highway, maybe smoking some of what he had been growing (or not, we never found out if he was part of the grow remains that were found later) and had fallen asleep, almost in traffic.
A couple of years later while I was in my car coming down the mountain in the morning, I found another body in a turn-out that certainly looked to be a dead man. He was wrapped in a filthy blanket, and was laying on the ground in a disorderly way that looked like he had been killed, wrapped in a blanket, and then gotten dumped on the highway – which happens (this is Los Angles County, after all!)
I brought a water bottle to him and tried to rouse him awake to see if he was injured and maybe looking for help, but after repeated attempts I could not get a response. I did not want to approach closely in case there were tracks near the body that needed to be preserved so I did not check for a pulse.
Instead I called it in and a Forest Service employee was dispatched to ascertain the status of the man. Over the radio I was instructed to leave the area and to not await the medical response (or any other response.) I never did find out why I was asked to leave, however if it was a crime scene, having me discover the body one would expect that I should remain.
One day over the radio there was a BOLO alert, a “be on the look out” alert. This is infrequent and is often broadcast when there is a potential suicide in the mountains and a vehicle description is sent for people to look for.
This BOLO was for a guy who had been allegedly standing along Highway 39 at various points exposing his genitalia (reproductive organs, penis, “whang,” whatever you want to call it) to vehicle traffic and to bicycle riders. People coming down the mountain were stopping in at the Forest Service “Gateway” Visitor Center down below and were reporting the guy.
We never saw him, not the volunteers in our group, but at the end of the day we heard that the guy had been taken in to custody.
Late one night I was parked inside a tent at the Rincon Environmental Education Center, next to the little nature trail that is behind the Ed Center, parked under oak trees in among the poison oak.
It was a fairly quiet night, there was no wind to speak of and the night was fairly cool. Because there were insects out aplenty and a few ants, I had my tent flaps closed, dozing off and on as the cool night settled down around me.
Off a short distance I could hear an owl calling, trying to get mice to abandon where they were hiding to seek safety in other areas, and if they did run, the owl would swoop down and have a late dinner.
I nodded off to sleep and some time later woke up a little bit to shift my ass a bit, making noise.
Suddenly that owl rammed in to my tent screaming and batting the tent with its wings, attacking the noise I had made. Of course I started screaming as well.
During a week in October or November during hunting season I parked my tent under five oak trees along West Fork Road, enjoying the rain while I camped and rest for five days, often while laying in a couple of inches of cold water – but enjoying it.
One of the nights that I was there I was awakened by a fight up on the hillside behind me. An owl was getting attacked by a mountain lion and the two were making a hell of a racket as they tumbled down the hillside to the floor of the water company roadway.
After hitting the floor of the canyon the two fell silent, and in the morning when watery Sunlight brightened up the floor of the canyon where I had parked, I found some owl feathers but no other unsightly remains.
The owl had been attacked fairly high up the hillside. I could see muddy patches where rock and brush had been pulled out in the wet mud of the hillside as the two combatants grappled and rolled down the mountain, and there was an occasional damp owl feather hung up on the ground along the way.
One Summer night while walking my bicycle up the mountain, intending to spend the night near the East Fork Road bridge, I came around a curve in highway 39 and heard what sounded like a wounded coyote screaming.
As I walked North pushing my bike and getting closer, it sounded like maybe a coyote had been struck by a car and it was making hideous yelling and screaming, though usually coyotes are fairly silent when they’re injured. Jack rabbits might scream like what I was hearing, except that rabbits aren’t nearly so loud.
As I got closer it sounded more and more like a woman screaming.
When I came around the next curve in the road, I found a couple of people having sex in the back of a vehicle, the woman calling out loudly – enough to hear her for miles – while she orgasmed. Over and over and over, or so it seamed to her the noise.
While I was hiking up Pinyon Ridge Trail one evening before nightfall I came across two people having sex on the rest bench that an Eagle Scout project had installed the year prior.
Rather than disturb the pair I turned around and returned to Soldier Creek trail and spent the night in a tent along that trail rather than up on Pinyon Ridge to afford the couple their privacy.
I should note that even if I had had my camera out and ready, I would not have taken video – I mention it because when I commented about this to others from time to time, people have noted that they themselves would have taken photos, yet when I’m in the woods where there are people, I’m always polite and professional.
That rest bench, by the way, is a very nice one though it’s routinely vandalized which is a damn shame. The bench looks out over long vistas of rolling hills, going South and South and South, distances which are often covered in fog in the morning.
People carve their names in to the rest bench, making volunteers have to come up and sand the vandalism away and then re-apply linseed oil.
Eventually because of the vandalism and the need to sand it off, in another five or ten years the bench will be gone, carved up and repaired so frequently that eventually none of the wood will be left, and that’s a damn shame.
Speaking of sex, on one volunteer work day there were a number of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts working on Pinyon Ridge Trail just East of where the rest bench is now, working on removing brush from the trail while a chainsaw team worked to remove dead trees from the trail.
One of the Boy Scouts working with the chainsaw crews had carried up a lot of the equipment, including a fire extinguisher, ax, Kevlar Chaps, and hard hat.
On one of the bucked tree sections that was removed from the trail, up slope we had left a large and wide piece of the tree, large enough that it would not move any time soon so we left it there.
The Boy Scout climbed on to the dead tree lying there on the slope of the hillside and slid down along it like it were a playground slide.
When he got to the bottom he clutched his crotch and said, “That felt good” then he climbed back up and slid back down again more slowly.
Before he could climb back up for a third run, the rest of the team moved on to tackle the next dead tree further up the trail.
At the time it made me smile some since when he had clutched his crotch, I had assumed he had picked up some splinters.
There have been numerous dangerous instances where people have set illegal ground fires in highly hazardous places, in among brush, in among trees where the trees overhang their illegal fires, even along hiking trails where people are cold and they set fires right there in the brush along hiking trails to “thaw out” their frozen hands and feet.
One of the more dangerous incidents occurred at Coldbrook Campground which is along Highway 39 at mile marker 32.5. Over the radio one night I heard a request from the campground host reporting a man who had started a fire in along the stream there among the trees, and the man was getting increasingly violent and refused to extinguish the fire, so the campground host called for law enforcement.
I was parked at Crystal Lake Campground some five miles above the incident but I quickly drove down to the campground host and we went to where the fire was burning.
Rather than confront the individual, we walked to where the illegal fire was while I hauled along my folding long-handled fire shovel (the one with the sharp spike on the other end) while I also carried a large (and very heavy) seven gallon plastic container of water.
While the individual stood there angry and confrontational watching us, we doused his fire and turned over his coals, refilling the water container as needed and keeping an eye on the argumentative and “non-compliant” alleged arsonist while we made sure his illegal fire was dead out, waiting for law enforcement to arrive.
Eventually law enforcement did show up however before they got there, when the man had heard us requesting law enforcement and heard that they were on their way, he quickly packed up and left before law enforcement could nab him.
There were a number of issues resulting from the incident, the first one being that the number one priority when working with the public is the safety of ourselves, followed by the safety of other people, followed by the safety of the confrontational or violent “actors” themselves, followed by the safety of the forest.
When the campground host called for assistance, had law enforcement arrived before I did there would have been additional confrontations between the police and the individual. Because I showed up and discussed what to do with the campground host, there was no further confrontation since the polite and professional thing to do, we decided, was to extinguish the fire ourselves, keeping alert to the situation in case he was armed, and then we retired to leave the individual’s immediate area of influence.
For a lot of forest visitors, there are no laws in the mountains, they seem to think that the laws end at the bottom of the mountains which is why so many people are caught with guns, drinking while driving, domestic assaults, you name it. When some people enter the forest, they really do think that the laws of the cities below do not apply any more, or so it seems from so many things I’ve observed, often from a safe distance while law enforcement headed toward us.
As volunteers the primary task is public safety, reporting incidents and then retreating to await the arrival of professionals with far better training, yet when it comes to some arsonists, one can’t just walk away and call it in some times, not when their illegal fires are in among brush and trees and there is an immediate hazard.
Judgment must be used when working with the general public and the potential hazards they bring with them to the forest, and the hazards that they create. Overwhelmingly such incidents are called in by radio then the volunteer retreats and awaits developments and awaits a professional response, yet when it comes to fires, extinguishing people’s fires while remaining non-confrontational, polite, and professional is usually a good decision.
One day when I was driving down the mountain I drove past two women who had parked along the side of Highway 39 in a dirt turn-out.
They had hand guns and were about to shoot at the cans and bottles they had erected along the edge of the turn-out which overlooked Morris Dam’s water catchment basis.
I turned around and turned in to the turn-out to see if they were holding real handguns, and since they were I left the turn-out and pulled in to the next one to call it it to get law enforcement to talk with them.
Thankfully the two women saw me radioing them in and did not start shooting from the busy highway.
When police rolled up, they dropped their hand guns on the ground, presumably after an officer ordered them to from his vehicle’s PA system.
Along highway 39 above Coldbrook Campgrounds one evening I was parked in my vehicle using an electronic astrolabe, taking star positions and checking the software to make sure that everything matched. I was about half a mile above Coldbrook Campground when the campground host called for law enforcement assistance again.
This time the campground host had another potentially dangerous ground fire but with other problems with an individual, including loud music which the individual refused to turn off and the possible use of a handgun in the campgrounds.
I got in my vehicle and rolled downhill, parking outside the campgrounds, then I got my long-handled fire shovel (the one with the sharp spike on the other end) and walked in to the campgrounds to talk with the campground host, walking past the individual with the illegal fire.
After talking with the host it turned out that the guy who was allegedly profoundly drunk had turned off the loud music while I was on my way, presumably after hearing the campground host call for police.
Together we went to the camp site where the man, a woman, and two small children were tenting, and I saw that the man had built a fire on top of one of the metal BBQ boxes up on a metal stand, stacking wood and rocks and trash on top of the box and setting it on fire.
Parts of the burning material had dropped on to the ground and were moving around in the slight breeze, on dirt so not constituting an immediate fire hazard yet still posting a threat in the event the breeze kicked up.
There was a protracted yet unavoidable confrontation as police were dispatched and were still half an hour away.
Working with drunk people can be dangerous and, in many ways, pointless, and it’s best to leave such people for law enforcement to work with, however there was another fire in this instance which had the potential to get out of hand, plus the guy had an air gun of some sort.
The guy was allegedly walking around with an air gun, a handgun of some kind shooting pellets or BBs, some kind of weapon that used C02 cartridges since in the morning the camp site had to be cleaned up and C02 cartridges were among the debris the man had left behind.
While we were waiting for the police to show up, the argumentative man continued to harangue us, complaining that he had the right to set fires anywhere he wanted and complaining that he couldn’t run his radio as loudly as he wanted to since he is a tax payer, and “I can’t have fun!” in the forest (that was a repeated refrain, we were killing his fun by asking him to extinguish his fire and turn off his music.)
The fact that there were other people in the campgrounds who did not appreciate the loud noise was mentioned, and the drunk man’s response was that he did not believe that anyone else was in the campgrounds (there were about seven sites in use at the time; the campgrounds has 25 camp sites total.)
When it got through his allegedly drunken daze that the police were on the way, he and the woman argued some, then they started packing up their things and their children and left, allowing us to extinguish his fire without a potential physical confrontation.
Leaving was something I didn’t want the man to do, though, not if he had been drinking. He had two children in the vehicle with him, and I didn’t want him to be driving down the mountain drunk, yet there’s no way to stop people from leaving if they want to so off they went.
The campground host coordinated the effort by the law enforcement vehicle that was coming up the mountain, performing a traffic stop on the individual at the East Fork Road bridge.
If the man had allowed us to extinguish the fire, and if he had put the gun away, and if he had kept the music off and had gone to bed, that would have been a far better evening for everyone yet instead he got to spend some time with the police.
There was some paperwork aftermath from that incident yet I never did hear anything about what happened to the guy, if anything. Still, whatever happened is what he bought for himself. I also hazard to think of what might have happened had he set the place on fire while apparently drunk with two children and others in the campgrounds.
After spending the day at Crystal Lake Campgrounds, my son and I were bicycling down the mountain in the dark, and around mike marker 26 on Highway 39, the so-called “Bar Bee Que Alley,” we saw explosions of fire in among the trees along the North Fork of the San Gabriel River.
We dismounted our bicycles and walked them closer to where the explosions were taking place, and when we got to that spot in among the trees we observed a man with cans of spray paint who was painting trees and, using a cigarette lighter, was setting the fumes and paint on fire.
When the man saw us watching him, he stopped and walked back to his camp site, so we pressed onward,resuming our biking down the mountain.
I will also note that numerous times when I have biked down the mountain at night, trash Dumpsters had been on fire at the West Fork parking lot, and one time I stopped and talked with a man who was setting them on fire. The man merely stopped setting the rest of the Dumpsters on fire and walked back to his vehicle and drove off.
Some times when people are caught doing such things, they know that they’re doing wrong, yet they also know that at night law enforcement is a long way away and a half hour responding. They don’t seem to realize that radio our-runs them and that police will stop vehicles on their way down the mountain loooking for suspects.
Every time I look at the sheer amount of work that Forest Service employees must perform in the Angeles I’m glad that I don’t have to work for a living, at least I don’t have to work that hard.
Many times I have stopped my bicycle long enough to have quick chats with employees while they’re collecting and hauling trash, scraping off spray paint vandalism, repairing destroyed signs, swamping out toilets, various things that must be done daily to keep ahead of the “trash and toilets” issue, work which can continue to be done even when talking with annoying public people like myself.
A lot of what the Forest Service employees deal with is endless vandalism, endless spray paint, endless illegal ground fires, arguments between campers who some times get in to physical violence between themselves, dealing with lost children, overdue hikers, and so much more.
They always stay polite and professional, they never seem to get dispirited by the endless job at hand, never seem to get discouraged that the work they did last week cleaning something up just got be-shitted and be-fouled once again the next day or the week after.
Yet it’s the vandalism that annoys me the most as a hiker and biker: the spray paint vandalism and the destruction of our public property which we all own.
At the “Valley of the Moon” parking lot along Highway 39 at mile marker 32.4 there is a small toilet facility, and behind that is the trailhead for the Upper Bear Creek Trail.
Next to the toilet there are information signs offering details about the local flora and fauna, fire restrictions, and various other things of interest to hikers.
At the trailhead itself is a wooden trail sign, split in two pieces but still held together enough to be serviceable.
One Summer season a Forest Service employee by the name of John Seals had managed to acquire the funds needed to repair the information signs and repair the glass windows on the toilet facility, and after acquiring the materials that he needed, he performed the repairs himself, spending considerable time replacing, repairing, and fixing.
The next weekend, all of the glass had been broken out again, and the newly-repaired and newly-installed information signs had been spray painted once again, destroying the work (and wasting the money that was hard to come by) that John had done.
I asked John, “Doesn’t that make you angry? Doesn’t that fill you with rage?” since it certainly made me angry, riding past the Valley of the Moon and seeing all that damage done once again less than one week after it had all been fixed.
John was philosophical about it, saying he was disappointed and saddened by the vandalism but he wasn’t discouraged, he would once again seek funding to acquire materials and he would fix it all once again.
That seems to be the mindset of the employees working in the Angeles, they’re dedicated to keep doing what they do despite the challenges, despite the systematic destruction of the progress that they make in maintaining our public lands.
If it was my own work getting destroyed week after week, I would probably be screaming constantly, ranting about the people in this world and the gross injustice of people who shit on our public property with zero regard for others. Yet for these employees, the constant damage and constant drive to fix it again seems to be merely part of the job – which it is though I would forgive them if they screamed from time to time.
When stopping for quick chats with Forest Service employees one can occasionally hear the odd horror story.
One day I was coming down the mountain on my bicycle and stopped to talk with an employee who was collecting trash dumped along Highway 39 during the previous night, working to try to stay ahead of the accumulated trash that gets dumped virtually every night along the many turn-outs on the highway.
While he worked he told me about the huge pile of dried human dung that he found on the floor of the toilet facility at the Valley of the Moon parking lot. Because the human waste had been excreted in the Summer, it wasn’t long before it dried up and, like concrete, adhered to the floor of the toilet room.
He told me of the effort it took to chip away at the dried shit, using his shovel and other tools to get the mess cleaned up so that the toilet could be swamped out with a high pressure water hose driven from a gasoline-powered pressure washer on the back of a Forest Service vehicle, where-after they use a long-handled squeegee to scrape out the water so that it dries quickly, leaving everything clean again.
You might be wondering “what the hell.” Some person had dumped his dung on the floor of the toilet facility literally a couple of feet from the toilet he or she could have used. For some reason they dumped on to the floor rather than use the toilet right there easily at hand.
Quite often people will urinate on the floor of the toilets, yet it’s fairly rare that they crap on the floor.
Shortly after I started to volunteer working on trails in the mountains I also started trying to steal John Seal’s Jeep, the one that the Forest Service had assigned to him.
Every time he was in the area I would make an effort to check to see if they keys were in the vehicle’s ignition and make sure that he saw me looking.
Over the year it became a standing joke, and occasionally before I even walked over to his Jeep and looked he would retrieve his keys from his pocket and jangle them for a bit before putting them back in his pocket, letting me know that looking was once again pointless.
John was one of the friendlier Forest Service employees who could be counted on waving at volunteers from a distance, a smile on his face always. He made an effort to encourage the trail workers even on very difficult days when we returned to the Rincon Fire Station at the end of the day and looked beat up, dirty, sweaty, and on our last legs, he always had a smile for us and words of encouragement.
No other employee was like that, and to some employees the volunteers are considered to be more trouble than they’re worth. Some employees think that volunteers are why Forest Service employee wages are so low and why the Forest Service can’t hire more paid employees. The employees that I have encountered over the years run the entire spectrum, from friendly to verging upon hostile (though always polite!) and at the far end of the friendly spectrum, there was John Seals.
On July 28 and 29 of the year 2007 the trail volunteers held a two day effort which sought to remove every dead tree across the trails on Mount Waterman, an effort that was for me the single most difficult as well as the most rewarding trail efforts I have ever been on.
Forest Service employee John Seals joined that effort even though he was diagnosed with a fatal illness. Another seasonal employee joined the rest of the volunteers for that effort, bringing together something like 15 people gathered in to three different crosscut saw groups which leap-frogged up and down the trails bucking up and removing dead trees that were obstructing the trails.
Some of the trees were 4 feet in diameter yet thankfully our crosscut saws were around 6 feet long. Since Mount Waterman trails are within a designated Wilderness area, we carried up the long “singing” saws rather than use chainsaws which are forbidden within the wilderness.
The week before the effort, volunteers including myself had used cargo packs to haul several gallons of drinking water up to Twin Peaks saddle where we cached the water and then hiked back down the mountain.
On the first day of the effort we had Sierra Club members carry bottled water up the mountain for us and they, too, cached drinking water for us at one of the saddles along the trails we were going to be working.
Us volunteers and the Forest Service employees also carried our own drinking water, and in my backpack I carried a laptop computer since I had no real camera but I did have a camera in the old laptop.
Since we were going to be spending the night on Twin Peaks Saddle, we brought sleeping bags and some people brought tents.
The first day was an exhausting, grueling day of cutting up and hauling trees off of the trail, getting the crosscuts in to various diameters of dead tree trucks, making many cuts, hammering in wedges, and maneuvering bucked sections off of the trail, using three different crews hiking from obstruction to obstruction, clearing the trails.
The team I was on spent something near four hours slowly bucking up a 4 foot-wide dead tree that had hard, dried resin all through it. Going through that dead tree with the crosscut was slow, hard work, and by the time evening came on we had not managed to finish the last cut needed so we left before completing it and headed toward Twin Peaks Saddle to sleep.
At the Saddle we replenished our drinking water from the bottles we had cached the week before. John Seals and others climbed up one of the Twin Peaks while I and others stayed on the Saddle, far too tired to take another step.
During the night we were inundated with flying insects and ants, those of us who failed to bring tents. To escape the insects I covered my face in my sleeping bag which was very hot, the temperature during the night remains in the mid 80s so it was a hot night to begin with, leave alone being forced to take cover from mosquitoes and other insects.
As night fell the bats came out and I watched them swoop and dive as they hunted. I could hear their echolocation as they went, clicking at various frequencies while they hunted, speeding up their clicks as they zeroed in on insects.
I tosses Good-N-Plenty candy in to the air and watched as bats zeroed in on them, found their echos to be coming off of flying objects that were much too large to be dinner for them, and watched as they veered away as the candy fell back down in to my hands.
It was a miserable night with little sleep, yet in the morning at first light we resumed the effort, the team I was on going back to the half-finished large tree trunk and finishing that off before getting back on to the trail and leap-frogging the other two teams.
The second day was even more grueling and demanding than the first. We walked across exposed rock escarpment that had to be 130, 140 degrees, and we walked across cool and moist meadows that begged to be laid down on so I could sleep, just sleep in the coolness and the shade.
We got every tree removed, and long before the day’s work was completed, every one of us was out of drinking water. The 102 degrees we worked in for two days and the 80 degrees night had driven us to drink a tremendous amount of water, and at the end of the day it had not been nearly enough, yet we worked on.
Through this effort, John Seals kept the lead, never flagging, never crying off, always a grin on his face. He was a Forest Service employee who had encountered a deer when he was very young, a deer who had tried to gore him with its horns, causing him to grapple with the animal and force it to the ground to avoid getting injured and, he told us volunteers, from that moment onward he had wanted to work in the forest.
He had been a fire fighter, then he started working in Recreation. He had been the Wilderness Coordinator and held other titles as he worked to salvage and repair some of what’s left of our lands.
The Mount Waterman trail effort was likely the last strenuous trail work that he did before dying, yet all through those two days he was out front, slinging the Singing Saws, waving the rest of us onward from one difficult tree to the next.
There have been moments which have stuck with me over the years, moments which came and went quickly but which are forever etched in my mind’s eye.
The last time I saw John Seals I had been on my bicycle again, slowly coming down the mountain after having spent the night somewhere above Crystal Lake.
I was coming up the small incline along Highway 39 just past Coldbrook Campground at mile marker 32.4 where the Valley of the Moon parking lot is at the trailhead for Upper Bear Creek Trail when I saw John’s much-coveted Jeep sitting in the lot.
I slowed down even further and scanned the hillside. As I got to the South edge of the parking lot, I saw John Seals on the trail on the hillside, he took three or four steps and then disappeared around the curve in the trail and I never saw him again.
Some times I dream about that moment, about looking up and seeing him walk around the curve, thinking about how precious and fragile friendships are when anybody can walk around a corner and be gone forever like John did.
He had been diagnosed with a fatal disease and continued to work for the forest, for us Americans who own these lands, he continued to try to save something of what’s left and when I had biked slowly past and seen him disappear, he was walking in to the San Gabriel Wilderness doing field work on behalf of all of us.
In the aftermath of some of the fires within the canyons along the North, East, and West Forks of the San Gabriel River, at times there have been evacuations which included the need to evacuate the many people who live illegally along the river, often illegal miners who are mining for gold illegally.
In the year 1872 Public Law Number 578 banned mining in the Angeles National Forest, and then in the year 1928 the prohibition against mining in the Angeles was refreshed. (See [+ https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/angeles/home/?cid=stelprdb5356908+] for details about the 1872 ban which makes mining even along the East Fork a crime.)
The law prohibits panning, sluice box usage, dredging, and other mining activities in the Angeles National Forest, and the Forest Service has made on-again / off-again efforts to inform people of the fact, almost always to people who know damn well that mining is illegal but do it anyway, knowing that the Forest Service does not have the people necessary to come up and arrest them all and cart them off to explain their behavior to a Judge.
It’s not just illegal miners in the forest, there are also homeless people living illegally, often with medical difficulties, and there are often fatalities among the homeless who live along the river.
During fire evacuations they all get hauled out, and then the mountain of crap that they have accumulated in trash can be collected and hauled out. The sheer amount of trash that gets heaped up along these homeless encampments can be truly stunning.
In the aftermath of the Morris Fire I participated in a clean-up, we used horses and mules together with metal sleds to collect, bag, and haul mountains of trash up to East Fork Road where a panel truck was kept busy hauling things to a city land fill.
We had police protection during this volunteer work, and I joked about having found a kilo of cocaine which I was going to keep for myself. He didn’t believe me, of course, but it was still funny, at least I thought it was.
I found a rifle and a broken crack pipe, a really nice broken crack pipe which had a bowl in the shape of a human skull, so it was a shame that it was broken.
The rifle I laid down on the hood of the police car. The crack pipe I wired to the cop’s antenna using a bit of wire I had found, leaving the police car with a skull-head crack pipe waving from its antenna.
A seriously aggravating incident occurred at the Crystal Lake Campgrounds when a child entered the Cafe there across from the Forest Service Visitor Center and informed the chef that there were three or four kids just down the road with an ax which they were using to chop down a pine tree.
The chef who runs the Cafe went to investigate and saw the children, heard them chopping in to the tree, so he walked down the road to them.
By the time he got to the brats they had flung the ax in to the woods, so he confronted them with a ten-year-old tree that was nearly cut all the way through, demanding to know why they did that.
Even though he had seen them chopping in to the tree, and even though he had caught them red-handed they denied doing it. That was bad enough, yet when the Cafe owner told them that he was going to informed their parents, they ran.
The Cafe owner went looking for the kids and their parents and found that they had fled the campgrounds before he could get police up there and before he could talk with the parents. The family had packed up and fled before he could confront the parents.
If you think about that, what happened was the kids had ran and told their parents that the police were on the way, and rather than stay and meet the police, the parents gathered their stuff and their children together, climbed in to their vehicles, and ran.
What kind of lesson does that teach? Here we had two generations of people who would vandalize public property, lie about it, and then flee the consequences of their actions when confronted with the evidence and a smoking gun (or at least a pine sap-covered hand.)
When I was told about this incident I went and looked at the tree and saw that it was fatally wounded with no hope of recovery. In an effort to remove the temptation of other people chopping down trees, I used a chainsaw to cut the mortally-wounded tree in to sections which volunteers carried to the Cafe for use in the wood-burning stove – despite being green.
What struck me about this incident was not just the blatant filthy attitude and behavior of the children and their parents, but what galled me was the need to become in some way complicit in their crime by finishing the job least others look at the halfway-chopped tree and think it was a good idea, running off and chopping down trees themselves just for fun.
It was a shame to finish killing an otherwise healthy 10-year-old tree, but the damage had been done and finishing the crime was an effort to help save the trees that still manage to remain standing.
When sleeping under the stars, and even when I’m in a tent, I will place my feet Eastward, toward the rising Moon and toward the rising Sun.
The reason is because laying on my back at night gazing up in to the star-filled sky, a sense of vertigo can creep in when slowly, very slowly, stars pinwheel to the left or the right. With my feet pointing East, the stars come toward me, slowly, every so slowly, and there is no vertigo that accumulates while the Universe spins.
On the special and rare occasions when I have laid my tarp down up on Windy Gap Saddle, and laid my exhausted body down on my sleeping bag to await the morning, during the still of the night as the strong breeze blows through the Gap I often got the feel of the Earth spinning beneath my back, or of the Universe as a whole rolling towards me.
Old friends. Vega shining down and lighting-up my toes. Spica blazing away with a fierce light of its own. The Seven Sisters up there still arguing among themselves across the eons looking down occasionally at the tired hiker looking back at them from across the abyss.
Laying there exhausted yet unwilling to sleep, the night’s show is an old one I love to watch. One can watch one’s old friends come up over the lip of the desert world far to the East, work their way to the zenith before Old Man Sun joins the stage and His brilliance eclipses all other actors.
Being alone in the mountains or the desert can be frightening at times, the creatures whose homes I visit aren’t always entirely benign, and there have been times when I have awaken with rattlesnakes in my sleeping bag, bears close at hand, and coyotes sniffing my unresponsive remains, yet fears can be managed simply by closing one’s eyes and ignoring what may or may not be around you in the dark, creeping up slowly, smelling unwashed human meat.
In the quiet hours before dawn, when the night citizens have retired to their underground burrows, nests in trees and on rock faces, when the winds from the night’s cooling die down and the breezes become gentle, looking up at the slowly brightening sky as the stars leave the stage one by one and the Sun becomes King again, you can feel the Clockwork Universe around you.
When the time comes to get up, pack my things, and start the process of returning to the stink and filth of the cities, when that time comes do I occasionally shed a tear for the beauty of the night gone past and the beauty of the forest day which will inevitably end?
Yes, I used to. At times I have hated returning to the cities below yet as I’ve gotten older I cherish more and more the days and nights spent in the forest rather than dwell on the strife and minor annoyances of living in a city. It is enough.
These are just a few of the memories of incidents and events that stand out over the course of some 25 or 30 years of recreating, biking, hiking, working, and camping in the Angeles National Forest.
The adventures continue, however. Every day can be an adventure, big or small. The trick is to do it while you still can, just get out and do things before time and old age forces you to stop, at which time you truly do start to grow old.
“Tomorrow” never comes for each of us in our lives at some point, so one should follow one’s heart and do what one wants to, provided it harms none, and do it while you still can.
Working and playing in the Angeles National Forest for over 30 years has meant that I have seen a seemingly endless parade of outrageous things that people do in the forest, and over the years I have had my fair share of wild animal and wild human encounters that have been mildly disturbing, to say the least. This collection of short stories and anecdotes recount just some of the incidents I have been a part of, from arsonists setting fires to people with guns shooting within campgrounds, from clothing-optional people urinating on the highway to people hunting snakes with handguns, over the years that I have been hiking and bicycing riding up and down the mountains I have seen and experienced a lot, many things of which few people ever experience. I have collected these incidents in part so that I may never forget the things I have done, but in part to share these stories with others who might not get the opportunity to walk up a mountain pushing a bicycle at night. The San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California has a little under 23 million people living pressed up against them, and many of those people come up in to the mountains bringing their turmoil and their lawlessness with them. Mountain lions call these forests their homes, as do numerous bears, even more numerous deer, and over the years I've managed to avoid serious injury as both the flora and the fauna of the Angeles National Forest has crossed my path even as I sought to avoid them.