THINKING ON YOUR FEET

There’s been numerous occasions while on one of my walks that I come across an event or sighting that gives me much pause and triggers my imagination. Like the time climbing up a rock ledge and coming upon a fox while it decides it’s next move but is too curious of this intruder. Rounding a corner startling a hungry coyote eating dinner yet not sensing danger picks up his catch and just looks at me as I back away. Or the frantic calls of newly hatched hawks high in a tree waiting for mother hawk to arrive with dinner. Sometimes it’s perfect timing like a shaft of light penetrating a thick canopy of trees highlighting a single flower reaching out for that rare moment of sunlight.image

These are events that occur in nature all the the time but I feel as if I entered a hidden dimension untouched while I go about my hectic life.

 

 

The other day while walking through very high grass and thick pines I came upon a clearing and in the center pointing to the sky stood  a monument over looking the Blue Pacific Ocean. Coming closer I realized it was a tombstone with writing on two sides.image

 

Standing there for almost one hundred and fifty years a grave for Andrew Fisk and his six month old daughter weathered the Pacific storms on a bluff over a small bay name after him, Fisk Mill Cove.

 

Life back then was very hard and extremely uncertain for children. I sat there for some time reading over and over their epithet.
Clara Belle,
only daughter of Andrew and Clara S. Fisk image
Born
Feb 25 1874
Died
Aug 24 1874
“Such is the kingdom of heaven”

 

 

 

 

But it was the epithet of Andrew Fisk that caught my attention, as if looking out a window into the past,

imageAndrew J Fisk
Born
March 10 1834
Died
Aug 4 1874
“Peacefully sleep beloved one
Rest from your toil your labor is done”

 

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THE MINER

THE MINER

In the summer of 1973 Larry, a college buddy and I arrived in Salt Lake City. His brother Rick was away in Turkey so we were able to stay at his apartment in Sandy, Utah which was far nicer than the VW camper that the two of us were traveling in. We were low on cash so we had to find work. Larry was able to talk his way into an apartment complex manager job,  God only knows how.
I checked the classifieds and found openings for river guides on the  Colorado River with a river outfit in Vernal Utah. So off I went to become a river guide for the summer. Unfortunately by the time I got there they had filled up all their positions.

I was now in a bit of a bind being low on cash and I didn’t want to dip into my reserve funds. I asked the fellow doing the hiring if he knew of any other outfits that were looking for a good hand. He said he didn’t, “but ya know they might be hiring at the mine.”
The mine?
“Ya, you just head out of town on 50 for a couple of miles and you’ll see the sign, take a right and it’s 25 miles out in the desert.”IMG_1349

OK, off I went. Following his directions, I got to the sign. It hung by one hook while flapping in the wind.  It didn’t look too promising, but it was my only job lead, so I followed it.
The road seemed to go on forever. There was nothing but sagebrush, with antelope and dust devils churning up the sand in the hot dry wilderness.

Finally there it was!! American Gilsonite, hopefully my new employer.

I walked into the office and asked the fellow there if there were any job openings. He looked me up and down and said, “You look strong but did you ever work below ground?” I told him I’d only worked above ground but I was a quick learner. “Good”, he said, “be here tomorrow at eight o’clock sharp.”

Stepping out into the high desert sun I thought, Well I guess I’m a miner now. The next morning I showed up a little early and met an older fellow in the office who sized me up and shook his head. “Ever work below?” he asked, “no” I said ” but I can learn”. Shaking his head again he told me to follow him. As we were making our way to the locker room he pointed out a large depression in the ground and said “that’s the cave in from 61, lost a couple of good men there. Looking at the depression I’m wondered what I was getting myself into. I asked him what exactly is “Gilsonite?” He told me it was a soft hydrocarbon used for industrial lubricant in the oil fields. It was first marketed as a lacquer, electrical insulator, and waterproofing compound discovered in the Uintah basin of Utah.

In the locker room he threw my a pair of overalls, and said what I was wearing wouldn’t last a day.
He showed me how to protect my eyes nose and mouth by applying Vaseline around them. Then I had to rub talcum powder all over myself. By this time the place was filling up with other miners engaged in the same ritual.black-man
It seemed surreal waiting for the elevator with what looked like a bunch of white ghost wearing work overalls, but soon enough the elevator arrived and the door opened. l had to take a step back when the previous shift of miners came up from the gates of hell looking like the Al Jolson review singing Mammy in blackface.
As the elevator dropped down into the abyss, I couldn’t help but think “What am I getting myself into!”
I stepped out into an eerie damp tunnel. It was like being in a bad dream. Suddenly I was grabbed from behind and pulled out of the way of a fast moving ore trolley loaded with Gilsonite. I turned and saw the old man I meet in the office, he was there to show me the ropes and make sure I didn’t get myself killed. He definitely earned his keep that first day.
Gilsonite flows along veins or dykes in the earth and the mine tunnel follow these fissures.  Most of the work involved shoveling the ore in bags or wheel burrows and then dumping it into a trolley. Sometimes you had to get on your hands and knees to crawl to the next site. It was dark, dank and dirty. My , first day was hard and very disorienting, but I caught on quickly, I worked hard and I gained the respect of my crew.

They called me “college boy.”
Cleaning up in the locker room was an experience. We had to scrub the nasty stuff from the mine off with brushes, using lots of soap. We took turns scrubbing the back of the next guy over. If we didn’t, that black tar would cake up and you’d never get it off. It was embarrassing at first but that too you got used to. trolley

Rather than drive back to town or to the nearest campground in Dinosaur Nation Monument, I just drove my camper down to the Green River about 20 minutes past the mine. I was miles from civilization; and the nights were lit up by a billion stars.
There was no sound other than the fast moving current of the Green River and the  soft rustling of a coyote looking for scraps from my leftover can of beans and bread. I would have slept under the stars if it wasn’t for the mosquitoes. IMG_1317

They swarmed and would cover any exposed skin, even biting through clothing. It was unbearable, and I retreated to the protection of the camper.   Each morning I would get up early, take a plunge in the Green River, make coffee with jam and bread, and then take a short hike through the desert wilderness with its strange rock formations that changed color like a chameleon as the sun appeared over the distant horizon. IMG_1352
Then it was back to the work – another day in the mine. The money was decent,and I was glad to have the job. The men I worked with were hard working and I enjoyed their bantering over the constant noise from the heavy machinery.
It was about the fourth week when I started spitting up black crap.Even my nose would run with black mucus. Then one of my working buddies got his hand really mangled while hitching the ore trolley.
I started thinking about Northern California where Larry had a sister living in a place called Marin County with views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. That evening I walked over to the office and said “I had it!” The manager who hired me said he was surprised I lasted as long as I did, as a matter of fact he had a bet with a few others in the office I wouldn’t last a day.
He mentioned that my crew foreman liked my productivity and told me that if I ever returned to Bonanza I could have my job back. “No thanks,” I said. “My mining career is over.”
Back in Salt Lake, Larry was ready to get out of town because he was having a bit of trouble keeping the apartment complex pool in balance and it turned green.
California here we come!

 

Memorial Day Hiker

Memorial Day Hiker

Hiking the Sonoma Coast trails on Memorial Day weekend is a bit of a challenge with inexperienced RV drivers negotiating the twisty coastal roads, watching for bicyclists and finding a place to park. Since I get out there often, I know all the out of the way places to leave my motorcycle and hike in. It might be a little more walking but that's what I'm there for.

I ran into a couple of young guys at the trail head packing up gear for some bouldering and top roping on one of the hundred foot crags. It looked like they had enough gear to climb El Cap.

imageMy walk started on a high meadow over looking the ocean and entered a thick stand of Bishop pine. Under the canopy of these gnarled old pines the sounds were dampened by the thick floor of pine needles. All I could hear was the whisper of the wind through the trees and the faint barking of the bull seals sunning on the rocks below.

 

Wildflowers grew in abundance even on the trail which told me this trail wasn't used much. I felt a little guilty for walking right over all that beauty.

The trail came out in a clearing of weathered tafoni sandstone noted for it'd small cave like features. I could spend the day exploring all these bizarre rock formations, but something else caught my eye.

imageAlong the buff were rusty eye bolts embed in the sandstone, relics from another time.

The small bay or cove I was hiking along once was a place where schooners would drop anchor and take on Douglas-fir and redwoods lumber from the old growth forest. The bolts where there for securing the ships while loading. Over a hundred years ago the north coast was a center for logging  supplying lumber needed to build San Francisco at the start of the gold rush. Back up on the road there are several run down buildings from that era. One of them a trading post the other a Wells Fargo office.

 

Following the trail along the bluff, it would take a turn inland to skirt around deep ravines thick with a lush growth of ferns and Calla Lilies.

I dropped down into one of them to get pictures and found a way to reach the beach that doesn't see many visitors. It got so steep and slick with moss that I decided to put away my camera and not risk another fall breaking a lens, again!

The beach had many tidal pools rich with a microcosm of sea life. The rocky shoreline turned into a beautiful sand beach only occupied by seals. I don't think they were very happy with me walking on their beach. Many of them were in the water curiously watching me.

The effort to drop down to this pristine beach was worth the effort, the only problem was climbing out.

 

Remembering Robin

Years ago at one of our earlier locations I was in the office with my wife Debra when one of our employees rushed in and very excited whispered, “I think Robin Williams is in the store.” I told him to just act as if he’s a regular customer and by all means don’t gawk! A thought occurred to me, I would like to see Robin Williams. So I got up and said “I’ll handle it!”

Robin was in the paddle department looking over our kayaks. I was trying to think of an opening line as I made my way over to greet him. I put aside the idea of saying something cute to the wittiest comic on planet. Instead I just asked him, “so which one?” Robin turned to me and in a low subdued tone replied. “The one that looks the coolest on my Rover.” Looking out the window I immediately noticed a Black Land Rover. I pointed to a couple of very bright yellow kayaks on display, one for whitewater the other for touring, I said “what about one of those?” He smiled and I instantly knew we were on the right wavelength. I went into detail about the two different kayaks. He ruled out the adenine sport of whitewater, it would be too much of a commitment requiring skill, relying on river flow and all the logistics that go with it. Touring kayaks on the other hand made more sense, more relaxing, go at your own pace, more places to paddle in a group or alone.

My little presentation repeatedly got interrupted by Robins pager. Do you remember those? He would asked to use our phone. It must have been his agent because he was quibbling over details of a current project. Eventually I closed the sale and he bought a bright yellow “sea kayak” very stable and easy to paddle. I kinda think he really liked the yellow “cool factor” and how it would look on his Rover.
He bought everything available for that sport, carbon fiber paddle, paddle clothing, safety equipment plus a car rack.

I made a point to caution him about open water kayaking, where there can be large wave, currents rip tides all the things that can get him in trouble, at least until he became a proficient paddler. I offered to take him out on Tomales Bay and teach him the basics. He accepted my invitation and he would let me know when he was available, which he never did. Didn’t surprise me.

I helped him load his Land Rover and then we started to assemble his car rack which would take a little time. Assembling the rack I couldn’t help but notice Robin’s physical characteristics and demeanor. He wasn’t tall but he was stocky not over weight but solid, he also had quite a bit of body hair, he didn’t say much, at least off the phone. I got the impression when he’s not in a group or performing he needed time to recharge his batteries to allow his brain to regain that energy he uses to explode on stage. I always enjoyed watching Robin on TV or at the movies, especially once at a local cabaret where he happen to be in the audience and was asked to go on stage. He certainly knew the audience being a local boy, we were all in for a very special treat.

Dealing with him in person was a little different than I expected. He seemed relaxed, spoke in a casual way, serious but withdrawn from the daily stress of Hollywood. It felt like I was witnessing part of his private life, a side of him most people will never see.

I was in the process of showing him how to secure his kayak to his car rack when two high school guys were walking by and one of them noticed Robin. They immediately ran over to him and said, “hey aren’t you Robin Williams?” Robin in a low voice looking away said, “No, that’s not me” one of the fellows said, “yes you are, remember, “Nanu Nanu,” and gave the hand sign. Robin very embarrassed and wanting to be left alone said, “No, not me.” I told the two boys he obviously wants to be left alone, they walked away laughing thinking they were the coolest guys around because they “talked” to Robin Williams.
Robin came in for other things a few more times, probably because our store was convenient since he lived in Sonoma, but that was the last time.

image

About a year went by, “Good Morning Vietnam” was a hit at the movies. I read an article in Sports Illustrated about, of all people, Robin Williams. The article was about Robin’s busy life as a celebrity, what caught my attention was the paragraph where he was sighted cruising around Malibu in his Land Rover with a bright yellow kayak on the roof, and on the bottom of the page was a picture of a yellow kayak on top of a black Land Rover, I looked up and smiled.

Live from Mt.Shasta

Live from Mt.Shasta

I love climbing mountains, its hard work, exhausting but satisfying, exciting yet mixed with a little fear, all brought to a climax winning your prize and then the realization your only half way, you must get down. I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much, the good things but watch out for the bad, the excitement or the let down and failure. Like life itself.

This little adventure I am writing about was my first time I realized how technology will change almost everything. Even the wilderness will shrink faster than ever before because of new devices that will explode on to the consumer market and will change our wilderness and our life for better or for worse.
It was in the early 90’s when I asked Greg my stepson and another coworker to climb Mt. Shasta  a 14,000 foot stratovolcano on the border of California and Oregon.  Mt. Shasta is not a technical climb for the most part, anyone can climb some of the routes if they’re in good physical shape and are determined, we called this type of mountain climbing a “slog”. Walking then attaching ice crampons to your boots and carrying an ice axe mainly for self arrest in case you lose your footing, no ropes, no vertical stuff, just a slog.
What made this climb unique was our local radio station we advertise with heard we were going to climb Shasta. They suggested to live broadcast our progress with one of those new cellular phones and for me to narrate the event. I immediately went for the idea, it would be a great way to promote our outdoor store and a first in our area. Now cellphones back then were very expensive and a lot bigger than today’s shirt pocket size phone. I thought they were going to loan me one of the new shoe Box size phones but I was in for a big surprise when my rep dropped off a cell phone the size of carry-on luggage that had become obsolete. I figured no problem, I can handle it plus all my other gear, I think!

cell phone

The plan was to drive to the backside of the mountain where we would camp, climb the next day on the Hotlum-Bolam Ridge make camp and summit the next day. The two other boys were much younger than I and both new to climbing at least on ice so I would keep an eye on them especially when we were up on steeper sections. I made several “live feeds” to the radio station and they would break with a live update of our progress.

We made it to 13,000 feet that evening and found a nearly flat area on a rock ridge where we set up a pyramid style tent with no floor but was lightweight for those days. I wanted to keep the weight down since I was carrying the cell phone so I used a very thin but lightweight sleeping pad, big mistake, I couldn’t sleep. That evening we could see the pyramid shaped shadow of this great volcano stretching for miles to the east as the sun was setting behind us.

shadow1

I tried climbing this side of the mountain a couple of times before but was denied the summit because of bad weather. This time the weather God must have been in a good mood. We woke up the next morning to crystal clear blue sky’s and no wind. We quickly got ready and made our last leg to the summit. There was no one but us on this side of the mountain and we made good time to the summit arriving before noon, I was the straggler taking a beating for all the weight. I dropped my pack next to the boys who were sitting at the summit smiling, I said “thanks for the help.” They said, “you’re the radio man.” I couldn’t believe our luck with the weather. The temperature was 70 degrees and no wind just flies that we kept swatting. There was a smell of sulfur coming from the fumaroles 200 feet below the summit on the opposite side from our route.

A few minutes past when we heard laughter and the usual sounds of people climbing so I got out the beast and made the last call in. As I was describing to the listeners our success and experience on the summit, a few hundred miles away Debra, my wife and Shelby, my little girl, were just pulling into our parking lot and Shelby excitedly told her mom, that man said Mt. Shasta, my daddy is on that mountain.” Debra turns to Shelby and said,”Shelby, that is your dad talking from the top of that mountain.”

Years have past and Shelby was at school in London. She would call everyday on her cellphone or Skype us. One day she called while she was on a bus in the heart of London and asked us if we could Google an address to make sure she got off at the right stop, halfway around the world separated by a vast ocean yet she sounded like she was across the street.

Now this is what I meant by technology moving so quickly, to think even in the 90’s which wasn’t the olden days that we could help someone find their way 8,000 miles away in a matter of seconds? Technology moving faster and changing the way we live. Good with some bad, time will tell.

 

Looking Back

I think I’ll reverse course and get into something entirely different. The other night I was reading about modern container ships and how a revolutionary design change took place in the 1960’s so they would become more efficient loading and unloading. One of the designs is called a Seabee where two barges were push to the open stern section of the ship. A simplified description of the operations on the Seabee is that once the two 830 tons barges have been pushed on the elevator by tugs and then positioned on the support blocks by tugger winches mounted at the upper deck, the elevator is then lifted to the appropriate deck level. The four wheeled self propelled barge transporter is run underneath, lifting jacks activated, and then barge and transporter is run forward on a double set of rails to stowage area. The elevator, rated at 2,000 tons, is raised by means of three double drum winches located port and starboard on the poop deck which extends aft at each side of the open stern.

One of the shipyards that received contracts to build this type of ship was the Quincy Shipyards in Massachusetts. It just so happens I was working there in the summer while attending school in the Boston area. At that time the yard was owned by General Dynamics and was a very busy shipyard employing thousands of workers. Oh yes I was a union worker and a member of the AFL-CIO Union.

The Navy also had contracts to build several LSD’s amphibious assault ship. I worked on the USS Mount Vernon (LSD-39) which was similar to the larger Seabee in that they both had open sterns and were revolutionary because of the efficiency in moving cargo or landing craft on or off the ships.

What an experience working at a shipyard with the ruff and tumble workers. They called me college boy and at first gave me a hard time but after working with them and seeing I was a hard worker I earned their respect. Some of them would invite me to have lunch  at a tavern across the street from the yard. What amazed me the most about this place was its standard beverage for these guys was quart size bottles of beer which were lined up in the hundreds and we’re all nice a cold. I wanted to take a nap after polishing down one of those king sized bottles.

Getting back to these ships and their similarities they also were in stark contrast on how different they were. The navy ship with its hundreds of compartments and how easy it was to get lost on the other hand the cargo ship at the time was one of the largest ships made and yet so wide open the decks were larger than a football field.

The amazing thing is the Almeria Lykes (cargo ship) is still in service now serving with the US Navy. The name changed to SS Cape May, is use in various tasks for the US military in heavy transport of goods in various theaters of action. She is currently in ready reserve status ready to be called upon for any large cargo work needed.

Not the same fate for the Mt.Vernon which was decommissioned on 25 July 2003. Mount Vernon acted as the control ship for the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In 2005, she was intentionally destroyed off the coast of Hawaii as part of a training exercise.

The Quincy shipyards also closed after a one hundred year run. According to one theory, the yard was the origin of the “Kilroy was here” pop culture reference, and was home to the second-largest shipbuilding crane in the world.

I’m glad I was a part of it though it was insignificant but I can claim “Knick was here”