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Losing all the Disneylands
“Now tell me again how far is it to this mountain we're camping at,” I said after we had crossed several bridges and were heading north on I-5. The early morning traffic had been pretty light, but still, on Memorial Day Saturday, it had taken well over an hour to get this far.
Jim looked at me and grinned. “You mean the Master of the Universe doesn't know that?”
My face twisted into a wry smile at our latest inside joke and I shook my head. “Not that small shit, only the big shit. ”
“It's only about 3 or four hours ... give or take a few breakdowns and car crashes and killing a dog or two.”
I half-snorted and half laughed. Awhile later I realized that it really wasn't that much further than going from my home town, Mansfield, to Toledo. Jim and I smoked some dope from a tiny wooden pipe. I was almost instantaneously high after two hits; then, despite still being almost full from breakfast, had an attack of the munchies. In the back seat stuffed between the wheels of my push wheelchair, was a large bag of Fritos. I couldn't reach them, but Jim could.
After stuffing my mouth full of the thin corn chips, I grabbed our main map. I SWAG'd that it was still over 150 miles. That mean three hours if we were in race mode. Four hours if we took our time.
“You in a hurry?” Jim asked. “Should we be doing like 90?”
This heap wouldn't do 90 with a stiff tailwind, I thought. It was a 1969 Fiat, in pretty good shape, considering. “Not in a hurry,” I shouted over the noise. “Not when my classes start in a couple weeks.”
That took us into a discussion of why I ever chose computer science as a career path. A year ago Jim and I had both been students at a Zen monastery. I had never been exactly sure why Jim had decided to leave Zen Center when I did, but for me, the decision was simply that I figured I could do more by finishing college than by becoming a Zen priest. There was no way that I was going to disclose the full story. Not even to my best bud. The most direct truth was that studying comp-sci was a good way to earn good money. The fact that my reasons involved a woman--like so many of my decisions--wasn't something I was ready to fess up to.
“Not in a hurry,” I said to myself. “Definitely not.” And managed another handful of corn chips.
After two quarters of night school studying BASIC at the Berkeley high school, I was more than a bit ready for a break. It had been an intense two quarters because I had learned more than the instructor was teaching, going over the large red textbook in minute detail until I had become the computer. In a bit over two weeks I would be jumping into summer school at Cal and studying FORTRAN. This would turn out to be a nice transition, as it turned out, but now, with the Memorial Day weekend immediately ahead, I was only concerned about getting up Mt. Shasta and into the fresh air, far from people. As much as programming grabbed me, and as eager as I was to leap into my future, I simply needed a break.
Taking the Interstate highway system anywhere--as opposed to other roads or highways--is pretty boring. I-5 is no exception, then or now. What made the boring bee-line worth it--well, besides the efficiency-- was sharing a couple days with a buddy and soul-mate. We stayed at or below the 55-mph speed limit as most traffic tore around us.
Jim said, “They're hurrying up so they can stop somewhere up ahead!”
We parked at a rest stop near Redding and lunched at a picnic table. The sandwiches were still chilled and the coffee was still hot. It was a beautiful day, but heating up rapidly. And from what we saw in our fellow travelers,the long weekend was taking on a carnival atmosphere.
Jim asked, “Have you ever been to Disneyland?”
I nodded. “Once.”
“I think all these people are on their way back. Getting ready for their own Disneyland.”
“You may be right, Jimbo.”
Earlier this morning, Jim had made a nice pancake breakfast and brewed my steel thermos full of Melita. He had about an eigth of a pound of Peet's coffee--strictly high-end stuff--and I enjoyed it to the max. Usually, I bought the cheapest 10-ounce bottle of instant coffee. That was good enough for me for everyday. Jim had added wheat fiber to the pancakes and chowed down four or five himself. I barely finished two. “This stuff,” he said, pointed to the bowl of fiber, “keep you cleaned out.-- Can't have your guts stuffed up with crap. Not healthy.”
“Right on,” I said, and stuffed the last half of the second pancake into my mouth. A slug of coffee helped get it chewable. “I just hope they've got those port-a-potties every few miles!”
“I didn't understand a word of that,” Jim said as he brought over his pancakes and settled at my tiny table. “But that's all right. I know you were saying something obscene!” He downed three pancakes by the time I had finished my last half.
I patted my gut. “I'm stuffed. Won't eat for three weeks. Or maybe noon!” I finished the rest of my coffee down to the dregs while Jim polished off everything, put his pint of Half-and-Half in the ice-chest along with the Peet's, and loaded the ice chest in the front seat.
He came back into my apartment and looked around for my bag. “Are you ready, Gary? Where's your stuff?”
I drove my power wheelchair back into the larger room and pointed to the gym bag on the desk chair. “I couldn't be more ready. Everything I'm taking is in the gym bag.”
The bag, on the desk chair, was stuffed with clothes, medicine, and a heavy jacket in case the mountain air was colder than expected.
“You sure you've got everything?”
“Christ, we'll be heading back Sunday--tomorrow--” I held out my finger for a second, then spun the chair around and drove back into the kitchen where I had taken the large bottle of Tylenol. Returned and stuffed it into the bag.
Jim tapped his head. “See. Even if I am Almost Polish.” And his face crinkled into a smile.
That was a running joke since we had met while studying Zen. Jim's mother was born in Hungary; both my maternal grandparents were from Hungary. And since I guessed that Hungary was somewhere near Poland, that made us both “Almost Polish.”
Jim was an experienced camper and back-packer. He finished up his Master's in journalism at Southern Illinois U after he got out of the Army, then worked at a newspaper for a few months before quitting and hitting the road. Like most people who live East of the Mississippi, Jim drifted West. Before eventually winding up at San Francisco's Zen Buddhist Center, he said that he spent some months as a caretaker at a cemetery in Arizona. So this this diversion amounted to an overnight camp out.
Since Jim and I had left the San Francisco zendo, I hadn't been that interested in finding somewhere new to continue studying or practicing. Jim had found a place in Berkeley to continue his studies named Shasta Abbey. It was affiliated with a zendo somewhere around Mt. Shasta. But there were no plans to find this place--at least not now.
When we took the I-5 exit at the mountain, in some ways, we stepped back into the nineteenth century. We happened onto a street named Old Spring Road and stopped downtown for gas. After checking the map we were off again.
“We better be careful not to get caught on Old Stage Coach Road,” I said after checking the map.
Jim turned onto Black Butte Road or whatever, and eventually we got lost on Old McCloud Road and finally found ourselves back downtown on McCloud Avenue. We pulled up curbside beside a sporting goods store and some kind of cafe.
“I hope you ain't hungry,” Jim said, gesturing to the step-up entrances to just about every store in sight.
I shook my head. “Still full from lunch.”
Jim frowned and said something about the thoughtlessness of business owners. I shrugged and asked if he would spend a few grand on making a storefront wheelchair accessible. After all, people in wheelchairs wouldn't head this way.
The next thing I knew, a pickup truck with several young people and two dogs in the back headed eastward--toward the mountain. Three guys, two drop-dead blonde teenagers with waist-length hair. They were whooping and hollering about something. The tail of one of the dogs, a golden retriever mix, wagged one of the girls smack in the hooters and she broke up with laughter. I laughed too and turned to watch as the pickup headed up the street.
I said, “Now that's the kind of Disneyland I wouldn't mind being in!”
Jim unfolded the map, located our position, and plotted our course. “Old McCloud runs into a Wagon Camp Road. So we were right before.” He started the Fiat and we were off. Fifteen minutes later we were lost in a forest that Wagon Camp Road drove into. Twists and turns everywhere, and especially now with everything greening up and growing, it was clear that if we went too far off the road it would be a few centuries before our bones would be found.
Notwithstanding, the locals evidently knew these stretches only too well. At least two more pickups passed us, one in either direction. There were several cars full of people, probably families, dressed for an outdoorsy weekend.
“Disneyland?” I asked.
“It's right here,” Jim said, pointing to the scenery with his chin. We made a right-hand turn. “Everywhere you look.” Before long we took a rightward curve, and aways later came to a broad highway. Jim pointed to the sign and tapped the map. Then we turned a sharp right onto Everett Memorial Highway.
I dug my pill container out of my jeans and popped a muscle-relaxant. I figured I had better take it now while I had the chance. Never knew when we would be writhing along some unpaved or just barely paved stretch and I had to hang onto the seat.
Within five minutes another pickup truck with three boys in the back passed us. One of the boys chugged a brew and handed the bottle to a friend. Mere seconds later a car came our way full of young men and women. If they weren't drunk, they were otherwise plastered and whooping it up.
I had to laugh.
Jim's face crinkled into a smile. “Can't get away from these mothers, can we?” He swerved to a stop on the berm and took out his tiny wood dope pipe. We both looked around to make sure it was safe. Then he took a few hits and I took one.
Half an hour later found us more than a thousand feet higher and off Everett onto a narrow and paved stretch. The terrain was level as we headed north by northwest. There were patches of snow here and there. Jim and I rolled up our windows and Jim turned on the heater. It seemed incongruous that barely an hour before we had been downtown with the temperature in the 80's; now the air had lost 40-some degrees of heat and there were several crusty layers of snow. Then we saw it.
Ahead 40, 50, 60, or more yards of snow lay across the road; the snow stretched into grassy areas that fed into woods on either side.
Jim stopped the car and looked at me. “Think we can make it?”
I laughed. “If we had a tank, sure!”
Jim mumbled something to himself and said, “Let's try and see. it's only a few miles back to the highway if we get stuck. Are you okay with us trying it?”
I said I was and a moment later we were barreling for the snow drift doing around 50. We got stuck some thirty feet in.
Jim swore and tried to back up. It wasn't long before the rear wheels were spinning furiously, fruitlessly. Jim hopped out into the snow and tromped around; he circled the car at least once before he came back to the door. “Think you can steer?”
“No problem,” I said, grabbing the steering wheel.
Jim swung in and shifted the car into neutral; as he got back out, I slid over in the bench seat and caught the door before he shut it. I only had some use of my left leg, but figured whatever it did would help get us out of this snow slush. Jim and I coordinated being ready, then together, him pushing full-tilt, and my giving it all I had with my left foot through the slush to the pavement, and steering, the car began moving slowly, slowly, then just slightly faster. Five or six minutes later the rear wheels were enough on the pavement that he quit pushing. I hauled myself back to the passenger side, and a minute later we were free of the snow.
It wasn't that long when, several hundred feet lower on the mountain-- and considerably warmer, we made a left turn onto a desolate paved road and headed into the lonesome. Notwithstanding the isolation, we met one more pickup truck with three men talking excitedly and loudly driving toward Everett Memorial Highway.
“I just don't believe this,” I said, and reached for a handful of Fritos.
Jim waved his thumb toward the South. “Disneyland South. ... And here, Disneyland Mt. Shasta.”
We drove along for an indeterminable amount of time. It was warm in the afternoon sun and I was starting to drowse off when Jim asked what time it was. I checked. “Five till three, why?”
“Time to look for a campsite. I think we passed a little creek just back aways.” He stopped and we turned around and eventually found where a small mountain stream cut beneath the road. He stopped again, and we went back a few dozen yards, then carefully turned into a small empty field. A line of trees ran north-south and just beyond it a swift-flowing creek of melt-water ran. Jim scouted out the place for around twenty minutes, then came back and drove the Fiat to within twenty or so feet of the stream.
“I think this looks good,” he said.
I said that I hoped so; that we had left all the Disneylands behind.
Jim smiled broadly. “Never know... Some bunch of them may come marching up the road any minute and jump us!” He hauled my folding wheelchair from the rear seat and with some effort pushed me to the creek side. I swung down to my knees as Jim got our sleeping bags, the large ice chest, and the cook stove.
Jim said he would gather up several rocks to contain our campfire if I would gather dead wood from the branches and break it up for firewood. And after stretching and loosening up from the long drive up, that is what we did.
I crawled a couple dozen yards south along the sandy creek bank to a place where lots of branches lay on the ground. Jim stepped over and back across the narrow creek in search of fair-sized rocks. It wasn't long--less than half an hour--before I had a heap of wood from a foot to a couple of feet piled up to my left. There were many more larger branches of dead-wood waiting to be snapped apart. Meanwhile, Jim had created a small fire pit near my green push wheelchair.
About the time I finished my chores I realized that my bladder was full. I unzipped my fly and turned toward the woods and let loose. Jim was coming back through the trees zipping up his fly. He frowned and shook his head.
“Going to have to get you a Philistine Permit,” he said. “Or maybe since you're the Master of the Universe, you don't need any permit, huh? Maybe you can shit and piss and tear up the place, no questions asked.”
I laughed and said it was too late to get a Philistine Permit for this camping trip. But I promised to make certain to have Permits for both of us for our next trip. Thus began another inside joke that has lasted from that day until the present.
I was stiff from sitting the way I was and crawled on all fours back to the fire pit where I sat comfortably cross-legged. Jim gathered up several armsful of the broken branches and I arranged them inside the circle of rocks.
Jim got the fire started, and from that day until the last of our camping adventures, the task of Keeper-Of-The-Fire fell to me. It was hypnotic and pleasant to keep the small, bright flickering going. It took awhile to get the hang of, but eventually it happened effortlessly. Perhaps twice, Jim had to get up and trudge a few dozen yards into the woods to bring back a sizable branch that lay dry on the ground.
In his iron skillet, Jim made hamburger sanwiches on the cook stove. And for desert drip coffee and a couple of cookies each. The small fire kept us comfortably warm when the air temp began to plummet. We sat close to the circle of rocks and talked well into the flawless dark of night.
“Think there are any wolves around these parts?” I wondered aloud.
“Wolves?” my friend said. “I doubt it; I think they've all been wiped out down here in the lower-48. Why?”
I answered with a howl. It took more than a few howls before my throat relaxed enough to get going. But then I let loose with some long, plaintive calls.
“Hey, not bad, Gary. I think I know what you were in your last lifetime!”
I shifted my position, let loose with another few howls. Louder and longer this time. Then waited, listening intently. Zip. I said, “Yeah, maybe.” I sighed and let one last, loud and lonely howl go. It was surprising how good it felt.
Jim responded by getting up and shaking open our sleeping bags. He got out of his blue jeans and shirt. I just took off my shoes and shirt. A few minutes later I was zipped inside my sleeping bag, glasses off and, blind to the stars, was soon asleep.
Dawn came too early considering how late we had been up. Jim was up before me; I, with the blood of an owl coursing through my veins, wanted more sleep. But at last the morning sun sledgehammered my closed eyes and a few minutes after rolling onto my back and trying to catch a few more winks, I gave in.
Half an hour later my feet were still trying to dry my dampened ankle-length work boots. The boots had been covered with the thick morning dew. I had to crawl several times back and forth on all fours to work the stiffness out of muscles, tendons, ligaments. Finally, hearing the water on the cook stove begin to boil, life began to look much more worthwhile.
I was climbing back into the flimsy sturdiness of my push wheelchair when Jim brewed the first mug of coffee.
“I know you like yours about the consistency of battery acid,” he said, filling the Melita cone to the brim. “I put in two scoops' worth.”
I damn near wanted to put my mouth under the drip cone-- or at least my tongue---but I waited. The morning breeze was picking up when Jim handed me the mug full of dark, rich coffeeness. This was not a time to sit and ponder at leisure the way I usually did. My first slurps of the inky brew struck just the right chord. By the time I finished what dregs there were, I was warmed clean down to my toe nails.
Jim had simply added another scoop of ground coffee to the cone to brew his cup. He added a dollop from the pint of Half-and-Half from the ice chest, and enjoyed. “Just like downtown, eh?” he said.
He fixed scrambled eggs and bacon in the iron skillet and we ate like hungry wolves. Had more coffee and talked about life. It was closing in toward 11:00 when we began to clean up.
The trick was, Jim explained as he began hurling the stones that had surrounded our campfire, to erase every sign that we had been here. “Or at least get as close as possible.” The rocks were far afield and the ashes and earth were soon mixed together until what remained was a light brown patch by the creek side. Jim carried the branches of surplus firewood back into the forest, and came back, slapping his hands together.
I saw him eying the creek again. He had mentioned wanting to try a quick dip in the mountain water before we headed out. I said, “You're not really going to go for a swim are you?”
“Kinda hard to swim in a foot of water,” he said, his face crinkling into a grin. He stripped down to his briefs and stepped over the narrow creek a few yards away. Jim guessed the water was a couple feet deep there. He stuck his hand in the water for a few seconds and withdrew it, shaking it dry in the breeze.
“I've heard of crazy, man, just nothing this fucking nuts,” I said. I walked the push wheelchair back a few feet.
“Y'never know till you try, right?” Jim said. With that, he stepped out of his briefs and tossed them atop his jeans near my wheelchair. Then he hunkered down as tho he were getting out of enemy fire and, feet together, jumped in the water.
I swear, it was less than a twentieth of a second later that Jim let out something between a war whoop and a scream of agony--like his balls had been lit on fire. He must have jumped more than a yard out of the water,. When he came back down, it was on his right foot and he jumped clean back onto the grass.
I came close to breaking out in laughter, but I knew that right then my buddy was absolutely not feeling well. The melt water had to have been barely above freezing. I looked around for a towel or piece of clothing, but Jim was already scrubbing himself with his sweatshirt. He was still inventing new cuss words five minutes later when he was dressed. He was stomping around the place, in small and larger circles. waving his arms around and around. Finally, he stopped and sat beside the Fiat. “I guess you know now,” I said. Then we both cracked up.
It was a good drive back to Berkeley. The traffic was light; tomorrow, Monday, it would be bumper-to-bumper. Jim brought in my stuff, then headed off to see his new girlfriend.
“We gotta do this again,” he said as he swung into his car. “In, like, maybe 75 years!”
I was back in my power chair by then. “Enjoy,” I said, and raised my arm in a gesture of parting. The early evening sun was warm. I headed inside, locked the door, and went to catch a nap.