Surviving a day in the wilderness

Living on Earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip around the sun. It’s the sudden stop at the end that concerns me.

Nevertheless, I believe I still have a few years left on my time card for an occasional weekend adventure, and with warm spring days now on deck, I decided to call my brother Marsh and suggest we head out and explore the nearby forest on a beautiful day in May.

A good hike in the woods and a lot of sightseeing would do us both some good, I calculated. Besides breathing and sleeping, it was one of the few free things left to do where cash and credit cards were superfluous.

There are no tolls in the forest. No bills to be paid. No junk mail to open. No telemarketers trying to part you from your money, no worries at work; just lots of fresh, clean air, lovely meadows and flowing streams, all part of nature’s bounty. That sense of freedom is one of the great things about living in the mountains.

“We need to take your truck somewhere and enjoy a day hike,” I said with some conviction. It would be a “no rules day,” we both agreed, meaning we didn’t need to identify a destination so much as we would just drive wherever the spirit took us. An unplanned afternoon chasing the unknown beyond the metaphorical gate suited us just fine. Our call to adventure was: “Expect the unexpected.”

I put on my shoes (laces double tied so they wouldn’t come undone during hiking), pocketed my wallet and left my dirty dishes behind in hopes they would wash themselves by the time I got back home.

Sadly, I forgot the bug spray, but more on that later.

I drove over to my brother’s cabin and we both jumped into his work vehicle and off we went, crossing over the “wrong side of the tracks,” and only then deciding to head north up County Road A-21 into the hinterlands. We continued along, admiring the beauty of the many grassy meadows that appeared off to the side of the road, with Robber’s Creek flowing briskly through one such green pasture. Marsh pointed out the well-worn “Lassen Emigrant Trail,” one of the earliest pioneer trails in the state of California that also crosses into Plumas County.

Although much of the trail had grown over since people walked or rode on horses and in covered wagons along its path in the mid- 1800s, many sections remain visible from the roadway even today. We sped up a little past the speed limit down the serpentine asphalt artery that connects Highway 36 and Highway 44, leading northward toward our “destiny.” I stuck my head out the window, wind blowing through my hair — what’s left of it — tongue hanging out like the family dog. I wondered what escapades awaited us ahead along the winding road?

Marsh has lived in the area for 40 years and he wanted to show me some places I hadn’t seen before, so this wasn’t going to be an entirely spontaneous trip as far as he was concerned. But I was game.

“Show me the sights unseen,” I implored silently to myself with a tinge of dramatic flair, finally coming upon the section of A-21 that had been straightened out several months ago near the Silver Lake turnoff.

We decided to turn around at that point, but first we drove behind the dirt embankment where dozens of huge boulders could be seen piled atop one another. Marsh impressed me with the markings clearly seen on the sides of the large rocks, made by bulldozers bullying the boulders to the side during the reconstruction of the highway.

Continuing, we were suddenly off-road, winding our way on a narrow dirt path that snaked around a thicket of trees that provided barely enough room for the truck to pass through. We realized it was time to back up and continue our excursion elsewhere.

Another location we intended to investigate was Shotoverin Lake, known for its smallmouth bass fishing. Unfortunately, the road leading up to the lake was obstructed by a snow bank that nearly covered the entire road ahead, requiring a sixpoint turnaround to continue our jaunt. Before we traveled much farther, my brother stopped the truck and decided to get out to “commune with nature” while I remained in the cab. That turned out to be our first and possibly only mistake of the day.

Suddenly, swarms of hungry mosquitoes converged upon us in a brazen attack. Marsh had on a pair of shorts and his legs were like neon signs saying, “feed here!”

Within a split second his legs were covered in a black veneer of blood-sucking insects bent on draining him dry. He quickly bounced back into the cab of the truck, slapping at his legs and face and stepped on the gas to make our retreat; but the swarm seemed to chase after us for quite a distance before backing off.

As we hightailed it back onto A-21, it took a while for the mosquitoes that had hitched a ride inside the cab to get sucked out by the draft of air once we had rolled down the windows. Those pesky mosquitoes were the only wildlife we saw that day — other than the occasional birds (vultures?) circling overhead that is.

We made a final stop at Swain Mountain Snowmobile Park, basically a large, flat asphalt parking lot used mostly during the winter months where people could unload their snowmobiles. It was there that we noticed the “low on gas” light was on. We realized we had tempted fate by driving basically on fumes throughout most of the trip, and we were still 10 miles from “civilization.” We spent a few moments deciding who would drive and who would push. Very funny, Marsh. Luckily, “It’s mostly downhill from here,” my smart-aleck brother quipped.

On the way back, one other “attraction” my bro pointed to was where a fiber optic cable was located underground that ran through Lassen County connecting Chicago to San Francisco. Somehow we made it back to town on the last droplets of gas molecules still hanging out in the gas tank.

Although Marsh was nearly drained of blood from the attack of the “monster mosquitoes,” and we came close to stalling in the wilderness where we could have been eaten by bears or man-eating carpenter ants, we could look back happily on a full day of sightseeing that made it all worthwhile.