A trip that left knowledge at home

Updated: May 19, 2019

My two boys, John and Greg, are 10 and 12 respectively. It’s a hot August day of 1975, our San Luis Obispo County Fair is now in my rear view mirror and I felt like the three of us needed a totally new experience to wind up the boys summer vacation.        Not having a Boy Scout troop in Parkfield to champion hiking in our community, why not have our own hike? I felt that it should be more rigorous than a 3 or 4 mile hike topped off with a weeny roast. I spent several days fantasizing what could be a hike that would tax us and still had a chance for failure tagging along. Four days seemed like a reasonable amount of time to test our metal. As for food, it would come by hunting and gathering, much like our predecessors the Yokut Indians who lived out their lives in our Cholame Valley for thousands of years and our shelter would be a canopy of stars.         The boys were most enthusiastic and were quick to tell some of their friends of their upcoming adventure.  My boys wanting to share this experience with some of their friends asked if each could invite a friend. It wasn’t long before the telephone rang and a single parent with two boys who saw the value in this happening said “Jack I’d love to send my two boys on your escapade”. Then the phone rang one more time. It was my friend and partner in different ventures “Hey Jack have you got room for one more?” Sure, so that made six “Band of Greenhorn Brothers” that hopefully wouldn’t be part of the local  channel 6 news being rescued, were ready for “come what may”.          Tuesday would be our jumping off day. I handed out to the boys what would be our provisions for the trip. You each get 7 lemon drops. I was born on the 7th and 7 is my lucky number. Each of you have a canteen cup combination, hat, knife and the shirt on your back. I will have a small pack with a band aid or two, some fishing hooks with line, a box of 22 Long rife shells, my 7 lemon drops and a 22 rifle.            Between our V6 ranch and our neighbors ranch we had about 40,000 acres to wander over in search of “growing up”. With parents and wife waving goodbye we stepped out of our carport laughing and giggling heading North. The time was a little before noon. Our ranch is mountainous changing elevations from a low point of about 1600’ up to 4400’ elev.           Onward and upward with a caviler attitude that was noisy enough to scare any chance of having rabbit for dinner gone. So my second choice would be gathering kernels of barley from a crop that had been harvested but by looking closely in the straw rows it took about 30 minutes of gathering for each of us to have a cup full of Barley. Just mix with water from a pond and some heating over a fire, “dinner”. This is awful cried my son John, I answered watch out you can break a tooth trying to chew dinner, so why don’t we let dinner soak awhile and then we'll stoke the fire and try again. But these sun dried pearls of energy were not going to give up easily so dinner was all the water you could drink and for sleep a mattress of dirt. It’s amazing how hunger can change a flavor from horrible to tolerable. So with a little Barley gruel for energy in our bellies we headed North East for 5, not so cavalier, miles to Mustang Peak. This peak of almost 4000’ elevation is where the pine trees change from Digger Pines to Coulter Pines that have very large pinecones that I promised would be full of pine nuts and full they were. But a very hard woody shell protected the sweet nut inside. Lunch was not going to be an easy harvest. Once the shell was crushed with a rock, the good stuff was now nicely mixed with shell that when bitten into was sure to break a tooth. We were expending more energy finding those tiny pine nut morsels to eat, leaving us once again in negative energy territory.               It was time to select the best hunter and shot to get some meat on the table as Wednesday was coming to a close and serious hunger was showing on our faces. My son Greg was the chosen one. While he was using stealth to feed us the rest of us hiked down to a pond that was full of Cattails that when pulled from the muck they had a white bulb that looked like a half grown scallion. Hunger once again change the flavor of anything that will help keep a person alive to this is delicious boy, these Cattail bulbs are good.               Greg how did you do getting dinner for us? Greg held up one very dead Ground Squirrel. “No rabbit Greg?”, "No I didn’t see one but squirrel won’t be so bad when I get him skinned". We weren’t that desperate yet. It was unanimous we will use the squirrel for bait. That night my sleep was interrupted when the Red Ant nest that I didn’t see when I laid my body down attacked me. At first light with everybody really really hungry and me with a nice necklace of red welts around my neck and shoulders I told my charges that with but a 2 mile hike there was a lake on the neighbors ranch and it is supposed to be loaded with Bass and Bluegill fish.            With the boys last vestige of energy a fishing party turned into a seaweed fight but didn’t last long as catching a fish became more important. While the boys were fishing I built a fire to cook our catch over. It didn’t take long for the first fish minus its innards and scales and a willow stick stuck down it’s throat it wasn’t over the fire hardly long enough to be barely warm, the boys started cutting off pieces. As the fish were caught and cleaned they were devoured half raw until we all felt reasonably full. Then from son John came a gurgling sound followed by all that nice fish coming back up and onto the ground gave permission for other to vomit their breakfast up as well.           Our fish breakfast that didn’t sit well probably from gorging on an empty stomach gave me reason to think it was time to start our 6 mile hike to our aptly named Joy Cabin. I was sure had some canned goods on it’s pantry shelf. We hadn’t gone but a couple of miles when the three older boys found a shade tree and leaned against its trunk and went immediately into deep sleeps with their energy tanks on empty. I couldn’t wake them.  My son Greg and his friend Matt wanted to continue on to the cabin. I said okay but told them I needed to hike on to home and get some food. It took two hours of hiking to reach my house refrigerator. Let’s see, one gallon of milk, a package of Oreo cookies, three big steaks and a bag of Oranges. I was able to drive within a few hundred yards of three still sleeping boys. But this time I was able to shake them awake. What followed was a truly amazing milk and cookie revival. It took only a few minutes for each take on a big slug of milk and eating a handful of Oreo’s. “Shazam” they were transformed back into smiling boys that asked a little sheepishly where Greg and Matt were? I told them that they were a little tougher than you 3 and had already hiked on to the cabin. So with their renewed energy and spirit. I gave them the remainder of the cookies, the steak, the Oranges, my pack and I got to take home an empty milk jug and a “feeling that what just happened was very important”. Now with a wave of confidence, they were off to join up with Greg and Matt and I yelled that I was proud of them and would see them Friday around noon.          Sure enough, near noon on Friday, 5 thinner but happy boys, who knew that they had accomplished something that would remain with them always,  with a badge in their hearts that said “I never asked to go home and I didn’t quit”. For me I got to lose 5 pounds and watch 5 boys do something to be proud of in spite of leaving our wisdom at home. As for the 7 lemon drops, the boys still had some left in their pockets and even though the bodies, impatient demand for energy was great these young men filled that void with grit.

                        See Ya                           Jack



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