Rock Hopping in Half Moon Bay

I decided to take off a week writing for my blog as I didn’t get up to much other than working. I was doing this wood chipper job with some neighbors that was rather taxing. I was working with some good folks and it paid well, although I got all beat up from the limbs and brush wacking me. It was pretty exhausting work for sure. After a full day of doing that I would be completely exhausted. I just wanted to come home, drink a beer or two, cook food and pass out. I didn’t have much energy for writing.

I had really been wanting to go do some rock-hopping on the south jetty up at Half Moon Bay for a while. After getting my bills paid and having a little extra left over, I took advantage of my free day this past Friday and headed up there. Since I’m almost halfway there living on the coast, it was an easy decision to make. I really like the town. Half Moon Bay is one of those towns like Moss Landing that still has a thriving fishing industry going on, I really like the vibe there. It’s an unpretentious little place like Moss Landing, the people are cool and there are some nice views to be had.

Back in my early days of fishing out here, I belonged to this online forum called ‘Pier Fishing in California’. It was, as the name suggests, primarily focused towards pier fishing. There was a thriving shore-fishing community there as well. Most of the pier fishing guys were old retired fellows, but the guys who liked to rock-hop, cliff and beach fish were younger guys like myself. We’d have meetups from SF Bay all the way down to Big Sur. I really enjoyed spending time with these dudes who really showed me a lot I know today in regards to shore angling.

The south jetty at HMB was a pretty popular meetup spot. The jetty is pretty unique in that you can catch deep-sea fish off the ocean-facing side. The rocks go almost a mile out to sea, and the water gets pretty deep pretty fast. There is a technique I was taught to fish there that involved casting swimbaits off the top of the jetty as far as you can. When they hit the bottom, you’re right at the point where the rocks of the jetty meet the sand bottom. All kinds of species like thresher sharks, rock cod, ling cod and halibut are caught there using this approach. I’ve seen all those species landed there since I’ve been going to that spot. It’s not a place for the easily frustrated, as since you’re casting into rocks you’re going to get some hangups and lose some gear. It’s such a lovely spot to go though, it is worth the hassle it takes to fish there.

Looking at the jetty from across Highway 1 where I parked The Beast.

I left the mountain around six, but by the time I drove to HMB, ate breakfast and hit up the bait shop, it was around 9 when I got to the jetty. I had brought my medium-size rod and reel shore combo to fish with this day which consisted of my 10 and 1/2 foot Shimano Talora medium-light shore casting rod with my Shimano Curado baitcasting reel. I’ve got 30 lb green Power Pro braid on the reel, and a shock leader made from 50 lb monofilament. This is my go-to setup for casting jigs from shore. Shimano makes some fine gear, I really love this combo. That coupled with some swimbaits makes for a great rig to catch whatever may be swimming out there off the rocks or beach.

A pic of my sweet setup.

The first thing I noticed when I got up on the jetty is that there was a 10-15 mile per hour wind steadily blowing up from the south. As I was going to be casting directly into the wind this was going to pose some problems. I only had 1, 1.5 and 2 oz jigheads on me, and I didn’t figure out that all of these were too light to work for me until I had hiked a half hour to the last 2/3 of the jetty. I could only cast around 20 to 25 feet when the minimum distance I needed was around 40 feet.

I was all the way out here when I realized I hadn’t quite planned for the conditions. That weird-looking thing in the background on the right is Pillar Point Air Force station.

This left me in a pickle. Should I just wait out the wind or pack up, walk all the way back to my truck and hit up the bait shop again? I checked out a wind prediction app I have on my phone called Windy and it told me the wind was only going to build through the day. The wind usually doesn’t pick up until after noon, so to have it blow up so early screwed things up for me. I finally decided to walk all the way back, make my way once again to the bait shop and pick up some 3 oz jigheads. That was the only way I was going to be able to fish successfully that day.

Back I went to the bait shop and bought plenty of the necessary tackle I needed. I debated on if I should maybe try to fish the north jetty since I was over that way. I drove over and realized that it was probably a half mile walk to just get to the rocks, and another half mile of rock hopping after that. I noped out and drove back to where I had been earlier. Once again I made the long trek out to the end. The heavier jigheads did improve my casts to get to the minimum distance I required. However, there was so much seaweed down underneath the surface that every cast brought back a lure covered in vegetation. I got snagged around 6 times in the rocks as well, fortunately I was able to get free each time.

The usual result of my many casts out on the jetty.
On the inside of the jetty, the water is calm and clear. I’ve never known anyone to catch fish on this side.
On the outside of the jetty there are constant waves and water movement. All the fishing action is on this side.

After a while, I finally got hung up and wound up losing my swimbait. I debated on tying up another one and to keep on trying to fish, but it was useless with all the salad in the water. I had a long walk and drive ahead of me so I decided to pack it up around 3:30. I made my way back to my truck and headed on back up the mountain.

Nice view of the harbor from the rocks.

When I got back up to Last Chance, Jacob informed me that Catdaddy had gotten in touch with him. He was rip-roaring to go out salmon fishing again, and they had made plans to do just that. I was pretty wiped out from rock-hopping all day, but I figured I’d be recovered by the next morning so I said I’d go with them. Hopefully I’d get into the fish once again! The odds were pretty good, the conditions were going to be perfect, and the salmon had been on the bite.

I got to bed early and caught some good sleep. The next day I was sore but had decent energy, enough for a day of salmon fishing at least! Jacob and I picked up Catdaddy and the Sea King as usual and had an uneventful launch at Moss Landing. The seas were dead calm and the winds were almost nonexistent as well. There was ample fog cover and a rising tide, so conditions were optimal for fishing.

Headed out in the foggy dawn with the Moss Landing smokestacks in the background.

Catdaddy usually has the fishing spots on his Navionics app on this phone, but a disaster happened to said phone and all the points had been erased. He had a pretty good idea where they were in relation to some of the topographic bottom features however, so we made our way to a close approximation of where the honey hole should be. We ran our downriggers really deep, around 280 feet or so. Nothing happened for a couple hours, then Jacob saw his rod doing some funny stuff. He checked it, and sure enough, it was Fish On! It didn’t put up much of a fight until it got close to the boat, then it decided to get a little crazy. Catdaddy swooped up what turned out to be a 20 lb, 35 inch salmon. It was a damn good catch. We had blood on the decks!

Another fine salmon to put on ice! Note the outline of the bite from an unknown predator underneath Jacob’s left hand.

Interestingly, the salmon has a big bite mark on its side that had to come from a sea lion or shark. We figured that it most likely was a sea lion, but thought it would be bad-ass if this warrior salmon had escaped from the clutches of a Great White Shark!

We continued to troll all around the area where the fish hit. As the afternoon wore on, the ocean remained calm and the winds never came up. This is almost unheard of seven miles out to sea, so we just stayed out on the water. Nothing was biting, but we were having a fine time out at sea drinking barley-pops and shooting the shit. The afternoon soon turned into evening, and we watched the sun sink into the sea. I can’t remember the last time I stayed out so long on the ocean fishing. We were out there twelve hours, it was a grand day to be on the water.

It’s not common for me to be watching the sunset from the sea. It was a nice way to end the day.

Well, score another one for the Sea King! Even though the fishing was slow, the quality of the one fish we caught and the excellent sea conditions more than made up for it. We managed to add some more salmon to the stockpile, and I got to go fishing for two days in a row. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.

On a final note, today I worked doing wood chipping again up in the beautiful Bonny Doon redwoods. On the way back, I was riding with my neighbor when she spotted whale spouts out at sea around Davenport. There were at least a couple pods of Humpback whales a half mile out or so, and occasionally you’d see a fluke or the random breach. It was cool to see so many whales from shore, so we pulled over and I took some pictures. They didn’t turn out very good, but I figured I’d include one just for the hell of it. Whales are just cool to witness, I could never tire of watching them wherever I see them!

Times like this I wish I had a telephoto lens!

The California Sleigh Ride

Not much has been going on up here on the mountain the past week. Still no word on Alaska. If I haven’t heard anything by Monday I’m going to email my manager at the lodge and see what is going on with the situation up there. I’ve been working some, and have been watching shows on my phone and reading to pass the time. It’s been sweltering in the day, and chilly at night. The winds have been almost non-existent during the day, so hordes of mosquitoes, flies and bees are swarming around everywhere.

For me, it’s been a choice of being eaten alive or cooking in my camper shell. I’ve mostly stuck to baking in my aluminum can with the swamp coolers on high and all windows open. This makes it tolerable. At least it’s dry, the heat is preferable to being damp and cold all day as I was this past winter. Since I don’t have anything significant to write about at the moment, I thought I’d write about my early days fishing here in Monterey Bay. I want to tell ya’ll about the time I went on what I like to call the ‘California Sleigh Ride’.

Back in 2011, I was just getting started fishing out here. I had been spending a lot of time fishing off of Capitola Wharf getting the hang of things. I would use Sabiki rigs to catch live bait like mackerel, sardines and anchovies during the day, and at night I would use these baits to try for sharks or rays after dark. It was fun, but a little aggravating having to answer the question “What are you fishing for” every five minutes from tourists & passer-by. If I’m fishing alone, I’d rather not have to interact with anyone more than I have to. It was during this period I caught the dogfish shark that I’m named after.

The Dogfish with his namesake.

I soon grew tired of wharf fishing and longed to cast a line in deeper waters where the real fish resided. At the wharf they’d let you rent skiffs for around 100 bucks a day, so I’d get friends to help split the cost and we’d go out. The skiffs only had 6 hp outboards on them so they weren’t fast at all, but you could take them up to 3 miles from the wharf. This allowed you to hit all the local reefs and do some decent rock cod, ling cod and halibut fishing.

In addition to these fish, there were stories from the guys that ran the boat rental that they’d occasionally catch white sea bass from the skiffs. The white sea bass are nicknamed ‘ghosts’ by the local fisherman because of the way they would haunt the local kelp beds. They are among the largest, most elusive gamefish in Monterey Bay. Not many anglers can say they have caught one. My friends and I would ply the skiff rental guys with booze to try and get them to spill their guts about their white sea bass honey holes, but they wouldn’t ever tell us.

I became obsessed with catching one of these fish. It was hard to do though, you pretty much had to dedicate your fishing to just that one species of fish. The way you catch them is to fly line just a hook baited with fresh (not frozen) squid and let it drift behind your boat. The chances of catching one are very slim, so when you’ve spent so much money to rent a boat, you’re going to want to fish for something that may give you a better return on your investment. We tried and tried for one of these beasts, but were never successful.

Around this time, we started hearing rumors about a giant school of these fish in the waters down by Monterey. They were only reachable by boat however. Since no one in my fishing circle had access to a boat, we were out of luck. Then, amazingly, I get a call from my friend Cole. It seemed his dad (who was an experienced sailor) had an 8 foot Zodiac boat that he wasn’t using at the time. He proposed that we should try and take it out to sea and go after the sea bass. It was a pretty crazy idea to take such a small craft into the maw of the Monterey Bay, but it just might be crazy enough of an idea to work!

At the time I was busy working, so he and a now-deceased friend loaded up the boat and took it down to Monterey one morning. It was a pretty ballsy thing to do! I was glued to my phone to hear how it worked out. That afternoon I heard from Cole. Not only did they launch successfully and not drown, they actually caught a sea bass! I couldn’t believe it, they proved it was possible! I got myself into a frenzy thinking about catching one myself. I asked Cole when he could go out again and if I could roll with him. He said he would be ready to go out in another 3 days or so and I could absolutely accompany him. I was super stoked!

I got everything ready to go while I waited for the big day. Fortunately the bait shop had a bunch of fresh dead squid which was essential bait, it’s what Cole had caught his on. When the day arrived, I went to Cole’s and we loaded up the Zodiac and the little outboard he had to propel it. I thought we were going to head back down to Monterey, but Cole informed me that he had heard the sea bass were now schooling off of Moss Landing. I guess they were migrating, following the huge schools of squid that were moving north. That was some good information to know, I guess we were going to be going out of Moss Landing that day!

Moss Landing is the best place to go out of on the Bay. It is also the most treacherous due to the fact that it is the closest to the underwater canyon which underlies the Bay. Only a quarter of a mile out of the harbor the depth is 200 feet. It later drops to a mile deep, so if you could see it from land, it would look like the Grand Canyon. It is one of the largest and deepest submarine canyons in the world. This is what makes the fishing so good, you’ve got all these nutrients coming up out of the depths that support a lot of marine life.

All this is well and good when you are in a normal boat that can take the unpredictable currents, waves and wind that result from not being in the more protected waters to the north. We were in a Zodiac of all things, not something you want to take out to sea even in the best conditions. When we arrived down to the harbor, we found the conditions to be calm fortunately. Unfortunately for us however, there was a pea-soup fog limiting visibility to a couple hundred yards. Adding to this bad news was that we heard from the fishermen at the ramp that the local fleet had found the school seven miles north and three miles out of Moss. We could make it there and back, but it was going to be a dangerous trip to undertake.

We had come this far, and the allure of having the school within reach compelled us to go on out anyway. We were equipped with a radio and life jackets, so we thought if something bad happened we’d be within range of rescue. Onward into the fog we went! As we went north parallel to the shore, the fog thinned a little so our visibility improved a little bit. After about an hour or so, we started worrying that we had missed the fleet in the fog. Suddenly, we started seeing boats pop up out of the mists. We found the fleet! They were still a ways out, so we had to go offshore a little bit more. When we arrived, there must have been at least fifty boats spread out over a mile or so. Not sure on where to start fishing, we made our way into the middle of the fleet and dropped lines.

Needless to say, we got a lot of crazy looks from the people on the boats. They must have thought we were nuts! Actually, looking back on it now, they were right! We had to do it though, we couldn’t back down. Like that old quote says, “Fortune favors the brave” and all that.

There were a lot of things we had to watch out for, one being the fact that we had a sharp gaff in an inflatable boat in 50 degree water 3 miles out. One wrong move and we would have put a hole in the thing. We had discussed the protocol on landing a fish beforehand so in the excitement one of us didn’t go wild and gaff a big hole in the boat. If one person got a fish on, the other was responsible for gaffing and anything else that happened. There wasn’t a lot of space to work with, so we needed to make sure we had an understanding.

Since we didn’t have a fish finder, we decided to fish at different depths to increase our chances of a hookup. Cole fly lined his bait close to the surface, while I put on a bit of weight so my bait was closer to the bottom. Ususally you don’t put any weight on since white sea bass are usually higher up in the water column, but I had a hunch. An hour passed by and we didn’t get any action. We were about to move to another spot when WHAM! I had Fish On!

It was like I had hooked up with a freight train. There was no doubt what it was. Until this point, I had never had anything this big on the other end of my line in these waters. It was pandemonium on deck. Cole and I were completely freaked out as I fought the beast. I would take up a bunch of line only to have it sizzle back out at almost the highest drag setting. I came close to getting spooled numerous times, but I kept up with the fish. For twenty minutes the fight went on, and for that time there was nothing in this world but me and that fish. It was probably the most intense fight I’ve ever been in, there was so much at stake. We put our lives on the line to have a shot at catching this fish, there was no way I was going to lose it!

At long last, we saw color as the fish rose to the boat. When it surfaced, we gasped at the size of the thing. It was almost as big as the boat it seemed! Cole was right on it though, he took the gaff and plugged it perfectly. With one giant heave he threw it into the bottom of the Zodiac. It filled the whole bottom of the boat. It felt unreal, like I was in a dream. Suddenly, I was aware of cheering and hand clapping. I looked up and three boats we had been a quarter of a mile away from at the start were now only about 40-50 yards away. The fish had towed us that far! It took us on a California sleigh ride!

Everyone on those boats had been watching the fight the whole time, now we were receiving a standing ovation. At that moment, I felt as proud of my achievement as anything else I have done before or since in my life. It was a moment I’ll remember on my deathbed, it was incredible. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.

After our celebrations, we fished for another hour trying to catch another one but we didn’t even get a bite. We decided to head on in, our work was done for the day. The chop had increased and it was time to make our way back before we got swamped. About halfway on our return, I was sitting on the bow while Cole drove. We were having lively discussions about our victory, and our guard was down in regards to the seas we were moving through. Suddenly, it felt like the bottom of the Zodiac blew out and we found ourselves with a boat full of water! I’ll never forget the look of panic on Cole’s face. We were still about a mile offshore, and the fish started floating out of the boat. My first instinct was to grab the fish around the tail and was prepared to swim to shore if necessary. I had no thoughts about my own life, I wasn’t going to let this fish go for anything!

Cole, moments before disaster struck.

We started bailing like maniacs. I still had no idea what had happened, one minute we were doing great and the next the whole ocean had filled the boat. Like I said, I thought the bottom had blown out of the thing. As we bailed I noticed no more water was coming in, so everything was all right. It took a while for us to calm down, that was an absolutely terrifying experience! After we got the water out, we figured out what had happened. Since I was sitting on the bow of the boat, it couldn’t crest the waves properly. My weight had caused the boat to dig into a nice swell instead of floating over it. Relieved that this was the case, I sat in the bottom of the Zodiac with the fish and we carefully made our way back to port without any further issues.

We hollered at a bunch of folks when we got back to land, and by the time we returned to Cole’s, quite a few people were there to check out the fish. It didn’t take long to slice up some massive fillets and we put on a nice BBQ for everyone. I later made a lot of sushi out of my half of the fish, it was better than anything you would find in a restaurant! It just melted in your mouth and was just all around excellent.

Another pic of the great beast. As you can see, its head was almost as big as mine! It measured 4 feet long and weighed 40 lbs.

So that is the story of one of my greatest all-time catches. I guess you could say I found my ‘Great White Whale’ like Captain Ahab did in Moby Dick. I’ll never forget the fight of that beast in such an unlikely vessel. It made one hell of a fishing story! I’d love to try fighting a big fish in say, a kayak or something similar at some point in the future. Nothing like getting towed by your catch on a sleigh ride!


Here Comes Salmon Claus

You see, unlike Kris Kringle, Salmon Claus isn’t bound to one single day on the calendar, No, Salmon Claus can ride in on his boat any day during salmon season. You always hope he’s gonna roll up when you’re out there on the Briny Deep, but it’s never a given. Well, he sure did stop and pay us a visit! I didn’t think a day could go better than our last jaunt, but boy, was I wrong!

Jacob and I got up really early this past Saturday and made the hour drive down to Catdaddy’s to pick up him and the Sea King. The day looked like it was going to be a hot one. Summer has finally hit its stride around here, and without a bimini top, it was going to be sweltering out on the water. There was some nice fog hanging on halfway down the Bay, so we hoped it would linger as long as possible.

After stopping by the Moss Landing bait shop/liquor store for ice and last-minute gear (and Jacob scoring that sweet sticker for the boat) we headed off to the boat launch. There was a bit of mechanical failure down at the ramp, but it wasn’t enough to derail our day. We soon got underway and headed on out to the area we had such good luck at on the previous outing. When we arrived, I put my freshly tied rigs on mine and Jacob’s rods and we sent our lines down to around 200 feet on the downriggers.

We were hoping for some early action like what happened the last time, but there wasn’t anything going on initially. We opened up some barley-pops and got our troll on. As these things usually go, it was a matter of working water and having patience. It was probably an hour or so into our day when Jacob’s line popped off and it was Fish On! The fish turned out to be quite a fighter as Catdaddy and myself brought up our lines and downriggers. I kept the boat straight as Catdaddy was on the net. Jacob got the fish up to the boat and Catdaddy swooped it up. It was a big ‘ol fish! I got out the scale and weighed it, and it was a 20 lb’er. That’s a big fish for the Bay! More importantly, the knots on my rig held true. No matter how secure I thought my knots were, there is nothing like testing them out in the field under real-world conditions.

The skipper with the first fish of the day.

Things were off to a great start. We got re-rigged and bracketed that spot with our trolling. It wasn’t long before my line popped, and it was Fish On for The Dogfish! I was amped as hell, as I was shut out on the last trip, so I really wanted to land this one. In salmon fishing, every fish counts. You might get one bite a day so it definitely puts on the pressure to not farm your hookup. I got it up to the boat and one of the boys netted it. It was glorious! I was whooping and hollering to bring down the house. My first salmon of the year! Again, my knots held true. I think I can safely say I’ve got this salmon rigging down.

Your’s truly with a nice 15 lb’er.
After I landed the salmon, Jacob suggested I do my best ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage impression. I daubed on some salmon blood and looked as savage as I felt!

Now we were riding high! Already the day was a roaring success. It took us a little longer to get fish on board on this outing, but every time you go out things go differently. You’ve just got to roll with whatever comes your way out on the water. Salmon Claus wasn’t done with us yet though! Not long after my catch, Catdaddy’s line went off the downrigger! You could tell by how it behaved it was a real beast. He managed to get it up to the boat and it was sucessfully landed. This one was a true beast, the biggest fish of the day! It weighed in at 25 lbs and was 35 inches if I remember correctly. We now had 60 lbs of salmon on board. Salmon Claus had not forgotten us on the 4th of July!

The spirit of Salmon Claus runs deep with Catdaddy!
A very happy crew.

Not long after the catching of the third salmon, the winds & swell started to pick up. We tried as hard as we could for a fourth fish, but as things were getting pretty nautical out there, it was time to make our way back to port. We had done what we had set out to do, there wasn’t any point in lingering around when the winds pick up as they inevitably will in the afternoon. It was a bit tricky getting back to Moss, but we made it back without any problems. Upon our arrival back to Catdaddy’s, I again volunteered for fillet duty. It’s a little tough when the fillets are wider than your fillet knife is long, but I managed. It was a good problem to have!

We were some happy fishermen at day’s end. Nothing better than a productive day out on the water.

We spent the evening ringing in the 4th in classic style and good times were had by all. Catdaddy has a vacuum sealer so we got the fillets all nice and packaged up. We each wound up with 10+lbs of fillets, it was a treasure hoard! Later on after we got back to Last Chance, Jacob cooked up some salmon slabs on the grill and we all feasted. It was just as good as before. Eating fresh salmon properly bled, gutted & prepared is always a transdescent experience. It was a great end to another awesome fishing expedition. Maybe next time we’ll try for halibut, as we’re going to be stocked up on salmon for a while!


The Crazies Are Coming Out of the Woodwork

This past Tuesday, I had time on my hands, so I ran down into town to post my unemployment forms. Maybe something will come out of it, even a little bit would be of immense help. After I did this, I stopped to get gas at Rotten Robbie’s on Mission. As I was in my truck cleaning out trash, a whole flotilla of Highway Patrol and Sheriff’s Office vehicles screamed by. The police went streaming back in the other direction a couple minutes later, followed by a fire engine. It was utter bedlam! 

I went to pay for my gas and the attendant was tripping out. I’m like, “Man, there must be a pursuit going on or something!” To which he responded, “Yeah man, they were chasing a Prius of all things! It was doing at least 65!” (The speed limit on Mission is like 25.) We had a laugh about the unlikely choice of vehicle to evade the police in. We also agreed that the world was truly losing its collective mind.

After this, I drove up to Scott’s Creek close to the bottom of the mountain where I am staying. Highway 1 on the way up was just jammed with people at every beach. It was on a Tuesday, looking like holiday crowds! I guess since everyone is unemployed, there’s nothing better to do. There was also a lot of cops all up and down the road, lights flashing. I figured it had something to do with whatever had gone on earlier.

Arriving at my destination, I was wanting to check out the beach’s fishability, and to see if there were any good-sized sandcrabs in abundance. Sandcrabs are excellent bait for surf perch, and in particular, striped bass. Surf perch are really tasty, but the meat is really mushy. It’s like the saltwater equivalent to a bluegill or sunfish. Striped bass are much more desirable, but in the many times I have fished for them, I’ve yet to catch one. I’ve always casted lures, which are effective if you happen to get lucky and find a school.

Most of the time when I have seen fishermen at the beach with huge stripers in hand, they always caught them the same way. They were caught using sandcrabs with fixed poles on sandspikes. I don’t like hauling a lot of gear around with me when I go to the beach, so I’ve been stubborn and never went that route. I just recently decided to get a sandspike and switch things up however. It only works if you find big enough sandcrabs that they’ll munch on though.

Scott’s Creek beach looking north. Usually this beach is really popular with the parasailing crowd, but there were none in evidence this day.

I got all rigged up and headed down to the water to see what I could see. The first thing I checked was the sandcrab situation. There were lots of them there, but they were all really tiny, about the size of an English Pea. Quarter size is good for perch, and a half dollar for stripers. Maybe in a month they’ll have grown and it’ll be prime time here, but not now for sure. The winds were blowing pretty strongly and the surf was raging as I made a few casts. Each time I did so, I got gunked up with kelp and other marine plant debris. It was apparent that this beach doesn’t look too promising for what I want to do, at least for the time being. I’ll have to hit it again at a future time.

The next day the first thing I did was check the news on what went down the day before involving so many police. It turns out some guy had been up right around where I had fished the day before, and had fired shots into the air. He got reported, and as the cops closed in, he carjacked someone and fled! Right after I saw the pursuit, the cops gave up the chase as it was in a crowded urban area to keep people from getting hurt. The bozo then went down to West Cliff Drive and just drove off a cliff into the ocean! It was probably a 50 foot plunge into the sea. Somehow the guy survived, and is now in a whole heap of trouble, I bet.

People are just cracking up left and right around here lately! We also just had that case of some ex-military guy looking to start the boogaloo ambush and kill a Sheriff’s deputy over in Ben Lomond a couple of weeks ago. He had a whole bunch of pipe bombs and was heavily armed to boot. The crazies are starting to swarm like mosquitoes. I guess the world ain’t ending fast enough for these kind of people.

Anyways, later on in the day, me and the boys went down to help out a neighbor that was moving out of her place. I got a chance to meet some neighbors I hadn’t met yet, and we hauled a shed and a couple of non-functional SUV’s up the hill to her new spot. When we were done, she brought out all kinds of food and we had a nice little BBQ. It was really nice and relaxed, with dogs, kittens, and chickens hanging out with us as we all socialized. It’s such a nice pace of life up here, when someone needs help, all the neighbors pitch in to get things done. It’s like it was in the old days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a community like this in this part of California. I’ve never been in another place like it in the Santa Cruz area.

The past couple of days I’ve just been chillin’. I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s WordPress blogs to see what is going on out there in the blog-o-sphere. It’s been good to see how other writers express themselves and to maybe give me ideas how I can express myself better. I realized how important it is to have good tags on your posts, for instance. I’ve always enjoyed reading people’s blogs, but now that I’m writing one, seeing how everyone else approaches their topics is helping me to refine my own vision here on Tales of the Dogfish. It’s nice.

I found out today I may have some work coming in from my previous employer so that’s some real good news! I had thought I was out of that scene, it would be great to get back on board that train. I’m right at the edge of destruction financially, so that was reassuring news to hear. Another thing that is cool is that tomorrow, me and the boys are going back out to sea for another go at some salmon. We were short on salmon rigs, but between Jacob and I, we had the pieces to make our own. This is a skill I’ve been wanting to master for a while, so I just sat down and practiced until I got it right. Now that I know how to tie them, it’s going to be a big savings. They are going for 13 dollars apiece if you buy them at the bait shop, but if you make your own, the cost is only 4 bucks! Definitely the way to go!

My first snelled salmon rig. I actually learned how to tie an adjustable snell rig at the same time. Killed two birds with one stone!

We’re feeling good about tomorrow, the conditions look good out on the Bay for a day of fishing. I’ll see if I really did a proper job of tying those snells, if I didn’t, my boys might make me walk the plank! All right, Happy 4th of July everyone. I hope ya’ll can all celebrate the best way ya’ll can, given the current circumstances.


Doin’ the Last Chance Boogie

My return to Santa Cruz went about as I expected. After a night back at where I had been staying, I got the boot. The situation between my friends had only deteriorated in my absence, and it was no longer a viable situation for me to continue to reside in. My good buddy Jacob had told me it was cool if I stayed with him, so I gave him a holler. He told me to head on up to his place way up in the mountains if I wanted, but he was on his way to our friend Catdaddy’s house to spend the night.  The next day they were planning to take their boat out of Moss Landing to go salmon fishing, and he suggested I should come along.

So my friend Catdaddy actually is the first person who started calling me Dogfish, so in a way he is the Godfather of this blog! His actual name is Brandon, same as mine. When we first met 16 years ago, I told him, “Dude, it’s weird calling someone else my own name. How about if I call you Catdaddy? Where I’m from in Louisiana, Catdaddy is a term of great endearment.” He was down with it, and a week later he suggested that he should call me Dogfish. I think around that time I had caught a dogfish shark and so that’s the origin of that. I thought it was a good idea, and so The Dogfish was born!

So anyways, I digress. I was super stoked! Hell yeah I want to go salmon fishing! I cruised on over to Catdaddy’s house and it was wonderful to see my boys, as well as Catdaddy’s lady Kelsie and our mutual friend Jenny. They all are part of my core family out here and I hadn’t seen them since before the pandemic. It was a great reunion, and we all had some drinks and caught up with each other. Man, I had really missed those guys! I felt like a new man being around my crew.

We got all rigged up and ready to go out early the next morning. After about 2 and 1/2 hours of sleep, we rousted ourselves and made our way down to Moss Landing to launch their boat, the Sea King. The conditions were perfect, the engine started without a fuss, and we made our way out to their secret salmon spot. When we got there, they were already rigged up, so they went ahead and lauched their lines out on the downriggers. I still was setting up at the time, so it would be a bit until I was ready to go.

Not three minutes after they were at depth, BOOM! Both their lines went off! That hardly ever happens when salmon fishing, especially right at the start of the day. It caught us all off guard! We must have set right on top of a school. I set my rig down and grabbed the net as they both fought their salmon. It was a chaotic scene! The first salmon to come up was Jacob’s. It was a savage fighter, and would keep going on wild runs everytime it came up to the boat. Finally, it surfaced and I moved into position. Just as I was about to net it, it made a hard turn into the prop and severed the line. That fish was a smart rascal, it out-manuvered us utterly!

There was no time to mourn the lost fish, as Catdaddy had gotten his fish up to the boat immediately after. This time, I sucessfully got the net into position and swooped it up. We whooped and hollered that at least we got one fish on the boat out of the pair! It was a chunky salmon that measured 30 inches, one damn fine fish with great color.

Catdaddy with the first fish of the day.

It’s not often you get blood on the decks so quickly in the day. It felt like a great omen. We trolled back and forth for a while with a couple of bites but no takers. Finally, a couple of hours later, Jacob’s line popped off and it was fish on! It was his opportunity to get his revenge on the fish he had missed earlier. After a short fight, he sucessfully got it up to the boat and Catdaddy netted it this time. It was high-fives and celebrations all over again. Two fish in the boat is a sucessful day on the water, and we had done it before ten o’clock. It’s a good feeling knowing your fishing expedition is a success so early in the day. Everything else from that point on is just gravy!

Jacob with the second fish of the day. It was a bit smaller than the first at 28 inches, but still a fine specimen with beautiful color.

Okay, so now that these guys had gotten theirs, it was agreed that I get dibs on the next one. After another hour trolling, one of the lines went off and I got into position to reel it on in. The fish was on for a bit, but then it came off unfortunately. When I reeled in the bait, it had been bitten in half, just short of the hooks in it. That was one crafty fish for sure! We were outsmarted once again by Team Salmon. The hours passed by and we didn’t get any more action. The winds stayed down, and the sun stayed hidden behind cloud cover all afternoon. You could not ask for better conditions. Around 4:30, we decided to pack it up and head on in to shore.

Couldn’t ask for better company out on the high seas.

We made out way back to port and headed back to Catdaddy’s to cook up a salmon feast! Since my buddies were so nice to invite me out, I took care of the fish filleting and cooking. Jenny helped me out with the fish and veggies, which was really nice of her. I baked the salmon with butter, chives, garlic, dill, lemon, Tony Chachere’s seasoning and fresh ground pepper. Jenny made some nice zucchini and mustard greens. All the veggies except the garlic came from their garden, so our meal was about as fresh as you could get. It was the best fish I have made in a long time, it was a great feast. What a great way to end a truly red-letter day. It was the best day I’ve had this year!

I spent another night there and made my way up to Jacob’s place up in the mountains the next day. He lives in the most remote part of Santa Cruz county in an area off of Last Chance Road. The community that exists up there consists of old-school hippies from back in the day. The whole area is off-grid, so people up there are all rugged and self-sufficient. Everyone helps everyone out with everything, from milling their own wood to building structures to vehicle repair.

There’s still a bit of the old-west mentality up there, in that everyone has each other’s back. You don’t want to cross anyone though, people there won’t put up with any bullshit. I’ve spent time up there in the past and I really like it. Folks up in Last Chance remind me of people I grew up around in rural Louisiana. It’s nice, quiet and peaceful. Everyone minds their own business, it’s nice. Supposedly the name ‘Last Chance’ comes from the founding of the community back in the beginning of the 20th century, when grizzly bears were still around. Allegedly, this was the last chance a person could have at that time to see a grizzly in California. It’s amazing such a rural place still exists in the Bay Area.

The incredible view from up here. That’s the ocean in the very background, ten miles away. At night I can hear the waves breaking.

I rolled in around late afternoon to find Jacob there waiting on me. We were both pretty haggard from the events of the last couple of days, so we just kicked back and chilled. Another old friend of mine, Brian, was staying up there, he came in later and it was good to catch up with him. He is from South Carolina, so it’s good to be around another Southerner. All of us go way back, so I’m in good company up here.

In exchange for letting me stay up here, I’ve been asked to help with the many projects going on. This is fine with me, I’m glad to help out doing whatever I can. Yesterday we split a whole bunch of firewood that needed to be done while we had access to the neighbor’s splitter. At the end of the day, Jacob cooked up a mess of salmon and it was so freakin’ good. It was a great meal to end a hard day’s work with.

So for the time being, at least I have a stable place to stay with good friends and good vibes. It’s a nice place to be. Unfortunately, my economic situation is beyond critical. I’ve run out of money and am down to my last 60 bucks on my credit card. The only bad thing about living up here is the long distance into town. It’s about 45 minutes each way, and my V8 engine is a guzzler. Gas is a major concern. I’ve got maybe two weeks worth of food on hand. There is a local stream that has small trout in it, as well as a fishing beach about a 25 minute drive downhill. I hope I can supplement my meanger rations with some fish.

Since everyone thought I’d be going to Alaska, I was replaced by a couple of new workers at where I had been making good money. That was a hard hit. There is some work coming my way in a couple of weeks, but that’s a long time to wait. In the meantime, I plan to send in my unemployment application in and see if I can get anything from that resource. It will be at least another couple of weeks until I know what is up with that. I’m doubtful if I’m eligible for anything but it doesn’t hurt to try. I’ll try to hustle up something in the meantime, but with coronavirus running rampant in California, I feel another total shutdown is imminent. My bills are hanging over me like the Sword of Damocles, I’ve got to figure out how to pay for my storage units and truck insurance at the very least.

I thought I knew what stress was, but now I have entered into a new realm of uncertainty. My guts are in constant knots from all the anxiety. Thank god I have a good group of friends that are helping out as much as they can. I’m just hoping and praying that Alaska works out, it’s the only hope I have at the moment. I should know about that any day now, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Camping, Off-Roading

The Expedition Draws To A Close

Day 19

Altitude: 2542  Stoke level: 9  Temperature: 100-75 degrees  Condtions: windy, sunny

I had already written about much of the day in my previous post, so I’ll start from mid-afternoon where I left off. Like I mentioned before, after my Zanax-assisted sleep and the good steak I ate for breakfast, I felt like a million bucks. I felt the most relaxed I had felt on this whole trip. I’m getting into the rhythm of this place, I think.

Later on when the lake and the wind died down, I planned on trying one last time to catch a catfish. Instead of fishing directly off of the shallow beach where I am at, I’m going to cast off some rocks over to the left of me a short distance. There, the water is deeper and has a better chance of being fishy. I have a big light-up cork for night work. I’m going to try and drift some nightcrawlers in the top part of the water column instead of fishing off the bottom like I usually do for catfish. There are a lot of weeds down there, and perhaps my rig had been getting lost in the underwater thicket.

Well, that was the plan anyway. I wound up getting so comfortable I passed out for the night. I absolutely hated to lose a whole evening, especially the last one I planned to spend there. I guess I needed the rest!

Day 20

Altitude: 2896  Stoke level: 1  Temperature: 99-81 degrees  Conditions: calm, partly cloudy

I woke up around 5:30 AM after a solid bit of sleeping. I could have slept in longer, but as I was going to leave this place today, I wanted to at least try my plan of drifting a nightcrawler under a float to see if I could get anything to bite. I rigged up and climbed up on the local rocky point to see if I could capture the interest of any fish. Unfortunately, after a couple of hours, there were no takers. I did get a close look of the mystery fish and they were indeed carp. I could have tried to catch them with bread balls, but I just didn’t feel like bothering with them.

After this fruitless exercise, I returned to The Beast and started getting everything stowed away to break camp. I wanted to go into town and get one last bit of ice before heading north along the Kern River. There were free dispersed camp sites up that way, which was the direction I was going to go in anyway. The idea was that I was going to spend one more night on the river before I returned back to Santa Cruz. Maybe, just maybe, I could finally catch a trout, or at the very least get in some fly rod practice in.

As I headed up Kern Canyon, I noticed that every single free place to camp was just loaded with people. I figured that in the middle of the week most folks would be at home but I was wrong. I was feeling exasperated and craving a decent meal, so when I passed McNally’s burger stand advertising their “World Famous Burgers” I had to stop. The burger, fries and a large coke set me back 15 precious dollars, but it was worth it. The burger was the tastiest I had eaten in a long time. It was perfect. The fries were awesome as well. That cheeseburger was the only reason that this day scored a 1 today or it would have been a flat 0 on the stoke scale!

I made my way back to a halfway decent open campsite back at the beginning of the canyon I’d skipped over in the search for something better. A short walk led me down to the river and it was really beautiful. I got out my fishing rod and tried to do a bit of bait dunking but there were tons of weeds in the water that kept snagging me up. As my frustration levels kept rising, I remembered that there were a couple of gold spots left that I hadn’t checked out! As it was getting on the afternoon, I should have stayed put, but the gold fever took ahold of me and I took off in search of color.

I should have stayed where I was at. I went on a 3 hour, 60 mile wild goose chase. Both sites were, you guessed it, closed due to coronavirus. I was pissed that I wasted some 20 bucks in gas on this spontaneous jaunt. I rushed back to my original site in low spirits, hoping that it was still unoccupied. Amazingly, it was! I sat down, opened a beer and just stewed in my own failure. When I opened up my camper to get something, I smelled wine. Horrified, I looked and an almost full big bottle of Pinot Noir had fell over and lost its cork. The whole contents had dumped themselves all over my dirty clothes basket and all my clothes were soaked in wine.

Flying into an unholy rage, I bagged up all my white clothes and threw them away. There was no amount of bleach that was going to get rid of those stains. This happening was the final straw, I just snapped. This is what it all came down to at the end, squandered wine and ruined clothes. I was done with this trip. No matter what I did, it allways turned out to be a waste of time and resources. It was time to head back before something else went completely to shit. I’m down to my last 170 bucks and 3/4 of a tank of gas. I dread the misery I’ll be in back in the Cruz, but hardly anything on this expedition has gone right. It was time to get back to where there is hopefully some work waiting for me so I won’t starve.

Goodbye road, goodbye freedom. Hopefully I can return and do this trip proper when the corona restrictions are finally lifted. What I really hope is that I get the go-ahead to head up to Alaska here soon. I’m tired of living my desperate Santa Cruz existence, but right now it’s the only existence I’ve got. I’m hoping I’m not returning to a nightmare, maybe things have stabilized in the last three weeks since I have left. I’ve got no choice but to see for myself.

Day 21

Altitude: 1827 ft.  Stoke level: 5   Temperature: 107-63 degrees  Conditions: calm, partly cloudy

My last wakeup of the expediton. Goodbye road, it was an adventure.

This morning I woke up with a heavy heart. It was time to return to Santa Cruz to face whatever lay in wait for me there. As I prepared everything to get ready to go, I found this huge spider that had been hanging out on the curtain over my head all night. Glad he didn’t mess with me. As I said before, spiders don’t really bother me that much when they aren’t in my living space.

Since my camper is far from airtight, I get a lot of spiders in my cab. Ninety-eight percent of the time they are the tiny little ones I don’t mind hanging out with. You’ve got that two percent of big ones that I do not like to have in there with me however! I like and try to catch and relocate them when I can. This one got his ass crushed for being all up in my personal space though!

I don’t think he was venomous or anything. It would have not been a good thing if it fell on my face while I was sleeping!

When I had gathered up everything and was ready to go, I took off. My route took me through Kernsville and I bid farewell to that sweet little town. I can’t wait to return someday a bit better prepared. I took the highway down Kern River Canyon towards Bakersfield. It was a nice drive following the river down the mountain. There were a bunch of pull-offs where people had stopped to fish. I checked out a couple of places and was tempted to cast a line to see if I could catch anything. I was just in a mood to get on down the road and decided not to stop however.

The trip back was uneventful. The main difference was seeing how life changed as I drove further north and west. Everyone was back to wearing masks everywhere, and there was a real sense of doom that I hadn’t experienced the last 3 weeks over on the far side of the Sierra. I could almost pretend that The Great Ruiner wasn’t a problem anymore where I had been operating out of. People seemed free and happy in places like Bishop and Kernville. Usually I am glad to return to Santa Cruz after a time away, but the closer I got to the sea, the gloomier my mood became. I felt like I was returning to prison after a temporary furlough.

When I got back to town, the first thing I did was drop off my firearms and most of my excess camping & fishing gear at my storage unit. I held on to my favorite pole and tackle box, because now that I have my licence I’m going to be hitting up some beaches for perch! Being down to my last hundred bucks, I’m likely to be fishing more for food than for pleasure. I returned to where I had been staying and was greeted warmly by my buddy and his wonderful dog. It was good to see them both. My friend had been having some bad health problems while I was gone but he seemed to be doing ok now.

Unfortunately, it seemed that he and my other friend that owned the property were still having serious problems and it looks like he won’t be around much longer. I had hoped things would have calmed down the three weeks I was gone but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m most definitely going to have to find a new place to stay really soon. I do have another friend who has offered to let me stay with him so tomorrow I’m going to hit him up.

As for work, my buddy has relinquished his supervisory role to my other friend, so he couldn’t tell me what was going on with that. Being very nearly broke, there better be something happening on that front or The Beast and I are going to be facing some empty bellies real fast.

I took a much-needed shower and set about washing the enormous amount of dirty clothes I had accumulated during my expediton. While my clothes were washing, I did some repairs to my curtains and did a deep cleaning of my living space. I found a slightly smaller version of the model of spider I had slain earlier actually!

Usually, I always feel better after cleaning, but it didn’t take away the dull empty ache I felt in my gut. Life feels so uncertain and precarious for me right now, no amount of organizing or cleaning can really rid me of the negative feelings I had upon my return.

I’m just reflecting on my expediton as a whole right now. Was it worth it or not? The majority of my trip was filled with misery and frustration. I could really use that 1200 dollars I blew right about now. On the other hand, I got to experience some new places, and did have some really good moments on the journey. Jawbone Camp was the best campsite I could have ever hoped to stumble into, and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and Lake Isabella were excellent places to spend time.

The truth is that it was really hard to fully enjoy anything knowing that I was supposed to be in Alaska fulfilling my dreams. Nothing can fill that void in my heart. As much as I love Santa Cruz, I now know that there are other places in this state I feel more at home. I feel like I have moved on from this place, but I had nowhere else to go back to. There is an element of comfort being back here, but it is overshadowed by everything else that is going on.

I’ve got friends that are going through hell right now right along with me in different ways. It seems the taint of this wretched year is the gift that keeps on giving. I had thought that by now things would be getting back to normal, but they seem to be getting worse. I don’t know what in the hell to do. It seems that every decision that I make to try to improve my situation just blows up in my face. People I used to count on aren’t as warm as they used to be, while others are going above and beyond to offer whatever support that they have.

These are the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls. I’ve seen the best and worst in people come out these last few months of misery. I’ll tell ya’ll one thing though, The Beast has done one hell of a job getting me through all this wretched awfulness, even before The Great Ruiner had to piss all over everything. He sheltered me, transported me back and forth across the country, and delivered me from the sketchiest of situations. He is a true soldier, and has always had my back.

So this is my final entry of this expediton. I don’t know what else to say other than that it was one hell of a ride! For good or ill, this expediton did instill a love of doing this blog and reawakened my passion for writing. If it hadn’t been for this cursed virus, this trip would have been a lot higher on the stoke meter for certain.

I went to some cool places, but consistently couldn’t get access to the things I wanted to do there. I guess that made the trip unique in its own way. I tried to make the best of it. It did make for some entertaining things to write about though! The most interesting travel writing is about when things go wrong, in my opinion.

Now that I’m reflecting on this whole experience, I feel like a completely different person. The best way to describe it is that I feel shell-shocked, but way more confident than I was pre-expedition. I just feel more resilient in general. Tough expeditions tend to deplete, but also fortify one’s being. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time, that’s for sure.

Even though this trip is done, I’m going to keep this up for sure. I’ll do my best to keep it from being boring. It does certainly help keep me sane! No matter what happens, this Dogfish will continue to keep the fires lit and the light on here. It’s therapy for me, and I hope it continues to be entertaining for all my readers. Hope ya’ll enjoyed the ride so far, stay tuned!

Camping, Off-Roading

Lord of the Flies

Day 15

Altitude: 3200 ft. Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 99-74 degrees  Conditions: light to moderate wind, sunny

I bid a fond farewell to the town of Bishop today. I really liked that place. It’s a town made for people like me. Everywhere you look there are backpackers, 4×4 vehicles & RV’s. A lot of people use the town as a base for explorations of the surrounding Sierra Nevada. There’s all kinds of sporting goods stores and just a general vibe of people getting geared up to go places. It was time for me to leave though. Can’t sit still too long when one is on an expedition!

I remembered what Barney had told me the day before about Saline Valley so I looked it up. It actually is closed right now due to coronavirus, and since it is in Death Valley National Park, I’d have to pay expensive park fees to go explore it anyway. That being a no-go, I had to make a decision whether to go back the way I came up to Markleeville (where the temperatures have gotten much warmer) west to the lower Mother Lode (taking a chance of finding a good place to camp among all the closures) or go south to Randsburg (my original plan).

I don’t like to backtrack if I can help it, and all this trip I just wanted to be warm at night. The logical decision was to drive the 2 and 1/2 hours south to the Mojave Desert. I hadn’t been to this section of the desert before, but all the better! I know this part of the state well, having been here before on previous expeditions. I’ve only been to Joshua Tree and the Mojave National Preserve however, Randsburg was in an area that was new to me.

I made my decision and had a great drive down the 395 South. The mountains lost their snow and I watched my in-cab thermometer keep going up and up. When I started seeing joshua trees and the temps starting getting into the upper 90’s I felt like I was home! I drove through Ridgecrest, which I only knew from being the epicenter of the big LA quake back in 1994, and eventually arrived in the little old mining town of Randsburg.

Randsburg was a trip! It was a mile off the 395, and it looked like an old west town that had barely modernized at all. There were shacks and trailers all over the place. There was a main drag that made me feel like I had stepped backwards in time. Other than a saloon, a cafe and a general store, there was no sign of human activity anywhere. I can understand, the temps were in the mid-90’s at 3 in the afternoon and I wouldn’t have been moving around if I didn’t have to either!

The main drag in Randsburg. Not much going on as ya’ll can see.
Another view of Randsburg overlooking the town. Still no signs of life.

I made a couple laps of the place and went to go check out this old mine that my gold guide had told me about. The road didn’t exist anymore, so I was out of luck. The other two sites were a good ways out of town, so I decided to call it a day and went to some nearby BLM land to seek out a campsite. I drove about 15 minutes out of town and found the place I was looking for. There is desolation everywhere and it was hotter than the sun, so there are no people or laws to worry about messing with. My kind of place!

I set up camp about a half mile from a railroad track in the middle of nowhere and just kicked back. A couple of trains passed through, but other than that, all was quiet and peaceful. I had some writing, editing & truck cleaning to do so that kept me busy. One thing that really sucked is that my camp was beseiged by hordes of big fat desert flies all afternoon! I had to stop once every couple of minutes to swat at some big ass flies that kept landing all over me. They were a bunch of assholes! It wasn’t until dark that they left me alone. I had forgotten just how buggy the Mojave can be at times.

After darkness fell, I cooked up some dinner. In the lamplight as my supper cooked, I started seeing good sized spiders crawling around all over! At first I was stoked because they were the first big spiders I had seen on my trip, but when I noticed that they were all over the place it got me a little concerned. I have heard about these aggressive camel spiders that actually like to hunt down people and bite them. I don’t know if these are those kinds of spiders, but if they are, I’m pretty fucked because they are everywhere!

These jokers are everywhere! Not huge, but not small either.

I don’t really give a damn about the bugs in all honesty. It is awesome that I’m able to sit outside at 11 o’clock at night in my t-shirt and shorts and not be cold at all. It’s a little breezy, but it’s a warm breeze. This is all I have wanted on this whole trip, to just be warm at night. It’s also great to be out & about on a Friday and not have to deal with any weekend warriors. This place is too hardcore for those posers, ha ha! It’s going to be hot as the devil tomorrow and I’m not sure how I’m going to go about dry panning in this heat, but that’s another worry for another day. I’m just happy to be at a lower altitude so I can breathe again, and to be exploring a new place in California.

Day 16

Altitude: 2845 ft.  Stoke level: 2 Temperature: 106-85 degrees Conditions: moderate wind, sunny

The weather conditions of my expedition have completely turned around in the opposite direction than they were at the start. It was hotter than Hades today. I felt like my brain was frying like an egg in a skillet. The only thing keeping the stoke meter from being a 0 is that my new campsite has a decent view.

I got up today in good spirits. I had slept pretty decently, although I was awakened by the heat at 7:30 this morning. My plan for the day was to travel about 15 minutes down the road to this dry gulch off of Mesquite Canyon Road. In the past, miners had made a couple of small lode mines off the road, and supposedly there still was gold in the wash underneath the mine sites.

As I made my way up the road that was in good shape, I found one of the mine entrances and parked in front of it. At first I felt like I had a pretty good spot, but as I got set up, I realized that this site was twice as buggy as my last spot. In addition to flies I had these little desert bees swarming me. The tone was set for the day when I cracked a cold beer. Before I could even take a sip, a damn bee flew right in there! I tried to wash him out, but wound up having to dump the whole thing. What a waste of a precious resource.

It looks like a deep hole, but actually extended only about 15 feet or so into the bedrock.

The bugs were just swarming me like mad. As the sweat began to flow, it made me even more delectable to the little bastards. I grabbed my gold pans and headed down the wash to play in the dirt. I only did about three pan’s worth of concentrates before the heat became too much to bear. Dry panning is definitely an art, but it is one that I’m going to have to work on. I can get a full pan down to about a half cup’s worth of concentrate, but without water I can’t go any further. I had plenty of water but I didn’t want to waste any with this task. I saved what I processed for a later time when I have a good water source. There were definitely some shiny flecks in there, I bet that they are gold!

I was in a bind after this. It was too hot to retreat into my camper, and it was too buggy to relax outside. I tried to put up with the bugs as long as I could, but finally climbed in the camper to wait until darkness fell and the bugs would go away. I turned on my swamp coolers full blast and passed the time watching episodes of The Office, sweating my ass off all the while.

The blessed moment when the sun finally set behind the mountain.

When at long last I was freed from the tyranny of the heat and bugs, I rejoiced! There was still a good amount of wind blowing that was really annoying, but I’ll take that any day over the heat and insects. I was starving but was too dispirited to feel like cooking. I finally managed to get the energy to make up a batch of Indonesian noodles and was glad I made the effort. As I was cleaning up, this little mouse kept running up to me and would dart back into a nearby bush every time I moved. He must have done this 20 times, it was a fun little game we were having. It was the most positive thing that happened today, it helped raise my spirits a bit.

Better watch out for the sidewinders Mickey Mouse!

This was one of the lowest days I have had so far on this expedition. There’s no way I can deal with this heat, so tomorrow I’m going to be moving on. There’s a spot further to the west on the Kern River that is supposed to be good for gold, so that’s where I plan to head tomorrow. I’d rather wait until Monday so the weekend warriors can filter out, but I can’t take another day in this hellhole. It was so hot that it started melting this rubber lizard I keep on my dashboard, it is not a good place for me to be.

After this next stop, I’m going to have to wrap up this trip. I wish I could keep going, but I’m getting so low on funds that I can’t sustain it much longer. If I can find one flake of gold and catch one fish I’ll feel like this expedition is a success. I’m just so beaten up by everything that I have gone through though, there’s a part of me that just wants it to be over and done with. I hate feeling that way, but there’s only so much frustration and misery a man can deal with before he cracks. I’m not far from that point, sorry to say.

Day 17

Altitude: 2542 ft. Stoke level: 9.5 Temperature: 91-79 degrees  Conditions: moderate wind, sunny

Today, I was reminded of something my literary hero and eternal sprirtual mentor Hunter S. Thompson once said. His quote was “It was as if I had fallen into an elevator shaft and landed in a pool full of mermaids.” Well, that is exactly how my day went down.

It started as much as one would expect from Hell’s own buffet. Hot as the Devil’s own piss, ha ha! I had a plan to get down to this place called Lake Isabella in Kern County where gold and fish were rumored to be plentiful. Sounded good to me! I felt positive about having an action plan despite the last couple days being spent on somewhat of a wild goose chase out in the desert.

I knew the day was going to be blessed when I looked up some recent Coast to Coast material to listen to on my trip. Amazingly, I found that Ian Punnett had just interviewed my patron saint of fishing, Jeremy Wade! Whoo-ee, I was ultra stoked! I knew it was going to be a good run on down to my next destination. With good ‘ol Jeremy talking about all things fish, I rolled on down the mountain to the next spot on the expedition.

As I made my way up and into new territory, I got out of the desert wasteland and fell into this really cool valley full of joshua trees! It was so freakin’ cool to see so many of my old amigos growing strong here in this little pocket up out of their range.

There ain’t nothing better than a whole thicket of joshua trees as far as the eye can see.

I’ll never forget when I came around that last bend and first fell eyes on Lake Isabella. The ‘Hallelujah’ chorus rang in my ears so strongly! I couldn’t believe what it was like to see this huge body of water just appear right out in front of me in the middle of the desert. Was this for real? No freakin’ way! Indeed, at long last, I had stumbled into my own desert Vahalla.

It was super dope, I looked down at this mini Lake Tahoe sized body of water and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There were sailboats and small yachts everywhere. There was a sandy shore full of RV’s, campers, and people in every direction. I had never heard of this place before! From what I’ve come to understand, this is where all Bakersfield comes to party on the weekend. Being as Bakersfield is considersed to be a kind of shithole area by California standards (my apologies to any Bakersfield readers, but you know it’s true) I can see how this area got overlooked in the great scheme of things.

I was just so blown away by what I was seeing everywhere. This was a happening place! My mission here was not to party though, it was to get up into some gold action. There was this historic gold mining site called Keyesville up out of town that I was wanting to get up into. I followed the directions to get up into the trailhead where I encountered a guy and his family in the process of unloading their OHV (off highway vehicle). When I parked to check things out the dude came over to chat. He told me that the trail I was about to tackle was super gnarly and he thought it’d be a miracle if The Beast could make it. We shot the shit for a bit, and he offered to take me up the trail in his buggy to see if I thought my Beast could handle it.

I took him on up with his offer, and we rolled on up a ways. I quickly determined that it would be a total clusterfuck for sure if I took The Beast up there in that direction. I told my new buddy all about my mission to find gold and fish, and he had some good things to say. He told me that this was the only way into the gold grounds that I was wanting to get into. The dude wasn’t really much of a gold guy, but he told me about one time he went up into this one particular area and just filled up a baggie full of a random handfull of sand he plucked from the riverbed. When he got home, he washed out his sample to find he had a bunch of fine gold! This was from just a random grab!

I thought that was rad as all hell. As we talked he told me about some good fishing spots and places I could camp without being messed with. I’m like, “so how does the local law enforcement around here deal with out-of-towners like me just finding spots to chill and just kickin’ it? He’s like, “Man, as long as you ain’t blocking any roads or causing a scene the cops don’t give a fuck. It’s pretty conservative up here. Actually, I’ve got my CC (concealed carry) permit here in the state of California. It’s one of the only strongholds we’ve got here in the state for that.”

No freakin’ fuckin’ way! I’ve done found me a good ‘ol boy! I’m like, “Dude, I roll with my pistol and my shotgun, and with out of state plates I’ve just had the fear that some quisling California cop is gonna bust my Louisiana ass and fuck me over with my guns somehow.” He showed me his .45 and said, “Dude, around here, don’t worry about that shit. As long as you ain’t shootin’ or making a spectacle, the police around here respect gun rights.”

I tell ya’ll what, this was some good shit to hear from a local. This sounds like my kind of place! I love California so much, but it is so anti-gun it is pathetic. As a Louisianan, I was born with a gun in my hand, and there ain’t nobody that’s gonna fuck with my right to keep and bear arms. Thank god there is an enclave here that is all about that. There are still some patriots out here in the West, thank God!

My new homie took me back down to where his wife and kids were patiently waiting for us to return. I bid farewell, and never even got the feller’s name. He was a true bro, and I was really blessed to make his acquaintance. I think we both equally stoked each other out, it’s a good thing to happen amongst men.

After we parted ways, I decided I wanted to go scout out the northern reaches of Lake Isabella. There were some USFS primitive campgrounds up there right on the lake I wanted to go check out. On my way down I was just floored by the beautiful views so I stopped to take a good picture. Right as I was getting good and set up, some Mexican dude rolled up and hollered at me. I was tripped out for a second, but then he asked if I could take a picture of him and his girlfriend, I’m like, “Hell yeah bro!” and I got some good shots of him and his lady. In return, he took a shot of me.

Not the most flattering pose, but I can’t go wrong with Lady Isabella at my back.

I went a little further on down the road and reached my destination. At long last, I found not only an open campsite, but one that had dispersed camping all the way up to the lake! It was insane! After 2 and a half weeks of brutal conditions, it was like I stumbled into Eden. Yesterday I was at war in Satan’s backyard, battling hordes of soul-sucking insects, Now I’m calmly at peace on the shores of a beautiful placid lake. What a difference a day makes indeed!

It’s been a long while since The Beast and I have been lakeside. I’m getting some Baja vibes from this place.

So here I sit at the lakeside at 4:30 in the morning, after being up all night writing. Suddenly, I realized that I can see without light. It is astronomical dawn right now here! The sky is at the first glimmers of dawn. All of a sudden I am aware of a bunch of bats that came out of nowhere all of a sudden. With the slight increase of light it woke up the mosquitoes a bit. This in turn emboldened the bats to get one last feed in before they go to bed. I don’t want this to sound creepy, but I literally have to duck my head out of the way of all the bats swarming me right now. They are picking off the mosquitoes which are starting to swarm my head, so they are actually doing me a favor! It’s not exactly awesome when bats get within a foot of my face, but I’m cheering them on. We’re on the same team after all! Go Batman Go, get yourself some skeeters!

The light at 5:15 in the morning. Hello summer solstice!

Day 18

Altitude: 2542 ft.  Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 99-69 degrees  Conditions: windy, sunny

After staying up until dawn writing, I got maybe four hours of sleep before the nuclear furnace overhead made it impossible to continue. The steady 15-20 mph breeze dropped to nothing overnight, then resumed blowing again around noon. It was a truly excellent evening, typing in the lantern light. Bugs came in swarms, one moment I’m covered head to toe in about 3 different sizes of gnats and the occasional mosquito. The next moment, they totally vanished. It was perfect when both bugs and breeze were out of the picture.

One thing I forgot to mention last night as I was writing is that every now and then I’d hear a fish splash right out in front of me. I know the sound of a catfish flopping in the water like I know my own voice. They are definitely out there. The only thing that stopped me from fishing was that I didn’t have appropriate bait. I have different kinds of Powerbait and salmon eggs, but no nightcrawlers or chicken liver. I didn’t plan on catfishing, but that’s what’s on the menu if I can catch one.

I decided to make a run into town and grab some bait, along with other camping necessities like ice, booze and propane. When I got into town, it was like it was the Fourth of July! People were everywhere! I went into the bait shop/market and it was full of customers. Not a mask was to be seen on anyone, anywhere. It was the first time I’ve seen that on this expedition. It’s pretty much business as usual in Kernville.

They didn’t have any chicken liver, but they had lots of nightcrawlers. I grabbed a box and paid for my stuff. After this supply run, my financial state has officially entered critical territory. As of now, I’ve got enough to get back on, as well as enough for a week’s worth of groceries. I hope to God there is some work going on when I get back, I’m sure going to need it. I have enough supplies to go one, maybe two more days before I’m going to have to pack it in. It’s the last thing in the world I want to do, but it must be done.

I came back to the cove where I was camping and got busy getting my rig sorted out. I got my shade structure up, and jumped in the lake to bathe. It did me a world of good to get clean and cool off for a bit. The heat was just debilitating. Once I got settled in, I decided it was time to wash out my paydirt I had brought with me from Randsburg. I washed the pan, constantly scanning for any gold that might appear. Lo and behold, I actually found of couple of flecks of color! They were tiny, about as big of the period at the end of this sentence. They were tiny, but were unmistakenly gold. Even with such microscopic flecks, the gold color just glows. You can’t miss it. It was just crazy the amount of work I had to do for just two flecks of gold. Oh well, at least I didn’t get completely skunked on the gold-finding part of this expedition!

Some local lake loon came over to visit during the day. Didn’t see him get any fish, a bad sign.

After I did this, I started feeling really weak and depressed all of a sudden. These are tell-tale signs of dehydration I’ve observed in myself over time. I got into my cab when it got cool enough and got hydrated again. It was a gradual process, but eventually I got to a state where I felt like I’d be in decent form for a night of catfishing.

As I waited for the wind to die down, I passed the time watching my favorite River Monsters episodes. They are the ones where Jeremy Wade goes after the giant goonch catfish. When he jumps into that raging river to keep from losing that 160 lb. beast, I always have to holler! He is so hardcore! I was hoping some of his fishing luck would rub off on me.

Around midnight when the lake and the winds laid down, I got out my gear and got lines in the water. All night I’d alternate between nightcrawlers for catfish and salmon eggs for any trout that might be around. I got a couple bites on the worms, but that was it. There were still plenty of bugs around and spiders crawling around everywhere. This place is not for anyone who is an arachnophobe! They were crawling around everywhere eating the hordes of flying insects attracted by my lantern light.

As I passed the time drinking wine and listening to podcasts, I saw something weird crawling up my catfish rod. Upon closer inspection I found a little frog crawling up my pole! He must have wanted to get in on the bug action as well! He was a cute little feller, it was crazy seeing a tree frog of all things out in the desert. I guess the lake conditions allow such little creatures to live here.

My little frog friend wanted to go fishing as well!
The town of Lake Isabella looks pretty at night. It’s nice watching the cars go back and forth.

As morning got closer, I got really tired and took a little catnap. I woke up right before dawn and immediately noted that the fish were back from the previous day. I got really excited to see these packs of fish just slowly swimming around occasionally popping something in the water with a big splash. Undoubtedly some had to have been catfish, but I had no idea what these other fish were. They were everywhere! I tried every trick in the book to catch these creatures to no avail.

I finally got out my fly rod the first time on this trip and attempted to get a dry fly out to them. I was thinking that maybe they were feeding on the bugs landing on the water so this approach might work. I got in some really good practice casting, but couldn’t toss a fly more than 10-15 feet away. This might work on a small river, but not on a big lake like this one. Around ten they finally went away, so I put everything away and cooked up a big steak for a late breakfast.

As I was getting everything put away a young couple came over to me that had just set up camp a little ways down the beach. I wasn’t in the mood to do anything but crash, but all they wanted was to see if I had any bug spray they could use. I don’t guess they were prepared for the bug onslaught that happens when the wind dies down. Fortunately for them, I had almost a full bottle of Deep Woods OFF I let them borrow.

As it was already over 100 degrees in my cab, I popped some emergency Zanax I keep around for these kind of situations to knock me out during the heat of the day. Before the meds kicked in, I posted the videos I made of the mystery fish to the r/Fishing subreddit to see if the people on there could help me ID these mystery fish that ignored all my bait offerings.

I had a good solid benzo sleep and woke up around 5:30 feeling fit as a fiddle. I saw that the youngsters had returned my bug spray with a five dollar bill. Such nice young people! I got on Reddit to see if anyone had any ID on the mystery fish and the verdict was unanimous: I was dealing with schools of carp. Having never fished for carp I didn’t recognize them. They eat stuff like corn and bread as they are vegetarians. It was recommended I use a drop shot with a bread ball to catch them. I hear carp are pretty bony, so I don’t know if I want to go through the trouble to catch them.

I’m going to try to fish one more night and after that I’m done. My ice is already melted so that’s that. I figure I’ll kill time until the early morning hours and try one last time for a nice catfish, I still have a few nightcrawlers. I’m pretty disappointed so far with the fishing at this place. A couple of hundred yards offshore I’m seeing all kinds of big fish leaping up in the air and it is frustrating I can’t get out to them. If only I had some kind of raft to get out there! That’ll be something I’ll have to bring next time. Well, hopefully I have some better luck fishing tonight, I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

Camping, Off-Roading

The Brutal Majesty of Existence

Day 12

Altitude: 7090 ft.  Stoke level: ? Temperature: 78-39 degrees Conditions: breezy, sunny

Today was a real trial for me. It was mentally and spiritually exhausting. All of the stresses and anxiety I have felt on this expedition finally caught up with me on this day. I found out that the Alaskan home-sit opportunity was a no-go, so that was a real bummer. I guess they found someone else to go with. Oh well, that’s the way she rolls sometimes.

I actually had a good night’s sleep for once. Not only did I dream after a long time without doing so, but they were some really good damn dreams at that! I took this as a good sign going into the day.

As I was perusing the internet this morning, I read this great piece of travel writing about walking the Santiago de Compostela route in Spain. This is one of the most legendary hikes in all of the world and one I’d love to do someday. The author mentioned a film starring Martin Sheen called ‘The Way’ being about that subject that had been inspiring to her. I was in a movie watching mood and I’ve always liked Martin Sheen, so I managed to find and stream it. It is one of the finest films I’ve seen in years. It might be my new favorite actually.

It is written, directed and produced by Emilo Estevez, but stars his father. Emilo appears in it as his father’s onscreen son. His screen time is brief unfortunately, but it makes sense in the context of the film. He does say the best line of the the movie, “You don’t choose your life, you live one.” It’s been a long time since I have seen Emilio in anything, I’ve missed him. Ever since I saw him in ‘Young Guns’ I thought he was the shit! Anyways, it’s an absolute masterpiece of a film. It is about a man whose son dies on the Santiago de Compostela. When he goes to Europe to retrieve his son’s remains, he is driven to complete the walk that his son never completed.

It was a tour de force that had me crying half of the movie and laughing the other half. This movie affected me profoundly given my current life situation. It just really felt relatable to me on multiple levels. I cannot recommend this film enough, you must see it.

After I watched this film, I just felt emotionally wrung out. All of the anxieties and frustrations I’ve experienced the past week and a half just boiled over. I kind of just had a bit of a mental breakdown. At the bottom of this breakdown the phrase “The Brutal Majesty of Existence” just lept into my consciousness. I started thinking about it, and just started cracking up. Just what in the hell does that mean anyways? I wasn’t completely sure, but I felt like it just summed up this whole expedition in a single phrase!

It turned my mood around laughing about it, and afterwards I set about getting myself back in order. I hadn’t been eating much at all the past couple of days due to stress and altitude, so I broke out some of my survival ration mac and cheese to eat. It was so much better than your average Kraft-brand boxed stuff. Patriot Pantry makes some damn fine long-term survival rations. I don’t work for them or anything, just a very satisfied customer. If you’re ever in the market for that kind of product I’d recommend them.

So as I was getting set up to write this blog entry in the light of my Coleman lantern earlier, I spied this big ‘ol bug crawling around on the ground. Now, I’m up in the high desert, so immediately I thought with its size and way of moving around it was a tarantula. Now, I’m kind of neutral on spiders in general, but I think tarantulas are really neat. I went to go check out what I thought was a big ‘ol spider.

It turns out I found some kind of freakish creature that I’ve never seen before out here in the desert! It looked to be 50 percent grasshopper/locust, 25 percent ant and 25 percent tarantula. It moves and scurries like a tarantula would, but looks like some kind of mutant cross between species. As I tried to take a picture it scurried to hide under a rock. It took a lot of poking him with a stick to get the little joker to come out and pose for the camera. Once I got him out into the light and he saw I meant to do him no harm it just hung out and chilled with me for a while. I could tell that this was a smart little insect, whatever the hell it was.

If ya’ll know what this crazy creature is, let me know. It looks like some crazy hell-beast, but I kind of liked him. I’d bet it would be an interesting insect to keep as a pet.

I hung out with him a good five minutes or so, then when I tried to pet him he got tired of me and went back under his rock. Whatever the hell it was, it was a cool little creature and it really boosted my spirits. You really never know what you’ll encounter out here in the desert!

This has been quite a day to say the least. I realized that I had some tramua left over from the past couple of days that shook me up more than I thought it did at the time. I don’t think I really could put into words the sheer terror I experienced up there on that treacherous mountain. I can’t remember the last time I had such a prolonged engagement with such a constant level of high stress like that. It worked me over good. The Beast & I made it through with battle scars to show for it. Now I feel badass as hell! The Beast and I had to work & persevere together as we never had before. It was a perfect savage frenzy of man, machine and mountain. I’ll never forget it for as long as I shall live.

So now the question is where do I go from here. I really like this part of California, but it is still too cold and windy at night for my taste. Even though I am technically in the desert now, I want to just go on further south down into the desert proper. No more cold for me on this trip. It’s halfway through June for crying out loud! I actually know of a place to go look for gold at this place called Randsburg. I’m worried that the stream there might be dried up by this time of year, but if so maybe I can work on my dry gold panning.

First though, since I’m so close, I want to go check out the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest near here. I’ve always wanted to experience these trees, they are the oldest known non-fungal lifeforms on earth. They are over 4000 years old, and the Methuselah Tree is 4851 years old. These trees were already ancient when Troy fell. When Paris shot his poisoned arrow into Achille’s heel, these trees were growing strong.  Almost all the civilizations we have ever known have risen and fallen, and yet these trees have stood sentinel on their mountaintops through it all. Through wind, rain, snow, and pestilence, these trees have survived. I’ve known about these trees for years up in the White Mountain range, and I’m looking forward to finally experiencing them in real life.

I also am thinking it would be nice to cash in some of the Airb&b credits I have left over from my Alaska trip for a night. I am just utterly filthy, it’s been almost two weeks since I had a shower. The idea of being in a nice, warm, wind-free environment and sleeping in a real bed for a night would really get me back in sorts methinks!

Edit: I was informed by a friend of mine that weird bug I found is what is known as a Jerusalem cricket. I have heard of these insects before but I never knew what they looked like. Well, now I know!

Day 13

Altitude: 4161 ft.  Stoke level: 9 Temperature: N/A  Conditions: N/A                                  

I finally hit the wall on this expedition. After another night with temps down in the 30’s, I had to take a break from the elements. I used my Airb&b credits and booked a couple of nights at the Day’s Inn in Bishop. I really hated to use my credits, but I had reached a point where I was shattered. Nearly two weeks of the road life left me really needing a hot shower and a warm bed to rest up in.

Boy oh boy, I really made a good decision on that one. I don’t think I have ever appreciated a mediocre hotel room the way I do this one. It took me 20 minutes in the shower to get the dirt and grime off, and my towel still had dirt marks on it after I dried off. Dust is still coming out of my pores! I hated to spend money on fast food, but after I got cleaned up I had to go to Taco Bell and get a bunch of nachos and a large Baja Blast. It was the height of decadence lying on a nice comfortable bed and chowing down on some nachos, let me tell ya’ll!

I’m already feeling 100% better, and after some solid sleep tonight I should be feeling like Superman! That is good, for the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest awaits me on the morrow. I hear you’ve got to get an early start if you want to hit up all the trees in one day, so it’s going to be an early bedtime for me tonight. I’ve no problem with that, I’m absolutely haggard at the moment and my body is craving rest.

I feel really good about finally getting to see these trees. When I was around 20 years of age, I got a photography book that featured the Forest and the pictures just blew me away. I swore that someday I’d make the pilgrimage. That time is now and I’m super stoked about it. I feel tomorrow is going to be a good day indeed!

Day 14

Altitude: 11265 ft.  Stoke level: 10    Temperature: 88-43 degrees     Conditions: light breeze, clear blue sky

It turned out to be as good of a day as I had hoped. I coudn’t have asked for better weather to go check out the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. It was so hard for me to get out of the bed this morning though! I could have slept for another whole day, I was so tired. I had wanted an early start because I knew that there was a lot to see and I would need as much time as I could to do it. Once I had a good breakfast and got up on the mountain however, I felt energized and ready to go see these mountain ancients.

Views from White Mountain close to the entrance of Schulman Grove. This is looking westward towards Bishop.

There are three trails to take up at the main visitor center located at Schulman Grove. I decided to take the Methuselah Trail first, as it was the most difficult and longest. This trail has the oldest and largest trees. The Methuselah Tree is located somewhere on this trail but it isn’t identified as such. I guess they think people would mess with it. People being people, the Forest Service is probably right. One thing that bothered me is that I didn’t have a guide to interpret the numbered signs on the trail. Usually you get those maps at the visitor center but it was closed due to coronavirus. On the plus side, that meant I didn’t have to pay a fee to enter, but I would have gladly paid to get a map, see the exhibits and support the upkeep of the park.

The hike wasn’t that bad, but being at 10,000 feet altitude, I spent a lot of time stopping to catch my breath. It was all good though, there weren’t a lot of people around and I didn’t feel crowded or rushed. It was nice to stop and rest at nice benches every quarter mile or so and take everything in. It was an absolutely beautiful place to hike. I felt every worry and scrap of anxiety leave my body. You could just feel the energy of these ancient trees. They weren’t the most beautiful of trees, but they just had such a rugged, wise character to them. It was impossible to feel anything but peace and joy around these powerful forces of nature.

You can see why they call these the White Mountains. The light color is from dolomite, which only the Great Basin Bristlecone and Limber Pines can grow in.
An old tree still growing strong.
The dead trees make the coolest pictures!

There were more than just cool trees to look at, there was a lot of nature on display as well. I saw golden eagles, ground squirrels, and a mountain bluebird. I couldn’t get a good picture of any of them except for the ground squirrel. The bluebird in particular was almost neon blue in color, I’ve never seen a non-tropical bird that color, it was wild!

Ground squirrel chillin’ with his ground score.

As the hike progressed, the sun shifted position in the sky and gave better light to take pictures by. The grain and color of the wood cannot be appreciated with noon-day light. There is a texture to the grain that I’ve never seen before in trees. How these trees survive as long as they do is a result of the tough environment. They don’t grow but just a little bit every year, and keep their needles for like 40 years at a time. They secrete a really potent resin that helps keep away pests as well. I had heard that it had a really rich smell, so at one point I got some sap on my fingers just so I could get a whiff for myself. It was the deepest and richest pine odor I have ever smelled in my life. I kept thinking what a tremendous incense it would make!

As the angle of the sun changed, it helped me to take better shots.

It took me about two and a half hours to hike the 4 and 1/2 mile trail. I was famished when done, so I made a couple of sandwiches down in the parking lot. After lunch, I decided to tackle the Bristlecone Pine Trail which was a two and a half mile loop next. It wasn’t a tree-focused trail, it instead wound around some old miner’s cabins and mineshafts from back in the day. The original miners had actually chopped down a bunch of trees to make the structures they needed to do their work back in the 19th century. It was sad seeing all the stumps of the trees, but they didn’t know any better. In fact, a lot of their mining activity actually buried a lot of pinecones so there is a little kindergarden of baby bristlecones growing out of the mine tailings! They destroyed some trees, but inadvertently grew new ones, so the destruction canceled itself out!

One of the old miner’s cabins made from bristlecone.
The bristlecone kindergarten!

As I was hiking up this trail, I started getting super worn out. I haven’t been hiking in a while, and doing it at altitude had just sapped my strength. I made it to the top of the ridge and decided to come back down. I still wanted to see Patriarch Grove, which was a little journey up the road, at sunset. This being the case, I felt like I needed to conserve what energy I had left. On my way back down the mountain, I passed a tree that was the biggest tree I had seen so far. For whatever reason I hadn’t noticed its enormous size on the way up. Was this the Methuselah Tree, hiding in plain sight on the trail it wasn’t expected to be on? I didn’t know, but it was one huge, healthy, and probably super ancient bristlecone. It was as big around as a lot of old-timer redwoods I have had the pleasure of encountering.

The biggest bristlecone of the day, all hanging out by its lonesome.

Upon returning to the parking lot, I downed a Powerade and rested for the final push up the mountain. Patriarch Grove was the highest bristlecone trees on the mountain, a 12 mile haul up a gravel road from Schulman Grove. Even though it was only 12 miles, it was said to take an hour to traverse as it was pretty washboardy. These trees are right at the treeline at over 11,000 feet. They are not the oldest or the biggest, but they stand out more starkly against the landscape. At the Golden Hour, I was hoping to get some good pics up there.

As it was getting later on in the afternoon, I decided to make tracks instead of taking on the last trail I hadn’t yet hiked down. My feet were aching from my new hiking boots, and the 6 and 1/2 miles I had walked during the day had pretty much whooped me. I didn’t know how much further I would have to hike, so I decided to get on down the road.

Awesome views going up towards the summit of White Mountain.

The road up was very good by off-road standards, but I had to go slow as not to shake The Beast to death. My timing wound up being perfect however. As I pulled up into the parking lot of Patriarch Grove, the sun was still a good 45 minutes from sinking below the western mountains. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot, so obviously this was a spot well-off the beaten path. It was a lot colder than it had been downhill, and the air was super thin. I checked my altimeter and it read 11,265 feet, which is the highest I have ever been on the ground that I have ever recorded. It was a pretty sparse place, I can’t believe anything can grow there at all!

I started to hike up to the trees to get some pictures in before it got too dark. As I ambled up the trail, I ran into this old guy who was the owner of the only other vehicle in the parking lot. He was a friendly old dude named Barney, and we had a nice chat. He was up there to do some night photography, and he had already picked out his tree he was going to work with. I haven’t really talked to anyone much on this expedition with all the social-distancing stuff going on, so I told him all about my journey so far. When I told him about my aborted Alaska trip, he told me he had been a fishing guide up there in his younger days and we had some good conversation about Alaska. He’s like, “No matter what, you’ve got to do everything you can to get up there, it is the best place to be.”

I’m like, “I know dude, that’s what everyone tells me!” He knew what was up! As a local guy, I asked him where I should go after I left Bishop. He said I should go and check out Saline Valley over in Death Valley National Park. It sounded like my kind of place to visit. I made a note of it and we parted ways to go about our photographic business.

My favorite shot of the day. I thought this tree looked like an Ent with its arms raised in glory to the sunset.

It didn’t take long for the sun to fall beneath the mountain, and so my day was done. It took another 2 hours to plod my way back down the mountain. It was all good though, I had such a great time up there with those old trees. That coupled with having a hotel room waiting for me at the end of the road filled me with much vigor. I was really wanting to eat some pizza so I stopped and grabbed some Domino’s on the way back. It was just a hum-dinger of a day all around. I wish all the days could have all been like this one on this expedition. I went to bed exhausted but happy.

Tomorrow I plan on leaving Bishop and going back to my old stomping grounds in the Mojave Desert. As much as I’d love to explore the Bishop area more, I have had my fill of cold and alpine conditions. I’m ready to get back to the desert I love for one last hurrah before this trip is done. Hopefully I can dry-pan myself some gold down there in the wasteland. I’ll have to see what is up down there in those parts.

Camping, Off-Roading

Winter Strikes Back

Day 8

Altitude: 7161 ft. Stoke level: 4 Temperature: 81-50 degrees Conditions: very windy, partly cloudy, storming late

When I woke up this morning at Jawbone Camp, it was quite a bit cooler than it had been the last couple of days. The wind had picked up, and I felt the weather shifting yet again. The summer is trying so hard to happen in the Eastern Sierra, but Old Man Winter just won’t let go. I needed reprovisioning and wanted a change of pace, (plus I desperately needed ice as I stated before) so I regretfully struck camp and made my way down to Bridgeport.

I stocked up on gas, ice, propane, a knit hat and gloves down in town. Fortunately my cooler stayed cool enough overnight that I didn’t have to throw out my perishables. I grabbed some fries and a Coke from the local burger stand, and made use of their wi-fi to finally upload the last week’s worth of posts to my blog. It really felt good to get my writings out there! I tried to link it to my Facebook which I  may or may not have succeeded in doing. Only time will tell, I didn’t have the time to mess with it all that much.

Today’s plan was to go about an hour south of Bridgeport to a popular off-road trail called Laurel Lakes. It was rated an ‘intermediate’ trail which made it iffy for something that The Beast could handle. Sometimes I can handle those trails and sometimes not. The main attraction was a fishing stream with camping sites about halfway up, with a lake up at the very top. In my guide it said that the top was generally snow-bound until mid-July, so I wasn’t expecting to get that far. Halfway up sounded good to me.

I drove south down Highway 395 which is kind of the mountain equivalent of the Pacific Coast Highway. It is beautiful the whole length of it, I had never been on this section before, however. It was a great drive, there was a vista point with a great view of Mono Lake I just had to stop and get a picture of.

You won’t get mono from Mono Lake, nor any fish either. The salinity is too high for almost all life to exist.

I stopped in the town of Lee Vining to get some tequila and wine. Bridgeport’s liquor and wine selection was a joke, but the little market there had the goods…the prices were astronomical though. Everything in the Eastern Sierra is super expensive since it is so far away from population centers.  Gas is over 4 dollars a gallon and propane is over seven bucks a can! Crazy even for California!

I followed my GPS coordinates to the start of the Laurel Lakes trail and noticed all kinds of vehicle traffic headed up that way. It being a Friday, all the weekend warriors come out to play and clog up everything. That’s why I hate to move camp on a Friday but it had to be done. I deflated my tires and proceeded up the trail. Right away I could tell this was going to be one of those gnarly trails that were more meant for Jeeps than the average stock 4×4. I got a bad feeling about it as The Beast lurched from one big rock to the next.

As I was stopped doing some vehicle adjustments, a friendly young couple and their dog headed down the mountain stopped to chat. They said that the road only got worse, and there was impassable snow at the very top blocking access to the lake. The guy was driving a full sized Chevy almost as big as my F-250. He reckoned that if he could get almost all the way up, I should have no problem getting up to the section I was wanting to get to. They warned me that just a little ways further was a couple of very tight switchbacks that might give me some trouble however.

I thanked them for their advice and proceeded upwards in 4-Low. Just as they said, a few hundred yards up further I ran into a super tight switchback with a very narrow trail full of nice suspension-snapping rocks. At first I thought I could do it, but after carefully lining up my truck to make the run, my gut told me to back off. I felt The Beast could handle it, but my instincts told me there was a good chance of damage if I went any further. If I had the money to fix something if it broke I would have tackled it, but it was too risky. I have to admit I chickened out.

Too much of a goat trail for The Beast. It got the best of us today.

Well, I am no stranger to having my plans ruined, so I descended the mountain. When I reached the bottom I scanned my guide for a viable alternative. It was starting to get close to the time in the afternoon where I like to make camp, so I had to think quickly. I decided on a trail rated easy called ‘Buttermilk Road’. It was about another half hour to the south about ten miles outside of the town of Bishop.

I quickly re-inflated my tires with my trusty Viair compressor and made tracks. During the thirty mile run, the landscape shifted from alpine to desert, it was quite a trip. It started looking more like Joshua Tree or Death Valley kind of terrain. The elevation dropped and it got a little warmer. This made me happy, I finally might get out of the cold!

I arrived to Buttermilk Road and was greeted by a wide, well-maintained off-road. It was a little too easy for my taste, but it was better than the goat trail of Laurel Lakes. It was super washboardy though, I had to let the air out of my tires yet again to have somewhat of a smooth ride. The scenery wasn’t as nice as it was up around Jawbone Camp, but it was still pretty cool. It actually reminded me a little bit of Joshua Tree with the cool rock formations I saw on the route.

Looking a little bit like the Mojave around here.

About halfway through the loop the road made, I saw a trail that looked like it might lead to a cool campsite. I followed it until I found somewhat of a decent place to stop for the night. It wasn’t Jawbone Camp quality, but it was a bit better than Dogtown. With not much daylight remaining, I decided it would do. I parked and set up my new hundred-dollar shade structure off the back of my truck. After I set up my camp chair, I sat down and proceeded to get comfortable with my bottle of tequila.

Almost immediately I realized I had chosen a poor campsite. The wind picked up and started knocking the hell out of my poor shade structure. Just when I thought I had it locked down, a giant gust of wind blew open my camper door that I thought was closed and ripped a hole in the shade structure. I cussed, got super pissed off and took the whole thing down. There was going to be no lounging around outside at this campsite this evening.

The winds started getting super wild as I sought protection in my camper. Clouds starting blowing overhead that really were looking nasty. I actually have a little bit of internet access up here so I checked the weather and found that yet another storm front was moving through dumping snow and high winds all over the Eastern Sierra. Where I was at outside of Bodie was below freezing and snowing! Thankfully I had the luck to move down here, I wouldn’t have wanted to get caught in that mess. It looked like we were still in for it here on the southern end of the storm however.

Ominous clouds at sunset.

Hellfire and damnation, it looked like another miserable night was at hand. I had tequila this time to numb the cold though! I was so pissed off however, and for the first time on this trip I felt fury. I can’t escape this piss-ant wind! It ripped a hole in my new shade structure and kept me from cooking any food. I had to settle for eating a couple of cold cheeseburgers, it really sucked.

As I am typing this around ten o’clock the wind is blowing with incredible force. My truck is rocking all around like a ship at sea. It’s only 52 degrees but the wind seeps in everywhere making it feel at least 10 degrees colder. So far I am resisting breaking out the propane heater, that thing burns through so much expensive propane that I’m really trying so much to ration.

It’s going to be another night in the icebox it seems. Thankfully I have this tequilla to keep me warm and a bunch of good stuff downloaded from Amazon Prime to keep me entertained. I also bought another off-road guide while I was in Bridgeport so maybe I can figure out some better camping options. This shit is just getting ridiculous. At least when the weather is bad it keeps my mind off of my problems.

A week into this expedition and I have yet to see any gold or fish, what the hell? I never expected winter to be pissing all over the place in this part of California. Over on the coast we were getting some nice weather, and generally the further you move inland the warmer it gets. The weather is supposed to get warmer the next few days so maybe this is winter’s last stand, I sure hope so. I’m far too broke and at the end of my rope to be dealing with this bullshit.

I know that there is a great camp somewhere with my name on it. There has to be some ups somewhere to balance out these downs I have been having, it is the way of the universe. I don’t have any other option to keep searching until I find my own personal Valhalla. Onwards and upwards I will go even if it breaks me!

Day 9

Altitude: 7161 ft. Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 84-38 degrees Conditions: calm, sunny

At long last, today the winds stopped almost completely. It was the perfect temperature as well, warm enough so I could lounge around all day in my boxers but not so hot that I had to turn on my swamp coolers. It did wonders for my stoke level as you can see!

My camp turned out to be an ok place once the winds died down. Since it is a Saturday and the aforementioned ‘weekend warriors’ are out and about everywhere, I decided to take another rest day. Incredibly, I actually have decent signal at this remote spot, so I spent the day having some much needed & appreciated conversations with my mom and dad. I also caught up on a bunch of internet stuff and downloaded a pile of new movies, shows and podcasts to keep me entertained for the non-connected future.

There’s not a lot to write about today other than the fact that this was the most comfortable day I’ve had so far this expedition. In fact, it might have been the most comfortable day I have had this whole year! I’m really liking the conditions of this area, this was what I was expecting out of this trip. It’s super cold right now at 2:38 AM, 41 degrees, but with my heater going it’s quite alright. The weather forecast for the upcoming week is highs in the 90’s and lows in the 50’s so that is going to add to the stoke meter for sure.

Right now the question is where I’m gonna go from here. I’ve been thinking about it all day, and I’ve decided to focus back on my gold panning. Since it refuses to get warm up north, I’m going to look into some gold panning sites on the other side of the Sierras from where I am at now. If that doesn’t pan out (pun intended, ha ha!) I’ll look into other good rockhounding places locally. Southern California has good tourmaline and other gemstones in abundance. I just want to get my hands in the dirt and pull out something of value.

At the very least I’ll get to see parts of California I’ve never experienced before. That’s really what this expediton is truly all about. You could spend a lifetime exploring this state and still not see all there is to see. As many gripes as I have about this state, it’s so beautiful all over. I’m grateful to be here despite all the complaining I do about the weather & stuff. I love the West, and I love feeling like I’m starring in my own personal western. 

The past is not far gone around here, and everyday I am reminded of the days of gunslingers, highwaymen, miners and adventurers of a by-gone era. I’ve often felt as if I was born 150 years too late, but I’m living a lifestyle right now that gives me a taste of what the old days were like. It’s pretty cool methinks!

Day 10

Altitude: 10283 ft. Stoke level: 3 Temperature: 91-32 degrees Conditions: calm, mostly sunny

Today was a day for the history books. I’ve never faced such extreme, gut-wrenching off-road conditions. For starters, I drank too much beer yesterday on an empty stomach and only got about 4 hours sleep. I was feeling super nasty, but I really wanted to hit the trail. I didn’t do anything the day before so I felt I should motivate myself.

The view heading down Buttermilk Road towards Bishop.

I had in mind this trail called Coyote Flat. The main feature I was interested in was this little high alpine lake that supposedly had decent fishing. It was an intermediate level trail which made me apprensive, but it sounded like a great destination so I was all in. Before I went up the trail I stopped for supplies in Bishop. I really liked the town, there was a laid back vibe and people were friendly. I was craving tacos so I stopped at a taqueria. I was suprised to see that they were allowing people to eat inside, with appropriate distance between tables of course.

After getting some tacos in me, I headed up to the trailhead. As it was a Sunday, a lot of people were heading out as I was going in. There was only one lane and it was pretty hairy getting around traffic. I got into it with one dude almost immediately. I was going uphill and had the right of way, but this guy laid into me as I passed him. He bitched that he had the right of way and I told him he was wrong. I was surprised by his reaction, as most off-roaders are pretty pleasant people.

So as I headed up the trail, I started getting a bad feeling. It was right at the level I was comfortable with driving. It had all the bad stuff I hate, tons of big sharp rocks and uneven ruts that I was close to flipping The Beast on. We were getting battered, gear was just flying everywhere. I didn’t listen to my gut, as I had already abandoned two previous trails due to conditions and I was determined to make this one work out for me.

An example of what I had to deal with. I barely made it up over these rocks and dragged bottom pretty badly.

I climbed and climbed for a couple of hours and finally made it to the plateau on top. The trail actually improved a bit up there, but it was still pretty gnarly. The views were incredible however. I began to feel better about things, like I had left the worst of the trail behind. Unfortunately, this would not be the case.

Epic views on top of Coyote Flat.

I got to where the turn-off was for the lake and headed that way. Immediately things got super rough. The rocks were bigger than ever and I was starting to get a little freaked out. It was definitely a trail for Jeeps and small off-road vehicles. The Beast kept lurching over boulders and dragging bottom with sickening sounds of scraping metal.

Ugly looking stuff to have to pick your way through.

At one point at wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have due to exhaustion and stress, and heard a WHAM come from the passenger side. I was stuck bad on something. I got out and I saw that I had bottomed out on this huge boulder on the right side. It was really bad. I couldn’t tell if I damaged the u-joint or tie rods on that side, but my running board was all bent up into the air. I had really messed up, and without a winch or high jack I might not be able to get out of this predicament. I basically had to gun it and rip myself off of the rock, damn the consequences. Fortunately it worked out, but my poor running board was all messed up.

The evil boulder.
The damage done.

When I cleared the boulder I stopped and checked out everything. I luckily only sustained only superficial damage, but I was in full panic mode. There was no way that I was going to go out the way I came in, so I had no choice but to keep going to this lake. As I picked my way through the miserable terrain, I started getting traffic behind me. A guy in a dune buggy told me that the lake was very close and I should be able to make it if I went very slow. Encouraged by this, I kept inching forward until I finally saw water ahead of me. There was one last bad hill to get down, but somehow I made it through.

I drove right up to the small body of water that I thought was the lake and stopped. I was shaking like a leaf from the adrenaline and exhaustion. My nerves were completely shot. As I started sorting out the mess in my camper, I saw the dune buggy from before rise over a hill and head in my direction. The guy rolled up and told me that this wasn’t the lake, it was actually a few hundred yards away and that’s where everyone was at. He had been worried when I hadn’t arrived and had come looking for me. I was very touched by his concern, but I was completely done for the day and didn’t wan’t to go a single foot further.

A lovely little campsite.
A view from the other direction. The lake I was looking for was right over that hill.

I was so tired that all I wanted to do was get comfortable, write this blog entry and go to bed. I was so worn out I couldn’t bring myself to even cook supper. I figure tomorrow I will go over there and see what the fishing is like. I just couldn’t deal with people tonight.

So there is actually another way out of this place. I asked the guy if it was easier going than the way in and he said he thought it was. There is no way in hell I’m going back the way I came though! To tell ya’ll the truth I am terrified of heading back out. There is only one other time I was in a comparable situation with The Beast. We made it through then and we’ll make it through again somehow. My guts are in knots thinking about what I’m going have to face on the way out. It should be easier because I am mostly going downhill, but my brakes are starting to squeak and act up a bit. This has me worried about controlling my descent over all these tire-busting, axle-breaking rocks.

I’m going to get some good sleep tonight, and hopefully with a clear head I can deal with this anxiety better. At least there seems to be a decent amount of traffic going in and out so if something bad happens I can get some assistance. I’ve only got about five hundred bucks to my name though, so if something breaks I’m going to be up shit creek without a paddle. I think that this will be the last intermediate trail I’ll tackle on this expedition. It’s just not worth the stress and anxiety, I already have enough problems to deal with.

I’m just going to have to see how she rolls. One thing for sure, I’m definitely going to get my fish on tomorrow! I’m going to do the best I can to enjoy these stunning views while I am here. I feel like I’ve earned that right for sure.

Day 11

Altitude: 7124 ft. Stoke level: 3.5  Temperature: 86-58 degrees Conditions: very windy, party cloudy

It was hard to come up with a stoke level for today. The first half of the day was a solid 0, but here at the end I’m at a 7. I figure I’ll split the difference and call it a 3.5.

Today was the day of the Great Descent. It was every bit as rough as I thought it would be. These past two days have been the most stressful time I have ever had behind the wheel anywhere at anytime. It was a living nightmare.

Things started out ok. It got down to 32 last night. It’s about what I expected being at 10,000 feet. Thankfully the winds were calm or it would have been miserable. As it was, the cold woke me up several times in the night. I was dressed in double layers and a sleeping bag rated to 4 below zero and it was still harsh on me. I got decent sleep and felt like I was better able to deal with things than the day before however.

The winds were blowing pretty good and it was looking like some weather was rolling in, so I decided to nix fishing for the day and just head on down the mountain. My anxiety levels were such that I just couldn’t relax up there knowing the hell I was going to have to go through on my way back down. I just wanted to get it over with. I at least wanted to see the lake before I left so I drove over to check it out. On the way over I took a picture of the last hill I had to come down for prosterity. I can’t believe I made it down through that treachery without tearing up something.

How in the hell did I get down this without getting smashed up? Pure skill and a little bit of luck saw me through somehow.
Funnel Lake. It was a pretty little lake, but not worth the misery I went through to get there.

Earlier as I was waking up, I saw a convoy of three pretty good size trucks with small trailers head out through the alternative exit. It gave me hope that if those guys could do it, maybe I wouldn’t have as much trouble as I did on the way in. I was right, but only by a little bit. It still was pretty hellish. I had to jump out of my truck probably ten times to scout out lines, but with a clearer head it went a bit better than I had feared it would go down.

Only slightly better than what I had to deal with on the way in.

I finally made it back to the main trail, and that’s when things really got rough. Going downhill through the obstacles was twice as hard as going up. I was at a 45 degree angle sideways a couple of times, and The Beast was at close as it could get to flipping as it could possibly get. I wouldn’t have flipped on the road, it would have been thousands of feet straight down. Having gravity work with you than against you is definitely not a good thing when you are navigating through terrain like that. I caught a pretty bad rock on my transfer case that left a scar, but nothing leaked or got loose. I was so lucky to get out because I took some bad licks to my undercarriage that would have crippled The Beast if I hadn’t been going so slow and steady down the mountain.

I did get some good pics going down at least. It was like I was up in an airplane. Most of the time one wrong move or bad bounce off a rock would have sent me over, but thank God for lower tire pressure to help me bounce over the bad stuff. My All-Terrain tires performed like warriors. When we got to the bottom of the mountain I hollered like I won the lottery, which in a way I had I guess. That’s the best part of getting through bad stuff, it sucks at the time, but when you emerge out of the other side you feel like Superman!

Nice view down the mountain.
Bishop from altitude. I was like looking down from a plane flying overhead.

When I finally got down to the bottom, I was worn out by all the intense stress and concentration I had put into the descent. I had been looking at my fishing guide, and found that there were some great trout spots up Highway 168 off of Bishop Creek. All I wanted to do was de-stess by a nice spot by the stream and salvage my day with some good ‘ol trout fishing.

I heard there were some pullouts right off the road to access the spots. Up north you can just stop, camp out and get your fish on, so that’s what I was hoping to do. There were some day use places full of fisherman, but it was illegal to camp anywhere there wasn’t a proper campsite. Of course with coronavirus all the campsites were closed, aggravating me to no end.

As it was getting late in the day I had to find somewhere to rest and recuperate from the last two days of hell, so I reluctantly had to return to my previous spot off of Buttermilk Road before it got too late in the day. The spot really wasn’t so bad, I really needed to reach out to some people and this spot had good phone and internet access so it worked out. I got to see a nice sunset so that was a bonus.

Good ‘ol Buttermilk Road sunset. It was good to be back somewhere warm at lower altitude.

There was an exciting message I received from my friend in Alaska telling me she had found a house-sitting opportunity for a month at her friend’s 140 acre homestead down in Kenai for me. It is the perfect opportunity for me to get up there and try to get into some kind of alternate employment situation, or at least make connections if this whole lodge thing falls through. The thing is that I need to be up there next week and I’ve got to get ahold of some more funds that I don’t have at the moment for car rentals, gas and groceries. It is a golden opportunity and I am wracking my exhausted mind at the moment trying to figure out how I can pull this off.

This sounds a lot better than my plan of just holing up here in the mountains for the next month waiting for a job that may or not fall through. I’ve got to try and figure this out in a couple of days and not spend anymore money going on useless side trips to nowhere that are wasting what little resources I have left. Hopefully by my next posting I’ll have something figured out. Maybe, just maybe, I can get this Alaska expediton going after all. A lot of things need to fall in place first before that happens. I’m not getting anywhere at this rate so maybe I can get this to work out! When opportunity knocks, you’ve got to answer the door! I’m going to try and make this happen, wish me luck.

Camping, Off-Roading

Too Much Cold, Not Enough Gold

Day Four

Altitude: 6999 ft. Stoke level: 4 Temperature: 65-28 degrees Conditions: winds calm, full sun & blue skies

The Beast got a light dusting of snow.

I thought I knew what cold was all about, well, after last night I know that hell is not hot but ice cold. I was pretty hammered so I didn’t feel the worst of it thankfully. I had another good night of sleep. I was writing until dawn so I didn’t wake up until about 11 o’clock. When I woke, it was 90 degrees inside my camper and in the mid-fifties outside. It was so nice, I just basked in the warmth. I’ve got another killer hangover so I decided to start drinking beers to get motivated enough to cook some food.

I finally managed to get  up enough energy to make some really good cheeseburgers on my grill. It was rough going though, I couldn’t do anythng without getting out of breath. Also, the past few days of heavy drinking at altitude had pretty much wrecked me. This all being the case, I didn’t get anything accomplished. I basically just napped and researched camping places all day.

Tomorrow I’m going to do some scouting around Dogtown and put my gold pans to work. The creek I am camped on is supposed to be a decent fishing spot as well. I had dreams of catching fish last night so maybe that’s a good sign. I’ll just have to see.

Day 5

Altitude: 7956 ft. Stoke level: 5   Temperature: 82-44 degrees Conditions: partly cloudy, nice and warm

Today I woke up to a 100 degree sweltering morning in the camper shell. I’m always either burning or freezing! I still didn’t feel super up to snuff, but I did some exploring around Dogtown and finally broke out my gold pans to do some prospecting. I really didn’t know what I was doing or if I was working in the right spots, but I only found one tiny fleck of what might have been gold. It was probably mica, I wound up losing it anyway.

I did get a lot of panning practice, and was able to get my concentrates down to black sand, which is where the gold lies. They say where there is heavy black sand in the bottom of your pan, you’re in the right place. I spent a few hours doing that, and managed to get pretty sunburnt on my arms. This high-altitude UV ain’t a joke!

I kept on the lookout for fish, but saw no sign anywhere. There was a lot more creek I could have checked out but I didn’t see the point of wasting any more time looking for fish when there are better places all around this area for that.

There was a lot of Dogtown left to explore, but I really felt like changing my location. The poor gold results coupled with the constant noise from traffic made me want to relocate. I packed up and headed to a spot I knew of a few miles away up further in the mountains. When I got back to Bridgeport, I started to feel really weak and had chills from my sunburn. I got some nachos thinking that some food would help, and it did a little. I was still in not that good of a mental space, I felt pretty rotten and started to get really depressed about things.

I grabbed a couple extra cans of propane from the market in town and headed up the the west end of the Bodie-Masonic Road. The last time I was in this area, I camped out in BLM land on the east end of this road and it was one of my all-time favorite epic campsites. There are no fishing or gold up here, but there are great roads and epic vistas to enjoy. Not to mention that it is rarely visited and is nice and quiet. I felt like this is what I needed right now at this particular moment.

I headed up Highway 182 north of the town past the Bridgeport Reservoir to the start of the road. I started driving up and of course the temperature started to drop. It wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be though, it was still in the 60’s. As the road wound its way up the mountain I started to run into signs of old mining activity. I passed an old copper mine that didn’t have any buildings left on the property, but a little ways further I came across the Chemung Mine that had all kinds of ruined structures there. I don’t know what they mined there, it was probably gold or copper I’d imagine.

All that is left of Chemung Mine. The place had a slightly eerie vibe.

I wasn’t really in a mood to be hiking around looking at things, I just wanted to find a camp and get settled. There was a spot described in my guide as being snuggled in a grove of aspen trees which sounded good. I found the spot and it was indeed nice, not really any views at all unfortunately.

Sand dollar camp, located on the other side of the mountain from Chemung Mine.

It’s kind of an odd spot, as a lot of places up in the mountains & deserts are. I saw some funny looking things at the base of a aspen tree, upon further inspection I found that it was a pile of sand dollars! There must have been fifty of them there. How or why they found their way there is a great mystery. Maybe they are just for anyone to take? I’ll probably take one for a souvineer.

How do you suppose they got here? Yet another high mountain mystery.

There is a weird little pool behind the campsite. I saw a metal pipe sticking out of it so I assume that it had something to do with mining. Now it is home to a bunch of frogs which croak from time to time. Actually, the frogs are the only noise you hear, it is absoutely dead quiet here. No sounds of wind, insects, traffic, nothing at all. It’s been a long time since I have experienced such a lack of noise. It is so awesome, I’m just soaking in the quiet. I love places like this; places where I can hear myself think.

What campsite would be complete without a weird pond of some kind?

The spot is nice but I think I’m going to move on tomorrow. I’d really like to pay a visit to where I previously camped a little ways down from where I am now. The temperature is 45 degrees at 11:16 in the evening, so hopefully it won’t be much chillier up there at night.

These cold nights are really starting to wear on me. I can deal with the cold, but I’m just so over it. I’ve been thinking about headed down to Death Valley just to get myself warmed up. Unfortunately, where all the fish and gold are found is also where it is still damn cold at night, so I’m going to have to find a happy medium there somewhere.

It is nice to finally have some peace and quiet with some relatively warm temperatures. I finally feel relaxed and somewhat comfortable for the first time on this trip. Hopefully I am getting over the hump on adapting to  the altitude and finding a good mental equlibrium. It would be really great if my stoke meter would start increasing here in the coming days, I sure hope it does!

Day 6

Altitude: 8907 ft. Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 48-82 degrees Conditions: breezy, partly sunny

I started off the day with a pretty good feeling about things. I had a pretty decent campsite to wake up in, and felt like a good night’s rest at this spot did me a world of good. The plan for the day was that I was going to drive back towards the direction of Bodie, and to just be on the lookout for a good spot to lay low for a couple of days.

I proceeded to head east, looking towards going up to check out the view from Masonic Mountain. I couldn’t have asked for better conditions to hit the trail. The road was very good and dead for traffic, the best kind of trail to be on in my opinion.

I put on some Pink Floyd, Pulse album to be exact. It really got me into the mood and feeling of the place in a perfect way. It made for a great summit, and was rewarded with just stunning vistas in every direction everywhere I looked.

What a tremendous view from top of Masonic Mountain at 9195 ft!

I really enoyed going up to the top of that damn mountain. I have to say that my stoked meter was on the way up! Something about going up there made me feel as if I had turned a corner on a lot of bad feelings that I have had since I have started this expedition.

There was a mine nearby called Masonic Mine, so I rolled over to check that out. Not much there besides one old structure and some big huge piles of trailings.

All that is left of old Masonic Mine.

As I started down the road in the direction of Bodie, I started getting familiar with the country I was heading into. I was getting close to the spot that was very dear to me in the past. Since I was getting pretty close, I started looking out for any camps that might possibly be better than my last one had been. I saw a nice view and what looked like a nice little trail heading off to a clump of aspens that looked promising.

My investigations turned out to be very rewarding, as I stumbled into one of the finest campsites I had ever seen. It was this lovely secluded area in a nice strand of trees. In the middle of the spot stood a nice pile of firewood cached away for any traveler who might have had need of it. It just had the feel of a spot where people had been camping out for a long time.

This could mean the difference between life and death if you were caught up here in bad winter conditions.

I pulled myself up into a good position and set up camp. I had a roaring appetite going on, so I cooked myself up a couple of nice sandwiches. They were whole wheat turkey/ham with sauerkraut, swiss, and plenty of pepper…just the way I like.

After I ate, I started to explore the site to see what I could find. I came across a piece of jaw bone from what looks like a cow lying on the ground. It was a pretty cool thing, so I decided to name this place Jawbone Camp. A fitting name for a place with such character.

Your’s truly with The Beast at Jaw-Bone camp.
The jaw-bone in question.

As the day wore on and it got closer to the golden hour, I decided to take a hike back up the hill to take some sunset photos. I was just stunned at the results I got from my new Galaxy 20 Ultra phone. This is the first time I’ve ever put the camera through its paces, and it delivered. I’ve never had a phone that could do what this one does, it’s just brilliant.

How pretty a picture.
The view to my back.

All in all this day has definitely been the best one so far. I feel like all my frustrations and agnst have gone away. I’m feeling a lot more level headed than I’ve been feeling the last few days which is a damn good thing. As I have been typing the days events, the moon came up out of nowhere to put on a sexy show. It was a damn good day to be out here in the middle of nowhere.

Buenas noches luna.

Day 7

Altitude: 8907 ft. Stoke level: 7 Temperature: 71-55 degrees Conditions: steady wind, mostly sunny

Today was destined to be another rest day. I was up until dawn writing and drinking beer. It was so cold I had to wear triple layers of everything. I kept wishing I had some wine or whiskey instead of beer to help keep me warm but I had to make do with what I had on hand.

It was another one of those days where it was a struggle just to move. I was still in relatively good spirits, but I discovered that my ice chest has not a bit of ice left in it. I debated on whether to run into town to grab ice and supplies, but as it was so late in the day when I got up I decided not to. My meats and perishables I haven’t managed to eat yet are probably done for, but by the time I broke camp, got supplies and returned I’d probably be out more money on gas than the value of my food items.

Instead, I cooked up the rest of my burgers and ate as many as I could. I’m hoping that my deli meats and especially my expensive sauerkraut make it to tomorrow, as cold as it gets at night I might be ok. I also took the time to clean myself and my space the best I could. I spend more time constantly rearranging and fixing things than I do enjoying them. Everytime I get on the road, all my gear gets thrown around everywhere and it is a never-ending struggle to keep myself sorted.

I’ve been having widely swinging emotions all day. Occasionally my phone gets a bit of signal giving me really worrisome headlines about continuing civil unrest and the unstoppable spread of coronavirus. The country seems to be rapidly destabilizing. This coupled with my diminishing bank account and plans for the future being in limbo has me on edge some kind of bad.

This is really affecting my ability to plan out and enjoy my expediton. Every mile I drive and supply run I make is pushing me further to the brink. I want to escape from the bitter cold so badly, I just don’t know best to go about it. Tomorrow was supposed to be the day I would return to Santa Cruz to get ready to fly out to Alaska. Goodbye to that plan.

Where the hell am I going to wait out another month until I find out if the summer season is going down at all? Where I was staying in Santa Cruz is no longer an option, even though I have plenty of work available there. If I didn’t go anywhere else but back and forth from here to Bridgeport I could stretch out my resources another two weeks tops.

It’s just a rotten time to start trying to hit up my friends for help at the current moment. I don’t want to put anyone in a position where they have to say no to me. I can understand that everyone is keeping to their own trying to social distance & all that.

It’s so hard to think these things through when I’ve just been so thrashed by these conditions. Right now the plan is to turn in early tonight and break camp as soon as I can in the AM. Hopefully I can find a place with wi-fi so I can upload the last week’s blog posts so at least ya’ll can all see what I am dealing with. Maybe I can turn up some leads on how to proceed from there.

I know of an off-road route a few miles away that has good camping and fishing spots. The trail description sounds pretty rough to get there however. I guess I won’t know until I try! It’s still at altitude so I’m still guaranteed to freeze. If it is protected from the wind I can deal with the cold however.

One way or another, this expedition will continue. One quote I’ve always admired says “Fortune favors the brave.” I’m gonna have to keep throwing myself at the wall and hopefully I can find somewhere to stick. Only time will tell.