Friday, 9 June 2017

Recuperation

After arriving home on November 6th I was confined to barracks for over a week as I was unable to drive with my cast. On top of this my computer crashed so neither could I sort out my photos or catch up with my blog, even one-handed.  At least I had an excuse besides pleading exhaustion to lie in bed watching daytime television and reading.   But ten days after arriving home I emerged from my local hospital in Carmarthen with a funky new cast for which I was able to choose the colour.  What did I choose you may ask?  As I was about to attend one of my social occasions of the year it had to be black to match my little black dress.  This was for a do in Cardiff in aid of my beneficiary charity Challenge Aid founded and run by husband Iestyn. So here I am glammed up on top table next to Iestyn (white shirt and dark jacket)..
..the guy in beard and glasses is son Gethin and the other gentlemen L to R are Welsh rugby internationals Sam Warburton, Craig Quinell and George North, and on the far right rugby journalist Rhodri Gomer Davies who is the son of one of my oldest friends.

Through fitness promoting challenges, the charity raises money to take children out of poverty through education.  The main programme focuses on creating 'Schools of Hope' in slum and deprived areas of Kenya and Tanzania. These provide a safe environment for children to study out of school hours.   In 2016 over 40% of Form 4 students from the seventeen longest established schools went on to University & higher education, an amazing achievement which surpasses the state school results.

My cast was off in time for usual hectic Christmas - ten for Christmas dinner, twenty-two for family dinner, indeterminate number for New Year's Wild West party - guess what I went as. 
I had intended to fly out to California to finish the ride after Christmas, and had in fact booked a flight for early January However when I checked my insurance I found my wrist would not be covered at all for three months, so to be on the safe side I took the decision to delay until the spring.

New addition to the family at the end of February has been a completely hyperactive Welsh sheepdog puppy Tawe (pronounced Toweh - tow as in how)

  Of course I had to buy her a couple of sheep, and they had to be my old favourites Welsh Badger-Face - I used to have a small flock of around ninety.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Humpty Dumpty

  Friday 28th October. My waterproof trousers had turned out to be not so waterproof the previous day, and having been soaked to the skin and with another wet day forecast, it seemed expedient to take a day off with Jim and Ginger. It was a chance to buy some better waterproofs and recce the next part of the route, not to mention relax in Jim and Ginger's lovely house. Lady was turned into the steep paddock with the other horses.
I had arranged to meet up with Lucy the next day at the house of British ex-pat Gloria, a friend of Ginger's married to an American, who had very kindly offered to let us stop overnight in their garden. They live over twenty miles by road from Camino, and with the days drawing in, I wanted to make an early start. Jim was going to haul Lady and I back to Camino soon after it got light in the morning of Saturday 29th October so I needed to get up before dark to feed Lady.  Unfortunately all my torches were in the rig that Lucy had driven home.  I was reluctant to wake Jim and Ginger at 5.30am to dig out a torch and did not want to set off late, so I decided to try and find my way down to the barn in the dark.  Bad decision, as I missed the track and stepped out into space from a retaining wall at the side.   The photo below shows the track down to the barn, and the short cut I took over the wall to the right.  Looks better by daylight....
 The crunch from my wrist as I landed on the track below told me it was serious. But it was not until I found my way back up to the house and saw my deformed wrist in the light that I realised how bad the damage was.  The dislocation doesn't really show here, as my wrist was already pretty swollen..
... I ended up inconveniencing Jim and Ginger far more than if we had just set off a bit late.  Jim had to get up in the dark, run me down to the nearest hospital in Placerville and then wait while I was dealt with. It turned out that my wrist was not only dislocated but broken. It was re-aligned and put in a temporary cast, and I was told I might need an operation, though would not be able to talk with the surgeon until Monday. In the meantime I had a course of painkillers, and went back to Pollock Pines to wait and plan my next move.  Selfie with my new cast.

 But it was a few days of frustration. On Monday I was told Dr Vance the surgeon could not see me until Tuesday, which meant I could not give a quote to the insurance company.  On Tuesday Dr Vance gave the go-ahead for an operation on Thursday, but I could not get immediate confirmation of payment from the insurance company, which also affected my flight change.  Should I just cut and run for home in the hope I could get an immediate operation there?  The op needed to be carried out within about a week of the accident and we were already 3/4 days down the line.  In the end it all came together - the insurance gave the go ahead, my op was confirmed for Thursday and I managed to change my flight to Saturday.  Jim agreed to board Lady until I came back, which I hoped would be just after Christmas. Lucy dropped my stuff over so I could sort it out and pack up non necessary items to take home.
So on Thursday 3rd November instead of being well on my way from Sacramento to the coast, I was under the surgeon's knife in the Marshall Medical Centre in Placerville having pins put into my wrist.  Many many thanks to Jack and Barbara who took me in, and particularly to Barbara who insisted on staying at the hospital to support me all afternoon.   I had a day's recovery on Friday, and Ginger kindly drove me all the way in to Sacramento to catch my flight on Saturday 5th November.  Unfortunately my arm was aching overnight and I made another bad decision - this time to take the higher dose of painkiller. As a result I was feeling like death warmed up on the way to the airport and boarding my flight to Houston, but thankfully by the time I boarded my second flight to Heathrow I had recovered a little and even managed to get some sleep.  Daughter Gwenny was waiting to pick me up and hand me over to husband Iestyn for the final drive back home where I slept round the clock!
I have to give a huge thank you to Jim and Ginger for looking after me so well - I am eternally grateful for your support and hospitality. I had originally been invited to stay overnight, but ended up staying over a week. But as Gloria pointed out, I could not have chosen a better place!

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Brockliss Bridge

The Brockliss Bridge crossed the South Fork of the American river near Pacific House, just to the west of Pollock Pines.  The original wooden structure was built there by Anthony Richard Brockliss in 1855/6 before a more substantial bridge was constructed in 1958 and used by wagons, stage coaches and pony express riders.  With the discovery of the Comstock Lode near Virginia City, traffic across the bridge increased and a toll was introduced.

The bridge eventually collapsed in 1869 through wear and neglect, but a replacement was built in 1926 to take logging trucks. This bridge (known as the Blair Bridge) also became redundant, particularly as through traffic now used US50 which crossed the river at Riverton. Rather than repair and maintain the bridge, in 1988 the controversial decision was made to destroy it. The sad fact is that the subsequent clear-up operation apparently cost more than it would have cost to repair the bridge for trail use. Subsequent campaigns to build a new footbridge at this point have so far come to nothing although pressure is still being applied.

The removal of the bridge created a gap in the Pony Express Trail  at this point as the American river flows through a steep gorge unfordable by horse here, and the only alternative involves a four mile stretch of Highway 50 between Riverton and Pacific House.  Not only is this strictly too dangerous to negotiate by horse, but although the NPEA re-ride received police permission one year to ride along the highway, in practice they were prevented from doing so by a patrol officer.

The NPEA overcome this during the re-ride by taking the mochila off the incoming horse on one side of the river and sending it across the gorge on a pulley system. On the other side of the river the mochila is then placed on another horse for the next leg of the ride.
As I was not changing horses, the only way I could overcome this obstacle was to ride the three miles down from the nearest road to the bridge site on the eastern side and back again, before being trailered round on Highway 50 to do the same on the other side. I was most grateful that Jim offered to do the honours, and on Thursday 27th October he dropped me off on a wet morning to make my way down to the bridge site, having given me careful directions.
 Lady and I arrive safely on the eastern side of the gorge, which is difficult to see through the trees...
 ...however the metal pole protruding on the right hand side is part of the pulley system for transporting the mochila across the river.
Then back up to the road where Jim soon turned up, and round to Pacific House where it was only about half a mile down a steep track to the river on the western side...
 You may just be able to see part of the concrete support for the bridge behind Lady.

Lady by the Pony Express monument at Pacific House, where there was a Pony Express station.
...before we negotiated a damp tunnel under Highway 50..

I met up with Jim and mount at Fresh Pond so he could guide me through a tricky section to Pollock Pines, then he left me to continue as far as I could along the Pony Express Highway/old Lincoln Highway before dark fell. On the way I passed the site of former Pony Express station of Sportman's Hall built in 1852 by John and James Blair. It was a sizeable and important home station reportedly with stabling for a thousand horses and mules!  But I was past caring by this time and plodded on along the side of the road in the rain with traffic swishing past.  It was a thorough relief to see Jim turn up with the trailer just the other side of Camino. I was wet, cold and tired, but had managed to get another six miles under my belt.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Across the Sierra Nevada

Tuesday 25th October   The Pony Express trail used to roughly follow the route of the present Highway 50 down the valley of the South Fork American River through the Sierra Nevada in California.  When US50 achieved Highway status in the late 1900s, improvements destroyed the old trail, and it was not until the Pony Express trail gained heritage status as a National Historic Trail that efforts were made to create an alternative route along the canyon.   There is now a fabulous foot and mountain bike trail clinging along the hillside above the valley all the way from Johnson Pass/Echo Summit to the Brockliss Bridge near Pollock Pines.  The following link from a mountain bike website shows the trail as far as Kyburz...
https://www.mtbproject.com/trail/1559208/pony-express-trail-xp-and-lovers-leap-trail

Scrambling up the hillside through the rocks in Huckleberry Canyon...
A rocky path...
 
The view is across the South Fork American River valley to Pyramid Creek...
Lady with local landmark Lovers' Leap in the background...
This section of the trail was like a stony riverbed and we hobbled down to Strawberry Lodge which was the next Pony Express station.  Although the distance from Echo Summit to Strawberry Lodge is only about seven miles as the crow flies, we took about five hours to pick our way along the steep hillside between rocks and trees, but in time to meet up with former NPEA President Jim Swigart at around midday.....
 
.......and of course it was a must to have a bite to eat there.  The current lodge actually incorporates the old building, although it was moved from its original site about 1000ft further east during realignment of the highway.  The name derives from a Mr Berry who ran the station for a period from 1859 and who apparently fed straw in place of hay. On the first eastward run of the Pony Express service when the Sierra Nevada was under snow, Bolivar Roberts left from here with a string of mules to help rider Warren Upson get through - the mules being able to pack down a path through the drifts.
Jim rode with me over the next section to near the site of Webster's station at Kyburz.....
...regaling me with stories of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.  

Lucy met us near the former site of the Pony Express station at Webster's Sugar Loaf House, below Sugar Loaf Mountain to the west of Kyburz where there was a camp site and even a little corral, though I opted for our usual one.
The first part of the trail the next day Wednesday 26th October was along a very narrow pretty track clinging round the base of Sugar Loaf Mountain ....
Parts of it had been blocked by recent tree falls...
 ../ but we managed to scramble round somehow.
 Looking back to Sugar Loaf Mountain....
We eventually came out onto Weber Mill road, a good earth track winding westwards.  But then we came to this topsy turvy notice, warning of roadworks ahead.....
..and for the next few miles Lady and I were dodging enormous trucks dumping gravel for a new tarmac surface. By the time I had negotiated them and another section of winding trail I realised it was pushing it to reach my intended destination of the Brockliss Bridge (of which more later). Jim had kindly offered to put Lady and I up at his house in Pollock Pines which was not far away, so I gratefully accepted, while Lucy drove back to her home near Sacramento for a couple of days .

California Here I Come

...but thankfully not right back where I started from.  Early morning on Sunday October 23rd and hostess Kim Harris comes out in her dressing gown to see us leave..
 A quick stop at the Genoa Pony Express Monument on the way out of town...
 This is across the road from the museum and marks the site of the original Mandlebaum and Klauber's store which also doubled up as a Pony Express station for a while.
After a couple of miles we came to Walley's Hot Springs where there has been a spa since 1862.
 Famous visitors over the years have included Mark Twain, Ulysses Grant, Clark Gable, Baby-Face Nelson, and more recently Rowena.
After advice from Petra, we had opted to follow the original Pony Express route which looped south of the Carson Range through Woodfords and over Luther Pass. The alternative route which was being used within a few weeks of the start of the Pony Express service was a short cut over the Carson Range to Lake Tahoe soon after leaving Genoa, following the steep valley shown in the photo below....
 Notice the rather dilapidated but relevant sign for the Pony Express Stables in the foreground, (a modern establishment I hasten to add).  From here the riders scrambled up the steep Kingsbury Grade and crossed the Daggett Pass and down to Friday's Station by Lake Tahoe (then called Lake Bigler). If the track was impassable due to winter snows the longer but easier Woodfords route was used, and that was the way we went.

Not very welcoming...
 This photo shows the Carson Range not far from the modern vehicle turnoff for the Kingsbury Grade, and gives an idea of what the riders were facing by taking this short cut. You can see there is already a sprinkling of snow on the peaks.
A muppet is out to support me on my way ....
 .......crossing the border into California!....
 By the Pony Express monument at Woodfords.....
 A little further on up the deep valley we found a peaceful camp spot in beautiful surroundings at Crystal Springs beneath Cary Peak....
But not as sheltered as it appeared, as a storm blew in overnight with a howling gale and rain. The rig swayed and great pine cones clonked on the roof. Lady was relatively sheltered on the lee side of the trailer with a rug on, but I was relieved when the wind eventually began to die down near dawn.
The following morning Monday October 24th we tramped off along the road to Meyers in the cold and wet, over Luther Pass and down the other side...
Meyers was the location of Yank's station (named after owner Ephraim 'Yank' Clement), where there was a large three storey hotel with adjacent corral, barn, and stabling.  Besides functioning as a stage station, it was also used by the Pony Express. However it was destroyed by fire in 1938 and a supermarket stands in its place.
Near this point the trail rejoins the route over Daggett Pass and starts to climb up the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada to Johnson Pass.  I had been a little worried about negotiating this pass, but conveniently it is possible for foot traffic to use an abandoned section of road which has been replaced by the new Highway 50....
 ....though the fallen rocks littering the upper sections were a trifle worrying!.....
It was a long steep climb which involved a tricky crossing of Highway 50, but we reached the top unscathed by falling rocks and traffic.
Did I really climb all the way up from there? Lady surveys the view from Johnson's Pass on the old road ...
You may just be able to see the blue glint of Lake Tahoe, where Friday's Station was located.  Woodfords is off to the right.   
We found a place to park up overnight just beyond the summit and no snow imminently forecast.  A relief as the tracks through the Sierra Nevada become impassable once heavy snow falls, usually at the end of October/beginning of November.  In a couple of days I would be far enough down the western flank of the mountains to be clear of danger.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Down the Carson Valley

Friday 21st October   Morning mist over the Carson River as we make our way along Fort Churchill road to Dayton...
Burton commented that every few miles there was now a drinking "calaboose" where "women peeped out of log huts".  No sign of these, but there was a grand bull in a field by the Carson river..
Nothing remains of Miller's Pony Express way station, which was at a ferry and ford point near here. Burton describes sitting "round the hot stove, eating bread and cheese, sausages and anchovies" on a cold wet day, though he seemed most heated by a pretty girl there! 
We now reached Highway 50, and for the next few days we would be following alongside or on a highway. As far as Dayton there was a good track beside the road. Apparently Charlie Chaplin had preceded us..
  
Dayton, originally known as Chinatown due to the number of Chinese miners, had a Pony Express way station at two consecutive locations.  Both are long since gone, one now a gravel pit (Spafford's Hall station), the other on the site of the present Union Hotel, though the latter has a free-standing rock wall which is part of the old station.  Over the top to Carson City we had to negotiate a stretch with only a narrow verge.
  Unfortunately the sign was a warning to watch for stray mustangs rather than round the world riders, and the traffic did not slow down an iota.
Coming down to Carson City, and my camera has decided it is time to introduce artistic effects again...

We found a patch of open ground on the edge of town to stop overnight, and on Saturday October 22nd we made our way through Carson City.   A Puffing Billy by the flyover...
 ...only a metal cut-out, but a reminder that the Nevada State Railroad Museum is located in Carson City, with a working steam engine trundling around outside, as I discovered to my slight concern when I rode past.  Lady is fascinated as the Virginia and Truckee steam train chuffs towards us ...
...but she held her ground and my fears of reaching our destination ahead of schedule were unfounded.

Petra had shown me a quiet route through the backstreets, passing close to the site of the Carson City Pony Express station which no longer exists. A couple of hours later I was on the Jacks Valley Road which follows the line of the trail ... 
...and it was  another eight miles to the pretty town of Genoa (pronounced with the stress on the 'o' rather than the 'e').  Petra had sorted a place for us to camp there at the house of Kim and Doyle Harris with some grass for Lady to nibble...
Genoa is the oldest town in what is now Nevada (although Dayton argues otherwise), and boasts some lovely old buildings. Founded in 1851 by Mormon pioneers, it was originally called Mormon Station.  A log cabin served as a trading post and for a time as a way station for the Pony Express.  You can see that it was ahead of its time as it even provided wheelchair access......
...in fact the original station burned down in the early 1900s and this is a reproduction on the other side of the road which also serves as a museum.
A rather attractive feature was the number of mule deer hanging around town and relaxing in the gardens.....
..though not so attractive was the dead traffic victim on the road the next morning.
In the evening Lucy and I met up with Rowena, Petra and the Cauhapes for a pre-prandial drink at the Genoa Bar and Saloon which claims to be the oldest continuously operating saloon in Nevada. We were in good company as it has also been patronised over the years by among others  Mark Twain, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Raquel Welch, who according to a Youtube contribution donated her bra to the proprietor's bra collection (!?)   We emerged bras intact for a meal at the Genoa Inn, where I was able to sample my first and probably last glass of picon, an American Basque cocktail which can only be described as interesting.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Desert is Done

On Wednesday October 19th Petra's friend Sally kindly came to give Lady and me a lift back to the point where we had left off on the Schurz highway.  Many thanks!
This was near the site of Carson Sink Pony Express Station.  Originally built by Bolivar Roberts and J Kelly in March 1860, it was constructed of adobe using alkali mud from the shore of Carson Lake, as there was no rock or wood available nearby.  Not a pleasant job as their feet swelled up from tramping the mud in bare feet to create the right consistency!  By October Burton describes "a frame house inside an adobe enclosure, and a pile of weed and a stout haystack". Very little now remains of the station but in its time it was quite substantial. Pony Bob Haslam reported on his famous ride in May that there were fifteen armed men and as many horses residing there. 
 
However Burton complained of the lack of hospitality, as the "surly cripple" at the station refused to supply them with wood for a fire, or even a cup of water. With regard to the latter they were "told to fetch it from the lake which was not more than a mile off, though as the road was full of quagmires it would be hard to travel at night"   Burton chose to forgo his usual haystack to sleep on a side of bacon in the wagon, "deeply regretting that the Mormons do not extend somewhat further westward".
 
Lady and I set off west on the day after Burton set off from this spot one hundred and fifty-four years before on October 18th 1860, though we were headed for Hooten Wells, where a Pony Express station did not exist in Burton's day.
We followed a sandy trail partly winding through low hills of the oddly named Dead Camel Mountains for about nineteen miles..
 
until we reached Hooten Wells.  No sign of Lucy and no cell reception, but I found the water containers left by the Cauhapes hidden behind a low wall. Frustratingly I then discovered that I had forgotten my Ortlieb bucket so could not water Lady anyway.  However the recent heavy rain had left a rather muddy pool of water - but what was that wily creature skulking in the bushes on the other side?....
..and in case you did not catch it, here is a still I made earlier...
Looking across the Churchill valley to Churchill Butte.  The ruins of Desert Wells Pony Express station are about one mile to the south-west of this point - probably the original station before the route moved further north in 1861.
I decided to carry on riding towards the main road at Bucklands as there was still no Lucy, but it soon became apparent why.  The recent rain had turned the fine smooth surface of the track into a slippery sticky morass interrupted by pools of water..
..but I was relieved and amazed to find her waiting about three miles further on - you can just see the rig on the right in the middle distance. She had managed to make it nearly all the way before deciding it was too risky to continue!  So I was saved a ride in the dark.
Thursday October 20th  Ten miles further on and Lady and I reach the Carson River at Buckland Station to finish our crossing of the Nevada desert!...
There used to be a toll bridge here built by Samuel Buckland in 1859-60 charging $1.00 for buggies and $0.25 for pedestrians.  Don't know how we would have fitted in, but now it is free!  Buckland also built a log cabin and saloon which were sited where the cottonwood trees are to the right of the road on the other side of the bridge.  The log cabin was used as a Pony Express station until Fort Churchill was built in the summer of 1860.  It was subsequently replaced by the present rather lovely building which was constructed by Buckland a few years later from materials acquired from the dismantling of Fort Churchill.
This was where Pony Bob Haslam, having already covered his regular 75 miles between Friday's Station and here, substituted for the reluctant Johnson Richardson to make his famous record-breaking 380mile feat.  The dapper chap below is Pony Bob himself who was born in London, England...
Quite a guy, as it is also told that he rode 120 miles in 8 hours 20 minutes carrying Lincoln's inaugural address in March 1861.
 
I have previously briefly mentioned the factors which sparked the Paiute War, and this war not only explained Richardson's reluctance to ride, but resulted in the complete shut down of the Pony Express service for three weeks in June 1860.  This area was significant in the events that caused the troubles, so it will be relevant to describe the background in more detail.
There was already considerable discontent among native Indians at the impact of white man, and at the beginning of May 1860 the Paiutes, Bannocks and Shoshone were holding a council at Pyramid Lake to the north to discuss possible action, although Paiute chief Numaga was in favour of peace.  But on May 7th an incident took place at Williams Station somewhere to the east of Buckland's that inflamed matters.  Station keeper James Williams was away, leaving his two brothers David and Oscar in charge.  Three visiting men, James Fleming, Dutch Phil and Samuel Sullivan, abducted (and according to some reports raped) some Paiute women, one of whom managed to escape and raise the alarm with her husband who was attending the council.  A party of Paiute immediately went to rescue the women, killing and mutilating all the men including the Williams brothers. James Williams found the bodies on May 8th, the following day, and not knowing the circumstances, rushed back to Carson City to warn of an Indian uprising. An punitive volunteer force under Major Ormsby was quickly raised, and stayed at Buckland's on May 11th before setting off for Pyramid Lake, taking Pony Express horses with them. The Paiute War had started.
However Ormsby's force was flung together and ill-organised and the expedition was a disaster. The volunteer force was routed by the Paiute and seventy-six of the party were killed, not counting wounded. Survivors of the battle straggled back to Buckland's over the next four days. Indian attacks then spread rapidly west along the central overland trail, resulting in many of the burnings and killings that have already been described.
As a result of this uprising, Fort Churchill was established near Buckland's in summer 1860, and the Pony Express station was moved there.

Many cattle grids in the US have side wings to stop cattle jumping the corner of the grid.  They are usually fixed to the end fence post, but occasionally it is possible to swing them upright, as Lucy is doing here to allow me to lead Lady through to the Fort Churchill State Historic Park, where we stopped at midday.....
 The commandants house is in a pretty site on a bluff overlooking the Carson River and the fort below. Remains of the many adobe buildings comprising the fort have been preserved but not fully restored.   The former Pony Express office is the building to the right of the photo below, with barracks ahead.
The fort was originally home to around 200 soldiers, but the only residents now are of the reptilian variety....
Fort Churchill was abandoned in 1869, not long after the end of the Civil War, but it was not until 1961 that it was designated a National Monument.
Riding down Fort Churchill Road along the Carson River valley to our evening camp spot.
The Carson river was lined with beautiful cottonwood in their autumn colours which Burton described as "a repose to our eyes".  They really impressed on me that that in Burton's words "The desert was now "done"."