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.