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KINDNESS across AMERICA - Chapter 03: Alternative Routes

KINDNESS across AMERICA - Chapter 03: Alternative Routes

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Published by Kirk D. Sinclair
This is the third chapter of the book about my American Discovery Trail journey.
This is the third chapter of the book about my American Discovery Trail journey.

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Published by: Kirk D. Sinclair on Jul 31, 2012
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09/04/2012

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CHAPTER 3 – ALTERNATE ROUTESForesthills, CA to Middlegate, NV; Distance = 227 Miles; People Met = 33As we were down in the valley dealing with the unusual onslaught of cold rain we learned of increasing snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Driving across Donner Pass on our way out in late Maywe saw plenty of snow to begin with, now in June there was more. We learned that the Sierra received200% of normal snow pack this past year, much of it coming late. We learned from a trail crew as wewere coming into Foresthills that our route following the Western States Trail over Squaw Valley had aminimum snow pack of over ten feet. This on June 14 or Day 021 of our journey.We needed to make a decision at Foresthills whether we would stick to the official AmericanDiscovery Trail or discover some alternative because of the snow. I'm no stranger to alternative routes.When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1977 our guidebook claimed that the average thru-hiker got lostfor 200-300 miles, mainly because of new logging roads. The “second logging road on the right” was notthe same on the ground as in the guide. My friends and I surpassed the average in being lost.Then when I hiked the Continental Divide Trail in 1985 I intentionally chose alternative routes because a permanent route really did not exist. The Forest Service had a suggested route for the CDT, asdid the Continental Divide Trail Society. I sometimes followed a route that kept me closer to the Dividethan either proposed route, like the time I stayed on the crest of the Wind River range until Gannett Peak forced me down.That was in a younger day, when I felt invulnerable, or at least acted that way. I ran downmountains with sixty pound packs; I put in thirty mile days with the same; I crossed raging creeks andhiked over spring snow without a care in the world. My young body healed quickly from some of thetorment I put it through.Hiking over six feet of spring snow was not a big deal back then. If you hike in the afternoon ona warm day you deal with the slow going of deep slush, but you avoid that with an early start hiking over hardened snow. There is the occasional snow bridge you fall through, usually accompanied by some
 
hidden obstacle around which snow melt underneath has occurred. I have fallen through 3-6 feet snow bridges as a young man often enough. I've never fallen through a 10+ foot snow bridge, as a young manor otherwise.We met Ky at Foresthills in the afternoon to pack for the next four days. We aimed to leaveForesthills that evening, still not sure of our eventual route but at least starting out on the ADT. I became puzzled a few times in plotting our course out of Foresthills (I'm never lost, mind you, just puzzled).When that happens I don't hesitate to ask for directions. There are times when I know from studying themaps what's ahead better than the people I'm asking, but it's always nice to meet local people.We encountered a woman doing yard work; I no sooner stopped with apparent intent to ask aquestion when she came racing over with manic energy. At the time I thought I would be able toremember all the names of people we met who were kind to us, but that was before it became apparentwe would meet hundreds. I'll call this woman Margaret. She virtually begged us to camp in her yard,and we accepted as it was getting late.We spent a good amount of time chatting in Margaret's living room, where she told us her lifestory, a story that did not include good luck with men. Her youngest child had just finished high schooland her parents had helped set her up with her current home in a permanent manner, so one might assumeher toughest days were behind. Still, what drew her to us what not our large packs but the fact that wewere a couple. She longed some day for the type of relationship that might embark on such endeavorstogether.Margaret cautioned us against following the Western States Trail to Squaw Valley, or to at leastcheck in with the Forest Service station in town. She drove us there the following morning, where welearned that the trail crew we met the previous day was not just “blowing smoke” to deter hikers. Thesnow pack ahead was a minimum of 15 feet with a maximum over forty, in mid-June! Fifteen feet doesnot differ from six feet when the snow is hard, or even slushy. Fifteen feet does matter for falling throughsnow bridges, particularly for “mature” backpackers. Time to draw upon my PCT and CDT experiences
 
and plan an alternative route on the fly.Ah, but there was a second problem to consider. For as much snow as had accumulated up toJune, that snow was melting now. That meant raging creeks and rivers, yet we would have to find a wayto cross the North Fork American River somewhere. Plans B, C and D started to form, but all of themwere considered problematic by the Forest Service rangers at the station. Margaret brought us back toresume our hike and we headed out on a route that eliminated Plan B, the furthest upstream crossing of the American River, but kept either Plan C or D open.We were not upset by the forced change in plans. Ken and Marcia Powers, our gracious hostsfrom early on, probably followed the ADT route closer than anyone; yet even they warned us we wouldnot be able to follow the ADT precisely. Plus the ADT guide was written East to West; we would be thefirst hikers to complete the trail continuously going West to East. Our overall hiking goal was to surpass5,000 miles with the ADT as our main route; as long as we surpassed that mileage I would be satisfied.We stopped at a Forest Service fire station up the road and they gave us an even more foreboding picture of the creek crossings. From there we chose a route that further ruled out Plan C, but opened up anew Plan E as a last resort. That last resort added mileage but would bring us to a hiking bridge acrossthe American River.The trail down to the river gorge and up the other side reminded me of “the good old days” of hiking on the PCT. We should have camped right by the river but we could not resist a piped springencountered on the way down. The next morning we trekked along the North Fork American River as thesun was arching over the mountains sloping steeply by the gorge. Raging river mists combined withadvancing morning sun to provide delightful entertainment, like watching a dance unfolding. The climbup the other side was challenging, though still “Sierra scenic.” The steep climb called for taking breakson the one hand, but mosquitoes dissuaded us from doing so.Once out of the gorge we had to plot a route pretty much due east to Donner Pass. We started byfollowing railroad tracks for a few miles, a first for me. The tracks were often blasted into cliffs, creating

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