Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 41A, September–October 1971
Fall was edging towards winter. In spite of an early snowfall, our trailer was warm and cozy. Rosie and I spent a lot of time indoors, playing pinnacle and working on our book.
We still cared for each other but there was a cooling in our romance. It was hard to put my finger on it, but my gut told me that perhaps my month-long immobility had shattered the image she held of her man. The frustration with losing my independence had exposed weakness—a side of me she had seldom witnessed before.
We soon agreed that our relationship had run its course and in late October, Rosie moved to her father's house in Davis. She’d always have a place in my heart but I found the transition liberating, even though it was an adjustment—what with having to walk on two legs, rather than four—or, if you counted Charlie, on six legs rather than eight.
Rosie and I continued with our writing. I had made notable progress with my chapters and was scheduled to drive down to the valley for an editing session together.
As I prepared to depart, I found my windshield wipers weren't operating. This was a dilemma as a heavy snowstorm was expected that evening. After loading my truck, I began tinkering with the wipers. I didn’t want to travel down the Feather River Canyon in the snow, as the road was plenty treacherous without an added hazard. So I toiled and fiddled with the wiper mechanism, but I failed to find the problem.
As dusk set in, I had a tough choice to make: hit the road without wipers and beat the snow or drive in the snow the following morning without chains. After some anguish, I made a decision. Loading my cat, Vernap, into the camper, I jumped in the cab with my dog Charlie and off we went.
Before I had driven fifteen miles down the canyon, it became dark and a misty rain began to fall. Soon it was pouring buckets and I was hunched over the steering wheel, straining to see the dashed white line. With only twenty feet of visibility, I kept my speed at a crawl.
The rain continued to pound down, and following the dashes was a white-knuckle affair. As I rolled around a curve on the wet mountain highway, a vehicle drew close—and I saw the light!
I’m not saying I had enjoyed a spiritual experience —though some might classify the near-death aspect of the situation as unworldly. No. I saw the light—and that was the trouble. All I saw was the fucking light! The glaze of water that covered the windshield was treating me to a brilliant display. Even the line in the middle of the narrow highway was no longer visible.
Blinded by the unrelenting glare, I yielded to intense focus and enormous fear. I leaned forward, my nose inches from the windshield, allowing my seat belt to gain a stranglehold on my midsection. Left with only one option, I slowed and aimed to the right of the oncoming lights— but not too far to the right. That would force me off the asphalt, colliding with unseen ditches, rock walls, or trees.
I issued a fecal prayer, "Shit! Shi-i-i-i-t! S-H-I-I-I-T-T!"
Somehow I passed the vehicle unscathed. My heart decided it needed to catch up on missed beats and was now drumming at a rate that shook my body. I let out a breath I’d been holding for far too long and already regretted my foolish decision to take to the road—but there was no turning back now.
“Sheeze, Charlie! That was really hairy! What in the hell was I thinking?” Charlie continued to lie across the seat, wondering what all the fuss was about.
Enjoying the feeling of air moving in and out of my lungs again, I braced myself for the next passing car. The knowledge that there would be more vehicles approaching didn't boost my confidence.
And that’s what happened. Every three, four, or five, or if I was lucky, six, seven, or maybe eight minutes, another pair of glaring eyes would swoop towards me like a bird of prey. Any clear visibility was obliterated, evoking blood-chilling terror as I attempted to dodge the brightness. I survived each near disaster with intense emotional strain. This drama played on for more than an hour.
Two-thirds of the way down the canyon, the rain eased up and finally stopped. Visibility returned to normal—at least nighttime normal. I took a deep breath. My eyes ached from straining to see but I thanked my lucky stars that I’d survived.
Tense as a nervous dog in a thunderstorm, my experience was a balanced one. I was equally drained physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The night was dark and moonless, but I could see clearer and farther than before. And with the windshield dry, the glare from passing cars became manageable. “Wow, Charlie! Safe at last! What a bitch that was!”
I'd been creeping along at twenty miles an hour, but now, beginning to relax, I accelerated to a reasonable speed while massaging the knots in my neck and shoulders with my free hand. I felt relief and a bit more confidence with every curving mile.
But my triumph was short-lived.
To be continued...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
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If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns