Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 3, August 1969
As Arizona rolled under my road-worn tires and acid spun through my boggled brain, I thought about this trip to Alaska we were undertaking. My reflections drifted back to when we hatched this nutty adventure. The memories were clear if cartoonish, the voices distant, enhanced with vivid, undulating colors and sounds.
Early the previous morning, Albert had sat across from me in a rundown Santa Fe Diner.
“We can pick up route 66 in Albert-turkey,” he said between bites.
Lifting my coffee cup in both hands, I grinned. “Good idea. I’d like to stop in LA and look up this foxy little blonde named Ronnie. She slipped me her number before she left Davis. I’d hate to miss out on anything—and she might have a friend.”
“I’m okay with LA.”
Albert’s straight brown hair poked out from under his ragged straw cowboy hat. It had grown during the past few months and was now flirting with his shoulders. “Speaking of sexy," I said, "Serena was really something. Too bad you had to say goodbye to that.”
“You don’t know the half of it, man,” he said, with a sly smile. “That lady knew a thing or two.”
“You offering details?”
“That’s all you get, man.”
“Fair enough. So a day or two in LA, then a beeline to Davis? I’ve got a few things to do there, including checking out the younger sister of Mitch’s squeeze.” I finished chewing on my hash browns, “Boy, these spuds are just the way I love ’em—nice and crunchy.”
Albert took a bite of buttered toast, shoving it under his dark push-broom mustache with care. “I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this,” he said. “We can catch a freight train in Davis. The trains slow down to a crawl and sometimes even stop there, just as they bend northwards toward Seattle.”
“I once jumped a freight from there with Hal.”
“Speaking of Hal, I talked to him a few weeks ago. He and Nancy are up in northern Cal in a little town called Dunsmuir. He hired on at a lumber mill. Told me it’s where the trains stop to attach extra engines before going over the grade near Mount Shasta. We could jump off there and pay them a visit.”
“Sweet.” I blotted my lips with a napkin, then twisted both ends of my handlebar mustache.
“Then we can hop another freight north to Seattle and hitchhike through Canada to Alaska.”
“One problem there: I can’t take Charlie through Canada. They put dogs in quarantine for weeks. No way I’d do that to her. We could fly to Alaska, though.”
“Yeah, I see what you mean. Okay, we’ll take a plane from Seattle to Anchorage. That’s the closest city to Marvin and Nina’s place. We can hitch from there, but we need to take a train to get to where he’s building his cabin. It’s like ten miles from the nearest town.”
“Sounds like a plan, man.”
“It seems like our course is set, my friend.”
We bumped knuckles and signaled the waitress for our bill.
* * * * *
Albert’s brake lights glowed as he slowed for some construction, shaking me out of my recollections. I stared through the windshield at the faded green tailgate of his ’52 Ford pickup, now equipped with a homemade canvas camper that he had draped over metal hoops. The thing reminded me of a covered wagon.
Albert was handy that way. Mechanically brilliant, he could build or fix most anything. His talent had earned him the nickname Mr. Wizard, based on the children’s TV show that featured remarkable scientific experiments.
For just a moment, I hallucinated an image of that sultry woman from Kansas City, dressed as a fancy Indian princess, decked out in leather fringes and beads, swaying and beckoning from the back of Albert’s camper. My heart leaped from my chest, then bounced back into place as the apparition faded away.
That lady had taken me for a ride! Everything from rooftop love under a star-studded sky to finding myself dumped in lieu of another—her woman friend no less. That sure threw me for a loop.
As I rode my horse through thirty days of wilderness, my deprived imagination had nagged me with the hope that she’d show up in Aspen. The quiet of the trail had produced many romantic fantasies, each of which I longed to act out. It would have been a bittersweet rendezvous, chock-full of sensual delight.
“Damn Charlie, ain’t love a bitch? Wonder if we’ll ever see that sassy lady again?”
Story of my life. I’ve fallen in love more times than I could count. If fools rush in, I was the guy crouched down wearing cleats, waiting for the gun to go off.
It was a mystery how something as sweet as the love of a woman could torment a guy so. The human heart must be made of strong gristle to be able to endure such abuse. Not that I was going to let the lows deter me. I learned years ago that the pleasures of love were well worth any anguish.
I looked back at Albert’s camper for another sign of the lady. Nothing.
His construction couldn’t hold a candle to the stellar dwelling I was hauling on Evergreen Carmen, my reliable ’55 Chevy pickup. My good friends Hal and Russ had built the little house for me out of the blue, complete with a Dutch door, skylight, fold-down bed, and a host of other amenities.
A smile crept onto my face as a burst of appreciation filled me. What a gift to have buddies like that. It had served as my comfortable home on wheels for the past three months—that is, when I wasn’t sleeping on the ground while on my horse trek.
Every now and again I’d feel a pang of regret that I had to leave my fine pony, Geronimo, behind. He had been a real pal, and I couldn’t help but miss the big fellow—or worry whether he was all right with his new owners.
It had been the plan from the start. Mitch and I would buy horses, ride them north, and then sell them. Who’d have thought it would feel like this. I never counted on the bond I’d form with Geronimo. After spending so long together in the wilderness, going through all those experiences—of course we were going to get close.
It had been tough as hell saying goodbye—like part of me had stayed with him.
“Do you feel the same way, Charlie? You two were real buddies.” She tipped her head in my direction, then laid it back on my thigh. “I hope his new owners appreciate him.” I looked above Albert’s camper at a few wispy clouds. “Please be okay, good buddy.”
It got me appreciating the incredible journey I’d recently completed with my fellow draft resister Mitch. We’d bought our horses in Taos and traipsed through four national forests, all the way to Aspen—filled with enough challenges, hazards, and porcupines to fill a lifetime.
The whole episode had evolved from weed-induced chatter to the escapade of our lives. After thirty days of high adventure, I’d been struggling with the transition back to a somewhat normal life.
Fortunately, Albert had met us in Colorado and resolved my “What next?” dilemma. Now we were heading to Alaska, aiming to help Crazy Marvin build his fanciful cabin in the woods. One grand dream fulfilled—and off to the next.
What would tomorrow bring?
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