Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
There was a spot right on the corner of the rain fly where the water dripping off Rocinante’s drooped aileron drummed like an endless water torture. At least a hundred times, either Mark or Jackie threatened to go out, loosen the tie-down ropes on the wings and tighten the one up on the tail, to move that spot off of the rain fly and stop the endless thumpatathumpatathumpatathump. But, neither one of them had gotten quite irritated enough yet at the ongoing sound to go out and get wet over it, especially when they were dry and lying down. Then it always seemed as if neither ever remembered when they were up and about and already wet and able to do something about it.
Three days now, they’d been weathered in by this rainstorm. The rain was never heavy, and at times, it had almost quit, but there was nowhere near enough ceiling or visibility to fly.
There were only two positions where it was possible to spend time in the tent: sitting up, or lying down. They both had done their fair share of both, and Jackie was getting stiff in either position. She lay in the sleeping bag with Mark, watching him sleep. She didn’t feel sleepy in the slightest, and envied Mark his ability to nap at times like these. She lay there for a long time, trying to drift off, but it just wasn’t going to work.
After a while, she got up as quietly as she could, and pulled on panties, jeans, and a shirt, deciding to go sit in Rocinante for a while. She could turn on the radio there and not bother Mark, and best of all, she would have the seat to rest her back against.
Since the tent was pitched under Rocinante’s right wingtip, she didn’t have to bother with one of the ponchos, which were thrown over the Cessna’s wing strut so they might drip a little dryer.
With the plane’s tail on the ground, the right seat reclined back a little uncomfortably, until Jackie realized that the general idea was to relax, and this was a relaxing position.
Only after she had been settled back in the seat for a few minutes did she realize that she had nothing more to do in the cockpit than she did in the tent. She thought about digging out the aviation ground school books that Jack Daniels had given her back at Waverly, but she and Mark had been going through them very intensively over the past couple of days, more for something to do than any real need to get them studied to take her written exam. But, she had realized that, just then, even that left her cold. Thinking about some of those things would just build up the desire to get into the air again, and that they couldn’t do until the weather lifted.
She turned on her side a little, so she could look over into the luggage compartment, to see if there was anything there that could suggest something to do. There was; lying on the floor behind the left seat, half-hidden, was the blue notebook they used as a journal.
It really wasn’t much of a journal; it didn’t go into much detail. The eight days at Twillingate, for example, took all of three sentences, and the two weeks and more at Waverly took five. Still, she flipped through it anyway, using each entry to key her memory of some of the things that had happened. There were dates and places they’d stopped for fuel, or spent the night, and occasionally a line like "Flew over Grand Canyon." There were notes of when Rocinante had its oil changed and addresses of people whose info they wanted to save.
The last gave Jackie an idea. Early in the loose-leaf pages of the notebook was Roger and Kathy Griswold’s address, back there in Arvada Center, and Jackie had thought on occasion of dropping them a note, to let them know how the trip was coming, but she’d not yet gotten around to it.
There was a ball-point pen in the pocket with the navigation stuff in it, down by her ankle. She pulled it out, flipped to a blank page further back in the notebook, and began to write:
July 8, 1971
As she wrote that down, she realized that it had been a few days since she’d written a real letter to Dad and Sarah, not just a few lines on a picture postcard. She thumbed back through the pages to the logbook part of the notebook, and checked the dates. It had been clear back at Arroyo Grande, almost two weeks before! It didn’t seem like that long, Jackie thought, but she ran through her mind the dates that were on the pages. Five days of backpacking in the high Sierras, plus four days marooned in this godforsaken weather in this godforsaken hole, and then it snapped into place. Yes, it had been that long.
The letter to Roger and Kathy could come another time; it was time to get a letter written to Spearfish Lake. With this weather, it could be a nice, long letter, one she wouldn’t have to feel guilty about. She flipped back to the page where she had started the letter, and began to write:
Dear Dad and Sarah:
I think I understand how Noah felt after it had been raining a week or so. It’s only our fourth day of being stuck in this place by weather that’s too bad to fly in, but it seems like it’s been half of forever because there’s so little of interest to do here.
Actually, from what we saw of the place the first day we were here, it’s really a fairly nice little town, but with the rain and the overcast skies, it’s about as attractive as hell with the fires out. There’s been very little to do in the rain, and we’re all set to get out of here at the first break in the weather.
Jackie thought of the route they might have to take to leave; she and Mark had studied the map over and over again. It would have been possible to fly down as far as some place like Santa Rosa or Petaluma without getting more than a few hundred feet up, by flying out along the shoreline of the Pacific. But it was clear that while the weather might be barely flyable in some spots, it might not be in others. Even if they went as far south as Santa Rosa, they would still have to get up to 2500 feet or so to clear the foothills north of San Francisco bay, and still stay out of the restricted areas. While they’d wanted to fly as much of the spectacular western coast as they could, and had managed a small share of it, it was not going to be much fun if they had to put up with weather like this.
Reading the weather segments of Jackie’s ground school materials gave them a possible solution to the problem of where to go. It was clear that much of the bad weather was "upslope", blowing in off the Pacific, and then generated by the Coast Range. If they could get over into the northern San Joaquin valley, behind the coast range, then the weather ought to be better. Mark’s twice-daily calls to the Flight Service Station in Oakland for weather information had confirmed it. Now, if they could only get a real break in the weather, both here and farther south, one that looked as if it might last for a few hours, then perhaps they could make their escape.
She picked up the pen and continued to write:
We’ve been wanting to stay close to the plane, in case the weather breaks, and it’s all very tiring, after all the good weather we’ve seen. The weather has been perfect most days, clear back to Louisiana, and if it gets bad it only does so for a few hours. We’re not prepared to spend days weathered in, and it’s getting to us. We’ve been spending a lot of time in the tent, or in a little place up the road a ways, but it’s rather boring.
Jackie smiled. The "little place up the road" was a bar, and she could not imagine what a country-western bar was doing on the northern California coast. It had the advantage of being warm, and inside, out of the rain, but there wasn’t much else that could be said for it. If someone could take an axe to that jukebox, it might not even have been a bad sort of place, but the jukebox was very loud and going all the time, all with country-western music that Jackie mostly had never heard of before. One time, she wandered over to the jukebox, willing to drop in a couple of quarters to hear something that was a little more top-40, but the only names she recognized were country-western, like Johnny Cash. There were a lot of names there that she’d never heard of before: Bob Wills, Roy Acuff, Tammy Wynette, Ernest Tubbs, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizell. Johnny Cash she could tolerate, even though she’d heard Ring of Fire so many times that she’d gotten thoroughly sick of it, along with others like Harper Valley PTA. There were a couple that weren’t so bad, and she’d laughed the first time she’d heard the lyric line, "If you give me forty acres then I’ll turn this rig around," but it wasn’t so funny the fifth or sixth time.
The only song on the jukebox that wasn’t country-western was A Horse With No Name, and it was obvious that it had been put on there as a mistake, because she instantly fell in love with it.
The loud jukebox had to be a ploy to sell more beer; get drunk enough and it might deaden the pain of the racket from that terrible music. Unfortunately, Mark and Jackie had agreed that only one of them could drink, since the other had to be sober enough to fly them out of there if the weather should break. It made it hard all the way around, and they only went to the bar when they absolutely couldn’t stand the tent any longer, and then a couple hours there made the quiet of the tent sound pretty good.
She continued to write:
I haven’t been feeling real good the past few days. It’s probably the weather that’s gotten me down, plus being stiff and sore from sitting and laying in the tent so much . . .
That wasn’t the real problem, and Jackie knew it, but there was no graceful way to say that she was having her period, and it was getting to her.
About one in every four or five times, it really made her crampy and miserable and irritable. This was the first time on the trip that she was having a bad one, but she had discovered something else that cut the edge. She remembered Kirsten saying one time that making love with Henry massaged away a lot of the crampiness, and Jackie had given it a try with Mark. Between aspirin and having sex four and five times a day taking the edge off the suffering, this bad one was going better than it had any right to, and it was starting to ease up, now.
But there was no way that she was going to tell her father and Sarah of the marvelous way she’d found to relieve menstrual cramps. She chewed on the end of her pen and thought for a bit before putting it back to the paper.
. . . and Mark has been good about giving me massages to relieve some of the stiffness, but I think the real cure will be to get out of this place. We came here because we were told that this town had a really nice July 4 fireworks display, and it was very good, but the weather closed in overnight, and here we are, still.
The fireworks were very nice. The Spearfish Lake Lions Club for years had sponsored a small display out over the lake at home, but it always seemed like it was over with as soon as it got started. This was supposed to be a big one, and it was, although not as big as some of those she had seen on television. They had lots of rockets, and some big mortars, and some of the biggest displays lit up the sign. She had "ooed" and "aaahed" a lot at the gaudy colors in the sky, and at the booms of the big cannon crackers.
It wasn’t until the fireworks were over with that she had realized that Mark had been uneasy during the whole affair. She’d asked him about it, and had been told, "I’ve seen enough fireworks to last me for a while." There was something in the way he said it that made her realize that he was talking about Vietnam, and it gave her the feeling that he’d seen things there he wasn’t prepared to talk about, so she didn’t ask.
She realized that she should go back to Arroyo Grande and recap some of the things that had happened to them.
I guess it’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote to you from Arroyo Grande, and I think I mentioned to you my buying a skirt in a Goodwill store and going to church. It’s just a cheap skirt, and I’ll keep it in case I need one again, or unless Mark needs a rag to clean the oil off his hands.
It was also a short skirt. She had known it was short when she bought it, but she was looking more for waist size than she was for length, and short skirts were in fashion. However, with her long legs, the skirt was even shorter than she had realized. It really wasn’t a "going to church" skirt, more of a "going to party skirt", but she hadn’t realized it until she put it on shortly before going to church, and there no longer been any choice.
Fortunately, this was California, and they had chosen a church that happened to not be too uptight. The choir also couldn’t sing worth a hill of beans; even a guitarist who gave a special presentation was dishwater. She’d been spoiled by the singing at Brother Erasmus’ church, and she knew it.
But the embarrassment she felt over the skirt that morning was nothing against the embarrassment she felt that afternoon. They had agreed that since they’d been swimming in the Atlantic and the Gulf, they had to go swimming, so they’d put their swimsuits on under their shorts and T-shirts and hitched a ride to the beach.
It had turned out to be a "clothing-optional" beach, and Jackie had never seen so much bare skin in her life. Under the circumstances, she felt more embarrassed in her bikini than she would have thought, so, along with Mark, she had bitten the bullet and joined the majority.
She had often wondered what it would be like to do something like that; but then, most Spearfish Lake kids had wondered at one time or another how they would have felt if invited to the nudist camp out north of town, so thinking about it wasn’t so strange. What was strange was that once she’d gotten over the initial embarrassment, she’d discovered that she didn’t mind the group nudity. Not that it was something she’d seek out for its own sake, but if the opportunity or the need arose again, it was good to know she could handle it. But, it was something else that her father and Sarah didn’t need to know.
We went swimming in the Pacific after church, and explored the town, which is kind of a neat little place, although kind of overrun by people out of Los Angeles out for the weekend. We stayed at Arroyo Grande for a second night, and thought about getting on a bus and going into L.A. to do some sightseeing, but as it turned out, we didn’t. After all, we’ve seen Disney World, Disneyland just seemed like more of the same thing. There were some other things in Los Angeles that we would liked to have seen, but somehow, it just didn’t seem like it was worth the expense or the trouble.
It was more than the expense or trouble. Neither of them liked cities very much; Camden was too big a town for their taste. Disneyland was the one thing that could have drawn them, but after the countryside they had seen, a repeat of the cheap thrills of Disney World didn’t seem worth the trouble.
They’d been in the plane, heading north from Arroyo Grande, before they really had started talking about it. She had said to Mark that sooner or later they were going to have to go into a city on this trip.
"Why?" he’d asked.
"Because it’s there," she had told him. "We want to sample the variety of this country, not just the wild and backcountry places."
"If I had to stop in a city, I would think that San Francisco would be the place to stop," Mark said. I’ve been there twice, but it was just in the airport, both times. I never even saw the Golden Gate, and figured that I ought to at least do that much. But I never did. Maybe we can stop there."
So, the next morning, we got up, and flew north a long ways to Mariposa-Yosemite airport, and managed to get a ride up to Yosemite National Park. Mark and I had talked about hiking the John Muir Trail from Sequoia to Yosemite National Park, but that’s way up there in elevation, and it’s longer than we had realized, too long to carry all the food we would need. It would have meant three weeks on the trail! That’s too much, much too much.
Both of them had been eager to do it, especially after seeing the beauty of the area, but it was just too long a trip. It would have probably meant closer to four weeks than three, by the time they counted in side trips, bad weather, and goofing off, and there was no way they were going to be able to pack any four weeks’ worth of food. Given a little more time for planning, they might have been able to work out some sort of arrangement to pick up prepackaged food along the way, but they hadn’t planned that far ahead. And, they hadn’t wanted to.
Besides, it was as Mark had said, "There’s so much to do in only a few months of summer; it would be kind of a shame to waste four weeks of it when we could be other places, too."
"Maybe if we’re still going next summer, we could come back and do it right," she had said. They had agreed that it was something to put on a list for someday. It was hard to think that they might still be traveling like this in another year. She hadn’t even mentioned it to Mark, but somehow, this seemed unnatural to her, and there was a gut feeling that it would be coming to an end. Mark had a job that started in a little more than a year, and they might well be traveling until then, but there was obviously going to have to be an end to this trip, sometime.
She thought about that for a moment; the future seemed fuzzy after the trip ended. What would she do then? Not willing to think about it just then, she picked up her pen and continued to write:
There’s so much in the way of neat back country in the Sierras that we had a tough time deciding to just limit it to Yosemite; you could spend a summer up there and it still wouldn’t be enough. We settled for five days in Yosemite and the high country beyond. One night, at Yosemite, we camped in a campground full of mountain climbers, who spend their summers climbing some of those sheer, tall cliffs there. Those people are crazy!
They were not only crazy to be climbing those steep cliffs, but they were crazy when they were in camp, too. Mark and Jackie had kind of gotten absorbed into a party in the campground, and it was basically a blowout. The smell of marijuana filled the air, and there was a lot of beer around. The climbers were full of crazy antics, horseplay, and showing off, and the party went on much later than either she or Mark had been able to last.
When they saw some of those same climbers start for some sheer cliff early the next morning, she’d been unable to believe it. How could they take on something as difficult and dangerous as that with hangovers like they must have, and virtually no sleep, to boot?
They stood and watched a while. It was clear that climbing the huge wall was not going to be a fast process. "Have you ever wanted to try that?" she’d asked Mark.
"I like flying," Mark said. "But any flight from there would have to be a pretty short one. Jumping out of a plane with a parachute in the Army was bad enough, but those jokers don’t even have chutes."
"I didn’t know you’d done parachute jumping," she’d said.
"I’ve made eleven jumps," Mark said. "Except for the jump pay, that was eleven too many."
Jackie remembered the scene some more. It had been fun, although the floor of Yosemite had been crowded, and they loaded their packs, and went to confer with a ranger about where they could go in the back country. They told him where they had spent the night. "You stayed at Camp Four?" he said. "I don’t know how those guys do that. Some of them are up here from April through October living like that. God knows what they do to make a living."
How to write about the back country in Yosemite? It was tough. Perhaps the best thing to do was just put the pen to the paper and try:
The back country of Yosemite is very pretty, but it’s also very full of people, and we’re just beginning to get into the height of the summer season. It was so difficult, after being used to being almost alone in the back country every other time we’ve gone backpacking. Virtually every campground we stayed at was full!
While the high country in Yosemite and beyond had been great, she couldn’t believe the people! It was almost wall to wall people up there. Several times, she and Mark had reminded themselves of their little trip up into the Sangre de Cristos from the airfield at Angel Fire, how they hadn’t seen another soul, and how peaceful and quiet it had been. Not that some of the people they met weren’t pretty interesting people, but in a crowd scene like that, it was difficult to get to know anybody. About all anyone wanted to talk about was the mechanics of backpacking, the gear, where they’d hiked, where there might be a free campsite, and after a while that got tiring.
"This isn’t wild country," Mark had said. "This is a city without the flush toilets."
Still, we met some neat people at virtually every campsite, and a lot of people we met envied us our trip, when we told them about it. We did get down the John Muir trail as far as Thousand Islands Lake and Devil’s Postpile National Monument, but that involved a little getting rides to intermediate trailheads, and then managing to get more rides back to the plane.
She hadn’t detailed to her father and Sarah about how dependent on hitchhiking they were for getting rides on the ground. Sometimes, they had to pass up going to some interesting place, just because it was too far to walk. That put a limit on their traveling, although on occasion they had been able to borrow a car for a little while, like to go to lunch from an airport, or something. They never went near an airport big enough to have rental cars, and they were expensive, but a car would have been nice to have.
When she was with Mark, she supposed that hitchhiking was all right, but there was no way she was going to do it by herself.
Thinking back, it was amazing that she had accepted a ride from Roger and Kathy, back there in Titusville, although that had worked out all right.
It had taken hours to get a ride from Devil’s Postpile back to Tuolumne Meadows, and then on up over the pass and down into Yosemite. It had eaten up most of a very frustrating day, and they were tired when they got back to the airport. It was as far as they had gotten from Rocinante on the trip, but there just weren’t any alternatives when it came to airports. It made them realize that they were going to have to be more careful about picking their adventures when ground transportation was involved.
Still, it had been pretty countryside, and although she liked the hiking, somehow she couldn’t see walking the length of that trail. She remembered how she had envied the people riding horses up the trail, and remembered how when she was a little younger, she would have loved to have had a horse. She imagined what a horse trip up that trail would have been like, and wrote:
It would be fun to do a horse-pack trip through this area; there seems to be a lot of horse-packing here.
Once we finally got back to the plane, we were glad to see it. We flew north up along the western slopes of the Sierras, partly just to sightsee, but partly to avoid all of the military airfields and commercial air traffic in the San Francisco-Sacramento area. Then, we turned west and flew around San Francisco Bay to a little airport at Novato, which is just north of San Francisco. That was last Saturday afternoon when we got there. We managed to get a bus across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco – the first really big city we’ve been in on this trip. We spent some time sightseeing, then got a room at a Holiday Inn. Neither Mark or I had had a real bath or shower since Durango, just sponge baths and swimming, and I guess we must have smelled and looked like a couple of dirty hippies, so it was real good to clean up and feel human again.
There were a lot of hippies running around San Francisco, and Jackie had resented being mistaken for one. She didn’t mind an occasional beer, but seeing life as "groovy" through a drugged-up haze and saying "far out" to everything didn’t seem all that great.
Face it, she thought, you’re a country girl, and you like it like that. Maybe with the life she and Mark were leading that summer, it would have been possible to mistake her for a hippie, but she knew Mark didn’t intend to make a life of living like that, and she surely didn’t either.
That had kind of taken the edge off of San Francisco, and that wasn’t all that had happened:
We went and saw some of the sights, and had a dinner in Chinatown. I’m not too sure what the main course was, but I wouldn’t want to be a stray dog running loose in that neighborhood!
The Chinese dinner had been incomprehensible and she hadn’t cared for it. While they were in the restaurant, Mark talked with the waitress in Chinese, just a few phrases, before they broke out into English. She asked Mark where he learned Chinese, and he told her that he only knew a few phrases, like "How are you," and "Where’s the john?" She knew he was fairly good with languages, and decided he must have picked it up in Vietnam or someplace. She’d been living with Mark for so long, she thought she knew him pretty well, but it had proved that he was still capable of surprising her.
Afterwards, they had gone up to the North Beach district, which was supposed to have some pretty good night spots, and they were kind of hoping for a night on the town. One place they went into had proven to be a topless joint, and Jackie could not imagine what men saw in women running around topless. There was one girl there that was fairly slender, but she had enormous breasts, obviously with the help of some plastic surgery. It looked like she was carrying a couple of droopy basketballs around on her chest, and Jackie could not imagine what it must have been like to have to herd around those enormous boobs. She shook her head remembering it; the things women do for men! That was another thing she decided that she’d rather not tell her father and Sarah about, so she just kind of skimmed over it:
We checked out some other sights around San Francisco, and the next morning, we decided that we had played tourist more than enough, so we got another bus back across the Golden Gate Bridge – that’s quite a view, too – and got back to the plane. One of the places we had wanted to visit was Point Reyes, which is supposed to be really pretty, but it was just too far without a car, and getting rides is always a pretty iffy proposition, We’d about blown our luck on getting rides up in Yosemite. It would be nice to explore this place for a summer with a car, though.
They had really wanted to explore Point Reyes, or at least Mark had. It had the reputation of being extremely pretty and not well visited, but on the July 4th weekend, it might seem as crowded as Yosemite had been, and that took some of the edge off not going there.
They had talked about doing some more exploring with a car. They kicked around the idea of seeing if they could find some sort of a fifty-dollar clunker like Mark had driven around Spearfish Lake, and just taking off with it for a week or two. But, on looking into it, they realized that with license and inspection and all the other stuff, it was a little steep for a car they probably couldn’t trust as far as they could throw a fit. Besides, there was an unspoken feeling that it was a little unfaithful to Rocinante.
The best they had come up with was a decision to do the trip with a car if they came back in another year, but they knew that was a big if.
They were still kicking it around in the airport office in Novato when they heard someone talking about the fireworks in Mendocino, and decided that coming here had potential. Besides, it was someplace they could fly to.
She thought for a minute, then added:
It was at the airport in Novato where we heard about the fireworks in Mendocino. Since we had wanted to fly up the coast – it has the reputation of being really pretty – we decided that Mendocino would make a really good place for a night stop. That was a mistake. We’re still here.
Dad, Sarah, it would be real easy to spend a summer or even years in California. There’s a lot to see, and we barely scratched the surface. I’m sitting here in the plane writing this – Mark is taking a nap in the tent – and it seems like a long time since Mark and I finished the wings and left on this trip, but it’s only been just about three months. Those wings have carried us a long way so far, and we’ve seen things I never dreamed I would see. But there’s a lot to see yet, so we’re having to make a real effort to press on and not blow a lot more time in California.
Jackie leaned back and thought about it. Yes, there was a lot to see in California, but that was the case anywhere. Like she had written, she had seen things on this trip that she had never expected to see in her life. Some of the people they met had been people she would have never met if she’d chickened out and stayed in Spearfish Lake, what her fears had told her to do. She thought back over some of the experiences and the people.
Some of the places stood out, and the places that most easily came to mind often weren’t the big tourist attractions, but just places where people lived and worked, places like Waverly and Twillingate and Leadville. There were exceptions, of course, like Titusville and Yosemite, but all of a sudden she realized that the best memories came when they weren’t acting like tourists.
It would be nice to have another Waverly or Twillingate experience, she realized. But, those weren’t the things that they could plan; they just happened, and not just because they were automatically in a place for a few days.
She realized that she was running out of things to say, and there was still some business to attend to:
It’s only been a couple of weeks or so since we got mail from you at Palomar. I guess what we’ll have to do is press on for a few days, and then try to select some place where we’ll be in a few days, then call you and let you know about it. It worked well last time, but I’ll have to talk to Mark to see what he thinks. Getting mail works better when we’re in a place for a while, but it’s not often that we know we’re going to be somewhere for a few days, and the next time we’re fairly sure about is still a couple of months away. But, it would not be surprising if we stopped some place for a while. We’ve seen a lot of interesting sights while we’ve been moving every day, but we have better luck at meeting and getting to know interesting people when we’re in the same place for a few days. That is, up until this place, anyway.
What else to add? She stared at what she had written, and decided that what she’d done added up to a pretty good letter. Her hand was a little tired from the writing, but maybe she could go ahead and do the letter to Roger and Kathy after all. It wouldn’t have to be as long a letter; only a couple of pages would do.
She leaned back in the seat, to try and think if there was anything else she should add in closing. She looked out through the rain-spotted Plexiglas of Rocinante’s windshield, and all of a sudden realized that it wasn’t raining, and the sky seemed a little lighter than before.
Maybe this was the break in the weather they had been praying for. She thought about it for a minute, then started to open the door to go and wake up Mark, so they could go and make a call to check the weather.
Only then did she remember her letter, and quickly scribbled:
The sky looks like it’s breaking up a little, and maybe that will mean we can get out of here. I’m going to wrap this up, now.