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May 16, 2009
The adventure begins: Glencoe to Mokelumne Hill

Today Russell walked 9.25 miles!

“There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it.”
– Charles Dudley Warner

There is a basic rule of scuba diving. When you are 20 feet under water, breathing through a tube to a tank strapped to your back, you are never, ever supposed to look up and let your mind wander. If you start to think about the fact that there is 20 feet of water above you and you are breathing through a tube to a tank strapped behind your back, you will begin to panic. You will start to hyperventilate, thrash about, and that will be the end of you.

Until this morning I had actually given very little thought to the fact that I’m going to walk 160 miles. I’ve been too busy with work and family. As I walked around our mountain house this morning, it suddenly hit me that I am attempting the utterly foolhardy goal of walking 160 miles. My immediate reaction was to try not to think about it anymore.

I did spend the morning packing and repacking my stuff once more. I was able to remove about half a pound’s worth of weight from my backpack. I made myself two sandwiches (peanut butter & jelly and honey), then decided that I couldn’t stall anymore.

At 11:00 am, I loaded myself up, said goodbye to Gail and Dirk, and walked down the hill. (With a heat wave starting today, I really should have left earlier. But with only eight miles to walk today, my other fear was arriving too early in Mokelumne Hill and having no place to go.)

Highway 26 has been written up in magazines as one of the best motorcycle roads in the entire country. (This has annoyed our neighbor to no end.) It is full of twists and turns – and yes, there are a lot of motorcycles that whiz by. There is also no shoulder most of the time; sometimes there is no room at all between the road and the side of a cliff. I stayed safe, stopping and squeezing myself off of the road whenever a vehicle came past.

Today's terrain:
The unpaved path on our property
Highway 26, which has no shoulder

The first half of the walk was terrific. It wasn’t too hot, the road was shady, and I was full of energy. (For the second half, just eliminate those three things.) Turkey vultures floated in the sky high overhead. Closer to earth, I was treated to swarms of ladybugs, who took particular delight in flying straight at my face.

My music selection for today was a mix tape of “Travel Songs,” beginning with Don MacLean’s “American Pie” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “America.” (I always listen to these at the start of an adventure, whether it’s a car trip, a plane ride, or whatever).

Halfway through the walk I encountered a gentleman sitting on the side of the road in the shade, eating a burrito. Next to him was a bicycle fully laden with a bedroll and panniers. He is at the beginning of an 18-day solo bicycle ride from San Francisco all the way to Denver, averaging 70 miles a day. (He lives in Denver, flew to San Francisco, and had his biked shipped.) I asked him why he was doing this. He said, “Well… I’m turning 50…” I started laughing.

Russell took his lunch – as planned – on a folding chair on the side of the road

I finally arrived at the historic Leger Hotel in Mokelumne Hill at 3:00 pm. I was hot and tired. I was also excited – yes, excited as opposed to relieved – that I have actually completed the first leg of my walk! I am happy to report that I had absolutely no trouble checking in. As planned, I showered and washed my clothes. I also walked down to the local mini-market to buy three bottles of Gatorade – one for today and two for tomorrow.

We are here the third weekend in May, which is coincidentally also the annual “Frog Jumping Contest” (named for the famous Mark Twain short story) in nearby Angels Camp. As a result, we’re told that the area is more populated that usual. Fortunately, the hotel supplies complimentary ear plugs.

Gail and Dirk drove down in the early evening (nice and clean after a hard day's work, thanks to our dinky solar shower) to join me for dinner and a night at the hotel. Our dinner reservation was for 7:00, but we ended up waiting until 9:00 before our entrees actually arrived at our table. Apparently, the hotel had severely underestimated the crowds for “Frog Jumping” weekend, and the chef had the night off. In order to create Dirk’s dinner salad, the staff actually had to run out to the grocery store because they had run out of lettuce. We ended up sitting next to a rather rambunctious bachelorette party, and our last-minute waitress was none other than Debbie the office manager. Ultimately it was a very enjoyable evening, still warm enough to walk around outside at 10:00 pm.

Yesterday I had my first successful venture with accessing the Internet by “tethering” my cell phone to my PC (the first time we have ever had Internet up at our mountain house). Today I am pleased to report that the Hotel Leger has recently added Wi-Fi to its amenities.

Today is my dad’s birthday; he would have been 82 years old. If he were alive today, he would undoubtedly tell me I’m nuts to be doing this walk. Happy birthday dad!

Gail, Russell and Dirk at the Hotel Leger

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