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May 17, 2009
Making adjustments: Mokelumne Hill to Valley Springs

Today Russell walked 13.23 miles!
Total walked so far = 22.48 miles

“To walk within the lines would make my life so boring;
I want to know that I have been to the extreme.”
– Avril Lavigne, “Anything But Ordinary”

The “Mokelumne” in Mokelumne Hill means “people of the village of Muk-kel” in the language of the Miwok Indians. It was one of the richest gold mining towns in California during the 1850s, with many of its 16-square-foot claims producing up to $20,000. In the lawless west, Mokelumne Hill gained a reputation as one of the bawdiest towns in the area. In 1851 there was at least one murder a week for 17 straight weeks among the population of 15,000 (one week there were five). Today, Moke Hill is a small town of fewer than 900 people along California’s historic (and touristy) Highway 49.

The Hotel Leger, in a building that once housed the Calaveras County courthouse, is one of the longest continuously operating hotels in California (since 1851). It is also supposed to be haunted (by George Leger himself) but we didn’t see anything during the night. We did hear a lot of noise though, as our windows overlooked the street below where people (and motorcycles) continued to be social well past midnight.

The Hotel Leger in Mokelumne Hill:
The McCarthy Suite has two rooms: Dirk was in room 12, while Gail and Russell were in room 11 (we slept in the bed by the window, because the other bed… um… wiggled…

Despite the noisy night, we were up again at 6:00 am this morning. I wanted to get a head start given today’s expected heat wave, and both Gail and Dirk volunteered to join me for breakfast at Frank’s Café, which opens at 7:00 am. Ignoring Gail’s advice of biscuits and gravy, I instead listened to Dirk and had blueberry waffles with whipped cream.

It was not even 8:00 am when I said my final goodbyes to Gail and Dirk for almost a week, crossed Highway 49, and began the second leg of my journey.

Almost immediately, I felt my heart rate increasing. With anyone else, it means they are getting a cardiovascular workout. With me, it means that my heart is misbehaving. I wasn’t in SVT palpitations, but my heart was warning me that I was on the verge. This put me in a dilemma. If I continued, my heart would keep overworking itself. If I stopped to rest, my heart would almost certainly react by going into palpitations – but the palpitations would stop sooner or later. I slowed my pace to the point that I was walking less than two miles per hour, but that felt ridiculous. At 10:00 I finally gave in and stopped. Sure enough, my heart went into palpitations.

Back when I was planning my walk, I had a choice between packing a folding chair and a therma-rest pad. I opted for the chair because I thought I would look silly lying down on the side of the road to rest. But the truth is, I normally can’t stop my palpitations simply by sitting down. I have to lie down.

So at 10:00 this morning, I sat on the side of the road in my folding chair, which did nothing to stop my palpitations. Finally, I folded up my chair, used it as a mat, and lay down on the side of the road with my daypack as a pillow. After about 10 minutes the palpitations finally stopped. (Strangely enough, none of the passing drivers stopped. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.)

Once my heart had clicked back into normal gear, I was able to make much better progress at my normal rate of three-plus miles per hour. Yesterday I was amused by swarms of ladybugs flying around me. Today I was annoyed by cobwebs all over the place. I have no idea where they were coming from, but I was constantly removing cobwebs from my face and arms as I walked. Every once in awhile there would be a baby spider attached to the web strand that I would have to brush off as well.

Today’s music selection was a mix that I like to call “Lilith Fair,” comprised of female artists from Sheryl Crow to Amy Lee to my personal favorite rebel, Avril Lavigne.

As with yesterday, there was no shoulder on the side of the road. I continued to try to squeeze over whenever a car came by; but the traffic was much heavier past Mokelumne Hill, so it was difficult. I waved at cars as they went by, and I came to some very stereotyped conclusions. Generally, women and senior citizens do not wave. The friendliest responses came from men driving trucks, who often waved back. While some drivers gave a friendly horn toot, some jerks thought it was funny to blast their horns at me very loudly.

In a funny coincidence (ha ha), today is not only supposed to be the peak of an unusual heat wave, it is also the leg of my trip that has the least shade. At 10:30, Gail phoned to inform me that the current temperature was 109º F. It certainly didn’t feel that hot to me – at least, not yet.

Today's terrain: pretty, but not a lot of shade

Both yesterday and today, I instinctively knew when it was noon, because my entire demeanor changed from pleasant to miserable. It’s one thing to have the morning sun on your back, but when the afternoon sun is in front of you it makes a world of difference. I stopped twice in small patches of shade (rare on today’s route) to guzzle the Gatorade that I had bought yesterday.

Today was a day for making adjustments. My original packing included two quart-sized water bottles. In hindsight, this was not a good idea. By purchasing two bottles of Gatorade, I was now carrying four quart-sized bottles. Even if I emptied the water bottles in favor of the electrolyte-restoring Gatorade, I still had to carry the bottles. So when Gail passed me on her final drive home, I gave the water bottles to her. I am now carrying two Gatorade bottles only. If I drink all of the Gatorade, I can refill the empty bottles with water. If I buy more Gatorade, I can throw the old bottles into a recycling bin. Much more flexible.

Another adjustment was my camera. At the last minute I had swapped my rechargeable camera for a smaller one (that uses disposable batteries) to save on weight. After one day, I had exhausted half of the battery power, a rate that cannot continue. So I swapped back to the original camera, which Gail fortunately still had.

It was so hot today, even the cows were in the shade

Today's walk took me past the tiny ghost town of Double Springs, which also has no shade. By the time I arrived in Valley Springs at 1:30 pm after walking 12 miles, I was exhausted. I stumbled into the local Starbucks Coffee with bloodshot eyes, major hat hair, and sweat covering both me and everything I was wearing. After washing up in the bathroom, I proceeded to park myself in a corner and cool down for the next couple of hours. (I picked Starbucks because it is a place where you can reliably – and inoffensively – park yourself in a chair for hours and nobody will complain.)

Strangely enough, there are no guest accommodations anywhere near downtown Valley Springs. In fact, the only accommodations anywhere in the area are 1.5 miles down the road (and out of my way), next to the golf course. There was no way I was going to walk that 1.5 miles at the height of this heat. My body would have rebelled. Instead, I took the necessary time to rehydrate and re-energize myself. I finally unparked myself from Starbucks at 3:00.

Nevertheless, the last half-hour walk to the motel was still grueling. After stopping in at the hardware store to buy a bungee cord (to better secure my chair to my daypack), I walked in the peak heat with constant traffic, no road shoulder and no shade.

I finally arrived at the 10th Green Inn, where I was checked in by Liz Qualkenbush, the manager. Liz can best be described as an absolute hoot: she is both friendly and funny. She made my day in several ways. First, contrary to the online descriptions, the inn serves continental breakfast in the morning. Second, contrary to the Yahoo yellow pages, there are restaurants nearby that are closer than walking all the way back to town. Third – and again contrary to the online descriptions – the inn now has Wi-Fi.

I immediately took a shower, which surprised me halfway through when it suddenly turned ice cold. Taking a quick nap, I wondered why the room was so hot until it finally dawned on me that I needed to turn the air conditioner on myself.

Dinner tonight is planned for the Fusion Grill on the far side of the golf course, recommended by both Liz and the girl at the hardware store.

Overall, today was a very, very tough day. Tomorrow is supposed to be eight degrees cooler than today, then eight more degrees cooler on Tuesday. We’ll see. What I do know is that tomorrow will be my longest walking day, a whopping eight miles longer than today. (In other words, it's almost the total of my first two days combined.) Gail (bless her heart) called to warn me that she looked specifically for shade during her drive back, and found very little for the next two days’ routes.

When I originally booked rooms, I tried to look for accommodations that had bathtubs – I figured a hot bath would be perfect after walking all day. But with the temperature outside still above 100º F, a hot bath is the furthest thing from my mind right now.

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