4.Hiking the Valley, Hunger Lurks

Chapters: Escaping the Heat | El Salto | Into the Valley | Dogs in the Night | Hiking the Valley, Hunger Lurks | Discovery | La Ciudad

Homestead in the Valley

The first named community of the day was La Lecheria, a name we remembered from the bus ride. Farmers, busy with chores, nodded as we passed as did two women milking a patient cow, untied and unhobbled. Pigs rooted about. A bull eyed us. Two sheep dogs tending their flock of absent-minded sheep watched us closely, but stayed with their flock. I was glad. I’d had enough of dogs.

We both tired quickly and Robert’s feet were very sore. Past the town, we followed an abandoned road up a little creek into the trees and collapsed. After only two hours of hiking on our second day, we traded lists of aches and pains and decided we might like to stay the night where we were. After all, the point was to be cool, not necessarily to hike all day, though if we did, it was a bonus.

We relaxed, washed socks, aired blistered feet and did not think about food. At least we tried. We were getting fat on the boat so we only brought a package of soup, one can of meat and two rolls of Lifesavers a day for the two of us. Physical activity while living on our boat was limited to bike trips to town for supplies and once, a short hike to the hill overlooking the harbor. Maybe it was not the smartest thing, a Spartan diet while hiking. And we had hoped there might be something to buy along the way, but there we were.

While not thinking about food, I explored the area and enjoyed the wildlife, woodpeckers and other birds and a rattle snake. Robert aired his raw feet. It was pleasant to just enjoy the cool air and familiar Oregon-like scenery.

The next morning we studied the overcast sky while we sucked on our breakfast: two Lifesavers apiece. As Robert dressed, a deep motor thrummed toward us along our “abandoned” road.

“Robert, hurry up. We have guests.”

A logging truck with crew passed. I smiled my best smile but they did not stop until they were out of sight. We tidied up a bit and wandered over to find them.

The men had a roaring fire going in front of a large overhanging rock and a pot of water heating. One of them worked on a crossword puzzle and the others stood around the fire chatting, rubbing their hands together to warm them after the cold ride. We tried to be neighborly but they didn’t have much patience with our slow Spanish so we didn’t stay long.

We checked the sky again. It was clear for the moment, but we wondered if it would last. “Whatever we decide will be wrong so it really doesn’t matter,” Robert said. Sure enough, as soon as the tent was down and the sleeping bags stuffed and tied onto our packs, the clouds began to form. We hoisted up the packs and hoped for the best.

Another hummingbird buzzed me, medium brown with a bright metallic green throat. He hovered right in my face, flew away to return again, apparently attracted by my orange jacket. It was so persistent that Robert carefully dropped his pack and felt for his camera, but alas, the bird was gone.

More fields, pines, cows and gates. Robert whined about being hungry, which I was as well, but I wasn’t whining. When we encountered our first house of the day we approached the occupants hoping we could buy some food. The log cabin was surrounded by a large well-swept yard of hard packed dirt. Not a blade of grass or pine needle could be seen, yet it was not at all muddy in spite of the recent rain. It was similar to the others we had seen with a neat stack of fresh cut lumber drying next to the house and wandering pigs fenced away from the vegetables and flowers.

Two women, perhaps mother and daughter, met us outside a lean-to shelter next to the house. They were understandably reserved, but friendly to the strange gringos in their yard.

After pleasantries, I said, “No tenemos mucho comida y tenemos hambre. Tiene comida para comprar?” We were hungry because we didn’t have much food. Did they have any food we could buy?

The older woman was happy to sell us some tortillas and a little cheese for a peso but there were no eggs available, which would have made lovely egg-drop soup for dinner.

We took the little package, thanked them and waved goodbye.

The valley walls closed in for a while and then opened into an idyllic high mountain meadow with six dwellings scattered about, each with their lumber, pigs and pig-proof gardens. We set up our camp stove next to the track. I took out the tortillas, heated them and added the cheese to melt. Basking in the serenity, we fed our grumbling stomachs.

The occupants of the nearest house were curious, and finally two men trudged up the hill. We finished the last of our snack as they approached. We told them our abbreviated story and we learned that the green lumber was all hand sawn, possibly at the mill we had passed earlier, and was now drying to build another house where it was piled. They said the next ranches were far, which was not very informative but we realized food would be scarce in the direction we were headed.

After leaving the little valley the railroad bed ran through a tunnel. Pushing our packs through a hole in the chain link fence, we hoisted them and took our first steps into the gloom. Water dripped onto the rough floor and waterdogs and beetles scurried around in the drainage gutter. Deeper in the tunnel depressions in the wall looked like filled in doorways and became black abysses where fun house ghouls could pop out at any time. The black holes became vacuums that tried to suck me in. Our footfalls sounded hollow where the concrete had begun to rot and I imagined falling through to…what? A black hole?

At the center of the tunnel, we could barely see the openings at either end. Robert turned on his flashlight. Being able to see calmed my jumpy mind.

At our next camp, I left Robert propped against a log, pulling his socks off. I followed a logging road uphill to see how far it was to the highway. I wanted to assure myself that it would be possible to abort our hike if we had to. It only took ten or fifteen minutes before heavy motors indicated help was near if we needed it. When I returned to camp, Robert was airing his blistered feet. They looked gruesome to me, but he seemed cheerful enough.

“I was just getting relaxed when a donkey brayed and shattered my repose,” he laughed.

The weather cleared and we cooked and ate outside for the first time. Things were looking up. On my side trip I had found some bug-infested pines that gushed forth great wads of pitch, one as large as a golf ball. Determined to start a fire, I lay the pitch on the ground and looked around for dry fuel. Robert just rolled his eyes as he hobbled off to wash the dishes, picking wild strawberries along the way. I piled semi-dry twigs and needles on a sheet of dry bark and added the pitch balls. By the time Robert returned, I had a permanent blaze, a cheery addition to our placid camp.


Go to the next chapter: Discovery