September 28, 2011 Since we left the summit of Mount Etna, things have been a little different around here. With the addition of Jim Fox and his rental car to our RV caravan, things - sneakers, RVs, language - are a little bit cleaner, and we suddenly have to double the coffee we brew.
There are universal properties that all parents possess, and in times of need and desperation, those properties kick into high gear. The wonderful and supportive Judy Patneaude actually sent FOUR tupperware boxes of cookies to the nearest town for us to pick up (even gluten-free for Marion!). Ben's equally amazing mother Joelyn picked us up from the airport and dropped us at the RV rental with a bag full of food. My own mom and aunts tenaciously comment and "like" our updates as if feeding us emotional comfort food, and now we have our very own Dad on the trail.
But it's not just any dad, it's Jim Fox.
After leaving Sam headed Southeast on PCT, we drove into Redding and made the Starbucks parking lot our home-base for the day. While I slaved away on a blog post for YOU PEOPLE, Marion had a conference call with people from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, who want to do segment on Sam and to use our crew to film it. While Marion made the RV a makeshift office, Sam Coale, a friend of ours, met up with us- yes we're still in the parking lot. Sam, who is another Rhode Island local, but based out of LA has been hugely supportive of the film and volunteered to shoot some b-roll of the gorgeous Pacific Northwest for us. We basically showed him a map and some particular areas of interest, and he took off in his dusty Subaru. I believe he is currently filming shots of the wildfires in Oregon right now.
I used to disdain Starbucks for their overpriced coffee and mega-corporation status, but I am suddenly so grateful to be able to sit, unbothered, in our RV, and use their FREE wifi. Whenever we find internet, we gorge on it like starved Cheetahs, since there are always e-mails to send, bills to pay, blogs and photos to post, and research to be researched. But this is what life is like, filming a movie/fundraising on-the-go, and did I mention our subject is a moving target? So we graze whenever we find a spotty signal, and go crazy in a strip mall parking lot. So while my morals are questionable by supporting a chain enterprise voraciously, it seems like a fair trade for a few measly paragraphs.
After our day spent in a scenic Redding strip mall, we headed to the Scott Mountain Summit to meet Eric and Jim, and hopefully catch Sam coming in for the night. In between slamming on the breaks for the hairpin turns and sudden deer crossings up to the summit, I wondered what Sam's condition would be like, as I inevitably do and assumed that he would be in bed by the time we reached him at 9 p.m. To my surprise, we found the trio sitting around a blazing campfire. Jim had treated the boys to filet mignon. Wrapped in bacon. What's more, Sam drank 11 liters of water that day, and seemed comfortable and happy. The next morning, Jim woke up in the dark and hiked the first 8 miles with Sam, providing morale and support during Sam's toughest time of the day.
It became clear that Jim didn't just fly across the country to spend the night parked in an empty parking lot where an outhouse was a welcome luxury. Oh no no, Jim brought his A-game, as well as a couple tricks-namely bacon-wrapped filets-up his sleeve. Jim was a gust of East Coast wind that arrived just in time to push our momentum forward. As the halfway point of Sam and our journey approaches, we have physically and emotionally come so far, yet this only serves as a reminder of how much more is to come. I've learned in Christopher McDougall's amazing book about ultrarunning, called "Born to Run," that the true halfway point of an "ultra" (which range from 50 to 100 miles long) is when you have 20 miles to go. Fatigue and stress ultimately slow down the body, making each mile more difficult than the last. But Jim's military efficiency and no bullshit approach, tightened the midpoint slack. For the record though, John Bernhardt, if you're out there, you're irreplaceable, we miss you, and we want you to be healthy and back soon!
The next few days were filled with lots of ups and downs (pun intended!) The "ups" consisted of the footage we filmed of Sam in the Castle Crags region, and a delicious breakfast in Dunsmuir, thanks to Jim Fox. The "downs:" an extremely frustrating attempt to reach Sam at a forest road crossing that was thwarted by the road's condition and our unyielding RV suspension, as well Sam's mentality, whittled away by fatigue. We were, however, about to receive another uplift, by way of a man named Condor.
Sitting around the fire at Ash Camp, later that evening, we met Condor, a thru-hiker, who had stopped there for the night. Eric gave Condor some snacks and a beer, and I gave him some of our spaghetti. In exchange, Condor gave us his stories. A few months earlier, Condor had made some major life changes and decided to hike the PCT, and since then he'd lost 100 pounds, and grown an impressive beard. He was too late to make it to the Canadian border before the snow came, but he didn't care. Condor had made the decision somewhere in the Sierras to take his time to read and draw. Condor's enthusiasm for hiking- even months later- had us all mesmerized. A few hours later, Sam came in, and we filmed the interaction between Sam and Condor, a collision of two PCT worlds; fast vs. slow; northbound vs. southbound; destination vs. the journey itself. One trail, two very different approaches. Neither was better than the other, but insight from the opposite perspective was an invaluable power for all of us, and we were all inspired by Condor.
The next night we stayed at David Wilson's house in Burney. Wilson, a fan and follower of Sam, generously offered up his home and hospitality, and caught a glimpse of what it was like to film a man on the run. Sam was in by around 11 p.m. and we were up by 5 a.m. racing ahead of Sam to anticipate him on film. When Sam came in later that day, his interview was drastically different than those recently. He was chatty, upbeat, thankful, and even talked about the beauty and spirituality of the trail. It made me wonder if the recent conversation with Condor had cast a different light on his journey, and made him more appreciative of the trail. I'm sure that Jim's presence, the conversation with Condor, and the kindness of a stranger, David, had a positive effect on Sam's attitude, but unlike Condor, Sam is not stopping to read and draw, he's got a trail to finish.
Until next time,
Cecily "Crazy Legs" Mauran