First Time at the Rails to Trails Festival

The big event for our work kamping job was this weekend.  It is the annual Rails to Trails festival which both celebrates the Biz Johnson Trail and helps the local non profit make money to maintain the rail depot at the Susanville end of the trail.  The event is a combination of numerous marathons on the trail, including a qualifier for the Boston marathon, and a local festival at the depot itself.  Lee has been shooting video of the various activities leading up to the event, part for his demo reel and partly for Stan, so I knew I would jump in and help with our regular work kamping duties.  Plus, I volunteered to give caboose tours the day of the event itself.  All in all we planned for a full weekend, and I was pretty excited about the opportunity to pitch in and help.  Since the events started on Saturday, Lee and I took extra care with the grounds on Friday night.  We stocked the restrooms with extra supplies, emptied all the trash and added extra bags at the bottom, and walked all the way down to the depot taking special care with the “micro litter”. As a side note, Stan taught us the concept of micro litter which is little things like cigarette butts and gum wrappers that will add up over time if ignored.  Lee and I have actually made a game out of it, where we each take a side of the trail going in one direction and on the way back we switch.  For every piece of trash we find that the other person missed, we get one kiss.  Yes, I know it’s goofy, but we both get  kisses and it’s a fun way to pass the time!!

Saturday morning Lee left very early with Stan to take any bike riders halfway up the trail.  They had a company coordinate the races and did a nice job of sharing the space between normal bike riders and runners by staggering the departure points.  After Lee dropped off the riders he went to various points along the route and took some video of the runners. It really is a beautiful trail, waiting for the fall foliage to take my ride, and I heard several of the runners say how much they enjoyed the scenery during their runs.

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I kept an eye on things back at the Hobo Camp,  where the finish line was located,  and around 10:00am walked the trail down to the depot.  Unfortunately the horse riders had used that section of the trail in the early morning and there was a ton of horse poop right in the road which would have affected the runners for the short marathon scheduled later that day.  Normally I don’t mind the horse poop so much, but this was fresh and right in the middle of several spots of the run.  I didn’t really have to do anything about it, but since I wouldn’t want to run through horse poop, I grabbed a bag and cleaned it up.  Not my favorite way to start the morning, but it I couldn’t just walk past it.

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Afterwards, I made it to the depot where the chili cook-off crews were setting up and got the keys to the caboose from Louise the event organizer.  I really like the chili cook-off concept, because local non profits and companies compete with chili and salsa for bragging rights.  All the food at the festival was locally produced, so it was yummy and a good way for folks to make a little extra money.  They also had some local craft booths and a couple of raffles.  I paid $10 for limted raffle (only 75 entries allowed) for $700 worth of Cabellas camping gear.  Although I didn’t win, I liked that they pulled the raffle tickets right in front of the crowd and everyone cheered for the winner.  Small towns are cool like that

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They were selling these pioneer hats for the kids

They were selling these pioneer hats for the kids

They even had some free line dancing lessons

They even had some free line dancing lessons

At 10:30 I went down to the caboose and opened it up for business.  Stan had left me some information inside, and I quickly read up on the caboose.  The story is that the local historical society wanted a caboose from the right era but they are pretty hard to come by.  In 1989 a caboose with a cupola became available via a sale by another government agency and the complex negotiations for the caboose began.  Finally the caboose was assigned to Susanville and was moved, via engine, to it’s new home.  It was painted and restored and now resides in a fenced-in area.  They actually had to fence it in because some homeless were living in it during the 90’s, so for the festival it needed to be moved out of the fenced area and down the track.  Stan actually pulled it with a Ford 550 the day before, and when I arrived it was sitting all by itself off the main festival footprint.  I didn’t think many people would come, but immediately upon opening I got a large family with three boys aged 12, 9 and 5 year old, Quinn, whose birthday it was.  Let me say as the mother of three girls I understood conceptually that little boys liked trains, but had never seen it in action.  I had a steady stream of 4-10 year old boys during my two sessions and they are fun, but a handful!  Since the inside of the caboose is designed to be lived and moved in all of the metal rods are extremely sturdy.  I let the boys climb and hang as much as they wanted, and just stood by in case anyone got too crazy.  I will be honest, I got more questions on the inside toilet than anything else (which unfortunately was not covered by the material provided) and mainly just had fun talking to the parents.  One mom, Melissa, I really enjoyed in particular as we bonded over having the experience of having three kids.

Right behind the sink is the bathroom, then a ice box and food storage area

Right behind the sink is the bathroom, then an ice box and food storage area

The conductor and two brakemen lived in the caboose and this was their stove/heat and office area

The conductor and two brakemen lived in the caboose and this was their stove/heat and office area

I opened the windows up in the cupola so the kids could look out and they were very good about being careful

I opened the windows up in the cupola so the kids could look out and they were very good about being careful.  There are bunks right under the window.

I had Lee take a pic of my caboose in the caboose :)

I had Lee take a pic of my caboose in the caboose 🙂

Between my tours I had an opportunity to go to the Chili cook-off.  For $7.50 you get a small cup and are able to go try all of the different chili and salsa.  We got a kit for free since we were volunteering, but it would have been a good deal either way.  By the time we got around the tent we were pretty full and had definitely decided on our favorites.  Lee loved the combination wild turkey, venison, and moose chili the best.  I enjoyed a more traditional one offered by one of the non-profits.  Those who paid got to vote and at the end the crowd favorites and judges favorites were presented with awards and of course bragging rights.  The awards were really cute wooden spoons with engravings along with some plaques, and again, the winners got big cheers from the crowd.  Throughout the day,  hand car races were taking place along the railroad track. Lee was particularly interested in shooting video of these and our A.C.E. volunteer group, decided they would participate.  These kids know how to work, they got up early as usual, and spent the morning clearing trails, and then came over in time for the festivities.  I was delighted when they won second place.  I thought for sure they would have a significant disadvantage to the locals, but they killed it and their time was overall second place.  They got an award to take back to the main office and medals which was really fun.

My view of the racers from the caboose

My view of the racers from the caboose

The A.C.E team is on the left, the other car was the first place winners

The A.C.E team is on the left, the other car was the first place winners

In front: Julius, George, Jacob, Marc. In back: Phil, Gina, and Bettina

The ACE Team.  In front: Julius, George, Jacob, Marc. In back: Phil, Gina, and Bettina.  How cute are they 🙂

Their award!!

Their award they get to take back to the field office in Lake Tahoe and put on the mantel

After the second tour I walked the path back, checked the restrooms, and changed into some shorts.  A little while later Stan was kind enough to come and get me so that we could move the caboose.  He had pulled it slightly uphill before the festival and now the kids and I were going to get to ride it back to it’s home within the fenced in area. That was a lot of fun and Lee got some great video.  Unfortunately,we were all so excited about the project that we forgot to swing the gates out to open them, so once the caboose was in the pen there wasn’t room to swing the gates closed. So, after we rolled it in we had to pull it forward then hand push it back to get the gates to close.  We did get to use a really cool wooden tool to move it by hand though.  You put it under the wheel and then push down. The lever moves the 55,000 pound caboose a few inches at a time, and one person can do it all by themselves. It turned out I was pretty good at it, with great form, although not so great stamina.  We all took turns and can now say we pushed a train.  Not something I ever thought I would get to do, but really a lot of fun!!

Jacob and Marc were cracking me up as they said

Jacob and Marc were cracking me up as they said “I am Biz, and I am Johnson and together, we are Biz Johnson” in funny accents. You had to be there, but I was laughing so hard.  Jacob is from Jersey and Marc is from Germany and they have bonded  like they are brothers.  Another great part of this program.

Lee shooting video

Lee shooting video

Lee quickly getting out of the way as we got closer

Lee quickly getting out of the way as we got closer

Stan pulling the caboose with the truck

Stan pulling the caboose with the truck

George keeping an eye on the chains

George keeping an eye on the chains

Check me out!!

Check me out!!

This is how the level works

This is how the lever works

It was a really fun Saturday, and then on Sunday the real hardcore marathons were run.  Lee went to the registration early to get footage of the runners checking in and boarding the buses, and then drove up the canyon ahead of them to get shots of the buses climbing the steep canyon hill out of town, and then on to the starting point 26 miles away. Stan was keeping an eye on the trail so I kept the main area clean.  In between football (great Cincy/Seattle game) I checked the bathrooms and trash.  People were pretty neat so I only needed to go down at 10, 12, and 2 so there was plenty of chill time in between.  Lee had a much tougher physical day as he had strapped his camera bag and tripod on a mountain bike, along with another camera in a backpack, and drove from the starting point to the halfway point, and then rode the trail, stopping at numerous places to shoot video of the runners.  He had a great time though, and got tons of really good video and pictures, plus quite the workout as he crisscrossed the last 7 miles of the trail.  We all had a quiet evening, but then Monday we had a potluck dinner for the kids.  I wanted to make them something homemade, and spaghetti is always my go to to feed kids who haven’t had a home cooked meal in awhile, and I really wanted to do it this time because we had three kids so far from home.  Stan wanted to expand the dinner into a larger pot luck though, so I changed it to rigatoni which holds up better under pot luck conditions.

Lee shot interviews with all the kids to use as the background audio for the video, Stan cooked burgers, and Marissa (who is awesome) from his office brought lots of sides.  She also brought her boyfriend who coincidentally is from Switzerland and Bettina had an opportunity to speak in her home language.  I asked her later if it was nice and she said it was “weird”, because she has been speaking in English so much! I think a good time was had by all.  Nice to know we can still throw a good party!!  One of my favorite moments of the nights was when I was talking to Gina, who reminds me very much of my oldest daughter Kyrston, and spontaneously reach over and kissed her on the forehead and told her she was a good girl.  She got all choked up, because she said it was such a mom thing to do, and it made her miss her parents in England. I can’t tell you how much we have enjoyed getting to know the ACE crew. It’s really been a gift to us and truly their parents should be very proud of them.  Extraordinary young people!

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I bought marshmellows thinking I would show Bettina and Marc and american experience but they looked at me strange and said,

I bought marshmellows thinking I would show Bettina and Marc an american experience but they looked at me strange and said, “We eat marshmellows on a stick.” lol

The government group talking about grants, etc. Honestly it' like a foreign language. I thought my company used lots of acronyms!!

The government group talking about grants, etc. Honestly it’ like a foreign language. I thought my company used lots of acronyms!!

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Stan showed a slide show in the rig. Who knew this many people could fit inside. I stayed outside..no way with the claustrophobia, but it's good to know we can squeeze this many in. Was a bit like a clown car though when everyone came out :)

Stan showed a slide show and a few videos in the rig. Who knew this many people could fit inside? We had 13 people in there at one point! I stayed outside..no way with the claustrophobia, but it’s good to know we can squeeze this many in. Was a bit like a clown car though when everyone came out 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Time in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Although this week was largely about dealing with work stuff, other things did happen.  First we were joined at our campsite by 7 young adults from American Conservation Experience. It is a really cool program where young adults can volunteer their time and earn money for college and/or college credit.  The group we have is here for 9 days, then has 5 days off, then comes back for another 9 days.  They are very diverse, coming from all over the United States and there is also a young man from Germany, a girl from Manchester, England, and another girl from Korea.  I was a little concerned at first because of the possible noise factor since they are tent camping behind us, but they work all day doing manual labor out on the property, come back at dark and eat and settle in pretty early.  They are a really nice group and Lee has spent quite a bit of time with them.  I’ve had other things going on, so was less available, but I did make them some hot apple crisp one night (the German guy loved it) and bought them some fresh strawberries another day at the farmer’s market.  I guess for them this is a pretty cushy gig since they are so close to town.  Often they backpack deep into National Forests and are 15 miles from the nearest anything. I definitely know this is a gig for young people though as they work hard all day and end up washing up in the nearby stream since there are no showers.  Pretty impressive really, and an experience I think every young person should have. 

The Americorp Tents

The ACE Tents

They rotate who cooks every night and all meals are prepackaged and brought in coolers.

They rotate who cooks every night and all meals are prepackaged and brought in coolers.

Lee loves working with young people, he volunteered frequently at the Keene High School career center’s video program, and he had a great time helping them get settled, but I had a pretty stressful week.  So by Thursday I was ready to get out.  I make a list when I come to an area of things I would like to do and then when I am feeling antsy pick from the list.  Thursday evening we tried the Willow Creek Wildlife Area which is BLM owned and a nesting area for many birds including Sandhill Cranes.  I knew this time of year it would be much less active but wanted to give it a shot anyway.  Unfortunately it was a disappointment as it was just a road next to a creek and there was limited bird activity.  We walked for a while, but the ranch next door with its strong cow smell drove us back to the truck.  Still it was good to get out and at least I crossed something off the list.  The most exciting thing that happened was when we flushed some ducks and I managed to get a shot of them.  No clue what kind they are but it was neat.

Here's the road we walked down

Here’s the road we walked down

This cow was seriously stalking us

This cow was seriously stalking us

These guys kept fallowing us. Not sure what they were looking for us to do but was pretty annoying

The whole group kept following us as we walked. Not sure what they were expecting us to do but was pretty annoying

The creek was pretty but often overgrown and hard to see anything

The creek was pretty but often overgrown and hard to see anything

Anyone know what kind of ducks these are??

Anyone know what kind of ducks these are??

I did get this really good picture of Susanville when we were driving back

I did get this really good picture of Susanville when we were driving back

Saturday we had talked about going to Lassen, but Lee found out he needed to drive some bikes down to the beginning of the trailhead.  The local bus service can take a limited number of people with bikes, the 27 miles to the beginning of the trailhead, but when more sign up BLM services takes them in a trailer.  Pretty cool that they do this and Lee took the bikes of 14 boy scouts up while Stan rode in the bus with them and talked to them about the history of the area and the trail.  Then Lee and Stan rode some of the old logging and Forest Service roads along the trail and checked out some of the more remote locations on the trail. They had a nice time and I went to the farmer’s market.  Unfortunately, it was the last farmer’s market of the season so I stocked up on meat from a local rancher, got lots of vegetables and gathered information from a couple of the people there who continue to sell from their farms after the farmer’s market stops.  Since it’s still quite warm here, they have produce into October.  The rest of the evening we just relaxed and splurged on some local Chinese food to celebrate my new endeavor. Unfortunately it was terrible…buffalo wing sauce on the General Tso’s chicken terrible.  I will say we both really miss our Feng Tong in Keene! Twice in 9 months we have tried Chinese food on the road and both times it has been spectacularly disappointing.  I’ve tried to master some Asian recipes at home, but really nothing can take the place of super good Chinese Food.  Ah well…can’t have everything. We did take a little drive into town to check out the 60th anniversary sale at the local Big 5 Sporting Goods store. They are pretty common in the small towns out west we have been in, but I didn’t expect much.  Turns out the sale was great and we ended up buying two Outdoor Ripcord 2L hydration packs for $25 each!! Much cheaper than Amazon and a backpack is something I wanted to try on in person to check comfort level.  We knew if we were going to be taking hikes we absolutely needed these, to solve the water carrying problem if nothing else, and the price was right and timing was perfect for our planned hike on Sunday.

Sunday dawned and finally we were getting to go to Lassen Volcanic National Park, the number one thing we wanted to do in this area while we’re here. We were told it was like a “mini Yellowstone” without the crowds and since we had never seen anything like that before we were very excited to go.  Since it is at high elevation and is closed when it starts to snow, we knew sooner was better than later.  We came in from the northern route and the first place we stopped was the little museum.  Actually, Lassen Volcanic National Park has a very cool story on how it got started. On May 22, 1915 a large explosive eruption of Lassen Peak was photographed by a local resident which brought national attention to the eruption and set the stage for the establishment of Lassen Volcanic National Park on August 9, 1916.  It’s pretty amazing that the event was captured because this was still the days of the old-fashioned cameras with metal plates.  The pictures, which have been blown up into wall murals, are really terrific considering the era and available technology.  The museum also has an example of an old seismograph with explanations of how they differ from the newer ones.  We got to see several newer ones as we went through the park and it’s clear that the government is still actively monitoring the volcano.  After seeing the museum we started on the drive, which is roughly 30 miles one way through the park.  It’s a really nice road and makes the $20 seven-day pass worthwhile.  We got in for free with our America the Beautiful pass and am I happy to say that we have now broke even on the pass and still have 10 months worth of use on it!Y065The first place we stopped was called Hot Rock.  After the volcano explosion this huge rock was thrown through the air and landed in a meadow.  Those of you who have been following know how much I love rocks and this is absolutely the coolest rock I have ever seen.  It feels really smooth and is a great design so of course I had to climb up and get some pictures taken.

The road side

The road side view of Hot Rock

The back side is even cooler...I could have hung out here for awhile

The back side is even cooler…I could have hung out here for a while

We continued driving and the views were really amazing.  After Glacier I have been a bit worried that no other view could impact me the same way, but this was really cool.  It’s different of course, but really stunning in places and the mounds of rocks caused by the explosion were really unique.

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Beautiful lake in the background between the two trees

Beautiful lake in the background between the two trees

One of the neatest views is the Vulcan Eye.  This outcropping was actually formed by lava after the explosion and it looks like an eye staring down on you.  Very cool and a teensy bit creepy.

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After driving awhile we found a great lunch spot at Lake Helen.  The water in the lakes looks very green but I walked down to the lake and saw that the rocks are covered in clay and mud.  Still pretty though and we enjoyed our sandwiches before moving on to our hike at Bumpass Trailhead.

Lunch site

Lunch site

Great view

Great view from the picnic table

There are many hikes in Lassen but after doing some research I picked Bumpass Trail.  The hike is 2.6 miles round-trip and leads to Bumpass Hell which is one of the major “hot zones” in the park.  The hike was described as moderate (which I agree with), because it is at high elevation and the trail is rocky.  The trail does have many sharp rocks and I actually slipped and fell pretty hard when we were getting started because I was looking at a very cool rock…of course! The inclines are mild though, with about an 500 feet change in elevation to the site, and then a 250 foot descent into the site itself, and the only really rough part was coming out when at the beginning it was pretty steep.  The best part of the hike, besides the end, was the fact that it was along a cliff and the views along the way were totally breathtaking.  I really like when the hike itself has neat stuff to look at and not just the thing at the end.

Lee putting on his new pack

Lee putting on his new pack

Seismograph monitor at the beginning of the trail

Seismograph monitor at the beginning of the trail

Lots of rock slides along the way

Lots of rock slides along the way

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Amazing views

Amazing views

Most of the walk looked like the views above but as we got closer to the end we had a pretty neat encounter with a chipmunk.  Now if anyone here doubts that Lee’s spirit animal is the chipmunk, please see the proof below that he is the chipmunk whisperer.  There were tons of these little guys everywhere and most were pretty skittish, but this little guy saw Lee and knew just what to do.

Chipmunk catches site of Lee

Chipmunk catches sight of Lee

Chipmunk walks right up to him brazen as you please

Chipmunk walks right up to him

Actually crawls on Lee's foot sniffing him

Actually crawls on Lee’s foot sniffing him

Eating the trail mix we pulled out and tossed to him. He particularly liked the almonds

Eating the trail mix we pulled out and tossed to him. He particularly liked the almonds

After the chipmunk encounter we started to smell the sulfur.  Be forewarned these hot spots do smell, but I think it was completely worth it for the amazing views.  I have personally never seen anything like this before and was totally fascinated.  We spent quite a bit of time looking at all the different sections and just tried to stay up wind as much as possible.  The fascination far outweighed the unpleasant smell in our minds and we really really enjoyed it.

Bumpass Hell named for the explorer who discovered it, was going to turn it into a tourist attraction, and then lost his leg when it fell through the crust into the steaming hot mud

Bumpass Hell named for the explorer who discovered it, was going to turn it into a tourist attraction, and then lost his leg when it fell through the crust into the steaming hot mud

Steam vents

Steam vents

Hot Pools

Hot Pools

The mud pots were cool

See the bubbles in the back

Bubbling mud pots

Bubbling mud pots

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These signs couldn't be more clear. We stayed on the boardwalk!!

These signs couldn’t be more clear. We stayed on the boardwalk!!

After the hike we finished out the drive and stopped at the Sulfur Works.  This is a huge bubbling mud pot that is right off the road with a wheel chair accessible path.  This mud pot  was huge and Lee had a good time taking some video of the bubbling.  I wandered across the street and saw one of my favorite views of the day.  It was a really nice park, we had a wonderful day and it definitely helped me reconnect with why we chose  this lifestyle. Plus really cool rocks!!

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