650 miles and the wind at our backs

Trip Start Nov 01, 2007
Trip End Apr 30, 2008

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, February 10, 2008

At breakfast our first morning in California, we were joined by Doug Milhouse, our Redding walk coordinator. He had done an outstanding job of organizing our event in Redding and finding a route to Chico with hospitality all along the way. Unfortunately, he was teaching a class the night before and couldn't attend our presentation. He did join us for breakfast, and after we had said our goodbyes and thanks to the Morehouses for hosting us, Doug joined us on the first leg of the day's walk. Along the way, Nels Klaseen, a member of the Chico peace community, also joined us. He is now, we think, in his early fifties, has never owned a car, and gets around by bicycle. We four had a grand time talking and exploring ideas. At noon we were interviewed by a local newspaper reporter while having lunch in a small cafe..

Later that afternoon, we arrived at a designated pick-up spot and were greeted by Donna Deckert, our next host. Donna and her husband Andrew are physicians. She has a family practice and he works in public health. They had invited some friends over for dinner and conversation. It was a delightful group, with teenagers included. The next morning Donna drove us to a spot a few miles out of town to begin walking next to the Sacramento River. Although we had looked forward to walking in "sunny" California, the weather was rainy, breezy, and cool. We felt like we could have been back in Washington except for the palm trees in some people's yards and the open, rolling range land dotted with cattle and horses.

As we walked along, the wind began to gust, and we remembered that Doug had expressed concern about sending us off into an impending storm. He had suggested that we forgo walking that day, but we looked at the weather forecast in the morning and it didn't seem particularly worrisome. The countryside was gorgeous. The road passed through a large state wildlife preserve bordering the Sacramento River. There were walnut farms, cattle ranches, and rolling green hills. As we walked, the wind kept picking up. More important to us, it was a head wind  out of the south, making it increasingly harder for us to walk. We rejoiced each time the road curved  or dipped and brought us to relatively sheltered places. We enjoyed a half-way pleasant lunch break in a little hollow beside a beautiful waterfall.

But things changed for the worse after lunch. As the road rose steeply out of the hollow and turned us back into the wind, we were met with gale-force blasts crossing an open plateau that almost knocked us off our feet. It took both of us pulling the cart to make any kind of headway, but there was no place to go but forward. After about a mile of this treatment, we entered a forested area that gave us a slight reprieve from the wind. Even then we were able to maintain only half our normal speed and we were getting exhausted. We imagined that people would be worried and calling to check on us, but we couldn't have used our cell phone because of the roaring of the wind. (Anyone who has been on Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks of North Carolina would know what we are talking about.) Just as we were feeling a bit discouraged about making it to our evening presentation on time, a man drove up in a pickup truck and asked, "Are you Louis and Ruah?" It was Bruce Gray of Red Bluff, our next host. He asked whether we had "proved our point" by then and were ready to be driven to warmth and comfort. We appreciated his concern, which had led him to take his lunch hour to find us and make sure we were okay. We figured we were still good for a few more miles, but we accepted his offer partly because we needed to be rested for the evening presentation.

We were greeted by Bruce's wife, Lia, who had come home from work also worried about us. Not long after, Doug Milhouse called to check and see if we were okay. We were humbled by the loving care of so many people. Bruce and Lia are members of the local Methodist church. After some rest and a delicious dinner, we headed to the home of Kathleen Smith, a pastor of a nearby Methodist church, where a group of people involved with the Peace & Justice Organization of Red Bluff were present to talk with us. The group showed a great appreciation for what we had to say and evidenced a strong grasp of current social and environmental issues. We admired their courage in maintaining a public peace witness in a fairly "conservative" community. One important effort of theirs has been to appeal a ruling which would have allowed a medical-waste incinerator to be built in Red Bluff. So far they have won an appeal, but the legal skirmishing continues. We wish them well in this endeavor.

The next morning Lia drove us to our starting point, Red Bluff Park, a few miles north of town. This park is dedicated to "peace and diversity--a sacred park that invites people of all backgrounds and beliefs to come together in celebration of our common humanity" (quoted from a brochure). The park was opened in June 2007, financed and cared for by Pangea World Community. It will eventually have a community room, meditation hall, and a caretaker's cottage on the property. You can learn more about this project at www.redbluffpark.org. We mention this much about it because later that evening the founders of this park were present at the evening's discussion.

Our day of walking to Los Molinos was so different from the day before. The weather was cool and without rain. We walked past miles after mile of walnut groves, with some prune plum, almond, peach, and olives groves as well. We stopped at a roadside stand and purchased some nuts for snacking. Later, as we walked along, a man called out from across the road and asked whether we were the Quakers walking to San Diego. Ruah was on the phone with her daughter, so Louis crossed the street and spoke with him. The man said he had read about us in the local newspaper. In parting he asked if it would be all right if he prayed for us, and he put his hand on Louis's shoulder and asked for God's blessing for a safe and successful journey.

While looking for a place to eat lunch we came upon a small market and deli with one table and chairs. As we were eating, a man asked whether he could join us. He was a local prune plum farmer. He had farmed there for many years and had seen lots of changes in the industry. He preferred to sell his fruit to a local processor instead of Sunsweet. We talked of farm laborers and he told of the time that all the workers in his orchard ducked for cover when a helicopter passed overhead, thinking it might be patrolling for illegals. As we all know, farmers are dependent on migrant farm workers and are concerned about what will happen to this labor force in the future.

We arrived early at the home of Lana and John Kitchel. John is a landscape architect, and they both run the organic farm they live on. Their two sons, ages 13 and 16, also live there, along with a myriad of dogs and cats. We found it very comfortable to be sitting around the kitchen table, talking about the issues we were all concerned about. Lana had done a marvelous job organizing the evening's event in her home, as well as getting articles printed in the local paper about our pilgrimage. The fifteen or so people who came that night were activists from a variety of organizations and friends of the Kitchels. It was a lively group and it took some effort  after a hearty potluck, to quiet them down and seated in the small living room for our presentation. The sharing afterward was really moving. Although they were not Quakers, they were touched by our skit and spoke about the ways it had inspired them. After dessert it took another hour or so for everyone to leave, so engaged were they in conversations with old friends and new.

In the morning, the weather forecast was dismal. There was a wind advisory, and the weather was expected to get worse by afternoon. So we adjusted our plans and got a ride with Lana part way. As it turned out, the first part of the morning was tolerably breezy, but the latter part of the morning was very gusty, making difficult for us to keep up a good pace. It wasn't as bad as it had been a few days earlier, but we certainly felt muscle aches in our legs from all the pushing against the wind. In the midst of this, we took part in a live Chico FM public radio show interview. Ruah handled that since it would be difficult for both of us to do it with all the road and wind noise. The interviewer said the sounds made it all the more interesting. Despite the wind, we kept up a fairly good pace and actually arrived at Jim Anderson's house in Chico almost an hour earlier than we had expected! We were getting stronger than we realized.

We had visited the Chico Meeting and had stayed with Jim in 1996, when we were traveling around California on Quaker Earthcare Witness work. It was nice to meet up with him once again. Of course we had our usual short visit and excused ourselves to take a nap in our room. The next morning we went off to Chico Friends Meeting and appreciated the comfortable fellowship among the members. Lively hymn singing before worship was an intergenerational affair. The Peace & Social Order committee provided a simple lunch before our presentation. Jim had done an excellent job publicizing the event, and about one third of the 35 or so people present came from outside the Meeting. Reporters from a local TV station, daily newspaper, and the university campus newspaper were there as well. Back at Jim's, we watched the evening news and thought that the 20-second piece about us was quite accurate. Later that evening, Jim's wife, Janet Leslie, returned from a weekend workshop, and we enjoyed getting to know her as well. We are impressed with Jim and Janet's lifestyle. They had reared their three children in this modest and small home, which they had built by hand in the early 1970s. They were determined to build on available money, eliminating the need for a mortgage. They have continued to remain debt-free. Jim has made a commitment to bicycling the seven miles to his work at the university in Chico, regardless of the weather.

Seven people joined us the next morning at the Friends Meetinghouse to walk out of Chico (see photo). It was a lively group, a few walked with bikes with the intention of riding back. The weather was nippy, but the skies were clear and promised a fairly mild day for walking. People peeled off in small bunches at various points. Some stayed until we reached the small town of Durham, where we had lunch at the Red Rooster cafe, which was delightfully decorated with items featuring roosters. When the server learned we were the walkers she had read about on the front page of the morning's Chico newspaper, she was so excited about our gracing the restaurant with our presence that she asked for our autographs on a newspaper clipping of the story. She said she planned to frame it and hang on the wall in the restaurant. After lunch, a few more fellow walkers, including Jim, turned back to Chico. We gave thanks to Jim for his generous assistance and good organizing.

The last of the original group, Peter Milbury, continued to walk with us for most of the afternoon. Peter shared a lot of his impressive knowledge of the human and natural history of the area. Several years before, he had worked at Lundberg Family Farms in Richvale, the place we happened to be headed to for the night. This farm is in its third generation of family owner/workers. The founders of Richvale arrived in 1912 and were of Swedish descent. The Lundbergs began the farm in 1937. Peter had arranged for our overnight hospitality there; however, he was picked up by his wife before we got that far.

At Richvale, we were met by Grant Lundberg, a grandson of the founder and the current CEO. Grant helped us settle in to a little house next to the rice processing plant that had been converted to offices. This is a large rice operation that has experimented over the years with organic growing and is now one of the largest organic rice farms in the U.S. They also make many rice products including brown rice syrup, flavored rice chips, and quick cook flavored rice dishes. Grant gave us some samples and were pleased to notice from the labels they were made from natural ingredients. Grant told us that the employees would be back at work by 7:00 or 7:30 the next morning, so he suggested that we vacate the building about then. We said that would work out fine for us, because we planned to eat breakfast at a little cafe in town that had been recommended to us (in fact, it was the only cafe in town!).

Well, when we walked in to the cafe the next morning, an older man approached us and introduced himself as Mr. Lundberg (who we later learned was Grant's uncle). He said the Booster Club was meeting that morning in an adjacent banquet room and we were to be his guests for breakfast. This was of course a big surprise, but later we decided it must have been pre-arranged by the Lundbergs. The Booster Club's purpose was to help keep the non-profit restaurant open and give college scholarships to local high school students and to support the volunteer fire department. We were introduced and asked to speak for a few moments about our journey. The background entertainment was a 92-year-old man on an accordion, playing what sounded like Scandanavian folk tunes. (see photo).

The scheduled guest for the morning was a retired climatologist who had worked for the state of California. He gave a slide show talking about weather trends and events in California over the last couple of hundred years that documented significant changes in the climate in recent times. However the graphs he showed seemed to be suggesting that a major factor in these changes was sun-spot activity rather than human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We were concerned that this climatologist was using mainly California data to lead a discussion about to global climate trends. So in the question and answer period Louis recited the fundamental principles and scientific discoveries on which Al Gore had based his "An Inconvenient Truth.". Also, he noted, the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had concluded that trends in global warming were not only potentially catastrophic but were "very likely" being driven mostly by human activities. The guest speaker acknowledged the points that Louis raised but maintained that there is still some controversy about the underlying causes of global warming. Louis took his email address with the intention of doing some more reading and getting back to him. Louis later recalled reading that rice cultivation has been mentioned in a number of scientific studies as major sources of carbon dioxide, and therefore this particular audience of mostly rice farmers, could be expected to be fairly receptive to arguments that pointed to other possible agents of global warming.

After thanking our breakfast hosts, we began to walk next to extensive rice fields that were so full of birds that we could hardly take two steps without stopping to gawk. Within our two-day, 30-mile walk between Chico and Gridley we saw about 30 different species of birds (as well as many that we couldn't identify), many of which were congregating in very large numbers in the half-flooded rice fields. For example, we saw many flocks of Sandhill Cranes, Coots, and White Faced Ibises. With many people honking and waving and giving big smiles as they passed us, we felt we were in paradise. With the blue skies above us and gentle wind at our backs, we came to appreciate the Irish Blessing which includes the words: "May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be at your back. May the Lord hold you in the palm of his hand." We passed our 600-mile mark as we approached the town of Biggs to have lunch.

Arriving mid-afternoon in Gridley, after a brief visit with a local newspaper reporter, we found our way to the home of Kristi and Mike Kipp, whom we had met following our presentation at the Chico Friends Meeting. They were expecting their first child in early April and had made a commitment to not send their child to day care. They were juggling careers and work to make this happen. This meant that they made the same decision to work less and have more time that other hosts have told us about. We hope that many more families can find ways to make similar choices. We enjoyed spending Super Tuesday evening with them, checking in on the election results while coming to know one another. We went to bed early in anticipation of our 20-miles walk the next day to Marysville, which would be our longest walk yet.

Mike and his dog accompanied us to the edge of town the next morning. A mile or so later, a man got out of his pickup truck and asked if we were the walkers who had been interviewed on the radio the other day. He said he had been having a bad day that day, and hearing the upbeat interview had helped  him feel better. In fact, he so appreciated what we were doing that he handed us a cash contribution!  The rest of the day's walk was not so dramatically beautiful as the rice-field country of the previous day, since we were walking on a busy highway most of the way. Although it was a long day, we did quite well and arrived in Marysville, via a bike path on the levee next to the Feather River earlier than expected. Ruah's blisters continued to plague her, but she felt it was a minor problem compared to what could be--like back pains, sprains, etc. Meanwhile, we learned by cell phone that several members of our next host family in Marysville had become sick, and we agreed that it would be better if we stayed in a motel instead.

We spent a leisurely morning at the motel, working on our blog and allowing Louis some time to work on the next QEW newsletter, since we only had 13 miles to go that day. As we headed out of Marysville we again traveled through rice fields filled with migrating waterfowl. The road then began to rise into rolling hills dotted with cattle and grasses among the giant oaks. Soon Western Meadow Larks were singing to us along the road and we felt we had reached a heavenly spot. At one point a woman pulled up ahead of us, jumped out of her car, and said that she appreciated what we were doing, and handed us some money! How interesting it is that we touch people in this way. We were very ready for the scheduled campground stop at the Sycamore RV Park that evening and found, much to our delight, that the tenting sites were beyond the RV sites in an idyllic grassy area next to the Yuba River. Across a rosy sunset, we watched several Great Egrets glide to a landing in some adjacent trees to roost for the night. As the only tenters, we had a fairly peaceful spot, although the traffic on route 20 could be heard through the night. We sat contentedly by the camp fire, feeling that all was well.

During the day as we walked we had noticed a number of military planes overhead and thought that there might be an air base nearby. The next morning that was confirmed by the sound of morning reveille nearby. Although the temperature had been fairly mild at night, by morning there was heavy frost. We quickly started a fire, made breakfast and coffee, then we broke camp (literally breaking ice as we rolled up our stiff tent). Soon the sun warmed us along the road and we were shedding layers of clothes to keep comfortable. As planned, Bob Runyon, executive director of the Woolman Semester, picked us up to help us bypass some dangerous spots on the road, including some road construction. It was he and his wife Kathy who were to have been our hosts in Marysville but had cancelled due to sickness in the family. Although he was not totally well yet, he made this effort to care for us! He dropped us off several miles down the road and we commenced our walk to our next host site. We stopped in the little town of Penn Valley for brunch and relaxation and then began walking through some exquisite rolling countryside. Louis began fantasizing about having one home in Penn Valley and keep the one we have now. It really was that beautiful. It was quiet and peaceful and very much what one pictures of the West.

We stopped at Nick and Amanda Wilcox's home for the night. They lived in a beautiful, partially bermed, passive solar home that they had built themselves in the late 1970s. Three years ago they had added solar electric panels, and they calculated they had become at that point zero users of the grid electricity. They are very conscious and astute about a broad range of environmental and political issues. Nick is a retired environmental scientist. Several years ago after their daughter's murder by an unstable mental patient at a clinic where she had been volunteering, Nick and Amanda had turned much of their efforts towards mental health issues and had helped pass a law, called Laura's Law, which is intended to make it harder for people with mental illness to have access to guns--and hopefully help prevent this kind of tragedy in the future. They are also active on the California Chapter of the Brady Campaign, which works for effect handgun control. We had the opportunity to meet their sons, one a pilot and one still in college. We felt we had much to share and admired their compassion and comittment to make the world a better place for everyone.

The next morning Nick and Amanda drove the scenic route to get us to Sierra Friends Center in Grass Valley. En route we stopped at a state park on the south fork of the Yuba River, the site of the longest single-truss covered bridge in the U.S. Built in 1862, it was designed to carry heavy loads for the logging and mining industries, despite being constructed almost entirely of wood timbers. It was very beautiful and nicely maintained. We were then let off at our next stopover and we'll catch you all up to date about our visit there next time. We appreciate your loving care.
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