Editor’s Note: This year commemorates the Morgan boys’ historic trek along the John Muir Trail in California. The adventure was well documented in Beachcomber, and the following article—the second of three—appeared in our September 3, 2009 issue.
Dismemberment…hallucination…tofu and hummus…bestiality…and sexual confusion.
First, the good news. Both of my boys returned to our trek on Day 6. Eddie was thin and pale but determined to finish the walk. Chatham, apparently buoyed by morphine, showed up with a huge turban hiding his head wounds. We weren’t the healthiest looking trio hiking the John Muir Trail, but we kept plugging.
We had been warned throughout the trip about a variety of aggressive poisonous snakes we might encounter. The most troubling of the snakes was the Sierra “Two-Step” Rattler. Because of a long hibernation and a short summer season, the “Two-Step” was highly venomous and ornery.
The night of Day 7, Arthur, a mathematician from Milwaukee, was gathering wood for our evening campfire. He reached into a pile of brush and felt something bite his hand. I ran over to inspect and immediately saw the two telltale marks from a snake’s fangs. The guides had gone fishing, and I knew I had to assume the role of leader and act quickly. I huddled with the boys and, while Arthur was inspecting the wound, Chatham and Eddie surprised Arthur, grabbing him by the shoulders and slamming him to the ground.
That didn’t surprise the professor near as much as when I took the guide’s portable radial saw and amputated Arthur’s right arm just below the shoulder. The arm came off cleanly, but I knew we would have a hard time staunching the blood flow. As a child, I once considered going into medicine, but even with a strong background in biology I couldn’t believe how much a severed arm can bleed.
We spent most of an hour trying to stop the bleeding, but were growing weary and quickly became disheartened with our heroic efforts when our lead guide found the asp and identified it as a common garter snake.
We buried Arthur by a little bend in an unnamed river and I was the only hiker with enough self-control to administer a eulogy. “Life is short,” I said borrowing from Augustus McCrae. “Shorter for some than others. Now let’s head on to Yosemite before something bad happens to the rest of us.”
The next evening, while our fellow trekkers were huddled up, glancing at us and mumbling to each other, the boys and I sat with Huck, a Mono Indian, who was our mule packer. “Try some of this,” Huck said. “It’s a special blend of jimson weed, peyote buttons, and sinsemilla. Maybe it will relax you.”
It didn’t relax me. I only took one puff and I stumbled into my tent with horrible hallucinations. At 3 AM, I was awakened by pitiful sobbing sounds.
“Hey Dad,” Chatham gasped. “You can’t believe what just happened.”
“What now?” I thought, as I tried to focus on Chatham’s bobbing headlamp. “And what’s that howling noise?”
“Eddie won’t quit howling. He thinks he’s a timber wolf. And Huck is over there with that big mule, Mongol,” Chatham said. “And you can’t believe what they’re doing. He said it’s some kind of religious rite.”
“Is he doing it to Mongol?” I asked. “Or is Mongol doing it to him?”
“Both ways,” Chatham said.
“Well,” I said. “At least mules are sterile.” Then I dozed off into a deep slumber.
The next morning, before daylight, I awoke having reservations about our trip. Something didn’t seem quite right. I had assumed that since the trip was exorbitantly expensive that it must have been a legitimate operation. But what was the deal with all of the hummus and tofu? We’d had no meat in almost 10 days. And our fellow hikers—well, they were nice enough, but there was something different. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
I checked on the boys’ tent. They were huddled in a corner, whispering and reading by headlamps what looked like another travel brochure.
“You guys looking for another trip for next year?” I asked cheerfully.
“Uh, not exactly Dad,” Eddie replied. “We’re studying up on this trip you’ve got us on right now.”
“Well, we’re almost finished with this one,” I said.
“Not almost, Dad.” Chatham said. “We’re already finished. We’re packed and we’re slipping out of camp before everybody wakes up. Look, right here, at the description of this hike.”
“This isn’t a ‘trans-Sierra hike” Dad,” Eddie said. “It’s a transsexual hike.”
“These people aren’t who we thought they were,” Chatham said. “Plus they’re all vegans.”
“Well, hang on,” I said. “I’m getting my hat. We started this trip together, and we’ll finish it together.”
“Let’s just walk back to Fresno,” Eddie said. “I reckon I’d rather deal with some Chicano gang warfare than with this crazy bunch we’ve wound up with.”
“They’re nice enough,” said Chatham. “But it’s gotten to where I can’t tell who’s who.”
To be continued…