The Incredible Journey

As 2021 begins, I am certain we all look back at 2020 as a year unlike any other in our lifetimes, likely not in a positive way. Even without the crushing pandemic, last year has been a stressful challenge on many fronts; heightened civil unrest, an extremely polarizing election, and the San Francisco 49ers losing the Super Bowl. Oh, and the worst wildfire year in California history. Okay, so I am a bit West Coast biased.

On top of all that, we spent roughly three-quarters of the year in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic. I see no need to revisit what that has entailed or discuss the devastating impacts, so I won’t. To me, it has been “The Incredible Journey.” One I do not wish to repeat, if possible, which, of course, reminds me of a surveying story.

It was the summer of 1979 in the Sierra Nevada foothills. I was a very fit 20 year-old college student at home for the summer. Expected high that day was north of 100, so we started early. Still didn’t beat the heat. The task for the day was to set control in strategic locations to search for PLSS corners. It was just the party chief and me.

We got to the site, where some control had already been established in a high vantage area. The party chief and office PLS had plotted target locations on the quad map that would be near search locations. The PC went over it with me in detail, looking at the map, then looking at the terrain and vegetation along my line of travel, pointing out openings in the vegetation that could be seen from the instrument. I was to find each of these along the route, set a point, and he was going to tie them in with the theodolite and EDM set-up.

We loaded up my gear; wood tripod, a bag with some hubs, flagging, hammer, quart canteen and double prism buckets with three prisms in each. Oh, and a mirror for signaling, as we had no radios. Off I went through the brush, bag and tripod over my shoulders, and a few lath in my hand, headed for my first target location.

The plan was for me to traverse the mile or so setting the points, then continue in that direction and the PC would drive around to pick me up on a road almost two miles from the instrument setup. Between the instrument and the pick-up location was the Calaveras River channel. Had I looked closer at the contours across the river, I might have suggested a different plan, but I didn’t.

I found the first location and flashed my mirror. He flashed me back to indicate he could see me clearly. I set the point and set up the tripod and glass, then crawled in the shade to sip some cool water. It was already 90 degrees or above.

He flashed me to let me know he got the shot. I loaded up and headed for my next target and repeated the drill. It was about that time that I realized a quart of water isn’t very much.

I think there was one more target location before I came to the river. My canteen was near empty, but I had visions of filling it from the cool flowing river ahead. Instead, I walked up to stagnant pools of standing water serving as mosquito breeding grounds. Yikes, but I had been thirsty plenty of times before during two-a-day late summer football practices. I would be okay.

No more points to set, so I was focused on getting to the pickup point. I crossed the river channel to the base of a brush-covered slope as steep as a cow’s face. That wood tripod sure started feeling heavier as I scratched and crawled my way up that slope through the brush. The only positive about the brush was that it partially kept me in the shade, but the air was dead still and hot inside. I finally crested the ridge and was totally out of water. Had been since near the bottom.

I wobbled my way through the oak studded ranch lands, thinking of nothing else but water. Then, my wish came true, sort of. In the corner of the pasture I saw a structure and headed for it. As I got closer, I could tell it was an old concrete watering trough. I almost broke into a trot but didn’t have the energy. When I got to it, the water was nastier than the river had been, but my standards and thirst levels had changed considerably. I plunged my baking head into the scummy water. I rinsed my parched mouth, then used my sweat-soaked shirt to try to strain some “cleaner” water to get a few sips. I just couldn’t help myself.

Minimally recharged, I continued. Soon I heard some banging that sounded like construction, so I set my course. I started to see some vehicles through the trees and came upon a new homesite buzzing with workers.

Being a small town, I knew several of them and they wondered where the heck I came from and why I was wandering around carrying all that gear? I am not even sure I asked as I went straight to their five-gallon water jug and started drinking. It was like an oasis in the woods!! Soon, I heard a truck and the PC drove up.

The incredible journey was over!!!

With the release of vaccines and more and more people developing antibodies, let’s hope that as 2020 closed, we just dunked our weary heads in the old trough, and now we are on our way to the oasis in the woods.

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