Work Trip to Northern California

Made my first work trip in a while this past week, flying into Sacramento, CA. The day I arrived was sunny and gorgeous; I got in early and decided I’d make a drive up into the Sierras to see if I could find a good place to hike. I found the local REI store to inquire, picked up a little day hike book for segments of the Pacific Crest Trail (which I would love to traverse one day), and off I went.

Slight miscalculation on my part.

I wasn’t familiar enough with the geography of the area to realize that just because it was 70ish degrees near Sacramento that I’d be climbing to over 7000 feet to reach the trails. I just read the directions to the trailhead I’d selected, got in the car and took off. Once I reached the top, it was much colder, very windy, and the trails were all choked with snow. If I were properly geared-up I’d have still done it, but I probably would have needed cross-country skis, or at least snowshoes. I had my hiking boots, but just shorts and a t-shirt. Had my vest with me too, but it wasn’t enough. So I adapted and overcame. I was at the top of Donner Pass and it was just a little farther to Truckee, CA, where I visited the Emigrant Trail Museum in the Donner Memorial State Park. Of course this museum and monument commemorates, primarily, the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846/47. Pretty harrowing stuff. I did score this pretty sweet, bright orange survival bandana in the gift shop. I plan to wear it on all future expeditions.

 

Here I am modeling it in the fashion in which it will be worn.

This is my serious, "Die and I will eat you!" face

Driving around the community that has grown up around the lake, one of expensive lodges and homes, clearly aimed at summer travelers, I was struck by how quickly things change. Sure, 165 years seems like a long time, but, relatively speaking, it isn’t that long. We’ve built that place up from a howling wilderness of challenge-nature-and-you-will-be-forced-to-eat-your-dead-if-you-want-any-hope-of-surviving terror to a trendy tourist destination location complete with lakeside maps directing the route which all watercraft should take, restaurants (too little, too late, perhaps?), and motel lodging fully-equipped with central air. I have no doubt that the homes built along the ridge top overlooking the lake had to run in the millions to own. It boggles my mind. I found it creepy. Those poor people headed west in hopes of a better life and few even made it. For me, it was an afternoon of driving and listening to the radio. I’ll try and never again gripe about a 2o minute delay, that’s for sure. I hope their ghosts rest peacefully.

 

If I Told You, They’d Have to Kill Me

The trip over the mountains was definitely the highlight of the trip. The next day the rains rolled in, and I heard on the radio that they were getting heavy snow up in the pass. I don’t usually like to talk too much about the actual “work” part of my trips, because there generally isn’t anything that interesting or adventurous to report. However, this one was just bizarre in another “So this is the state of our world?” kind of way. Without going into too much detail, the customer I was working for is an installation controlled by the US Department of Defense, doing work for the military, located on the former site of the McClellan Air Force Base. The building next door, I was told, houses the west coast branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

The security was ridiculous. Bulletproof glass everywhere. Revolving doors that sniff for gunpowder. Blast doors and explosion-proof rooms. Armed guards. Escort just to use the restroom. I had to check half the stuff I normally use as part of my work at the door when I entered the first day, then just left it in the car outside on day two. Nice people, the ones I dealt with, but I could not work in that environment for any length of time. Their hands are severely tied in just trying to do what needs done in running a manufacturing facility run by security types with no manufacturing backgrounds. The anecdotes they relayed of some of the denials they’d received when asking to do certain things, for no justifiable reason, were comical. Very interesting in a make-fun-of-bloated-government kind of way.

A sign outside the area I was working in did say something about gamma radiation testing going on, and posted evacuation instructions. I told Julia I hoped that at least I’d get turned into The Hulk for my troubles, but that didn’t happen. Speaking of which, it’s been a couple years since I squared off with that behemoth anyway.

You want one 'o these?!

For once I’m glad my hair isn’t still that long. Rolling into that facility with flowing locks like this and I’d probably just now be landing in Egypt or some such place on an isolated runway with a black bag over my head or something, for crissakes.

It didn’t help that I read The Man Who Quit Money on the way out there. I wasn’t in any mood to be a cog in the machine — more surly about it than usual, anyway — and this experience just exacerbated my irritability. I didn’t like the attitude that I was somehow guilty until proven innocent, that despite the background check and all that bullshit I had to undergo just to be allowed on site in the first place wasn’t enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. I felt trapped in there. Guilty until proven innocent. I didn’t like going through controlled revolving doorways that could be used to contain me. Didn’t like having all the stuff in my bag fondled. I hated a dude waiting outside the door for me every time I wanted to take a friggin’ leak. I’m not impressed with how many times a day the firewall is hit by Chinese attempts to breach their security. I don’t care which roofs and walls are extra thick so Chinese satellites can’t see inside (I’m not making this shit up). I didn’t like the stories of Congressional blowhards coming to inspect the facility when a request was made to expand, then bolting off to spend the weekend in Reno and Tahoe. It was tedious, the bureaucracy inefficient and counter-productive, and overall just a downer of an experience. Like I said, I dealt with a couple very nice people; I feel for them being under that yoke. I hope they are getting paid way more than I am. Me, they couldn’t pay enough. And that’s without even considering the 2-hour commute the guy I was consulting with makes every day. That’s 2 hours in at 4 AM, then 2 hours home at 3:30 PM. Fuuuuuck that.

Just more proof that the people who think they are running the world are just a bunch of assholes. No part of anything going on there, being done by anyone, has anything to do with living any kind of meaningful life that I want to be a part of.

Phew, rant over. It was weird. Thankfully it was just two days. I saw John Carter while I was there on a huge screen in an icy-cold theater without about 5 other people in attendance and had a good time. Ate some good grub. Made the best of it. That’s all one can do sometimes. . . .

Here’s a collage of a few instagrams from the trip:

Upper left, clockwise: Donner Lake; Donner Summit; Donner Market; Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA w/ a good book; Over Lolo, descending into MSO

 

And here’s a fantastic little video from a dude who hiked the PCT. Pop it out and watch it all the way to the end — it’s totally worth it.

 

Thanks for reading. . . .

Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

8 thoughts on “Work Trip to Northern California”

  1. Welcome to a little bit of my world. While I may not work in the federal version of loony tunes, I work in the state version, and depending on what agency you hit, you can either have too much security or not enough security, although not to the extreme that you’re experiencing.

  2. Highly entertaining! The bandana is a righteous score.
    I’m glad you were intrepid enough to continue your hike, but also a little spooked because that’s how too many outdoor tragedies start: “He wandered off into the woods, wearing only shorts and boots, equipped with nothing more than half a Clif bar and a ratty Edward Abbey paperback. He was never heard from again…”

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