We were contractors, doing blister-rust control work to protect trees for the Forest Service in the Sierras several summers. Every summer was notable for several reasons, usually having to do with the wildlife, such as coyotes, hornets, and rattlesnakes. That summer was most notable because we had the largest crew of any of the summers.
We had to scurry to get enough contracts to keep everyone working.
My brother Gerrit and I left the rest of the crew camped in the forest, working toward completion of a 240-acre section. The work involved digging out gooseberry and currant bushes, intermediate hosts for blister rust, an orange-colored fungus that kills pine trees.
We climbed on Gerrit's motorcycle. He took the front position and handled the controls of the machine. I handled the passenger's position.
We rode the graveled logging road to the highway and rumbled 650 cubic centimeters of internal-combustion engine over mountain highways toward the next group of lots advertised for bid, about 200 miles north of us.
Summer heated up the westfacing slope of northern California's Sierra Nevada above the Sacramento Valley. Mountain roads curved and twisted enough to provide satisfaction for two young men leaning cooperatively toward the pavement - left in every left turn and right in every right turn - the way sunshine and shadows of trees alternate on rapidly passing pavement.
The wind created by our speed along the slope of the mountain didn't cool us much, hot as the day was. We had spent so much of our time in the American River when we worked on earlier lots, swimming and browning in summer sun. The seriousness about working hard and earning money had descended on us as strongly as summer heat descended on the mountains.
TWO on a motorcycle leaves little room to carry any luggage. We had no sleeping bags, no supplies. Closer to the Oregon border, we tired, worn down by heat, by leaning, by our restricted positions, vibrations of the machine, by the constant roar of the two-cylinder, lightly muffled motor.
We pulled over and conferred at the edge of a small mountain town. Gerrit said, "We could make it all the way to the lots before dark, but then we'd be out there, and all available beds would be in here."
"Let's get a room and look at lots in the morning," I said. "I like roughing it, but sleeping on the ground with no cover at all doesn't appeal to me."
We rented a motel room, an almost alien luxury; usually we camped out where we worked and cooked over a campfire or on a camp stove when the woods were too dry. Late-afternoon sun dropped behind high mountain peaks.
Hot. Sweaty. I would really have liked to have some clean clothes, be free of perspiration, dust, and road grime from 200 miles of motorcycle travel. I left my boots by one of the beds in the small motel room and stepped into the shower otherwise fully clothed. Once over lightly with soap as the hot water flowed, and a rinse. Then I undressed, repeated the shower, shut off the water, and wrung out my clothes.
Gerrit said, "Looks like that would work," and he did the same thing.
We hung our clothes around the room and slept soundly until early sun began to heat the morning. We quickly breakfasted in the closest restaurant, then rumbled off the highway, up a logging road.
We stopped several times to refer to a map, looking for flagged areas in the forest. Our damp clothes kept us cool and wide awake in the wind of our travel.
Mountain sunshine dried our clothing by the time we parked the machine and walked through the forest, trying to estimate how long it would take us to do blister-rust control work here.
We sat on a steep green slope beneath pine trees, watching birds of the mountain and talking about what prices we should bid on the areas we'd just looked at.
On our journey south, back to camp, we stopped and jumped in the river. The work part of our travel was finished, and we had time. Hot afternoon shone on the glimmering asphalt road.
We swam, rinsed our clothes, and wrung them out. Climbed back on the machine. By then, we understood that the price for personal air-conditioning is only the time it takes to dunk and wring out our clothes. We rode cool part of that afternoon, leaning toward the pavement in turns, rumbling back across the west-facing slope of the Sierras.