Hill Billy Tales

We took a short trip to the beautiful place in the mountains where the Sierra Nevada mountains meet the Cascade range of mountains. It is also where the grasslands sport a sign that says ‘Welcome to Oregon’ as you keep driving north in California. Studded with lakes, rivers and waterfalls, amidst the towering glory of the tall trees, the place really welcomed us with marvelous, serendipitous finds, wholesome joys and gave us moments of Zen that I know we will look back on with contentment for years.


We drove smartly past grasslands and hills rolling by and sailed into Oregon in style. Within a few miles, we saw the quintessential American landmark: Signs indicating how many miles to the nearest Visitor Center.

15 miles to the Visitor center.
10 miles to the Visitor center.
The count down was on. The highway signs were creaking with the beckoning of the visitor center. This is one of those times where you can see Marketing mess with your minds: What if we missed the sight of a lifetime because we ignored the signs to the V Center? We succumbed and went in to find a sleepy town that had two main streets and two cross streets connecting the main ones (Lest the folks of the town come at me: I exaggerate, but you get the pic).

Once in there, we tootled along for a walk by the river admiring the swallows and giving them the names in the fancy pamphlet. We spotted a narrow sign that stated ‘River access’, and off we went through the thickening vegetation. Brambles scratched, the sound of the fresh flowing water was soothing to the ear, and the teenage girls (daughter and niece) looked distinctly uncomfortable with the mosquitoes but gallantly kept from complaining. In a titter and a tat, we found ourselves amidst lingerie on a rock, a dog that was wondering whether to rouse itself and check out the strangers, and two people camping by the riverside.

“Oh…sorry to bother you. We did not know this comes to the campground – just admiring the river.”, we said largely for the benefit of the dog, who felt that he must earn his keep and came along to check us out.

An old man clumped out of the trees, and said in his gruff voice that it was alright, and that the river and the river bed did not belong to him, and anyone was welcome. His unshaven face gave him a mane-like countenance, his voice reeked of not being used often, and he looked like he had been living on the rough for sometime. I felt the children draw closer to me and gave him a nervous smile.
He went on to tell us about how he has been camping by the riverside for a while now. “ I am down from the South,” he said.
“Oh really! We are here from California too.”
He threw his mane back and laughed.
No Ma’am. Am from down south!” he said puffing his chest out with pride.
“Oh you mean southern states like Louisiana?”
Yes Ma’am – a true hill-billy I am. You meet a hill-billy before?


This is where the conv. got a little strained. I mean, I had not met a true hill-billy before, or atleast I did not know the conditions for classifying someone as a hill-billy. I spent my childhood in the remote hills, and still startle at loud motor noises like metal being grated for a salad, does that make me a hill-billy? I gave him a silly, strained, forced laugh to which he looked at me keenly, and said “Why? What is wrong with me being a hill-billy.
“Uh..Nothing. Nothing at all. Do you like being a hill-billy?”
I do! Course I do! There are sum who can’n live off earth-like. Me? I can live off the earth – I can find meself some berries an’ hunt an’ fish like.
“That is very good.” I said.
I have to admit my admiration for the man rose. I have often wondered whether we have the ability to survive anymore. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we are slowly devolving to a point of not knowing how to survive by our wits. We seem to rely on GPS for going to the corner grocery store, the corner grocery store seeing the trend, is telling us, “Please please don’t bother. Just press a button and we’ll send a drone along with milk and such. You just keep pressing ‘Yes’ on that remote when it asks you whether you want to continue watching.”

Conversation languished for sometime after this, and the daughter came to my rescue, by shoving the creature catalogue in his hands, and asked whether he had seen river otters before. He gave her a pleased smile and told her about all the different bird and animal-likes he had seen in the river, and said he had never seen an otter before. His classifications and naming differed somewhat from the pamphlet, and his ‘white birds’ and ‘grey lil ones’ and ‘those brown ones up top’ were definitely easier to look out for.

We were well on our way after bidding him and his dog good-bye. Living on the wits may have suited him, but for us, we needed a good sandwich before we could go on, seemed to be consensus of the group. The husband reached for the phone, and I smartly took it from him saying, ‘It is such a small town, I am sure we can just drive down and find a Subway sandwich place. If he can live without technology, why can’t we?”.
‘It will be much quicker with a phone!’, he groaned, but I heard none of that nonsense: it was drowned in that growl that emanated from the stomach.

Life’s greatest lessons are learned when tempers are short. Everyone argued that the sandwich place was the other way, and after 3 u-turns, 4 no-no-not-that-one false starts, a hungry gloom settled upon the car.

Sniffing out a sandwich place in a car with its A/C on in full blast and closed windows is an art you got to learn. The hill-billy might have done it with the dog’s help, but we had to admit defeat.

I confess that we finally pulled out the phone to locate the place in a 3 mile strip. But after that: Boy! We were bulldogs and nosed on straight for Crater Lake with the GPS on. After all, evolution also means knowing how and when to use the right tools, what?!


Mt. Whitney Part 3: Adieu Fitbit

I have written about the enthusiasm with which I used my Fitbit. In case you missed it, here it is: The Headache Machine. I had it on my person at all times during the day, and even slept with the thing. Days I touched 25,000 steps, the relentless Fitbit would nudge me into trying out another 5000 steps to get to 30,000 and get myself a badge. All extremely annoying for a competitive hog like me. There have been days when the husband scooped me up from the street after I’d put in a hike, a run and a neighborhood stroll just to get to that magical N000 steps before the clock struck midnight and the counter for the next day began. The days I did not make my target number of steps, a certain despondency gnawed at the back of my brain and I muttered about the place trying to walk it off in the kitchen and bedroom. I lured my friends into it, I sneaked a peak at it once at mid-day, then at more frequent intervals as the day wore on. I, after all, had to ensure I met my step count. What I am trying to say is that the Fitbit possessed me like a spirit that was friendly at first and then, as time wore on, turned into a ruthless devil. A fortune-teller peeking into my crystal ball would have seen a tiny piece on my physical body giving me the vapors. “Exorcise it!” she could say in Sybil tones, and I would have clutched at it with my spirit.

Given this, of course, I wanted to see how the Fitbit would do on the Mt Whitney hike. It seemed well worth it, going through all that trouble if the Fitbit, at the end, would send me a wonderful note saying, “You over-achiever, you! Good job. At 83000 steps and 800 floors! Here you are, with a Diamond and Platinum badge that you can display proudly on your Fitbit login page, and brag to your friends about. I will still nag you about your 10000 steps for tomorrow’s goal, but for today, you are above reproach! Or maybe you can try to walk another 2000 steps while you out-run that bear eyeing your pizza and make it a round 85000 steps?”

Since I was not going, I handed the thing gingerly over to the husband, love dripping from my eyes and asked him to take it with him to see the impressive numbers it would come up with. I added with a laugh that it could remind him of me should he miss me while taking in the pure mountain air, and gasping at the views from up there. The day the h and friends drove to Lone Pine, CA, the heart wrenched a bit. Something felt amiss.  It only dawned on me later, that I did not have the fitbit on me. So the day of the hike, I woke the h and wished him luck and all that, and added (nonchalantly I thought) , “Remember to take the Fitbit! Make it proud of you and make you proud of it! Ha Ha!” Which just goes to prove that a device, no matter how well touted, can substitute your brain for wool and make you bleat.

All that day of the hike, my mind was in the mountains imagining the hike, and every now and then, wondering how the Fitbit was doing. But there was also a dawning realization on me. I had relaxed around myself in the day or two that I spent away from it. I was no longer frenzied, no longer walking like a purposeless maniac. I was okay with being in one spot without giving those around me a perpetual sense of motion sickness. What a nuisance I must have made of myself with the Fitbit?! Which only goes to prove that true love trumps everything else. The first thing that occurred to me was that I had been a pesky, fluttering pest the whole time. I had dragged family and friends off on walks so we could talk, when I could have sat with them sipping tea and had just as good a conversation. How wonderful people around me are that they accepted me even when I was behaving thus? I have much to be grateful for and the absence of the Fitbit was making me realize it starkly.

Fluttering Pest with the Fitbit
Fluttering Pest with the Fitbit

The day wore on for the hikers. I waited to hear from them and on their safe return to the hotel, let them sleep it off. It is a mark of my restraint that I only broached the topic the next day afternoon.

The husband sounded apologetic. He said that he had taken the Fitbit out at Mt Whitney and was checking the steps because he knew that would excite me, and then, on the way back, when they were negotiating some tricky switchbacks, things were crazy and it got lost. He doesn’t seem to be remember what constitutes crazy, but I saw some pictures of the switchbacks they were scaling and let it rest.

Switchbacks at Mt. Whitney
Switchbacks at Mt. Whitney

It sounded like a good spot to lay the thing to dust. Its entire lifetime pushing people to scale newer targets and higher heights, what better place for it to finally come to rest than at the highest peak in the contiguous USA?

“I’ll get you another one.” said the husband.

“NO!” I howled and the husband leapt away from the phone groaning like a buffalo torched at the ears.

“What are you doing that for? My ears are still weak from the high alt. Yesterday, it felt like there was a bee hive operating in there, today, only the Queen Bee seems to be holding fort, but still weak in the eardrums.” said the husband.

I muttered a ‘sorry’ and he said, “What? Speak up! I can’t hear you. “

“A bee in your bonnet eh?” I said cleverly. “The point is, please, I beg you. Don’t buy me another Fitbit. My life seems to have become much better without it. “

I still do my spot of exercise, but now, I am doing it listening to the birds, watching the leaves fall and taking in the beauty of the flitting clouds. I am truly enjoying exercise and experiencing the bounty of nature. Not working towards appeasing a cruel, and hard-to-please, cold mistress. What really cut me deep was the seemingly motivating messages that came in as I lowered the tired frame onto the welcoming mattress at 11 p.m., “You can do it! Just 700 steps short of your goal. “

No. I am happy where I am. I have since told friends who asked me to join their Fitbit journey, that mine was probably swallowed by the bear who was deprived of the pizza. (Mt. Whitney Part 2 : The Pizza And The Bear )

The Bear and the Fitbit
The Bear and the Fitbit

Anyone care to join me for a walk now?

P.S: Our friend has written about the journey here, and he is also the one who gave me the pictures for the Mt. Whitney posts:


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