Wednesday, September 14, 2022

OTR -12 or is it OTR 11+1

I cannot believe that it has been 10 months since I last posted. Time flies.


I have been purposely silent on my plans for this year because I was afraid that I would set my expectations too high. The truth is, I was hopeful and planning to get back onto the Donner Party Trail again this year, setting out this past Sunday.  That did not happen, primarily because of several unplanned interruptions in my condo, where I remain as president.  But because I have to get back on the road, my plan now is to head out to where my love of nature was rejuvenated from when I grew up on banks of the Hudson River in the foothills of the Catskills, the Shenandoah Valley.  Montag and I used to backpack in that beautiful valley most every fall weekend we could for about eight years, and had some extraordinary experiences there.  If that bond between a man and his dog best sets in anywhere, it is on a camping trip. The last time I was there was back in the early 1990s when I hiked the Appalachian Trail to a place called Jeremy's Run, where I scattered Montag's ashes, with Sonntag and Kessie by my side. Ten years later, Leben and Erde were by my side on the North Slope of Alaska as I scattered Sonntag's and Kessie's ashes there. Whenever I hear mention of those places, my mind goes back to those magnificent dogs.


My plan is to head out to the valley over the next five weeks on Monday mornings and stay till Thursday, when I will head back into DC for four days. Unfortunately, there is no internet in the park so there will be no daily blog, so to speak. Maybe one posting at the end of each week.  I may close out OTR-11 and call this one OTR-12. But if there is a blog, it might be rather boring to read, but not to experience.


For better or for worse, there will be no backpacking on the schedule during these trips.  The National Park runs four campgrounds, and so that's where we will be pitching our tent. 


Although this was at first a hard decision, it is all for the better since I am going through physical therapy for a pesky walking problem I have been experiencing.  I will do what therapy I can in the camp, but come back for a session with my therapist on Fridays, and to take Donner swimming on Fridays and Sundays. He needs to do some recovering too, and he gets half the votes on where we go.  My guess is that if he could talk, he would probably agree with this plan.  I will try to keep up this routine for as long as I can until the end of October, when the campgrounds close for the winter.


Preparing for a four-day retreat on the road into nature is not the same thing as preparing for a six-week retreat for one reason: sometimes those six-week retreats run on for as many as 14 weeks, albeit unplanned. And if the Defender gives out on this journey, a 160-mile tow is not the same thing as its breaking down in the Yukon just as the winter snows hit, 4100 miles from home.


Although this trip is Donner's, my mind will undoubtedly be on that magnificent German shepherd Montag, who was my shadow side for 14 years.  Our own road trips only took us to Vermont a few times, but I can assure you he was with me on all my road trips, along with Sonntag, Kessie, Leben and Erde.  And if in whatever afterlife there is only one dog at a time is permitted, Montag would be the first, so that I could give him the benefit of all the lessons on what it takes to be a good guardian for a dog that I learned with his successors.


Below is a story I wrote about Montag the day after he was put down 35 years ago.  He is still on my mind every single day.


ED and Donner


Putting The Old Fella Down


The bond between a man and his new dog fuses almost instantly; from then on, its strength depends upon individual circumstances.  In my and my German shepherd's case, it only intensified due to the facts that I had him alone, he was my only dog, and we were virtually inseparable for so many years.


"Montag" - Monday in German - was born on the day the Senate Watergate Committee heard H.R.Haldeman testify that he and President Nixon had no knowledge of Watergate. Skylab 2 circled the earth. Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam were still front-page news.  "American Graffiti"

was the new movie that summer. On the day I took the little fella home at age eight weeks, the Dow Jones hit 920; I was 28.  That's how far back he went.  So much happened since then. He spanned two thirds of my adult life.


To say that Montag and I spent an enormous amount of good time together would be an understatement.  Few people who know me now knew my life without him; many never knew me without him.   The "outside interests" line on his rsum would look like mine except for the SCUBA diving:  jogging, backpacking, cross-country skiing, traveling, outdoor concerts, to name a few; he was always with me.  On many weekends he was a fixture at my office with me. At home, he permeated my life.  It wasn't all fun and games for the two of us though. But we were both there for each other doing what we were supposed to do.  I never lost sight of the fact that he was a dog; to his credit, neither did he. He had a pretty good deal and so did I.  We both knew that.


Dogs destined to live to an old age do their masters a favor by sending unmistakable signs of the inevitable separation well in advance. Montag was no exception. Looking back now over the years I can clearly trace what he stopped doing and when.  But it was easy to ignore those signs because the bond between us intensified as the fun times were replaced with caring and understanding. I wanted it to continue forever, but I knew that it couldn't.


The medical signs, however, couldn't be ignored, not with a 110 pound dog. Over Montag's last 16 months, I successfully navigated him between two tumor operations and learned how to cope with a few predictable consequences of his aging. Montag was never in  pain, but he was getting old.  In his last few months, although otherwise in good shape, he gradually started to go lame in his right hind leg.  Convinced by the veterinarian when a decision couldn't be postponed that surgery, as a long shot, might work, I went ahead with it.  I simply couldn't let Montag go without doing everything humanely within reason for him.


 After a difficult five week nursing period, longer than the vet suggested, I had to make another decision.  The operation was unsuccessful; Montag would never walk again. An emotional decision would have kept him here a few weeks longer, but there really was no cause for hope.


The painful decision to put Montag down became irreversible when he still couldn't walk on the designated day. The rest of that day had been rehearsed many times over in my mind. I carried him over the same threshold we had crossed together thousands of times and then 150 feet to my Jeep.  We pulled out at 7:30 in the morning for the 70 mile drive to the veterinary hospital.  I kept one hand on Montag for the entire trip. Tears were the rule, not the exception.  The weather was just foul: heavy rain, a dark sky, lightning and thunder.  Five minutes before the hospital, I cried "I'm going to miss you so much, Montag. I promise we'll be together again."


An unexpected 45 minute wait at the hospital was welcome, but it only added to my pain.  I sat in my Jeep, alone, with Montag in the back.  My heart sank when finally someone knocked on my door and said, "We're ready."  Weakened from grief, I reached back, touched Montag and said, "It's over, fella."  I drove to the alley in the rear of the hospital so Montag could be euthanized in my Jeep with privacy and wouldn't have to be carried inside. I got into the back with him and removed his collar, setting him free forever.  The vet and her assistant emerged in heavy rainwear and immediately took positions at the rear of the Jeep. With tears streaming down my face and Montag cradled in my arms, I repeatedly whispered to him, "I love you, Montag. Good-bye, buddy. Thanks so much. You're a good dog."  His strong body at first resisted the drug that the vet injected into his left front leg. I pleaded with him, "Please don't fight us this time, Montag."  His weakening body suddenly slumped in my arms. The vet climbed into the Jeep with us, listened for his heartbeat , and then announced, "He's gone."  With those words, a very large and important part of my world collapsed.


 Alone, I sat holding Montag for a few minutes longer.  There was no feeling of relief. If ever before I felt more anguish, I cannot remember.  I shut his eyes, put a make-shift pillow of towels under his head, and closed up the back of the Jeep. Finally composed, I sought out and thanked the vet for her humane treatment and left. At the pet crematory, 20 miles down the road, I carried Montag myself from the Jeep and stayed not far from his side for five hours while he was  cremated. After all, he stayed at my side for 14 years.


Seven hours after Montag was put down, I was home with his ashes. The small "German Shepherd Dog Inside" sign on my front door, there for emergency purposes, was no longer needed. Perhaps it now belonged on the small box that I clutched in my left arm. It really belonged on my heart.


          That evening, I changed my will -  I want my ashes scattered with Montag's over a site in the mountains where we spent many good weekends together.  I intend to keep my promise to him.  Before I went to bed, I suddenly felt the only joy in a long time when I thought how lucky I was to have had such a great dog for such a very long time. But that's also why putting the old fella down that day was the saddest and toughest thing I can ever remember having to do. I miss him so much.  


NOTE: Montag was put down at 9:50am on Saturday, August 22, 1987.  His ashes were scattered at the foot of Jeremey's Run in Virginia's Shenandoah Mountains in October 1990. Sonntag and Kessie, his successors, were with me.



Friday, November 12, 2021

Donner’s situation

As of now, Donner is being treated for an Iliopsoas muscle tear, which may take months to heal, even with PT. His wheelchair arrived, but i will introduce him to it gradually. He needs to get as much exercise as he can on both rear legs. My foyer is beginning to look like a parking lot for handicapped dogs, a wheelchair, and two strollers. What we don't do for our dogs.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Things happen for a reason...

Despite its total irrationality, I subscribe to the belief that things happen for a reason. So, I believe our turning back on OTR-11 happened for a reason.  When I calculated the probabilities of things happening on the trip before I made the decision to return home, one the variables I used was the probability of something happening to the Defender. Even though it was in the best condition it has been in for years, I estimated that the odds were better than 50% of a Defender timeout. Factoring in the other probabilities, we turned around and headed home. 


Well, as it turns out, I was right. Tonight, as I was driving home, 3.4 miles from home the red check engine light came on and the vehicle stalled.  I started it up again, but I soon stalled again.  Fortunately, I was able to limp home driving very slowly with the flashers on, and will get it towed to my mechanic tomorrow.  Assuming that this glitch happened because of miles driven, my trip odometer, which I started at the beginning of OTR-11, read 1432.  Looking at Goggle maps, that would have placed us smack in the middle of Maxwell Nebraska, a hamlet of 257 people, on day 7 our trip, which would have been Friday, September 24th. Lincoln Nebraska, the only sizeable city nearby, was 215 miles back along I-80. Since we would have driven 206 of the 279 miles we planned for that day, this would have happened around 2:30- in the afternoon. Downloading from Google Earth the photo of the spot where that breakdown would have occurred, below is what I get.  The temperature that night there was a nippy 46 degree, so sleeping in the Defender would not have been pleasant.


My guess is that we would have dealt with this the same way we dealt with the other such Defender timeouts in Newfoundland (2002), on the St Laurence River (2016), on the Alcan (2016), in Nevada and Utah (2016), and on desolate plains of western Kansas  (2019), but it would have been unwelcome nevertheless.  So, if anyone asks if I am saddened that we turned back, I think you now know the answer.







Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Day 3, Rhodadendrum

Not too much to report for today because not much took place. Lots of reading, a few walks with Donner, some contemplating the beauty of nature and wondering what nature will be like 100 years from now if current trends continue. Perhaps the highlight of the day was A drive to the nearby RV camp run by the state forest to take a well-deserved, if not much needed, shower.

This three-day stay here has been one of the longest of any of my road trips. I can probably count on one hand the number of campsites I stayed in for more than two days. I was afraid I would not be able to acclimate myself to it, but it seems that I did so quite nicely. The key is to get into a schedule, albeit one that can be broken if whim Or incident so demands.

Tomorrow, we must break camp and get on the road by 11 o'clock so I can make a swimming appointment for Donner in Potomac Maryland at four. Maybe I will stop off at the rest stop where I left those boots several weeks ago. Perhaps they are still there, waiting for their owner to reclaim them

Sent from my iPhone

Bear scat near camp site

It"s nice of the bears to leave a calling card. Thank God humans are not as nice.

28 years ago today

Monday, October 11, 2021

Day 2 , by the fite

Most of the time on the road, by the time I get into a new  camp.  set up the tent, and go through the rest of the evening chores, it is too late to start a fire. But every now and then I do get one going. When I do, it is always dark. After the fire is started, I sit down near it, start playing For Alina on my iPad, and begin to scroll through the several dozen photos I have of my dogs on my iPad, my favorite companions on these road trips. It takes about 11 minutes to do this. But those 11 minutes are probably the most enjoyable moments of all my trips.

The photo is of our fire tonight.

Day 2 rhododendron

As it turns out, we do not have the entire camp to ourselves. Slowly but surely, another 10 or so campsites were occupied by the time dark felll last night. But most of them are gone today, after having taken advantage of the three day weekend.

As it also turns out, I ended up with what is probably the worst site in the entire camp. On a quick drive through several weeks ago, I jotted down that there was a tent pad built for campsite three, so I figured that must be one of the best. So I reserved it. Well, the reason they built a tent pad was because the terrain in the site was generally steep and loaded with small rocks. So much for my guessing what goes on in someone's mind when they build a turn site. Nevertheless, we are making do, and I occasionally get up and circumnavigate The site for my daily exercise routine. And it helps with Donner's PT since one of the exercises is for him to walk over obstacles, and there are plenty of them here for him to walk over.

Ed and Donner

Sent from my iPhone

Day 2

Donner doing what he does best, resting and relaxing. He is a wholly different dog on this trip than he was on our On The Road-11. He is pretty much the dog he was before, but for his disability.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Day 1, mini otr 11

Our campsite at Rhododendron camp .

These campsites may all look the same to my readers, but they all have their distinct personalities. When I see a photo of one, I can recognize immediately which one it is, and I have camped in more than 400 of them on my trips.

I never cease to be amazed at how just sitting here amidst nature clears the mind. While it is a hassle preparing for these short trips, and then setting up camp, breaking camp, and the unpacking at home, they are worth it, at least doing it the way we do it I hope I remember that in two weeks when I hope to take another.

Ed and Donner

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Mini-OTR-11 extended

Donner and I hope to  set  off for Rhododendron Camp in the West Virginia mountains for four days. Found a nice tent-only camp not too far from Coopers Rock camp, where we stayed on our way home two weeks ago.  It looks like we will have the entire camp to ourselves as no one seems to have reserved a site.  It is impossible to get a site for weekends, though.


I will continue Donner’s PT there twice a day. He continues to learn how to accommodate his disability and is even doing some walking on his  own. I still do not know if his problem is what the vet thinks it is, a torn iliopsoas muscle.


I thought preparing for this mini trip could be done in a matter of hours. I was wrong.  Scaling back preparing for a 45 day trip for a four day trip is not a matter of dividing the preparation time by 11.  I don’t know what the formula is, but it did to result in what I expected.


I am not too sure how I will react to two full days in a camp, considering that I am used to moving on every day. Perhaps I will get some reading done. Or Donner will get PT more than twice a day.


We will blog from the camp, depending on internet.


Ed and Donner



Sunday, October 3, 2021

Donner's situation

Donner is learning how to get around with his disability, but can only walk a few feet, and poorly at that, before he has to sit down. The vet (specialist) believes it is an iliopsoas muscle tear and has recommended weeks, if not months, of physical therapy to deal with it.  I am not too sure that that is the problem, but it is worth a try since if it is not that, it is a neuro issues which I can do noting about, or a hip issue, which I may do something about, despite the risks, if it comes to that.  We will have four weeks before his wheelchair arrives, so it is worth trying in the meantime. In the meantime, we will continue to take our walks with him in his stroller. My concern is that he will rejected the wheelchair in favor of the stroller when the wheelchair arrives.  If that is his preference, so be it.


One of the reasons I am not too sure it is not Donner’s neuro situation acting up is what I learned in the tent as he slept right beside me.  Starting well into the night, he would try to shift his position every minute it seemed, and by doing so, wake me up.  He continues that at home.  That may be more of a sign it is a neuro issue, and not a muscle issue.  My guess is that it only starts well into the night as his meds from the previous morning wear off.  So, I will start to give him his meds at night to see if that changes his pattern.  I never noticed that he tries to change his position during the day so at least I know the meds are working.


Saturday, October 2, 2021

Would-be Homeward bound OTR-11, Days 16-27,

Our outward bound journey accomplished, we would planning homeward bound  journey from cathedral-like Samuel Taylor State Park in California.  Had I not forgotten to renew my passport last year, we probably would he heading  north tomorrow (see red line on map), camping in the redwood forests and ocean-front camps on our way to Vancouver Island, where we would be pitching our tent for a few days right on the cusp of the beach on the western Pacific ocean beach at Wye Resort. But that journey would have been somewhat problematic, given the unpredictability of the weather crossing the northwestern and central states in October, which the Defender could have handled, but I might not have been able to with my haste to get home fast to deal with Donner’s situation. 


Would-be Day 16: So, given Donner’s situation, my guess is that we would be heading east (see blue line on map) from California, returned to Lake Tahoe,  and camped in Sugar Pines camp (if reopened after the Caldor fire). It was there in 2014 that a huge back bear tried to get to the containers on top of my Defender, five feet away from the tent (13-year old Erde, bless her heart, slept through the entire incident), but was stopped by my whistle. (See damage to Defender in photo below).



Would be Day 17: From Tahoe, we would have headed into the Nevada high desert, taking a roundtrip detour of 100 miles off route 50 to head to wonderful, isolated Berlin-Icythyosaur State Park, to enjoy the 360 degree panorama of the desert. We were alone, about 100 miles from civilization that night, which happened to be the night before the Defender took its third timeout at freezing Great Basin National Park.  But we were 100 miles from civilization the other way that night, so it did not matter.




Would be day 18: From Berlin- Icythyosaur, we would have headed back to route 50 and spent next night at  Petroglyph State Recreation area, were Leben and Erde and I camped in 2001 (and Donner and I in 2019) and where had and would have had the whole park to ourselves.  It was like camping in an old movie set from a 1950s John Wayne western.


Would be Day 19: From Petroglyph, we would have driven to Ely, Nevada, just to stop to give our regards to Dave, the mechanic who worked miracles on the Defender back in 2016 after its third timeout on that trip. and then driven up route 50 to Cave Lake, where on September 8, 2001, I was so mesmerized by the billions of stars overhead, I lay down ion the picnic table for hours, just staring into the sky, wondering about life out there.  I had never seen stars like that before, or seen them since, but I did see three stars in the DC sky last night.


This probably would be our camp at Cave Lake, as it was in 2019.


Would be Day 20: From Cave Lake, we would be traveling along route 50 through the desert to little Salina Utah, the site of our fourth and last Defender time-out in 2016, and probably staying at the Ranch Motel where we bivouacked for two weeks until I shipped the Defender back in 2016 and flew back home with Donner.


Would be day 21: From Salina, we might have attempted to head to the Moab area to try our luck at a campsite at a state park just outside of Arches National Park to enjoy the view (below) we had in 2018.



Would be day 22: From Arches, we would have travelled along I-70 with a stop at  Glenwood Canyon Camp right on the Colorado River (see photo).  Besides camping next to that great river, this camp had the added attraction of a railroad track right across the river, on of the great pleasure in my life. (I grew up in a community on the banks of the Hudson, with a railroad track on both sides of the river.)



Would be days 23-26: From Glenwood, to save time, we would probably would be overnighting on the east side of the Rockies in convenient motels for the rest of the trip in order to get home quickly to get Donner’s situation taken care of, 

Would be day 27: As our last stop, perhaps we would be staying at one of the quaint Lost River cabins or the Cheat River lodge in West Virginia, or maybe a cabin at the Savage River Lodge in western Maryland, all places we stayed before as the last stops on our journeys. My guess is that it would have taken 11 days to get home at 240 miles a day.


Unless there were unexcted interruptions, as have happened, that would have concluded OTR-11, but for my doing what was right and turning around to deal with Donner’s situation, of  which  I will write more  tomorrow. As for OTR-11, please stay tuned.


ED and Donner, from Basecamp in DC




Friday, October 1, 2021

What day 15 would have been like - Donner Lake to Fort Sutter to Samuel Taylor State Park

Unless we found another camp, we probably would have spent the night bivouacking in 26 degree temperature under a clear sky in a picnic grove (see below photo) where we bivouacked three years ago, not too far from the Donner’s Alder Creek Camp.  What a wonderful site that was.  A broad vista into the distance almost 200 degrees around. That’s Donner (my Donner) keeping his eyes on my every movement.



After breaking camp, we would have stopped off at the Alder Creek Camp where the Donners ended their journey,  just down highway 89  and then gotten on our way to Donner Lake, where the  rest of the Donner Party spent the next six months in abject misery, hoping, searching  for a rescue party.  


  TMy purpose with this blog is not to tell the story of what happened 175 years ago at Donner Lake, at the Alder Creek camp, or on the trail to Fort Sutter, so you might wish to delve into that horrific story yourself. A list of the names of the hapless souls stranded at those places is shown at the bottom of this posting.


After a brief visit to Donner Lake,  avoiding the water this time (remember what happened there in 2018?) we would be jumping onto I-80, heading eventually for the end of the line for the pioneers at Fort Sutter in Sacramento, 80 or so miles distant.  Our journey would be somewhat more relaxed than, say, the journey of the 14 souls who formed the Forlorn Hope group from the Donner Party trying to reach Fort Sutter back in 1846.  Most did not.



My guess is that we would not be trying to make it all the way to Fort Sutter, and then onto Samuel Taylor State Park, north of San Francisco, because that would involve a journey of 207 miles, without accounting for time lost for breaks at the sites in between.  So we probably would be bivouacking tonight about 50 miles down the highway in the Mineral Bar State Park (below) where Donner and I spent a night in solitude back in 2018.



You can visit my blog from 2018 to learn a little bit more about that one night we spent there, just feet away from a bubbling creek, just over the hill in back of our tent.

On The Road - 9 : Day 28, Friday, October 19; Mineral Bar State Park, California (


After Mineral Bar camp, we would be taking some back roads to reach where Johnson’s Ranch had been located, now near Wheatland CA.  That site played a major role as the terminus of the Forlorn Hope saga.


From Johnson’s Ranch, we would be driving the final leg of the Donner Party’s journey on to Fort Sutter, but not spending much time there as they do not permit dogs in the museum.


And that would be .concluding our outward bound journey to retrace the Donner Party saga 175 years ago.   


We would then be moving on  97 miles to the Samuel Tailor State Park north of San Francisco where we had reservations in the same wonderful campsite (below)  in a cathedral-like redwood forest where we stayed  during several prior visits there.



Tomorrow, we would be plotting our homeward bound journey, which I never plan until I point the Defender east.  My guess is that we would first be heading off in the direction of the Nevada and Utah deserts to camp in several of the magnificent high desert camps we stayed in over our journeys and go wherever the Defender took us.

 My plan now is to continue this blog, probably reposting some of  photos of camps we stayed in before on our similar homeward bound journeys, and other miscellaneous topics as well (e.g., Donner’s situation, our local camping, the Defender), until we eventually pick it up when we get back on the road again on OTR-11.  For all I know now, OTR-11 might go on for perpetuity.  One can be certain of nothing these days.

Below is a list of the members of the Donner Party, and the numbers who survived and perished. Click on the names and you will go to an Xmission blog that lists the names and some background on each.










George Donner




Jacob Donner








Graves, Fosdick












Murphy, Foster, Pike




Reed, Keyes








Teamsters and others








Thursday, September 30, 2021

What Day 14 would have been like - Rye Patch SRA NV to Donner Memorial Park CA

Here’s what today, day 14 would have been like.



We would have had a chilly (high 20s) but pleasant night’s sleep at Rye Patch State Recreation Area in NV, just off I-80.   After breaking camp, we would have driven 10 miles down I-80, hugging the Humboldt River as close as we could, and taken a 16-mile round trip detour to visit the Humboldt Sink, where the river of the same name simply disappeared.


A lot of drama took place on this route in 1846, but was nothing compared to what was to come when the Donner Party reached the Sierras. Wolfinger was killed for his hoard of gold by Spitzer and Reinhart; Pike was killed in an accident; Hardcoop was thrown out by Keseberg (what did I tell you) and never seen again.  Eddy refused to help Breen pull his horse from the mud and the horse died.


Back on I-80, we would then be traveling through the Forty-Mile desert to just short of the suburbs of Reno.


In Reno, we would be setting the GPS for  4385 Loreto Lane where the Millcreek and Donner Springs subdivisions built in the 1980s set aside an acre of land to memorialize this spot (below) where the Donner’s camped on the Emigrant Trail  in then-Truckee Meadows before the final push to get to then-Truckee Lake to climb the 7,057- foot summit that would get them to Fort Sutter before the snows came.


<![if !vml]><![endif]>





After a leisurely lunch in the bench-less park, much to the puzzlement of the residents as to why we were there (“Just wanted to give Donner a break,” I would have said, puzzling them even more) we would have hopped back into the Defender for the 27 mile drive in sunny 71-degree weather to Donner Memorial State Park in Truckee CA along the last of the rivers the Party would encounter, the Truckee


Before we arrived at Donner Memorial Park, we would have stopped at the Alder Creek Camp, six miles from Truckee, where the Donner’s were forced to stop after an axel broke on one of George owner’s wagons  He cut he hand trying to repair it, and that, as it turns out, was fatal.  It delayed the whole party from getting over now-Donner summit before the snows--- the biggest ever recorded there since, five feet---- hours before they attempted to cross over. Donner and I bivouacked just a couple of hundred yards from this camp back in 2018.


At Donner Memorial Park, our first visit would have been to the memorial statue there (below), depicting the hapless emigrants, not saluting, but shielding their eyes from the blinding sun  hitting the deep snow as they peered into the distance every day hoping to see a rescue party coming off the Sierras summit for them.  That help eventually came, but not soon enough for more than 40 of them.



Becasue reservations at Donner State Park for today were full two months ago, we had plans to camp at a park along Lake Tahoe, 20 miles to the south, but those reservations were cancelled because of the Caldor Fire.  There were a number of other camps near the Alder Creek Camp of the Donner’s we would have tried to camp in.  Or we would have bivouacked in the same site we cut back in 2018.


Donner at his eponymously named parked back in 2018:

On top of Donner summit overlooking Donner Lake with Donner in 2018

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Replacement for Defender?

As those who have been guardian to a Defender know, there really is no vehicle like it.  None. And because of that, it is impossible to find a suitable replacement short of having one built from a kit. Knowing that my beloved 28-year old Defender is beginning its second life, at some point I will have to ask myself if I am prepared to go through the same cycle that I have been through these last 28 years.  So, until a suitable replacement comes along, the Defender will stay with me, come hail or high water, and it has seen both, and more, much more. 


But besides wanting to avoid the trials and tribulations, not to mention tows, that come with owning a Definer, I am getting to the point where it would be desirable, if not necessary, to have a vehicle I can sleep in when push comes to shove, as it has many times on my journeys.  If I had a Defender 110, I would be able to do that, but it is impossible to do so in a 90, which I have.  And I do not see myself moving down one notch on the on-the-road means, pulling a tent camper, and certainly never beyond that. It would not be the same kind of journey without a Defender or my dogs).  So my search continued.


SAs it turned out, my search really turned into a wait. Several years ago, when Land Rover announced that they would be discontinuing production of the three-decades old Defender worldwide (they discontinued shipping to the US in 1996 or 1997), Sir James Ratcliffe, a Defender enthusiasts, and the founder of the British chemical complex INEOS, pleaded with them to continue it. Land Rover ignored him. He then asked to buy the name and plans, and they ignored him again. Not one for giving it, Sir James vowed to start up his own production company and make the best utility vehicle on the market. Today, INEOS announced that vehicle, which they are calling the Grenadier, after the pub in England where the idea was conceived.   Although I had been following the sparce press on this for years, I accidentally saw a news article on it today. I immediately got online as soon as the reservations opened up and was able to secure with a deposit a reservation number in the 9000s.  The vehicle will be shipped  starting in 2022, but not to the US until 2023, so my Defender will be with me until then, if not beyond.


The Grenadier is shown in the photo on the left, while a Deferens 110 is on the right.  If they look alike, it is because they are mean to. On a scale of 0 to 10, if the luxury rating of a Defender is a 0, and a 10 for one of those very capable Mercedes G-Wagons, which are never seen where they belong, in the wild, the Grenadier is supposed to be somewhere in between, and very, very sparse on electronics.


Right now, this is only a pipe dream for me, but at least I have some security on being able to turn that dream into a reality.  My only hope is that Donner is still here with me to take a step up in comfort in any new vehicle I end up getting.

Incidentally, the Grenadier is by no means a sure thing for me.  While there is much that I like, it has shortcominngs: no manual transmnissionl no soft top; a 3.0 liter 6 cylinder engine, which is less that my Defender had with its original engine, and rear seats that when folded take up valiuable space in the back, which I need tfor sleeping ,   But we will see.

Would be day 13 photo 2

Would be day 13 photo of  Donner with John Snyder's dog, if he had had one

Would-be photo

Would be photo of Donner with John Snyder.

RE: What Day 13 would have been like

Today would have been an easy day, for us, but not for John Snyder 175 years ago on this route, as we will soon learn.



After breaking camp at chilly (30 degrees last night) but peaceful South Fork Recreation Area camp, we would be traveling in nice (63 degrees) sunny weather about 30 miles to the east, hugging the Humboldt River, to get to Moleen NV, which is where the Donner Party finally cut loose from the infamous Hastings Cutoff and the California Trail picked up.  (Some shortcut that was – 100 miles longer and much, much tougher. Lansford Hastings got his due share of denunciations along the entire cutoff.) One hundred miles up the trail (that is, I-80 these days) we would be taking the exit for the little (180 people) community of Golconda, turning right onto highway 789 and driving five miles along Midas Road to just before it crosses over the Humboldt River. At that point we would be turning right onto an often black-fly-infested  dirt road,  driving 5.6 miles along the Humboldt  River,  as the below map shows. Thank goodness it is not raining today or we would be driving in a sea of mud, but not up to the tops of our wheels as the poor Donner Party encountered when they crossed the Great Salt Lake desert.



At this point, we would be looking spots that look like this:



Our goal for today would have been to find the alleged location of the burial site of  John Snyder, shown by the arrows (graphic, not Indian) in the bottom photo above.  Who, you ask, is John Snyder?   Well, I will tell you. After crossing the Humboldt River, the pioneers came to a steep rocky hill (top photo above) they had to cross. Most of the wagons were double-teamed with oxen, but not the one driven by Snyder, a teamster for the Graves family . When Snyder's oxen became entangled with those pulling Reed's family wagon, Snyder starting beating his exhausted oxen.  Reed rode up to Snyder’s wagon on horseback and they then got into a verbal altercation to stop Snyder from beating his oxen. Snyder lashed out with his bullwhip handle and struck Reed in the head. Reed defensively responded to Snyder's anger  by pulling out his large hunting knife. (Wouldn’t any of us have done the same?) Reed's wife, Margaret (remember, her beloved mom died back in Alcove Springs in what is now Kansas) tried to separate the men, but Snyder then hit her with his whip. After two more attacks by Snyder, Reed plunged his knife into Snyder's chest, killing him instantly. Snyder was quickly buried off to the side of the trail, as the pioneers were wont to do, sometimes burying them on the trail so the Indians could not disinter and then desecrate them.  German immigrant Louis Keseberg (not a nice man, I understand) wanted to hoist the falling tongue of a wagon and hang Reed right there, but others intervened. Instead, Reed was banished from the wagon train and  forced to leave his wife and four children behind and walk off into the wilderness (the first Into the Wild?) alone with no horse or rifle. (With friends like that, who needs enemies?)  His daughter later rode off and gave him a horse and rifle.  As it turned out, this was really for the benefit of the whole group because Reed made it to Fort Sutter and was instrumental in arranging for the first rescue parties months later to make it to now-Donner Lake to save the poor starving (well, all were not starving, as we now know) souls soon to be stranded there for the winter. (While I am in no position to take sides in this fight, I will anyway. I don’t think Snyder deserved to die, but as an animal activitist, my sympathies go to Reed. Lesson to be learned: don’t beat your animals)


My guess is that I would have be testing the Defender’s oxen-power capability by trying to get over that hill in the top photo myself.


For some odd reason, I took a particular interest in wondering where Snyder was buried. After hours of research, I came across this interesting article in the Overland Journal (click here) describing where his grave might be.  Snyder, by the way, was killed six days from today 175 years ago on October 5th.


After paying our respects (or whatever) to the hapless Snyder, Donner and I would be saddling up and then moving an easy  67 miles down I-80  to Rye Patch Recreation Area to spend a comfortable night under clear but chilly (29 degrees) skies. ("I think a winter storm is coming," Tom Stoppard would be having George Donner saying at the end of his would-be play, The Coast of Dystopia.) So far, except for some rain in the first leg of our trip on the way to Springfield IL, there would have been no rain along the entire Donner Party Trail. Theh again, we would have covered it in two weeks, while it took the Donner Party five and a half months.


Tomorrow we would be bringing an end to our outward journey, at least for the journey of  George and his brother, Jacob, their wives, and a number of their children, since all died over the next six months at Alder Creek camp near Donner Lake.


Ed and Donner