Let see . . . spending 6 to 8 weeks outdoors mapping proposed wilderness areas in central California, taking pictures and getting paid for it. I’m in. Ryan Henson, from the California Wilderness Coalition, was all excited to hear that I had applied to do an environmental internship (courtesy of Patagonia) with his organization. “We have so much work to do before next year” he said of a statewide, volunteer effort to inventory potential areas for wilderness protection. Ryan assigned me to the southern Sequoia area, as well as sections in Los Padres National Forest. My job was to verify roadless tracts of federal land 5,000 acres and larger. Parcels such as these qualify under the 1964 Wilderness Act for possible wilderness protection.
I checked out the map of California and realized one of the areas I was to be mapping was near Lake Isabella (east of Bakersfield).
A high desert lake that’s known as a world-class windsurf lake. I could do my mapping in the morning and sail in the late afternoon. “This is going to be very cool!!!” I thought.
I spent a week preparing for my internship – tuning-up my 4WD truck, borrowing camping equipment, and organizing all the topo maps Ryan had given me. When friends and family members expressed concern for my safety, I realized the only thing I had to fear in the wilderness, besides rattlesnakes, was man. That sucks! I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I was taking my 85 lb. Labrador, Hobie, with me as well as a can of pepper spray and my buck knife. My parents sent me a cell phone – just in case.
After a long day of training with Ryan, I was finally on my own. I drove up to 6,000 feet on a steep, winding, single-lane road to a place called Breckenridge Mountain. I couldn’t help but notice my sweaty palms and a metal taste in my mouth as I drove around hair-pin turns without guard rails. I nicknamed this road “Butt Pucker”, for obvious reasons.
I never saw another soul on most of my travels into these wilderness areas. I did, however, see a bald eagle, bobcat, red tail hawks, California condors, deer, thousands of squirrels and some great views.
One day I got a flat tire after driving into a steel pipe that was hidden in the weeds. I figured I was dead-meat, as I was as far from civilization as one could get. Once I regained control of my imagination (getting abducted by hillbillies), I told myself I could change a flat tire – though I never had before. Luckily I had the owner’s manual, which told me the location of the jack. To get to the spare, I had to lay in the mud of a small stream that flowed down the middle of the dirt road. After an hour of sweating and rolling around in the mud, I emerged to find 20 or so cows that had gathered around my truck to watch the show. I thanked them for coming and I took off the nearest tire repair shop – about 2 hours away.
Every day of my internship was such an adventure: hillbillies sporting foot-long Buck knives, treacherous roads, flat tire, windsurfing on Lake Isabella, etc. Still, I would have gladly continued it for a full year. What really stuck in my mind the most was that none of the beautiful areas I had been fortunate to explore were protected. At any time, any of them could be logged, mined or opened to off-roaders. With that in mind, I continued mapping as much as humanly possible.
Click here for more information on the California Wilderness Coalition.
About the Author
Kathy Klossner is an avid surfer, scuba diver, skier, and snowboarder and was a competitive windsurfer. She worked as Patagonia’s Watersports Marketer and introduced the Patagonia line of epoxy surfboards into the surf marketplace. She has worked on numerous environmental issues, including the successful campaign to stop one of the last virgin coastlines in California to be turned into the next Pebble Beach. She is the founder and owner of ‘Surfergirls.com” and lives with her yellow Labrador, Boss, in Cardiff by the Sea, California.