2009.05.02 – Lake Nacimiento, CA
“Look son, being a good shot, being quick with a pistol, that don’t do no harm, but it don’t mean much next to being cool-headed. A man who will keep his head and not get rattled under fire, like as not, he’ll kill ya. It ain’t so easy to shoot a man anyhow, especially if the son-of-a-bitch is shootin’ back at you.” – “Little” Bill Daggett, Unforgiven.
Gold rush country. Tumbleweed on the road. And some real hardcases. Yup, I think you know where this is going. It’s wild west time. Again. California, where Manifest Destiny was finally realized. The 49ers, the gauchos, and many others have realized there dreams in them thar hills. Or, in some cases, have been gunned down as other folks realized theirs. If ever there was the natural environment in which to grow the American dream, this is it. Blood, sweat, tears, prayers, and not a little subterfuge all serve to nourish the hopes of “have-nots” as they seek to join the ranks of the “haves.” But California can be a cruel and harsh land. It can be… UNFORGIVING.
And so, with that overly dramatic introduction, let’s make our way to the shores of Lake San Antonio for what was an overly dramatic first 100m or so, thanks to stuffing an overly large pro field into a very narrow chute formed by the boat ramp. On any given stroke, it was as likely that I’d catch air or the body of another swimmer as it was that I’d catch clean water. At times, it felt like I was swimming in black neoprene, as opposed to swimming in water. But in the absence of clear water, a clear head is the next best thing, and so I kept my mind ordered among the melee and relied on firepower that, while not superior, was certainly adequate enough. The fracas continued for the first half, until either Andy Potts finally decided to shoot someone or someone shot themselves and then everyone settled right down and got about their business.
For the first time upon rolling into the depot at T1, I was finally in the proper location, at the caboose end of the second freight train, as opposed to playing locomotive another minute back. The gold rush was on, and instead of having to weight to hop on a westbound train to join it, I was right there. I might not have been a “sooner,” but at least I wasn’t a “later” either. I was right in the thick of it. Fortunately, this meant the high calibre weaponry I normally need because I’m shooting from far away was now of use in keeping other folks off my back. Plus, there were plenty of folks doing the early prospecting that I’d need to take aim at if I was actually gonna find a little piece of destiny for myself.
Taking the advice of several grizzled cowpokes, one of whom, Andrew McNaughton, had struck it rich in these hills on multiple occassions, I knew that the best strategy was to keep real quiet and not fire until, like William Prescott at Bunker Hill, I could see “the whites of their eyes.” And so, I spurred my ponies on, traveling light and bringing what I hoped would be enough bullets for when the big dance really started. I let the first bullets fly at the bottom of Nasty Grade, but they seemed to fall short of the targets, which were still whipping their own horses at full tilt. But coming down from Heart Rate Hill, I saw that the casualties were mounting from some other battle that I had not been a part of. So now, like any good opportunist, I did what comes naturally. I kicked those folks when they were down. I forgot any sense of stealth and dropped the hammer on both revolvers, again and again until it they started to burn and still, with gunpowder stinking in my nostrils, I dropped the hammer again and again until finally I saw a clearing up ahead. I holstered the still smoking guns and whipped my horses one last time, knowing that it’d be a foot race to plant that claim stake from here on in. Exiting the claims office in T2, I got passed by the swift talking Andy Potts and Terrenzo Bozzone, who somehow cut through the beauracracy of the whole affair faster than I. Maybe their horses are better trained. I’ll need to work on mine. Come to think of it, it’s probably time to trade that steed in anyway; he’s a bit of a stubborn cuss.
But back to the task at hand, striking gold. Or silver. Or bronze. Or oil. There was plenty of good stuff to be had, if only I could get somewhere before everyone else. Eneko Llanos made me think I might be settling for a whole lotta nothing as he sped by, followed not long after by Reinaldo Colucci, as we entered the hills in search of glory or fame or riches or whatever it was exactly that was spurring each of us to race like madmen through the wilds of California. As I heard footsteps behind me, I was reminded once again that a cavalryman off his horse is no match for an infantryman when it comes to doing battle on foot. But I’d been working on my groundskills, and even running low on ammunition, I wasn’t so clumsy doing battle in close quarters as I once was. I’ve been practicing with my bayonet, and as Luke Bell passed me on the dirt, I parried back and reclaimed my spot as we climbed a short hill. “Keep a clear head,” I kept telling myself. When everyone’s shooting at you, that’s when you need to be the most composed. More than anything, I wanted to empty both barrels and blaze away. And then I remembered that revolvers just don’t hold that much ammunition. And if I had to stop and reload, well that was the battle right there. “Here lies Lester Moore, two shots from a forty-four. No Les, no more.” Or something like that. That’s what it’d say above my crummy pine box. It’d have to be one shot at a time. Chose your moments. Light finger on the trigger. And so I kept my fingers poised, and it seems that the folks behind me were willing to do the same. Headed towards the turnaround, I manged to sneak by Terrenzo Bozzone, who it seems had just run out of rounds on this day. I’m glad that was a battle I didn’t have to fight, since he’s a fierce a gunslinger as there is. As I started the final hill, one last shot rang out and grazed my ear. Joe Gambles wasn’t to go down without a fight. But it turned out to be his last shot. As I fired back twice, he fell back, mortally wounded though I did not know it at the time. I couldn’t look back to see if he had faltered, for those last two bullets were the last two I had myself, and the fertile fields were still mighty far away.
As I came into plant my stake, the best three ranches were already flagged, but I didn’t end up with too bad a piece of property. As I looked out over what I’d fought so hard for, I was pretty darn content. Maybe not quite the quintissential American Dream, but not too bad neither.