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Saving Private (Citizen) Ryan


In 1991, we had a repeater to repair at Santiago Peak which is located in southeast Orange County.  I decided to head to Santiago on Saturday to perform the repair at the site so that the repeater would be working properly for the customer on Monday morning.

I had many things to do and spent much of the morning with the wife taking care of the typical  “honey do” list.  After finishing the list of things for the wife, we went to lunch before heading up to the peak to take care of the failed repeater.  The repeater was a E F Johnson model 8000 repeater, a 1980 design piece of equipment which had its typical problems like any other piece of equipment.  Today was no different, for the failure was a typical failure of the Johnson 8000 series repeater.

We headed to Santiago Peak which is a 2.5 hour drive from the house.  We proceeded east on the 91 Freeway, driving past the 605 Freeway and continuing east until we reached Interstate 15 heading south from Corona.  There is a shorter way to Santiago Peak approaching the mountain from the west side by heading down the 55 Freeway towards Newport Beach and exiting the freeway at Chapman Avenue then heading east towards the mountains, but the US Forest Service had the gate locked from the Orange County side of the mountains during this time.  It was mating season for the indigenous frogs that lived in the riverbed that we would have to cross 8 times if we were using the road to Santiago Peak through Silverado Canyon.  This time, we were heading to the mountains from the east side through Riverside County by heading south on the 15 Freeway and exiting at Weirick Road so that we could drive up the Bedford Canyon Road heading west towards the site.

The Bedford Canyon Road is 14 miles of dirt road which is often in poor shape.  Today, the road was in average shape, not too good and not too bad.  We headed up the road while dodging the typical bumps, pot holes, ruts and rocks.  The 4WD Blazer was an excellent off road vehicle and it handled the erratic road conditions with ease, but the passengers the wife and I) did not handle the bumps and shaking as well as the vehicle.  We continued up the hill until we reached the top of the ridge.  There, we turned left on the Main Divide Road and headed south towards the peak.  The road was like a roller coaster ride with twists and turns, ups and downs and giant moguls that are created by the constant use of the road by two-wheel drive vehicles.  Over time, the road deteriorates to the point where it is only passable at very slow speeds such as 5-10 mph.  Today, the road was passable at normal speeds of 15-20 mph.

We continued towards the peak and eventually met up with the upper end of the Maple Springs Road which is the continuation of the Silverado Canyon Road once past the US Forest Service gate that was locked to protect the frogs.  The gate at the top of the road was locked to prevent traffic from heading down the Maple Springs Road from above, again to protect the frogs.  I continued on the Main Divide Truck Trail towards the peak and almost immediately caught up with a single male about 18 years old riding on a bicycle.  We waved at him as we slowly passed him to prevent any issue with crowding him off the road and preventing us from kicking up the dust which would engulf him causing him breathing difficulty. We could see in rear view and side view mirrors that he waved back at us.  We could see that he was struggling as he quickly dismounted the bicycle and began to walk next to the bicycle while participating in heavy breathing.  He was very tired.  We wondered if he was going to make it all the way to the site without giving up.  However, it was already about 4:00PM which was late in the day for hikers and bicycle riders since it was a long trip down the mountain once he turned around to head back to his car.

We continued up to the peak where the radio transmitter buildings were located.  I parked the vehicle in front of the building with our equipment to make it easy to bring the tools and test equipment into the building.  I brought the necessary items into the building and proceeded to repair the repeater.  It took about 30 minutes to fix the problem at which point I started to load the bad amplifier assembly into the car and pack up the tools.  After another 10 minutes, we were ready to head back down the mountain.

The sun was starting to get low in the sky as it was now 5:15PM.  There was a slight breeze and the temperature was about 60 degrees.  However, as the sun goes down, the temperature drops and it can get very cold on the mountain, even in the fall season.  There have been many situations when I have been up on the mountain late into the evening and the night, but it is always more desirable to get off the mountain before it is dark.  Many creatures inhabit the forest and some of them are dangerous to humans.  At nighttime, it is more difficult to avoid them while walking around the site, so it was time to head down the mountain.

We proceeded to drive down the mountain heading back the way we came.  The Main Divide Truck Trail makes you appreciate paved roads due to all the rocks and rough terrain that needs to be dodged while driving down the road.  We headed down the road as it circles around Santiago Peak, then switches back to keep from completely encircling the peak.  The road continues down to the saddle between Santiago and Modjeska and continues towards Modjeska where there are two radio buildings.  We rounded the point between the two buildings and continued heading down the Main Divide Truck Trail where the road bed turns to sharp rocks without any dirt to buffer the blows to the tires.  In this area, one must drive slowly to keep the rocks from slicing the sidewalls of the tires.  Approximately half way back to the Maple Springs road from Modjeska, we spotted the bicycle rider walking next to his bicycle.

We stopped next to him to see how he was doing.  It soon became apparent that he was not doing well.  He was completely out of water and very thirsty.  We gave him a bottle of water.  He was also hungry since he had consumed his only energy bar several hours earlier.  So we gave him something to eat and started discussing why he was up on the mountain so late.  He indicated that he was not totally certain where he was or how to get back to his vehicle.  It took several minutes of questioning him to determine that he was parked at the Silverado Canyon gate.  Since the gate was locked ahead by the US Forest Service, it was not possible for us to drive down that road to take him back to his car without using a key that we were not supposed to have.  In addition, we were not supposed to use the road due to the mating frogs.  Therefore, we We discussed whether or not he was in condition with (our guidance of directions) for him to ride down the mountain to his car and finally decided that he was not in shape to make the trip.  So we loaded his bicycle into the back of our Blazer and he got into the back seat with an additional bottle of water since he was somewhat dehydrated.  We would have to drive down the road to the east into the Corona area, then drive around the mountain to the west side and head back east into Silverado Canyon and all the way to the end of the road at the US Forest Service gate where his car was located.  This would take us over about one and a half hour out of our way to get Ryan to his car.  During the trip, he continued to talk about his family and specifically his dad who would be very upset if he showed up home without the car or failed to show up at all.  So we bounced our way down the mountain for the next 45 minutes enjoying the ride and the conversation.  It was far rougher than an E ticket at Disneyland which was needed for the best rides before the park did away with individual tickets for rides in the park.  It was 6:15PM before we were down to the paved road and getting on the freeway at Weirick Road.

Now we had to head north on Highway 15 to the 91 Freeway.  We headed west on the 91 Freeway for 18 miles until we reached the 55 Freeway where we headed south.  About 5 miles later, we exited at Chapman Avenue and headed east towards the mountains.  We drove out of civilization into the back country which was about a 30 minute trip from the freeway.  Chapman avenue turned into Santiago Canyon Road and eventually we reached Silverado Canyon Road.  We turned left on Silverado Canyon and proceeded to the back of the windy twisty road until we reached his vehicle.  After searching for his keys, Ryan opened his vehicle and stuffed his bicycle inside.  He proceeded to get his other belongings out of our vehicle and got ready to leave.

Ryan was extremely grateful for our help in saving him from what could have easily turned out to be a disaster.  He could have been stuck on the mountain over night and may have needed to be rescued by the local search and rescue team.  He felt obligated to buy us dinner, especially since he predicament had delayed us almost two hours from our intended itinerary.  We agreed to go to dinner with him since there was some restaurants that were on the way back to the freeway that we would pass.  We gave him a portable radio that he could use to talk to us as we caravanned back towards the freeway. Ryan was not familiar with the area since this was his first time and we were only familiar with the area due to driving through while heading to Santiago Peak on hundreds of occasions.  Other than stopping for lunch at the local drive thru restaurants, I had never eaten in the area.

Once we were back in civilization and out of the back country, we arrived at a restaurant called the Orange Hill Restaurant.  I knew that it was a nice sit down restaurant, but I did not know anything else about it other than it was at the top of the hill that was in front of me.  So we turned into the private driveway that headed up the hill to the restaurant.  We parked in the parking lot and proceeded towards the front door.  As we approached the front door, we were discussing that the restaurant looked very nice, possibly too nice.  We were all tired and dirty from being up on the mountain.  As we entered the first set of doors, we looked at each other in a confirming smirk to acknowledge that the restaurant may be too nice for the way we were dressed.  We then opened the second set of double doors and saw the host dressed in a suit and tie along with patrons who were dressed up as though they were going to church.  We all looked at each other and without saying a word, we all turned around to head back to the car.  We knew that we were in the wrong place for how we were dressed and although we were hungry, we felt that we needed to find another place to have dinner.  So we started to caravan down the hill back to Chapman Avenue and turned left to head west on the road.  We drove for about 30 seconds when we spotted another restaurant called the Orange County Mining Company.  I had never been to this restaurant, but there is another similar restaurant called the Pomona Valley Mining Company near the San Bernardino Freeway and the 57 Freeway which appears to be owned by the same people.  So we decided to go up a different hill to the restaurant where we parked our vehicles.  We headed to the front door and this time, we were confident that we would not be out of place.  We entered the restaurant and found that it is almost identical to the Pomona Valley Mining Company.  The décor was rustic like we were in an old mining town and the guests were wearing casual clothes.  We felt comfortable here and decided to stay for dinner.

We sat down to a feast that was fit for a king (that was dressed as one of his casual subjects)..  The food was great.  I attacked the salad bar and exercised by gift of salad building.  We had great steaks and of course, we had to partake in dessert.  We enjoyed each other company and proceeded back to our vehicles to head our separate ways as friends after a lovely meal.

Before leaving, we retrieved our radio and Ryan was able to go home to his parents where he would have a good night’s sleep and have a great story that had a happy ending due to the wife and I being in the right place at the right time to keep him from being an unfortunate news story.  The two of us felt good, not because we were the recipients of a lovely free dinner, but because we made a new friend and saved him from what could have been a story that would end in tragedy.  We both felt good like we had successfully performed God’s work.

Just another day on the mountain……..

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