Batch and MMMMB
We made it home. Although before our return to California, we went and visited our dear friend, Calvin Batchelder, “Batch”, as he is known in the hiking community, and his wife Mary, known as “MMMMB”. Mary is 95 years old. Earlier I stated Batch was 99 years old, which is wrong. He is 97. His hearing is not so good, but everything else is just fine. He is sharp and witty. Mary has dementia, and Batch takes care of her. Before we reached his house in Laconia, New Hampshire, I had figured out all the questions I wanted to ask him about his time in WWII. However, after sitting with him, in his living room, I quickly realized he had no desire to to talk about the war at all. Instead it was hiking that interested him most. So that is what we mainly talked about.
Both Mary and MMMMB began their love affair with hiking when they were in their low seventies when they decided to thru-hike the AT. After completing the trail, in 1992, they went on to hike the long trails of England and Scotland, and spent time on New Zealand’s famous Te Araroa. Both hiked bits and pieces of the Pacific Crest Trail until Batch decided to thru-hike the entire PCT in the mid nineties. For several consecutive years he would begin in Campo, California and quit somewhere along the way. It was the heat of Southern California that would always do him in. During his 1996 attempt, we met Batch while we were thru-hiking the PCT. He was 74. We hiked all of Southern California with him only to lose him after Kennedy Meadows. The call for more ice cream lured him away from the trail. The Ravens continued on, hoping Batch would catch up. He never did. He continued north and he made it all the way to Northern California when he got off the trail at A Tree.
Being true to his generation, he is stubborn. The following year Batch returned to Campo for another attempt. We did not know he was back on the trail again. We only discovered it when we were day hiking on the PCT near our home. We were talking to a thru-hiker, who mentioned an older gentleman from New England was also thru-hiking the trail this year. He could not remember his name. Hoping to ring a bell in the hikers mind, we mentioned the name Batch. He said that was him. Inquiring farther, we asked if he knew where Batch was. After coming home, we figured out roughly where he might be and estimated his location for the following weekend. Having hiked hundreds of miles with him we had a good idea on how fast he hiked. The following weekend we would go Batch hunting. That next Saturday we prepared a monstrous sandwich with all his favorite fixins. We also had home made chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, and plenty of ice cold soda packed in our day sacks. We wished we could have brought him ice cream but that obviously would not work out in the heat of the desert. Heading to Hwy 10, out in the desert near Palm Springs, we parked the car. Not knowing for sure if our calculations were accurate as to where Batch would be, we began the long hot hike up Fuller Ridge. Roughly two hours up the trail, our Batch hunting proved to be a success. Up a few switch backs above us, we saw a man walking down toward us. Knowing his size, shape and hiking style. We knew instantly it was Batch. Excitedly we greeted him with a cold soda. There he was, all in tears with the joy of seeing us! All three of us were in awe that we actually succeeded at finding each other. For the remainder of the day, we hiked with him until we needed to return to our car before it got dark. We said our good byes and went our separate ways. For the next few weeks, up to Kennedy Meadows, this was our weekends, Batch hunting. Kennedy Meadows is at the very southern end of the Sierras. It is a location where hikers take several days off before heading into the snowbound mountains of the High Sierras. Mama Raven and a girl friend made arrangements to pick Batch up and bring him home for a few days of rest and relaxation. Back at Kennedy Meadows, he was telling his fellow hikers that two young ladies were picking him up and bringing him home with them. They did not really believe him, but he shaved and got cleaned up the best he could on the trail for his big day. Noon time came and a white Camero pulled up to the Kennedy Meadows Hikers Campground, driven by Mama Raven and Gina, who picked up Batch. Driving away, in the rear view mirror, Mama Raven could see a small group of hikers just watching in disbelief. . . just another successful day of Batch Hunting. That was the last of our new favorite hobby of Batch hunting because he was getting too far north for us to meet him. Oh yes, Batch did complete the PCT that year!
Despite all the hiking stories being told in his tiny living room, there were a few insights to his war days. There was an old faded photograph of him in his airplane during the war. The plane had many white marks underneath the cockpit indicating how many missions he had flown. I asked how many tick marks there were, he answered thirty seven. I also learned Mary was from Scotland and they had met during the war. He had a leave of absence and wanted to go where it was cold because he wanted to ice skate. Most service men wanted to go to Hawaii, but not Batch. He has never liked the heat, so Scotland is where he went. He met Mary at the ice skating rink where she was being courted by another American service man. She was a nurse at a local hospital for badly injured soldiers who had to be removed from the battle area. Somehow Batch got Mary to skate with him and won over her heart. After returning to his duties, he asked Mary for her hand in marriage. She said yes, so back to Scotland to get married he went. His best man was the other gentleman, who had been courting Mary at the ice skating rink. In fact, the two men became good friends and stayed in close contact long after the war was over. Both just happened to be from New Hampshire. Soon after the marriage, Batch had to return to duty. This is when he found out that his entire unit had been killed while he was away. Mary literally saved his life. At the end of the conversation, Batch mentioned that he still has Mary’s ice skates. What a great story! I am so glad Whisper and Joon were there to hear it. Their education is different than most kids but it is so powerful and enriching.