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Dan Petersen, The Last Light & life itself
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There are only a few items on my walls at home: Two framed posters from Death Valley, a photo of Cloud’s Rest along with Half Dome, an autographed Sports Illustrated cover featuring bicyclist Greg LeMond, and a print of a watercolor.

Most folks that know me get the personal meaning of everything but not the watercolor print I paid $445 to purchase and then spent another $500 to frame. It is safe to say the watercolor means a lot to me.

It is the creation of former Manteca High teacher and retired Modesto Junior College instructor Dan Petersen who lives in Ripon. His online gallery features 92 prints that I can honestly say reflect places that I have journeyed to in Northern California from the rugged Pacific surf to soaring granite peaks in the Sierra. 

Watercolor is not my favorite medium. That is why it speaks volumes about what I think of Petersen’s technique given it is the only “painting” I own besides several creations from budding artists at the Manteca Boys & Girls Club that are on a bookcase.

Petersen dubbed the watercolor that I have on my wall as “The Last Light.” 

That doesn’t do the work justice. 

Some may recognize it as a meadow between the steep climb that hits 16 percent just past the Kennedy Meadows turn-off and Sonora Pass along Highway108.

On my first trip up toward Sonora Pass I never made it to the scene depicted in the water color. It was the day 26 years ago I almost died from “drowning” on a 90-degree day at 9,000 feet in the middle of Highway 108 while on an eight-day fully loaded bicycle touring trip. 

A short version of the day: I had suffered what an emergency room physician at Tuloumne General Hospital termed the most severe case of bonking he had ever come across. The fact I had four bags of IV fluids pumped into me by the end of the day underscored his point.   

When I collapsed, I fell on the pavement with my head downhill. One of the riders with me panicked, couldn’t get me to respond and for some reason started forcing water into my mouth and down my throat while I was unconscious. By the grace of God, a nurse who had gone to the Marine Corps training center on the eastside of the pass and was returning to Sonora came upon where I had collapsed. Later I was told she took the water bottle from Brian’s hands, rolled me over and started working to get water out of my throat and lungs. She told medics later that I had stopped breathing when she came across me. Another passing motorist went to contact rangers.

They had tried to summon Life Flight but it was on a call near Fresno. So they dispatched a Tuolumne County ambulance that was 90 minutes plus away. I came around shortly after I was placed in the ambulance, some two hours after I collapsed. I ended up sleeping for more than 12 hours on a metal examine table in Tuolumne General Hospital’s ER until my mom and aunt drove down to pick us up.

Two things stuck with me from that day besides making sure I always take on water like the Titanic while exercising and making sure I stayed fueled regardless how many calories I was burning through.

One was recalling how I remembering hearing my father who had died 25 years earlier. The other was reaching the outskirts of Manteca on East Highway 120 and having a sense I had been there before when we passed the PG&E and South San Joaquin Irrigation District complex and a fruit stand across the highway. 

It was the only time in my life I experienced true de ja vu — the strong feeling I had been there before yet I had never been to Manteca except to drive through it on Highway 99 and had never ventured onto East Highway 120.

As for hearing my father’s voice I do not know if it was my mind playing tricks or what. I do know when my mom asked about my experience she was more than intrigued about it. Since that discussion I tried to put the entire thing out of my mind until I saw Peterson’s watercolor. I had gone to his Ripon studio 15 years later to buy an entirely different print that I had spent three months debating between three options to buy. Spending $445 isn’t something I do lightly. But the second I saw the print he had pulled out while going for the one I thought I wanted, I changed my mind. I had to have “The Last Light.”

I should also mention that six months after my collapse near Sonora Pass I had taken a job in Manteca. It struck almost everyone who knew me as a shock. It surprised me too.

I’ve been back up Sonora Pass since then. At first bicycling and then in recent years hiking segments of the Pacific Crest Trail as well as tackling summits such as Sonora Peak that is the farthest — and highest point — in the Stanislaus River watershed that eventually provides life to all of the almond orchards I saw that day 26 years ago as I approached Manteca for the first time on East Highway 120.

The name I’d chose for Petersen’s print? One word — “Life”.

Every time I look at Petersen’s watercolor creation I’m reminded just what rewards await when you tackle adversity, fate, or whatever mountain that lies before you regardless of where you are in life.









This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.