In Memoriam | Robert Frederick “Rik” Christensen, Jr.: 1945 – 2022

The mountains are calling, and I must go.” — John Muir

Robert Frederick Christensen, Jr., known to friends and the community as Rik, left this world on November 26, 2022, at the age of 77. Rik was a friend, a backpacker, a restorer, a tinkerer, an inspiration, an educator, and a legend.

I met Rik in the ’90s on a backpacking trip to a campsite in Los Padres National Forest called Forbush. We became instant backpacking friends who both embraced the lightweight backpacking philosophy of “take less, do more.” Rik was a fellow Los Padres Forest Volunteer Wilderness Ranger who helped maintain trails in the Santa Barbara backcountry, including clearing trails after fires. He was a mentor and friend to many people in the backpacking community, and I considered him a brother.

In his younger years Rik was an avid cyclist, and later in life he embraced walking, hiking, and backpacking. He hiked many trails, mostly in wilderness areas of Washington State, Los Padres National Forest, the Sierras, the Desolation Wilderness, and Mantor Meadows. His favorite trails were in the San Rafael Wilderness, including the Manzana Trail to South Fork Cabin and the North Cold Spring Trail to Forbush Camp. He did many overnight trips from 3 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday to cure “Nature Deficit Disorder” and test new gear. He was a steward of both trails and campsites.

After graduating college from the University of Illinois, Rik moved to Canada where he learned antique car restoration through a three-year apprentice program. He moved to Santa Barbara in 1980 and opened RF Christensen Restoration. Rik became a master restorer of pre-WWII classic cars, with many of his restorations winning awards at major competitions. I once witnessed him spend two years restoring an old Mercedes to new glory.

Rik’s most significant restoration project, however, was saving the historic South Fork Cabin along the Sisquoc River. Turning this cabin from a fire-scarred, rodent-infested shack to a comfortable lodging spot for wilderness volunteers and backpackers was a seven-year project that took countless hours and required innumerable hiking miles. This cabin has become an icon in Los Padres forest, and a legacy that Rik has left for all to enjoy.

Having developed a special relationship with the lightweight backpacking company Gossamer Gear, Rik co-founded and promoted the GG Trail Ambassadors program. He also founded and organized Los Padres Forest Association Used Gear Sale, now in its seventh year, to raise funds for trail work in the forest. He was a backpacker’s tailor with the skill of repairing tents and packs for fellow backpackers. He tinkered with backpacking gear, including a lightweight camp chair (“The Rikcliner”) and a day pack (“The RikSac”).

As a Los Padres Forest Volunteer Wilderness Ranger, Rik interacted with the public on the trails and in campsites. He gave lightweight backpacking presentations, and he taught lightweight backpacking philosophy to California Conservation Corps interns working on trails and to Boy Scout troops. He loved to pass around his complete backpack and have the crowd guess the weight (usually around eight pounds without food and water). In exchange for teaching me lightweight backpacking, I taught Rik about beekeeping. He helped me rescue a number of swarms, and he looked pretty good in a bee suit!

Rik is a legend in Los Padres National Forest. He now joins another Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA) legend, Dave Weaver, the founder of Los Padres Forest Volunteer Wilderness program, who passed away in 2013. Rik met Dave at Dabney Cabin on one of his backpacking trips. Dave invited him inside the cabin to share conversation and a meal. This visit developed into a long-term relationship. Fittingly, Rik was the first recipient of the Dave Weaver Wilderness Award.

As a final, generous gift to the community and the wilderness he loved so dearly, Rik has donated his estate to the LPFA to maintain and work his beloved Los Padres trails for perpetuity. This huge and important legacy will keep the trails accessible on a large scale for decades to come.

I have section hiked 1,800 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail in the memory of my mother, who passed away in 2008. With Rik’s passing, I have decided to finish the remaining 800 miles in his memory. Says John Muir: “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness”: May your hiking journeys continue, my friend. 


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