Did you know there were 10,000-foot mountains two hours east of Los Angeles? Me neither, but I certainly won’t forget again. We got snowed on today! And hailed on! Isn’t this supposed to be the desert?
We’re camped at almost 9,000 feet tonight, and it was 31° at 7:00 PM. This is the slope of Mt. San Jacinto, a 10,800′-plus peak that’s the tallest in Southern California. Being a Northern Californian, my idea of mountains down here was limited to peaks of about 3,000 feet, mostly covered with scrub brush — more glorified “hills” than real mountains. But, no…we climbed over 4,500′ today, it was serious work, and we got rained on, snowed on, and hailed on. These are real mountains! In fact, tomorrow is Fuller Ridge — basically twenty miles of straight downhill, dropping from 9,000 feet to under 2,000 feet. (The hikers reading this are clutching their knees in pain already. I’m not looking forward to it.)
Getting up this morning taught me a lot about through-hiking, and how important it is to maintain your “hiking” mode — and how people easily get sucked into towns, and end up quitting the trail. We both loved Idyllwild, both as a town and as a place to take a zero. When we woke up this morning at 5:30 after staying up to the most un-hiker-like hour of 11:30 PM, we were exhausted. We checked the weather report, and it showed rain and even likely thunderstorms for this afternoon. We both had the moment of thinking “you know, we could just stay here another day, sleep in, and wait for better weather…wouldn’t that be nice?”. (This also definitely seemed appealing as I was eating a cinnamon roll about the size of my head for breakfast.)
But that’s such a slippery slope, because one day turns into two, turns into three, turns into five or six…and pretty soon your motivation to go back out on the trail is just about zero. There are a million excuses you can always make, and, when you’re ensconced in a warm bed in a hotel room, oh man, you make them all. And we’ve already met hikers who — while being amazing, wonderful people — have, I think, succumbed to such things. Why would you go outside in the cold and wet when you don’t have to? Especially when there’s hot food at the restaurant just across the street?
Yet…as we did start hiking away from Idyllwild, I found myself really, really excited, too, just by the prospect of sleeping back in our tent tonight. I’m not sure it’s possible to explain it if you haven’t been bitten by the same bug, but just the idea of sleeping out here in the woods again…it gave me a thrill. And that thrill is more than enough to drive me out there again, to get me to get out of that warm bed, put my too-heavy pack on, and head Out There. It was even enough to push me over fifteen miles and many steep ascents today, most importantly of all.
I’m not sure why some people want to do this, and others don’t. Why do I ache for the woods and the wilderness after being in the city for too long? Other people ache for the thrills of skateboarding, golfing, or Caribbean cruises, which are all perfectly reasonable things to want — even if none of them hold any appeal to me. But, for me, being out here in nature is magical. Nights like tonight make me happy, even when it’s very cold outside, everything’s a bit damp, and my body hurts all over.