Sometimes it dawns on me that I’m probably an armchair adventurer. You want the best trip into the wild? Read someone else’s account, complete with beauty, hardship, awe, and maybe a little disaster thrown into the mix.
Early on in this particular hike the heat and sun were getting to me. Why had I left cooler Hollywood to head inland to the higher, and in the summer, hotter mountains? I was lucky I brought my hat and yet the sun was still making me squint and I was feeling the precursor to a headache. I finally relented to using my sunglasses, but I always find they make my world feel completely different. I like the idea of them, but I always feel a bit out of it when I wear them, and I don’t think they help with the headache.
As I’m walking I wonder what brought me out here. What made me leave my apartment on one of my few days off to hike alone into the mountains during the heat of the day? Then the summit feels closer, I can see the radio towers up top and they are closer than I would have expected. I also notice a single track trail heading off into the woods. I take the detour and relish the change in direction.
I am starting to enjoy myself until the bugs reach me. My head is swarmed by small flies and gnats that are infatuated with my eyes and ears. I had had a massage the day before and realized how tense I had been. On the walk I am trying to relax however, the bugs make me crouch forward, ready to flinch. Still somehow, I feel I should keep going, that I’ll enjoy the experience more in retrospect than if I simply turn around. At least there’s some shade and I’m pretty sure I pass both bear and mountain lion scat.
I haven’t seen any hikers in at least an hour and so am surprised when I come across a few older women. They warn me of a rattlesnake and lots of poison oak ahead. This only makes me more committed to going further. I’m careful to avoid any plants and am on the look out for the snake that I assume will not be an issue. I pick up a few dry pieces of grass to wave around my head to keep the bugs away.
Finally, more of a rhythm. I hear water and know there must be a creek ahead. When I arrive I am surprised to find a pristine camp site, but as I near the creek the water seems shallow and the bugs make me think twice of going in. Still I realize it’s early, I have plenty of water, and it doesn’t feel like time to turn back. The trail is less defined and I’m hoping it will lead to the steep ridge I spotted earlier that looks like it might be passable with a little scrambling. The terrain is dense with chaparral though and I can never tell if the trail is going forward or about to switch back again to climb higher away from the creek.
Reaching the top of a different and much lower ridge, I’m blasted again with heat. I try to figure out whether there are more bugs in the shade or heat. I don’t think it matters. It seems impossible to escape them either way, and yet, I can’t seem to ever get used to them. I’m always tense. The sound of one buzzing toward my ear instinctually feels awful.
The trail begins to descend again and I hear the familiar sound of water- now this will be a good place to take a dip and call it a day before turning around. However, as I approach the creek I see it is barely a trickle. It is less than three feet wide and no more than 8 inches deep. Furthermore, it looks oddly yellow. I wonder if the color is somehow related to the regions up stream that were burned during the great forest fire last year. Still, I sit down to get the rocks out of my shoes and decide at the very least to put my feet in. I move into the sun and realize after a few minutes, the bugs don’t seem to be around as much. Could something so simple as stopping for a rest have allowed them to become bored with me?
I’m always amazed at how water that can feel so cold when you first put your feet in can start to feel fine and I’m convinced that I should attempt to sit in the creek. I take off my shirt, face the sun and slowly lower myself in. The water is so low it doesn’t even cover my legs, but it feels good. I take another look at the creek and decide I should lie down. Now getting my back and chest wet sounds like torture, but I know that as soon as I turn around I’ll be as hot as can be once out of the trees. So slowly I lower myself into the water. I cringe at the cold, but try to relax telling myself soon it won’t be so bad. I lower more and more until all but my head is in the water. Finally I put my hands behind my head and fully lay down.
And there I am, six miles from the trailhead, in the middle of the national forest, lying down in a tiny creek. I feel like a reptile, a cold blooded animal whose top half is baking in the sun while my back is cooled by the water. I have a Zen moment. The intense cold, the insects, the comfort, the ability to relax are all one. The absurdity makes it all worthwhile. It also somehow makes it feel real.
As I get up to leave I’m in a remarkably more upbeat mood. I know soon I’ll be hot again, and I’m willing to bet the bugs will feel unbearable once more, but in the moment and on into the future I know it’ll have been worthwhile to give the old armchair a rest.