I can feel my heart beating in my neck as I pause to catch my breath. I am somewhere in the San Jacinto Wilderness between 7,000 and 8,000 feet elevation. The last day and a half of hiking have been some of the most grueling yet rewarding miles I’ve ever done. Relentless climbs and long water carries have slowed my pace, but a 13.9-mile trek the day before puts me in good range to reach Saddle Junction at mile 179.4. In just a few short hours, I’d be resting comfortably on a bed, showered and clean, in Idyllwild.
Not for the first time, I wonder what I’m doing out here. My reasons seem to change with every mile:
Because it’s beautiful.
Because work sucks.
Because of a book I read seven years ago.
Because I love the challenge.
Because I’ve spent a quarter of my life on this.
Because I’m in too deep.
Because, because, the peach has fuzz.
Yep. I’m losin’ it.
My heartbeat slows to a steady rhythm and I start to absorb the vast view of Palm Springs I’ve been following since mid-afternoon the day before. It’s around 9:30 am on a Sunday and I smile when I realize that most of the people in the sprawling neighborhoods below are still asleep; and here I am, pausing on a sparse ridge while the wind beats me like an older sibling in a pillow fight. The sky and the temperature are both a deep blue, but I am warm beneath my wind jacket and the sunlight crisping my face.
The miles leading up to this point have been long, sparse, grueling, lonely, enlightening, and beautiful beyond wonder. At Mary’s Place, a little oasis at mile 145 (with a Little Free Library!), there is a sign that reads “STILL HERE.” I am here because I haven’t quit. I am here because I took my time coming out of Scissors Crossing. I am here because of a full day siesta at Warner Springs to rest a strained calf. I am here because my first 20-mile day brought me to a giant breakfast burrito at Paradise Valley Cafe yesterday morning. I am here, on this ridge, battered by the wind, because I don’t know where else I would rather be.
Alone. Free. On a lonely mountain, my pulse now safe inside my chest, while the world sleeps below my feet.
“I am, I am, I am…”
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