Today the Sky is Blue
Note: to aid in anonymity throughout the future posts, I will use trail names for people who have them, and initials for those who do not yet have trail names.
The Journey Begins
Morning wind whistles through the slats of the border wall. It’s 4:30 on a Monday morning and I’ve been up since the wind started rocking my tent at CLEEF around three. I had decided to walk the half mile up to the monument at the southern terminus to watch the sunrise, but I’m just now discovering that daybreak isn’t happening until 6:30 or so. Stubbornly I use the monument as a windshield and pass the two hours by trying to remember everyone I’ve ever met. I get up to around the end of high school as I search my memories. Once the dawn finally breaks, I look to the north, taking it in. If you’re standing on the beach, you can see about two and a half miles to the horizon of the ocean. At this moment, with Mexico a stone’s throw behind me, I feel like I can see Canada and everything in between.
I’m in Mt Laguna (mile 41) by midday on Wednesday. Snow begins falling and I’ll be waiting out the storm until Friday. Three of my early companions (Mushroom, Webster and Tuh) decide to head out on Thursday morning in eight inches of snow with the intention of going 22 miles where they believe they’ll be below the snow line (I find out a few days later that they did succeed). In the meantime, I spend most of Thursday hanging around the Pine House Cafe and getting to be better friends with some French folks. H. and C. teach me some words and phrases, and by the end of the day I can count to fourteen, say the colors of the rainbow, and list the days of the week. Also this phrase, which becomes a bit of a mantra for me whenever I’m struggling in the days to come (say it in French with me!):
Aujourd’hui nous sommes Vendredi, et demain nous serons Samedi, et aujourd’hui le ciel est bleu.
“Today is Friday and tomorrow is Saturday, and today the sky is blue.”
* * *
Footsteps out of Mt Laguna
We venture out Friday morning into twelve inches of powder and it’s a winter wonderland. I smile for hours and consider it one of the best days of my life as I painstakingly kick through the fresh tracks of the few people ahead of us. Lunch is taken on some boulders overlooking a thousand foot drop to the dry and snowless desert valley below, a stark contrast to the white that abounds all around us.
Snow above, desert below, and San Jacinto lurking in the distance.
By the afternoon, the glorious powder turns to tedious slush and I start to question my vote of “best day,” but I’ll overlook it this one time.
Mt Laguna to Paradise Valley Cafe
The following days bring some first tastes of long ascents and descents. Every ten or twenty miles there are views of the snow capped peaks of San Jancinto, each growing incrementally closer as though zooming with a strobe effect. At our feet the desert is in bloom and I become obsessed with the look and color of Desert Chia, taking several pictures of my new little floral friend.
My new best floral friend, the desert chia.
Oh, you didn’t ask for another picture of my best floral friend? Well here’s one anyway.
There is a wind storm coming after Julian and I put in a couple of long days to get to shelter at the Montezuma Valley Market to avoid camping in the 50mph gusts. I’ve been traveling with H. and C. out of Mt Laguna, but for a couple of days we are separated as they go ahead by about five miles.
The night after Montezuma, I meet S. camping at mile 122. Her first group has moved ahead for longer days and she’s looking for a team to tackle San Jacinto with. It sounds like our paces are similar and I invite her to join up with myself, H. and C.
By the time we reach Paradise Valley Cafe, we are a group of four. My parents are visiting from Portland to offer support in this section and have timed it right to pick us up on the highway and take us all to lunch. Thanks mom and dad!
(Side note, when I call them to ask for a ride from the trailhead, they say “oh, was the trail back where we just saw some hikers cross the road?” To which I reply, “that was probably us…do you not recognize your own son!?”)
But again, thanks mom and dad. So many shuttle rides for myself and strangers over these couple of days as I write this. I know dad wants to golf…maybe Monday after we’re all sufficiently shuttled?
I’m writing this on a Friday morning and today we plan to meet again for lunch and plan our strategy for San Jacinto. Today is the first day the trail closure has been lifted, and we may be one of the first groups to be able to get through without detours. That said, there are several sections which remain hazardous. We’ll need to know all of our bail out points, strategize where to camp and when to wake up to avoid the sun’s melting effects, and how many days it might take us to navigate our first serious snow section.
It’s now Friday night and there is an update since my writing this morning, as I prepare to publish this post. My parents and I were loading into the car to go to Idyllwild for my “planning” lunch when I got a call from Mushroom up on Mt. San Jacinto. They ran into impassible terrain around mile 168 and everyone who camped at the Fobes junction was bailing out down the Spitler Peak trail, heading for the Black Mountain Road detour. As luck and timing had it, we were able to pick up Mushroom, Webster, and Tuh, my friends from a week ago, and shuttle them from Apple Canyon up to Idyllwild to aid in their journey. It was so cool to see them…until today I wasn’t sure if I would see them again, as I knew they were a day or two ahead of me. Also in Idyllwild today, I ran into Journeyman, Mantis and J., with whom I had so much fun for a couple of hours into Juilan and who I thought may be falling too far behind me. What a great day for brief reunions!
Early Reflections on the Trail
It took me about one hour to let go of the real world. All of the anticipation and trepidation faded with the first steps. It’s both easier and harder than I imagined, all at the same time, and I love every minute.
I have yet to feel very sour at all (though the coming San Jacinto and San Gorgonio stretches may test those limits), and have averaged perhaps an 8 out of 10 at all times on the happiness scale. Even in the challenging terrain when everything hurts I carry a subtle smile.
Planning happens in two day increments. What am I doing tomorrow and how does that affect the next day? There will be some cases where I need to look ahead for shipping supplies, but through mile 151 this is not yet the case.
At first it feels strange to meet people, sometimes for days at a time, then hardly say a word of goodbye as one of you marches ahead on the trail. I’ve come to think of it like being at a cocktail party. You are in a conversation with someone and share some laughs and good stories, then it’s time to go grab another drink or a bite from the hors d’oeuvres table and you kind of just wander over there without a parting comment. You assume that you’ll cross paths with them again before the party is over, and it would be silly to say goodbye in the middle of the gathering. There are many I’ve met already that I hope to see again.
Aujourd’hui le ciel est bleu
My world for the time being is in nature. It’s only ten days in, and I am experiencing such diversity in the environment. I walk through sand, rocks, dirt, water, slush and snow. Surrounding me is desert, forest and mountain, which in turn are flush with insects, mammals, lizards and even humans. As humans, we experience nature’s effects on our bodies and tune in to the smallest details as we march for hours on end. Above and around us are wind, rain, clouds, sun, moon and stars. Some days are spent tolerating nature’s torment, and others relishing its beauty. Tomorrow’s climb into the snow of Mt. San Jacinto will bring challenging conditions the likes of which I’ve not faced.
Today is Friday and tomorrow is Saturday, and today the sky is blue.
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Love this. Can’t wait to read more. If you re-publish or are working on a book, those aren’t “slats” in the wall, they are called bollards. Travel safe!
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