Week Four – Another day, another mountain (mile 239.9 – 314.3)
We have now left the San Jacinto range and are heading back up towards the San Bernardino mountains. Another day, another mountain. Out of the I-10, a long and steep climb awaits us. 4,779 feet of elevation gain over 13 miles. Throughout the climb, our group must cross Mission Creek over a dozen times. This small creek isn’t deep or strong enough to worry us, but the overgrowth of the trail along its banks makes our progression more difficult. I sometimes feel like I’m hiking through a swamp in Florida.
Out of this desert jungle, the morning heat overwhelms us as we start the climb. Today is hard. Stones are rolling under my feet, making me lose my balance and power. Branches and tree roots grab me as if they were trying to slow me down. In my head, I picture them as the negative figures from my past, these people who tried to tell me I couldn’t do what I aimed to. That I wasn’t good enough. Their hurtful words bounce around in my head, fueling me with determination. And when I’m finally at the end of that climb, I know I proved them wrong. And I’ll keep proving them wrong again and again, as many times as it takes. Because I know I’m good enough. Tonight I’m cowboy camping. Tomorrow there will be snow again. Somehow I’m excited for it. The adrenaline rush that comes with it has become addictive.
I wake up around 4:30am from a nightmare. I was back in France, at home. I had just quit and got off the trail, but somehow I was trying to go back to finish it. I felt powerless and a feeling of anxiety had taken hold of me. When I woke up from that dream, I was relieved to see I was still on the trail. But what did this mean? Was it an extension of my fear to give up or fail? Maybe. But what matters is that I’m still on the trail, and I haven’t given up. Throughout the morning, we hike across patches of snow and short traverses. The sun rises and lightens the sky with beautiful shades of orange and light pink. It’s one of the most beautiful days so far.
After reaching Onyx summit, the snow was gone again. I had a great pace, and lost in my thoughts I was able to make miles fast. All afternoon, I was protected from the heat of the sun by the shade of a pine forest. The trail was sided by a creek, with birds and squirrels joining me on my walk. I then saw two groups of school kids with their teachers, probably out on a school trip in the wilderness. They cheered me when I walked by. It was a good note to end an already very good day. The campsite I stopped at looked a little like the South of France. It was beautiful and peaceful all together. Today we passed 250 miles.
Reunion with an old friend
I am sitting right before Highway 18, the main road that leads to Big Bear Lake. While having breakfast, I observe the cars passing by in the distance. Suddenly, a pickup truck pulls over. My instinct kicks in and I have a feeling a hiker is about to get dropped off and that I know who that hiker is.
“Jim!!” I shout.
My instinct was right. Jim had skipped San Jacinto and had been ahead of us for a while. When I screamed his name, he looked around but couldn’t see me. I was hidden by all the trees and brushes. Determined to catch up with him, I finish eating and wrap up my stuff in no time. I cross the highway and start walking up the hill fast and a few minutes later I finally catch up with him. We hug and catch up. He was happy I made it through San Jacinto. He also told me a few people, like Dan and Tommy, had to leave the trail. I was shocked and saddened. It also reminded me of my nightmare from the other night.
We hike for a bit together and then I take off in the uphill. We will meet at camp tonight. Later this afternoon, as I walk around a corner, a group of four mule deers runaway just in front of me. They stop about 20 yards away and stare at me. They’re beautiful. I look at them, for a while, and then salute them with a tip of the hat to thank them for the spectacle. Magically, one of them answers by tilting its head down. Or did I dream it? As I walk away and leave them alone, emotions start rolling in. These are the beautiful moments I came for.
That night, Jim, Beer Slide, Shortcut, Sophie and I set up camp together. Jim shows us videos of him playing the guitar and singing in Big Bear the night before. He also tells us a fire has started around mile 350. It worries me. I don’t want to skip nor flip. But I try to remind myself that it’s useless to think about things you can’t control. We still have miles to hike before then and the situation might get better before we get there.
Some time alone
Out of Big Bear Lake after a well deserved zero, I set off by myself, leaving the rest of my crew behind. I need some time for myself, to think and wander. Throughout the next few days, I can catch glimpses of the urban world far in the distant desert. When I see it, it reminds me of my past failures, my missed romances. It reminds me of the life I thought I dreamt of, but ended up only being a nightmare. The woman I thought was the one, but appeared to be just one more lesson learnt. I walk in silence. No music, no audio book. Only the sound of this nature that surrounds me. When I walk in silence, it’s this moment that my demons choose to come back and haunt me. Questions, doubts, past traumas. People I thought I could trust. But when those negative thoughts occur, one word always comes to my mind: good. Good, because I fight them with this silent walk, one-on-one with my own head. Good because when I fight them, the shame associated with these memories vanishes to leave room for pride and motivation. Pride for the progress made, and motivation, because the road left is still long.
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