Wind Shy

April 18, 2018

“Let’s take it a bit easier today.” Jay and I agreed. After hiking until dusk yesterday, setting up camp early sounded wonderful.

A few steps down the trail, Jay pointed out a great blue heron. I watched, enchanted, as it wheeled overhead and flew off, great wings flapping slowly.

About a mile later, we crossed a road and were greeted by two hikers in a camper van.

“I know it’s early, but would you like a soda?” 2taps asked. Jman introduced himself from inside the van. We chatted for a few minutes, talking hikes while Jay and I shared a Mountain Dew. Properly buzzed on caffeine and sugar, and happy from meeting two friendly hikers, we wished them good hiking and continued.

Jman and 2taps dispensing trail magic

We walked over and between rounded hillsides dotted with old burned tree branches and the new growth of bush poppies in bloom.

The trail crossed under Cedar Springs Dam, then climbed above Silverwood Lake. We enjoyed the view of blue water and sandy beaches for several miles, mostly high above, once dipping very near the water.

Silverwood Lake

As afternoon progressed, the wind began to rise. At 4:30 p.m., we stopped to get water from a creek and assess our position. We had hiked about 15 miles today, and it was time to find a campsite. However, a wind storm was forecast for tonight and all of tomorrow. Ever since our adventure coming down from Fuller’s Ridge, I had no desire to walk through another gale. (See my post, ‘Wind!’) But I liked even less the thought of a long night with wind beating against our tent.

“The trail will be headed uphill from here. It might be hard to find a sheltered campsite,” Jay counseled. “Tomorrow the wind might be worse.”

“I don’t see much shelter here. Let’s go on while there’s still daylight,” I urged. “I’d rather be hiking than worrying about wind ripping the tent. If we see a good spot, we can stop.”

We knew it was possible that we might have to hike another 13 miles to the Best Western hotel at I-15, at Cajon Pass. At our pace, we’d arrive at midnight. With memories of our ordeal down Fuller’s Ridge, we decided to hike a bit smarter this time. We pulled Larabars and dark chocolate bars out of our food bags. This evening’s hike would be fueled with carbohydrates, eaten once per hour. We also agreed to stop once every 30 minutes for water.

On we forged. Unlike our last storm adventure, this time the trail sometimes followed the lee side of a ridge, giving us an occasional respite from the cold, battering wind. Dark descended, and we kept climbing, using our flashlights. Stars peeked from above. The familiar constellations of Orion, Taurus, and the Pleides brought comfort.

I began to lag behind a bit, legs protesting against the long day of use. Suddenly, in the dark, I noticed Jay ahead of me, standing very still, flashlight focused on the ground ahead. He turned and smiled as I cautiously approached.

“You’re just in time to see the end of it,” he remarked. Puzzled, I looked at his flashlight beam, and glimpsed a couple of inches of shiny scales disappearing into the undergrowth.

“A snake?” I guessed. Jay nodded. “Was it big?”

“Probably about four feet. It was crossing the trail. It didn’t seem bothered by my light. It wasn’t a rattlesnake. It had black and white bands.”

Later we looked up snakes of southern California and concluded that Jay had been privileged to see a king snake, so-called due to their resistance to rattlesnake venom, and their ability to dine upon other snakes.

About 9:00 p.m., we noticed the wind was growing softer. By now we were 400 feet below the top of our climb. It was tempting to continue, to see the lights of the freeway below. However, when we saw a flat sandy space near a few sheltering bushes, we decided to stop for the night, while we were still on the lee side. My feet and legs had been aching for a few miles, and Jay admitted he was beginning to feel his tendons protesting.

We set up camp, weighting the tent stakes with rocks, gladly crawling into our fabric home. Train whistles blew through Cajon Pass, just a few miles away. Wind alternately whined and roared through power lines high above us, but only tendrils from the largest gusts reached our tent.

I lay, warm, stretching tired muscles, happy, but unable to stop shivering. What was wrong? Perhaps it was the last four hours of carbohydrates I had been consuming. Great for an athletic event, but not so good for relaxing. Jay was also wide awake. Perhaps some cheese would give our stomachs something to do. We ate a few ounces, and sure enough, the shivering began to abate. I gratefully let tense muscles go, quickly falling asleep after hiking 24.8 miles.

April 19, 2018

A glorious sunrise brought us awake. We packed up in the rising wind, happy in the knowledge that breakfast was just 4.5 miles away at the hotel.

A few minutes up the trail, we met two gold prospectors unloading their truck. They were surprised to see us. “My gosh, did you sleep up here?”

We, in turn, were intrigued with their hobby. Hard to imagine getting up before sunrise just for the fun of hauling shovels and bins to the desert in hopes of finding gold. Wishing them “good luck,” we hiked on.

Gold prospectors

The whole force of the wind met us at the summit. An incredible scene of eroded sandstone cliffs leading down to a far away highway stopped us in wonder.

Jay cautiously looks over the edge. Amazing!

The trail snaked around the cliffs, eventually diving over the edge. I was delighted to be hiking this in daylight, even with wind pushing us back and forth. I felt we had hiked into an exotic postcard.

The last mile followed a creek flowing between cliffs, out the mouth of Crowder Canyon. Beauty surrounded us with sparkling water, gray cliffs, level path, and breakfast, showers, and a bed awaiting.

Eavesdropping

June 3, 2017

Tonight we camped atop Black Rock Summit in the Shenandoah National Park.  We arrived about 7:00 p.m., set up our tent, hung our food bags, then climbed up the rocky peak to take in the view.  Three small puffy white clouds accented an azure sky.  Folds of green mountain ridges followed one another to the horizon.  We were alone with this alluring vision of God’s world.  There wasn’t much to say beyond, “Wow.”  We sat, soaking in the beauty for a few moments, then prosaically climbed down and crawled into our sleeping bags, content to rest our tired bodies, our minds filled with wonder.  I immediately drifted into sleep, and Jay lay in isolated tranquility, listening to the evening birdsong concert.

IMG_20170603_180241672_HDR
View from Black Rock Summit.

This solitary peace did not last long, however.  Just before sunset, two young thru-hikers, Crusoe and Bat, arrived to watch the sunset.  They seemed unaware of our tent, just a few yards away in the cover of the trees.  Thus, Jay became an unintentional eavesdropper to their conversation.

Crusoe:  Is this what Pennsylvania is like?

Bat:  (very literal minded) Well, it has rocks, and this is rocks.

(My note:  Pennsylvania is known for very sharp rocks.)

Crusoe:  Yeah, but it would be easier without 50 pounds on my back.

Bat:  (surprised)  Your pack weighs 50 pounds?

Crusoe:  Hyperbole, man!

During a short silence, Bat was possibly thinking, ‘I don’t know what a hyperbole is but it must be heavy.’

Crusoe:  (happily)  You know, after this, I’m gonna hike the PCT and the CDT and keep my same name!

Bat:  What’s the CDT?

Crusoe:  It’s this trail that goes all the way from Mexico to Alaska, except there’s no trail.  You have to find your own way!

Bat:  No wonder I’m not interested.

(My note:  The CDT actually runs from Mexico to Canada, along the Rocky Mountains.)

Another short silence, then Bat began to talk about a game on his phone.

Crusoe:  (virtuously)  I have to keep some battery for when my parents call.  (Then, with a burst of candor…)  Sometimes my mom calls, and I have to be nice, even when I don’t want to talk with her!

At this point, the two hikers descended from the peak, and continued on their way.

June 4, 2017

We met Crusoe and Bat about 11:00 a.m.  They had hiked six miles after sunset, then cowboy camped upon a rock ledge at 2:00 a.m.  Full of wide-eyed adventure, they were sure they had seen a mountain lion during their night hike.  Excitedly they described the pointy ears, the stance, and the short muzzle of their nocturnal sighting.  What a great memory for the two of them!

I asked the boys how they got their names.  Bat, literal minded as ever, replied, “Well, when I was practicing for this hike, I wore a Batman t-shirt, so people called me Bat.”

Crusoe had a different tale.  “In 2015 I was gonna thru-hike the AT and live off the land.  That didn’t work out.  By the second day, I was looking at bugs.  But they weren’t very big, and they didn’t have lettuce and tomato on them!

By this time I was laughing so hard, tears leaked down my cheeks.  With hopes that we would “see y’all down the trail”, Jay and I left the two boys and continued on our way.

The night hike evidently whetted the boys’ appetite for more nocturnal adventures.  A flashlight accompanied by radio music woke us about 10:30 p.m.  We lay in our tent, wondering what was up.  Then, as the light passed us on the trail, we heard Bat’s unmistakable voice, “Can we go slower on the uphills?  I’m gonna vomit!”