I Hate Hiking
Okay, so I don't hate hiking. I'm currently obsessed with it. I stopped hating it three days ago.
I was born and raised in NYC, then I moved to Los Angeles, then back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth...you get it. Somewhere in the middle of the ping pong match, I found myself living in Sedona, AZ. This is where I became very aware of my inability to be one with nature. I survived the massive white, glow-in-the-dark spiders crawling in from out of the cold and rattlesnake season and mountain lions hanging out in the back yard. And for a moment in time, I thought I could actually be a country girl. Then I moved back to LA and laughed really loudly for a long, long time.
I'm a bona fide urbanite, coexisting quite well in seas of people, skyscrapers and rush hour traffic. Well...I used to. Then paragliding abducted my brain and life as I knew it did a 180. Give me Shakespeare, hailing a cab, and the best vegan restaurants on the Westside any day over micrometeorology, plant species and camping. Ewwwwww..."camping". It begins with a four-letter word. Anywho, I digress. It was paragliding that led me to rent a part-time apartment in San Diego, ten minutes away from the gliderport. Once I got here, I realized that I couldn't move half of my life for just one sport. Hey, so what if I'm fickle! So when my friend, Del, texted and asked if I wanted to go hike Iron Mountain Trail at 7am in 40º temps, I said SURE! :) Just like that, too. And, yes, I was aware that I still hate hiking. Boredom upstages hate sometimes.
On a Friday morning at 7 fucking am, I met Del and Casey, and we hiked to the top of Iron Mountain. To my surprise, it was easy and I LOVED it. As soon as I got in my car, I knew I needed a bigger challenge than the hike that I just came from and I needed it pronto. (are you starting to see the all or nothing here?) Damn! I was going to be in LA for the weekend. I texted the girls immediately, asking if we could hike the trail "with the waterfall" on Monday. I'm such a romantic. I offered to leave at 5:30am to meet them! 5 fucking 30am in 38º. I'm often susceptible to losing my mind.
The Three Sisters
Casey couldn't join us and I'm already saying, "You're welcome, girlfriend" for missing out on this one. It was just me and Del. Our excitement leading up to that morning was so ridiculous, you would have thought we were going for spa treatments at La Costa. Lots of text messages with exclamation points and emoticons. We met at 6am at the Iron Mountain parking lot to carpool together to The Three Sisters in Julian. Yes, the apple place. Apparently, everyone knows it. So as two fire signs do whenever they get together, the jabber, jabber, jabber began upon sight of one another. We discussed all of the "research" we did on the location we were about to conquer. Why "research" is in quotations will be explained. Keep reading. Don't let your attention span deficit win.
Me: But you've done the hike before?
Del: No, I have never done this one.
Me: Oh. Do you know where we're going? Let me look at the navigator. Says we take the 79 in one mile.
Del: Okay. (shakes head and switches lanes) So, that healer tried to kill you and you want to call her again?
Me: Oh GAWD, no!
Jabber, jabber, jabber. 40 minutes later...
Me: We should be close. (looks at Maps) Oh, look it says to take the next exit! Yay!!! We're almost there.
Del: Oh, I thought it was exit 79, not 80. Okay, cool.
Me: Wait...wasn't it highway 79? (looks at Maps again with a bit more awareness this time) Oh shit, girl. We drove 40 exits past the 79. We're getting off to get back on heading West.
Though an hour and twenty minutes later than planned, we finally arrived at the trailhead, laughing at our mishap, ready to take on The Three Sisters.
The Dogs (said dawgs)
We were on a schedule because we needed to be back in San Diego by 2. Since we did such extensive research, we both were in agreement that it would take 3 hours for us to finish the hike. We hurried out of the car and immediately headed along the trail. There was no time for selfies with the Stop sign. We were on a mission.
Del: (stops walking) Are those dogs coming toward us?
Me: (freezing at the sight of two rather large dogs walking towards us on the trail) I don't see an owner. Do you think they're...Fuck. They're running at us. Girl, get in the car. Get in the car!
We barely made it inside the car when two either extremely friendly or extremely angry dogs started jumping on our windows, staring dead at both of us. Their tails were wagging and they had sort of cute little faces that could have also been evil, and they looked like a German Shepherd mix. My fear of all things nature includes domesticated animals. I'm a wuss. What can I say? I was not about to open my door. However, my fearless friend had no problem opening hers and her friendly, big pup jumped on her and started licking her all over her face. She finally convinced me that they wouldn't eat me and I made my way back to the trail with these two brothers right by my side. I'm allergic to dogs and every last one of them knows it and tries desperately to be the one that breaks me of my allergies by rubbing their dander all over me. They were extremely sweet.
We set off on the trail, CamelBaks and dogs coming along for the ride, finally ready for our adventure. Note: I do not advise trying to pee in the woods with two strange dogs jumping all over you.
Since we were hiking into the canyon to go to a waterfall (that was dry, btw), the path started to descend shortly after departing the trailhead. We were prepared for this since both of us had read every review of the trail on various websites and seen innumerable selfies and scenic shots; even a video of the entire hike. We knew what we were getting into because we saw it on Yelp. Mind you, neither of us had a GPS, knew the direction we were facing or had an actual map either downloaded or physical in case of emergency. The small No Service was blinding in the top corner of my phone when we could've used something from the aforementioned list; my compass app rendered useless.
After sliding on our asses down one steep grade and using ropes to get down the other, we finally made it to the bottom of the canyon. Trail markers are lacking on this hike and they really are necessary. The terrain is confusing and with the riverbeds dry, the path is not very clear. There are, however, spray painted red and white arrows on rocks and boulders (may God bless and give many karma points to the kind soul who did this), hopefully keeping you on the trail. In our case and several other people on the trail, they weren't proving completely effective but, ultimately, did end up being our savior. Did I mention that I hated hiking just three short days ago?
At the bottom of the canyon, we continued on in the direction of one of the graffitied arrows. Our dogs were leading the way up until then but suddenly disappeared.
Me: Wow, this is way more rugged than I thought it was going to be. There doesn't seem to be an actual trail.
Del: It looks like we're on a dry riverbed.
Me: Oh...I think you're right. (silence) So if we're on a dry riverbed then we wouldn't actually be here if there were water running through it. Fuck, we're lost.
Del: Yeah, we're not on the trail.
Just at that moment, our two loyal guides came running through the woods several feet above us, on the actual trail where we should've been. They had not barked up until that moment, but this time stopped and started yelling at us. Then one of them came trotting down into the riverbed, ran around me, and then ran back up, showing us where to go. We were both floored and wondered if these two animals were really just a hallucination. Naturally, we followed. They clearly knew this trail better than most humans. We hiked for a bit, climbed up and over boulders and finally turned a corner to see the falls right in front of us. They were not flowing but the pools had some water in them. The dogs immediately took off for a drink. Leading humans is hard work.
It's quite beautiful, even though the falls were dry. Sadly, there is graffiti on the rocks (with stupid shit like, "Save Water. Drink Beer") and trash strewn between the caves and the different levels of pools (you guessed it... beer cans, amongst lighter fluid and wrappers from things I can't imagine ingesting). I may be a dumb human for getting myself into something that I was not prepared for but I am certainly conscious when it comes to respecting my Mother. It angered me to see the ignorance and stupidity juxtaposed against this most magnificent backdrop. We stayed for a few minutes but knew we had to return because of time constraints. Next time, we will go after significant rains and spend more time at the falls.
PSA Clean your shit up, people and respect your environment. You are not that special.
The Journey Back
Overconfidence is very dangerous. I made a comment about feeling accomplished before we headed back, even though I knew the journey was going to be more difficult. Little did I know that it would end up giving me an anxiety attack. We trekked back over the boulders and thought we were heading for the uphill challenge that awaited our return. Yeah...it didn't quite happen that way. Somehow, we missed the big red and white arrows and headed deeper into the woods. At one point, Del was walking ahead of me through some thick brush and as I was about to step down, I saw a little furry brown thing flipped over on its back flailing all eight of his legs. She had tipped a tarantula over and hadn't noticed it. I thought he was adorable but still opted to go around the other side of the tree. If you listen to nature, she speaks to you. I should have recognized that sign as it occurred. I have no idea how long it took us to realize that we had overshot the trail but when we finally did, we made a bad, baaaaaddddddd decision. I'll take the blame. I thought the trail wasn't that far above us, that we had just traveled too far down the riverbed and would be fine if we just climbed up the side of the mountain. Yes. Me. The one who hates hiking. The one who is not one with nature. I started climbing vertically to a supposed trail that didn't exist. What was even dumber was that every time I got to the place where I thought the trail would be, I climbed even higher thinking it was just a little further. At some point, we'd get to the summit and just walk across the top of the ridge, right? I was in a similar situation many years ago in Sedona, where I just scaled up the red rocks without even thinking about where I was going or how I was going to get back to where I started. I'm a bit of a lizard when it comes to doing this, as I have no fear of heights and I kind of enjoy climbing up the sides of cliffs without anything supporting me. When I reached the top and pulled myself up, I looked down to see my hiking partner clinging to the side of the rocks. I then realized that I may have just killed the person that I had recently vowed to spend my life with. He was frozen. Trusting that I knew what I was doing, he simply followed me, suddenly realizing that there was a huge drop and one false move could be tragic. Eventually, he made it up and I believe the trauma from that near miss kept me from pursuing my interest in climbing. Back at the Three Sisters, I must've had a flashback of this experience, because just shortly before I reached the top, I decided to go back down. I didn't want to kill my friend, who was below me, once again trusting that I knew what I was doing. I didn't have a fucking clue.
A note from Del after reading the blog: "However I would add something like ....Del looked up at me while I was free climbing the side of the mountain, boulder dashing like a pro and said "no wonder you said you are like a lizard, although you say you hate hiking, you climb like a pro!!!!" < This is why she trusted me...
The White and Red Arrow
After finally coming down to more stable, level ground, we made our way back toward the falls. At least we knew what direction we had come from. Even that turned into an adventure where we hiked on the wrong side of the riverbed, climbing boulders that were too slippery to grip, with both of us falling on our asses at different points and coming across swarming bees that weren't there the first time we passed. Eventually, we reunited with the massive rock with the blaring white arrow pointing toward the falls and red arrow leading us back to the trailhead. I don't think either of us was really breathing up until that point. We knew we fucked up but fear was not going to win on this one. As we stood there for a moment taking the last few hours in, our two furry friends appeared out of nowhere and led us back up. I thought the uphill trek was going to be exceedingly more challenging than going down, but surprisingly, going up with the ropes was a cakewalk. Or perhaps it was just adrenaline doing its job. The rest of the journey was uneventful. I think we had our fill for the day. As I approached the car, I realized that every muscle in my body was fatigued. The 3-hour hike that we so thoroughly researched, took us nearly 5 hours. And for two non-hikers, there was quite a bit of climbing involved. We were both covered in dirt and starving. By the time I got home, my plans to shoot a yoga video and run some errands had all gone out the window. I soaked in a hot bath and thanked the Universe for looking out. I thought I only did dumb shit like this when I was younger (yes, I know I go running off of mountains with a piece of fabric over my head...). I woke up the next morning with what felt like a Grade 1 strain in both of my quadriceps and immediately made plans to hike Mt. Wilson in a few days. Apparently, I will always do dumb shit as long as it keeps life interesting. I'm determined to have a symbiotic relationship with nature even if my city girl conditioning is pissed about it.
Next time we will actually be prepared.