I’m Not Lost
“Lost is not a place, it’s a soul in paralysis waiting to be moved.” Alfa
For the second time in as many days, I was “lost”. Lost is a relative term but not one that we should, at our stance in life, throw around lightly. Allow me to expand.
A couple of days ago, while Googling “abandoned train cars in the southern desert” I found a photographer’s treasure of a 1940’s train left virtually untouched near the Mexican border that was screaming out for a camera and some willing models.
I mentioned it to my husband, Dave, and he immediately did what he does, he researched the living shit out of it. I had only GPS coordinates, he found so much more. This other destination, instantly, became the new obsession:
But if one looks even the slightest bit into this adventure you will see that it is a 9-mile in AND 9-mile out hike to get to this site. Then there are my required photo ops that would have to occur, the water one would have to carry, etc. etc. etc. This is a FULL day’s journey into night.
The next preface that must be mentioned (if only in passing as we do not allow age and/or infirmity to limit our horizons…..in general) is that we are both not youngsters. Dave is somewhere north of 70 and I while laboring all the past year under the assumption that I was about to turn 68 have very recently had it brought to my attention that I am, in fact, only 66! Of course, I feel that this has “given” me another year of life, logical or not, and also regressed my energy quotients to those of a 30-something….OK….45-something. None-the-less we decided that really, at “our age”, we needed to begin to prep for this adventure. Immediately. Conditioning is Key. Practice makes perfect. Preparation is Paramount.
On this admittedly flimsy bit of forethought, we struck out to hike the Araby Trail near our home in Palm Springs, CA. Our recent house guests had said it is about 4 miles (we thought a loop but more about that later) and it sounded from our friend’s description to be quite doable. Lovely early January morning in Palm Springs, sunny, cool for us, warm for the frigid Canadians. The trail was not a walk. It was apparent right off this was a hike. Rugged, craggy, rock-strewn path with gravel and sand interspersed. Oh, and uphill….a lot uphill. Now here’s where I erred, I trusted that Dave would have done his usual research and have the elevation gain, the trail maps, the estimated caloric burn, and the end time all calculated into his phone. Wrong. I also “thought” I heard our friends say that is was a loop so off we trudged looking for the fantastic views, both from below and above, of the Bob Hope historic Flying Saucer House we had been regaled with. Those we found.
It was after this portion of all uphill slogging that I began to look for where the trail might want to tend to cut back and eventually down the hill. Since we were stopping often for photos (and the excuse to breath) we had been passed by several other groups of morning exercise tourists. It was when I started noticing that these groups were far, far, ahead of us now, mere specs against the sky on the mountain tops still looming in front of us that I begin to doubt the “loop” premise. This was also when Dave began to question how I knew this was a loop trail. This was also when I realized that we had no earthly idea where we were going when we would get back, and what we had gotten ourselves into. About this same moment the trail appeared to reach a crest just above our heads. Maybe the turning point was at hand. Maybe not.
Let me just say right here that I now know exactly what the Westward settlers felt every time they crested a hilltop only to find an f’ing MOUNTAIN RANGE in the distance yet to be conquered.
Not being stereotypic male animals, we actually did manage to ask someone directions only after we started to see the same folks that had passed us earlier coming back at us again….an hour later though I will add.
“Loop? Hell no! It’s an in and out”.
although one jaunty group of 4 women (sprawled on a slope and wheezing) did manage to mention that this hike completely justified heading to Sherman’s Delicatessan immediately after for a whole pastrami Rueben…..each.
Soon after we called a halt on the forward progress not needing to see any more unseen vistas, reversed course and headed back from whence we came. It was a good hike, the views were spectacular, the exercise great; we’ll consider the fallout later.
The next morning I sprang out of bed, again with my one-year-younger-than-I-imagined energy and announced that I wanted to hike the Whitewater Wash trail, now. Dave, the same Dave that has had 6 spinal surgeries in 5 years, was not having any of it. It seems the Araby hike had aggravated his back and leg and his plans involved laying abed and reading all day. Undaunted and feeling fit and feisty I headed out solo. It was a half-hour drive to a 3-hourish hike.
I was at the trailhead almost as it opened, the slanting morning sun forcing my shadow to lead the way into the wilderness. The air was crisp, clean and I was charged!
It’s a funny thing about trails, even the really well maintained and managed ones. Even the ones with maps, which I actually picked up at the ranger’s station for a change. They each, like all of us, have their own personality…some more craggy and obtuse than others. Whitewater Wash, as the name might lead one to discern even though we are in the Sonoran Desert, involves a great deal of water, more in the winter months than the arid summer depths. I did mention this was January. I might have failed to mention that we have been having some much-needed rains of late. When the rains do come, the Wash, well, washes……out…..into the valley more than 25 miles downhill. I was at the confluence of the headlands where the more agitated washing occurs. It should go without saying that a trail through here might sustain some minor disruptions during the rains. Signposts, limited to begin with, might be now wrong, misleading….gone? Just a thought, one I did not have until much later in the morning.
The wash itself runs through a wide chaparral plain studded with creosote bush, cacti, boulders (a lot of boulders) and is rimmed on all sides with mountains of varying heights. I could see (read: imagine) the circuit that I was headed toward; looping along the left side of the wash towards the distant notch in the hills, crossing the narrowing plain and looping back down the opposite hills to the ranger’s station. Without Dave I set off at a brisk (dare I say unsustainable) pace, merely glancing at the quaint wooden directionals as I sped past them sure in my self-reliance that there could only be one Whitewater Loop Trail.
It was when those wooden signs stopped….completely…that I first thought, again for the second time in two days “Oh. I might be lost”.
It was also then that I heard voices…..above me…..apparently on a trail. As I look left and up I realize that I am trudging, trail-less through the center of the recently gutted wash itself and not on any trail at all……for a long time. Forge forward and hope (pray)? Backtrack and climb. Here’s where age, and a long history of forced marches to nowhere specific pay off. I backtrack until I can at least see the heads of hikers bobbing above the bushes and see a spot where I can actually clamber up the cliff-face and get back on the trail once again with a minimum of cactus intrusions. (BTW. Hiker’s 101, always carry tweezers and duct tape, worth repeating…like a mantra).
Trail regained I march forward into the day. It was not until I actually reached the end of the valley and the massive boulder-strewn wash itself that I, again, realized I was not seeing those lead hikers doubling back across the valley and heading back downgrade. They were really going forward….with full packs on. As I was leaning against a massive red humped outcrop of a boulder that the words “Red Dome Trail” regained a footing in my memory. It was also about this point that I notice the small….SMALL…..sign on a single post that said PCT. For those of you familiar with the PCH, Pacific Coast Highway, this is the inland mountain equivalent; the Pacific Crest Trail. It runs from Mexico to Canada. People hike this. For fun. With camping gear. Those people were the ones I was following.
Those people were not me.
Once again I admit defeat and that da feet are telling me that I have another long hike home to where I started. On the way back I did notice a few clues I might have wanted to watch for previous to this moment.
And really, crime scene tape as a guidepost for your morning stroll through the desert? There’s something just wrong about that. But then again, judging from the sheer number of dead bodies that wither up out on these trails every year I suppose there is some small note of justification for its use after all.
In the end, another beautiful hike, another great sense of accomplishment, another step in the preparation for the Great March in to the Goat Trestle Bridge. This might take a tad more prep than we had thought. And those dire warning from friends with scenarios of MediVac helicopters and Final Resting Places with rattlesnakes do sound some small alarm bells. So the tally for me after three days of prep was 5 miles on the elliptical at the gym, 4 miles on Araby Trail, 4 miles on Whitewater. Not bad.
Bad was Monday when I awoke and could not move without wincing as my left hip was in agony; an agony not even drugs were touching. Here is where I might mention that I have had four hip replacements in the last 20-some years. None of this activity is supported by any of my surgeons. It is just what I do. It is especially what the one-year-younger-than-I-thought-I-was self feels compelled to do.
And now I, rest on the couch……next to Dave.