An Unexpected Companion

Ever so often, you feel like you are at a crossroads in your life. You don’t know which way to go. What path you should take. The road that brought you here to this crossroads was a rough one, but it started to feel a little easier. You tell yourself “Maybe you were just getting stronger along the way?” Or maybe things are just getting easier? My life has been filled with these sort of dilemmas for the past couple of years. One time life threw me such a curve ball and I swung and miss so bad it left me hurt. I had the longest second in my life, and I didn’t know how to carry on. So without really telling anyone, I set out to the desert to clear my head.

The semester had just ended, and while my friends were beginning to enjoy the start of the winter break, I couldn’t focus. I remember telling my best friend what happened. I remember going to her house because I really needed someone to talk to. She was always great for that. She helped me through a lot, but I still didn’t feel like I was really moving on. So I came home and packed up some camping gear, because when the sun rose, I was hitting the road.

It’s eight in the morning and I realize that I over slept. I should have been on the road already as it was going to be a long drive. I had trouble sleeping the night before, not because of what was bothering me, but because I always have trouble sleeping before leaving on an adventure. I rush to get dressed, make a quick breakfast and grab my field pack. I had to hurry if I wanted to get there before dusk. My destination was a good five hours away, so without any more delays I was off to be alone in the desert. 20141120_155532

The sun hangs low in the western sky as I pull up to camp off the dusty beaten road. As usual, no one is here. There isn’t a soul around for miles and miles. It is so peaceful here, some people can’t stand it being this quiet, however, I kind of like it. I quickly set up camp and then decided to do a little hiking while there is still some sun out. I can’t go too far because it will be getting dark soon. I set off towards the nearby mountains just north east of camp. The gravel crunches with each step along the lonely trail. I keep thinking about my mistakes. I keep thinking of how much of a fool I am. That is when the solitude begins to hit me, and I start feeling alone.

Suddenly out of the corner of my eye something moves. I turn to look and not too far in the distance is a lone coyote. It stands there watching me, as I watch it. I keep walking, making sure not to act like prey. I keep looking over my shoulder and I notice it is following me, not directly behind me, but off in the distance to the side. It’s not trying to hide, and it doesn’t seem to be stalking, just following. Maybe it’s just curious? I don’t know. After a couple of minutes of hiking I see that it is now keeping pace with me. Instead of it being slightly behind, it’s now off to the side of me. For some odd reason, I start talking to it.

I start speaking out load, as if it can understand me. I tell it what’s been troubling me and why I am here. It doesn’t seem to mind and just stands there watching me.  At one point I actually looked at it and ask “What should I do?” It just looked at me, and everything went quiet. It was only a moment but it felt like a long time, and in that moment I felt at peace. I felt relieved. The coyote then sniffed the air then turn and ran off, checking over it’s shoulder to make sure I didn’t follow. I stood there and watched it run off. I then waived at my once unexpected companion, before returning to camp for the night.20141120_122202

I don’t know why that coyote followed me. Perhaps it thought I had food or that I was food? Or maybe, just maybe it was nature’s way of saying that everything was going to be okay, and that no matter what, I’m never truly alone. What if we are never alone, and always have a companion in someway? A constant companion. Always there to make sure we come back home. I like to believe that is true.

Until next time. Never give up. Never give in.

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Exploring the Kingston Range: Part 1 of A Trip to Death Valley

It’s been five days since I’ve been in civilization. I’ve just got back from being in Death Valley, and now I’m sitting in an In-N-Out enjoying a grilled cheese in silent company. My pants are torn, and the once dark green color is now muted by layers of dust and dirt. My right boot is being held together by a few strips of duct tape. A light ring of salt stands out on my navy blue shirt. I don’t even want to imagine how I possibly smell at the moment. The only thing that looks slightly good on me is my beard. Yet despite all of this, I’m smiling from ear to ear, from having an incredible adventure, with some incredible people.20141120_122202

It’s been over ten months since my last trip to Death Valley and I can attest that it has been way too long. I didn’t go by self on this trip, but rather a large group. Large group camping trips aren’t really my thing. I like to be in small groups or solo whenever I can, but sometimes you need to step out of your comfort zone and do something different. After all, variety is the spice of life. The trip was planned for five days and four nights. Over half of the trip was to be spent outside of the national park but still in the surrounding area known as the Kingston Range.

We camped out at one of my favorite campsites called Horse Thief Camp. It is usually completely empty and it has a vaulted toilet so there is no need to bring your own toilet or make a cat hole if you need to go. There are remarkable views in every direction in this camp. Last time here we mainly focused on exploring nearby abandoned mines, however this time we explored the nearby mountains.

Hiking up these mountains are a bit challenging as 20141120_155532there are no trails that really lead to the top. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can find a worn path, or at least something resembling a path. If you do go, and decide to hike these mountains, be prepared to scramble. The rocks here in and around Death Valley are mainly made up of carbonate rock and when they weather and break they can become very sharp. My best way to describe it is to imagine touching a starfish only the tiny spines are much sharper.

The first mountain was not really a problem and it was relatively easy to get to the top. Once at the top my friends and I were treated to some spectacular views. The partly cloudy sky made shadows that stretched through the valley. It was as if an artist’s brush had painted the valley. 20141119_141536It was surreal on that peak, almost like in a dream, but with the cold air to remind you that you’re alive. You couldn’t help but just stand there and take in the breath taking views as hawks screeched and dived around the mountain. I almost wanted to stand there forever, looking off into the distance, at the horizon. It was so peaceful, it was tranquil. But all good things must come to an end, so we headed back to camp.

The first night in camp was spectacular. The camp fired roared and we all gathered around to keep warm, as the night grew cold. You can learn a lot about a person while at a camp fire. There are no distractions, no television, no phones, no communication with the outside world. In that time, you learn about a person, and what makes them who they are. You learn what makes them laugh, and if your lucky you learn a story about them. It’s funny to think that in the end, we’re all just stories. Everyone has a story to tell, and every person you meet will become a character in the story of your life.

The next morning we drove a little down the road to the only open area near the north side of Kingston Peak. We hiked a couple of miles through dry riverbeds and prickly brush as we tried to head up, what looked to be a way up to the spine of the mountain. 20141120_080643When we got closer to the top we found that it would be treacherous to continue on that path as the natural rock had formed spires that would need to be climbed and jumped through. Some of the spires were about 20 feet high and the range was as long as a mile, so that way was out of the question. It appeared we would have to go back and try to make our way up another peak.

20141120_120721As we approached the next peak we found it more difficult than anticipated. This mountain was covered in scree, and with no trail to lead up to it, we had to make our own way up. I snaked my way up as if I was on a switchback trail. Taking care to ensure I had sure footing as I went up. A slip and fall here would be unforgiving so I had to tread lightly. At some points the incline became to difficult to walk and you had to use your hands to scramble up. On more than one occasion, as I scrambled up the rocks beneath me gave away and began to slip. Let me tell you, I’ve never scrambled so fast in my life. I was winded as the hike was strenuous but when the rock slipped out I was able to move quickly. I scrambled for my life and once I reached stable ground I took a big sigh of relief.

It was all worth it, once I reached the top of the peak. It was higher than the peak I climbed yesterday, and the views were even better. Most of the group gathered on a different peak then me, and for a bit of time I was the only one up there. I felt like the king of the mountain. I sat on the rock and basked in the view. I’ve been telling myself for about a year now that one day, this will be my life. One day, each day will be a new adventure. One day I’ll pack some things and leave, and it will be just me chasing that horizon. But for now this will do. For now, I’ll enjoy the company when I have it, and explore as much as I possibly can. 20141120_125545

Going Solo in Joshua Tree National Park

It’s Tuesday Afternoon and after getting some more bad news, I decided to take the only medicine that ever does me any good. A trip to clear my head. A couple of days alone in nature should be just enough to get me feeling like myself again. I start packing up my things in the back of my truck. I’m not taking a lot, but I’m not going ultra light either. I take my day pack, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, chair and food and water for 3 days. As I load up my truck, I keep asking myself “Is this enough?” and then I ask myself “Is it too much?” I don’t want to take too much, but then again I don’t want to take everything either. I finally decide that it’s the perfect amount. I close my truck up, thinking that tomorrow I set off on an adventure.

The next day when I arrive at the Park. I decided to enter from the North and make my way down south to my planned campsite. The best thing about doing this mid week is that there is hardly anyone here. The campsites are practically empty, and there is blissful stillness in the park that is only broken by the occasional speeding car. I spent my first day near the Jumbo Rocks campground. The surrounding area is absolutely fantastic. I found small little trails that lead me near the large rock outcrops. Once I got close to the rock I decided to scramble up to the top. There are no words that describe how much I love scrambling. It makes me feel so alive to move up the rock, and the slight danger factor really gets the blood flowing.

After spending the better part of the day hiking and scrambling, I decided to head out in order to make camp before sun down. I had made the decision to stay on a patch of BLM land that is located a few miles outside of the park. While there are some wonderful campsites located inside the park, I really felt like roughing it and being isolated on this trip. There was no surprise when I arrived to an empty camp lot. Not a soul was in sight, which was great news to me, as this is what I wanted. I pitched my tent and as the sun sank in the distance I started a fire.

The night sky was simply stunning that night. The Milky Way stretched over my head and extended beyond the horizon. The stars glittered and shined in every direction. Growing up in an area with a lot of light pollution, you don’t get to see the stars like this. It’s great to have opportunities like this to see the night sky with little light pollution. Every time I see the stars, it’s like I’m looking at home. I see my family and friends in those stars, and it comforts me.

The next day, I decided to hike into the park. I wanted to have a really long hike and I figured this was the best way to do so. I had enough water and I knew of a Ranger Station where I could refill my hydropack so I wasn’t worry about not having enough water. I should have paid closer attention to the map before deciding on this course of action.20141113_103300 As I didn’t realize I made a mistake of underestimating the distance of the hike. I thought I was only about 4 miles away, when in fact I was around 6.5 miles away from the Ranger Station. That hike in took most of my morning, and as the days grow shorter, every minute really does count. Still it wasn’t that bad and after a short break at the station I headed towards Mastodon  Peak Trail. I was told the trails where well marked, but it didn’t appear to be so. Now don’t get me wrong, I love exploring, I love taking the beaten path and such, but when you have already hiked about 8 miles, you really just want to know where you are going.

It was literally a few feet after the trail head, when I couldn’t tell which way to go. The map from the station was not detailed enough to show the path clearly, so I did what I usually do when I don’t know which way to go. I followed the footsteps in the sand. I did this for about a half mile until the foot steps lead to the road. Great, now I either can backtrack or press on and see if I could find the trail again. I decided to press on, and shortly I found a trail marker not to far from where I was at. I scrambled up to the marker and thought finally I’m on the trail everything is going to be good. About 50 feet later I realize that I’m not on the path again. Seriously, this never happens to me. I backtrack again until I find the trail again. I scanned the area to see which way I should go next. That is when I saw a little stub of a post poking out of the ground. It didn’t look natural so I made my way towards it. The little stub only poked out by about  8 inches and it had worn out painted arrows on it. So now I knew I was surely on the trail.

I thought it was rather odd for a trail marker to be so small and so low to the ground. If you were not looking at the ground, you could easily miss it. Not to mention some parts of the trail looked washed out from recent flash floods making it hard to see any distinguishing trail marks. It was a bit annoying but then I remembered reading a post on the information wall, that due to recent increases of vandalism the rangers who would usually be working on maintaining the trails were now removing graffiti. So now when I can’t find the trail I just get upset at taggers for defacing the environment , which in turn causes the trails to deteriorate.

I eventually made my way up to Mastodon Peak. It was magnificent.  It wasn’t really that high up, but all of those rock structures poking out of the ground, much like a whale breaching the surface of the ocean, were incredible and beautiful. Rocks always have an interesting story to tell, and these were no exception. I scrambled up a structure that looked like it overlooked the trail. Near the top were crevices that separated the rocks. Now I’m afraid of heights, and of getting hurt, so what do I do? I jump across the crevices, of course. I then sat at the top and soaked in the view for as long as I could.

The sun was beginning to get low in the sky and I still had a long hike to camp, so I started heading back. As I walked out of the park and through the mountain ranges I knew it would be dark before I reached camp. The temperature was starting to drop, and I was still a good five miles away from camp. That is when someone who was driving by, stopped and asked if I was lost. I informed the man that I wasn’t, just making my way to camp. He offered to give me a ride if I needed it, and considering the alternate would be walking the next few miles in the cold dark, I decided to accept the offer. His name was Jose and he helped me out in a big way. Thanks to him I got to my camp before dark. It was going to be my last night camping here, and I was already pretty tired from all the hiking from the past two days. Doing that last five miles would have really been something that I didn’t want to have to do.

As a sat by the fire I reflected on the past week. The ups, the downs, and all the craziness that life likes to throw at us. It didn’t feel as bad anymore. I knew the sun was going to rise tomorrow and with the new day, will come new opportunities and another chance to make things right.20141113_054038

Adventure in Death Valley

IMG_20140104_084045_526Death Valley is a magical place, that most would steer clear from. It’s very name can strike fear in the hearts of the mundane, but for those of us who find real beauty in nature, it is a wonderful place. Where the desert seems endless and hostile, but at the same time delicate and beautiful. There are mountains everywhere all with their own secrets, and all yearning to be explored. The beauty of the desert is breath taking here, and I am glad I spent the first weekend of the new year here.

IMG_20140105_114315_467Along with a small group of friends I decided to head back to the desert while the weather is still cool, and the sun feels good instead of unbearable. We decided to go explore the abandon mines near the national park. Not in hopes of finding treasure such as gold, but merely because our curiosity had driven us to the point where we had to see the inside of the mines for ourselves.

While I don’t condone exploring abandon mines, as they can often be dangerous, we did recon and research before hand so we had weighed out the risks, and if a tunnel seemed to dangerous, then we would not explore it. With that in mind, we were off to see the mines.

IMG_20140104_110503_410We spent two days and three nights in the desert, exploring caves and climbing up peaks by day, stargazing and campfire stories by night. The greatest thing about camping, in my opinion, is how it strengthens bonds. I began the trip camping with two of my best friends, and another friend from class. By the end of the trip I had camped with three of my best friends.

There is something magical about enjoying the great outdoors with good company, I can’t even describe it. Looking at a landscape from the top of a peak with three great companions is indescribable. I don’t think we as humans have evolved enough to create a word that would best describe the feeling you get with that kind of experience.

 

It always seems a little strange to me that the hardest part of a camping trip, is the journey IMG_20140104_154954_239back home. We all wanted to stay longer. Neither of us wanted to leave the desert and go back to our regular lives. Yet it is something that we must do, at least for now. Soon my life will be filled with nothing but adventure, and maybe, just maybe when that happens, I still won’t want to go back home.