To Virginia and Back, In A Week. Part 1 to the Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

Recently a friend of mine was given a chance of a lifetime, but it also meant she would have to move from California to Virginia. So when she asked if I would come along with her and her boyfriend to drive across the country, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, I’m an adventurer, how am I supposed to turn down an adventure? So even though I only came home from another adventure a few days prior, I packed up my bag again and was off to adventure on the open road once again.

When we left we only had four days to make the 40-hour drive to Virginia. The only problem was we were only going to drive for six hours our first day as we had planned to stay overnight at the Grand Canyon and visit it in the morning of the second day. I was more than happy with this decision. After all, it’s the Grand Canyon. No matter how many times I visit it, I can’t get enough of it. Plus I convinced to team to travel a little out of the way to visit Horseshoe Bend in Page Arizona. I knew it would add a couple of extra hours to our drive, but I also knew it would be so worth the time.

When we woke up the second day, we quickly broke camp and entered the Grand Canyon. We saw Mather Point at early light, the partly cloudy skies added to the ambiance and spectacular views of the canyon. Often times a scene like this looks as though you are stepping into a painting, it’s so beautiful, you think that it can’t be real. Then you breathe, and you know it is real, that this splendid beauty and chaos is the most real moment you have had in a very long time. 20160505_070408_Richtone(HDR)

Soon we were leaving the Canyon and heading north on the 89. We were going a bit out of the way, but I knew this detour would be worth the hours lost. I had planned to make an important rest stop at Horseshoe Bend near Page Arizona. It took us nearly two hours to reach the parking lot of the bend, and the sign marking the area was no help at all. It’s tiny, one blink and you’ll miss it. That is if you don’t notice all the other cars turning into a random dirt road and lot.

As we hiked towards the Bend, I was anxiously rushing up the hill that stood between me and that marvelous natural wonder. Once I was at the top, I could feel my asthma kicking into overdrive, but I didn’t care. I could already see the top of the formation, and it made my heart skip. The soft sandy trail down was not going to slow me down, nothing would until I was finally setting foot on the Navajo Sandstone. It was already midday, and there was a lot of people gathered at the mouth of the cliff, but lucky for me I was able to grab a spot that had unrestricted views. IMG_20160505_125509

As I sat and soaked in the view of from the cliff face, I let my feet dangle off the edge. I’m terrified of heights, I don’t even like to be on ladders; and yet this was fine. Maybe nature just has that effect on me, or maybe the beauty of nature is like the flame to a moth for me? Regardless, I could have stayed all day on that edge just looking down at those cliffs and the river, and not feel like a moment was wasted. Unfortunately, we had to be hitting the road. So I had to say goodbye to Horseshoe Bend and hello to the open road.

Thoughts on Solo Wandering.

In the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to been able to travel and explore my country. I’ve been up and down the coast. Driven across the the country a couple of times. Swam in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Been to the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Alaska. I’ve drank the water from a melting glacier and tasted the salt of a desert from a dry lake bed. It’s been an incredible journey. Filled with amazing moments and sights. Memories that I will always remember. The kind that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

But, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, no. There are times, I admit, when the solitude felt too much. I’d sit there in my camp, looking up at the stars and the silence becomes too strong. The deafening silence, so strong that I could hear my own heartbeat, and it hit me. “I’m alone…” truly alone. No one around, no cars passing by, no planes, no cell service of any kind. Just me…and I’d wish that someone was there with me. A friend, a lover, anyone. Just someone, so I know that the world didn’t end while I was away.
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Often times I feel like entering a new town was a bit challenging. I would come in, by plane, bus, car, or even walk in, and I wouldn’t really know where to start. Should I find food first, or should I try to find someplace to sleep? Striking up a conversation with a stranger can be challenging too. I hear it helps if your very attractive, but unfortunately I’m not gifted in that department. I am, however, funny, and approachable, so that helps a lot. Once people can get a good vibe from you, there more friendly and will point you out in the right direction, or give recommendations on where the best pizza is, or a good place to camp. If your lucky enough you may even find someone willing to have a pint and share stories with.

I think most of my favorite encounters with strangers has taken place in a bar. I’d go in alone, and usually end up making a friend for the night, but it’s not always so. There have been plenty of times where I entered and could not strike up a conversation with anyone. I don’t know why either. Was it because I was a stranger with a backpack? Or did I just catch them at a wrong time, when they didn’t feel like having a companion? I know sometimes that even I just want to be alone with my thoughts. So I don’t blame them, not at all. So I’d drink my drink in peace, and then be on my way. Sometimes it felt like no one even noticed I was there.
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That is a thought that can haunt you, once you realize how real that can be. Imagine going somewhere, anywhere and no one really noticed you. How would you feel? Maybe you don’t think about it much, but I do. I could go missing for one reason or another, and imagine if no one even noticed I was there in the first place? It makes me want to stand out in a crowd. Not because I want the attention. I just want someone to realize I’m there. I just want someone to remember me.

Sometimes that is easy too. There have been times when I have just been wandering, and I’ll end up coming along someone who needed help. So I’d help them, in any way I could. It didn’t matter if it was giving a fellow hiker some much needed water, or helping someone who had gotten into a car accident. I would do what I could. Those are the ones that I know will remember me. Even if it’s only the thing I did for them that they remember. It’s more than enough. Because I think I want them to remember the act of kindness more than the man who did it. Maybe, just maybe, if we act a little more kinder to people, they will pay it forward? If they pay it forward, then maybe those people will do the same. Maybe a tiny ripple can change the tide. Maybe a lone wanderer can change the world.  038

I’ll Meet You At the Trail…Or At Least I’ll Try To.

This past Sunday I was supposed to meet up some friends to hike a portion of the Mt. Wilson Trail in Arcadia California. We had been planning for over a week to meet up at the trail head at 7:30 am and hike up to at least Orchard Camp. I haven’t hiked this trail in about a year, and I remember it being very challenging. So I really did want to get an early start as Sunday was the projected hot day of the week with temperatures reaching the mid 80’s.

It’s 6:45 am and I’m barely getting out of bed. I rub my eyes in disbelief. It feels like I only just closed my eyes. It was as if I had blinked and jumped ahead in time. Last night was restless, but luckily I don’t feel groggy. I hurry to get ready and soon enough, I’m out the door. I look at the time and it’s already almost 7:30, well it looks like I’m not going to make it out there in time, even with the traffic being almost non existent, there is no way I’m getting that far in a few minutes.  I send a text message to my friends from a McDonald’s parking lot, letting them know I’m running late and that I’ll meet them on the trail. After I send the message I decide to grab an Egg McMuffin. I figured I was late already, might as well get some calories in me before I hit the trail. 20160417_122228_Richtone(HDR)

By the time I get to the trail head and reach the sign in box, it’s almost 8:30. I think to myself “Damn, I’m going to see them when their coming down the trail.” I decide to just enjoy as much of the trail as I can before I meet up with them and I proceed up the long steep hike towards the top of Mt. Wilson. The first portion of the trail is exposed to the east and there is no shade at all. The warm spring sun beats down on you as you climb higher and higher up the dusty trail to the top. Even though it’s still morning, I’m already wishing I started earlier. Other than the sun being very warm, I feel okay. I’m doing pretty well on this trail, even though I haven’t done a hike this strenuous since Flattop Mountain in the Summer (Which is easier than Wilson), I’m making good progress.

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Soon I reach the first place most people take a rest at, and that is called First Water. It’s a nice shady area with a little creek going through it. Even though it’s a pleasant area I don’t stop long. I’m too concerned with finding my friends. So I continue on up the trail towards the next stop, Orchard Camp. It’s only two more miles up from First Water So I figure I should be seeing them soon.

20160417_102801_Richtone(HDR)This portion of the trail is so much nicer.
As the trees provide much needed cover from the sun. I think this is my favorite portion of the hike. It’s so beautiful, the trees, the mountains. The people seem more friendly and happy. It’s just so wonderful there. It was even better seeing a bunch of butterflies hanging around the trail. Everywhere I looked, I would see a butterfly. It would either be resting or flying about in the air. They made me happy and I had to stop and just enjoy them for a while.

As I approached Orchard Campground I thought I would finally see my friends, and then we could travel the rest of the trail together. You can imagine my surprise when I arrived and didn’t find them.Could they have gone up to the next stop? Maybe? But it was getting closer to being the hottest part of the day, and I didn’t feel like going any further with the heat. Perhaps I missed them when I stepped off onto a ledge to get some pics? It’s possible, only one way to find out, and that meant I would have to keep going and hope to find them. Somewhere down the trail.

 

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As I began to begin my decent, something strange happened. I actually felt alone. I’ve gone on many adventures alone. It’s never bothered me before. So what’s changed? Me, I guess. Sometimes life just catches up to you, and sneaks in a hit when you least expect it. So I was alone to my thoughts as I rapidly descended down the trail. Now everything seemed just a little dimmer, a little quieter, a little colder. I don’t think I ever wanted a hike to end so soon. Usually I just relax and take it all in, the beautiful chaos that is nature, and I’m humbled and amazed, but not today.

As I was getting closer to the trail head, I kept seeing more and more people 20160417_102318_Richtone(HDR)beginning their journey, at the mid day point, in the hottest part of the day, and I wished them well in my mind. Some didn’t even seem to have water with them. Are they crazy? I thought. Surely, they must know that you shouldn’t attempt any trail without water. Then I saw a man with a beautiful all white Husky looking dog. They were making fast progress up the mountain, but the dog was heavily panting. As they passed I asked him, if he wanted any water for his dog, “Sure if you have any you can spare.” I quickly removed my Camelbak water bottle and unscrewed the top. As I began to slowly pour a stream of water the dog quickly began to lap up the water. She was very thirsty, and it was only the beginning of the trail. They still had easily a mile and a quarter to go before First Water. The dog quickly drank almost all of the water. She even managed to stick her tongue into the bottle to get even more water. I just smiled and let her have as much as she wanted. When she finished her owner thanked me and I’ll never forget this, but the dog gave me an incredible look. It was as if she was wondering where I was going, and why I wasn’t going with them. I told the owner it was a tough hike, and he said they wouldn’t be going too far. So I pet the dog on the head and I left.

As I exited the trail, I checked my phone for any messages from my friends, and I had a couple but nothing about their whereabouts on the trail. I checked Instagram and sure enough they had already posted some pics. So with that, and feeling a little defeated by the mountain, I decided it was time to head home for a much needed shower, and perhaps a victory, or in this case a defeat beer to enjoy on this beautiful warm spring afternoon. I feel like going back to this mountain soon. There is something about the challenge of it that I like. It’s tough, and demanding and unforgiving. A perfect place to hone yourself for a life of adventure. 20160417_122154

A Path Most Traveled

Summer is coming and as I get closer and closer to taking that one way trip to Alaska, the more I try to do in Southern California while I’m here. Fortunately because of the Holidays I’ve been able to see my families, both the family I was born into, and the family I chose. The family I chose to have is a small collected group of people that I consider my best friends. These are people that I can take my armor off when I’m around, people who see a side of me that most will never see. They mean a lot to me and sometimes when I’m thinking about the near future and the adventure I will be going on, I become sadden when I realize all the people I will be leaving behind. Still I’m anxiously awaiting for the Spring and all the possibilities the Summer will have instore for me.

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This past Sunday I spent the afternoon hiking the trails near the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. I must admit that even though I have lived in the area my whole life I’ve never hiked any of the trails near the observatory. Mainly because it is such a crowded trail. Everyone in the city goes there, especially when the weather is nice. Plus it is too close to downtown in my opinion, even though the view of the skyline is beautiful, I would prefer to have a view of mountain ranges and valleys. Still since I plan on leaving, and I’m not sure if and when I’ll be back to California, I decided to do it. Mainly for the great company and partially for the ability to say I hiked at the LA hotspot for hiking.

I’m not saying I will not go through with my adventure because I will miss them. I’m just saying that leaving them is going to be a little tough, but that’s life. We would just end up going our separate ways when we go to different colleges, and we were all ready to transfer anyways. Like my friend reminded me, it’s not like we won’t be friends, and you know we will always find a way to meet up, no matter what life throws at us. I felt much better after coming to that revelation. It was as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I once again felt at peace.

The day was beautiful, the sun was warm and CYMERA_20131230_230359being bathed in its rays was amazing on this late December day. The wind was mild and cool, as it came in over the nearby ocean. I could feel the wind gently flowing through my hair and beard. The sky wasn’t that smoggy either. You could see for miles in all directions, something that is very rare for Los Angeles. As I walked and converse with my friends I kept thinking that I was going to miss this. I have been to many places, hiked many trails, and shared many stories without them. Now to think that soon I won’t have them with me is a little heart breaking.

As the sun began to sink in the sky and become ever closer to reaching the ocean we CYMERA_20131230_230549decided to head back to our friends house. We began to walk through the sea of people in front of the observatory and then we snaked our way down the crowded path that lead to where our cars were parked. I was reminded of why I don’t like hiking in these hills. You just don’t get that connection with nature there. There are people and cars everywhere and at no point do you ever have a fear of getting lost. Still even a bad trail can become a good trail if you have the right company, and at least I can now say that I have hiked the trail leading to the observatory, and I know I will always cherish the memories of that day.

Well I wanted an adventure…

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This week I’ve been itching to go on a hike. I seriously could not stop thinking about getting into the local mountains and walk amongst the rocky giants. I could already sense the smell of chaparral and oaks filling my nostrils, and a cool mountain chill from the nearby snow on my face. I longed to be back in the mountains, where I could be alone with nature and have her calm any and all thoughts in my mind. It was as if I was a junkie craving their next fix and waiting impatiently for it.

I knew I just wanted to do a local trail, no long trip like my last excursion. I just wanted to be out with the familiar San Gabriel mountains, but where to go? East Fork Trail/Bridge to Nowhere is always crowded. Cucamonga Peak peaked (pun intended) my interest, but if I am doing this solo and if the mountains just received some snow, then it probably would not be in my best interest to do. What was I to do, where should I go? There are so many choices that it is hard to choose. Finally after visiting the Sierra Clubs 100 peaks of California, I stumbled upon a small local peak called Sunset Peak. It looked fantastic! It was nearby, above the smog line, below the snow line, and was often untraveled by hikers. I knew I had found my trail. I jotted down some notes and prepared my day pack, because I was leaving before the sun rise.

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Morning broke as I passed Mt. Baldy Village, and headed down Glendora Ridge Rd. I glanced at my notes and read that I needed to travel 5 miles on this road. I put on some music and took to the road. It was a narrow mountain road with patches of snow here and there, mainly in the shadows of the mountain. I stopped on turnouts to capture pictures of the landscape and the rising sun. I was the only one on this road, and it felt amazing. The feeling of being alone out on this road was fantastic, and I knew that when I am doing this next year it was going to be just like this. I couldn’t wait to find my trail, but at the same time I didn’t want this feeling to end.

 

After sometime, I began to think that I missed the entrance to my trail. I tried to figure out how long I have been driving but I really could not grasp the distance due to the winding of the road. I told my self that I would turn around at the next turnout, and just as I began to do so, the truck died. Just to give you some background information, I had borrowed my roommates SUV, and apparently his gas gauge was malfunctioning, because I went from slightly a full tank to empty in a second. That’s not the worst of it at the moment, you see I didn’t tell anybody where I was going exactly until right before entering the mountains, and as far as I could tell, my text did not go out.

I didn’t panic, I knew I had plenty of water, food, and a fleece for warmth, and I knew which way to walk to get to nearest town, as I had no cell phone signal for them moment. Just as I began to write a note to notify a ranger that I had run out of gas and was walking to the village, my phone beeped. My friend that I informed where I was going replied to my text. I didn’t want to reply back with I ran out of gas, at least not yet. I then heard the sound of an engine coming around the bend. I looked and saw a yellow truck, that looked oddly similar to the “Pussy Wagon” from the Kill Bill movies. I flagged it down, thinking maybe I can hitch into town or at the very least have them notify a Ranger for me. The truck had a couple of bow hunters in it, and they had no room, but said they will tell a Ranger for me, but it could be a couple of hours before a Ranger would show up. I thanked them and they headed off.

Now what should I do? I really can’t set out on foot and try to find a trail to have somewhat of an adventure while I waited, or at least I shouldn’t. I need to stay at last known location in caseIMG_20131222_094422_598 help arrives. I climbed a small hill that was made from a road cut and as I was at the top, my phone had enough bars to make a call. The closest person to my location was my mom, so I called her, boy was that fun. It really wasn’t that bad I just didn’t want to ask my mom for help, but at the same time I knew my mom would come and rescue me, so I called.

Mom arrived a couple hours later with a gas can and we drove down to the nearest gas IMG_20131222_110305_707station, which is all the way down the mountain. Then we had to drive all the way back to where my friend’s truck was parked. I must admit I did enjoy the time I spent with my mom driving through the winding mountain road. We shared stories of times that we had spent on these roads. It was fun reminiscing with my mom.

When I put gas back into the car, my mom asked if where I was going to now, and I told her I was going straight home. Even though I wanted to find the trail I missed it was now one in the afternoon, and a little late to be starting a seven mile hike in winter.She said good idea, and we went our separate ways. As I drove alone down the mountain again I thought to myself, well I wanted an adventure, but this isn’t what I expected. All and all it wasn’t a bad day. I still got to see the sun rise above the mountain range, and I got some alone time with nature. The best part though, for me, was driving with my mom. I know that might seem a little corny, but it’s true. I’m going to miss my mom very much when I leave. I’m going to miss everyone, to tell the truth. Some more than they will ever know. Yet I can’t let that stop me. I waited a long time for an opportunity like this to arrive, and I had finally made it possible for myself to do it. After all a once in a lifetime experience awaits just beyond the horizon.