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

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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

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

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.