Sunday, May 1, 2016

Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere to Idyllwild: Why Sleeping In a Tent Feels Much Warmer Than Sleeping In a Bed

Melissa says as we walk to the bar, "Is it strange that I feel this weird kind of guilt that I won't be walking at all tomorrow?" No, I want to answer her. No, not at all. I'm laying in this bed in the small town of Idyllwild after a couple whiskeys neat and an argument with some locals of why IPAs are meant to be served near room temperature, trying to talk myself out of us ditching the zero day and walking over Fuller Ridge before the storm front comes through.
A few days ago, we woke to the rainfly slapping against our backpacks, the air outside bracing. I dug through the dwindling supply of food in my bag and found the Ziploc bag with the meager amount of Nutella left. One of our main troubles, pitiful as it may sound, has been trying to find a way to get the peanut butter and Nutella out of the bags without them slathered all over our face and hands. I grabbed the bag, turning it inside out, both of us scraping the dripping gooeyness as fast as we could, my hand showing more and more as the Nutella made its way from the bag, to granola bar to mouth. When the bag was clear once again, we stuffed it into our trash, groaning as we curled our legs up and over the outside of our sleeping bags. As the morning moved into afternoon, the wind became harsher and harsher, pushing us sideways so that all we could do was shuffle forward, our miles per hour plummeting. We passed houses and RVs not far from the trail, greenhouses dotted the landscape. Near the first cache of water, we passed a sign that read "Beware: The 'local farmers' are pot growers. They are not friendly to hikers." We nodded, continued on in the hot sun. When we rounded a bend, getting ready to climb again, we passed a few section hikers, one of them raising his trekking pole at us, "Little windy huh?" "Yeah, just a bit breezy." His smile looked more like a grimace and he said, "Well, wait till up top, there's picnic tables and soda pop." I nodded, thought his attempt at humor sorely lacking and walked on. Forty minutes later, I found myself looking for flat spots hidden from the wind. Everywhere I looked, the sand was picked up from the ground and scattered, the branches twisted wildly and the sun lazered in on all the spots not tormented by the gusts. "Hey, can we start looking for a sheltered spot?" I called up. "Been looking for the last half hour," Liss yelled back to me. Our heads swiveled from side to side, growing tired of the game neither of us seemed to be able to win. We walked up over a knoll and saw a half of a surfboard sticking out of the sand covered in writing. Further on, sat a picnic table and coolers, gallons upon gallons of water and a little free library. I laughed, "Oh my goodness! I feel so bad about not believing that guy, but I also don't care because we have SODA!" We scurried down to a spot next to a large boulder that saved us from the wind and laid out the tarp, fixing our bags under our heads, opening all of our snack bags of food and ate until we fell asleep.
When we woke up, we agreed we both would be absolutely miserable if we went all the way down to Paradise Valley Cafe where we had planned to get that night. For some reason, hiking nine miles in that wind seemed utterly impossible with how we were feeling. As we walked along, I would look back at Melissa and see her shuffling along, her head down, face burnt from the blowing sand and know I must not look in much better condition. An hour and forty minutes of shuffling along, I looked back at Melissa, "We should be there. It says we've gone four miles." She shook her head, "No, we still have a mile to go. That mileage we said earlier was wrong." Right then, I became furious. Mad at the trail, at the incessant wind, at the rocks that roll around under your feet as you step down on them. I would come around a corner and look across the small canyon and see more switchbacks climbing yet another ridge. My fury turned into seething rage as I climbed and climbed, my jacket still on through the heat of the day, sheltering me from the wind, but with the anger, I became the furnace that I had escaped from all day, I was the one that I now had to shelter myself from. When we reached the top of the ridge, I couldn't help, but think how much more exposed we were, but at that point, I wasn't sure I cared. As long as I could stick the bottom half of my body into my sleeping bag, I would have the top half busy heating up dinner and shoving as many goldfish into me as possible.
In the morning, I woke to dripping noises. Every few minutes I would hear it. A couple on my sleeping bag, a couple on Melissa's. When we unzipped the tent, there on the ground surrounding us was a thin layer of melting snow and we laughed, knowing we would be down at the cafe in a couple hours time having a large breakfast and hopefully, if our luck was right, finding a ride into Idyllwild. On our way down the mountain, we joked about best and worst case scenarios. Best case was we got breakfast, stayed at the cafe until lunch while we found a ride, and worst case was there was no breakfast and we couldn't get a ride. We walked on, "What if when we walked towards the cafe, someone pulled up alongside us and offered us a ride before we had breakfast? Would you take it?" Melissa nodded. "That's the bestest best case. Cause they probably have awesome breakfast in Idyllwild." As we walked down the hill, the road got closer and the cars on it grew larger, but the cafe was still a mile from the trailhead. We crossed the field and watched as a few cars sped by. Across the street we saw an SUV that was backed onto a side street pull up alongside the road. The driver rolled his window down. "You guys need a ride?" We looked at each other, "Where are you headed?" "Anywhere you need. The cafe. Idyllwild. Wherever." We looked at each other again. "So, the bestest best case then?" We hopped in the car, introducing ourselves as the man pointed out the sodas in the back, along with donuts and snickers bars. He explained to us how he had hiked the trail last year and this year had an extra week after Coachella, so he decided to drive hikers back and forth from the trailheads as they needed. We both sat there stunned at the generosity of the people we had encountered so far. We stopped by the cafe so he could see if there were any other hikers on their way to Idyllwild. After a few minutes inside, he came out and told us there would be two more joining us and right behind him strode the British couple that somehow seem to find us at the oddest times. We squealed, excited to catch up with them again and slipped into the backseat grinning.
The seventeen miles of road between Paradise Valley and Idyllwild twisted its way up into 6,000ft drizzling mountains. The man dropped us off near the center of town, pointing this way and that to help us orient ourselves in the town, all to no avail. It seemed funny to us, how we could be in the mountains, following a single footpath for days and not even get a smidgen lost, but being in town for five minutes, we found ourselves wandering streets in circles, confused by the only three intersections the town had. Finally, we wandered into a small diner, The Red Kettle and both ordered what's called their Junkyard Omelet with everything in it. Out came our omelets, the size of a pan itself and in no time at all our plates were empty, the waitress smiled at us, unimpressed by how much we just ate because it seems they've all seen it so many times before.