This past week has been an aggressive display of how rapidly things can change in life. I have been struggling to find my feet on solid ground as I explore completely new territory within my heart. Heartbreak can be mutual as well as mutually painful. I may be the one making the hard decisions but that does not shield me from the hurt nor the shaking fear of the change I must now face.
I have a lot to look forward to, in this life. I know this. Even this summer, I have applied for an amazing opportunity to be a video blog host for Sierra Club’s summer outings and even if I don’t get it, I have a pretty awesome job at Point Lobos State Reserve waiting for me. I am a rational human being. But however practical I may be, I still find myself clouded, this week, by fear of the future and confusion of identity. I began thinking a lot about every aspect that overwhelms me (as we humans tend to do) when I realized I should focus my thoughts elsewhere, like, for instance, in the past.
Reflecting on past times when I have felt most like myself I see an array of adventures. These memories alone are my catalyst for joy and I can’t help but feel a little less scared when I think about them. I would like to share a very special memory in particular that holds an important part of who I am.
BACKPACKING VENTANA WILDERNESS
We woke up early to a clear sky and a bright day. My mother was making breakfast as my dad was collecting all of our packs and throwing them in the garage. As we began placing our packs in the bed of my dad’s truck I quickly realized where my plan fell short…I had intended on fitting 7 of us in a five person tacoma along with all of our packs, and our three dogs…yeah…So when Mark arrived with his mom, she agreed to take half of the group to China Camp (our starting point). We piled in and headed for the hills. As Tina and my father said goodbye to us at the trail head, we laughed at the prom-like nature of our goodbyes. Pictures were taken, millstones met, parents filled with pride…it was an entertaining thought.
And so went the group of us, feet on the trail, packs on our back, and an entire adventure ahead of us. It was a perfect combination of people. We had my twin brother, who I planned the trip for as a college graduation present, Aaron, who brought his quirky sense of humor and mature understanding of responsibility; we had my cousin, Danielle, who is almost always smiling and laughing and brings a sense of writer’s romance to any adventure she embarks upon; And Clark, mine and Aaron’s best friend since kindergarten, a know it all with a lot of outdoor knowledge and a marine biology degree; followed by Mark, Monterey County’s favorite cowboy who is literally ALWAYS smiling and rarely says no to anything; then one of his best friends who we’re all friends with as well, Evan, the guy crackin’ jokes left and right and not afraid to call people out when they are being derpy; one of my good friends, Carly, who the rest of the gang had recently met, came along with as well and brought with her an abundance of Big Sur knowledge as well as her infectious laugh; and then there was me, Ali, the hyper active girl who planned the whole thing and didn’t let anyone change her idea of how things were gonna go down. Consequently, I became Ranger Ali and Clark became the Warden, nicknames that we took to heart when out on the trail. So it was a combination of happy 20 somethings who, for the most part, knew each other well. And not to mention our three dogs. Lola, my girl, who carried the first aid pack and quickly became the “mother” of the group; Batman, Lola’s understudy, Mark’s dog who was just a year but a total badass; and Buddha, Carly’s pit who is a little slow but completely loveable.
The first day was easy, we just hiked along for about 5 miles at a slow and steady pace. We had the entire day so we were in no rush. Pine Ridge Trail is beautiful. It cuts across hillsides that expose a hike to outstanding views of Tassajara, Carmel Valley, and Los Padres National Forest. As we reached Pine Valley, our camp for the night, we dropped down into a Pine forest. Fresh scent of trees and hot air got our spirits going knowing we would have half of the day to explore this gorgeous valley. When we arrived, we staked out our camp and began exploring the area. Danielle, Carly, and I climbed up some large slabs of granite where we could see the entire valley. We stayed up there for a bit as we shared wisdoms. The boys eventually called to us claiming they were ready to hike downstream in search of a waterfall. The hike began downstream with everyone thinking it would be a quick route. I remembered my dad telling me about it when he was there and how it seems like it takes forever and then suddenly you are there. One of those tricky hikes that weeds out the determined from the easily deterred. Everyone got tired of my “I am sure were almost there!”‘s and turned back; everyone except for me, Clark, and Aaron. Unfortunately for them, the waterfall was only just around the corner from where they bailed and though we tried to yell for them, the twisty turns and brushy banks of the river swallowed our beckons whole. Since the waterfall was downstream we had to scale a cliff side to get down to it’s end. When we reached it the three of us knew it was meant for just us to be there. I took it as a confirmation of our friendship, that we persevere together and have so much in front of us, I think they just though it was sick…boys… So we swam and enjoyed it for a bit until we agreed we ought to head back and eat something.
That night we all celebrated around the fire at our first successful day as we ate, drank, and shared stories and jokes. We knew the next day was going to be our most grueling day so we found ourselves in our sleeping bags at a reasonable hour. I am not sure if it was the whiskey or the cool air of the protected valley that I was drunk off of, but boy did I sleep well with my blue heeler at my side and the stars above my head.
The next morning found us relatively efficient as we packed up camp and took one last look around. I went over the map with everyone and explained to them that we were looking at a 3,000 ft ascent right off the bat. There was a little bit more of a sense of urgency on this day since we wanted to get to Sykes Camp before nightfall but also to meet up with our friends Buck and Sean, who we weren’t even sure were gonna show or not. Buck and Sean couldn’t join us the day before so they had planned on heading up the Big Sur side of Pine Ridge Trail where they would meet us on the second night with beer. We figured we would try to beat them to Sykes by making good time that day. However, we were in for a bit of a surprise.
As if the climb itself wasn’t enough to exhaust us we also had to deal with 90+ degree heat and an extremely overgrown trail… So we pressed on, hoping we would make it out of the narrow brushy trail and onto the main route again. After an hour of squinting, ducking, and praying for it all to end, it finally did. We found the main route and had so much space that we could actually stand side by side! We were thirsty, tired, and completely content. As we summited our climb we saw miles of forest to the east stretching towards the horizon and to the west we saw mountains plunging into the Pacific. We could also see the ghosts of the 2008 Los Padres fire that nearly destroyed Ventana. The view was outstanding and filled our hearts with determination to get to Sykes.
When we arrived at Pine Ridge Camp it was with the knowledge that there would be a spring where we could fill up our bottles. At first, we couldn’t find evidence of such a spring and had little reason to believe it could exist in a burnt down, dusty mountain top like the one were standing on. It was Lola and Batman who found it for us. We filled up and sat down, as it was time for lunch. Our spirits were as high as the mountain we were planted on and we were sure the longest part of the day was behind us.
We started back up again and I lead the way. We were entering the heat of the day and man! was it hot! Although it was literally all downhill from this point, it ended up taking twice as long as the hike up. The heat was taking a toll on the dogs, and I ended up giving them all of my water. Buddha was close to heat stroke as he crawled under what ever shade he could find. He could barely make it 5 steps before he dove into the brush to the side of the trail. I was extremely nervous and in a hurry to get to the redwoods, but everyone else was just tired and warn down. We hiked and hiked and hiked, down, down, down, but never reaching the redwood grove we could see tucked in the canyon below. Group moral was plummeting.
Alas, just when I thought the dogs were gonna keel over and die, just when I though I was gonna keel over and die…we reached the creek! We were under shade of Big Sur redwoods and the lot of us, dogs included, plunged into the creek and didn’t get back up for 15 minutes. Sweet victory!! We survived!
Before leaving our safe haven to head for Sykes, we took one last head dunk and laced up our boots. The sun was getting low and we needed to hike three more miles in hopes that Buck, Sean, and some beer would be waiting for us.
When we finally got to Sykes about and hour before sundown, we were met by a depressing setting. We dropped down the trail into the campsite where we were met by the Big Sur River and not a single human being. Danielle and I ran all around trying to find people but there was no sign of anyone. It was just us, our tired bones, aching feet, and beerless stomachs…
to be continued…