Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Climb Every Mountain

I want you to imagine a place about eleven miles from where you are right now. Imagine going there, eating a snack, and then coming back.

Okay, now how did you get there? Most of you probably imagined you took a car. If you live in a city with an adequate public transportation system, maybe you saw yourself in a subway, or on a bus. A few might have seen themselves getting there by bicycle. But did anyone imagine walking?


If not one single person reading this imagined getting there by walking, that’s okay, I understand. I walked twenty-two miles today and I still can’t exactly imagine it.

Mount Whitney is now less than ten weeks away and my friend and hiking partner Jill suggested we arrange one hike the same distance as the actual Whitney trek. Being as she is organized, she organized it. Being as I am lazy, I let her. It was to be a climb up one of the steeper canyons of a local wilderness area, and then a hike along the fire-road at the canyon’s crest. We would travel the length of two discrete cities, eat some lunch and come back; all told, a distance of twenty-two miles which is only about a mile short of the Whitney hike we plan to do in August. Jill estimated this would take about seven hours.

It says something about my new definition of “fun” that I woke up a half-hour early this morning because I was simply too excited to sleep. I dressed in layers, snapped on my stylish anti-tick socks (Thanks again, Lydia!) and spent an embarrassing amount of time dithering between Hiking Boots #1 and Hiking Boots #2 -- one pair is more comfortable, but the other pair has more ankle support. These are the kinds of internal debates I imagine Lindsay Lohan has all the time.

I went with ankle support.

The day was perfect for hiking, overcast with a fog dense enough to create a cooling mist. When you are scrabbling like a rat up a steep hill trying to stay on a path which keeps coyly morphing itself into The Arboretum of Itchy Plants, you don’t want to be fighting desert heat at the same time. We got to a rare interval of flatness and I, sighing in relief, took off at my usual insane pace.

At which point Jill called out, “Bees.”

An old hand by now, I pulled my non-red hoodie up over my head, jammed my hands into my pockets, and moved towards the middle of the path, away from the plants where the bees seemed to be hovering.

Julie, who was walking behind me and a little to the side suddenly yelled, “Quinn! Bees! Under your feet!”

I looked down and saw dozens of bees shooting up from holes in the ground. My now hovering foot was frozen mid-swarm. I hop-scotched over a few dozen buzzing little demons and made it to safe ground. Unlike the previous incident, I wasn’t frightened this time as much as puzzled. And, frankly, a little pissed. I am not completely ignorant -- if I see a hive in a tree, I give it wide berth. I know overhanging eaves frequently come with their own wasps’ nest. I know the rules.

But now it appeared that the entire species minimus stingyerassifous was branching out. It was no longer just roaming bands of nomadic bees or evil clusters of nest-swarming bees, we now had especially sadistic bees living in subterranean condos. What next?

“…I was standing in line at Starbucks when I noticed this huge worker bee in front of me, ordering. He got a latte. Extra milk…”

“…Last night, at the Ahmanson, I shared a box with a queen bee. She agreed with me that the Jerome Robbins piece was a bit overwrought...”

“…Correct me if I am mistaken, but wasn’t that a yellow-jacket teaching Spinning today?”

But it’s not just the stinging denizens of nature you want to watch out for when climbing neglected fire roads. It’s hot. And it’s the Western United States. So we’ve got diamondback rattlesnakes. The dog once stuck her nose into a clump of grass by the side of a trail and we all discovered that a medium-sized dog can live through a rattlesnake bite, so long as you are willing to throw unbelievable amounts of money at the problem. I’d rather throw the same amount of money at some decent clothes when this hiking crap is done. So, I kept my eyes peeled for ground bees and sleeping rattlesnakes.

And mountain lions.

Jill reminded me we were sufficiently far from civilization to be in a mountain lion’s foyer. But, they are terribly shy, and usually indifferent to human beings, so we were completely safe.

Unless they’re sick.

If a mountain lion is injured and incapable of feeding itself properly, or sick and disoriented, it has been known to attack humans. Los Angeles has, maybe, six mountain lions in the Verdugo and Santa Monica mountains. None of them are sick to the best of our knowledge. Then again, we really don’t know how many are up there, so it’s a fair bet that we haven’t taken all their temperatures or checked their most recent stool samples.

As we trudged onward, and I scanned for ground bees and sleeping rattlesnakes, I said to Jill, “Refresh my memory. If a mountain lion comes on the path, I stand completely still, wave my arms and make a big noise.”

Ever the naturalist, Jill said, “Right.”

“And,” I said, while trudging. “If the bees start to swarm, I stay silent, walk and don’t run, and make no extra movement with my body.”


I thought, sweated, and trudged.

“So, Jill, if we are attacked by a mountain lion and a swarm of bees at the same moment, we’re pretty much hosed.”

“Pretty much.”

Between scanning the ground in front of me for swarming bees, the plants alongside me for poised snakes and the hills for crouching lions, the hours just flew by.

The first three miles, all uphill, took less than an hour. The last two miles, which were virtually flat, took over an hour. Jill and I only spoke to share some new pain or to mention another beverage we were going to drink once we got home. Somewhere around hour six, my beverage fantasy vacillated between ice-cold Southern sweet tea and the classic blended margarita. At hour seven, I was convinced I could put both in a blender and create the hottest new drink in the bar scene. At hour eight, I was going to fill a bathtub with this recipe and lie in it with a snorkel.

Eight hours and twenty minutes after we started we arrived back at our cars. I stared fearfully at the driver’s seat -- I knew I could sit down but had no reason to believe I would be able to get back up again. When I arrived home, they’d have to cut the seat out of the car, attach wheels to the bottom, and insert a feeding tube so I could have my Sweet Tea-rita without embarrassing myself.

But, actually, it wasn’t all that awful. It took me no more than fifteen minutes to walk from the garage to the back door, a distance of about ten feet. In my defense, my right knee was no longer bending so dragging my leg behind me was throwing off my gait.

I got through the door. Consort and Daughter got to witness me attempting to untie my hiking boots with fingers as thick and numb as kielbasa before Consort kindly took over. Daughter dabbed a cool washcloth against my feet, which were steaming. Two toenails were already starting to bruise. It will be November before I don’t have a toenail in some form of decomposition.

Consort asked sympathetically, “So, how was it?”

I thought about it. I picked a spider out of my sleeve. I swallowed some dust along with the ice water kindly proffered by my kid.

I answered honestly, “Not bad.”


Blogger houseband00 said...

That was funny!

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My feet have blisters after reading this~you must be in phenomenal shape!!

4:19 AM  
Blogger Karen of TX said...

Several years ago I thought it would be some sort of fun to hike back from the airport after leaving the husband's car there. Seven miles, 2.75 hours, on a high ozone day in north Texas. I bow to you.

But you're right. Not bad. :)

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband, who has hiked a lot, was incredulous at bees in the ground. Something else to look out for!

8:26 PM  

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