When I arrive home from work my things and mind are scattered. I stand in my room staring off into the void of my floor. I feel the pressing need to go on a “shakedown hike,” to test out some new gear before I take it on my BIG HIKE. When I finally come to, I have a plan. I’ll find a route, arrange my carefully selected pieces of equipment into a carefully ordered pile, then stuff that pile into my carefully selected pack. The plan turns into action, but the action takes longer than I want. By the time I’m done, I’m exhausted, and quickly slip into a deep sleep.
I wake early with the hope to get 40 miles in over two days at Henry Coe state park. As I run through my checklist and route one more time, I start to feel a little unsure of my route. Late in the evening, I checked the total elevation gain and at more than 6000ft each day, I will be pushing myself. Trying not to think about it, I throw my gear in my car and head to the park.
When I finally arrive at the park headquarters, there are several old buildings on a ridge with various rusty relics from the ranch that this state park use to be. I head into the visitor center to get my permit for the weekend, and a friendly older man greets me. I show him my route and ask him about a little piece of private land my path traverses. Unfortunately, he tells me that I can’t get through there, so I’ll have to adjust my route. After settling on slightly different route, he asks me “two or three nights?” I say “one,” and he seems a little taken back.
The trail starts gently and meanders through some oak trees, but after two miles I start to lose elevation quickly. A few miles later it’s already noon and I’m getting hungry, so I pull off the trail near Poverty Flat. I sit near a stream and eat my gourmet lunch of string cheese, salami, and tortillas. After losing all that elevation, I quickly start to gain it again, then lose it again, then gain it again, then lose it again, and so on. I run upon a gaggle of women that look quite tired, which is rightfully so, since each of their backpacks looks like it may be holding a kitchen sink. I singsong, what’s become my mantra as I walk, “up a ridge, down a ridge, up a ridge, down a ridge”. They give me an exhausted laugh as I set off up yet another ridge.
More miles and ridges pass and I start to run low on water. I decide to stop at a pond and fill up. The sun is starting to droop in the sky and the temperature has started to sag as well. The pond is very quiet, and I feel unsettled until a duck comes over and keeps me company while I load up on water. By the time I’m done and start walking again, I am colder than I want to be and am forced to don more layers.
Soon the shadows all grow into one. I need to find some level ground for the night. The “trail” I’ve been following for the last hour has become less and less of a trail. I find a relatively flat spot that looks to be an old horse camp and settle down. With a clear forecast, I forgo my tarp and decide to cowboy camp. I choke down a dehydrated meal and start to watch the stars come out. It’s still relatively early since the sun doesn’t stay out for long this time of year. To pass the time I read my kindle in my sleeping bag. My hands start to get cold so I resort to “turning pages” with a nose tap. Not long after, the kindle starts acting up and doesn’t want to change pages. I guess it doesn’t like to be out in the cold either.
I stare at the stars for as long as I can, but eventually my eyelids grow heavy and I drift off of this world. I don’t know where I am but I’m with someone I know. She tells me something funny and there’s a long pause. Just as we both start to lean in, I’m yanked back into the dark night. At first I’m dazed, but soon I feel the cold wet kiss of rain mixed with snow. Some instinctual response kicks in and in no time flat, I’m out of my sleeping bag and setting up my tarp.
When I wake in the morning, my mouth is parched, and I discover most of my water is frozen. I complain to a tree about the forecast of a clear night and lows in the mid 30’s. The tree silently agrees. The sky looks clear now, so I decide to wait for the sun to come help me from my cocoon. Just before the sun is about to slide over me, the sky clouds over and I’m forced to emerge without the suns help. I grumble to the tree again.
I set off up another ridge. The trail that was barely there before disappears and becomes merely a suggestion on my map. I follow a ridge line which should take me to a more established trail. In the distance I see a what appears to be fog rolling in. The fog rolls closer, the wind picks up, and I now see what I thought was fog, is actually snow coming my way.
At first the snow is novel and I stop to try to take some pictures. I’m up high on the unmarked trail with a ways to go. The wind blows harder, the snow picks up its tempo, and I feel a bit uneasy. On the downhills, I jog hoping to get to the better marked trail before the snow collects. Finally, I make it to the new trail and it quickly drops off the ridge line to the valley. Halfway down, the snow turns to a cold miserable rain. I slog through the next 10 miles in the rain with uninspiring scenery.
As quickly as the snow started, the rain stops, and I find myself in China Basin. A river runs through the basin, but this time of year the water doesn’t seem to be moving. There are many still, crystal clear pools, lined with dry grass and trees wrapped in mossy coats. Rising from the water are jagged grey rocks streaked with white veins. The area nearly looks like a manicured garden. My morale returns as my clothes dry and I venture further. I decide this is a perfect place for lunch.
I finish eating and gazing in the pools and continue on. I head up hopefully the last ridge through more manzanita trees than I’ve ever seen. Some of the trees are burned creating a stark contrast with their bright smooth red bark. At the top of the ridge the scenery changes, and I walk by naked oak trees blanketed in an eerie fog. I feel I’m getting closer to the ranger station as more people appear in the fog.
I arrive back at my car in good spirits but tired. I take off my pack which feels wonderful at first, but then I feel like something has been rubbing. Lifting up my shirt to check the damage, I’m surprised to find a tick latched to me. With some vigorous cursing and tweezering, the bastard finally lets go. Leaning back on the bumper of my car, I think about highs and lows over just a two-day trip. This makes me wonder how many I’ll have on the Pacific Crest Trail. A grin grows on my face, and I let out an excited laugh mixed with a tinge of fear.