Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Worst backpack trip ever

I woke up thinking this was the worst backpack trip ever. Well, actually, I didn't wake up at all because I never slept.

My tent fell over soon in a big gust of wind. Since there appeared to be no clouds in the sky, I decided I would just sleep on top of my tent instead. so in the middle of the night, I attempted to pack everything so that it would not blow away in the wind and then I positioned my pack at one end of the tent as a paperweight and my water container and sandals on the other end and me in the middle.

The tent was slippery and I kept slipping down all night and every time I tried to roll over I would slip and slide everything out of place. I spent much of the night rearranging everything. Sometime in the night I got up to go pee and my whole bed flew away in the wind. I grabbed it and anchored it down with the water container, hoping that my socks and pillow were still inside. Then a little later I thought it sounded like rain was hitting my sleeping bag. I peeked my face out and saw stars in the sky but felt rain falling like a fine spray all over my face. The only thing I could do now was try to sleep inside the tent. So I threw everything inside the tent and got inside and zipped myself in like a bag. It was actually a lot better than sleeping on top and I finally got a little sleep.

Soon I could see it was dawn. I heard the birds that I remembered from 2008 as being the loudest birds I ever heard. Now I knew why. The wind had roared all night sounding like planes coming in for a landing. These birds had to yell to hear each other.

I packed my things up as quickly as I could, then set off for a creek a mile away or so. I stopped there for breakfast. I should have camped at this creek. It was much better sheltered from the wind. My goal for the day was Little Horsethief Canyon, but if it was not sheltered from the wind, I would have to continue on to Interstate 15 27 miles away. It was raining and without a shelter that could handle the wind, I was basically out in the rain without shelter.

I walked in sunshine with rain drenching me in a fine spray. There was a pretty full rainbow over Apple Valley. Silverwood Lake looked cold and brooding. Misty clouds poured over the hills. My feet and legs hurt a lot but I just walked very slowly and knew that if I put in the hours, I could go the distance.

Much of the scenery had been forgotten but seeing it again the memories popped back to me as vivid as if it had been yesterday. Here is where the cooler of fruit is supposed to be -- yep, there it is! I ate an apple. Here's where the lake is supposed to come into view -- yep, there it is. The climb up Cleghorn seemed easier than I remembered and I saw the spot wehre I had had lunch in a gully with Steve. The other side of Cleghorn was a foggy memory, but now I could see why. It was pretty forgettable scenery, boring chaparral all the way down into Little Horsethief Canyon.

The canyon was not sheltered from the wind at all. I didn't think my tent could handle it. So I pressed on. I remembered the climb up from there vividly as soon as I saw it again. There was the place where I rested. There was the windy ridge tat almost knocks you over.

It started to seem sheltered as I neared a power line, so I stopped for a while in the sun to dry my wet socks and rest in a few moments of windlessness and rainlessness. I decided I couldn't trust the weather to camp here. What if the wind shifted direction? I would be without shelter again. If I got all the way to the interstate, I was guaranteed shelter. And then it would only be 5 miles to my car so I wouldn't have to worry. No sleeping out required. I would be home a day early, but better that than to be rained on in the cold. I wondered if perhaps a flat tarp would be a better thing to bring out here. I could set it up very low so it wouldn't be such a target for the wind.

I thought about how perhaps it was a good thing my farewell to the PCT hike had been so awful. I felt no envy for the thru-hikers out here at all. I was reminded of all the things I hated about the PCT -- the wind, the rain, pushing through wet overgrow brush, wet feet for days. I don't have to endure this. I can go home and choose to hike in the fall instead if I want.

I hiked on into blasting cold wind. There were ridge walks where I was nearly blown over. On one ridge I yelled, "NO!" as the wind tried to knock me off. I considered crawling on my hands and knees. How fast does wind have to be to pick a person up off their feet? It was that fast.

I reached the McDonald's after many long, painful miles of descending in the wind. I was in a lot of pain and worried about my ability to make it. I held on to a shred of possibility that Crowder Canyon might have a sheltered spot to sleep. Not a chance. I soldiered on to the McDonald's where I ate a surprisingly good meal with a few other hikers. We all talked about how the wind made us consider crawling and almost blew each of us over the side of the cliffs.

I left the hikers at the McDonald's and walked up the road to the hotel. I was nearly blown into the road as I walked over the overpass. I staggered in and got a room for $51. As soon as I closed the door on the noise and energy of the wind, I knew it was worth every penny. It felt good to be somewhere so peaceful.

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