Sunday, July 03, 2011

Trailhacker lives!

Yesterday, after saying good-bye to Trailhacker, I drove home to Santa Barbara. I was really tired and had a hard time keeping my eyes open. When I got home I decided to take a nap. I slept for about 2 hours.

When I woke up I took a shower and puttered around the house a little. Then I considered what I should do with myself. I had the whole day, what should I do? I thought about starting some laundry and then I remembered my phone! It was sitting in the car. I went out to get it.

When I turned it on, I had a message waiting for me. It was Trailhacker. He sounded sick, his voice was weak. He said he was turning back. It was too hot and he had heat exhaustion. Now I was worried. He said he was heading for Whitewater Creek where he would spend the day, and try to hike out after it cooled off.

I hopped into the car and headed back to Cabazon. It's about 3.5 hours or so. I still was tired and still had trouble keeping my eyes open but the 3.5 hours went by fast. I reached Banning at 4:30. I decided I would get a hotel room and wait for Trailhacker to call me back. I'd have the air-conditioning on so he could come and get cooled off. I left him a message on the phone that this was my plan.

I was a little worried I had not gotten any more calls after the first one. I got my hotel room and sat and waited for him to call. I waited a few hours and still no call. I thought maybe I should send him a text message and let him know I was here. Immediately after sending the message, I received one from him that he had made it to Whitewater and was spending the day sitting in the water. I thought it was actually in reply to my message, so I replied and told him to call me as soon as he was ready to be picked up.

Then I got a call. He sounded out of breath a little and he was so broken up I couldn't understand anything he said. He did sound a little happier than before so I felt better, but I had no idea what he said. The phone cut off and I went back to waiting.

A little while later I got another call. He was broken up again, but I thought I heard him say that he didn't think he could make it out tonight, that he'd make it out in the morning. I sent a text message to him to verify that's what he said. I never got a response. I felt worried because it really isn't such a long distance that he had gone. Why was it so hard for him to make progress? Was he okay?

I kept thinking about what I should do. I didn't want to call SAR because he did sound like he was okay and I didn't want to embarrass him. There had been a big SAR action recently in our area and all the people we knew had discussed all the mistakes that had been made by the hikers. How they should have gotten a weather report and they would have known to stay home. They'd say the same thing about Trailhacker. He knew it would be over 100 and people would be mad at him for heading out anyway.

At the same time I worried what people would say about me. There she was chilling in her air-conditioned hotel room, drinking iced lemonade and doing nothing. Why didn't she care? Why didn't she rescue him? It was so hot outside I knew I could not hike in to look for him. It was hard to do nothing at all.

In the morning I expected Trailhacker to call early. I wasn't sure where he had slept and I couldn't remember how many miles it was from the start of Section C to Whitewater. I thought if it was 8 or 9 miles and he left at 4:30 again, maybe he'd be out around 8:30 in the morning. I figured I would go get some breakfast and wait for him to call, but in the back of my mind, I was worrying he hadn't already called. Wouldn't he start hiking out the night before and thus be ready to be picked up earlier?

I read the paper at Starbucks and tried to waste some time, but he didn't call, so I went back to my hotel. I sat for a little while and suddenly the phone rang. It was 9AM. Hooray! He was waiting for me at the little parking lot. I drove out there and picked him up and took him back to my room so he could shower. Then we went for breakfast at Sizzler.

What a wild adventure he had. The heat was amazing, he said. He had given up as soon as he could see Mission Creek from atop the ridge. He could see all the switchbacks heading up Mission Creek and could see that it would still be several miles to reach the creek and he just didn't think he could continue. He recognized he already had symptoms of heat exhaustion and he didn't want to do anything stupid. His heart was racing after eating something with caffeine in it and his foot hurt because he thought his arch had collapsed. Continuing didn't seem smart. He retreated to Whitewater and spent the entire day alternating between shivering in ice cold Whitewater creek and napping under a shelter made of drift wood and his tarp.

He was also concerned that even if he did make it to Big Bear where the weather was better, he'd have to descend back toward Deep Creek and the desert again anyway and be miserable again. He decided the best thing was to quit.

He seemed in good spirits when I picked him up. He said the ants out there were incredibly annoying. They got into his food and his backpack. There was a clump of them in the bottom of his pack he thought was dirt, but it was all ants. He couldn't get away from them out there. The water was the only reprieve from the ants and the sun.

He's back home now, after a 5 hour drive home. The traffic was horrible from the 405/101 interchange all the way home. He's not going back out on the trail for a while. He might backpack locally. I have to work. My holiday is pretty much shot. I get tomorrow off, though. No driving tomorrow!

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