It was 40 degrees Thursday. I had been hiking for six hours. The sun had been up over the Great Basin for perhaps three hours.
The wind was gusting at 45 mph. I was at 12,039 feet. And I was freezing.
I was perhaps two or so hours from the top of Mt. Whitney. I had reached the summit before. It was another 2,455 feet of net gain up 99 fun switchbacks and then a narrow trail to the highest point in the contiguous United States.
I was thinking what I was trying to prove. The day before I had hiked 8 miles across the desert to the Panamint Sand Dunes in Death Valley. I made sure that I started two hours before sunrise as the forecast called for the air temperature to hit 115 degrees meaning the ground temperature would be about 30 degrees hotter. The goal was to get back to the Ford Escape by 10 a.m.
For me, it doesn’t get any better.
Toss in reaching the summit of two other peaks on Monday and Tuesday including Telescope Peak – known as the Roof of Death Valley – at 11,043 feet and the fact the next day I was heading up toward the largest glacier in the Sierra and wrapping up the week hiking the bristlecone forest in the White Mountains.
It was arguably one of my best vacations ever.
Perhaps that’s why some people think I’m a tad crazy.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I’m not stupid. Continuing up to the Whitney summit when I was shivering and with the strong winds wasn’t exactly a smart thing to do considering what I had planned for the next day.
As for why my vacations resemble what friends 26 years ago dubbed “Wyatt’s Death Tours” has a lot to do with making sure my sanity is kept on an even keel.
Twenty-six years ago my vacations were 100-mile plus days for a week seated on a bicycle saddle criss-crossing the Sierra, riding in Death Valley, or pedaling up and down the Central Valley. Now its hiking across deserts and up mountains.
It’s a great way to put things in perspective. Getting into the middle of nowhere helps you clear your mind. It also makes you realize just how fortunate you are and how great life is.
There is also a bonus. It reminds you just how great California is and how bad things really aren’t.
That’s right. Things are good. Yes, the state has 38 million people. Yes, we are in the middle of a severe drought. And, yes, Sacramento makes about as much sense as the Mad Hatter after he’s mainlined mercury.
When you travel without the benefit of the power of 300 or so horses propelling a couple tons of air conditioned steel, plastic, and glass it makes you realize the Golden State isn’t going down the drain at 240 mph via an $80 billion plus bullet train.
Most of us tend to go through life at warp speed without taking time to get to know ourselves or the world around us.
It’s not that we’re self-absorbed. It’s just when you get caught in a routine while at the same time running like a rat through life’s daily mazes you tend not to see the forest but instead focus on the trees.
Hiking helps you realize two things about California: There’s a lot of space out there and a lot of it is worth protecting.
It also makes you understand the scheme of things.
There is tremendous beauty in this state. And it has inspired generations to push the envelope. Some call it California Dreaming. But it’s more than a state of mind.
We have the world’s tallest living thing in the form of towering redwoods and the oldest living thing in the 4,000-year plus bristlecone pines. We have the only natural Delta on the west coast of the Americas, a couple of active volcanos, glaciers, the world’s most fertile agricultural valley, numerous mountain ranges, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, the Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, San Diego, ocean shorelines ranging from sandy sunny beaches to rugged fog enshrouded coast, Death Valley, fertile vineyards, and the Mojave Desert. And that’s just for starters.
There are endless mountains to hike, valleys to forge, deserts to cross and beaches to walk. In short, there is endless possibilities and unlimited potential.
California is as much about nature as it is the human spirit.
If you doubt that, here’s some advice: Go take a hike.
You might be surprised at what you will find out about California and discover about yourself.