Mary and I took a road trip to southern California this past weekend. Her Mom had access to a cabin in the San Bernardino mountains and invited us to enjoy it with her. It was quiet, and mostly without an internet connection, which quickly highlighted my burning addiction to the perpetual onslaught of news and information. We did some hiking, some card playing, and a bunch of reading – and once I stopped worrying about my lack of connectivity, a quiet calm came over me.
So I took some pictures.
The cabin that we stayed in apparently once belonged to the family of actor Walter Matthau. It was small and cozy with a full kitchen, a fireplace, and an irresponsibly steep staircase that tested the upper limits of our knee joints.
The neighborhood was full of cabin-like residences. Apparently this is the off-season, so there weren’t a lot of people around. It was very peaceful.
Down the hill there was a lake for boating and fishing. Across the street from it were a few quaint shops and a little restaurant.
On Saturday evening we ventured out along the curvy mountain roads. Mary was driving, and I frequently asked for stops so that I could catch the fleeting sunset beyond the mountains. She would dutifully crank the wheel to the side of the road like a swat vehicle about to raid a drug den, and once my heart returned from its visit to my throat, I would get out and take a picture.
We took our time on Sunday, enjoying the midday views.
Mary identified a trail on a map that she wanted to find. It was several miles away, and the drive eventually went off-road to her genuine delight. I don’t have any pictures of that experience because I was busy trying to avoid whiplash. Her Subaru Forester is a nice car, but we quickly noticed that other vehicles on these narrow dirt trails were Jeeps with large off-road wheels and the occasional pack of helmeted dirt bike riders. Something didn’t feel right – but we mercifully made it to a stopping point with both axles intact.
We commenced on a hike. For all the forest greenery we’d seen up to this point, our high-noon adventure was looking decidedly desolate. It was an unfamiliar landscape coming from Northern California.
I found a lizard who was very into the idea of having its picture taken. There’s a point, however, when a reptile lets you get so close that you stop thinking it has your best interests in mind. I got to that point and decided it was time to go.
We continued on our trail as I eyed my half-empty bottle of water under the unforgiving sun. I heard the cry of a hawk or vulture or pterodactyl in the distance, and I asked Mary if maybe we shouldn’t call it a day and head back to her conveniently air conditioned vehicle. She beaconed us forward. There was, after all, a lake at the end of this trail, and she assured me it would all be worth the trouble.
Around what I’m told was the halfway point, I decided we should take a picture together so that when archeologists someday uncovered an ancient digital camera along with the dusty bones of two unfortunate ne’er-do-wells, they might tell our story – a cautionary tale – to school children in space.
I asked Mary if she remembered how nice it was back at the cabin. We have running water there, I reminded her. And a blanket with a deer on it. She, in turn, shared with me the promise of that magnificent lake at the base of the trail. I called to mind the physics of our situation – that the farther we go down, the farther we will have to come back up. We stared at each other for a long moment of recognition. . . and then pressed on.
We finally made it to the end of the trail. The greenery returned at the source of water, which I promptly and inadvertently soaked my left shoe and sock in. I would be lying if I said that the denouement of our downhill desert journey had not been oversold. This was more akin to a puddle than a lake.
Along with the puddle came a swarm of gnats that further tainted our brief respite before the long climb back to semi-civilization. I would show you more pictures, but here are two points for your consideration:
- The thing about a hike is that you see the same stuff going up as you did going down. On the plus side, the familiar scenery meant we weren’t lost – but more pictures would have been an exercise in frivolousness.
- I spent the bulk of our return trip concentrating on taking oxygen into my lungs at an unfamiliar altitude.
We made it back alive, where Mary’s Mom, who wisely declined the hike, was reading in the breezy back seat of the car. I had one goal at that point: hydration. And I learned that it’s almost impossible to drink water while you’re in an SUV bounding wildly over uneven terrain. It was an enlightening experience all around.
We returned to the cabin in time to catch a beautiful sunset. It was the perfect end to our adventures.