Spring hits the Cleveland National Forest. Pampas whips a fairy wand at the entrance. Pampas grass is invasive. Wildflowers won’t endure without rain. Promises of El Nino didn’t bring nourishment to the mountains above Orange County. Still the endangered survive.
Past San Juan Capistrano driving where I have searched for a new home, without success. An advertisement in Craig’s List teased me for three nights. “Ranch house behind locked gate on Ortega Highway, cheap rent, need distinguished person who cares for nature.” River stone walls and fireplace in the photographs ring a hopeful lighthouse; I will find the right place. Meanwhile, I hike to bring on exhaustion sleep that doesn’t dream.
Ortega wiggles. Memory of hosting a birthday party at Casper’s Park overnight makes me smile. First other mothers volunteered but on Saturday night it was a huddle of eight boys, four pup tents and me. Flash lights and ghost stories murmured until I announced, “coyotes need their sleep.”
Stop at Candy Shack, “this week no passes are necessary.” Free entrance washes a glowing prediction for my hike. I squint looking for Main Divide on the left. Often lost, I make a u-turn and find the narrow road. Stay right on Long Canyon. Pass Blue Jay and Falcon there’s a gravel stand, parking for nine cars.
Five water bottles, first aid kit, para-cord, and a weapon are in the backpack. Los Piños Peak blocks the morning sun. Visitors who plan a trip to Orange County don’t think of gripping pine trees. Forest has englemann oak woodlands, fir groves and waterfalls. A Bell’s vireo sings. Hundreds of varieties of sage survive in these mountains. Bees know today the purple, azure and golden flowers are showing their magic. The trail changes from smooth to rough rocks with sliding sledge to slip your feet in seconds. It’s difficult to keep eyes on the ground ahead when the landscape bursts spectacular. Horkelia Cleveland opens her white petals to greet butterflies. Two hours walking alone. Wind drums dry Manzanita. Dodder with creepy rust cobwebs sucks life from plants. I can rally a group to carry machetes in here. Mind jumps when toes stumble. With no audience; no shame. If I fall I won’t mention a band-aid on wrinkled knees.
An uneasy feeling warns. Mountain lion bait. Bear bait. Coyote bait. A popping sound now as terrain transforms from steep shale to scrub oak. Morning glories don’t follow me. A skipper butterfly dives in front. Sun warms the wild rose hip cream on my legs. Rub my lips together to spread the flavor of lemon peel and cinnamon. Drink of water, one bottle over the tongue. Ahead, coulter pines and incense cedar groves call. Step careful for poison oak, you are wearing shorts. Soon my feet crunch on the soft needles and the toes are thankful for the break. Follow up the ridge line to the top of Los Piños Peak and on to Bell View Trail. Canyons offer peeks on left. The ocean is sparkling ice. At the next bend Lake in Elsinore and Hemet wash the horizon.
Too far to u-turn at three hours, fear of tics and snakes perks by a buzzard overhead. Temperatures are warm but the wind clears sweat away. I am a third Native American, the cougar or the bear. Trick the mind to be strong. Straighten back upright as the Spanish word pin. In a groove moving faster. I hear music. Parsipop techno music and muffled laughter echo ahead. I gain on them. Peeks of a girl with poles, Givenchy day pack and entourage of friends speckled in front of her. I surprise them with my quiet walk.
“This is too hard.” She tells me frowning.
“You can do it.” I say.
She looks into my sunglasses to check if I am making fun of her. Her teen friend comments to encourage.
"نگاه مونیک او قدیمی، او به هیچ قطب پیاده روی."
Lifting my glasses I say, “You’re young, with the poles you are safe.”
“She knows farsi!” The girl says.
I pat her shoulder. The boy with the loud music dances his head. Another says, “We’re turning back.”
I march on and wave farewell. The teen said I’m old. My foot has a pin that wanders. The ache reminds. Every step brings new opportunities. Limbs not as strong but courage sees from a better context than when I was younger.
Fatigue sneaks up while walking under the sun. A break when you reach the summit. Shuffle steps as the lungs don’t tire but the gray green gravel has a way of tricking a fall. The sounds of their voices disappear and I am alone hiking again. Wilderness shows the dance to the top. Spotting the path ahead, a huge climb smiles a me.. Drink a bottle of water.
Hours pass. Joy of a summit; find a geo-cache box near cairns. I don’t open it. I won’t spoil the secret. Then sliding incline, I baby step to locate a rock that doesn’t fail. An American flag at Bell View Canyon is a tiny flicker. The butterflies stay at my back, cheering me on to hurry. Finish strong they chant.
At the end, a suburban neighborhood doesn’t notice. Remove boots. Release the pain. Rub the crumbs of skin mixed with dust and sage on my face. Where are those keys?
I’m out of gas. Last bottle of water goes in, barefoot foot on the accelerator; find a station that takes a Chevron gift card.
Los Piños Peak hike
|Geo-cache I found up there|
|lupine on the trail in real 3-d they are gorgeous|
|American flag ahead at Bell's View|
Caroline Gerardo Copyright April 16, 2016 do not use images or poetry without written permission