I cannot iterate enough how fortunate I feel to have Desi by my side, always willing to leave the conveniences of the known for the nearly inevitable uneasiness of the unknown. As a young and struggling (read: financially challenged) couple in Southern California, Desi and I have been perfecting our mini weekend adventures to the local deserts and mountain ranges. Our trips are oft expeditiously planned and when I scout a remote camping area via a well-known satellite map service (rhymes with schnoogle) Desi is unfailingly ‘down’ to go and immediately begins planning for what to cook over the fire in our cast iron skillet.
So, a few weekends back, Desi and I departed again from the comfort of our urban lives to find a new camping area in the San Bernardino Wilderness area. The specificity of where we camped that wondrous evening is of little relevance. Instead, I’d like to narrate the journey leading us to that place in order to offer enlightenment on the way we define adventure.
Tracing images of highways- to mountain roads- to fire service roads I felt I had a pretty solid idea of where we were headed and when we would arrive (not bordering the fence between cocky and confident at all)… Anyway, our itinerary leading up to campsite was as follows:
We packed all of our camping gear, bought some fire wood, re-checked our maps, prepped the food for the fire, and hit the hay.
Starting early we worked a half-day, counting the minutes as we went, and then busted out of our jobs like Andy in 'Shawshank'. Hitting the road hard at 1 pm, we munched on homemade burritos and wove our way north to the sleepy valleys and ridge lines of the mountains lying above. As we approached the last highway of the trip, I re-traced in my mind the aerial directions I had plotted via map and pen. I wouldn’t dare show it, but I was covertly anxious about the fact that the fire roads ahead were largely nameless and likely not regularly maintained. Regardless of such, I charged forward with my foot pressed steady on the gas ascending into the mountains above.
At around 4:00 pm we descended into a valley that was exactly where I spotted it via satellite image. At this point I was feeling pretty confident about the directions I had pulled as I drove onward, awestruck at the valley views below and above. I followed the road as it meandered its way to the valley floor and past a developed camp that bordered a recently dried up river.
At 4:35 pm and with the camp in our rear-view, we rounded a final paved bend and briefly halted as the road shifted to a pleasantly grated climb. “Yep! This is the way” I excitedly exclaimed as I shifted back into first gear and roared off the clutch; there is something about an unpaved road that gets me charged and heavier on the pedals of my car. The road ahead became a tangle of tight-switch backs and gorgeous vistas, and as we weaved our way up from the valley below, the view at each tight turn became more and more lovely. I was having a blast whipping up the mountain while Desi was trying to let me have my fun. She can get a little frayed in a fast moving vehicle with hundreds of feet below her window, so I eased-off the gas as we ascended beyond my anticipated point of turn-off…
I started feeling uneasy about the road as it increased in gradient and as we drove further beyond the “turn-out: 2.4 miles” I had scrawled on a piece of notebook paper. At just shy of 4.2 miles we rolled up an uneven crest obstructing the view ahead. Just when I started to exclaim we were at our turn I had to brake abruptly at the edge of the highway we had originally driven in on!
4:55 pm: I was intensely disappointed in myself as I turned onto the highway we had left almost an hour previous. Nevertheless, I steered our trusty Mazda back into the valley and at the bequest of my level-headed wife, stopped at the desiccated fish camp to ask a local if they knew of the fire-road I had not been on. Locals in the mountains are a rare type: honest and to the point. No need for bullshit, a bearded gentleman spoke from memory of a specific turn-out I had missed prior to the end of the pavement miles down the road. He asked if we had a four-wheel drive vehicle to which I casually explained I did not, to which he stated that I had better have ground-clearance because the roads ahead were not maintained and rutted from rain and snow melt. I thanked him graciously and set off again with the way ahead clearer in my mind.
Surely enough and just as he described, the turn-off abruptly appeared and I navigated our car immediately onto a rutted and intensely ascending fire road. Navigating the beastly “road” was stressful and risky. After 3 miles and 25 minutes, I halted the car on a steep and rutted two-track and called it quits. I was tired & worried, the car definitely couldn't handle the incline ahead, and getting down was going to be rough… Desi gave me a pat as I cautiously reversed to a turn-off I’d seen below. As I crept backwards, a casual glance to a meadow 400 or so feet below gave me a direct view of a rock fire ring. “Holy crap there it is!!” I said with a grin. Desi asked if I was sure (most likely anxious about continuing onward).
I executed our backward descent and turned down the smaller, much less trodden two-track and 15 minutes later we were there!
No one save ourselves and the birds.
We were flanked on three sides by ridge lines capped in a dusting of snow, opening to a valley over a mile below to the south.
We backed into the single site and promptly set up for our night to come. Eating and beaming, we forgot about our lives below and listened to the mountains as they spoke their native language.
Packing up the next day I realized how funny it was that at the exact moment I had decided to give up, I was afforded the goal I had been trying to achieve. The journey itself had contributed to the ambiance of adventure.
Is that not a lesson for life or what?