Well that's how i felt on Sunday the 21st. Nothing in my life seemed to be going the way it should. My family was going through some serious financial turmoil (no idea how much longer I'll be living in this house), i was growing more and more distant from old friends, and couldn't seem to grow any closer to new friends. I lost sleep at night, and could never seem to wake up. My academic performance was suffering, and i found it more and more difficult to focus in school. New formats, new teachers, and nothing ever seemed to slow down. Not only that, but there was no place to hide, no way to blend in, my new school is so small that everyone seems to know what you're doing at all times.
So to sum things up; financial turmoil, family drama, can't seem to fit in anywhere, grades dropping, everyone seems to be on my case, and I had no space, no time, and no energy to deal with my issues. I was going through a downward spiral but pretended like everything was OK, I'm just that kind of guy- too proud to admit when i bit off more than i can chew.
Sunday night was my breaking point.
I was tired beyond reason, yet didn't want to go to sleep because I knew what a new day would bring. I had just installed internet in my house thanks to my school's financial aid program, but it wasn't until Sunday that I realized that i wasn't even sure how much longer I'd be living in my house. I had school work due the next day that I hadn't even started. Earlier that day I told my dad I couldn't visit him because I was going to meet an old friend of mine- that old friend changed houses a month ago, and I knocked on the door of a stranger. I'd missed homecoming the previous day (for the cable installation dude) and knew things would be a bit awkward the next day at school (funny anecdotes and inside jokes kind of awkward).
I wanted things to slow down or stop, I wanted to rest, I just wanted to get away from it all.
That night so many things were going through my head, it was driving me a bit crazy. I was feeling rather morbid, wondering what it would be like to be dead, that's when i wandered into the garage so i could read the warning labels on various things . Then something in the garage caught my eye, a backpack. A smile spread across my face, and I knew exactly what I was going to do. I quietly snuck the backpack into my room and started packing feverishly. I'd never been camping before, and had little to no idea what to take. I shoved clothes, string, toilet paper, rubber bands (eh...you never know), a small tarp, matches, a Swiss army knife, and my sleeping bag in there. However I had no food, no GPS, no maps, and no tent for that matter. It was close to 2 a.m. by then, and i needed sleep. I snuck the backpack outside and hid it in my yard, went back inside, and fell asleep. I woke up at 5a.m., took a 5 hour energy, and was surprisingly enough still completely willing to go through with my plan. I acted normally that morning, took a shower, ate breakfast, dressed normally, and told my mom I was making myself breakfast that morning so she wouldn't get up (that part nearly broke my heart). I shoved all the money I had into my wallet that day, and left the house at 6a.m. with an empty jansport backpack. The way i saw it, I only needed three things: a tent, food, and a plan. The food I would buy at the store (on a $20 budget for 5 days), the tent I would scavenge from Ken Malloy Harbor regional park, and the plan I would make as I went (i did have a phone after all).
I bought a bag of dried fruit, 15 energy bars, and 2 bottles of brisk at the store. Later I took the bus to the park and searched all the old homeless encampments i knew of, but they were all empty. I then realized that the city recently cracked down on the homeless-Damn, but i managed to find a tarp in relatively good conditions and another tarp I could probably find a use for. As for a plan, I pretty much just winged it. I looked at google maps, saw a lake (lake arrowhead), and decided that was as good a place as any.
And so it began.
I head towards my house, snuck into my yard, and got my backpack. After that I started making my way towards union station. Two buses, alot of awkward stares, and quite some time later I was at figueroa and 7th street in downtown LA to catch the subway to union station. As soon as I got on board the train, two beefy looking officers got on board and stood right next to me. I started sweating profusely as they eyed my backpack and took note of my attire. They then began to question to me about where I was going and where I came from, I told them I was going hiking in the mountains and that I was from the south bay area. I was relieved when they started talking about the camping trip they went on last summer, and how they used to live in Long Beach- they had no idea i was ditching school, underage, and overall up to no good. I waved goodbye to them and rushed to catch my train over in Union Station. I had 15 minutes to figure out how to get a ticket, where to catch the train, and what the whole deal with seating was-this was my first time traveling by metrolink train.
Fortunately things were pretty straightforward, I put $12.50 inside a ticket vending machine, got my ticket, found my platform, and found a seat that suited me.
|Finding the right seating arrangment was a bit tricky , but i eventually got things sorted out.|
|and then we started to move.....|
|then I saw mountains|
I arrived in San Bernardino around 5P.M. and had to find my bus within 5 minutes before it left me. I was trying to catch the MARTA, but i wasn't 100% sure where the stop was. By the time i found the stop it was too late, i had to catch the next best thing-which left me about 20 miles away from the lake, but hey....I'm an adventurous guy, so i wasn't too worried. Then I did something stupid. I accidentally took the next bus in the wrong direction and ended up about an hour away from my destination (sterling park) instead of 20 minutes away, and it was getting dark. By the time i made it to sterling park it was dark, I was alone, and had no idea which way I had to go. I retreated to an alley next to the park and took a few moments to get my bearings.
|Alone at night in the middle of nowhere|
Then i spotted something in the darkness. I spotted stationary lights high up on the horizon (no, not the stars), and realized it was those little light thingamabobs they put on the top of mountains so idiot pilots won't smash into them. I knew which way was north now, and I started walking. I eventually came to the end of the road, this is where I came upon this weird trail thing next to a water treatment plant. I wasn't sure if i was trespassing or not, but I walked those trails until I came to this small forest of eucalyptus trees where I decided to make camp for the night. By making camp I mean laying out my sleeping bag in spot that didn't have any coyote shit, because I was exhausted beyond anything I'd ever felt in my life.
I slept like a rock that night.
I woke up to the sound of coyotes howling around 6 a.m. or so (my phone was turned off and I had no watch). I decided it was best to keep on moving, seeing as I had a long way to go. As i kept on getting further, the trails started getting rougher, and I started having trouble handling the weight of my backpack. As soon as there was enough light for me to see the trails I would have to take to get to lake arrowhead, I decided It was time for a change of plans.
|20 miles of this? Not likely...|
After a bit of scouting around I found this nice row of trees by this canyon with a dried up streambed. Not only this, but there was a pair of water towers within view, which I thought could come in handy (I was down to about two quarts of water).
|the canyon i lived in for a week|
|but alas...there was no water|
I decided to try my luck on the main trail, about a five minute walk from the towers. After about 15 minutes of walking I ran into this ranger who was out for her morning jog. I asked her where the trail led to, and she told me there was a water tower about two miles away, followed by some pine trees, and eventually a creek about 15 miles away. Water tower! I eagerly thanked her and started walking down the trail. It was a hot windy day, and I managed to finish nearly half of my remaining water. Finally I came to the water tower; this big concrete container with this big stick inside of it. Not promising. I hopped on top of it and.....
|nothing but dirt.|
|Fortunately for me, I find tarantulas to be adorable|
Besides large arachnids, I later found out that I was also sharing my campsite with several voracious ants (largish type ants that like to bite- didn't leave marks though), rufous-crowned sparrows roosting in shrubs across from me, a barn owl roosting in the eucalyptus across from me, as well as several other critters I'll describe later.
Well it was getting late, the sun was setting, and I was by no means tired. I ate a cliff bar, packed my gear inside my jansport, and decided to go for a little evening hike.
|The city at night|
At first, I heard and saw absolutely nothing. Then I saw a dark shadow swoop out from a tree and land on a perch not more than twenty feet from me. It was a barn owl waking up for his nightly hunt. I shone a light on it to get a better look and he took off, followed by 2 more owls that burst from the eucalyptus trees. They began to fly around, shrieking loudly and responding to each other. It was a fascinating thing to watch, these owls were extremely social and kept on calling as they gained altitude and flew further and further up the mountain side. That night i saw great horned owls, caught glimpses of lesser nighthawks and a single bobcat, and heard a western screech owl-a first for me. It was an incredible night, and when I finally got back to camp, i fell asleep feeling truly satisfied for the first time in a long while.
As I'm waking up from my beauty sleep I hear swooshing noises all around me. When I open my eyes I realize there are warblers all around me catching insects in mid-air. A yellow-rumped warbler (well they were all yellow rumps, except for one Nashville) goes and flies into my tent, well my lean-to technically, and attempts to catch a small moth right above my head. Awesome sauce. Speaking of awesome sauce, I was pretty hungry, and decided to eat breakfast which this morning consisted of dried fruit and a cliff bar. As i'm munching on my cliff bar I notice this beautiful orange moth emerging from a pile of leaves on the other side of the tarp. I lay on my stomach to get a better look and reach for my camera, this moth wasn't more than a foot from my face, and as soon as i turn on my camera....a yellow-rumped warbler had already picked him off, and stares at me with this smug expression on his face as he swallows the moth whole.
I took this day to go ahead and explore the canyon and see what kind of wildlife I could find; the species diversity was simply amazing.
|a gopher snake a believe....|
|....plus a little something extra|
|metallic blue wasp?|
|anyone's guess, but a cool wasp nonetheless|
|a decapitated darkling beetle- evidence of deer mice?|
|I'll remember the name of this butterfly sooner or later...|
My species list for the week, in no particular order, is as follows:
Birds: California towhee, spotted towhee, rufous-crowned sparrow, white crowned sparrow, California thrasher, house sparrow, savannah sparrow, yellow-rumped warbler, nashville warbler, house finch, lawrences goldfinch,lesser goldfinch, house wren, bewicks wren, canyon wren, ruby crowned kinglet, northern mockingbird, european starling, red-winged blackbird, brewers blackbird, american crow, common raven, western meadowlark, blue-grey gnatcatcher, say's phoebe, black phoebe, bushtit, downy woodpecker, red-shafted flicker, red-breasted sapsucker, rock dove, mourning dove, eurasian collared dove, anna's hummingbird, violet-green swallow, great-horned owl, barn owl, western-screech owl, lesser nighthawk, merlin, kestrel, red-shouldered hawk, red-tailed hawk, cooper's hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, white-tailed kite, and turkey vulture.
Mammals: coyote, bobcat, mountain lion, ground squirrel(?), gopher(?), mouse (being carried away by red-tailed hawk)
Reptiles: gopher snake, western skink, side-blotched lizard
Insects: pygmy blue butterfly, mormon metalmark, funerary duskywing, red admiral, gulf fritillary, +3 unknown species ( a blue, an orange, and the one in the picture), european paper wasp, yellow-jacket, metallic blue wasp, +2 unknown (one in pic, one small and unidentified), 2 unknown species of ants, jerusalem cricket, darkling beetle, sliverfish, +7 species of flies, and variegated meadowhawks galore.
Overall a very lively place. I went to bed around 8 p.m., not feeling the least bit of loneliness.
Damn, damn, damn, and double damn. After taking inventory of my rations I realize that I'm two meals short if i wanted to take that hike i wanted to go on Friday. Not only that, but i was out of water, and would have to follow the dry stream bed upstream until i found some water in the thick vegetation north of my camp.I decided I would finish the rest of my dried fruit that day (which was not much at all) and forage for food the rest of the day. The first thing I did that morning was look for water, which involved some serious bush whacking. This is where i came upon a pleasant surprise, instead of water, i found breakfast!
|a prickly pear cactus, the fruits are referred to as "tunas" in Mexico|
After picking a few of these pears (a rather painful operation) and shoving them inside a makeshift bag a made out of my shirt, because i didn't want cactus spikes inside my backpack, I decided to continue looking for water.
|and i found some|
|the water on the left is safe to drink...logic = out the window|
I got back to camp, ate breakfast (which surprisingly enough didn't give me diarrhea), and spent the rest of the day conserving energy.....which mainly consisted of sleeping, writing, drawing, and pondering the mysteries of life (like what the Kardashians were up to).
Around 3 p.m.I was hungry again. Like hungry hungry, i decided desperate times called for desperate measures. This is where those rubber bands came into play (mentioned earlier). Little known fact about me, i'm lethal when it comes to shooting rubber bands.I connected 5 or 6 rubber bands together to create a super rubber band, and went out hunting, determined not to come back until i had enough for a nice supper.
|I killed six decent sized side-blotched lizards, probably equivalent to 6pc chicken nuggets at mcdonalds|
I accidentally put my lizards too close to the fire, and when it came time to eat them they were charred and crunchy. Can't really say what they tasted like....they just tasted kind of burnt, nonetheless, it was nice to have some food in my stomach.
I went to bed that night feeling a bit hungry and restless, seeing as how i slept through most of the day. Not only that, but it was a cold windy night. I crawled into my sleeping bag and tried to get warm and failed. I got up a few minutes later to go take a leak, and saw something epic.As I was busy urinating into a bush, I heard something BIG in the bushes by the dry stream bed, then all of a sudden a massive figure runs out and scales this 30 foot cliff like it was child's play. That my friends could have only been one thing- a mountain lion. Never in a million years would i have thought that I would be lucky enough to see a mountain lion in southern California, let alone on this trip, let alone like this.
I was instantly pumped up with energy.
I thought to myself.....that long hike I wanted to take, I should go now. Which actually makes sense, less sun means being less thirsty, which means taking less water, which means traveling further. I also decided it would be a nice way to tire myself out, that way I could finally get to sleep.
That windy moonlit night i walked about 14 miles over a course of 5 hours. After getting to the peak of one mountain i would say to myself, "why not do one more?", and I kept on doing that over and over until I got further than I ever imagined I would get. I lost sight of the city and soon all i could see was mountains. I went from chaparral to pine forests. From i wide dirt trail, to a winding narrow rocky trail. The wind was another factor that made this hike unforgettable- at times, if it wasn't for my trusty walking stick, i would have probably been knocked off my feet. My senses were overwhelmed: the sound of the wind howling mixed with coyotes in the distance, the fresh smell of pine trees, meteors streaking across the sky, I never felt so alive in my life. I felt unstoppable.
|Nothing beats a moonlit hike|
|The facial expressions of someone who feels unstoppable|
|a canyon wren roosting for the night....well he was|
|only a small fraction of the breathtaking panorama|