I’ve done some big hikes. Mt. Whitney, Catalina, and Mauna Kea are the biggest ones I’ve written about here, and I’ve even done some big hikes that I haven’t written about (Sand Gorgonio, San Jacinto, and down-and-up the Grand Canyon).
With this kind of history and success can come an eery degree of pride on the mountain. Luckily, I was slapped across the face and humbled by a 13 mile hike out of a residential neighborhood.
It’s called Los Pinos. It’s tucked away in Robinson Ranch – a tame suburban community in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, and It may be the worst felt hike of my life.
The reason was not altitude. It wasn’t necessarily about the steepness and It wasn’t even about the heat. I’ve overcome these things before.
Los Pinos came at me with something different.
In the aftermath of fires and heavy rain, this trail gradually became overrun with weeds and bugs.
Before the hike, I read a review that laid out all these problems, but I scoffed at how miserable one person called it. In a shamefully elitist way, I thought, “He probably was just in bad shape and hadn’t done a hike like this before. It’s only 13 miles.”
Like I said before… I was humbled.
When we stopped for lunch, I had one word to describe the experience – Grimy. Soaked in a slow sticky sweat, I sat in the dirt and ate a bowl of instant oats. I was so exhausted I stopped swatting the flies. When I stood up I noticed ants were swarming where I sat.
This was perhaps my hardest felt test of mental strength and perseverance. I told myself I was going to make it through like I had so many the other mountains.
I did not.
I was itchy. I was uncomfortable. I wanted to get the hell off of that mountain.
Within a mile and a half from the peak, we turned around.
I tried to get around the responsibility of turning myself around. I didn’t have a coin, but I flipped a Swiss Army Knife. It landed on the blank red side. It was my prearrange symbol to turn around. It was my cop-out.
Yet, even as I flipped it, I was hit by a sudden degree of dread. My body physically feared my knife would land on the cross and tell me to keep going.
I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted to get down that mountain. I couldn’t go five feet without having weeds stuck to my leg hair and prickers engulfing my socks, and I couldn’t hide behind the 50/50 odds of a knife flip.
I once heard someone say, “God’s favorite lesson is humility”.
But hey! No reason I still can’t share the great photos.