The small rocky outcrop nestled high above Escondido was a popular place for graffiti art and homeless intercourse, but today the crags around Dixon Lake peppered with local climbers would serve as a backdrop to photographs that will accompany an article about outdoor activities in North County. The kind and doddering photographer ambled helplessly in between the gentle boulders, navigating her way through them like a toddler through a ball pen. Sure enough once I lashed her safely into position above a 3-foot drop a camera would whip from a fanny pack and she’d hammer out a few dozen professional quality pics before I could tie in and do some climbing. The lens alone cost more than my car and after I’d received my copy of the article in print I had doubts the place was even Dixon Lake. Where was the broken glass and discarded condoms?
Fact of the matter is being a professional photographer is hard, a lot harder than rock climbing – she just hadn’t done it as much.
Walk into the Lone Pine ranger station below Mount Whitney on a Friday morning and you can feel the buzz. The long walkway that leads from a parking lot of luxury SUV’s with California plates acts as a gallows to which weekend warriors stick their necks each weekend, hoping to make the summit without puking out $40 of hiking food from Trader Joes. I feel for these folks, who step occasionally into a pretty weird world that I’ve come to call my home. Hiking is hard, but seeing them pay for a hiking map on a credit card made out of rare-earth metals while speaking a foreign language to his visiting friend from Japan I couldn’t help but think these characters can do some things that I think are damn near impossible.
They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. I’m 29 years old, and after almost 11,000 days I still forget just about every morning. The same guys who look at me in camp perplexed I forgot my floss are the ones I see bonking at 11,500 feet hiking Whitney. How did you not spend one day above altitude before coming up? Funny enough, he still summitted, floss in his pocket and nary a spec of foodstuff in between his molars. Even screwing it up he managed to hike Whitney, albeit in about as much pain as one can imagine having hiking 20 miles with an apocalyptic hangover. Once we got down to some ibuprofen and beer the hiker seems to be all better, while I’m scrounging for dental plans on craigslist and considering Mexican supplements. Hiking is WAY easier than flossing.
2. Not urinate in public
It happens all the time, without fail: I have to pee in the middle of a long desert road without any rest stops. If there’s a stretch of driving more than 30 minutes it’s almost a guarantee. The number of times I had to pull off into the dirt as far as my car could off-road to meekly relieve severe discomfort amidst looks of scorn are difficult to recall. Each time, shame and disappointment. Look at me, I’m almost 30 years old and I’m peeing on my tire in the desert. In my life I’d never seen someone do the same, yet I’m constantly having to pee when restrooms aren’t around and cruelly denied privacy or respite by long open fields. Everyone goes pee, why is it so weird? Why did stopping mid-race to take a leak in a cross country race in high school get me disqualified, almost expelled? I don’t have the answer, but I can tell you that it is a LOT easier to hike Mount Whitney than to live without peeing in public.
3. Eating Vegetables
At a wedding recently I met a family member who hadn’t had a vegetable in 40 years. While I felt bad for his gut flora I hurt more that he was missing out on some amazing stir fried dishes and salads that I had recently come across. It might be possible that I could have been him, had I not spent a few years wracking myself trying to come up with healthy meals to support my climbing habit. Month after month I’d boil broccoli or fry red pepper only to have it come out the consistency of play-doh, and each time I’d wrestle the depleted fibers down hoping I absorbed something of value in the food-paste. Perhaps the best thing about the outdoor community is the access to awesome recipes – hippy vegans have filled in my repertoire of dishes so now it’s possible that I can get a well-rounded diet without lacing my meals with bacon. My hippie vegan friends and I have wonderful conversations, some where they even lament that Whitney is such a hard hike and they’d love to do it. If I could trade my quads for their Quinoa I would.
4. Register a Vehicle
Every May I tip the U.S. Government an extra 30 dollars because I can’t seem to find the DMV before 30 days are up. When registering for a permit to hike Whitney, the license plate information is recorded in the event of an emergency, and the line of documented SUV’s with fresh oil and a clean filter outside seem to have passengers that are able to send a check once a year. Owning the lone unregistered vehicle in June and July is embarrassing, and what at first was a funny quirk of personality has erupted into full-blown compulsion. A flat tire while driving to renew, no stamps in the drawer, but more likely a week-long climbing trip wiped my brain slate clean and a penchant for avoiding paperwork means nothing is written down: I come back from climbs a brand new human, having to pick up the pieces like that guy from Memento. Disappointed glances from CHP personnel accompanied by warnings have done little – and I hope to break my streak in 2015. Don’t bet on it.
5. Raise a child
Everyone has a baby. There are literally hundreds of children in the world today – possibly more. I would go so far as to say there are enough children, yet more and more seem to keep popping up. Each year public schools graduate some, but more are taken in – haven’t we educated all them by now? Surprisingly, people keep having kids. I’ve heard that being a parent is literally the hardest thing you will ever do. After a trip to the supermarket, I have to confess that life must be so much more amazingly simple than I had suspected. Parents everywhere letting kids run wild and cause mayhem was relieving to me, as the hardest thing I might ever do requires about as much effort as owning a cat. Sure, there are great parents out there, but even the terrible ones seem to do all-right, living oblivious to the transgressions they teach their kids, and the kids themselves seem to do all right, some learning from the mistakes of their parents and some not. I’ve hiked Whitney, and it was pretty hard, but it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve done.
So, next time you are considering adding to your family or flossing after a plate full of veggies, try hiking Mount Whitney instead. You’re almost there.