I'm so red that it penetrated into my eye whites... tainting them a nasty shade of pink. The ozone hole shows no mercy. I've become an obliging submissive to my tube of sunscreen. Sun blisters of pain as I beg and scream for more rain!
I don't often get scared on trail, which, quite honestly, surprises me. I used to make my older sister walk me to the bathroom because I was afraid of the dark. Monica, can you believe how far I've come? Out here, I love the night. Alone. Under the stars. I feel protected by the mountain. Sure, I am often cautious, but that doesn't equate to fear, so to speak.
Well, that all went out the window last night. I saw the storm rolling in after summiting Mt. Bonaparte. It looked like waterfalls were dropping from the sky. I wanted to set up camp early to ensure I would stay dry. By 7:00 p.m., I turned my tarp into something resembling a circus tent from the Nightmare Before Christmas. It was a lovely set up, actually, but the camera was stored in the dry bag for protection. I waited for hours in anticipation for the storm to hit.
It didn't pour down like I feared, but the lightning show surely woke me up in the middle of the night. I've never seen anything like it. I counted over 100 strikes above my head. And the thunder… it didn't allow a second of silence between each strike. I felt the earth shake. I was camped in a thick dry forest and legitimately feared a fire. I packed up everything but my sleeping bag and tarp and put on my shoes. Yes, I slept in my shoes, ready to make a run for it should I smell smoke. Oh, what a night. I have a trick when I become helplessly terrified… I sing to myself a little song someone special wrote for me, “I met a girl on 1st Street, she was one of a kind, the kind of girl you may never meet, at least not in this lifetime...”
I woke up to a bright blue, cloudless sky. That wasn't so bad! Seventeen miles onward in the hot dry heat (*note to self, Hot Dry Heat… I like the way that sounds). By early afternoon, I started my descent into Oroville, only to be stopped in my tracks by the smell of smoke and sight of flames circling the hill. A few more miles down, and the helicopters were racing back and forth from Summit Lake to put out the fires. Shit. This was scary. I only had five miles before I would hit town. I ran into the first responding fire crew. They told me the conditions and sent me back up the mountain. I took photos of their maps and found a Forest Service Road around the blaze. Sure, it was going to add 15 miles to my hike, but I was just glad to be out of harms way.
It was less than an hour on my reroute before I crossed a truck. Jason stopped and asked if I needed a ride, even though he was going the opposite direction. YES! He drove me into town and took me to the Fraternal Order of the Eagles for some stories, smiles and beers. We watched the smoke pour over the mountain from the back garden. It sure ended on a high note for me. I checked in with the fire crew at the motel, and was relieved to learn that they had it contained with no reported injuries.
I think it's ok to be afraid, now and then. I mean, I'm not living in fear out here. This little incident certainly shook me up and reminded me of all the ones I love. I have no control in how Mother Nature does her thing, but I am using each experience to better prepare for something more intense down the line. Hey, maybe I'll make the front page again!
I stumbled upon a women laying flat in the middle of the trail high on a ridge, wearing her tent as a blanket late one hot afternoon. Her husband explained that she collapsed and wasn't able to move for several hours. Heat stroke, maybe? He somehow had cell reception for a few minutes and was able to phone for help, but we were miles from a road. I gave them what water I could spare, and remembered something I stored in my first aid bag for this very situation: Oral IV.
Back home, a friend gave me a bag of these small water capsules and explained that they are like an entire IV of hydration. He didn't ask me to rep the brand, but more, test it out if I, or any other hiker for that matter, was dehydrated and in a desperate situation. I certainly didn't want to be caught in that scenario, and every ounce matters out here, but I still carried one just in case.
She downed it with a few sips of water and I went on to look for a place to pitch. An hour or two later, the couple made it to my campsite, feeling much better, and we thought it wise for her to get some rest and try to make it out in the morning. I smell a trail name: Heat Sleeper. Search and Rescue arrived near midnight. They were fantastic, helpful, kind and thorough. That was a fun wake up call (I thought they were aliens). Camping so close together, you can hear every word, and the couple explained that she felt better after taking the water capsule. Their words, not mine. I'm so happy we woke up as new friends with a memory to share, rather than anything more severe. I'm definitely going to carry a few Oral IV's with me moving forward, and hope to hell I never need to use 'em.