When the Wrong Way Gang reaches Idyllwild we are all struggling with tiresome emotions that the end of a long hike or journey brings to light. I arrive in town a day before the gang with my usual plan of finding a coffee shop to get some work done. But when I get there I immediately want to leave. This surprises me, as Idyllwild is usually such a charming mountain haven. On this Saturday, however, the compact community is bustling with tourists crossing streets in unexpected directions, crowding up the coffee shops and accidentally taking the smoothie I ordered before I get the chance to swipe it from the deli counter. People. Everywhere! The prospect of sitting anywhere and studying is repulsive.
I retreat up a windy dirt road that I eventually cannot/will not continue to drive due to ruts and bumps. I park three miles from the trail, pack my pack for an overnight and start the hike towards friends. Just as Sprout and I start walking it begins to rain, hail, even. I try to keep us both safe under my umbrella as we pass rock climbers scrambling to the safety of their SUVs.
Sprout and I are both asleep in my tent when the hikers come into camp, exhausted from the relentless climb out of the desert flatlands. We sleep beneath dewy tent walls and wake up in a sea of moisture. I climb more with them the next morning, refusing to go back into town a second before I have to. The miles pass quickly in conversation with Harpo and Huck, and when it’s time to turn around to return to the car, I feel an unexplained sense of sadness. My life these days is full of goodbyes and hellos. Even knowing we’ll be saying hello again in a few short hours, I can’t help but feel this may be the end of something that was too good to be true.
I walk back over the jagged rocks, through clouds and wind, the occasional raindrops splashing on my shoulders until I reach the protection of the forest. Worries follow me all the way down the trail. What am I even doing here?? When we finally reach the car, Sprout has successfully completed his longest day of hiking – 14 miles (plus 6 yesterday)! He's still chipper enough to chase squirrels up until the very end, but will soon collapse for a 3-day nap.
In town we secure a cute apartment-type suite that fits 5 of us for only $30 each. Harpo and I get to work drying out our gear and taking showers, Huck spends the entire day at the laundro-mat washing his sleeping bag, and Groucho and Future Dad arrive late after summiting San Jacinto. I go to visit Huck where he is perched, diligently fluffing his bag and putting it back in the dryer every three-and-a-half minutes.
“I’m staying behind here, at least for a day or two. I don’t want to hike with the group anymore.” He tells me. With an end-date looming near, all the planning and commotion around finishing has become too much stress for him. I soak in this information quietly, understanding his perspective, but secretly hoping it isn’t true. At the grocery store I find myself reaching for comfort food, too sad to even agree to participate in cooking dinner in our cozy kitchen.
Harpo and Groucho graciously share their decadent home-made pasta/veggie dish with me anyway as we sit on couches and watch movies late into the night. In the morning there’s a funny feeling in the air. I’m lying on the futon watching the fall wind kiss the leaves outside our window, Harpo sits in the kitchen drinking coffee out of a real mug, and suddenly I remember what it’s like to be home. To be still. To have a real mug in my hands. I long for the comforts I once knew.
Huck breaks his sad news to the rest of the group, they nod along, and then there’s a conversation about where I will meet them on the trail next. And I don’t know what to say. If everyone isn’t going to be together, I just want to go home…
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