Friday, May 20, 2011

Backpacking trip in Los Padres National Forest

"Sore shoulders ... stiff back ... Endless switchbacks w/brush that seemed to get thicker and spikier as we climbed."

"Worried about cold tonight. (Have) some Beam (whiskey)."

Those are a few of the notes I scrawled last month during my backpacking trip in the Los Padres National Forest, an ambitious trek I made with three college buddies: Will, Alex and Jeff.

While many of my thoughts during the three-day hike focused on home (where our newborn Michael, Jen and her mom remained), I tried my best to keep up on the trail ---- which was no easy task.

In all, we hiked nearly 26 miles through the Sespe Wilderness, a picturesque swath of forest in the Ventura County mountains north of the city of Ojai.

We forded countless streams, shoes in hand, packs lugging on our shoulders. At one point, we descended into a set of steep canyons (a grueling shortcut that saved us half a mile but probably not much time). And, on the second day, we climbed 2,600 vertical feet, much of it through thick arm-and-leg-slicing chaparral.

The trip was a physical and mental challenge for me: Three continuous days of hiking was more than I'm used to ---- most of my past hikes have been one-day or half-day affairs.

At one particularly fatigued point in the Sespe (on the second day's vertical climb) I repeated to myself over and over to 'Stay strong, smart and focused' ---- all to keep from tumbling off the trail and down the canyon to my side.

I'm happy to report that worked out.

Of course, there were moments of levity and relaxation on the trip, too. On the first day, we put our packs down for a while to swim in the Sespe River. A set of boulders along the bank made for a great place to jump into the chilly, refreshing water.

There was time to rest and share tales around the campfire at night, as well. We ate mac and cheese one night, and some ready-to-eat pasta meals the next. The stories, as they tend to with a group of college buddies, focused on some of our more juvenile exploits from the past.

We're all married now, and mature, of course. Some evidence of that, you ask? We returned with all our gear, no broken bones ---- and three-quarters of a bottle of Jim Beam remaining.

That whiskey would never have lasted, in the past.

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