An hour into the hike, I had mentally given up. The elevation was the toughest part; I couldn’t catch my breath unless I was completely motionless and sitting. But once I sat, it was hard to get up and start walking again. I compromised by leaning against trees, counting to thirty, making myself move again.
I felt betrayed by my body. I was telling my legs to move faster but they were doing the exact opposite. So I told them to go slow, take it easy, and they stopped entirely. That’s when I looked up and saw the deer, staring straight at me, a funny look on its face that is the expression of all deers. Its meaning: do you pose a threat to me, or can I keep eating?
Just like the deer in Yosemite, this one ultimately decided I was unimportant. Its friend joined him and they ate together, slowly munching at the vegetation while I took photographs, later using them as an excuse to why I had fallen so far behind.
I saw a deer! I insisted. I have proof!
But I think everyone knew that was really code for, I am so so tired. I don’t think I can do this anymore.
Two and a half hours into the hike I felt some modicum of strength returning to my muscles. My father always talks about getting a second wind and whether or not you believe in that particular phenomenon, I suddenly went from dead last to the front of our fourteen-person group. I tried not to outdo myself while also taking advantage of my suddenly tireless body. We hiked an uphill mile in about thirty minutes and I felt for the first time like I might actually make it to the top.
The last switchback revealed a mile marker that boasted .3 miles to the top. The elevation was listed as 10,000 feet and that is where I again became convinced I couldn’t do it. I wondered how stupid it was to make it 1,500 feet from the top only to go no further.
Later Dan told me that reaching 10,000 feet hits your body extra hard, that everything gets immediately more difficult. But I don’t know if he was just being nice.
But I made it. Very slowly.
When I finally sat down at the very top of Mount San Jacinto, my legs wouldn’t stop quivering. I didn’t know how I would manage the hike back down. I spread out across a rock and closed my eyes and thought about how much closer I was up here to the sun. The elevation of Los Angeles is 233 feet. Here: 10,834.
I wanted to be back at sea level again.
photographs taken on the way up Mount San Jacinto.