Maybe an hour and a half into the return hike, I fell.
It’s weird because I don’t fall that often. I mean, as adults I guess we should all pretty much not fall that often. I tried to remember the last time I fell and couldn’t (but then I did—it was in Scotland, also during the second half of a hike: descending Arthur’s Seat). It happened very quickly and I can’t remember anything that might have caused it. No loose stone underfoot, no lost balance. I was just walking one moment and on my face the next moment. I was holding my camera and it crashed so hard against a rock that the sound echoed through my body. I knew it had cracked in half and that was the first thing I checked—not my bleeding palms or already swelling knee but my camera—which was somehow, miraculously intact.
(A PSA about lens’ hoods: they are a lifesaver. My hood is scratched and clawed but not even bent. And my camera is, somehow, unscathed.)
I wrenched my arm and smashed my knee and scraped up both my hands and now my body is sore in an irritating way, because I can’t tell if I’m sore from the hike, from the fall, or from some combination of both. I want to know how my body would feel if I hadn’t almost broken my face, but of course that’s not going to happen. So I microwave heating pads and lay them over my thighs and I pay particular attention to the bruise on my knee, how it spreads and changes, how it turns different colors every few hours.
We run out of water two hours from the aerial tramway that will take us down down, gloriously down, back into the valley of Palm Springs. I thought I’d been rationing my two liters appropriately but it’s hard to tell with a Camelbak, and suddenly I’m sucking air. Then the breeze, warm and inviting until then, starts dropping in temperature as the sun starts setting. The sweat on my tee shirt turns cold and sticky.
When we pass the rangers’ station, they question us about a lost autistic hiker. She is deaf, they say, and her group reported her as missing. One of my friends spoke to her in sign language at the top, she remembers. I thought it was strange she was all by herself. But I asked her if she was okay, and she said she was.
In the tramway building, I use the restroom. There’s a woman with blonde hair who presses things one by one. She presses the soap dispenser. She presses the sink. She presses a spot on the wall. She presses the trashcan. She acts like she can’t stop pressing things.
The only description of the missing woman I can remember is blonde hair, autistic. I go outside and tell the man letting people in for the tram, I think she’s in the bathroom. They said they have a helicopter out looking for her, but I think she might be in the woman’s bathroom.
He didn’t seem particularly concerned. He said thanks. I never found out if that was her.
The return tram takes a thousand hours (but really just ten minutes). Every time we pass a tower, we swing dramatically. Everyone in the tram lets out a collective ohhh. It’s a little scary, but the minute we hit the bottom I feel eleven miles of stress lift off my shoulders. I am practically floating. I don’t even really feel tired anymore. I drive S and myself to the pizza restaurant and when we’re there, we gulp water glass after water glass after water glass and later wash off our arms with wet wipes in our freezing, freezing tent.
It feels so nice to be lying down. The next morning, I’m the last person to get out of bed.
photographs taken on the way down Mount San Jacinto.