Today when I was walking around the golf course and into empty pastures with Bear and Dusty, enjoying the cool breeze and the early winter light, I suddenly remembered another day very much like this one fifteen some odd years ago.
It started out a normal hike about 9 am at The Meadows Information Station turn out on the Sunrise Highway in the Laguna Mountains. I just wanted to go hiking with Molly. I didn’t know for sure where I’d hike or anything, but I was going to enjoy the clear windy December day with my best friend.
She happened, also, to be a dog. Malamute and Aussie. I’d had her since she was 7 weeks old. We were very, very closely bonded and I loved her so much (and she me) that I couldn’t bear the thought of life without her. She was already twelve years old at the time, but in no way did her being signify “old dog.” She’d hiked all her life.
I’d brought lunch — yogurt and granola bars and a soda — and water. There was a good well at what I imagined would be our halfway point and there I could refill our water and Molly could have a good, long drink if she wanted.
We hit the trail, pretty much alone (as always). The Laguna Mountains are 7000+ feet in elevation, the highest in San Diego County. Along the northeast rim they drop nearly straight down to the desert, but at that highest point they make the rain shadow and it’s possible to stand on a trail, spread your arms out and have one arm in winter and one in summer.
Some of the trails go through forests of Jeffry Pine. Others go through manzanita scrub. There are meadows and streams and waterfalls and man-made dams that form “lakes” (big ponds). In those mountains over the years I’ve seen most of the wild things — including a mountain lion — but I never saw a fox. Most of the foxes in those mountains are gray, low fur shadows against the rocks, sage and trees. I’ve had coyotes follow beside me and behind me. I’ve tracked mule deer with my dogs. I got to watch an early morning bobcat carry a dead rabbit to her hiding place.
But that day with Molly was not about wild animals (other than us!). It was about wind, an unbelievably blue sky, silver clouds and how every turning, every familiar turning was new and washed with light that was absolutely clean, clouds close enough to touch. We climbed up Garnet Peak and ate lunch, then back down, back across the road, then down the Noble Canyon trail, right toward Indian Springs, past the most amazing grandfather manzanita, to Indian Springs, back up, hit the well again, then turned to return to the car. Night was beginning to fall. We’d been hiking for 8 hours. As we crossed the meadow, the last bit before reaching the end of the trail, my feet hurt on top and on the bottom. There was one painless moment in between foot fall and foot lift.
We hiked 26 miles on that glorious day. We were both starving.
I’ve hiked in the Alps, the Dolomites and the Cinque Terre and in Arizona, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, but that was the best hike of my life. There was something magical about chasing the beauty of that perfect day with Molly. I’ll be grateful forever for having had that day with my great friend.
The photo is Molly and me by the grandfather manzanita on a short hike sometime the following year.
Since I wrote this prompt not even a year ago, and the first “person” I saw today is the same one I saw last year, I’m going to call this post “The Greatest Hike” my response to today’s daily prompt.