Ventana Wilderness

Oh, California, honestly.

Not even kidding.

“Can you eat this?” asks the Montanan, handing me a packet of freeze-dried beef and broccoli. I read the ingredient list, which is a safe bet, and then the calorie count, which is not. “Don’t worry,” he says, correctly interpreting my pained silence, “I bought two.”

Other numbers: 26 miles, 8,000 feet (!) of climbing. Cone Peak was about 5,000 feet of that; the rest was mostly the Stone Ridge Trail, a succession of progressively more maddening excursions in and out of ravines mitigated by ludicrous portraits of oaks against ocean, lupines on limestone. We shared our spot at Goat Camp with two friendly Cal Poly triathletes triathlon people, identified as such first by their bubbliness and then by their hoodies. I was probably asleep by 8 p.m. on Saturday night. Backpacking is hard, even here where the air is thick. I am not a load-bearing machine.

The next day, weaving past the loamy craters and exposed roots of upturned pines, I held the holy grail of all California partisans: snow—not much, but nonetheless—and ocean in the same view. The Montanan somewhere ahead and out of earshot I got geeky and wheezed to myself,

For there isn’t a thing
In that secondhand kingdom of Arcady
That compares with the sun or the sea
Of that gold-spangled coast
Pardon us if we boast
When we toast
Californ-i-ay!

Last note (har har) for any Googlers: the trail work here is phenomenal, even where the signage is not. So thanks, Ventana Wilderness Alliance, for allowing this delicate urban flower the coveted chance to fill a lovingly stickered Nalgene from a motherfucking waterfall, to repeatedly mistake the whuffling of wary ground-birds for angry bears—all in time for work on Monday morning. In all secular seriousness, you are doing God’s work in God’s country; God bless.

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