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Time Traveling in Paradise: Epic Day Hike Around Paradise Valley (PART III)

Written by Travis Knight

Once our tents were all up, water was gathered from the crystal-clear body of Paradise Lake. Filtering water was by no means a speedy process. So, using one of the many granite slabs surrounding our site, we hung my BeFree water bag from a large stone with a pointed triangular top. This system allowed us to always be filling a tumbler up with water. Sop would fill his jug, and then Jeesh, and when it was my turn, I’d balance my tumbler to catch the slow dripping water. Every five minutes or so, I’d go check my water jug, and once it was filled, it would be time to gather more water from the lake. The process would repeat until our bellies and our containers were full of mountain water. We ate a small snack, unpacked some essentials, and let out a breath of relief, hands on our hips, victorious at last.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Our “water system” in action.

On our way into the campsite that we now called home, our paths crossed a super fun-looking rock jump. It wasn’t more than 15 feet high, but the water below was clear, and we could see that the bottom was far enough down for a safe plummet. It was perhaps too shallow to dive, but a foot-first jump was indefinitely doable and, we agreed, necessary. Our tents were spread around a little fire pit, and no more than 20 feet below our camp was the lake’s shimmering shore. Maybe 50 yards directly across from our lake-view real estate sat that very same rock jump.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
I unpacked some essentials before plunging into Paradise Lake.

The water was much colder than we had expected. Any sweat or heat in my body washed away in the briskness of the lake. It was a short swim to the rock jump, and as I climbed out of the water and scaled up this granite jungle gym, a shiver crawled through my body as the mountain wind met my skin. At the top of the rock, I laid out like a lizard, soaking up the warm sunshine. Jeesh crawled up next, and Sop followed. I could see that they were shivering too, so they followed suit and also laid their goosebump-riddled backs to the sunshine above. Then, one after another, we jumped off the rock, climbed back up, and jumped again. The water was cold—just months before this lake had been frozen solid—but the early afternoon sun was blaring. We’d go from cold, to comfortable, to dripping sweat within minutes.

“We were instantly intrigued, and it was decided. That would be our first destination for our day hike.”

After jumping off the rock and climbing back up it, repeating the cold-to-comfortable-to-hot-to-cold-again cycle more times than I can remember, we decided that it was time to get back to camp. So, one after another, like lemmings plunging into their imminent fates, we took our final leaps from the rock and swam back to camp. About ¾ of the way across, I could feel my hands beginning to burn, and then go numb. I sped up my wading, attempting to outswim the pain. When I got out of the water, my extremities were bone white and throbbing with a crippling pinch. I watched the blood rush back into my fingers and toes, replacing pale white with red warmth. After we dried ourselves and got dressed, we began plotting our next move. We wanted to embark on some kind of epic day hike, so we started to look for a good vantage point to plot such an adventure.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Our lake view real estate, with a fun rock jump just across Paradise Lake. | photo: Maddock

A large lookout rock loomed just north of our camp. The three of us peered out over the blue lake and into Paradise Valley. Far off, slightly northeast of the lake and high up on a mountaintop, a small bundle of black rocks lay on the horizon like monoliths with open arms. The landscape ahead of us was mostly white with granite or green with brush and pine tops, with specks of brown from the exposed trunks. However, these strange-looking rocks in the distance were completely foreign to any of the other aesthetics in sight. We were instantly intrigued, and it was decided. That would be our first destination for our day hike.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Jeesh points to the small-looking rocks in the distance. Squint your eyes. Can you see them?

Back at camp, we started to prepare ourselves for the expedition to the mysterious black rocks. Sop started fumbling through his bulky green pack.

“I know they’re in here somewhere!” Sop exclaimed. He sifted through his pack for the unknown objects, in a frenzied search for whatever “they” were. Almost magically, he pulled out a huge Coleman stove and a large stainless-steel pan. It seemed impossible that such items could have even come out of his army green pack. He set the thing up and started giggling.

“What the fuck is that thing?” Jeesh said with a smile.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “where did those things even come from? How the hell were those things even in your bag?” Sep continued to bubble with laughter, his eyes squinted and his bearded cheeks cheery while his lengthy arms pulled out a red shovel and a full roll of toilet paper.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Sop’s ridiculously large camping stove, along with some other stuff he pulled out of his bag of tricks.

“I don’t know,” he said and then burst back into laughter. Sop’s laugh is—and has always been—super contagious. Now we were all rolling with laughter as Sop continued to rummage through his pack, looking like some crazed magic forest gnome who appeared out of the bush with gifts. “Oh, here they are!” Sop had found what he was looking for. “Damn, I almost thought I forgot them.” In his hand was a neatly folded square of tin foil, no bigger than 2” x 2”. What is he up to? I thought.

“It didn’t look far away. But then again, in the High Sierra country, distance and size are never what they seem.”

My query was quickly answered. Sop unfolded the tin foil square, slowly and cautiously as if the contents might explode in his hands. He delicately dumped three tiny squares into his dirtied palm. Ah, now I saw what he was up to. Another little treat from his bag of tricks. LSD.

All three of us have had enough experience with acid that we knew to have all our ducks in order before we ate the small gum-like squares. So, the first step was a solid plan. We would head to the large black rocks northeast of Paradise Lake. From our scouting rock, we noticed that further east was a humongous mountain—the largest in sight—covered in browning grass. Almost directly below the gargantuan mound, just southeast, we saw a huge group of granite slabs that looked to be anywhere between 800 and 1200 feet of a sheer cliff. We figured we’d end our hike there and then head back to catch the sunset on the granite mountains just above our camp. It didn’t look far away. But then again, in the High Sierra country, distance and size are never what they seem.

“At that moment, there was no turning back.”

This would be the first time I would be utilizing my day pack, a feature of my Osprey pack that, to this day, remains my favorite. The small two-strap bundle, connected to the top of the pack, snaps off. Then, by unzipping a zipper that I, up until that point, had no idea even existed, the small bundle unrolls and folds out into a larger pack. By fumbling out two straps and clicking them into place, the once small pillow-like pouch unfolds into a full-on miniature backpack. I couldn’t stop boasting about it to the dudes, and they agreed that it was pretty fucking awesome.

It was time. The three of us double-checked our gear, making sure we would have everything we would need for our undetermined time out there. We would be trekking off-trail, and as I mentioned before, distance and size are completely distorted out there. So, we wanted to make sure we were prepared. Then, before we took off, we each put a little tab of acid on our index fingers, clinked our fingers together, and tossed the small gum-colored squares onto our tongues. At that moment, there was no turning back.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
No turning back now.

We started on our journey, heading straight toward the small black rocks that looked like specks on the horizon. We climbed granite and bushwhacked tall brush for the first part of the hike. I turned around and shot a photo of Paradise Lake now in our wake. Then, the grade got steeper as we found our feet buried in tall grasses. The once small black rocks on top of the hill started to grow larger with every step. I put my head down and watched my footsteps follow one after another, each step bringing me closer to our destination. All the while, nervousness rattled below my point of attention. I knew that at any moment, the acid would take hold.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Looking back on Paradise Lake.

It didn’t seem long before we were standing at the base of what now were gargantuan pillars of black lava rock. The breeze was strong up there, and its constant pounding filled our ears with the sound of the pummeling wind. After climbing up a few short walls, we were on top of the lava structures. My phone suddenly gained consciousness, catching a signal, and blaring to life in my pocket. Strangely and beautifully, Fredrick Chopin’s “Nocturne No. 2 in E-Flat Major” played by Daniel Barenboim started to tip-toe to life. Off to the northeast, a giant plume of smoke rose from what looked like Reno. Lakes lay sprawled out across the landscape. And then the acid crept in.

All you could hear was the loud wind and Chopin’s music tickling our hearing through my phone. We officially entered the first stage of LSD, where everyone gets quiet and lost in their own inner laughter. Then, the laughter erupts through the lips, emerging as goofy giggles. My body started to float, and I began detecting movement out of the corner of my eyes. We lightly speculated on the huge fire off to the northeast, Jeesh and Sop mentioning something or the other about how it’s going to suck to go back home. Reno was going to be completely covered in smoke and falling ash.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
What were once specks in the distance grew into giant black lava rocks.

Now we were heading slightly southeast, at first downhill and then up a steep grade toward the highest point of our hike. A looming alpine mountain lay ahead, covered in grass and a few trees. The wind was blowing the tall blades of grass, and the entire hillside looked like it was glowing and slithering off to the right. The acid cooled down a bit, as it has a tendency to step back while the body is in motion. Nevertheless, the landscape in front of me, along with Jeesh and Sop, seemed to be sliding off to the right, as if it were crawling. When we got to the top of this large mountain, it felt as if no time had passed at all. It felt as if I were sailing on floating feet, time-traveling from point A to point B with only a few steps in between. The acid was ramping up.

We stood atop that mountain for who knows how long. The LSD was making its climb to its inevitable peak. We were either silent, staring off into a now constantly turning landscape, or we were giggling and cracking jokes that didn’t make much sense. Down below, we could see our next destination waiting for us beyond what looked like a small grove of trees. At that moment, we were on top of the world. Sprawled out below our feet was the vastness of Paradise Valley. Behind us was Carpenter Ridge, and beyond that was Independence Lake. The acid was tossing and turning my insides, and it felt like I was lightly being spun by the world around me. A moment of panic started to rise in my throat, but after I swallowed it down, the acid let off the gas and idled behind a wall in my mind. We started our way down the mountain toward our next destination.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
A psychedelic pine.

There was no telling how much time had passed. The entire hike up until this point felt like one moment frozen in time. As we made our way down the mountain, a few Whitebark Pine trees danced, reaching for the sky. Their wavy branches and contorted bodies, mangled from heavy snowfall and hurricane-like winds in the wintertime, seemed to sway like snakes in a lake, ripples radiating from their frolicking branch tips. Then, suddenly, the sun was gone, and we were in a dense forest, surrounded by pines and redwoods. Splotches of sunlight poured in through the canopies like a gentle stream, and in every corner of my eye, something moved. I mumbled some incoherent nonsense about Sasquatch after witnessing some strange movement off behind a tree. Jeesh and Sop chuckled, their laughter rising in invisible bubbles that I couldn’t see but could surely sense.

Escaping the acid through movement was no longer an option. Now it felt like a waterfall was rushing through my body, starting in my skull, making its way down to my feet, and pushing out through my toes. Colors were shifting brilliantly from one shade to another, and the light would constantly change as if an ominous cloud were following us around. Then it was bright again, and the landscape was bare and unforgiving with granite. At this point, I felt like I was on a ride. My feet felt disconnected as if they had grown a mind of their own. The acid was mutating me into some kind of hybrid between human and octopus, as each extremity gained a consciousness of its own. Then, our footsteps were stopped dead by a sheer cliff, easily 800 feet down but difficult to actually gauge. Below, sparkling with wind-induced ripples and shadows moving across its surface, Lake Warren looked like a slug creeping through the valley below.

“And then, like a gift from the Universe, a revelation exploded inside of my head.”

The three of us stood there completely immobilized. The acid was peaking on that granite peak, and moments of nausea would spin my eyes, pulsations radiating from the large death drop that sat five feet in front of us. To shake off the turning stomach, I would take my eyes from the breathing lake below and into the sky.

“Those storm systems are really wild,” I heard myself say. Jeesh and Sop were unmoved by my comment, as both of them were staring off in their own directions, giggling and lost in their own unique vision. Off in the distance, multi-colored clouds spun and churned violently. It was as if the clouds were going to break out into a storm at any moment to dump buckets of color down into Paradise Valley. I fished my phone out of my pocket to check the time, but the numbers melted and became overlapped with the home screen’s photo. It felt as if no time had passed at all, that we had just left camp only minutes before. However, by roughly estimating the hallucinatory state I was in, it had to have been 4-5 hours since we initially left camp. And then, like a gift from the Universe, a revelation exploded inside of my head.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Peaking on a peak and more blown back than the White Bark Pine next to me. | photo: Maddock

Our hike became an amazing symbol of life, and although it was done in the heart of nature in its purest form, the overall outcome of our adventure could be applied to our lives in the city. That entire afternoon had been a testament to this revelation, now flashing before my eyes like lightning on a dry hillside. When we left camp, we simply put our heads down and trekked to our destination. With each fallen footstep, we got that much closer to meeting our goal. After making it to the large black lava rocks, we scouted our next destination—the huge grass-covered hill that was likely the highest point in the valley. The acid washed away time, so it literally felt like I had blinked and arrived on top of this thing. The same went for the current location we were now standing at. From the top of the mountain, the grove of trees below were mere specks, and the giant granite cliffs we were now planted on once looked like small rocks on a path. But again, I blinked and was there in the grove of trees, then standing on the “small rocks on a path” which were now skyscraper-sized boulders.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Lake Warren crawled like a slug through the valley below. | photo: Maddock

Hiking is not just walking from point A to point B. Hiking is a symbol of life. You see your destination, and step-by-step, if you just make the effort and simply walk, you will reach your goal. And by applying the basics of hiking to your life—whether it be a professional goal, a personal want, or interrelationships—you can learn how to accomplish anything you set your sight on. Looking at a giant mountain is daunting, and so are many things in our lives, but when you decide that you are dedicated to walking, one way or another, you will reach your destination. Each step seems small, but when you persistently keep stepping, you get that much closer to your goal and that much further from your former self. The concept is so simple, yet easier said than done. But when one follows through, anything is possible.

Now we were dangerously homing in on a particularly steep part of the cliff, testing our limits by seeing how close we could get to the edge to look down its vertical drop, hundreds of feet down.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Standing on a cliff and looking back in the direction of camp. | photo: Maddock.

“ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!” Jeesh yelled with a grin. We all started laughing uncontrollably. Like magnets, the three of us were drawn to the most dangerous piece of this cliff, curiosity pushing us closer to the edge. We all agreed that it was time to get off of these huge rocks and head back to camp. Nature’s beauty often becomes contorted with romanticization in our heads, so much so that we forget that it will easily kill us with absolutely no remorse or hesitation. Not to mention that hallucinogens and heights don’t always end well.

The hike back was mostly downhill. Jeesh was at the head of our convoy, then Sop, then me at the end. The LSD was still raging, and as Sop descended down the hill in front of me, clumsiness and grace seemed to harmonize in each of his steps. It made no sense how he was not falling, as his large feet seemed to shuffle down the mountain—in some parts quite steep. As he chuckled and mumbled statements to himself about bushwhacking and other nonaudible nonsense, Sop seemed to slither down the mountain like a two-dimensional snake.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Our 12-mile LSD route around Paradise Valley

Our day hike had come to an end. After everything was said and done, we had been gone for nearly 6 hours and had traversed 12 miles of tricky terrain. The acid was pretty much gone at this point. Only moments of funkiness would wash over me now. We rested for a moment, victorious from the epic day hike that we had just embarked on. We each made a late lunch to refuel our empty energy reserves, shoveling the food into our mouths quickly so we could catch the sunset from higher ground. Just north of our camp, great granite rocks rose and gathered to make a huge mountain peak. We wanted to get on top of those to finish the day off with a bang. Sunset was just around the corner.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Jeesh gathers water before we set off to catch the sunset.

Like a swelling sea mellowing down, the acid lightly came and went, with flashes of nonexistent movements dashing around in the corner of my eyes. As we climbed the mammoth granite stones, using crevasses in the great stones for easier climbing, the sky around us splashed pink and orange clouds onto a soft blue backdrop. The way the day’s dwindling light washed down onto the granite made the stone glow. Little ponds would appear on the flats of the mountain, glimmering purple and orange from the sky above. It was a long way to the top, and there was no chance that we would be peaking this mountain before dark. So, when the sunset hit its prime, we found a good flat spot, made ourselves comfortable, and soaked in the sunset.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Jeesh and Sop use a granite crevasse to their advantage.

It was a good thing that we had thought ahead and brought our headlamps because the hike back down to camp was through pitch darkness. We took a few wrong turns here and there, and Sop had actually slipped and fallen off a small granite shelf. No harm was done, as the fall only resulted in laughter. Finally, we made it back to camp.

Back at camp, we started a fire from fallen dead pine that we had gathered earlier in the day. After the fire was up and running, I sat down for the first time in hours. Up until that moment, none of us had stopped moving pretty much since we left Sop’s truck that morning. As my body cooled off and my muscles settled down, I realized just how hungry I was. And I think it’s safe to say that my feeling was shared with my brothers. Earlier, Jeesh and I had teased Sop for bringing his giant cook set. But now, we were about to eat our words.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Paradise soaking up the sunset. | photo: Maddock

Sop fired up his huge Coleman camping stove, broke out a small cube of butter, slapped it on his skillet, and pulled out a large stainless steel insulated tumbler. After placing the skillet atop the stove, he opened the container and brought its wide opening to his nose to smell the contents.

“Welp, I think we’re good! Smells fine to me.” Sop tilted the container over the skillet, now sizzling with butter, and started to shovel the contents out onto the pan. A beautiful medley of steak, broccoli, and potatoes started to fall out of the tumbler, sputtering with grease and fat as they touched the hot skillet. Eating fresh food while backpacking is not a commonality, and up until that point, our tastebuds had only been exposed to trail mix, beef jerky, Cliff bars, and freeze-dried dinners. Fresh food never tasted so good, and it wasn’t long before the entire skillet had been devoured.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Sop comes through yet again, this time putting fresh food on our plates.

Now it was time to start mellowing out. All three of us walked down to the lake and filled pots, pans, and any other large containers we had with water to put out the fire. Once the fire was completely out, we buried it with dirt. Then, we gathered all of our food and trash, condensed the items into one bag, and slung the bag up into a tree with some rope to deter hungry black bears

“I’m gonna hit it, boys,” Jeesh said after the fire was taken care of. “I’ll see y’all in the morning.” After bidding us goodnight, he disappeared into his tent. Sop and I, however, weren’t quite ready to sleep yet. We were miles from light-polluted towns and cities, and we wanted to see some stars. We headed to the vantage point northwest of camp.

Unfortunately, no stars were anywhere to be seen. The sky was cloaked black with smoke from the fire we had seen earlier that day, raging near Reno.

“Man, we’re gonna get so smoked out. This sucks. Reno is gonna be fucked,” Sop said.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “I may have to drive hella far to get home, but at least I won’t have to deal with the smoke.” Unbeknownst to me, at that very moment, a wild lightning storm was lighting up the South Bay, setting several fires in the Santa Cruz mountains. These fires would grow so vastly that they would devastate much of the Santa Cruz Mountains, while decimating Big Basin, a park my wife and I had just been hiking through only weeks before.

“Now Sop was lying on his back, cradling his .357 revolver on his chest like a Teddy Bear.”

After we sat for a little while on the rock, we decided that we, too, would turn in. There was no chance of seeing any stars, which was a bummer when considering just how great of an area we were in for star gazing. Back at camp, we did one more walk-over to make sure the fire was completely dead, and that no food was left hanging around. As I climbed into my tent, Sop lay his sleeping mat out under a tree, just left of my tent’s entrance.

“Sep,” I asked, “Where’s your tent?”

“I don’t need a tent! It’s fucking gorgeous out here.” Sop and I both laughed. After hauling his 50-pound pack out there, a mysterious bag of all kinds of things, I found it hilarious that he did not have a tent.

“Ok,” I laughed. “Good night, dude.” Now Sop was lying on his back, cradling his .357 revolver on his chest like a child cradling a Teddy Bear.

“Good night,” he replied. I took my day pack and folded it back into its original form. I then stuffed my rain poncho into it, transforming it into a nice little pillow. I found yet another use for my Osprey daypack. Just moments after I closed my eyes, I was fast asleep.

I was the last to wake up the next day. My body was completely wrecked, with every muscle screaming at me to let it rest. I opened my tent, and I saw that Jeesh and Sop were up cooking their breakfast. I joined them and started boiling water. As we ate and drank our coffee, we reminisced on the day before and how amazing it turned out. After breakfast and a quick clean-up, we packed up camp and got out of there. We were already getting off to a late start.

Leaving camp was bittersweet. One side of me didn’t want to leave at all—I could’ve stayed out there for at least another day or two. However, the other part of me was eager to get on the trail. Once we made it to Sop’s truck, I still had a 45-minute drive back to Sop’s house in Reno where my truck was. Then I had a grueling 4-hour drive back home. It was Sunday, so I was due back at work in Pacifica bright and early. I was not looking forward to that at all.

Just moments after we left camp, we were already pulling ourselves up 6-foot shelves, gravity pulling us and our packs down as we fought to stay upright. Unlike our entrance, when we completely lost the trail about a mile and a half from camp, our departure was much more organized. After climbing a few granite slabs, we were on the trail, leaving Paradise Lake and the fond memories behind us.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Looking back on Paradise Lake for a final farewell. | photo: Maddock

After 30 minutes or so, we found ourselves in the same area where we hit the wash coming in. Jeesh stopped.

“Guys, I think we fucked up. We should have crossed that bridge by now.” On our way in, we made a mental mark of a large mountain south of the trail. We agreed that if we passed that mountain on the way out, then we knew we had gone too far. The mountain was now directly to our left.

“I don’t think so, Jeesh,” Sop replied. “Remember the mountain?”

“Dude, that could be any mountain! How do you know that’s the fuckin’ mountain? We are surrounded by mountains!” Tempers were high. Not only did we get a super late start, but it was starting to seem that we could be lost.

“Trav! Remember the mountain? That’s fucking it, right?!” Sop was now yelling at me. I agreed with him, however. I was damn sure that was the mountain.

“I’m pretty sure it is. Yeah, that’s gotta be it.” Jeesh scoffed at my response.

“Well, guys, I don’t ever remember walking along a trail like this. And we definitely should have crossed that bridge by now. I fucking knew we were going to get lost.”

“Jeesh, calm the fuck down!” Sop interjected.

“Dude, what do you mean calm down? We could be seriously fucked right now!”

“Well,” Sop said, “both Trav and I know that’s the mountain. So, if we just walk towards that mountain, then we should run into the trail.”

“I hope you guys know what you’re talking about,” said Jeesh. And then we stepped off the trail and into the high grass of a meadow—the mountain right in front of us.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Stepping off the trail, our mountain landmark now directly in front of us. One thing was sure: you couldn’t beat the scenery!

Now it had been 15 minutes and we were battling through sharp blades of knee-high grass and marshlands. Aside from the fact that we were now definitely lost, you couldn’t beat the view. Jeesh stayed silent, but I could tell he was about to pop. Then we caught a break.

“There! Right there!” Sop shouted. “There’s the stream we followed in! Right fuckin’ there! That’s the stream that the bridge went over.” We all saw the stream.

“Yeah,” Jeesh challenged. “How do you know we aren’t too far downstream? How do you know the bridge isn’t behind us?”

Sop gained his cool and confidently said, “Because the fucking mountain is right there. I’m pretty sure that bridge is further down this stream, away from Paradise.” I was silent, and honestly, was having a blast. I didn’t care much if we were lost. The scenery was unreal, and we had plenty of daylight to figure it out. Jeesh sighed in defeat and Sop led the way.

Sop was now leading our small convoy towards the bridge he swore had to be just around the next curve. And it turned out that he was right. Just 10 minutes of following the stream, we saw the bridge we had so longed to see. You could almost feel the mood shift from frustration and fear to ease and relief. We were finally back on the trail. It turned out that we miscalculated the time to the bridge. The trail we had been on and had left because we thought it was the wrong one, turned out to be the right one the entire time.

“Try again buddy! I started in Mexico and I’m not stopping until I get to Canada!”

Now we were panting. The same stretch of hiking that was a pleasant downhill break into Paradise Valley was now an uphill nightmare. Our bodies were completely wrecked from the miles we clocked the day before—that and the fact that we hiked all those miles on nearly no sleep. Once we passed the sign that had almost alluded us walking in, we knew we were making good time.

Up ahead, a hiker with two poles, short shorts, and curly hair under a short-billed hat was storming in our direction. This dude looked pretty serious, so we all veered off the trail to let him pass.

“Hey man,” Jeesh greeted.

“What’s up guys?” the stranger replied as he got closer to us. As he passed us, just to be polite, Jeesh kindly asked:

“Did you come in from Castle Peak? Heading to Paradise?”

“HA!” the dude blurted out. “Try again buddy! I started in Mexico and I’m not stopping until I get to Canada!” The three of us stood there like possums caught in high beams. On one hand, it was rad to actually meet someone doing the entire PCT, from Mexico to Canada. On the other hand, dude was kind of a dick. It wasn’t long before he disappeared down the trail.

“Damn,” I said, “That guy was kind of a douche.” Jeesh and Sop laughed in agreement.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Jeesh and Sop plot future adventures on the hike out.

It took about another hour or so to get to Unconformity Spring—the halfway point. By now, we were ready for lunch. Since we were making kick-ass time out of there, we all felt damn good. As we filled our waters, our egos were filled with confidence. We were halfway back to the car and the hard part was behind us.

After we got some lunch in us, smiles were abundant. I looked at our large packs lying just off the trail. At that moment, I felt a rush of pride wash over me, knowing that we had come with merely a pack on our backs and survived the wilderness. Not only did we survive it, but we also had a damn good time surviving it. I could tell my compadres were feeling the same way. As we stood with our chests puffed out and hands on our hips, at that moment, we were the biggest badasses on the planet.

Right when we were about to put our packs on and embark on the final stretch back to Sop’s truck, fast-paced footsteps coming down the trail snatched our attention. A blonde woman in her mid-thirties came jogging up on us, with nothing but a small pack on her back.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
Good times while making good time on our hike out.

“Is there water up there?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Jeesh said. “It’s right behind us here.”

“Oh great,” she said. Then she passed us and took out a 1L BeFree bottle from her small pack, filled it, and drank straight from the bottle. After she took a long pull of water, jogging in place as she did so, she shuffled over to us. She spoke kindly and fast, jogging in place all the while. The conversation was just chit-chat. Where we were from. Where she was from. She told us that she had run up to Castle Peak before coming across us and said it was absolutely beautiful up there. She also told us that she had recently quit her job and was spending time “just doing her.” The jogger ran back over to the stream, filled up her water, and came back to where we were standing—still jogging in place. Then her eyes wandered down to our packs lying on the ground.

“So, how long have you guys been out here? You guys doing the PCT?”

“No,” Jeesh said, “we just hiked in yesterday and spent the night at Paradise Lake.”

“Really?” she queried. “Those are some pretty LARGE packs for an overnighter.” She rolled her eyes mockingly as if we could not see her do it.

“Yeah,” I said timidly, trying not to show her that her smug comment pissed me off. “My pack has got a 4-person tent in it. Backpacking gear isn’t cheap.” She was unphased and rolled her eyes again, still jogging in place.

“Well, like I say: less is more. Bye guys!” then she scurried off, down the trail towards Paradise Lake.

Knight Writes | Time Traveling in Paradise (PART III)
The final stretch back to Sop’s truck.

When we had walked up on Unconformity Spring, we were the manliest men alive, three badass dudes who conquered mountains—who had tamed the wild—who lived in the bush. But then this woman came, and everything changed. The hands that were once triumphantly on our hips were now awkwardly stuffed into our pockets. Our once straight and confident postures were now slumped into a slouch as the three of us just stood there, motionless in silence. Then Jeesh, red-faced with embarrassment, broke the silence.

“That lady was kind of a bitch.” Sop and I started laughing. “I mean,” Jeesh continued, “it must be pretty fuckin’ nice to have that kind of money to just quit your job and run around up here all day.”

“Yeah,” I said, “Fuck that lady. What’s up with people out here being dicks?”

“For real,” Sop said. “I thought, like, people were nice out here!” We all had a good laugh, but deep down, we knew this woman had pretty much kicked us in the balls and then ran off. We silently put our packs on and dragged our feet out of Unconformity Spring.

All the rugged manliness that rushed through our determined faces earlier that day was completely gone. Now, only the breeze pouring through the valley could be heard as we trudged the final stretch back to Sop’s truck. Everything we had experienced, endured, and accomplished had become obsolete. We walked into Paradise Valley as three adventurers, pioneers of the wilderness who could be discouraged by nothing. But when we walked out, all that had changed. In the end, we were just three dudes who had gotten dissed by a rich-minimalist woman.

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