About 6 years ago, I decided to go mountain biking in the Angeles National Forest for the first time ever. I found a trail that looked pretty good online and off I went. I got to the trailhead at 2pm. This was in December which meant I had about 3-3.5 hours of daylight. I didn’t tell anybody where I was going to be. I was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts. I only had an energy bar and some water for provisions. I didn’t have any emergency equipment. No cellphone. Nothing. In short, I did everything you’re not supposed to do.
I ended up getting lost in the mountains. I couldn’t find the trail when the sunlight faded. I thought I was going to have to spend the night there. So I covered myself in leaves and pine needles to try and stay warm. It didn’t work. It was freezing. The only way I could stay warm was to keep moving so I started looking for the trail again. I ended up finding the trail in the dark (thank god for a full moon) and eventually flagged down someone on the highway to take me back to my car.
When I started for this blog, I immediately thought of that experience and how frightening and scary it was. I wanted to return to the Angeles Forest but this time spend the night myself and do it right. This was a pretty big thing for me to do. I don’t have much outdoor experience. I mean, I’ve done a lot of mountain biking and hiking, but never camped in a tent before. Not even as a kid. Unless you count a bedsheet tent in my bedroom. I guess that’s why I’d put it off for so long.
I’d been gathering equipment to do this slowly over the past year. I realized I didn’t that this was really the last weekend I left to do it. I almost said forget about it but it was such a big deal for me I knew I had to do it. So I ordered a sleeping bag and mattress pad, the final two things I needed. They were supposed to come on Saturday but it didn’t arrive until late afternoon. I didn’t think I’d be able to get to the hike-in campsite before the sun went down. And I didn’t want to make any mistakes this time.
There was no way I could this on a Sunday since I had work the next day. And certainly not during the week. Next weekend is the end of the blog and Saturday is the party (which you’re all invited to!).
Another setback and this time I really wanted to quit. But I didn’t. It’s now or never, I told myself. I’ll just get up really early, make it back to my car and home in time for work. I got into my car and was off.
I got to Red Box Ranger Station in the Angeles forest right at 2pm. I started down the trail to Valley Forge Trail Camp. I chose this campsite because it was a hike-in only and 3.5 miles from the freeway. I didn’t want to choose a campsite that was too hard to get to since I’d be carrying a lot of gear. Incidentally, I guessed my gear weighed close to 30 pounds which is not light at all. But that included 100 ounces of water as well as tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and food. Also, I needed a place I could get to in a couple of hours.
The trail to the campsite wasn’t anything to write home about. It was closer to a fire road than a hiking trail. Here’s what it looked like on the way down:
The whole way, I was worried about finding the campsite and making it in time to set up my tent etc. I knew it was 3.5 miles from the map but I worried anyway. Almost exactly 2 hours later, I found the campsite which turned out to be quite nice. It was relatively small, shaded with trees and next to a babbling brook. Nobody was there. Probably because it was Sunday and Oscar Sunday no less.
I immediately went to work setting up my tent. I found the perfect spot spot under some trees, near a picnic table and close to the brook. I cleared away the rocks and debris for an area big enough to pitch the tent. It only took about ten minutes to setup:
I felt a lot more relaxed now that I was all settled in so I explored the campsite. Like I said, it wasn’t very big. There were 3-4 fire pits and picnic table areas. There were also four pit toilets. I have this weird phobia of pit toilets ever since Schindler’s List so I opted for peeing in the bushes. There were a couple of paths that lead down to the brook which was probably a full stream in the spring.
I sat by the brook for a bit, just watching the water. That sound of water running over rocks is very peaceful. Almost as soothing as the fake brook at the sushi restaurant I like to go to.
Next order of business was gathering wood for the fire which actually was pretty easy. There were nice piles of dry wood all around. It may have been from trail work on the fire roads.
I made a basic teepee fire. I did this by putting dry leaves and needles on the bottom and then adding progressively larger and larger pieces of wood like a teepee around that. Then I lit it.
I made it well. Maybe a little… too well. The thing went up like a roman candle in a few minutes. Then it was like a flame thrower. It actually roared and the flames were shooting really high up. I was actually nervous I was going to set the whole forest on fire.
Eventually it died down as I started adding the really heavy pieces of wood:
Once it was going well, I took some time to do some reading. It was nice and relaxing. I was starting to enjoy myself. I even ended up doing some yoga. Whenever the fire died down, I did another firewood run. It’s amazing how much wood it took to keep the fire going.
Soon it was dinner time. I had bought a little camping stove and pot. I boiled up some ramen and canned chicken. That was the first chicken I’d had in a really long time. But it was protein in a can and fish would’ve broken up in the soup. I was starving at that point and it was one of the best meals I’ve had in awhile.
As the sunlight dwindled, I simply watched the fire like a TV. I didn’t even really think about anything. I guess I was meditating. If it wasn’t for the fire, I would’ve been so bored. And cold.
At around 8, I headed for my tent for my bed. It was kind of early but I figured I’d be tired from the hike. Plus I was going to get up at 5am the next morning.
The tent was quite cozy. But at that point my mind started to wander. Being alone in the middle of a forest alone at night was starting to mess with me. I couldn’t stop thinking of every single horror movie I’d ever seen from Deliverance (yes that’s horror) to The Blair Witch Project. But I was even more worried about mountain lions and bears coming to eat me while I slept. Then I thought, what if rapist hicks and witches riding bears and mountain lions were out there, just waiting to rape and eat me (not necessarily in that order)? I tried to put it out of my mind as I laid down to sleep…
Stay tuned for Part 2…