Coping With Life’s Wrong Turns

November 9, 2009 – What is it they say, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Sometimes it’s true.

By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond

Well, I have to admit, it’s really hard maintaining a blog while working full time, especially at a job one enjoys. When I come home from work I actually look forward to ... working some more! I turn on my computer and spend a couple more hours working. I don’t care that I don’t get paid for it. Actually, it’s better than when I was self-employed because there is no dilemma about whether to charge the client for the extra time. Being a salaried employee, any extra time I spend is purely on the house. But that gives me a certain freedom to experiment with ideas without feeling guilty about charging my client, which in this case is my employer. I really enjoy my work because I’m learning so much. I’m actually sort of surprised that I still have the drive I had in my youth. I had spent so much time in a work-related rut that I forgot how much fun it is to learn new things.

It’s also difficult to switch from writing eloquent words that stir the hearts of computers to writing words that do the same for humans. For example, the phrase,

    .setRangeAndDiffMode( AnalogInputSubsystem.RANGE_5V, false )
    .setCalMode( AnalogInputSubsystem.CAL_MODE_NORMAL )
    .setTriggerMode( AnalogInputSubsystem.TRIG_MODE_SCAN )
    .setOverSample( 50 )
    .setDiscardFirstSample( true );

may turn a computer all gooey inside, but it does little for most humans.

Anyway, this long-winded introduction has a point. Laboring over a hot computer for too long has its disadvantages, not limited to sore shoulders, elbows, wrists, back and so forth, not to mention the acquisition of a pasty complexion. I don’t have anything against pasty complexions – actually, on some people they look quite nice – but as someone who believes the sun is a great source of health – if not overdone – such a complexion accompanies poorer health. Last weekend – the fact that it’s taken me a week to write this shows how much time I’m spending working – I availed myself of the gorgeous, clear, warm, dry fall weather and the sun’s therapeutic rays to do some hiking. Since I wanted to get back to work ASAP, I decided to hike in a local park, a mere ten miles away instead of my familiar hiking locale of Mount Cuyamaca, where I have hiked countless times.

An innocent start: A shady crossing over the bone-dry
San Diego River, believe it or not

Last weekend I hiked in Mission Trails Regional Park, located just a few miles northeast of downtown San Diego. Even though I grew up in San Diego, I had never visited this park until a couple of years ago. Since then, my brother and I have hiked there several times. Last weekend I hiked solo – what could possibly go wrong?

Although the park is remarkably close to everything in San Diego, it’s equally remarkable for its ruggedness.

Rugged terrain of Mission Trails Park

This park is huge – covering thousands of acres – and one of the most rugged and seemingly remote places I’ve ever hiked. It’s also rather treacherous. On our last hike my brother slipped and sustained minor injuries, a rarity for him, although not so much for me!

On a previous hike we had hiked to the top of the Fortuna Mountains – I don’t really consider these mountains, but in some parts of the country they would be considered such. So in the interest of expedience, I decided to repeat that rather enjoyable hike we took. My first mistake was attempting such a mission without the aid of my brother and his trusty maps! Hey, I don’t need no stinkin’ maps!

The trails in this park are poorly marked, as in, there are few signs. Worse, there is abundant overgrown brush that conceals the trails rather well, making it difficult to figure out where you are. Another problem I always have when hiking in this park is the failure to take it very seriously – because it’s so close to home – which leads to my bringing insufficient quantities of water. Last weekend the temperature was only in the mid-80s, but the sun was intense and the air was exceedingly dry, which, combined with the extremely rugged terrain I hiked, rendered the mere one liter of water I brought along grossly inadequate. I should have brought along three or four liters! As it turns out, I drank probably a gallon of water over the course of the evening after I got home.

Between the poorly marked trails and the absence of my navigator, I evidently made a wrong turn somewhere along the way. After an hour or so I found myself confronting not the base of North Fortuna Mountain, but the base of a different mountain, Kwaay Paay. On one of our hikes, my brother and I had expressed an interest in scaling that mountain, so I figured, “Why not?” I wasn’t particularly devoted to hiking Mount Fortuna and this other mountain was right in front of me, so I began the ascent.

A vanishing trail becomes a rockclimbing endeavor

In the photo above – a blow up of the preceding photo – one can see the trail leading up Kwaay Paay peak, or at least half of the way up. The other half is nearly a rockclimbing endeavor, which literally reduced me to using all fours. In fact, this mountain is popular with rockclimbers, more than a dozen of whom were climbing up the face a few hundred yards to the north. Below is a view from about the half way point.

The view from half way up Kwaay Paay Peak,
looking southeast toward downtown San Diego

By the time I got to the half way point, I was starting to think about turning back. I wasn’t really in the mood for a rockclimbing session, nor did I relish climbing back down. Nevertheless, it was one of those goals I simply couldn’t abandon. I just had to get to the top. Plus, I was hoping that I’d find an easier way back down, so I kept climbing. I did encounter one other hiker coming down – the only other hiker I saw the entire day at elevation. I should have listened when he said as he inched past me, “It’s a lot easier going up,” but alas, I did not and kept climbing.

It was a relief when I got to the top, and my apprehension temporarily melted away as I enjoyed the satisfying view.

The view from the top of Kwaay Paay

The green belt in the valley below is the San Diego River

After enjoying the view from the top for a while and “dining” on some leftover Halloween candy bars, I decided to search for an easier way down than the way up. Heading north along the crest of Kwaay Paay peak, I figured there must be an easy way across the gorge between it and the Fortuna Mountains. I was so determined to avoid going back down the arduous route I climbed up that I was willing to walk several miles out of the way if necessary.

The trouble was, after walking a mile or so north it became inescapably clear that there was no such easy passage between the two mountains, which remained diabolically separated by a chasm-like gorge plunging a thousand feet below. As a grim feeling welled up inside me, I finally concluded I had to bite the bullet and forge my own way down into the gorge and up the other side. The problem was that I couldn’t identify any place that looked easy to traverse, so I just started heading down.

This terrain is tricky. The tops of the “mountains” are nice, round curves, but as one descends, the terrain gets increasingly steep, as if the mountains are buttressed by walls of rock. And worse, because the terrain is so steep, one cannot even see what’s below. One is reduced to guessing about what’s ahead. Nevertheless, I knew what lay ahead as I descended the gentle upper slope of the mountain into the gorge. It’s hard to convey how treacherous this descent was. For starters, it was remarkably steep. Most of the time it looked to be straight down, although it was probably no steeper than forty-five degrees. But there were no flat spots, no places to stop and relax and not worry about slipping. Every step and foothold had to be carefully selected – a mistake could literally be fatal. One could pause, but only so long as they had a secure grip and didn’t move. Surprisingly, the worst hazard was not the steepness or the rocks, but the grass. The tall, brown, post-summer grass covered the ground, making it difficult to identify secure footholds underneath. And the grass was thick and smooth and slippery, like hay. A couple of times I slipped on it and fell, thankfully coming to a speedy stop before losing control and plunging hundreds of feet down.

About half way down I realized that the way down was far more difficult than the way I had come up, a route that I was so determined to avoid traversing back down! I had managed to trade a difficult, but known quantity for a much more difficult, unknown quantity. While it took me half an hour to climb up the mountain, it took me an hour to climb just half way back down via the route I was on. I also started to experience some self-doubt, fearing that I might not be able to get down at all! There was no way I was going back up, and the terrain ahead of me looked increasingly steep and unnavigable. I started to imagine being lifted out by a cable dangling from a helicopter, and I think it was the potential embarrassment of being “rescued” that motivated me to continue. I simply told myself that I had made it half way and that I could take as many small steps as necessary until I got down, and that’s exactly what I did.

Can’t see the trail? That’s because there isn’t one. That’s a waterfall above.

As I feared, the terrain became increasingly difficult, steep and rocky. I selected a route that was obviously favored by water during the rainy season, figuring that would definitely get me down. The only problem was that along the way I literally had to scale down a waterfall, and the route harbored a lot of dense plant growth which obviously relished the abundant water. Once I got past the waterfall, the terrain got a little less steep, but it was still quite a struggle to get through the brush without falling down the rocks. I was amazed at my ability to scuttle under bushes. Of course, when one has no choice – and I had no choice – one can do surprising things.

Two hours after initiating my descent I reached the bottom of the thousand-foot gorge, and then spent ten minutes or so removing plant burrs from my socks and shoes. I was so relieved to have made it down without incident – despite a hundred opportunities to fall to my death – that I didn’t even mind that I still had a three-mile long, mostly uphill hike back to my car.

I guess the moral of this story is that life deals us wrong turns all the time, and how we cope with them is what matters. Do we panic or do we keep our heads and muddle through? Do we give up or do we summon up the strength to carry on? Do we learn from our mistakes or do we keep on making them? I must confess, I usually make the same mistake three times before I learn my lesson ... sigh. Just two more to go ...

The End