Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Recommended daytime temperatures 80 degrees or less
Palm Springs Art Museum Trail – 2 mi., 900 ft. gain, 2 hrs – IN-OUT
Trailhead on Museum Drive at the back of the museum’s parking lot; Free
Excellent workout hike with a steep ascent to picnic tables with a view of the whole valley.

Previously on THE HIKE: I began the hike at 11:25AM.  The air temperature was 106 degrees, but it was dry heat.

Let’s review my hiking tools and skill set, shall we?  First of all, I do have two legs and two arms.  I also own a pretty good pair of white sneakers.  Oh, and did I mention that I recently bought a telescoping walking stick?  It’s pretty cool, with a cork handle and black loopy wrist strap.  I didn’t have this walking stick for my first hike attempt, so in all fairness we should probably remove that from the list. 

This was a fairly spur of the moment hike.  Do I ever go hiking in real life? Not really, unless you consider walking my dogs up the hill behind our house ‘hiking’.  I think that I can count on two fingers of my left hand the number of hikes that I had taken in the last five years prior to the Palm Springs Art Museum Trail (and I’m right handed). 

As I began the ascent of the trail, I remember being somewhat disappointed, because the cement steps and walkway reminded me too much of a standard issue sidewalk – not a “moderate” hike.  The concrete steps soon ended, though, and before I knew it I was in the thick of it on narrow dirt paths between blazing hot rocks.  I could see scattered footprints from previous hikers (an encouraging sign) and learned that there were white dots painted strategically on boulders (which I also took as a sign that I was headed in the right direction).  Although I kept a close eye out for snakes under rocks and in the many holes on the path, I think I was the only crazy one subjecting myself to direct exposure of the sun on that day.  In fact, the only signs of life that I did see were a lizard and a dead spider.  This glaring absence of wildlife (and humans) did not go unnoticed by me. There were some thoughts of mortality, specifically mine, that popped into my head as I got higher up the trail.

 (This could easily be a photo of the lunar surface, if it weren't for the sneakers and board shorts.)

It didn’t take too long for me to come to the realization that heat was going to be a deciding factor in completing my journey.  I had read that there were picnic tables at the top of the trail for casual wine and cheese gatherings.  About a third of the way up the hill, I was convinced that there could be not possibly be any picnic tables up here.  Who in their right mind would climb up this molten Mercury terrain to drink wine or eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?  And even more to the point, how could anyone bring a picnic table up here to begin with? 

I went for a while without drinking any water.  I didn’t want to be a wimp about it.  About 50 steps later, I re-evaluated and stopped for a quick sip of water and a restful breath of air.  The 106 degree temperature in tandem with my racing heartbeat quickly put this hike in a new category of exercise that my body was not familiar with, so I decided to begin taking it more seriously.  It felt like an ideal time to start listening to my body more closely. 

As I listened to my body’s cues, I couldn’t help but feel that my heart was ticking extremely fast, and didn’t seem to let up very much when I made my little pit stops.  I looked long and hard for shady spots, but at that time of the day, there were none.  I had no choice but to turn my back to the sun to shade my face.  I looked for flat boulders to sit on, but they were of little comfort, as the skin covered by my back pockets began to burn after about 15 seconds.  (Yes, you interpreted that correctly.)

I focused ahead on the path, although if I’m honest, I may have veered slightly off the grid.  I lost track of the white dot markers occasionally, and tried to analyze possible trajectories for my quest to reach the picnic tables, which I concluded didn’t really exist.  I took more frequent breaks for water and rest for my heart but with the relentless heat, the overheated remnants of my sanity whispered to me that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the top. 

Initially, I didn’t want to admit to myself that I had failed to complete this ill-timed journey.  It’s true that we are our harshest critics, and we can be quite cruel to ourselves.  Still, I came to resolute acceptance as I started down the trail.  Looking down at the vast Palm Desert in awe, I knew that I had made the right decision.  Furthermore, I had a challenge ahead of me navigating down the loose dirt, dry brush and jagged rocks.  I’m still thankful that in my underestimated inexperience I brought a pair of gloves.  I put them on and will never again go on a hike without them.

At the bottom of the trail, back in the safety of my car, I turned on the air conditioning and just sat there.  I finished drinking the rest of my third bottle of water and tried to make sense of what had happened.  More than anything, I was happy to be alive.  I had put my life at some risk that day.  I was proud of what I had accomplished, and already began to put together a list of what I would do differently on a subsequent attempt. 

The next hike attempt, as it turns out would have a great significance to me for reasons that I wasn’t even aware of at the time.  As before, with some tweaks to my strategy, I would live to tell the story of my Palm Springs Museum Trail hike.  Stay tuned for the step by step details - including whether the picnic tables made an appearance.


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