I have a white board calendar hanging on the wall in my room that I change at the beginning of every month. I spend a solid 15 minutes marking up all the happenings of each month, studying the days ahead. So it was surreal writing those 9 letters on the third week of the month.
It was really happening.
With the messy black writing staring back at me, I knew that we had officially entered our last month of training. That being said, this month would have to be given the same amount of respect as the past two, if not more. There was no time to be lazy. There was no time to be tired. Cue the music. IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN.
After our last midweek trip up Baldy, we set our alarms for 6:30 the following Saturday for a hike in Malibu at Will Rogers’ State Park. This may still sound early, but it gave us 2 extra hours of sleep than we’d been getting on Friday nights. I stayed up until midnight, like an ANIMAL.
The next day, we did a 4 mile round trip hike and were exhausted, but pleased with the views we found around each turn.
Fast forward to present day, we were heading back to the same trail, but with a little twist.
After completing the same hike a few times over the last year and a half we had become curious as to how far it went in. You start at the park, winding around on a dirt road until you reach a bridge that overlooks the Santa Monica Mountains. Many stop here to take in the green, picturesque views, but we always liked to push past it to a straightaway that sits a little higher up. Normally once we reached the straightaway and took a water break we would head back down, but after some research we discovered that continuing forward puts you on road called Backbone trail. So, with these months of training under our belt, we decided it was time to take on Backbone trail.
In doing research for the hike, it was strange for me to scan the stats, seeing that the roundtrip hike would be around 13 miles, and not being slightly intimidated. 13 was just a number to me now, and it didn’t scare me.
The hike ended up being nice. It was long and dry and hot, but we did it. The big letdown of the whole day was the end. In the past, our training hikes have concluded with big views and cool breezes. Backbone trail however, ended with dirt and a sign. This could have something to do with the fact that it is primarily a mountain biking trail, mapped out to provide a nice 13 mile loop, however I wish there had been more bold print on the write ups I read online.
There are no real peaks to signify the end of this trail.
There is a lot of dirt, everywhere.
When in doubt, listen to Katy Perry to get you through this hike.
If you miss the sign you might end up walking an extra mile and a half and possibly get lost in the plethora of dusty forks in the road.
Yes, we did end up walking an additional mile and a half, but not because we missed the sign, more because we kept hoping there would be some sort of satisfying ending. A kind of “Ahhhh, here we are” type finish line that reminded us why we started this hike in the first place. However, there never really was, and by the time we reached 7.5 miles in, all we really wanted was some shade. All in all however, I would never say that this hike was unsatisfying. We ended up finishing with 15 more miles under our belt and we celebrated with some lunch at a restaurant called “Duke’s”.
Quick tip: 6 words to make any trip to Duke’s a success: Sweet potato fries & Hula Pie.
After the Malibu hike, we visited our old friends Towsley and Mission Peak for a few mid-week hikes, and started setting the plan for the final week of training.
It started on a Saturday.
You know the drill. The alarm went off at 4:00, we were in the car by 5:00, and we were climbing Mt. Baldy by 6:30. Baldy had become somewhat of a frenemy at this point. I knew its curves and its ups and downs, and I had become incredibly acquainted with the turkey sandwich served at the restaurant at the bottom of the hill. Mt. Baldy didn’t scare me anymore; I knew I could do it. And each time I saw the top, I reminded myself that I could be just as successful on Whitney, as long as I keep my attitude in check.
We did Baldy again that Wednesday and were all happy to wave goodbye as we drove away from its base for the last time (at least for this training session). I looked longingly at the Andy Gump, silently thanking it for the joy it brought me on that first trip down and hoped that I would never have to squat in it again.
This morning we did Mt. Lowe for the second time. If you’ll recall, the last time we did Mt. Lowe we got turned around trying to take a shortcut and I spent the last mile holding back tears and cursing at every inch of my shoes.
At the time, I hadn’t figured out the right combination of socks and shoe inserts and each step of the downhill made my toes feel like they were the target for a sledgehammer in a carnival game. Today however, my feet had never felt better. With my regular shoe inserts, Super Feet inserts, sock liners and wool hiking socks, my feet felt less like the sledgehammer’s bitch and more like that giggling baby sun in Teletubbies. (Wait, what?)
The drive home from Mt. Lowe was very quiet. We had officially completed our last training hike. It was our last drive home from a Saturday morning hike. It was our last celebration coke at McDonalds. The next time we put on our hiking boots, we would be taking our first steps on Mt. Whitney.
The next few days will consist mostly of packing, organizing, and deep breathing. But also reflecting. While Whitney offers our biggest challenge yet, it is important to realize all the challenges we have overcome to get where we are. I think in a way we have already reached the base of our summit.
Even though I may be sitting on my couch and not looking at the peak of Whitney just yet, I’ve hiked 150 miles to get here. It was no easy feat and when I take my first steps on Whitney I will take note of every bead of sweat it took to get me there. I will remember every 4:00 a.m. wake up call, every sore muscle, every blister, every bruise, because with every ounce of discomfort they brought, I lost a pound of self-doubt.
We leave Wednesday morning and we have a lot to do by then. The climb is going to be far from easy, but with fear and doubt at rest in my mind, I’m already dreaming of where I can go next.