Musings on backpacking, whitewater rafting, and other random stuff

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Stupid Hiking Story #3

April 1976. I'm three days into a PCT thru-hike with a 55+ pound pack at Mount Laguna Post Office. The balls of each foot are one giant blister, snow is falling, and I'm cold and wet. I decide my PCT hike is over, and it's time to head home. “Home” is a couch at some friends' house in Riverside, since technically I'm homeless and jobless. I stick out my thumb to hitchhike there and figure out what comes next.

That's when my adventure really started.

I get a ride fairly quickly, from some friendly guys headed all the way into San Diego! However, the ride is in the very back of an open pickup truck bed full of other stuff – riding like that is legal and common in 1976.

Screaming down the mountain, and along the freeway at 65 mph in the back of a pickup truck, in cold and wet weather, when you are already cold and wet, leads to just one thing: hypothermia.

I huddle in the back of the truck for the next hour, getting colder and colder. I lose track of where I am and what's happening. As if in a dream, I remember the truck stopping at an off-ramp, and the guys up front telling me this is where I get out.

I stumble out of the truck, and they take off. It's warm and sunny here, around 75° F. But I'm shivering hard, stumbling, unable to work the zipper on my jacket. I have no idea where I am, or how to get home. I feel like laying down for a nap, but the last few functioning brain cells tell me that's a bad idea.

So I sit by the side of the freeway, soaking up the sun, slowly warming up. I don't bother sticking my thumb out for a ride, since I have almost no idea where I am or how to get home. There's a sign for San Diego State University, which tells me I'm in San Diego, and not much more.

After an hour or so, I'm mostly warmed up, and decide to trust even more in the kindness of strangers. I stick my thumb out, and ask whoever stops for a ride to Riverside. The first couple of drivers look at me like I'm crazy and take off, but the third car and driver is headed my direction. I get back to Riverside in two more rides, and walk a couple of painful miles home.

I live on and behind the living room couch for the next three months, eating from a six month supply of PCT food, until I get a job and an apartment. Thanks guys!

In retrospect, I could have died from hypothermia on the ride into San Diego. I was warmer and in better shape on top of the mountain with snow falling. Sometimes I wonder how strange it would have been if the cops had found me dead of hypothermia, lying near a freeway off-ramp, on a warm, sunny day in San Diego. And I barely recognized what was happening to me at the time.

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