Anyway, yesterday I went on a "Full Moon" hike to the Echo Mountain ruins near Pasadena with a number of hiking groups from meetup.com. A "full moon" hike is short for "we can see in the dark, so let's all go climb a mountain and get really fucked up." Now that a lot of my days are spent at home, hiking groups are an important part of my life because I get a good workout and get to meet people that I wouldn't otherwise encounter in a the course of my day (because not that many people hang out at my house).
I got there late, but it was a "go at your own pace" arrangement and I wound up with a group of about ten people, basically six women in the 40 range and three youngish (20something) Asians. I liked this group right away; much rowdier and funnier than the people I'm used to hiking with, and I felt really loose and relaxed right off the bat.
What was really interesting for me about this hike was the return of a persona that used to be a big part of who I am - this rowdy, boisterous, witty, hyper, say-whatever-pops-into-your-head nutball that is a little too intense for the room but at the same time motivates everybody and gets the party going. I have not seen this guy in ages, and I did not think he was still in me anymore, but for some reason -- maybe it was the endorphins or the looser environment -- but he came back full blast last night.
I also found out that, despite needing to lose about 15 pounds, I am in really good shape. My group rapidly split into two subgroups, with the younger folks opening up about a 3/4 mile gap between the older ones, but instead of picking one or the other, I decided to follow one group for awhile, then run back down the mountain to motivate the stragglers, then go back up to catch up with the young ones, rinse, and repeat -- much to the consternation of the hikers in between struggling to get up the mountain one time, as I dashed past them going down, and then going back up again. I had no reason for doing this other than the fact that I liked them and when I get in this kind of mood I am basically nuts, but in a very adventurous what the fuck kind of way that I wish I could hold onto all the time, frankly. You have to understand that the Echo Mountain trail is a relentless 3 mile upward climb that, if you are not an experienced hiker, can be really challenging, and indeed, a lot of my later part of the hike was spent coaxing the 40-somethings up the last part of the trail, as night started to fall and the women got increasingly tired and nervous.
The scene at the top of the mountain was great. It was 2-to-1 women to men, which was a nice change from the hikes I'm used to going on, and everyone was loose, friendly, and somewhat drunk (partly due to the jello shots being passed out on the giant stone foundation of the old hotel that had stood there 110 years ago). It was so nice to be around people where I could really cut loose and be myself -- the me both that I haven't had the energy to be, and also the me that I tend to keep under wraps because he's a little too intense and offputting for strangers -- and as always happens when I bump into this kind of a group, I wonder where the heck they've all been hiding out.
One of the things that's weird for me about getting older is, now that I've recovered my health for the most part, most days I just don't feel it at all. I still do crazy shit like I did when I was 20, and physically I'm probably in better shape than I was then. In fact, when we all got back down the mountain, I was so wound up that I went back up again, to find and harass a bunch of kids that were shouting at us from across the canyon when we were going down. In fact, the trailhead, on an old estate that's been converted to parkland, was crawling with teenagers, and after I finally plopped into an exhausted heap in the middle of a dirt trail to look at the moon for awhile, I narrowly missed a front row seat to two high schoolers humping right in front of me. Fortunately, I had decamped just moments before their arrival.
On the way down in the dark with no flashlight, I caught up to a group of about six more kids who, startled, one by one turned their own lights toward me to see who this lunatic was wandering around the park in the middle of the night. I saluted each one in succession.
"Are you a ghost?" asked one in all seriousness.
"Boo," I said wryly.
One of the girls said incredulously, "you're here all alone?"
"Are you going to beat me up?" I asked.
"Are you going to beat US up?" asked one of the guys.
The idea of me taking on six robust high school seniors single handedly amused me greatly, and right then the meaning of "living without fear" really hit home to me, since it dawned that those kids were way more scared of me than I was of them (which wouldn't be hard, since I wasn't scared of them at all, even though they could have easily pummeled me to death if they wanted to).
"You know how ghost stories get started?" I said. "You say, 'I was hiking one night, and this old guy comes out of the dark and passes us, and we ask if he's a ghost, and he says 'boo', and then he disappears in the dark. Later we found out he was the guy that used to live in the place we were hiking!'"
No response to that.
I passed these kids, gave a hearty greeting (which was returned in kind) to four quasi-gang bangers huddled in the shadows, and then, when I was near the gate, I stopped, having seen something very strange up on the side of the hill...what looked like an open fire on the hillside. This concerned me -- I narrowly escaped being burned to a crisp in the Ventura Country fire in 1992 -- and I pointed this out to the six kids. "What the fuck is that?" I said. "There's no trail up there."
The kids all looked very concerned. We stopped for a minute, muttered impotently, then continued the march toward the gate. It still bugged me, though, and at the very last second I made a sharp right turn on a trail towards the hillside to conduct a (fruitless) investigation.
"Where are you going?" one of the guys asked nervously.
"I'll see you guys later," I said.
"Be careful!" One of the girls called out.
"I will," I said.
The flashlights followed me down the trail for what to me was a ridiculously long time as I heard the teenagers whispering to each other. The last thing I heard was one of the guys say to another, in a hushed tone, as I finally escape the glare of the flashlights:
"Dude...that was a ghost."
Well, a cockeyed one, I suppose.
Being different from most people can really be a drag sometimes. But you also have some really unique experiences.
Guess which one of these people is me: