The New West
The hills behind your house reminded you of the intro to M*A*S*H, which you learned was because it was filmed forty miles to your west on the same latitude. You were looking at bald hills of Southern California with much the same terrain as Malibu Canyon.
You saw the trails a mile away, clawed by dirt bikes through the chaparral. You saw them exercising and heard their droning engines. Sometimes you even heard the loudspeaker of the deputies in the copter ordering them off private land.
You tried to attempt the track up the east slope of the mountain a few times, but found it so steep that you needed both hands and your feet to climb. The graded track of the west slope was easiest and you even saw track teams from the high school using it. Even the powdered dirt and sand of the central route up the valley was better than the east slope.
Your parents are going to sell the house and you won't have a base at the foot of the mountain anymore. You decide to climb it for the sixth time. You are damn fool enough to do this at 4:00 a.m. in the light of a full moon. After you get stuck in a fifteen foot barranca with nothing but moonlight, you decide to wait for some daylight.
You suck at your canteen of water and rest on a rock. The moon sails down into the sky. The valley is shades of grey and black in the moonlight. You have spent nearly an hour tramping across the fields, passing wide of some homeless people sleeping in their cars under a tree, you are at the foot of the western slope.
The hint of day comes to the eastern horizon. The sky is now changing to a hue of blue. Time to get moving again.
You miss the pole that marks the start of the western trail but find it again by circling back. Now begins a steep slog over very broken rock. This was nearly a road three years ago. What happened? You worry about twisting your ankle up here. Your phone doesn't always work.
The valley of the south face of the mountain is like a giant figure 8. The eastern, western, and central routes up the valley meet a third of the way up. A single trail winds around the upper curves of the valley like an S ending in the peak.
You find the trail is badly eroded up its entire length. At some point it was able to handle a station wagon, because there's the wreck of one high on the mountainside, but in places you have to climb on all fours to get up the trailside. The closet pole you have taken as a stave comes in handy more than once. Your knees regret this trip.
The peak is nothing but a sandy lot with low scrub all the way around. You meet people climbing from the San Bernardino County slope. It is easier, they say. You vow to try that next. You will find it isn't hardly possible for you, but that's in the future.
Now to return down, in blaring sunlight. You resolve to visit the east slope. The lines of the trails are not so sharp. As your knees protest, you ease your way down the trail head to the junction of the three trails. You remember twenty years ago when you ran down this trail to beat the setting sun. You are not as young as you once were.
The east trail is not as visible as it used to be twenty years ago. Coming down the spine of the 8 you lose it, in fact. You have to traverse a rockfall with your stave without any sign of a trail.
Now you have reached the point on the eastern peak where you recall a very steep descent to the cliff by the old van in the barranca. You see the barranca, you seen the eucalyptus trees where the old van was, you see the cliff below you where dozens of shooters emptied shotguns and AK-47s and AR-15s and once, at least, a .30-06 rifle into the van. You collected the shell casings as a boy. What you don't see anymore is the trail down. You take your bearings on the cliff below and begin your descent through the sagebrush. It becomes apparent, standing in what was once the trail, that the sagebrush is evenly spaced throughout the hillside. There is no more trail down the eastern slope. You are blazing a path down a seventy-percent grade based on twenty year old memories.
When you tell this story later, you say you got stuck and died up there. You tell it straight and wait for people to catch on that you are fibbing.
But the Lord is good to you and there is still a grade, not a drop, and you stagger onto the sandy path back down the valley.
You hear, years afterward, that they are actually grading the slopes again to build houses twenty-six years after they gave up when the 1991 recession hit. Your whole memory of the valley will be as forgotten as the eastern trail. It is the Old West now.