Lost in the Woods

The other day, and a couple weeks ago, I was cruising along up in the hills along the Evey-Palmer. I came around a bend in the road where it dips down, turns sharply right at the head of a canyon, and then starts one of those short muscle-searing climbs. There is shade in that turn, but no time to enjoy it; even on hot days you don't want to stop there, lose whatever momentum you may have at the bottom of the climb. But that is just what I did.

I was already slowing at a time when practical experience says I should be gaining, or at least maintaining, speed before the steep. Someone was there, in the shadows at the crook in the road. Someone was poking at something unseen in the leaves off the side of the road. Someone was poking with a very large stick; no, stick would be an understatement, this was a full on branch fallen from one of the overhanging oaks. Had I unwittingly rode upon the coverup of a crime most foul? As I rolled closer, and slower, I still couldn't see what had attracted the stranger's attention, but I eventually came close enough to divert his focus away from the roadside. Away from the roadside and onto me. Mountain bikes are not exactly the most stealthy of machines; the footprint of twenty-niner tires crunching over loose rocks and fallen leaves usually give good warning of my approach. Good warning was not what I was hoping for on this occasion. As the stranger resolved himself from the shadows, he dropped the branch and hailed my approach.

This part of the Wilderness Park doesn't see much two-wheeled traffic, and far less of the foot variety. I couldn't have been more than a quarter mile past the main park loop, having branched off in Cobal Canyon, but was a little dumb-struck by the question: "Is this the Claremont Loop?" Uggh, greenhorn, city folk; some people really should just stick to the grid. Alright, remain calm I tell myself, he is just not familiar with the area. Be a good citizen and help him out. "Uh, no, the loop, or what most people would refer to as the loop, is back that way", and I indicate the direction from which I just rode. Incomprehension. "So, this isn't The Loop, I thought this was the five mile Loop". "Nope, not The Loop. This is the Evey-Palmer. Where did you start from?" The lost (I am now confident I can call him lost) stranger points back over his shoulder. A couple more questions and I was able to determine that he had parked his car at the east end of the Evey-Palmer at Mt. Baldy Road - a few long and, today, hot miles away. By the way, he had no water, that I could see; always carry water.

Still not quite convinced that he wasn't on The Loop, the stranger tried one more time, "but are you sure this isn't The Loop". Drawing a circular motion through the air, back the way I just rode from, vaguely further up the mountainside, and finally back over his shoulder from whence he started. A nice, full looping motion. Unfortunately, an imaginary one. "I thought maybe it circles back around just up ahead". Wishful thinking won't make it so. "This road just doesn't do that. If you keep going down, it will take you to The Loop, but then you will still have to get back to your car. That is a long walk up Mt. Baldy Road. The other option is to go back the way you came". Maybe it was because he didn't like the sound of that option, but he still did not look at all convinced. Maybe he just wasn't sure of which course of action to take. Maybe there really was a body underneath that pile of dirt and leaves. "But, my phone said the Claremont Loop. That's why I parked there". Technology helps people drive into lakes too. "Okay, lets see that map". The next five or more minutes were spent examining the map on the little screen, pointing out where he parked, where The Claremont Loop was, how the Evey-Palmer connected the two but did not, in fact, loop back, to the start, and how Mt. Baldy Road provided the only loop option given his start point.

Well, that seemed to do it. The visual aid helped, and he decided there was nothing for it but to head back the way he came. He said "thanks", I said "no problem" and we both started on our way. As I pushed off I gave a quick glance at the side of the road; just leaves and dirt. There was still one junction, the top of Padua, so I waited there. I waited there for some time, but finally he came along. I made sure that he hadn't come up that way - a definite "no", and then back to pedaling. I went up as far as the junction to Potato Mountain, up where the bee hives used to be kept, enjoyed the view over the valley, a sandwich, and wondered why during that rest, I never caught sight of anyone walking up the road (you can see way back down the road from this point). After a while I set off, backtracking, but never did see the lost stranger again, neither along the Evey-Palmer, nor on The Loop. Over the intervening days since that ride, I have not read of any missing hikers in the local mountains, so am guessing he found a way back from whence he came. Good thing, I would prefer not to discover something hidden under a pile of leaves when next I am up there.