Sometimes Getting There Is The Adventure

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” — Yogi Berra

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Ashley and I on the summit

We were lost. Despite having three people using three separate phones with three different mapping apps, we had no idea where we were or where we were going. What we did know was that we were in California and that we were close to Mount Shasta—which were both positives, as our intended destination was Bunny Flat Trailhead on the south side of Mount Shasta. Unfortunately it was late, everyone was exhausted, and none of the maps we were using placed us on an official road.

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Mickey Spades heading for the summit

It’s easy blame the late hour for the bad decision making that followed. Ashley and I had gotten up early that morning and spent the day walking all over San Francisco, enjoying the comforts and attractions of the city before our impending five-day mountain immersion. Following a full day of urban exploration, we hopped in the car and drove four hours to the city of Redding to pick up our climbing partners, Doug and Mickey Spades. Their flight got in at midnight west coast time (3 AM eastern time), and with both of them having worked a full day (well, Doug at least) before spending the equivalent of another day traveling to the west coast, it’s safe to say the whole group was physically and mentally spent.

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Ashley nearing the summit

While fatigue was a contributing factor to us getting lost, it would be an injustice not give the darkness at least partial credit. With the absence of light pollution, and heavy cloud cover concealing the glow of the stars, the night was eerily black by the standards of the four suburban east coasters residing in our car. Further complicating matters, a thick layer of fog had built up making even basic navigation challenging. The mere act of navigating the road we were on became a considerable trial. Adding to our woe was our rental car’s headlights’ inability to penetrate the dense fog. At times, looking out the windshield was so hopeless that we sent spotters in front of the car to signal what direction the road actually went. While using spotters impeded our progress, it did ease the fear that at any moment we could drive off the road and into the void.

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Home at Lake Helen

The inability to see the road was both a blessing and a curse, as the further we traveled along the road the worse it became. What started off a standard two-lane paved road, quickly turned into a paved single-lane road. Shortly thereafter the road turned again, this time into a barely-single-lane dirt road. The further we continued up the dirt road the worse the condition of the road became. Pressing on, the ruts in the road became larger, obstacles became gnarlier, and the road became even narrower. At this point we were totally committed; even if we had wanted to turn around, there was no way it was possible. Perhaps the one smart smart thing we did was rent an SUV—the additional clearance it offered was incredibly beneficial. While I celebrated my good fortune for choosing the Jeep Patriot over the minivan we had originally considered, I silently berated myself for not paying for the extra insurance.

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Spades and Ashley on their way to Lake Helen

Looking back at it though, blaming our minor misadventure on fatigue, darkness, and poor road conditions is convenient but not totally honest. What truly sealed our fate was sheer stubbornness (this was only the first of several times this got us into trouble on that trip). The truth is that both Doug and I had been there before, and the moment the road turned to dirt we both knew that we were going the wrong way. We just were too stubborn, tired, and excited to backtrack.

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Pouting in front the illustrious Jeep Patriot

In the end, everything ended up working out. The narrow, gnarly road eventually began to open up and smooth out. At some point the road became paved again. Never truly sure where we were that night, we finally encountered a parking lot with what appeared to be people sleeping in their cars. With our nerves fried and ready for sleep, we unanimously agreed that it was as good a place as any to spend the night. I hesitate to say I slept well that night, but it was one of the most-needed nights of rest I have ever had. To my surprise, waking up in the morning we realized we were at the Bunny Flat Trailhead. We had actually made it!

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