A Day in Idyllwild

Since I recently had my life turned upside down, when my company decided to lay off many employees including yours truly, I haven’t been in much of a blogging mood. So here’s a fun post I wrote four years ago, for an old blog I used to maintain. Enjoy!


A broiling Saturday morning, and I’d just finished up grouting a new mosaic. My local friends were either out-of-town or working and I didn’t feel like sitting around my Huntington Beach apartment, staring at my Facebook wall, all day. I scanned the OC/LA Weekly for events, all of which seemed to center around food/drink and hovering in the hundred degree heat. This was my dilemma; here it is the height of tourist season in SoCal on a sweltering hot Saturday. Roads were sure to be jammed everywhere, tempers short. I didn’t want to drive to the desert, where it was by this time (10am) already at asphalt-melting temps. I ruled out a coastal drive to Ventura or Santa Barbara (PCH on a summer Saturday? Fuhgeddaboutit!). Museums would surely be packed with families looking for a cheap way to escape the heat. I was left with fleeing to a mountaintop. Besides, in the mountains, I’d find cooler temps at the higher elevations. I could drive to Big Bear, but knew the roads up there would be clogged with day/weekend trippers. How about a mountaintop less travelled? One I had yet to visit? Idyllwild it would be.

Figuring that the drive up the mountain would be the highlight of this journey, I took my time, savoring the vistas, pulling over whenever possible. I was blessed with very little traffic. A couple of hair-pinny curves took me by surprise, even though I was driving slow and cautiously. Oh yeah, did I mention I have a fear of heights? My heart shot up into my throat as I rounded these curves, curves that did not have any kind of barrier. One false slip of the foot and you’d careen over a cliff. But the views were breathtaking; the sweeping expanse overlooking a valley buttressed by the cloud-topped San Gabriel mountains.

The village of Idyllwild was a lot like I’d pictured it be: small and kitschy, with hippy-elite, white-bread touches. I tried hard to keep my mind open, to ignore the shudder that naturally overtakes me when I see astroturf and cutesy-wootsy log bear carvings in an otherwise beautiful landscape. I consoled myself by noting that at least there was no evidence of the musty Bavarian-doily motif you find in the neighboring mountain town of Big Bear (author’s note: Coincidentally, I’d move to Big Bear a couple years later!).

The town was swarmed with families poking around, lumbering, fanning themselves in the 85 degree heat. I popped into a crowded coffeehouse, ordered an iced latte and found the only seat available, outside on the porch in the shade. Music was blasting from speakers overhead, competing with a live, astroturf-side performance by a solo-guitarist of New Agey bent. A flock of loud, smoking teens and young adults near me added to the cacophony. I marveled at the irony of my attempt to seek peace and tranquility on a mountaintop in tourist-soaked SoCal.

I next grazed the shops and galleries for a bit then decided I’d escape the tourists and take a quick little hike. I studied the trail map and found one denoted as ‘easy,’ the Ernest Maxwell trail. I drove over to Humber Park, parked my car, found the trailhead and started up. Immediately I noted the steep incline and after a dozen steps thought “this is the most strenuous ‘easy’ hike I’ve ever been on!” I made my way up slowly, huffing with each step, stopping to snap photos of Mt San Jacinto, looming over me at nearly 11,000 feet.

Mt. San Jacinto, San Bernardino Mountains. Photo by Angel LaCanfora.
Mt. San Jacinto, San Bernardino Mountains. Photo by Angel LaCanfora.

Suddenly I came upon two forest rangers. We all seemed surprised to see each other.

“Hello, do you have a permit?” said one.

“Uh, no,” I stammered.

“You need one to hike the Devil’s Slide trail.”

“Oh, I, uh… I didn’t know…”

“Are you just here to take some pictures?”

“Uhh… yeah. That’s it.”

“Okay, well you can go through a little ways. But next time you’ll need a permit for this trail.”

Thanking them profusely I resumed my hike. So much made sense now!

Not wanting to take advantage of the rangers trust in me, I started back down after about 15 minutes. It was then that it occurred to me I’d neglected to hang my Adventure Pass up in my car. I figured the rangers would be out in force today, so I scurried down as fast as I could while trying not to sprain an ankle.

Sure enough, when I emerged from the trail, I spotted a ranger with a clipboard walking away from my car. I called out to him, to explain the situation, that I had a parking permit but had forgotten to hang it up. I don’t wish to relive this unfortunate conversation in full. Just picture him full of condescending attitude and me pressing my lips together hard, lest I blurt out something that would get me into more trouble.

Feeling pretty ticked off at having been scolded by a pseudo-cop (thoughts running through my head at this point ran along the lines of “what, did you fail forest ranger school so you were relegated to parking lot detail and now you’re a bitter man with a thankless job you hate?” etc..). I was also soaked in sweat to my skin, feeling hot and picked on (I had the Adventure Pass right there on the seat of my car! I’d have shown it to the guy if he’d let me! Sheesh.). I felt the time had come to blow this joint, meander down the mountain towards my lovely, beachy home.

And now some thoughts to mull, courtesy of Paul Theroux, one of my all-time favorite writers. This is an excerpt from his book Fresh Air Fiend.

“Some people say that the travel book is a kind of novel, that it has elements of fiction in  it…half the prosy animal of nonfiction and half the fabulous monster of fiction, and there it stands, snorting, and pawing the ground, challenging us to give it a name. There are, no doubt, books that fit this description: little trips that writers have worked up into epics and odysseys….you take a trip – a couple of months…not too dangerous – you write it up, making it fairly harrowing and mocking, and dramatizing yourself, because you’re the hero of this – what? Quest, perhaps, but full of liberties.

When I read such a book and spot the fakery, the invention, the embroidery, I can read no further. Self-dramatization is inevitable in any travel book – most travelers, however dreary and plonkingly pedestrian, see themselves as heroic, solitary adventurers. And the odd thing is that the real heroes of travel seldom write about their journeys.”

I ain’t no hero. Just a humble blogger!


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