This mornings July sunrise was one of the most gorgeous I had ever seen in a long time. The sky was full of pre-thunder storm wispy clouds and stripped with pinks and purples. It was a stunningly gorgeous sight as we parked the truck near the bottom of the Skyline Trail.
Looking back now, I’m so, so glad it was not the last sun set I would ever see. Believe me, for a few hours that summers afternoon as I raced a brutal lightning storm back to my car, I wondered if that would be my last sunset.
July 2015 and my boyfriend and I decided to split up for the first part of our adventure that pre-thunderstorm in morning exploring Skyline Trail. He was planning to run the entire trail, from one end to the other, it would be an almost sixteen mile run for him; the farthest by far that he had ever run. He was planning to summit Mt Whitney in a little over a week and I was planning to hike as much as I could considering I was still recovering from back surgery and my doctor said I can hike but I’m taking it as easy as I can because I want to get better and be able to run again by September.
Note to self; Don’t be a badass!
That early morning as we both were on the trail; he was running, I was hiking with Carly, our dog who is not the brightest bulb in the shed.
Almost as soon as Adrian started running I heard him calling out to me. He told me to put Carly back in the car; which was weird. I thought maybe it was a rattlesnake? I joined him father up this section of trail and saw three tiny little baby birds on the trail side. They must have just fallen out of their nest and looked in total disarray. We were completely not sure what to do and there was no cell phone service in the area to Google Baby Bird Help. We moved the babies to the side of the trail (Any mountain biker could have come by at any moment and destroyed them; this trail is incredibly busy on weekends) and made the decision if they were still here looking helpless when we got back in a few hours that we would try to help them out.
We separated and I started up the Skyline Trail heading towards Bluff Lake. Once I got up near 7,000 feet towards the ridge line the views were just amazing. The clouds across the entire Big Bear Valley and reaching up to the highest summits of San Gorgonio at over 10,000 feet were so beautiful. In the distance, I could hear thunder rumbling on and on. It was over cast and I was hiking in shorts and a tank top but it was a very comfortable temperature for hiking in late July. That was at about eight a.m.
By nine a.m. I was standing on the ridge line farther to the east and watching the clouds moving in fast and the forest getting darker. I had a fantastic view of San Gorgonio here, farther east than Clark’s Grade and I could see lightning hitting all sorts of areas around the summit of San G in the distance. The thunder was getting louder at this point. I had only hiked three miles into the trail at this point and I was planning on a grand total of hopefully ten today but the thunder felt like it was getting closer. With regret in my voice, I told Carly dog it was time to turn around.
My boyfriend had still not caught up with us as I ate string cheese and we made our way back towards Bluff Lake way, way off in the distance.
I had just felt the first rain drops when I saw a sexy trail runner in short shorts and wearing Lakers purple colors running towards me. My boyfriend had caught up, finally! At this point, the thunder’s rumble was getting closer and I was beginning to rethink this whole hiking on a rainy day idea. He gave me a quick kiss and was down the trail before I could convince him we should quit for the day. He was, after all, planning to run sixteen miles that morning for our Mt Whitney training! Neither he’ll high water or a thunderstorm gets in the way of my babe’s training schedule!
By the time I was just a quarter mile past where we had met up I couldn’t even see the lightning strikes any more; they were that close. Every time the lightning would strike the ground around me, there would be a crazed noise and I would just see a flash behind my eyes. I’ll admit at this point I was terrified I would not make it back to the car. I started to pray. I thought there was a real chance I could die.
Ahead of me I could see some mountain bikers cutting up Skyline Trail, the way I had come up a few hours ago, it seemed like a life time ago. The sun had actually been trying to peek through the clouds at that point! So at least somebody else was as crazy as me being out here in this weather I thought! (And later in the evening I would talk to my boyfriend and find out that the guy in the lead of the group owns the bike shop up here, so locals no less out mountain biking in a severe thunderstorm!)
I was trying to remember if it was better to be out in the middle of the road during the lightning or if I wanted to be in the trees like the bikers had been. I actually started back tracking up the road to take the trail. I couldn’t decide what to do, so I prayed about it and than went back out to the road. Good thing I second guessed my decision because all of a sudden there was the biggest crack and explosion I have ever heard in my life! Lightning had hit a tree fifty feet to my right, exactly on the trail I had almost taken! My knees were shaking as I thought about it.
I was just within a few feet of being struck by lightning. I thought to myself as I heard pieces of the exploded tree in the forest to my right flying through the empty wet forest. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever been through. I honestly was not sure what to do and I was completely terrified at this point that I would even make it back to the car. I just kept praying and hiking as fast as I could through the rain storm. Thank God for the power of prayer.
That is not exactly the end of the story. Carly and I finally made our way back to my Subaru. I have never been so happy to see a Subaru in all my life. It was pouring rain at this point. The thunder was rumbling in the skies above and the lightning was crashing down around us so close it was just flashes behind my eyes.
My left arm had been aching for the last few miles for seemingly no reason and I was so stressed that I honestly wondered if I was having a heart attack. I was freezing cold and shivering and all I wanted right than was to drive home and hop in the hot Jacuzzi.
But first I had to rescue those damn baby birds! I didn’t want to rescue the baby birds to begin with but I had promised Adrian I would go look for them and they were probably long gone at this point, right?
I left Carly in the car so at least one of us would be dry-ish. I grabbed a reusable shopping bag out of my car. The only thing that I had that was possibly bird cage-ish and began hiking up the muddy trail to where we had left the baby birds.
I saw one of the quarter size feathered babies right away. Shit.
I guess we are bird people now
I thought, scooping him into my Whole Foods shopping bag (and wondering if I was about to contact bird flu) It was absolutely pouring down rain on me at this point and all I could think about was going home and making some home made chai tea. As soon as I found the other two baby birds, I was so fucking out of there! I looked for a good ten minutes, and I was completely soaking wet, getting hit with giant rain drops. I was just about to give up when I found one of the other babies under a manzanita bush. The little asshole had been watching me the whole time. I scooped him up and decided that was enough. I had found enough birds for one day.
I ran back down the trail, jumped back in my Subaru, inhaling the most disgusting dog smell ever (But couldn’t put down the windows as it was pouring rain outside.) I splashed my Subaru down the dirt road back towards town, driving fast through the puddles. All of a sudden I began hearing the weirdest squeaks. Oh shit.
I was so damn tired.
Was my Subaru about to break down after all I had just been through?! I had survived, so far at least thunderstorms, and my arm was beginning to feel better so maybe I was not having a heart attack; breaking down five miles outside of town and having to walk back would be really terrible at this point in my late morning!
Then, I remembered the birds. I was hearing the birds squeak. I told you they were assholes.