On days 7 through 9, I was supposed to be in the woods. The thought of cushioned trails and an escape from noisy traffic had gotten me through the previous few days, so learning that the trails were closed was a hard hit.
Because of fire damage (this has been the worst year of wildfires in CA history!) not only were the trails closed, but they were impassable. I learned this the morning before setting out on said trails, and spent the next hour trying to find any other way through San Bernardino National Forest as to avoid route 243.
My last minute route finding proved unsuccessful, so I set out, spirit dampened, on road. The next 32 hours were a whirlwind of planning, pavement, and trying to make up for the extra 30 miles my reroute added.
On day 9, I woke up outside of Banning, CA and began walking on dirt roads parallel to I-10. My maps let me know that the route would have private or restricted roads but my lack of service and battery left me with no other options. A few hours into the morning, I came upon a bridge completely blocked by a security truck. I approached hesitantly, naming myself and my mission.
The guard, Aaron, casually responded “Oh yeah, I’ve been there!”
He then proceeded to tell me about his own cross country walk, one that started in Maine and ended in Southern California! I was shocked, relieved, and excited to hear about his trip. We had a nice long chat, at the end of which he informed me the area I was entering was closed, but he would let me pass.
Jazzed about the interaction, I rode my excitement up to a plateau of wind turbines. With better service atop the hill, I was able to receive a message from an old friend saying she was on her way to meet me. We picked a meeting spot near Whitewater, CA, and spent a few hours on the side of the road catching up and feeling the desert. Katie was my first visitor of the trip, and meeting up would have been impossible if I hadn’t rerouted two days earlier.
That night, with no campgrounds or lodging options nearby, I searched my map for a safe sleeping spot. The only thing on the map was a Thai Temple. Without expectation, I approached the temple to ask if I could camp outside their fence. They welcomed me into their courtyard with open arms, shared snacks, and told me to set up my tent in the yard.
I spent the afternoon swapping stories and getting a tour of the Temple from Monta, a resident and new friend. The owner of the Temple, Charlie, explained that their temple was a safe meditation space for people of all nationalities and faiths. Next month they will be celebrating their ninth anniversary as a Temple. I encourage anyone reading this to look into the Whitewater Thai Temple to learn more, and to visit if you are ever in the area. You will be met with acceptance, peace, and the opportunity to learn.
The next morning was a send off of picture taking, banana eating, and contact-info exchanging. I have written to Monta already, and plan to stay in touch with her and the Temple moving forward.
As much as I had dreaded the reroute away from the woods, the change in plans brought about the most incredible experience of humanity. Thank you to the friends, new and old, for the gift of this day.