What did you do to celebrate your retirement?
Magellan chose Palm Springs. Figured he’d improve his golf score. Take in the BNP Paribas Open—the tennis tournament in Indian Wells. And enjoy some hiking in the area.
Flexions: deviations from a normal course. Magellan’s retirement swerved way off course. A continent away, deals were delayed while power struggles played out in boardrooms and bars. Telus interruptus meant he only played a full eighteen holes on two of the eleven golf games he started. And other than a short hike in Joshua Tree, his feet rarely left the house we rented. Which most of the time was full of company we’d invited to help celebrate the end of his corporate life. “I’ve gotta get outta here,” he said the afternoon our friends George and Marsha flew back to Vancouver. “Let’s go for a long hike, the one that starts north of here and goes down the mountain to the art museum.”
“Do we have time before it gets dark?” I asked.
We packed so quickly we were waving at our friends from the North Lykken Trail when the WestJet plane they were on flew overhead.
Named after Carl Lykken, a Palm Springs pioneer and the town’s first postmaster, our guidebook described this as a “magnificent desert view trail along the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs…as you negotiate through the rocky terrain, accented in spring with yellow blooming brittlebush and flowering cacti.” Not that year. According to the trail reports, because of a particularly dry autumn and winter there were no wildflowers.
Starved for a natural world devoid of egos, greed and malfeasance, we didn’t care. The weather was perfect, the views were splendid and Magellan’s phone was silent as the empty desert air.
You’d think we’d found the Rothschild’s Slipper Orchid when we noticed the bright magenta bloom of a beaver-tail cactus. Out came the cameras and the happy endorphins. Out flew our sense of time.
And out went our trail finding, too. Somehow we missed the turnoff to the Palm Springs Desert Museum Trail. After walking too far on North Lykken, we had a decision to make. Continue on for three miles to Ramon Road and be another three miles from home at the end? Or turn back, follow our initial plan and hike the mile down to the Museum and be a mile-and-a-half from home?
Impending darkness hastened our decision-making.
And all too soon, nightfall and our poor choice arrived together like an eclipse of the sun.
The Museum Trail is rated moderate in difficulty. That may be true when you walk up the mountain in daylight. Picking your way down the steep path (900 feet down) among the boulders while trying to find the next white trail maker in the dark is strenuous—the rating the government site gives this hike. There was no moonlight—the new moon was behind the mountain.
Once again, Magellan lived up to his wayfaring name. He led the way down using a barbecue light he had (fortuitously) tossed into his backpack. Magellan says I always carry too much water, (guilty as accused), but this time I was admired not admonished. I also felt quite smug about the two bananas I’d grabbed on our way out the door, just in case.
There was no reason to panic. Although we hadn’t brought jackets, it was quite warm for the middle of March. If one of us stumbled and broke an ankle or a leg on this steep mountainside, we had cell-phone coverage. One footstep at a time, our light shining down on the trail. Pause. Light the red boulders searching for a splash of white waymarker. Breathe. Repeat.
There’s a large body of scientific literature demonstrating that emotions play a large part in generating temporal flexions,” writes Alan Bordick, “Feelings off, alarm and stress slow time.
The average person takes 25 minutes to hike down to the Museum. When we got to the bottom, if you asked me how long it took us, I probably would have said, “About two hours.”
An hour after we started down, asphalt now thankfully beneath our feet, a young man’s voice called out to us from a balcony at the Hilton Hotel. “Was that you guys who just came off the mountain? We’ve been sitting out here watching your light. If it went out before you got down, we planned on calling for help.”
(Attracted and repelled, we ventured partway up the Museum Trail in daylight a year later.)
One of the many amazing things we walked away with that night was a memory of the incredible view, the brilliant pin-pricks of street lights setting Palm Springs aglow, the distant lights of other desert cities dazzling beyond. “We should go back up when there’s a full moon,” one of us said on the walk home. And so, in the fullness of time with Magellan retired, we did.
Burdick, Alan. Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Explanation. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017. This is a good, fun read. Who knew that the most commonly used noun in the English language is “time?” Alan defines time as “a proxy measure of consciousness,” or “the movement of events and sensations through us” and even provides a formula. “A period with memorable events will seem in retrospect to have passed slowly,” he writes, confirming why a hike in the dark creates lingering memories.
Ferranti, Philip. 120 Great Hikes in and near Palm Springs. Englewood, Colorado: Westcliffe Publishers, Inc., 2003. A 2014 update of this trusted guidebook adds 20 more hikes.