The Accidental Leader

Recently I organized a day trip for a small group to hike in the Pinnacles National Park in Central California. I did so as a favor for a friend. See, I am an event host for some hiking groups. My friend visited the park last fall and only hiked about 6 miles – 3 miles out and 3 miles back. He wanted to hike the higher trails and walk along the ridge with the hopes of seeing California Condors soaring by. That trail follows a loop and my friend was going to be the leader.

When I opened the event to just 8 people, including me and my friend, all the spaces were filled within 2 days of posting it. Unfortunately, my friend had to cancel. He needed to take care of some personal issues. And so it goes, I was now the leader by default. This was outside my comfort zone, as I had never hiked those trails, so I did not know what to expect. Four people offered to drop out of the trip, as the logistics for coordinating the carpool and meeting locations were challenging. However, I managed to pull it all together and the 8 of us caravanned to the park in two vehicles.

When we arrived at the park entrance we consulted with a park ranger to determine which trails to follow. The route shown to us was about 9 miles, so how long could it take? A couple of hours? Maybe. Fortunately, everyone in my group was friendly and patient. For the first mile or so a couple of people asked me if I wanted to walk at the front of the group, but I reminded them that I knew as much about these trails as they did. None of us had hiked inside the Pinnacles National Park before. I tend to “lead from behind”, sweeping the trail to ensure our slowest hiker is fine.

We followed the signs along the trail, consulted with park rangers as we encountered them and had a very good time. We had to walk through some caves to get to the reservoir, which was our lunch stop. Fortunately, I had several flashlights in my pack and shared them with my companions, as it did get very dark in some parts of the caves. 

As we walked through the caves I was immediately reminded of Splash Mountain at Disneyland. However, this was way better. The waterfalls and streams were real. We had to walk through some shallow streams, thus got our boots wet. We had to be mindful of the low ceiling in parts of the cave and squeezed through some narrow gaps between boulders. It was awesome! But there was no rollercoaster waiting for us to board when we exited the cave, just lots of sunshine and fresh air.

We sat along the banks of the reservoir and ate lunch, all the while being taunted by pesky squirrels seeking handouts. We did not oblige them.

The weather was hot and sunny. Fortunately, there were natural shady spots along the trail and we stopped and cooled down before continuing on. We had to be conservative on drinking the water we carried with us, as the last water source was before we entered the bear cave. We had some steep trails to follow, up and down. There were stairs carved into the granite surface, and metal railings to hang onto. Plus we managed to catch a glimpse of some condors flying nearby. 

We eventually made it back to our cars, five and a half hours after we started. We rested in the shade of some trees in the parking lot, snacked, drank more water, then headed home. It was a very long day for me. I woke up at 5am to meet my driver. She was awesome. It was after 10pm when I got back home. 

Even though all 8 of us shared in the success of this trip, I get to take credit as the accidental leader who pulled it all together. 

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