The forecast called for rain. Not just a chance of sprinkles here and there…full-on El Niño rain blasting with possible freezing temps and snow. After a winter of nothing but broken promises, it seemed our elusive stormy friend was finally arriving to unleash its downpour fury on Southern California. When iPhone declares 100% chance of showers every hour, you know it must be true. In LA, people cancel dinner plans just ten minutes away because they’d rather not “deal with the rain.” But now we were asking our friends to drive two hours outside the city in possible El Niño storms to meet a guy we’d never met and go to an undisclosed location to have an unknown experience—only knowing he was “taking us to the mountains.” I’m pretty sure these are all the things our parents warned us never to do. But, hey, we get to make our own rules now. And after all, we said we wanted an Adventure…
We meet at a gas station at the base of the mountains on the way out towards Big Bear, happy for the fact that the storm clouds have yet to break and it only took us an hour to get here. It’s hard not to notice LA rolling in when our Prius Brigade pulls up, though I need no help recognizing who we’re here to meet. The Adventure Wagon sits in the parking lot, waiting like a huge silver tank. It feels like a strange version of a blind group date as two young guys hop out of the Jeep and scan our crew’s faces, landing on the one familiar from Instagram photos. “Christina…?”, the tall blonde driver asks. And I give him a hug, so happy to finally be meeting in person to go on this expedition—though I still have no idea what we’re in for.
I found the Adventure Project on Instagram, lured in by the stunning photos of mountains, lush national parks and young folks hanging around campfires amongst snowy pines. It didn’t hurt that they frequently referenced quotes from some of my favorite Transcendentalist authors under pictures of Half Dome looming above Yosemite. I was a total gonner. Whatever this adventure was, I wanted in on it.
Turns out Siren Sarah did, too. We discovered we both followed the account, admiring not only the gorgeous photos culled from the adventures of young travelers across the country, but their adorable Adventure Project sweatshirts and T’s with slogans like “I’ll love you to the mountains and back.” When a photo popped up earlier this year finally giving a face and a name to the man behind T.A.P., we decided to reach out. After all, we shared a passion and a common mission: to inspire people to get up off of their couches and get out into life. Grab your friends, family and loved ones and go explore—make your LIFE an adventure.
One brief phone call and a few texts later, we stand collected at the foot of a mountain in the San Bernardino National Forest, entrusted into the care of Daniel Mansfield—The Adventure Project Himself. Immediately warm and very funny, Daniel’s easy-going vibe makes us all fast friends. Haven’t we always known each other? The original plan was to drive up to Daniel’s favorite camp spot and set up a campfire to hang around, then take a little hike nearby to a beautiful lookout point. But all road access is closed when we arrive, so we improvise. When you’re out looking for adventure, you quickly learn that you’ll always get the perfect experience if you can just trust and roll with whatever happens.
Daniel softballs it and tells us it’s a couple-mile-hike up and back with a gentle concerned look that seems to be assessing if LA can handle it. But we’re down for the challenge and eagerly put on our packs as we set out up to the campsite on foot. We later discover the hike is more like 11 miles roundtrip but, really, who’s counting? We cruise up the road, completely devoid of all other human life. Because who in their right minds would go hiking into the mountains on a day like today? We would.
With no one else around and the clouds quickly enveloping the surrounding landscape, the world begins to shift into some alternate reality. Our second mystery man is Michael Peters, Daniel’s friendly, energetic videographer, who sports white canvas kicks for hiking à la #damndaniel. (Full disclosure: they had to explain that reference to us.) We pass babbling brooks and gushing waterfalls. Giant pine trees disappearing into clouds overhead. Huge mossy stone structures that look straight out of Stonehenge…or “The NeverEnding Story”. (Full disclosure: we had to explain that reference to them.) Soft ambient music floats out to us on the air from Michael’s pocket as we walk, our footsteps echoing into the silence all around us as the whole world suddenly starts to slow down.
Stonehenge ends up being nature’s perfect playground—with giant boulders built for flying leaps. We can almost imagine the faces in the stone walls coming to life, giant rock hands lifting us on our way. Wherever we are, it feels ancient. Wrapped in the cool white mist, we may have completely left all time and space. Sheets of damp mist whip around the trails towards us at full speed. We stand still and wait for it to come. As water begins to fall above us, we welcome the arrival of the rain. And we keep walking. It’s all part of the adventure.
Lucky for us, El Niño plays the tease, deciding to be coy yet again. Within five minutes, the light drizzle passes overhead and disappears as quickly as it came, never to be seen again. The rain leaves epic jumping puddles in its wake—giant mirrors on the road, reflecting the sky back to us endlessly, increasing the whimsical dream-like feel of the day. Like Alice through the looking glass, reality slowly begins to alter and shift piece by piece, becoming curiouser and curiouser…
As we walk deeper into the clouds, we chat with Daniel about the origins of The Adventure Project. He explains that his family would routinely pack up and head out to California’s lakes and mountains when he was growing up, instilling a love of nature that’s become an integral part of him. While our mission at Sirens & Scoundrels is to get people out into their surrounding world at large—art exhibits, restaurants, hikes, road trips, gatherings—Daniel’s mission is more singularly focused. He wants you to get out into the mountains. While he appreciates all the many incredible landscapes that California has to offer, the mountains have his heart. His love of mountain culture runs deep.
We ask about his favorite spot in all of California, if he had to pick just one. His answer: the Eastern Sierras. Hands down. Their beauty is unparalleled, he swears. We make note of this as visions of our next road trip already begin to play out in our heads. But for now, we are here. In the San Bernardino Mountains. Or is it inside a dream? It’s hard to remember these things clearly now as we’re enveloped by more clouds slowly waltzing around us in their white-plumed skirts.
As we climb higher, the temperature drops drastically. Snow banks appear, dotting the mountainside and lending prime real estate for an impromptu snowball fight. Remind me sometime to let you in on my secret, perfect-snowball-making technique. Okay, fine…I’ll tell you now. Cup your hands and blow air out from your mouth onto the snow each time you compress it, repeating just until the heat from your breath makes a smooth, round ball. Voilà! A perfect snowball!
Who knows how long we’ve been up here now. Time stopped way back there on the trail somewhere. As we arrive at our destination campsite, the landscape contorts and shape-shifts yet again. The ground seems to disappear and we float instead of walk in this higher elevation, surrounded by nothing but pops of evergreen peeking out from behind a misty sea of opaque white waves that we must gently wade through one foot at a time just to see. We could have wandered into “Lord of the Rings”. Or possibly Heaven. With this cloud’s-eye-view, I’d believe it.
Sitting on a rock at the mountain’s edge, the entire world finally melts away completely. Nothing else exists but this. This moment, this stillness, this soft whoosh of mist in our ears, this cloud-drenched evergreen mountain. This group of new friends, no longer just walking a trail but dancing in the sky. And I’m reminded again of the power of saying yes.
We could have said no so many times along the way. We could have postponed. We could have heeded the warnings of impending weather doom and cancelled. Instead, we trusted our instincts and forged ahead, knowing that all good adventures require a little risk and a lot of faith. El Niño never came, but the gathering storm provided the perfect other-worldly backdrop for our day. The blocked access road forced us to go on foot, ensuring that we fully experienced every gorgeous step along the way—proving our motto “Sirens say yes!” right once again. Always say yes when Adventure calls! You might just be gifted a little piece of Heaven on Earth. We avoided the storm…and ended up in the clouds.
Thanks so much for the amazing adventure, The Adventure Project!!
~love Sirens & Scoundrels
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Video & Contributing Photography by Michael Peters
Contributing Photography by Gina Cholick
© 2016 Sirens and Scoundrels