I hit the trail early because the wind kept me up most of the night. I was camped near 9,000 feet on the side of San Jacinto Peak and a couple inches of crusty snow covered the northern slopes. My progress was slow due to the wind and sloppy trail. Within the first mile for the day I heard a startling sound as a tree exploded, sending shards of wood within a few yards of the trail. I stood a safe distance from the commotion, but if I was walking just a little faster I think I would have had a heart attack. Apparently, the eighteen inch in diameter tree, rotten on the inside, could no longer withstand the wind and so it surrendered to the gust and splintered out about fifteen or so feet from its base. This was just the beginning of my day.
I trudged forward through the wind and snow patches at a much reduced pace, but I still caught up with two other hikers. One of the hikers I met up with was walking through the cold with flip flops. He hiked nearly two hundred miles from the border in sandals; he's way tougher than I. I wouldn't have made it to Lake Morena, let alone San Jacinto. As the three of us progressed towards Fuller Ridge we stumbled upon Saint Nick who literally lay cross the trail with his pack still strapped to his back. Apparently, when Santa isn't overseeing the elves in the workshop he likes to section hike long trails. He apparently worked off last years cookies within the first few hundred miles from the border, but his beard was still whiter than ever.
As the three of us talked to Saint Nick we found out that he didn't sleep well the night before because the wind kept pulling his tent stakes out from the rocky soil. He also told us that he was low on energy due to the thin air at elevation. He said he just needed to nap. The three of us looked at each other and knew Saint Nick needed our help. We convinced him to hike with us a little way down the mountain to a safe location to camp. After finding a sunny and flat spot, we helped Santa setup his tent and made sure he had plenty of food and water. I instructed Santa to call local trail angels in the morning so I would know he was O.K. I didn't hike as many miles as I planned that day, but I guess that's the price I had to pay to save Christmas. I learned a valuable lesson. The trail doesn't conform to the neatly planned schedule I created before I even set foot on the trail. I must be flexible and accept the unpredictable experiences which unfold moment by moment along the trail.