Last Sunday Ada and I finally got back to our hiking . The day was warm , but not too hot — perfect for hiking , and when we had trudged up a few miles a cooling wind began to blow . I was carrying the lunch in my backpack . The trail is beautiful .
We , again , hadn’t acquired either the Adventure Pass required now in California to park anywhere in State Park territory , or the trail permit required in the San Bernardino Mountains to enter wilderness areas . The beginning of wilderness area is clearly marked with a Forest Service sign . Going beyond the sign requires a permit .
It takes about a half hour or so to reach the ” San Gorgonio Wilderness ” sign from where we had parked down below . Hiking beyond the sign , as we did , turned us , I guess , into illegal immigrants to the wilderness . We tried to ignore the clear reality that we were now violators , and we trudged on .
Well , I should say that I trudged on . Trudged isn’t the word I’d use for Ada . As a friend of ours says , Ada hikes like a mountain goat . Goat ? I didn’t say that — the friend did ! I remember a time long ago on a trail in Utah when Ada was racing along . Two friends of ours, younger than us , and I , were struggling to keep up . I think the three of us were half dead by the end of the day , but Ada was ready to start again , I suspect . So , Ada doesn’t trudge .
When we eventually got to our destination for the day , John’s Meadow , we sat down and had lunch . A gentle breeze blew through the trees .
As we stood up to make the return trip , a couple of people appeared , a man and a woman . She wore a powder blue quilted coat . He had a wide-brimmed hat and seemed to have a goatee . It looked like that from the distance. They seemed older than us .
As the couple moved slowly closer , I saw the Smokey-the-Bear hat on his head . Then the bear patches on his uniform stood out . Fate . It was bound to happen sooner or later . Busted .
We called out a hello , but they stood still , so Ada and I slowly began to walk down the trail . The two of them followed slowly , but keeping their distance . It seemed awkward and a little bit weird behavior , I thought , and so we moved along .
Then the woman took off her powder blue coat . She was a ranger , too . They moved up behind us more rapidly .
” Out for a day hike ? ” I heard the woman ranger ask Ada .
” Half-a-day , ” I heard Ada answer , and the woman laughed a little .
The man moved up alongside me and asked me the same question . When I answered , he asked me about what time we’d started out .
” About nine o’clock ? ” he said , and he looked me in the eye , face to face . I don’t suppose he saw much , because I had on my dark sunglasses . I don’t think that I removed them . Usually I would , out of politeness , but this situation seemed to require other behavior . He was wearing shades , too , with a thick piece of leather that covered his nose . The leather made him look like a little like a creature from a horror film . He spoke in low and slow tones . The woman ranger’s two-way radio squawked and she answered . We were cooked , I was sure . It was bound to happen sooner or later .
” Nice day for a hike , ” I said to him , trying not to stare at his leather nose guard .
” Beautiful ,” he said . ” Do you have a permit ? ”
” I don’t have a permit , ” I admitted .
” You need a permit , ” he said in his low and slow manner .
I said “Oh” , trying to sound honest but ambiguous . Was I ignoring the law or simply confused ? I didn’t want to say something like ” Oh , you need a permit ? ” I didn’t want to stir him up at all .
” Do I get one down below ?” I asked . I felt , now , since he hadn’t pulled out his citation book , that there was a window of escape .
” Or at Mill Creek ,” the woman ranger said . I hadn’t been aware that she’d been close enough to listen .
” O.K. ,” I said . I didn’t know where Mill Creek was , but that was irrelevant at the moment . ” Did you come from farther back along the trail ? ” I asked . He said they’d been checking a few campsites back in the woods . I figured they were looking for renegade campers without permits, but not necessarily day hikers sans permit . Ada and I were small potatoes , I figured .
Just then another couple , whom we had passed earlier on the trail up the hill , arrived at the meadow . We said hello .
” We want to ask you if you have a permit ,” the woman ranger said to them .
” We have a permit for the parking , ” I heard the female hiker say . Then , she added : ” I think “.
” You must have a permit for the wilderness …….”
Ada and I took off again along the trail at a slightly quicker pace while the rangers were busy with the other couple of scofflaws . We thought that if we could get a little space between the rangers and us then we just might not be cited for our high crimes and misdemeanors .
A single old guy came hiking up the trail as we went down , and later , a young couple , all headed toward the rangers . Permits ? Maybe they had ’em , but I doubt it . When we reached our car there was no citation for having no Adventure Pass posted on the windshield , either . We had lucked out . Next time we’ll get the passes . Rules is rules .