In between two rocks, I paused my squirming for a second. I had thought I heard someone saying “Helloooooo”, but it had been hard to tell due to the scraping sounds and my muttered curses. For a good thirty seconds, I hung between the two massive rocks and listened, but all I could hear was the blood pounding in my head, and my forearms screaming at me to move or fall. Once I had edged through the gap, I shook out my shoulders, and checked my gear that had rasped between the boulders. After looking at everything quickly, I confirmed what I already knew: everything I carried was a garden variety inanimate item that could not talk. That meant that I had either heard a rock, shrub, or hidden animal talking to me, or that I was hearing things again. “Freakin’ Mt. Lawson”, I muttered, as I stomped up to a nearby outcropping and looked around, while I sipped some water and stroked my beard idly. It was as I had suspected – no one else was around as far as I could see. I stepped back onto the thin trail that led through leaves and branches and began to climb again, when I heard it again: “Hellloooooooooo?!?!”
I stopped. That I had heard clearly. Or at least I had thought I had heard it clearly. I paused, sipped some water for good measure, in case I was actually dehydrated and clomped back down toward the rocks I had just climbed through. Then, I heard the voice again, except this time, it asked something strange: “You there – are you a mountain lion?!?” The absurdity of the question prevented me from immediately answering. I had visions of Mountain Lions dressed up in hiking garb, like Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother, saying things like, “No dearie, I’m just another hiker, do you have any human jerky?” before pouncing, or better yet, responding in Mountain Lion: “Growl Growl Snarl Snaarl Growl Snarl”. (Translation: “No, my good fellow, clearly I’m a lion, and I can’t see why you’d insult my feline grace in such a matter. You humans, such cards!”). I wondered how someone could confuse me, homo sapiens, with a puma concolor. I even was tempted to make lion sounds. Instead, I played it safe – and said – somewhat lamely as I bent down to peer through the crack, “No…I’m a human”.
“Oh!” the voice came back, relieved, “I thought you might have been because all I could see was your hair and beard, so I…” I stopped listening and stood up abruptly and took a step back. So that was how it was: since I had a beard, clearly, I was a mountain lion. That was great. Just great. That was freakin’ fantastic. Day Eighteen of the Beardpocalypse had picked up right where Day Seventeen had left off. I tried to remember why I hadn’t shaved before I had come on the hike, and then I remembered. I hadn’t shaved because I was having a lazy Saturday. I sighed, and then stooped back down to proffer directions to the clearly lost – and confused hikers below me.
Once I had given the directions, I stomped through the brush in a very two-legged manner, panting and sweating the whole way towards the summit. As a matter of fact, I made extra noise not only to dissuade anyone else from thinking I was a lion, but to scare any potential lions from making a similar identification mistake. After searching around the summit block for several minutes (http://lastadventurer.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2010/7/13/mt-lawson-july-3-2010-there-is-no-ladder.html), I decided to free hand the final bit, which was fine, except that mid-way up, my face began to itch. It started innocently enough in one spot, near my left ear, and then began to cascade down my jaw, burning as it went over to the right side. I tried ignoring it, but that made the sensation creep deeper into my skin. I gnashed my teeth, and wiggled my nose to no avail. What I needed to do was just give it a quick scratch with my hand, just a quick scratch, thirty seconds, and everything would be fine.
This was the worst idea ever. While the summit block wasn’t the most extreme thing I had climbed, it was still a vertical wall, and there was quite a drop that would certainly maim. I resisted the impulse with all of my attention, which made it itch more. “Great,” I thought, “my beard is trying to kill me”. Once I had started thinking about it, it was all I could focus on, other than the climbing. By the time I reached the top, my right eye was twitching from the stress like I was demonically possessed. As soon as it was safe, I scratched frantically at it with both hands, and ignored the climbing chalk that was probably streaking my face. At this point, style points didn’t matter, because after all, I had already been identified as a mountain lion.
After thoroughly performing my ladder check, I began to head back down. Not surprisingly, on the decent, my beard didn’t itch one bit. I didn’t care. It had been hot. It had been itchy. And, apparently, it had made me look like a mountain lion, among other things. I had fulfilled my beard vow and then some, and if I didn’t like it, it was time to shave it off. As I reached the cave where I had been mistaken for another animal, I saw the same guy again off in the distance. After a long – and puzzling conversation, I found out that neither he, nor his girlfriend had made it over to the actual trail despite my directions. Correspondingly, I decided to wait for a moment or two to shout directions through the bushes so that they could actually make it to the trail and back down. It wasn’t the most helpful thing I had ever done, but since I hadn’t brought my chainsaw to cut a new trail, it was all that I could do.
Eventually, they crashed through the last foot or so of branches above me, and fell onto the trail, looking sore, bedraggled, and utterly cranky with each other. After finding out that they were indeed, fine, and not in any sort of imminent danger, I took pity on them, and led them down the “tricky” portion of the trail to where the road ended, whereupon the girl said to me, “Thank you so much, mystery bearded mountain man”. Since it was the best compliment I had received in a while with the beard, I blinked, laughed, and wished them luck as I headed back to my car.
The next day, as we jogged down a misty and cloudy beach, the Slovak listened to my tale of woe, and in response said, “So that’s why you still have the beard?” I waited thirty seconds to gather enough air to answer, since he was setting a bruising barefoot pace, and gasped out that I was shaving it off that day. “Dude.” He said, pausing to pant as well, “You. Should. Do something epic with that. Like Fu Manchu style for the party.” I laughed – briefly – since I didn’t have much air to spare. Later, when we were at our post-run food-fest, I looked at him and said, “Why not, I’ll do it”, which led him to stare at me with a confused look until I explained that I was finishing a conversation we had started about an hour before. Several hours later, I found myself with my trusty razor in hand, staring at my unfamiliar bearded face in the mirror, wondering how to approach carving it into something unusual. Since it was usually several quick strokes of removing everything, I wasn’t sure I had the finesse technique to dance around corners without drawing blood or sabotaging any styles that I might come up with. I spent a moment wondering whether my hairstylist had been serious about carving stars into my beard, but in the end decided that it was ridiculous to call and ask her to do so on the Fourth of July.
After considering all of my options for a massive thirty seconds, I decided that I was going to shave half of my face, while leaving the other half intact. Such a project seemed to be within my feeble skill set, so I took a good look, and relaxed, knowing that if anything went wrong, I was at least going to be completely clean shaven. In a matter of minutes, I had reached my goal – and insofar as it could look good, it looked good. The lines were even and clean, and it was almost exactly half and half. At this point, I noticed that I was running late, so I dressed, and hopped into my car, and headed off to the grocery store to pick up the items that I had promised to bring. The store was packed with people grabbing their last minute Fourth of July meats and drinks, and everyone was too distracted to notice me for the most part. Sure, there were a few strange looks, but for the most part, people one saw one side of my face – the bearded side – or the non-bearded side, so I appeared completely normal. Placing random strangers aside, I had forgotten about the half-beard while I looked at my grocery list, answered texts, and thought about other things. So, when the checker asked me what was going on, I stupidly stared blankly at her for a second. A second or two later, I remembered – “OH, the BEARD!” I said inanely, “It’s for the party I’m going to”. Then, I proceeded to blather on for a number of minutes telling her some of my tribulations of the last three weeks, until I realized that I sounded either like an idiot or drunk. At this point, I was glad that I wasn’t buying any liquor, and hastily wrapped the story up, grabbed my bags, and headed out.
Once I was at the party, everyone found the half-beard amusing – except for one person. She kept staring at me: “Dude!” she kept saying, “Dude, you’re freaking me out! You need to shave that off!” to which I – and everyone else laughed at her in our silly Fourth of July party inebriated way. Aside from her atypical reaction, everyone else loved it – and kept saying things like, “You need to wear that to work!”, or “The beard’s growing in really….what the…..wait….” All in all, it was good times: such good times, that I along with many others, elected to spent the night, once the sweet sounds of Bulletproof by LaRoux had finally been turned off. In the morning, I opened my eyes, looked around, and shook my head at the shenanigans of the night before, and decided that I needed coffee. I headed down the street to the nearest coffeehouse and lined up with everyone else, too tired to notice any random stares.
When half my order had been completed, and was sitting in cups in front of me, the barista looked at me and said, “I dig it. I’ve been trying to get my boyfriend to grow one of those for a long time, but for some reason he won’t.” I stared at her, and I for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about for about a half minute. Then, like a hammer smashing into my head, I got it. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, the half beard! Right...” At this point, the look she gave me was half scathing, and half condescending. I picked up my coffee carrier, mumbled my thanks, and elected not to tell her any rambling stories. Back at the ranch, once everyone had had their coffee, and watched their fill of “Mega Octopus Versus Mega Mega Shark”, they wanted breakfast, which was also something I wanted. Finally, after an hour of staggering around, lazing around, and doing nothing, the group was ready to leave. When I got back to my car, I noticed the fuel light was on for the tenth time, and decided that I’d better do something about that, so on the way to breakfast, I stopped for gas.
While gallons of refined dead dinosaurs were being pumped into my car, I zoned out, because I was tired, hung-over, and tired. I snapped out of it when someone approached me from the pump opposite mine. “Hey man”, he said, “Can I get my picture with you?” This was the last sentence I expected to hear mid-morning on a cloudy July Fifth, and, since I was tired, my brain locked up again. Eventually, I got the wheels turning again, and said, “What? Why? I’m not famous or anything.” He looked at me, laughed, and replied, “Famous?!? Who said you were famous? I just dig the beard, man! That’s epic! So – how about that picture?” Once I had stopped laughing at myself, I posed with him for a picture, and then burned rubber from that gas station, because the whole incident had kind of creeped me out. After breakfast, a couple of other incidents happened, including one where I had a random run in with a friend of mine who had shaved his head into a Mohawk (That incident can be best summarized in this exchange; “What happened to your face!/What happened to your hair!”), but eventually, I made it home, and shaved off the rest of my beard before taking a nap. Several days later, I had some time to reflect on the beardpocalypse, and the half-beardpocalypse, and I decided that I had learned quite a bit.
In particular, I learned that if you grow a whole beard, people may think you are a mountain lion, which is better than being told that you don’t fit in with a beard. Being told you are a mountain lion is also better than dealing with skeptical clerks who won’t sell you liquor because you don’t have a beard in your ID. Also, having a beard may annoy your boss, which is both a good and a bad thing. However, overall, having a beard is bad, because hot girls mistake you for the brother you don’t have, and when rock climbing, your beard may try to kill you. Also, there are lots of beard racists in this world. The most important lesson that I learned overall though was that having a half-beard is pure awesome. People want your picture. People want to talk to you, and girls will fall asleep in your lap. There is no downside whatsoever. So, if you are considering a beard – or other facial hair, I, the LA am here to tell you: the half-beard is the way to go. Really. And if it doesn’t work out for you, you didn’t hear it here, and you won’t be able to find me, because I am now clean shaven, so I blend in like a chameleon. And for all of you with beards out there, I say, keep fighting the good, hot, itchy fight, because I cannot. With that, those were my experiences from Beardpocalypse 2010.