“Almost there,” she says, looking down at me with a devilish grin. “Don’t stop now.” Out of breath, all I can do is nod at her and keep going.
We’re in Topanga State Park, hiking the Backbone Trail which traverses the Santa Monica Mountains. And by hiking, I mean she’s sprinting up the trail like Usain Bolt in the 100 meter dash, and I’m stopping every few minutes to catch my breath and douse my face with water like a contestant on The Biggest Loser.
“Look, there it is” she says, pointing to the monolithic face of Eagle Rock as it rises dramatically from the surrounding landscape.
“When you said we were going on a little hike, I thought that it would be, you know, easy,” I say, as I look over to see yet another group of hikers pass us on the left. This time, a father and his two young daughters.
Alaina just gives me a look—yes, that look—and as the sun filters through the ancient oak trees we continue up the trail.
“You spend all that time lifting weights, and you can’t even hike up a little hill?” she says over her shoulder.
“First, it’s not a little hill. And second, I don’t just lift weights, I do CrossFit,” I say, as I race to catch up.
“Oooh, you do CrossFit. My hero. You know, you should really try Bikram Yoga. It’ll help with your lack of stamina.”
“Is that the one where they heat the room to, like, 150 degrees?” I say, forcing myself to march stride for stride with her.
“Don’t be ridiculous, it’s only heated to 105.”
“Oh, only 105, huh? Sorry, can’t do it. I’d pass out. I run hot naturally, you know.”
“The heat’s good for you,” she says, “It loosens your muscles, giving you more flexibility.”
“Whatever,” I say. “Besides, I don’t lack stamina.”
She just laughs and strides on.
We reach a T-junction with the Eagle Springs Fire Road and turn left, heading north following the signs to Eagle Rock. A deer stands off to the side of the trail under the shade of a low tree, casually watching us as we hike by. Lucky bastard, I think.
We follow the winding trail up another half-mile or so and reach the top of Eagle Rock.
As I begin to make my way over to a comfy-looking bench provided for weary travelers, Alaina shouts, “C’mon!” and motions to the edge of the craggy sandstone. I reluctantly follow her and carefully side-step along the rock formation. We take a seat on the summit and soak in the panoramic view of the Santa Monica Mountains and Pacific Ocean. Hashtag: no filter.
“So, how’s work?” I say as I twist open my water bottle and take a swig.
“Busy,” she says. “I’m trying to get everything ready for the Keen state-of-the-union summit coming up in April,” she says.
“Yeah, you know, for developers and entrepreneurs who build products and services for the app. Blake will give a big opening keynote and make a few announcements. That will be followed by various breakout sessions concentrating on specific topics. “
“Oh, kind of like Facebook F8?”
“Exactly like Facebook F8.”
“Isn’t that a bit ambitious at this stage of the company?”
“Totally, but everyone’s expected to do one nowadays.”
“Well, good luck with that,” I say as I extend my arm to offer her a sip of my water. She silently rebuffs me with another look.
The summit begins to fill up with hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers and soon its bustling with adventure seekers catching a breather and regrouping before the next segment of the trail.
“Okay, let’s go,” she says, cutting me off. And just like that she’s up and striding down the path.
I quickly get to my feet and scramble to catch up with her. “As I was about to say, I’ve decided to finish my story. I think there’s something there. In fact, my brother was able to crack the flash drive.”
“That’s… interesting,” she says. “What’s on it?”
“Not sure yet. I need to do some digging.”
“Well, let me know what you find. Is your brother still around? I’d like to meet him.”
“No. He left a couple hours after he arrived.”
“Yeah, he had a train to catch.”
“That’s too bad. Hey, you know I can’t give you any more access to the company, right?” she says hastily. “Since you’re no longer affiliated with an official publication.”
“Yeah, I know,” I say. “I think I have enough from my interviews. I just need to round it out with some additional sources.
“Oh, really? Like who?”
“Well, for starters I’m meeting with Grant Smith next week.”
She stops dead in her tracks, which is concerning because it’s the first time she’s stopped moving all day.
“What?” I say, catching up to face her.
“Nothing. Just be careful.”
“Why? He seems like a cool guy.”
“Well, people aren’t always what they seem,” she says and begins to walk.
I just nod, and we hike together in silence with the heavy air of words left unsaid between us.
We reach Eagle Junction and cross over to the scenic Musch Trail. Thankfully, mountain bikers aren’t allowed on this well-shaded single-track trail, so I don’t have to worry about any maniacs riding up my ass.
“Hey, did you know that the angle Eagle Rock sits on is due to its seismic origins?” I say, finally breaking the silence.
She just stares at me.
“Yep. In fact, there are two fault lines running through here: the Topanga and the Santa Ynez.”
“That’s fascinating,” she says. “Did you Google that?”
“Nope. Read it in the latest issue of Backpacker Magazine,” I say. “I have a subscription, you know.”
She breaks down and laughs.
We reach the bottom of the trail and the final stretch of the hike, a mile or so of paved path that leads back to Trippet Ranch.
“Race you to the end!” she says as she takes off running. “Last one there pays for the green tamales at Hugo’s!”
“I refuse to eat any more cashew cheese,” I call out to her through a cloud of trail dust.