In the summer of 2006, I was 20 years old and I was unemployed. I was living with my parents and had all the free time in the world and no money to do much of anything unless it was free or someone was willing to buy me dinner or a movie ticket. The time I scored out on $100 for helping an old lady move who ended up being a hoarder during this time is a story for another occasion (I’m no longer afraid of spiders after having hundreds of them crawl on me; I actually pitied them for living in that house).
Chito, my dear friend Chito, called me one morning and asked me if I wanted to look for Goldie.
Now, Goldie is as elusive to me as Ahab’s accursed whale. If you lived in the small town of Anza, California it seems everyone’s seen Goldie and everyone has their own theory on what it is. The few physical characteristics everyone seems to be in agreement upon are these: Goldie is this gold-colored (duh) orb of light which floats around in the sky, varying in speed, zipping between the peaks of Cahuilla Mountain and Thomas Mountain and, after it dances its little magical dance, zips off faster than anyone can comprehend and is gone, gone to who knows where.
Some theories I’ve heard describe Goldie as being an alien spaceship. This is the most consistent of all the theories I’ve heard. This is the one most people sort of automatically default to. An episode of the 90’s TV show “Sightings” focused on my hometown and Goldie, and the UFO theory was the one they went with for that feature. As a kid, I never watched the “Anza Episode” because the show by itself was terrifying enough to me, having it take place in my own already-scary-as-hell hometown was a bit much for me, so I skipped out on that particular brand of nightmare fuel.
Other random theories floating around town included Goldie being the spirit of a Native American who had been murdered by the US Army and put a curse on the land he died on and nothing grows there to this day; Goldie is the result of a phenomenon called ball lightning, the existence of which is disputed my many; Goldie is a friendly ghost, sort of like Anza’s little guardian angel, watching over the town, not unlike Casper (though given the amount of deaths that occur in that town, Goldie is not doing a good job).
So, when Chito called me and asked me if I wanted to hike up Cahuilla Mountain and spend the night up there to see if we could catch a glimpse of Goldie, I said yes, as it met three very important criteria. 1) I had never seen but desperately wanted to see Goldie. 2) I like being scared and I love hiking and camping and this was right up my alley. 3) It was free.
Chito picked me up because I didn’t have a car and we met up with a gentleman I grew up with named Skip at the base of Cahuilla Mountain. Skip, I remember vaguely, said something to the effect of, “I feel like we’re in one of those movies with three idiots who do something dumb and the movie ends when the last one dies.”
Cahuilla normally isn’t too bad of a hike. It’s steep, to be sure, and sometimes you’ll have to lean forward and use your hands and feet at the same time when it gets a bit slippery, but if you just take your time, it’s not a bad hike. “Children do it, for god’s sake!” is whatever I tell myself when I can feel my eyes bulging out of my skull. On this occasion, however, we all three had backpacks just loaded to the absolute brim with heavy, heavy stuff.
Between us, we lugged two tents, one giant-ass stove I believe to be best suited for a small army, too much food and, unbeknownst to me, a couple of firearms in case a cougar or bear liked the way we smelled. Or, you know, if Goldie housed aliens that weren’t friendly. How many galactic wars have been started this way, I wonder?
On each break we took, either Chito or Skip would have the bright idea to smoke a bowl of weed. And I don’t mean take a couple hits and continue on our way, I mean those guys smoked whole bowlfuls of weed and, as a lightweight, I partook and holy god, I’m amazed I’m alive. I’m amazed that I’m not the first person to overdose on marijuana.
We made our merry way up that mountain with me too stoned for words when Skip began talking about things he’d heard rumors of in town about what’s really on Cahuilla. He told us of a Bat-Person, a humanoid winged beast with eyes that flashed red in the night. Unlike the Mothman who serves as a prophetic warning for large, disastrous events, the Bat-Person was purely malevolent. It was seen scaling a rock face and then glided down into the valley silently. He sounded very skeptical of its existence, but since we were hiking up specifically to catch a glimpse of a UFO-ghost-scorned-spirit-thing, I was in a terrified mood already and that feeling of anxiety is something I’ve remembered ever since. I don’t even know if he just made up the bat-thing’s existence up just to screw with my head.
About half an hour away from being at the top in a 4-something hour long hike, my calves seized up and I fell right on my back… which, well, some of the bag softened the blow of falling, like a sleeping bag or something, but some of it jammed right into my back—I assume this was the big-ass stove’s doing. I could see the muscle twitching upward and I stretched it out and let out a long sigh as I rubbed it back into place. I said, “Oh, my god. I’ve never had a cramp this bad in my entire life.”
“You should eat more bananas,” Chito told me. “The potassium helps muscle cramps.”
“Do you have a banana, Chito?” I hissed.
“Then shut the hell up!!”
That night, after we set up camp and shot the shit for a few hours, we never did see Goldie. Not that time, anyway. I know Chito’s seen it since. I don’t know if Skip has. I know for damn sure I’ve still never seen it and wonder if I ever will. I attempted to shoot a mockumentary a few years back mixing real interviews with fake ones and my overall goal was to finally get to see the damn thing, just once. But one morning my friends had told me that an hour after I left to go back home and sleep, Goldie appeared on the horizon, fluttered between the two mountains and flew into the sky at a high speed until it disappeared.
On the evening of our Goldie Hunting trip, Chito slammed a machete into a tree for “safe keeping” while we slept and in the morning, it was gone. It’s possible that it slipped out of the tree and rolled down a hill. The skeptic inside of me is screaming that yes! That’s what happened! But, still, that machete would have had to have traveled one hell of a distance after falling out of that tree in order to roll down hill and never be seen again.
That night, I awoke to hear Chito exclaim that someone, or something (the emphasis was his, not mine) reached out and stroked his foot through the lining of the tent and when he popped his head out to look, there was no one to be seen. As we listened in the night, the silence was almost deafening. It was like listening to the forest with earplugs in, and we sat and listened to our heartbeats until I assume I passed out from exhaustion.