Hike 31 – This is the Place to Soothe Your Mind, March 20, 2010
It felt good to be tapping my fingers on the steering wheel again. Better yet (for the world at large, since no one could hear me), I was singing loudly along with the song. I was definitely feeling good this morning. The best part was that it had nothing to do with drugs, medication, caffeine or nicotine. The cold my wife and I had been battling for weeks was gone and on top of that I was enjoying some great music.
For the last few months, I had been going crazy driving long distances to and from hikes without having any interesting music to listen to. Finally, I made a mix CD of some of the newer songs I had acquired. I enjoy listening to sad songs because they always make me happy. This time it was The Flatlanders (a super-group from Lubbock, Texas consisting of a cast of rotating musicians centered around Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock) singing “Homeland Refugee,” a song about the current mortgage and housing crisis:
Now I’m leaving California for the dust bowl
They took it all, there’s nowhere else to go
The pastures of plenty are burning by the sea
And I’m just a homeland refugee…
At 8:10 AM, I pulled into Wildcat Canyon Staging Area in Richmond, California. Today I was planning to go on hike three of five of Trails Challenge 2010. The temperature at the parking lot was a cold 52 degrees and the landscape looked stark and desolate. Three other cars were parked in the lot this foggy and cloudy morning. Meanwhile, a sign at the trailhead warned us to watch out for, of all things, a nudist touching himself inappropriately, not mountain lions or rattlesnakes. California, I love you.
Unfortunately, the weather folks had got the forecast wrong again. All week long they had predicted a fantastic sunny weekend, but they must have mistaken the Bay Area for some tropical island. I scratched my head wondering if the Earth had changed orbits and rotated around a dead star now. Still, it beat the snow or rain that other parts of the country were experiencing, and I was out hiking, so everything was okay. 🙂
The hike began on the Wildcat Creek Trail which is actually an abandoned road. Nature was well on it’s way to reclaiming this incision of civilization through it. The farther I got on the road, the clearer it was that the wound was healing. In a few years, all traces of the asphalt will disappear. I suppose we are all guests of nature and when we are gone, all evidence of our civilizations too shall disappear.
Curiosity got the best of me and after the hike, I investigated the history of this area. It appears that stories of the struggles of squatters and fights over water rights dominated the past. Thankfully all of that has been resolved, leaving us this beautiful peaceful park and nearby watershed to enjoy.
The trail was very popular with hikers, joggers and dog walkers, and some of them had even brought their first cup of morning bitter with them. It maintained an easy steady climb right from the trailhead and wasn’t really challenging. No doubt the inclination of the road was designed for the low-powered vehicles that used to ply them back in the old days.
Since it was a very foggy day and I don’t carry a tripod, there were few opportunities for me to photograph the landscape. I use a small hand-held Nikon point-and-shoot camera, which works extremely well for sunny situations. I am limited by its capabilities, but it works for me most of the time and I enjoy using it.
Slightly over two miles into the hike, I turned left (north) along the Mezue Trail. This was where I left the crowds behind, and that felt good. The trail became a little steeper. Thankfully, since I was stopping often to take photographs, I never ran out of breath.
Interestingly, something rare happened on the Mezue Trail; I was attacked by mosquitoes. The aerial assault was of the scale seen only in second world war movies and documentaries. Encounters with mosquitoes in California, or at least this part of the state are rare. It brought back terrifying memories of malaria-infused delirium that I experienced so many times while growing up in India. Thankfully the sound of wild turkeys in the canyons reminded me that I was still in the temperate zone of North America, and was not a breakfast buffet for malaria-spreading mosquitoes in a tropical land.
The sun, possibly taking a cue from the mosquitoes, got a little bolder and even cast a weak shadow of my less than aerodynamic shape. But I also noticed more fog rolling in and realized that it was pointless hoping for enough sunlight to get dramatic photographs of the landscape. By the time I reached the top of the climb near the Nimitz Way intersection, the fog was back in strength. The higher I climbed, the worse it got. Thankfully, I was not surrounded by it, but the ceiling was just a few feet above my head.
At the Nimitz Way junction, I was surprised to see a large cattle corral. I suspect that someone still owns the grazing rights to this park. Unfortunately, the corral was really smelly and my sensitive nose could not handle it. So my legs worked like windmills and whisked me away before I could stop to take any photos of it.
Soon Nimitz Way became a paved road and that is where I met the first biker. I expected to meet many more of them now. I had not run into anyone on the Mezue Trail. Now I started running into more bikers, joggers, dog walkers and hikers. I missed the solitude of the Mezue Trail and out of the blue, the lyrics of the Crazy Heart movie soundtrack “The Weary Kind” by Ryan Bingham came to my mind, “…this ain’t no place for the weary kind, this ain’t no place to lose your mind, this ain’t no place to fall behind…” It is a beautiful song from a beautiful movie. Interestingly though, the landscape all around me was lush green; the soothing kind.
I figured that by now I had completed about half of the hike. My legs meanwhile started locking up. I realized that I had not stretched them on this hike so far. As soon as I got to a bench, I took the time to go through my stretching routine. They felt good and loosened up immediately. It had been a few months since I had gone on a long hike. On shorter ones, it did not matter if I forget to stretch, but it really helps on longer ones. I made a mental note to start stretching on all hikes, irrespective of the length.
After walking a while on the Nimitz Trail, I picked up the Conlon Trail and started heading back. To my dismay, the trail turned out to be a gravel road. I had hoped for a single-track trail instead. This is where I took a break on a park bench and enjoyed an apple. Om Nom Nom, my hiking mascot shared it with me. I checked the time and it was around 10:20 AM. I was doing okay time-wise and hoped to complete the hike by noon.
Meanwhile, the fog began to clear and I could see the Golden Gate Bridge, Oakland, San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, Angel Island, Alcatraz, Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Diablo, Suisun Bay, etc. On a clear day, I am sure this hike offers outstanding views. I came to a strategically placed park bench overlooking the bay. This would be a wonderful spot to watch winter sunsets over the city and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Next I reached a cattle gate with a herd of cows waiting to get loose. I am sure they thought the grass was greener on the other side. Their eyes pleaded, “Let us out, please,” but I also noted distrust in them. They did not know if I was a friend or foe.
My close friend and college roommate in India has been following these hikes and he requested I take some photos of cows for him so that he could gaze into their bovine eyes and fall in love with them. He has been pestering me awhile for those photographs and so I decided to oblige him. After taking enough photographs, I passed through the gate and they made room for me without taking their accusing and distrustful eyes off me for a second.
Thankfully, right after the gate the road turned into a regular dirt trail. Then I encountered a surprising sight; a scattering of spent bullet casings on the trail. I don’t know enough about guns or bullets to know if the spent casings were from a real gun or not.
As my hike approached the end, I saw a walker tossing a ball to his dog. The dog was up on the hill. He would fetch the ball and then carefully look for a convenient place to drop it, for it to roll down to his owner. It was as if the dog was trying to figure out the likely path the ball would take. I wondered if he was smart enough to read contour lines and interpret maps. Either way, I was quite impressed by his intelligence.
Minutes before noon, I got back to the car at the parking lot. The temperature had crept up to a mild 63 degrees. The sun was still hidden behind clouds and all it could do was cast weak shadows on the ground. But there was a hint of blue sky, so hopefully things would clear up some more in the afternoon. The parking lot meanwhile was packed, with not one vacant spot at this popular park. Overall, the hike had covered a little over 10 miles with a total climb of about 1,000 feet.
Here’s the music you’ve been hearing:
Here’s a map of the hike courtesy of Google Maps:
Here’s a link to a brochure and trail map from the East Bay Regional Park District website:
Link to Trails Challenge 2010 website:
Here’s a slideshow of photographs from the hike: