Journey: 52 Hikes and more

Hike 32 – Like Nothing Before, March 21, 2010

I was happily driving along Happy Valley Road through Lafayette, thinking this indeed is a very happy place.  There were plenty of reasons for my happiness:

  • There were daffodils and other colorful flowers lining both sides of this winding road.  I highly recommend a spring-time drive on Happy Valley Road to experience this wildflower show.
  • I was listening to some amazing music in the car.  Specifically, “Chicago Wind” by Andrew Bryant, the song currently playing.
  • My wife and I were both feeling healthy again.  It looked like we had finally licked the cold that had been bothering us for nearly two months.
  • I had completed a 10+ mile hike yesterday with relative ease.
  • If I could complete my 10+ mile hike today, I would be only one hike away from completing Trails Challenge 2010.  Yeehaw!

There was one more reason I was looking forward to this hike.  Yesterdays’ hike included total climbs of about 1,000 feet.  I would climb about 1,800 to 2,000 feet today.  This would be a better gauge of my mental and physical recovery from the weeks of battling a cold.  If successful, I could then seriously concentrate on making up for the hikes I had fallen behind on this “52 Hikes” project.

At 8:30 AM I pulled into the Bear Creek Staging Area parking lot.  There was just one other car there.  The temperature at the trailhead was a bitter 45 degrees with no hope of sunshine.  But the hills were rich with a layer of fresh green grass, and that was good enough for me.  I was planning to complete the challenging loop described in the Trails Challenge 2010 Guidebook.

Looking to warm up as soon as possible, I set off briskly on the Abrigo Valley Trail.  The trail maintained a gentle but steady climb for nearly a mile which helped me warm up, and I started enjoying myself.  There were signs of severe erosion.  Apparently this was caused by wet clay that over time, tends to slide down and transforms into either smooth rounded hillsides or gullies and canyons.

About a mile into the hike, I got to the first of two campground on this segment.  The trail meanwhile leveled out.  After the second campground, it started climbing again bringing me to a small but loud waterfall.  Unfortunately, the light was too poor to get a useable photograph but I was thrilled to come upon this unexpected treat.

Soon I picked up the Briones Crest Trail and the smell of cow-poop smacked my face.  But I was handsomely compensated by beautiful foggy views all around.  There were green hills in the foreground, dark hills in the background and fog and changing light in between.  Way in the distance I noticed the navy’s mothballed fleet at Suisun Bay.

The Briones Crest Trail brought me to the Lagoon Trail and I headed towards the Sindicich Lagoons.  This brought me to a bench and I sat on it a while taking photographs and thinking how fortunate I was to be sitting here, enjoying the views.  I could not believe that this was my life.  I felt incredibly privileged to be able to spend my weekends hiking in such beautiful places so close to home, with nothing holding me back, and no worries on my mind.  I could not believe that my wife and I had lived in this area for almost ten years now.  Lyrics from a song called “10 Years Older” by Jarrod Gorbel came to my mind:

One day you woke up ten years older
Taken prisoner like a soldier
You left your home for what seemed noble
Give anything to do it over…

This song is about the time lost to drug addiction but for me these lines are about the swift passage of time and the realization that time never returns.  Some of us are fortunate to live and breathe free air and exercise free will, while others even in free societies may not have that luxury.

Next I picked up the Toyon Canyon Trail and it had all kinds of wild flowers, particularly yellow daisies, scattered everywhere.  Unfortunately, I don’t know names of most flowers so I could be misnaming them.  Please let me know if I have mislabeled them.

Foothill Shooting Star

Lupine

The Toyon Canyon Trail headed down steeply.  Thankfully all the trails I had encountered so far were dry, so traversing through them was easy.  But due to the steepness here, I had no choice but to jog down the trail.  I am sure I lost a few fillings from my teeth and maybe even loosened up a few.  My dentist’s eyes will surely flare up like a Las Vegas slot machine the next time he flashes a light on them.

A downed tree across the trail brought my rapid downhill progress to an abrupt end.  If I had not stopped in time, I am sure the dentist would have even more reasons to celebrate my next visit.  Now I started encountering bikers, joggers, hikers and dog walkers.  I was surprised by the sudden rush of people and realized that a parking lot was nearby.  Everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood, having a fantastic time outdoors.

The Toyon Canyon Trail brought me to the appropriately named Pine Tree Trail.  The path here was lined with pine trees on either side and the ground covered with soft needles.  It started climbing up again and was not too challenging.  At a clearing, a hummingbird decided to hover above my head.  I have no idea what was so fascinating about my balding head but it chose to linger over me a while.  I enjoyed the attention but as soon as I reached for the camera, it flew out of sight.

The trail led me past the Briones Road parking lot where I picked up the Old Briones Road Trail and headed towards the Maricich Lagoons.  Just past the Spenger Trail intersection, I came to a spectacular section of the trail.  I wish I could have taken a 360 degree panoramic photograph of what I saw.  I did not have the right gear for it but take my word, I have never seen anything quite like this before.

I was in a shallow bowl surrounded by lovely green rolling hills with artistic patches of dark green trees.  The sky was dark and dramatic and I was stunned speechless and motionless.  These words from a song called “28th & NE Davis” by Joel P West came to my mind:

I stood here two years ago
And it looked nothing like it did before…

For me, these are the moments that make a life.  My dear friend Marty believes that we should try and construct a life that takes us from one natural high to another.  This was one of those highs.  This view is within easy reach of most people living in the Bay Area and I recommend it to everyone.  I made a note to revisit this place with my wife because I know she will love it.  If I have to pick the highlight of all my hikes to date, this would be the one.

I must take a moment here and mention Joel P West’s Dust Jacket Project.  If you like this song and want the rest of the album, all you have to do is send something you have created to him and he will send you a link to download the album.  You can find out more about it at http://www.dustjacketproject.com.  People have submitted some amazing things to him that he has posted them for everyone in the archives section at http://dustjacket.tumblr.com/archive.  I had sent him a photograph I took of a painting my wife had made.  To make the photograph interesting, I shot it through an empty Gatorade bottle.  You can see the photograph here – http://dustjacket.tumblr.com/post/150001291/psychedelic-gatorade-i-shot-a-picture-of-my.

After experiencing that view, I am sure I had a stupid smile on my face the rest of the weekend.  Continuing on in a daze now, I took the Valley Trail.  This is a beautiful flat trail that follows Bear Creek for about half a mile.  Next, the Bear Creek Trail climbed out of the valley and brought me to the Crescent Ridge Trail.  Sections of the Bear Creek Trail were wet but they were not too bad.  The Crescent Ridge Trail took me down, past an archery range that belongs to the Briones Archers Club to the other section of Bear Creek Trail.  This too was a steep single-track trail heading down.  A part of it actually went over a large fallen tree.  I had to climb the tree, walk the length of it’s trunk and climb off near the roots.

I was now closing in on the parking lot and my hike was almost over.  And I was almost 80% of my way through Trails Challenge 2010.  Yippee!

I passed some families barbecuing their lunch while the children swung wildly like Tarzan, on a rope tied to a tree.  Everything felt very festive.  At 12:30 PM I was back at the car.  The temperature had climbed up to 61 degrees as I slid into the car seat, satisfied after a thoroughly enjoyable hike.

Clearly, the experience in “the bowl” along the Old Briones Road section was the highlight of this hike.  But, there was more to it.  This hike had a good mix of ups, downs and flats, a variety of landscape, views and vegetation, wild flowers and wild life.  The landscape offered some dramatic silhouettes of valley oaks.  I love how they stand with their almost creepy, arthritic limbs like random squiggly lines.  Some people may call them the arms of death reaching up.  The best expression I have heard that describes anything like it is the one my father-in-law uses to describe a person acting without restraint, “like a donkey let loose.”  😀

Note: For those curious to find out if or when I returned back to “the bowl” with my wife, the answer is not yet.  The reason involves Neil Young’s philosophy of retiring songs on tours.  If the band feels that collectively they hit a high or achieved a nirvana-like state while playing a song, they retire that song for a while and play it only after sufficient time has gone by.  My wife and I have a similar outlook towards travel so we revisit our favorite places only after letting some time go by so that we can savor the sensation.  She understands and is okay with it.  🙂

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:

http://www.ebparks.org/node/62#B

Here’s a link to information on Trails Challenge 2010:

http://www.regionalparksfoundation.org/Page.aspx?pid=354

Here’s a slideshow of these and other photographs from the hike:

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