Monday, June 18, 2012

Point Reyes Backpacking 2012, Pt 4

I spent a surprisingly warm night at Wildcat. When I peeked out from the tent flaps, I saw the reason why. A mist had settled over the campground, wisping and floating in a sea-gray way. 

A foggy morning just shouts for a hot cup of coffee!

Today was our last day on the trail. We had planned on getting underway around 8 to 9am, though there was no big hurry. Melinda “The Trailmaster” had figured it all out, that we would arrive at the Palomarin trailhead in the vicinity of noon. We would decide whether or not to stop for a lunch break when we saw what our leaving time was. Or driver was to pick us up at 12:30pm.

So we messed around. We went down to the beach to see if those nice Wigwam hiking socks were still abandoned in the sand. (they were; I took them) We drank our coffee, made breakfast, got dressed, looked at the birds, and took down the tents and packed them wet, since we could lay them out at home later that day. 

Once we finally hit the trail, we were shocked to note that it was almost 10:30. That would make our arrival closer to 1 or 1:30, if we did not stop for lunch. But we figured our driver wouldn’t start to worry until after an hour of waiting had passed. But we did step up the pace.

The trail was simple this day, no forks to get lost on.

 The only sort of side trip we took was where the Coast Trail split around the little lake and gave a nice view of the ocean on a little ledge sporting a sturdy little bench. I could feel a surprising strength in my legs as I strode along. It had been 3 days of good, solid hiking with a fair amount of ups and downs, but I was good for it. I’m sure that the vision of my husband whom I hadn’t seen for several days waiting at the base of the trailhead steps also gave wings to my feet.

Some of the interesting characteristics of the trail had to do with erosion. You could see many places where the trail was the handiest place for water to run down, with the anticipated results—gullies for trails. The gullies were very hard to walk in because they were only about as wide as a stride. So if you lined up one foot in front of the other, it worked. But if you swayed a bit, and a foot had to step out a little keep your balance, then it got tricky. Because there wasn’t room to put a foot aside. So what would happen is that the feet stayed lined up and the wobble was taken up by everything on up from the feet. I’m the swaying of my arms and backpack looked suspiciously like too much grape juice or a neurological problem. When it got too bad, someone had just started another trail up on the turf beside the gully, where you could hop up and continue on. More than once, I straddled the gully-trail, walking along on the shoulders.

We snacked on the way. I had brought a handful of Larabars. They were really nice! Such a simple product, which is why I like them so much. The base is just dates. Another couple of ingredients are added, and then imaginative names are applied. Add pecans and almonds, and call it Pecan Pie. Add dried cherries and almonds, and call it Cherry Pie. Add unsweetened coconut shreds, cashews and almonds, and call it Coconut Cream Pie. Add lemon, cashews and almonds and call it Lemon Pie. If I ate them all the time, I’d probably try to make them myself.

Each trip, we try to think of The Treat. What treat can we bring that may have no nutritional value at all but is necessary for general morale? At Olohne, we ate Sees Peanut Brittle. Pikes Peak was caramel corn one year and Paydays the next. The caramel corn was good, but a big pain to handle the pieces. The Payday was good, but I didn’t want the peanuts this year. I didn’t want to deal with chocolate and it’s melty mess. I’m not fond of hard candy, though we all enjoyed an occasional lemon drop from Melinda’s snacks. So after indulging in one of my favorite hobbies, mentally cataloging my favorite candy bars, I decided to buy Big Hunks for the trip. I got a bag of snack size ones to help me stagger them out throughout the trip, and also to share.

The Big Hunks were great! In the heat of the day, they were nice and soft, but not melty. If they were harder, I’d just make sure to gnaw them more carefully to not pull out fillings. The only change I’d make is to bring the regular sized ones next time. It was annoying to have to work with all the little papers to peel off each time I wanted a bite. It always made more than one piece of trash, and invariably I ate two at a time anyway.

We hurried right along, noticing the spot where we had taken a lunch break the previous year. Melinda was the one who recognized it. It had been foggy then, and today it was bright sunshine, so it looked completely different. We strung out along the trail a little more today as we neared Palomarin. The cliffs there are magnificent. And one thing that makes them magnificent is their danger. They are crumbly and go straight down a hundred feet or more to the bit of beach and rocky surf. We were starting to meet day hikers going for a walk along the cliff trail. Nola was behind, out of sight a few curves back.

Have you ever met a stranger who seemed to hit some deep unconscious sense in you with an aura of, well, maybe not evil, but with something maybe, “off,” something that makes you draw back, feel cautious, be suspicious? I met a man on the trail like that. The meeting was brief, just a whiff in passing as he strode by with his trekking poles. He didn’t look or speak to us, not in a bad way, not in a good way. I didn’t analyze it, didn’t speak of it, just noted it. Shortly afterwards, Nola caught up.

“Hey! Some serial killer could have just pushed me off the cliff. Just a little poke and I’d be gone! No one to see, and he would have just kept walking!”

Now that was peculiar talk from Nola. So I asked.

“What made you think of that? Was it perhaps about the time that last hiker passed by?”

“Yes! Something about him…”

Who can say?

Finally we were in sight of the stairs, then end of our journey. I dashed ahead and stood their looking into the windshield of the truck at the head of my husband, passing the waiting time by reading. He felt my gaze, I’m sure! And looked up at me. He pulled the truck closer and then got out, smiling at me. I beamed at him. He drew closer. I reached out to him, and I handed him my camera.

“Here, take our picture!”

(Unknown to us, he had thought we said to pick us up at 11 or so. He didn’t want to be late, so had waited from about 10:30 to 1:30, when we finally arrived. So now we know how much better we need to be about communicating and confirming our times!”

Friday, June 15, 2012

Finding Hospitality

(We shall return for our last Point Reyes post next time)

While I was spending the day at the Bluegrass Music Festival yesterday, I ran into an acquaintance who asked me to stop by her camp and have a look at her instrument, giving my opinion. When we arrived, she offered me a bottle of water. I declined, but really appreciated that act of hospitality, probably even more than that simple act would seem to warrant. It made me think about how loaded and significant the act of offering food and drink is in human societies. Accepting refreshment from someone creates a subtle obligation. Making lunch plans in front of, but around a casual drop-in visitor is a strong hint that she should go ahead and leave now. When people invite you to join their potluck that happens to be going on, you can assume that they like you. 

Later that afternoon of the same day, I joined a small circle of musicians who were jamming. I was very pleased to see a friend of mine there also who was listening in, and I pulled up a chair to sit beside him to enjoy the music. This is the cast of characters:
  • The Musicians, a group of about a half-dozen professionals with one “Lay Musician.”
  • The Camp Hosts,  2 or 3 people who had set up the camp area, within which some of the Musicians had set up tents in. The Lay Musician was also one of the Camp Hosts.
  • The Friend, with whom I have played music in the past, and with whom I have spent many hours sitting at the edge of a jam enjoying the music. The Friend is also a close relative of the Lay Musician and acquainted with the Camp Hosts and the Musicians.
I knew none of the musicians personally. I knew the Camp Hosts casually.

When I stepped up to the edge of the circle and sat down, I expected nothing. Camp Hosts cannot be expected to open their larders to every jam listener who steps in uninvited to enjoy the music that is taking place in their space. There can be dozens of listeners! I know how to be a polite guest at something like this. Don’t talk during the music, don’t make tune requests, and don’t presume privileges that are not offered.

The music was exceptional, and it seemed as if they all had enough tunes in their heads to play 4 days straight and never repeat one. The circle was very tight, The Friend and I were very close in, and there was no other audience except an occasional passer-by, or a band member who wandered around like a zombie after his power nap. Occasionally, The Friend and I would ask the name of a tune, ask where it came from, compliment the rendition, or have other brief interactions with the Musicians between songs.

I was there for about 3 hours. During the latter part of this, The Friend got his instrument and joined in with the Musicians. I knew I was out of my league, totally, so I was not even tempted to get mine! At various times, bags of dried fruit, crackers and candy were offered and set on the ground at the Musician’s feet. Beers were offered, and a Camp Host offered a couple of locally made fruit ciders to the Musicians.

I am really quite good at picking up social cues, reading body language, and understanding the feel of what’s happening in a group around me. I know how to interpret the moment that I have been included, however casually, in a group. The bag of dried fruit is waved slightly in my direction as it is being passed around, brief eye contact is made with eyebrows lifted a bit as the sack of crackers passes by. “Water, anyone?”  is said, and my eye is would be caught in the glance going around the group. This never happened, not once. I was, basically, ignored. 

One of the sayings I have adopted over the years is that it is unmet expectations that causes disappointment. When you go into a situation expecting nothing, you will not be let down; anything you get then, will be a pleasant surprise. So I will not say I was hurt or disappointed, since I did not expect anything. But what it made me understand was how much, how much more than any of them could have realized, a simple act of hospitality, the token offering of food or drink, could have made one person, me, feel welcomed and acknowledged.

I think about times when I may have been guilty of this very same thing. I may offer my guests or friends at a campout, festival, or reenactment an appetizer, a drink, or a water bottle. Or I may assume, rightly, that they know they are welcome to my provisions. But that other person who has come with the friends, or has stumbled on to my camp and stays to listen to my music, may really appreciate the offer of my hospitality, even if it’s just a drink of water or a pretzel.

I like to try to find something good out of every experience, and I can say now that I am glad the afternoon passed as it did. It would have given me a very warm feeling to have been included in the small food and drink hospitalities there, and I wouldn’t have forgotten it. But I think I prefer to remember the event as a good reminder of how my hospitality could make someone else feel.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pt. Reyes Backpacking 2012, pt 3

We take a look back at Glen Camp in the morning as we leave. What a gorgeous meadow!

Again, our tents were nice and dry so we didn't have to do anything but fold them up and stick them into our packs. I had boring old oatmeal with dried apples and nuts. It was lots more boring than it had been before, now that I knew I really wanted eggs with bacon. Ah well.

Since our next camp, Wildcat, was only about 1 3/4 inches away from Glen, we wanted to not take the most direct route, but meander just a little. Not a lot, but just a little. All the trails curled around like writhing snakes, so thankfully our Trailmaster, Melinda,  interpreted the best route for us to follow using our handy-dandy map in its handy-dandy holder fastened to the back of Nola's pack. Truthfully, even now I can't look at the map and quite figure out what we had intended to do. I just know that it included finishing up Glen Loop, peeling off around a corner, very shortly taking Old Out Road, and then we would end up at Wildcat after taking another bit of trail.

We had to ponder the trail more than once, but it all looked right, so off we hiked. And much further than we had expected, and we still hadn't found the turn-off we were expecting. When we stepped aside from a couple of horseback riders, we were told that we had, indeed missed the turn-off we had been looking for and were now, by default, going to be taking the Alamea Trail to where it connected with Old Out Road. We couldn't imagine how we had missed it! But we had, so we took the next off ramp-Alamea.

We were actually glad it had worked out like it did. This trail was really beautiful. Dappled sun, riotous vegetation, fields of huge stinging nettles, and lots of ferns. We ran into the same horseback rider, coming back the other way. She said that she looked at the sign we'd been keeping an eye out for and saw that it was oriented the opposite direction from where we were walking. But we didn't even notice a trail going off! And it wasn't even on my left side, where I don't tend to notice things.

We had a nice little lunch at the crossroads of Old Out Road and Alamea. Nola and I had tuna packs and Mel had a hot lunch Mountain House Chicken Fajita, the clear winner of all the freeze-dried foods we tried. In fact, I liked it so much that I plan on just taking eggs with bacon and packs of this one, for the whole trip!

Nola gets more adept at throwing on a loaded pack without the help of a picnic table. I will only say that it involved lots of rotation.

Going in and out of the sun into the shade of the trees was sort of like caving.

We dropped down to a short section of Coast Trail to finish the hike into Wildcat. A charming little lake made me want to have a paddle boat or rubber raft. This might have been where Nola and I compared notes on the trip we took when we were kids; we went to a little non-motor lake and put out our yellow rubber boat. I remember it being peaceful and enjoyable. She remembers us fighting a lot over it. But we both remember it being fun.

The trail down to the camp was surprisingly icky, with pale powdery dirt and rolly rocks and steepness. Melinda fell. Of course she blamed us for distracting her, which caused her to fall. She would never have dreamed of falling otherwise. And I reminded her that it was Nola's turn to fall, not hers. We'd both already taken our turns the day before.

They became bored with me stopping to take pictures of wildflowers, but who can resist California Poppies?

Tess plays mountain goat on the edge of the horse trough. I eyed it uneasily, knowing that, if potable water had not been provided for us, this is what my Katedyn filter would have to work with.

I wish I had taken a picture of Nola at our space, trying to get our attention by waving a bandana on the tip of her walking stick, while we are hollering, "Check the space number on the paper!" We were convinced that she was looking for the wrong spot, but we didn't want to climb up there where she was if we just had to climb back down again. Finally we gave in and went up there. She had already discovered her mistake, but had found the correct one. Which was confusing because she had assured us it was close to the water and restrooms. It was almost as far away as you could get. The only one further away was the spot we had gotten last year.

"It looked closer on the map when I chose it."

But, just like before, it turned out to be the best spot. Lots of privacy,


There were an inordinate number of gophers or some sort of similar rodent. One insisted on playing around making mounds right outside Mel's tent. I know it wasn't the one I had stepped on, apparently just as it was popping up out of its hole because it made a loud noise just exactly like a squeaky toy. In fact, I thought that Melinda had brought one out to amuse Tess. Until she said, "What was that?" So I'm guessing it was underground nursing a headache (or something).

 We took our dinner on the beach. 

 It was nice to just sit in the sand and enjoy the view,

 play footstool, 

and wiggle toes in the sand.

This year, instead of watching the sun go down over the water, we watched it set over the edge of the cliff from our campspot.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pt Reyes Backpacking 2012, pt 2

At Sky Camp, we had debated the wisdom of setting up our tents underneath the tree canopy. What I had thought of is that if it drizzled, all the dirt and bugs from the twigs and leaves would rain down and dirty up our tents. But as it turned out, , the best and level spot was directly under a huge open tree-shaded area. We went to bed so early that it was actually nice to have the early gloom of the shadows, and it looked like the morning sun might peek through the edge of the eastern side. 

I was a little chilly that night and didn’t sleep all that well. Just warm enough to not want to give up my meager heat to crawl out and pull on my polartec jacket, but not warm enough to be comfy. Nola, who has plenty of body heat was happily commenting on how she didn’t get too warm!

As we strolled down to take the morning air, we realized what a tent pitched out in the open would have meant. The little dome tent down by the hitching rail was drenched in the morning dew! We were able to pack our dry tents and take off right after a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs or oats/granola.

About the freeze-dried scrambled eggs with bacon… all I can say is… YUM! They were delicious and moist and had a nice firm texture. Next time I’m leaving the oatmeal packets at home and just taking the eggs!

We hung the map in a little pouch from Nola’s pack so the Trailmaster would have access to it whenever she needed to check directions. 

(You may think Melinda is preparing to look at the map, but she is really checking on The Chair.)

 We took the Woodward Valley trail to cut down to Coast Trail so we would have as much seaside walking as possible, even though it meant a few more miles and probably more total uphill walking by the end of the day.

 Along the trail we saw the weirdest thing, a great green mass up about 40 feet or more high up on a dead tree. The binoculars proved it was living vegetation instead of a giant green beanbag chair, but we could not see just what it was or how the leafy thing was living, perched up there on the dead spike of a conifer.

 We came out on Coast Trail near the beach access to Sculpture Beach, the site of a dramatic rescue we had taken part in last year when a guy had fallen off the cliff and had lain there all night.

Talk about a jinxed area! There I am, strolling along ahead of my two companions, happily snapping photos when I see them pause, and then step to one side of the trail. They looked deep in thought, staring pensively down as they murmured. I’m missing this little moment! I thought, and went back to get in on the conversation. 

That’s when I saw they weren’t chatting, but staring at a big red blob halfway covered with a big pile of weeds and thistles. The bare bloody rib cage was my first clue that it had been a deer. In fact, it was a really fresh, large deer that hadn’t even started to smell or draw flies yet.

Melinda, the Trailmaster, also proved herself as the Beastmaster.

“Mountain Lion, probably last night. You can see it ate the heart and liver.”

That was when I remembered the last time I’d gone hiking and had some time to ponder my status as mountain lion prey. I had been going to make a small cape with big scary eyes painted on it to wear across the back of my pack.

“One good thing,” the Beastmaster said, “is that our packs protect the back of our necks.” My neck started to crawl, and we realized that the mountain lion might actually still be in the vicinity and feel protective about his dinner, so we scurried on down the trail. 

One big landmark along the trail is the huge eucalyptus tree marking the access for Kelham Beach. That was where we were going to eat our lunch. Down the stairs we went to the sand. A lovely waterfall fell to the mossy rocks directly to one side. We took our shoes off to walk along the beach looking for a bit of a shady overhang. 

Only a half dozen steps and I was running. Hot Hot Hot! I couldn’t stop to take off my pack or get my camp shoes. The only thing I could do to keep the soles of my feet from frying was to keep them off the sand, one at a time, by running. Soon I heard close at my heels, “Hot Hot Hot!” Melinda and I were running a race to nowhere. In my pain, I spied a log of driftwood that curved a few inches above the surface. A thin shadow lay under it. I aimed for it and then shoved my feet under it into the shaded sand. Melinda followed, doing the same. And then here came Nola, “Hot Hot Hot!” as she ran circles around us. “Here! Under this log!” we cried.
 Finally the three of us had breathing room to get our packs off and our camp shoes on.

 Lucky Tess is small enough to tuck herself into a bit of shade.

 Tess gets booties to keep her from burning her paws.

 Rattlesnake Grass

 After lunch, Bear Valley Trail took us inland again and headed towards Glen Camp. We had some nice cool easy sections.

 The quail were so cute!

 The nicest area of today's trail.

 Soon enough, the trail turned steeply uphill. At this point, we settled into our jobs. My job was to say that I was sure the trail leveled out right after this bend. The Trailmaster’s job was to say that we should be there any minute because there was only a half mile to go an hour ago. Nola’s job was to watch the rear for mountain lions and take care of the chair.

Tired Tess

Arriving at Glen Camp was a nice reward. It is a beautiful campground, and we had it virtually to ourselves. We enjoyed time at each campsite as it spent its moment in the warm sun. 

 Melinda even took a shower. Thank goodness I had brought the shower curtain with the big finger design. 

We pitched tents under the large tree canopy. We went to bed on the early side, me enjoying my ipod, Nola enjoying her book, and both of us enjoying the entertainment of listening to Tess rollicking around inside the other tent.

Just as I was about to drop off to sleep, I heard a deadly, ominous sound. Crrrraaaackkk! A tree limb had dropped off somewhere close-by. Nola thought it might be overhead. I didn't think so, but in my mind, I was already diving underneath her cushion. (I like to think I would have thought again and thrown my body over hers to protect her.)

But we didn’t die, and I hope I remember the adventure and look for big limbs the next time I sleep under a tree.