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January 02, 2005

First hike of the year

It's surprising how many people don't jump at the chance to hike eight miles in a driving rain. I only saw one other person on the whole trail today, and she - a trim, attractive Orinda retiree who smiled brilliantly at me with perfect teeth - was less than half a mile from the trailhead. I had the rest of the trail to myself.

Eight miles of boot-sucking mud, of rivulets rolling through culverts and leaping down the cliff below me three hundred feet to the Briones reservoir, of steam on my glasses and rain dripping down the back of my neck into my shirt. Eight miles of silence and mist threading among the glistening madrones, eight miles of trailside leaves dancing as raindrops hit.

The trail wound up and around a confusing hill, sending me down courses that seemed to lead toward the spot from which I'd come. Miners' lettuce and Solomon's seal, ferns and moss and lichen burst through the moist soil. California newts plodded across my path. Cracks in the forest floor every few yards showed where mushrooms would soon burst through the duff. Some had already come up, been eaten by insects: fatal white amanitas, esculent chanterelles.

Near the halfway point a pair of alpaca stopped grazing, looked up at me from their muddy field. I had planned to hike from one trailhead to another and then back, taking a break at the second trailhead to eat a snack under an awning. But a hundred yards short of the second trailhead Bear Creek blocked my path. A couple months ago it was a stagnant rivulet that trickled over a concrete sill. Now, dark brown and roaring, it would have swept me over the lip had I tried to cross. I ate dried salmon and watched it roar.

The alpaca seemed surprised to watch me walk past a second time. With the mist and the steep green hills and my slight shortness of breath, I felt myself for a moment in the Andes. Not knowing any songs about alpaca, I whistled for them a huayno about vicuñas. They went back to grazing. I spent a mile or so trying to write another huayno about the coots floating among the tules on the emerald water. The lip of the trail, as it arched up farther above the water, was sodden and in places ready to collapse.

My clothes were soaked through from the first few minutes of walking. It is a benefit of the times in which we live that with the proper clothing, one can stand sodden in a driving rain and yet feel tolerably warm. Beneath a huge, red madrone I turned my face to the sky and watched the rain plummet toward me from some great height. Droplets hit my brow and eyes, ran down my face to drip onto my shirt.

Posted by Chris Clarke at January 2, 2005 11:45 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Ah, my favorite kind of travel writing - the kind that makes me feel warm, dry and comfortable (as rain pours down outside my window)!

Posted by: Dave at January 3, 2005 09:10 AM
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Sometimes the very best trips or hikes are the ones in the rain. It deadens your scent and the sounds of your footfall. My closest encounters with moose, black bear and coyotes, and a remarkable contact with a long-tailed weasel came in the rain. Luckily, I have the opportunity to spend at least some portion of EVERY day in the woods.

Posted by: OGeorge at January 3, 2005 04:16 PM
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