Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Epilogue Jammin'

October 15

Its always 4:20 in Haight Ashbury
There is always a day after.  No matter how momentous the occasion life does not stop, except in case of death.  Mark, Colin, and John left Saturday night on the red eye.  Ken took off the next morning.  I was alone once more, my flight not scheduled until Tuesday.
San Francisco surrounded me on all sides and I had some time to kill.  I figured I would stick to what I do best.  I went for a walk.
I was based once more at the Fort Mason hostel.  Departing from there i headed inland to Lombard Street.  San Francisco is known to have roads which challenge a car to defy gravity.  None are more precipitous than one block of Lombard, which is composed of a series of hairpin turns.  The speed limit is five miles an hour and I suggest you adhere if you care to live through the experience*. 
Next up was a trip to the cable car museum.  Trolleys once operated in cities all over the United States.  The introduction of bus lines after World War II led to their demise all over the country.  Three lines continued to function in San Francisco, defying the onslaught of technological advances in favor of attracting tourists.  One hundred and forty years later after the first bell rang, passengers are still being summoned for yet another magical ride. 
I won't ever know any of that stuff from the last paragraph, because the museum wasn't actually planning to open until 10 and I arrived at 8:30.  I didn't want to wait around.
The Chinese don't sleep in since they have a world to conquer, so I moseyed over to their little town.  Lanterns hung above the streets as if in preparation for a parade, but a multitude of dragons never materialized.  I trod quietly by storefronts decorated with Oriental characters, wondering at the mystery of what lay behind the doors.  I never gathered the courage to venture inside, the sidewalk carrying me inexorably onward like a river.  Only food could have pushed me ashore and he restaurants were not yet open either. 

I rolled on, past numerous city blocks, thousands of steps adding themselves to the millions that had gone before.  I stopped at the Mission district, where the Spaniards had first set up shop centuries before.  Father Juniper Serra established the Mision de San Francisco Asis here in 1776, although the first actual building was not completed until fifteen years later.  A larger church was constructed next door in 1918. 
The mission remains a major center of Papist sentiment to this day.  Pope John Paul II himself gave the sanctuary a visit in 1987.  You too can walk right up to the altar where J.P. prayed for the destruction of the Protestant faith#.  The basilica, chapel, and sanctuary are all open to the public, as is the cemetery where all the famous local Catholics rot in peace.
The Mission, with the Basilica looming to the right

Leaving the holy I went amongst the sinners in the Castro section of San Francisco.  This district is home to thousands of gays, lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and trisexuals.  Maybe you knew the city has a large gay population, but what caused the same sex loving masses to flock here?
Even before "In the Navy" was written, an extensive segment of that branch of our armed forces was infested with man love.  When during World War II the military decided to expose and expel these deviants, many of them were off-loaded in San Francisco.  Once outed, the ex-soldiers were frightened to return to their small communities in Minnesota, Texas, North Carolina, etc.  They opted to stay where they were and start a new life free from prejudice.

Castro became the unofficial capital of rainbow and fairy land in the late 60s, just as nearby Haight Ashbury was being overrun by the hippie hordes.  Artists, musicians, and homosexuals alike were drawn by the low real estate prices in the wake of white flight.  They created vibrant communities which still flourish today.  My only quibble with the Haight is the preponderance of head shops.  I appreciate mother nature as much as the next guy, but dedicating the square footage of a super Walmart to bong sales is going a bit overboard.
I had a disappointing lunch at one of the restaurants in the Haight.  Mea culpa, I should have figured the standards would be low. People with the munchies are not exactly what one would call a discerning clientele. 
Circling back towards the Presidio, I found one of the great architectural wonders of San Francisco.  The Palace of Fine Arts is the kind of public building we don't make anymore. The mammoth Roman/Greek rotunda and the accompanying columned halls soar above.  They are surrounded by immaculate gardens , the landscaping equal to any monument in Europe.  I was particularly reminded of the Crystal Palace in Madrid's Buen Retiro Park.  Originally designed for the Pan Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the Palace was so beloved that citizens petitioned to prevent its demolition after the fair ended.  I'm elated at their success; the Palace of Fine Arts was easily the highlight of the day's stroll.

My happy balloon burst next door at the Exploratorium.  A hands-on science museum, the Exploratorium had delighted a younger me when the family and I had visited it twenty five years ago.  I wanted a nostalgia fix, but I was denied when the doors were locked.  Monday is the staff's sabbath it seems.
Unable to get my learn on I was thrown into a cyclone of dazed confusion, uncertain where to go next.  Barely avoiding epilogue epilepsy I regrouped at the hostel, where I showered and ran into my idols.
Karen and Jerry were only a few days from finishing their own epic three year journey across America.  They were also staying at the hostel that night, so we decided to have a premature^ celebration at restaurant Asqew.  The meal was excellent, a fabulous utilization of the cosmopolitan cuisine available in San Francisco. I can't exactly walk around the corner in South Carolina and grab restaurant quality shish kebab.
The conversation with Karen and Jerry was equally enchanting.  We have shared experiences that few humans can even comprehend, much less have the opportunity to undertake.  Needless to say, we have quite a bit to say to one another.  We took our blabbering back to Fort Mason, where we unwound by watching the hometown Giants defeat the steroid shooting St. Louis Cardinals in Game Two of the National League Championship Series.  I have a funny feeling the Giants are a team of destiny.  I believe they will go on to defeat the impotent Cardinals and then sweep the World Series.  Anyone want to bet?

*Steve McQueen excepted  
#  I recommend texting God instead, I hear he is a bit of a technophile
^Post-mature in my case

Miles: Don't care. Total miles: doesn't matter.  I'm done.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Fitting Climax

October 13

I had come to the last walk.  Point Reyes lay merely fourteen more miles away.  After nearly ten months of hard work the finish line was in sight.
As if I needed any more inspiration, Ken had shown up in the middle of the night, set to join me for the end run.  You may know Ken from our two days together in Ohio last June or because I am kind of doing the trek in honor of him.  It was somewhat of a big deal having him there.  My feet didn't touch ground much all day.  I was too busy floating.
Colin completed our squad and we set out on the trail towards the Pacific.  Time flew by despite my best efforts.  I wanted to linger over every last step, but our momentum carried us on in a blur.  Unsurprisingly, having people to talk to does tend to speed the process.  Ken filled our ears with his usual litany of penis jokes as well as the newest version of how he lost his arm.
When you are missing an appendage or two, people tend to ask you how the loss was incurred.  Ken had told one recent inquisitor, a young child, that he had been in a light saber duel with Darth Vader and the showdown had not gone his way.  The child fell for the ruse.  No shame there, Ken convinced a man in Las Vegas that he had his arm amputated after being caught cheating while gambling in Dubai.
Before I knew it, Point Reyes was in sight, although still a few miles away.  We had been blessed with a clear, cool, sunny day.  The Point jutted out into the Pacific, a thin finger of land indicating the way to Asia.  At this juncture we were supposed to call Mark, who had recovered somewhat from death and wanted to meet us for the last couple of miles.   We all had multiple bars on our phones, but were unable to call or text him.  No matter, Mark had the same problem, so he ventured out on his own to meet us.
The fellowship now consisting of four, we came to the southern edge of Limantour Beach.  One could simply walk out to the ocean from there, but that would be contrary to the very essence of the American Discovery Trail, which looks at hiking as the Tantric practitioner views sex, something to savor as long as possible, the climax delayed interminably.  The trail headed inland and I took it, worried we would miss the post signaling the end of the ADT, or perhaps one last magnificent vista.
The detour turned out to be pointless.  There was no sign and the path didn't take us to a grand overlook.  We wondered after thirty minutes whether we were even going to turn back towards the ocean.  Defeat was not be snatched from the jaws of victory, for eventually we did get going in the right direction.
My heart began to race as the runway approached the sand dunes.  I surmounted that one last, small barrier.  The ocean was only one hundred yards away.  I stripped down to my shorts and took off with an exultant yell, the eloquent speeches forgotten in my ecstasy.  A movie of the ten months I spent on trail, scored by Vangelis, played in my mind as I rushed towards the water.  As the crashing waves and I collided, the magnitude of what I'd done struck and I collapsed into the Pacific, then rose, waving my arms in triumph.  Suddenly, a great white shark came along and ate me.
There was a celebration that night.  Fortunately, it was not the shark who was exultant.  He found my flavor profile not to his liking and spit me out upon the beach.  After I spilled a few tears in the sand, Mark, Ken, Colin, John*, and I were able to enjoy one last supper together.  We devoured a Brazilian feast at Pizza Orgasmico in San Rafael.  A fitting climax. 

*John joined us after we finished taking a few last pictures.  He had wandered over to where the ADT would have hit into Limantour Beach if the trail made any sense whatsoever. 

14 miles/4116 total miles  THE END

Monday, November 5, 2012

Me Walk, You Walk, Ewok

October 12

Sadly I have lost a portion of my crew, at least for today.  Mark's legs may never work again and the damage done him caused John to think walking with me may not be in his best interest.  John does not normally participate in day time activities anyway, so we left him at the hotel. Mark was kind enough to drop Colin and I back at Pan Toll Campground, where we resumed the march at eight P.M. Bangladeshi time. 
The trails took us north, paralleling the coast, although the reappearance of the mist prevented us from getting more than an occasional glimpse.  Nonetheless, the scenery did provide topics of conversation.  First we came upon a rusted car, lying upside down and unlikely to ever get up again. The location of the vehicle, only a foot off the trail, left us bewildered. The trail was too narrow to have driven down.  The state of the car indicated it must have been thrown from the bluffs above, but how did it get there?  There was no road in sight.
Mad man blocking view of the mystery car

We had nearly ceased speculating and given up the case as an unsolved mystery when we heard a string of curses coming from the forest.  An angry man was yelling so loud and frantically we though him to be in a manic state.  I was reminded of some moments I'd had when lost on the trail.  What would my outbursts have sounded like to someone unlucky enough to overhear them?  Ah, nostalgia...
Later, we heard the squeaky wheels of a bicycle coming up behind us.  We heartily waved at our trail mate, the first human we had seen in some time.  We received no greeting in return from the middle aged man, who grimly pedaled by, head down.  I looked at Colin.  "I think we just met Angry Man."
These oddities aside, the forest surrounding us was the main attraction. Conversations about a sequel to "The Passion of Christ" subtitled "Up in Your Ass With a Resurrection" could not compare to the ancient trees reaching high into the sky above us.  Colin and Mark had talked the day before of a resemblance to the Ewok Forest from "The Return of the Jedi."  As it turns out, the analogy was spot on - Mark later discovered George Lucas lived nearby and had used these very woods in the movie.  The name Ewok was surely plucked from this region as well.  The Native American tribe which once inhabited Marin County was known as the Miwoks.

Another stretch of forest reminded me of a different fictional creature.  A bright green moss clung to these trees, thickly matted to the trunks like a fur pelt.  Were these the coats of the Grinch and his family, taken as trophies?  If so Whoville's vengeance was indeed swift and mighty.

By the last few miles I worried Colin might be the next casualty.  His right leg had locked up and it swung clumsily forward like a rusty gate.  He limped well behind, but continued to soldier on despite the pain, until we finally reached the day's ending point at Five Brooks.  I was quite proud of the lad.
Mark met us a quarter of an hour later with a story of his own.  He had been driving around the San Rafael area, killing time while Colin and I forged up the coast.  While stopped at a red light he ran into this man:
Mark had wanted to give the man money to reward his creativity, even though, as Chris Rock says, "a homeless man with a funny sign hasn't been homeless very long."  I countered with a different version of events.  Consider this:  an illiterate homeless man unknowingly approaches a smart ass and asks him if he would write him a sign.  Ah, the possibilities of such a blank canvas...      

16 miles/4102 total miles 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Are We There Yet?

October 11

I no longer walk alone.  I was joined this morning by Joel, one of my roommates at the hostel last night.  His background as the son of a career Navy man made him a fitting companion as the north end of San Francisco is steeped in military history.  We left the Fort Mason, which served as a Civil War barracks, passing the docks from which the Navy shipped supplies to the Pacific fleet during World War II.  A few blocks onward was Crissy Field, a former Army facility used as an airfield from 1921 to 1936.
The land was in high demand after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  The 30th infantry set up headquarters at Crissy along with the Military Intelligence Service Language School.  The airstrip itself returned to prominence after the war, since the small field was useful for helicopter and light airplane take offs and landings, particularly Medevac flights bringing in casualties from Vietnam.  Crissy Field finally closed amidst a series of national budget cuts in 1994. 
Joel and I soon approached the Golden Gate bridge, whose 1937 construction conceals a choke point once vital to the defense of the harbor.  Here is the only entrance to the bay.  The Spanish established earthworks on the hills above, known as the Presidio.  Gun batteries dotted the shore thereafter and additional artillery was later placed at Fort Point (now tucked underneath the bridge) by American forces.
Fort Point, hiding under the Golden Gate

Enough with the sex and violence, I was ready for my showdown with the Golden Gate.  The crossing is one of the most significant milestones over the long course of the American Discovery Trail.  I was blessed to have additional company for the momentous occasion.  My friend Mark Normington met me up top, along with my brother Colin, whose visit would have been a surprise if everyone involved hadn't contributed to botching the operation. 
Before 1937 the only way to get your car to Marin County was via the ferry, an inefficient means of transport given the demand.  The country was in a crushing Depression that even Paxil would not cure and the bridge would be terribly expensive.  Economic necessity drove California to act on the plan of engineer Joseph Strauss, who did not invent blue jeans.  Strauss was able to formulate a functioning yet artistic design which surmounted the what supposedly could not be mounted - "strong, swirling tides and currents, with water 372 ft deep at the center of the channel, and frequent strong winds. Experts said that ferocious winds and blinding fogs would prevent construction and operation."
The bright red bridge is now one of the symbols of San Francisco.  In fact, Frommer's lists the Golden Gate as the most photographed bridge in the world.  I was honored to have the opportunity to view the Bay Area and the city from her heights. The ubiquitous fog was kind enough to dissipate long enough to accommodate me.
The end of the Golden Gate bridge would seem to make an excellent finishing line for the ADT, but major trails in the United States simply do not begin or end in a major city.  A much more remote location is required.  The Appalachian Trail runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, while the Pacific Crescent and Continental Divide Trails run from isolated spots on the Mexican border to other places you have never heard of on the Canadian border. The ADT ends at Limantour Beach in Point Reyes, meaning I still had forty miles to go.
Nothing for it but to complete another dozen miles before ending the day.  I was glad to have Colin and Mark tagging along.  We proceeded onto a series of trails, up and down numerous grassy hills, all the while being slowly consumed by a shroud of mist.    After we snatched a quick peek at Sausalito, the veil closed completely and we had to satisfy ourselves with staring at nearby objects.  The terrain changed to thick forest and we reveled in the glory of the massive redwoods, whose trunks disappeared into the sky.  Another marvel lay at our feet, the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz, the banana slug.  The mollusks were omnipresent in the damp, dark woods and Mark was especially adept at spotting the slimy greenish-yellow creatures, which can move at a lightning fast rate of six inches a minute.
Banana slug, the Usain Bolt of the animal kingdom

As we neared the day's goal, Pan Toll Campground, Mark began to move a bit sluggishly himself.  His knees, in dire need of surgical repair, began to fail him and he was forced to halt whenever the pain became too great.  I ran ahead to meet our friend John Byrd, who had also flown in today and was scheduled to pick us up.  This turned into a bit of a fiasco as John was not where he was supposed to be and I had no cel service as usual.  After nearly an hour of trying to shake a text message out of my one bar, Mark finally limped into Pan Toll and collapsed on the ground.  Colin was able to contact John and we managed to figure out where he was and explain where he actually needed to be.
We hit a great taco joint for dinner, then took Mark back to the hotel in San Rafael so he could die in a bed.  Colin, John, and I visited the hotel bar, where we enjoyed celebratory pints of beer before realizing they cost twelve dollars a pop.  Sport stadiums and concert venues would have been envious of such vicious overcharging.  We beat a hasty retreat before being driven into bankruptcy*.  Unbelievably I have only two more days left to walk. 

*His friends paid, the author is already bankrupt - Editor    
 17 miles/4086 miles total 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Ferry Queen

October 10

Litter can tell you a lot about a place.  Discarded Sierra Nevadas and Haagen Dazs wrappers indicated Berkeley was slightly more upscale than the average American city.  A return to Bud Light and used condoms let me know I was entering Oakland.
Oakland does have a reputation as a fearsome place.  The city conjures images of Hell's Angels running wild or Raiders fans dressed up in costumes better suited to a medieval battle.  Oakland recently topped the FBI's list of most dangerous cities in California.  The reality for me was quite different.  I enjoyed a rather pleasant stroll down Broadway to the Bay.  I would have been tempted to stop at numerous bookstores and restaurants if the early hour had not meant that they were closed.
My experience at Cafe Gratitude had left me eager to try more Bay Area cuisine, so when the open for lunch signs were finally lit, I immediately pounced.  My target was the Chicken and Waffle, a spin off of Los Angeles' famed Roscoe's Chicken and Waffle.  The diner was packed, soul food in demand these days from people of all colors.  I examined the varied menu, most of the choices pictured on a mural covering the wall behind the counter top where I sat.  My decision was easy.  I had never tried the unlikely combination after which the restaurant is named.

The meal was at first disappointing, the fried chicken and macaroni failed to ignite a passionate response in my mouth.  There did seem a method to the pairing, though, as I discovered when I bit into the waffles, the contrast of salty and sweet delivering an extremely pleasant taste sensation.  I wouldn't want the duo for every meal, but i now understand the allure.
The impatience of my stomach was punished upon reaching Jack London Square and the Ferry Terminal.  I had just missed the previous ferry and would have to wait two hours for the next.
Don't worry, I'm not cheating and then rubbing it in your face.  The boat is part of the ADT - pedestrians aren't even permitted on the Bay Bridge to the best of my knowledge.  I didn't mind the rare opportunity to sit and rest.  When the ferry finally showed I appreciated even more the chance to advance effortlessly. Seven miles of no effort whatsoever and suddenly the captain was directing us to disembark.

Months of work had finally brought me to San Francisco.  A Spanish name, but a very American town, filled with a vibrant array of peoples and cultures.  Interestingly enough, however, the name did not come from the mind of a Spaniard.  The original settlement had been known as Yerba Buena*.  Colonel Bartlett, who liberated California from Mexican disinterest during the Mexican-American War, picked the current name during a brief stint as mayor.
There were few visitors in those days, but that changed only a couple of years later, when the Gold Rush turned San Francisco Bay into a bustling port virtually overnight.  Evidence of the Bay's usefulness was everywhere along the shoreline.  Piers, marinas, boats old and new crowded the water.  Fish, shrimp, and dungeoness crab sat in various stages of preparation at an endless string of seafood restaurants.  Even the lonely island out in the harbor, Alcatraz, had once served a purpose in the maritime economy, as the site of the first lighthouse on the West coast.  Later on the island adversely effected the shipping interests of certain members of the criminal class, as Al Capone could have attested had his syphilitic brain not melted into a pile of pus.

I spent the night at Fort Mason, where Hosteling International gives the less than wealthy traveler a chance to stay in the heart of downtown San Francisco.  Mason has had many uses over its 150 year history, defending the city from possible attack, hosting exhibits for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and operating as a storage facility and staging area during World War II.  Now the Fort is stuck with me and a gaggle of smelly Europeans as house guests.  Oh how the mighty have fallen down, cracked their head on the sidewalk, and bled out. 

10 miles/4069 total miles

*Which means dank herb in Spanish, I believe 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I Am Vegetable

October 9

I packed the tent away, perhaps for the last time.  The REI Halfdome 2 has served me well.  Very little of my original gear has made the cross country journey intact.  The tent is an exception, with only a minuscule crack in one of the poles to show for many months of wear and tear. 
My body has hung together just as well.  At this point last year I was suffering from back spasms and shin splints.  As of today my feet feel like I could do another thousand miles.  My brain, on the other hand, has told me that is a terrible idea.
We comprised and aimed for the University of California-Berkeley, only ten miles or so away on the ADT, one block away as the crow flies. The advantage of the ADT is the views and there could have been plenty between Inspiration Point and the Cal campus.  The early morning mist had other ideas, drawing a curtain over the Bay Area, leaving me to imagine what lay below.  Probably a duel to the death between King Kong and Godzilla, I conjectured.
I spent some of the morning getting lost and falling on the ground, but these foibles are part of my regular routine now, like brushing my teeth and taking a shower*.  I shan't bore you with those details.  Suffice it to say at some juncture I was spat out onto Grizzly Peak Road, where I was stunned to realize I knew where I was. 
As I proceeded toward Cal-Berkeley I ran into a friendly bicyclist named Lovejoy.  Curious as to why I looked like Santa Claus fallen on hard times, he asked for my story.  He was intrigued, especially since he had recently met a Wounded Warrior in need of help while walking in San Francisco.  Lovejoy found the man naked on the sidewalk, curled up in the fetal position.  "R," as we will call him, was at first unwilling or unable to speak.  With some gentle prodding he admitted to having done "terrible things" in Iraq, actions for which he felt he would never be forgiven. Ever since their run-in Lovejoy had been working to get R the assistance he needs.  I promised to inform the WWP about R's situation if Lovejoy would send me the man's information.  We parted shortly thereafter, but not before making dinner plans for that evening.
I descended to the Berkeley campus where I ran smack into a bear.  The beast was a bronze statue of the school's mascot, thankfully not prone to moving, much less devouring hikers.  I was hungry myself and headed to the International House^ for lunch.  I wolfed down a lamb and hummus pita sandwich, as if anyone gives a flying fornication. 
There was plenty of day left, so I decided to take advantage by checking into the hostel where I had reservations and doing absolutely nothing.  The Piedmont House is a relic of Berkeley's days as a bastion of left-leaning thought.  The 60s at Cal were a cloud of marijuana smoke occasionally interrupted by a hit of acid, a line of Ginsberg poetry, or a Free Speech Movement.
The Free Speech Movement was a student uprising in the middle of the hippie decade which began in response to the University administration's ban on political demonstrations.  When an activist was arrested for defying the ban, huge sit-ins and protests resulted.  Mario Savio summed up the feelings of those involved:
   "There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that  you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."
 The evil Dean Wormer eventually backed down.  Cal students continued to rage against the machine throughout the 60s.  They were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and later led student opposition to war in Vietnam.
The man who appeared to run Piedmont House could have easily been transported from that era yesterday.  Yow was at times a brilliant philosopher and at others a flaky burnout case.  Paranoid of bed bugs, he had my sleeping bag frozen.  I wondered what sense this made since he left me my pack.  My sleeping bag is normally stored inside, if one is infected surely the other is as well.
I hung out at the hostel, over the course of the afternoon meeting a few college students in residence as well as a middle aged man who had clearly overindulged in hallucinogens himself.  I was retrieved by Lovejoy around six and we rode in his car to Cafe Gratitude.
The restaurant is more like a collective, growing organically out of the strongest of roots.  Lovejoy explained to me that its origins lay in a game, the Abounding River, which the owners invented.  Abounding River allows participants to examine their lives while receiving positive affirmation, free from judgments, from other players.  Cafe Gratitude started simply as a place to host the game.

I found that story quite unusual, but you may find it even harder to believe my reaction to the Vegan fare they served.  I am a committed carnivore.  Until my twenties I found most vegetables repulsive and I have no love for raw vegetables even as an adult.  When Lovejoy told me what Cafe Gratitude's menu was like I cringed inwardly.  Be polite, I thought, just enjoy the atmosphere, socialize, and don't insult your host by spitting the food on the floor.
When the appetizer, I Am Grounded#, arrived I was stunned.  The dish was essentially patatas bravas, but the sauce was not made from cheese, but cashews instead.  I could not have told the difference blind-folded, except that the flavor was superior to any examples I had sampled in Spain.
I still doubted my entree would be much more than edible.  When I Am Hearty landed in front of me, I admitted otherwise.  Of all the experiences I've had on this trip, enjoying a Vegan meal would have seemed the least likely of them all not too long ago.  At least I'm getting pretty used to being wrong.

10 miles/4059 total miles    

*He actually does not shower very often - Editor
^Not affiliated with the shithole in Austin. 
#All the dish titles relate to the positive reinforcement aspect of the Abounding River game: I Am Bold, I Am Dazzling, I Am Thriving, for example. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Great Escapes

October 8
I have to say no to the devil.  I have a meeting with my friend Mark on Thursday in San Francisco, so there is just not enough time to fit him in to my busy schedule. 
The ADT takes a long detour over Mt. Diablo, whose heights allegedly provide a fantastic view of the Bay Area.  I condensed these twenty four miles into merely eight by taking the less scenic route to Walnut Creek.
The shortcut put me back on pace to make my rendezvous.  I felt free to sally forth on the ADT again and headed into a new labyrinth of trails amidst the hills.  I managed to go a few miles without making a wrong turn, but eventually my extraordinary winning streak came to an end.
When I ran into a road I knew I was lost again. At least there was a neighborhood visible below.  I figured I would venture down there, find a main street in Lafayette and reorient myself.  A gate to the right was marked private, so I decided left was a grand plan.  A few hundred yards further on I ran smack into another enclosed property.  A normal person would have turned around, but thankfully I don’t suffer from that particular disorder. 
I could see an escape route – black tarmac ready to release me from this private property trap.  I responded by sliding down the steep hill on my butt, putting freedom only twenty feet away.  There was still a major problem.  A fence running behind the neighborhood blocked further progress.  I looked for a home owner, but early on a weekday afternoon no one was present.  Since I was still unwilling to trespass, I decided to see if the fence would lead me to an exit.
I started along a ditch, but the intercession of a culvert forced me back onto the treacherous hill, where I repeatedly slipped and fell on the slick surface.  As I came to my feet I saw an older woman in her backyard, sitting poolside with a book.  I opened my mouth to explain that I was not a burglar or serial murderer before she panicked and called the police.  Then I paused.  She was asleep.  Simultaneously, I noticed a gap in the fence.  I sprinted through in a flash.
I was unfettered, but where should I go next?  I moved south, towards Lafayette, finding the BART* station there.   I consulted their map, discovering that Happy Valley Road, which lay on the other side of the parking lot, would lead me straight back to the ADT.  The road name sounded ominous, but I assumed I was too old to elicit much interest from Sandusky. 
Two hours on Happy Valley and I met the ADt and was face with another decision.  The trail ventures into East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) territory and a permit is required to hike there.  Lacking permission and fearing the fine, I picked a parallel course.  My choice meant there was a high fence between me and Briones Reservoir and I was nearly out of water.  A bicyclist stopped and gave me a few ounces, delaying dehydration only slightly.
Briones Reservoir
By six thirty I was desperate.  When an opportunity arose in the form of a stream, I pounced.  In my haste for water I never saw the “No Trespassing “sign or the barbed wire I must have stepped over on my way in and out.  I braved the inclined bank, picking my way down to the water’s edge.  I filled the bottles, then proceeded up the difficult grade.  Only steps from the top I grabbed a sapling for purchase.  The wood snapped, my shoes slid, and I prepared for the long fall to the bottom.  It never came.  Somehow I stayed upright, lunging in one stride to safety.
I had to answer one more question before I could rest for the night.  Where was I going to rest for the night?  Tindal Park was the logical choice, but how should I get there?  The ADT went via Inspiration Point, via more EBMUD land.  Other options were longer and dusk was beginning to settle.  I couldn’t read the warning sign at the entrance to EBMUD, so I decided to chance ignorance as an excuse.  I assumed I would see or hear any vehicles long before they would spot me. 
The gambit paid.  Forty minutes of walking with only the flashlight to guide me and I made the gate exiting EBMUD.  Houdini was an amateur. 
22 miles/4049 total miles
*Bay Area Rapid Transit

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Mazing Disgrace

October 7
In college we used the term apple-berry-pear to describe anything bordering on perfection.  The adjective derives from an unusually tasty beverage manufactured by Tropicana at the time.  The target of the phrase was usually an exceptional lovely lassie, as men in their late teens and early twenties are somewhat prone to horniness. 
I feel apple-berry-bear is spot on as a description of the greatness of the San Francisco Bay I am currently entering, easily the best area for shipping on the Pacific coast.  Despite the area’s obvious attraction as a safe harbor, Europeans were slow to settle the region.  Either a dangerous slog over the Rockies and Sierras or an equally perilous voyage around the deadly Cape Horn were required.    Few thought the riches worth the reward.  The first permanent settlement did not come until the time of the American Revolution, when Juan Bautista de Anza set out with a smaller group of priests and soldiers.  He explored more of the Bay Area than any European had previously, establishing future sites for the Presidio and the Mission de Asis in the process.
I followed in the Spaniards footsteps on the De Anza trail.  The path was paved for bikes, taking an arrow straight route through the neighborhoods of Antioch. Hardly an echo of what De Anza and his compatriots experienced.  When I entered Contra Loma Park, however, the degree of difficulty increased exponentially.
The trail was easy to find at first, the Contra Loma Reservoir providing a well-defined landmark in case of confusion.  A host of ADT signs sucked me into the maze, providing a false sense of security.  I climbed into golden hills, the tall grass looking more like wheat ready for threshing.  Five miles in the trap swung shut.  A fork in the road left me perplexed, the arrow not definitively pointing in any of the four possible directions.  Murphy must have been a hiker.  I chose poorly.
Contra Loma Reservoir
The punishment was delayed thirty minutes, until the easy downhill glide took me to a locked gate marked, “No Trespassing, Private.”  This subtle clue led me to believe I had gone wrong.  Getting here had been no problem, returning to the fork was a wee bit harder.  The Bay Area is famous for steep hills and I’d put this one up against any.  I would have spent a lot more energy cursing myself on the return trip, had there been an excess to give.  I met a hiker familiar with the Park at the top, who referred to the trail I’d just climbed as “The Wall.”  An apt title, I feel.
I now had three remaining tines to choose from and miracle of miracles the second guess was a winner   - at least for half a mile, when I missed another turn.  Mercifully I noticed the error rather quickly and corrected course.  Passing Somerville cemetery, the burial ground of early 20th century Welsh miners, I encountered another of Frost’s dilemmas.  The ADT sign demanded a left turn, which seemed to take me back in the wrong direction.  I took a leap of faith and obeyed, regretting every step for some time afterward. 
I proceeded in a worried fashion for an hour, assured only somewhat when the trail bent in a more reasonable direction.  Three Latino bicyclists leapfrogged me and I went by them in turn as they rested.  On my next break they pedaled past once more.  They returned shortly and asked me where I was headed. 
“Clayton,” I responded.   
“We have to turn back.  We are going the wrong way,” the leader said, and they were off.  
Was I included in “we”?  Confused and demoralized I carried on nonetheless, waiting for confirmation of failure.  Instead I was surprised by redemption, in the form of another ADT sticker.  The homes of Clayton dotted the hills on the horizon.
I made my triumphant procession into town, visiting the library to research possible sleeping arrangements.  I found a Day’s Inn situated between Clayton, Concord, and Ygnacio Valley.  Which city was I in?  Who cares, I’m pretty used to not knowing where the hell I am. 
17 miles/4027 total miles     

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Bridge of Death

October 6
I have reached the four thousand mile mark, a number so large it makes my brain hurt, although honestly about anything beyond double digits does that.  You can’t undertake such a long journey without passing over hundreds of rivers, creeks, arroyos, unless you walk in a circle in Nevada.  At none of these crossings did I feel the overwhelming fear I experienced today. 
The trek started with a bridge, spanning the gap between Brannan and Sherman Islands.  There were no trolls and he old man from scene 24 did not await me with his questions three.  The danger still lurked on the horizon.  I strolled onto Sherman Island with ease.
I could, however, see the devil by now, and I don’t mean Mt. Diablo, which dominated the background.  In front and center the Antioch Bridge stood, perhaps the last major impediment on my way to the sea.  The ADT does not approach it directly, instead taking a scenic tour around the Island.  I was glad to oblige, putting off our inevitable confrontation as long as possible.  Like an underdog boxer, I bobbed and weaved, scared to come too close for fear of the knockout blow.
Cows and sheep grazed around me, oblivious to human struggles, even those that could decide their fate.  Water surrounded us, a seemingly endless resource, but a sign at Eddo’s RV Park and Resort spoke of conflict over its use:

California is one state, but split into two well-defined regions: the North and the South.  Their civil war is over the content of the very rivers and sloughs by which the livestock and I were encircled.  Southern California is a desert and as such is constantly in search of the life-giving liquid.   Northern California is the economic center of the state and well-provisioned with rivers running out of the Sierra Nevadas.  Governor Brown has stirred up the controversy with a proposal to build two water tunnels through the delta.  The South claims their future is uncertain without the tunnels.  Northerners argue that the entire delta ecosystem could be disrupted if the water is diverted. 
I’d heard some of the Northern Californians seriously suggest seceding from the South.  They feel the desert regions over-consume and under-produce and have become a drain on the much more successful and efficient North.  These thoughts diverted my attention from the Antioch Bridge momentarily, but soon I stared doom in the face.  I procrastinated, stopping to eat a can of Vienna sausages.  When the last meatsicle went disappeared down my gullet, our meeting could be delayed no longer.  The Bridge is almost two miles long, but the distance was not my main worry.  There were two serious concerns, the first was immediate.  There is no pedestrian walkway – you are on the same level as the vehicles, which fly by at up to seventy miles an hour.  A few feet of shoulder presents the only zone of safety.
Once I had begun I marched in a robotic fashion, not wanting to pause for even a second. Trucks and cars roared by in packs, there were few breaks in the traffic.  As I rose higher I crouched lower, terrified a freak gust of wind would blow me off the side and down hundreds of feet to the San Joaquin below.  The climb felt endless, but eventually I came to the bridge’s summit, the end now visible, but not yet near. 
There was yet one more obstacle.  I was on the left, preferring to face the onrushing machines rather than having them at my back.  The turnoff at the finish line was on the other side of the road.  A small gap, opened up, giving me my opportunity.  I hurdled over a concrete barrier and as I semi bore down on me, scooted onto the opposite shoulder.  Only a few hundred yards left.  I winced at the “whoosh” of every auto zooming by me, counting down every single step until….
Safety is green grass growing above a curb.  I entered Antioch a victorious crusader, selecting a dingy cafĂ© for a celebratory meal.  If you had seen the smile on my face you would think I’d been invited to dine with the King of England. 
My accommodations for the evening were equally unimpressive.  The Executive Inn has probably not entertained any corporate bigwigs in quite some time, unless high ranking members of the Crips or Bloods count.  The non-smoking room smelled like a Tom Petty concert and even the knobs of the dressers and the phone book had been stolen.  I could not have cared less.  The bridge of death was behind me. 
17 miles/4010 total miles