Single Entry View: <<Previous Entry Next Entry>> Back To All Entries>>>
PT. 1: Cold Wind To Valhalla
On Saturday at 1430 hours I procured a late model red Chevy Cavalier. One of those self-driving models so I would be free to hang out the windows and waggle my tongue at the hoi polloi as I sped past. Although finances dictated that this would not be an extended sojourn into the greater countryside I packed for several days as a precaution. Having grilled Rick and Mike B____ for information, I decided on a trip into Marin to locate a suitably pastoral swimming hole in which to ease away my troubles. On advice of Rick, I headed for Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Samuel P. Taylor is beautiful, but if you blink, you'll miss it. One road through, with one already-full campground, and every likely swimming hole packed with cars. And so it came to pass that I found myself on the other side, driving through the woods above Pt. Reyes National Seashore.
At about 5:30, I came to a stop at Sky Trail head, where I was offered a choice of the trail uphill, into the wooded hills, or downhill, into the lowlands and scrub. A few minutes into the scrub it became apparent that the trail was going to stick close to the road rather than dip down into the lovely gullies and valleys as expected, so up into the hills I went.
Sky Trail is stunningly beautiful. After passing a number of hikers between the trailhead and Sky Camp, a backcountry campground about a mile in, I found myself alone on the trail for very long stretches, catching gorgeous views of the ocean from on high. This is the first solitude I have found since being caught on the back playa in a sandstorm last Burning Man, and probably the first true solitude I have encountered anywhere in the Bay Area in the entire time I've lived here.
Sky Trail begins as a dirt road and over the course of a few miles narrows gradually to a footpath. Each bend in the path revealed more beauty and I simply could not turn back. I saw deer, flurrying glimpses of what I think were grouse, flowers that looked like orchids or lillies, a small black beetle, and almost no humans for miles. Every turn in the trail reveal a new, beautiful vista or forested glade, and I was compelled forwards until I was a little over 4 miles in, where the path rounds its final hill and begins its descent to the shore.
Pt. II: Hymn 43
I passed a sign that indicated I was 3 miles past Sky Camp, so I had covered about 5 miles in all, including jaunts up and down side trails just to check them out. The sun had begun to creep towards the horizon. The sign indicated that another mile further, Sky Trail met the Coast Trail far below, which, I knew from signs at the trail head, would meet the first path I had started down through the scrub at the bottom and then after a 3 mile uphill hike lead me back up to the car. Although Sky Trail had just entered new and even more beautiful terrain, I decided to turn back and walk the 4 miles over which I had just come, rather than walk at least one more mile down to the coast and three miles uphill back to the car plus the unknown length of the Coast Trail between the Sky Trail and the trail back up the road. I estimated I had enough time to return over the 4 miles I had just walked by last light, plus the trail over which I'd come had a lot of western exposure, so I'd be able to milk the sunset for all it was worth. I congratulated myself on making an intelligent decision and turned back.
Not intelligent enough, as it turned out. Having left at 5:30 pm to go hiking in shorts and a t-shirt and without a flashlight, any further attempts at intelligence were probably a moot point. So, I soon found myself walking alone through the woods in the dark wearing only my beachwear.
It's amazing how fast it gets dark in the woods. The sky was still light, but under the canopy things began to take on an ominous tone. The birds sang for quite a while longer than I expected into the approaching night, but eventually they stopped, and I heard the wee nocturnal beasties began to slither, pad, and prowl... the raccoon, I imagined, the fox, the mountain lion, the sasquatch, the giant carnivorous centipede, the mothman, and various other Mikevores looking for an easy meal of stupid hiker, all skulking just beyond visibility in the growing gloom. I passed gallows and a sign on which was written in blood "Beware" and large creatures circled above through the treetops on the edge of my vision. Yes, the mind does play tricks, doesn't it. Having just had the creepy experience of being harassed by an unseen, mewling mountain lion while scoping an event location up in the Berkeley Hills a few weeks ago, my senses were on edge.
I began jangling my keys as I walked. I began to get the doppleganger, which I had noticed earlier in the day, but which came on more strongly as my hearing grew more acute in the gloom. You know when you're walking through the woods, and with every step you take you hear an concurrent step 20 feet behind you, or just off the path behind the brush? Every time you stop, it stops, but hollering at it does no good and as soon as you are going again, there it goes. That's when you know you have to hurry up, because if you let the doppleganger catch up, it will overtake you and reach your car before you, at which point it will pull out a key identical to yours, and drive back to civilization and say rude things to all your friends and family - leaving you with a hell of a lot to explain when you get home, besides being stranded at the trailhead without a ride. This actually happened to a friend of mine.
It was a relief when I finally reached Sky Camp again - both to hear human voices, and to know I was only a little over a mile from the road. The last of twilight was fading into night, but the last stretch of trail finally widened to dirt road. I walked along in the darkness, jangling my keys the whole way, not in the least comforted by the familiar noise.
What security I experienced at some semblance of civilization passing Sky Camp soon dissipated. As I walked past an open meadow on the trailside, a shape sat in the dark and and watched me pass. Tough call - you could have told me it was a large bush, and I would have believed you, or you could have told me it was a sasquatch, and I would have believed you. The meadow was shaded maddeningly from the moonlight by the treeline, and in the gloom it was impossible to tell if the thing really did shift to observe me I crossed its field of vision. As long is it didn't get up and bolt towards me, I stayed on the close side of sheer panic and kept an even gait, swinging my keys. It sat on its haunches and I kept my ears open for massive footsteps from behind as I passed back into the trees. The darkness was silent.
Suddenly I heard a sinister whisper up ahead. I trained my eyes and saw movement on the slope right next to the trail. Brigands! At this point they surely were aware of my approach, but having nothing of value with me and presumably still being within shouting distance of the campers at Sky Camp I forged through. As I walked past them, the smell of jasmine incense filled the air... hippie brigands, sitting on the wooded hillside, burning incense and smoking pot as they no doubt waited for some hapless traveler to stumble into their crutches. I "put on my wings", a threatening manner of walking I learned when I used to have to pass through Times Square on my way to work at three in the morning, and they wisely let me pass without incident.
A last moment of danger came as I reached the portion of the trail near the road and was momentarily relieved by headlights glinting through the trees. Until I heard a car pass by a few minutes later on the other side of me, and realized that the brief discs of light I had seen flash to my left were in the opposite direction from the road. Whatever's eyes had flashed at me in the dark, it had allowed me to pass, perhaps preferring to gorge itself upon my doppleganger, which I at this point realized was no longer audible.
[TO BE CONTINUED...]