Monday, October 5, 2009

Where Were We?

Day 7, May 8, 2009

Route: From our campground, uphill to the Wind Caves, to Wall Point Rd (part of the trail to the summit of Mt. Diablo where we are NOT going, thank you), crossing South Gate Road at Curry Point. Down from there on the Knobcone Point Trail (fire road) to Black Hawk Ridge Trail (fire road) to Oyster Point Trail which leads to Morgan Territory Regional Preserve and then out Old Finley Road to pavement and middle-of-nowhereness.

Mileage: The longest 7.5 miles I have ever experienced

Flora and Fauna: Here one has to admit that if you do not look for anything, you will not see anything. The following creatures were noticed only because they did their best to get noticed. I thank a warbling vireo and a hermit warbler for their kindness. Looking back on photos I also saw sycamores and buckeye trees. But obviously I didn't really see them at all.

Logistics: We basically walked uphill, hobbled downhill, had lunch and unwrapped my now bleeding toes, resumed the up and down and up and down, deciding in the end to seek civilization and foot rest, delivered nearly 30 miles from Morgan Territory Road to Walnut Creek Bart Station by a woman and her 14 year old daughter who took pity and put us in their van. I vow to purchase new boots.

Recommended Reading: Mount Diablo, Los Vaqueros & Surrounding Parks Featuring the Diablo Trail Map, produced by Save Mount Diablo, available at REI (map sponsor). Waterproof, Tearproof, detailed, a whole world offered for your perusal. The Best Diablo Map, if not the best regional map I have ever seen. About ten dollars.

This is a tough day to write about because it was such a tough day of painful feet and low spirits that I took only the following notes: warbling vireo hermit warbler. That is it. Coupled with the fact that I am writing about it now a mere five months after walking it may reflect, and reflect poorly, in the following account.

When I started this walk and this blog I figured I would reminisce about time well spent in the Eco-tones of California. I planned to write about what California had meant to me, what I had seen, and produce a kind of autobiography enmeshed in landscape. If I do that I will never finish.

So forgive me here if I don't tell you about slicing through the fine clays of Black Diamond Regional Park on the north foothills of Mt. Diablo while participating on an archaeological dig in college days and found green leaves a foot down folded into a capsule protecting a solitary leaf-cutting bee's eggs. I also will not tell of the ravens, the ruling pair, atop Mt. Diablo, or my subsequent epiphany while camping solo that even the most dreaded and raggedly-poor campground neighbor has love and forgiveness to offer. I won't even mention the visual impact of a wooly blue-curl atop the jumbled boulders on Pinnacles National monument in April. I will just stick to the walk events, and beg your forgiveness for drawing this account out so long.

Mt. Diablo is a very special place. I had pictured us climbing to its peak in a triumphant attainment of a milestone, looking back and forward at vast views, probably feeling superior and certainly feeling connected to its specialness. That picture was not to be as my toes were far too blistered to make unnecessary mileage and altitude gain. We would skirt the southern flank of Diablo and regain the eastern side by traversing its lower slopes.

Without a ridiculously overfilled backpack of tent, sleeping bags, journals, five days of food, walking sticks, clothes, flashlights –our house on our backs–and without the bulbous fluid filled bruising of blisters (Steve's entire soles were a blister) this would have been another perfect walk. Gorgeous weather, intimate canyons expanding into vistas at their heights, yadda yadda.

After visiting the Wind Caves (not actually formed from wind erosion but rather from water percolating into areas where the water dissolves the natural cement holding sand grains together), we came to our highest point at Curry Point. We walked down Knobcone Point Trail to a junction with Curry Canyon but counter-intuitively did not turn toward the east but kept just inside of the western foothills that fend off ritzy developments like Blackhawk. After climbing quite a ways back up to a junction of four trails we dropped our ridiculous loads for lunch. This is where I heard the warbling vireo in an oak– a sound that finally penetrated my self-absorbed self-pity.

Having seen nary a soul the entire walk we were surprised by the arrival of three people all at once. First came a cyclist who veered off onto our future single track trail. I remember thinking that he was taking a path where bicycles were forbidden. At the same time there was a relief that people pass this way, even illegally, and I felt instead of my usual annoyance at wheeled scofflaws a certain love and well-wishing that he be safe and enjoy himself. Perhaps a sign of becoming delusional but probably just old age laissez-faire making another attempt at ruling my life.

Then two perfectly-bodied female joggers in cute outfits, about our age, came to the junction, saw us under the tree, and one of them trotted up and asked "Excuse me, do you know where we are? We seem to have missed our trail." We had a map, a great map, the Save Mount Diablo- produced map referenced above. These ladies had already run many miles, had missed their original exit, and now were looking at an extra couple of miles to get back to a path that would lead them home eventually. I do not think the extra mileage would have phased them even if they had remained lost. Off they went, at a good speed, chatting. I was impressed. I had pictured the trophy wives of Blackhawk to be more odalesque than olympian.

There is no pain like post toe-freedom pain with blisters. We took the single-track Oyster Point trail towards Morgan Territory. At its highest point we could see another of Diablo's wall rock outcroppings, my guess is that it holds fossil oysters in abundance. Here we rested and I indulged in heavy doubts about my ability to do this walk. I felt so out of shape and unlike the old days I did not appear to get stronger but rather more tired each day. I wanted to throw off the pack big time. This is where a hermit warbler preened and tisked around us and broke through my morale-damaging reverie.

We were on the last stretch of Oyster Point trail, in need of water, and looking forward to Tassajara Creek at the bottom of the canyon. We had originally planned that we would guerilla camp in Morgan Territory, that we had to make use of this stupid food we carried, this stupid tent and cook stove, the incredibly inane multiple eating utensils. Why put ourselves through the torture of carrying all of this stuff if we were not going to tough it, be excitingly illicit with our illegal camping, be the adventurers we had ceased to be twenty years earlier? Either God is a stickler for the letter of the law and gave us blisters to 'mend' our ways and make us knock off this notion, or we took the signs of multiple mosquito attacks at the creek as definitive, or we realized when we emerged laden with all this crap, that sheesh Morgan Territory was well-used by local residents and that hiding out in a camp was going to be hard. We decided, glory-be, to give up our folly.

I felt like crying with relief when we decided to just walk out here at Old Finley Road, and call one of our patient friends to pick us up. We asked a nice family of father, son and uncle where we were in the civilized world and they described that we would need to walk out of the park through a gate, but that there was no actual parking lot for a mile or so. The private homes at this entrance were buffered from park user cars. Which was nice for them, but also meant we couldn't keep up with these informants over the next mile, and therefore lost our chance at a ride.

The first home we came to looked like an old ranch. Very picturesque, it was set amongst huge sycamores. We doffed packs and played with a dog that seemed to belong to the big barn/house complex that looked a hundred years old. Steve tried to find someone to let us use a phone because our cell phones had no coverage. After not being able to raise anyone but the dog, Steve suggested that we go on down the lane of eight big expensive, well-appointed houses and knock on their doors (or ring their security buzzers) to ask for the use of their phone. . We looked disheveled and needy, I could not bring myself to do it. It was like penetrating a veil of protection lain wordlessly and fencelessly that the homeowners had constructed while making the deal with us hiking riff-raff – you may pass, but do not bother us. I guess I still respond to class notions in my own head. I asked Steve to stay put and I would hobble ahead to investigate the so-called parking lot and try to find cell coverage.

Neither of those things did I ever find. The only thing to do was to hike miles to San Ramon or flag down a car. We put the packs back on and trudged out to the road. We hid our packs behind an oleander and walked without loads until Steve flagged down a passing van. Liz Wilson and her teenage daughter lent us their operating phone, but neither Steve's cousin, nor his Best Man in All Ways, Kale Williams answered. These people had driven us around, put us up, provided a GPS tracking unit, fed us, but here right now, they had their own lives apparently. So Liz gave us a ride to the Walnut Creek Bart Station, hugging the larger contours of Diablo's foothold, nearly forty minutes by car. She and her daughter were out driving for no good reason but companionship and cow watching. They had a great relationship obviously. and enough room in that relationship for us in their day. I salute their lives and generosity.

Steve left his binoculars on the Bart station platform, we both left our notions of invincibility behind permanently, not to mention pride. Peter had to pick us up at the Rockridge Bart Station, we could not walk the four blocks to his home.