Over 500 miles of trails

Someone said that there are over 500 miles of trails in Marin County. I'm going to hike all of them. Want to hear more? Read on...

Location: Woodacre, California, United States

Well, I hike, obviously. I read, without retaining, lots of stuff but mostly classic and contemporary fiction, history, and science. I look at birds and plants. I play my guitar far less than I ought, and watch movies far more. I like to ask people questions, but only if they ask me questions in return. I aspire to honorable behavior and am mostly successful. I'm on the cusp of a career change, with bird research in my past/present and academic librarianship in my future. Occasionally I bust out and cook six course gourmet meals for my friends; for some reason it's always six and never seven or five. Enough about me. What about you? Stranger or friend, drop me a line!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Hey, guess what? That last post that I just posted, just the other day, was my 30th post. Of course, my friend tjic easily posts 30x per week, but his posts are a lot shorter, usually (though his blogging achievements are in fact prodigious...let's not mince words). But I have to hike every time I post, so that should count for something (though I've got a few posts that don't actually have any hikes in them, so 1 post <> 1 hike). I feel like I'm making some progress on this project, which is a good feeling.

So this seems to be a good time to do some descriptive statistics. Including the hike that I'm about to blog, I've done 28 hikes so far for this project. Average hike length is 7.375 miles, and I've hiked a total of 206.5 miles. If there are indeed 500 miles of trails in Marin, I'm about 40% of the way there. But, this doesn't take into account the fact that I've done some out-and-back hikes, so every mile I've hiked hasn't been a new mile. Combining that fact with just eyeballing my maps to see how much ground I've covered, I'd say that I'm more like 30% of the way there. I've been working on this project since last November, so 10 months. At this rate I should be finished in another 24 months. Since I graduate from my library program in 21 months, and since Victor and I don't plan on sticking around for very long after that, I shall have to pick up the pace a wee bit, but my average hike length is getting longer (average hike length for 1st 14 hikes = 6.08 mi., for last 14 hikes = 8.67 mi., 7.83 mi. without the 19.6 mile hike outlier), so that will probably help out.

Enough with the facts and figures. That is not what you came here for.

Last Sunday (7/30/06) I hiked up to the top of Mt. Tam, which is the highest point in Marin County at a towering 2,571'. I started at the parking area across from the Mountain Home Inn, which I arrived at before 9am, as per the instructions in _Hiking Marin_, and found to be nearly deserted (bonus). Fog still lay over the peak and crept in tendrils down the various drainages, but it cleared up within an hour. I started up Hogback Fire Road. The Throckmorton Ridge Fire Station is right there, and they were testing their equipment. As I hiked up the ridge, I was serenaded by 'Woot-woot!' and 'WAAAAUUUUGGGH', and by loudspeaker messages, 'PULL TO YOUR RIGHT. TO YOUR RIGHT.' I hopped onto the Matt Davis trail, which after .7 miles or so intersected the Nora Trail, which climbed to the West Point Inn, where I stopped for an early-hike snack at the picnic tables out front. The inn is apparently historic and yadda yadda blah blah blah. Took the Rock Springs trail over to the Mountain Theatre, where they just finished up with the 2006 run of their summer play. They did _Fiddler on the Roof_. Next year they're doing _Hair_. The outdoor theatre is a steep semicircle of (rather uncomfortable looking) stone steps for the audience to sit on... I guess folks bring cushions and such. It's steep enough so that it looks like everyone would get a pretty good view of the stage below, as well as a lovely view of the Bay and such beyond. From here I crossed Ridgecrest Blvd and hiked up the Lagunitas-Rock Spring Fire Rd to Rifle Camp. The Fire Road continues past Rifle Camp all the way back down to Lake Lagunitas, and it's pretty much the only trail I have left to hike in that area south of the Lagunitas-Bon Tempe Lake region. Here's a map so you know what I'm talking about... the area I'm referring to is in the lower right quadrant of the map.

So from Rifle Camp I joined up with the Northside trail, which contours along about 300-500' below the West and Middle Peaks of Mt. Tam, and took that clear across to the Eldridge Grade, right below the East Peak of Mt. Tam, which is the highest one. I plopped down in the shade for a snack, and as I was eating a man came up another trail and was settling in to take a break right across the trail from me, completely oblivious to my presence. 'Hello,' I said, and then noticed that he had earphones on, and so didn't hear me. Right at that moment, he looked up, noticed me about 8 feet away from him, and may have shat his pants right then and there. This has happened to me many times before. If people can't see a whole damn hiker within spitting distance, I wonder how many birds, mammals, and cool plants they're missing along the way? I think a lot of folks that I encounter along the trails are out for exercise rather than 'nature study', which may also explain the seeming preponderance of mountain bikers over hikers. I'm happy to get the exercise, too, but there's a reason why I'm hiking rather than using a treadmill, and that's to see things. But I guess there's also a reason why I'm a biologist rather than an investment banker, and I suppose I must make allowances for the fact that others have different interests than myself. It's not their fault their interests are lame.

Continuing on the obliviousness theme, as I climbed Eldridge Grade toward the top (mind you this is a very busy trail, with *lots* of bikers and hikers) I came upon a man getting ready to unzip and pee, right on the trail, not even a modest 10 feet into the trees or anything. I whistled to let him know that I was coming up so that he could wait till I went by, but apparently he didn't hear me. He whipped it out, and as I was stopping and turning around to examine the scenery in the *other* direction, his wife spotted me and cried out, "There's someone there!" But he continued peeing anyway... I guess it's hard to stop once you start, and judging by the duration he had to go pretty badly. I loitered around, eyes averted, a modest distance away until I deemed it safe, then continued up the trail. As I passed the couple, I said, 'Don't worry. I didn't see anything but stream.' which the woman was amused by, but which the guy didn't seem to appreciate very much. He couldn't even look at me as he went by. Oh well.

Eldridge Grade comes out on Ridgecrest Blvd. right below the parking area for the peak, so it's necessary to walk next to Ridgecrest to get up to the peak area. The peak itself is attainable from the parking area via a .3mile, decently steep trail. This trail ramifies into a half dozen or so little trails climbing all around the peak. You can see pretty much everything from the top. It wasn't a particularly clear day but I could see all the way across to East Bay, north to Petaluma, west to the ocean. The Golden Gate Bridge was partially obscured by the Marin Headlands, but you could just see one of the towers peaking over the tops of the hills.

Took the Verna Dunshee trail, which circumnavigates the peak about 150' below the top, to the Temelpa trail, which switchbacks steeply down the east side of the mountain, to the Vic Haun trail to the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo trail. This route back to the Mountain Home Inn was probably only around 3 miles down, as opposed to the 9 miles or so I took to climb up to the top. As you can imagine, it was a bit hard on the knees. I was feeling beat up by the time I got back to the truck.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Arty, Arty. I love my dog. There, I've said it. Arty came with me on a short hike last Saturday, his first since his paw injuries of a couple of weeks ago. It was good to have his company on the trail again. It wasn't a hot day, but it was sunny, and I was continually feeling the trail to experience what he was experiencing. The trail was pretty cool, and the air temperature was perhaps only 75 degrees or so, but Arty nonetheless seemed uncomfortably hot on this hike. His paws were fine, but he bopped from shady spot to shady spot along the trail, and was in extreme panting mode, you know, when the dog's eyes are nearly shut because the tongue is out so far? I guess it was just the black dog on a midday hike syndrome. He seemed to enjoy himself, though I on the other hand was pretty much wholly preoccupied with observing his condition throughout the hike. I still had a good time too, though.

We hiked at the Loma Alta Open Space Preserve, just 5-10 minute drive from my house. There are a couple of access points; one is right on Sir Francis Drake, but the one that seemed preferable to me was up Glen Drive near White Hill School... the access trail seems nicer, and you can park in the shade. We hiked up the Smith Ridge Fire Road to the edge of the Open Space Land... a decent climb through open oak woodland with some nice local views of Mt. Tam et al. The trail continues on private land on an easement all the way over to Lucas Valley Road, then crosses Lucas Valley Road, skirts Skywalker Ranch(George Lucas' place, for the out-of-staters) and hooks into the Loma Vista Open Space preserve all the way up by Novato. I'm pretty excited to do a shuttle hike, or just get dropped off at one end and picked up at the other, to hike this trail... it feels like you traverse a fair bit of Marin County in doing so, though it's probably only 10 - 12 miles or so. It's a project for this fall. Anyway, we backtracked to Gunshot Fire Road, and took a breather under a big spreading oak. I poured water on Arty's back and neck and waited for his temperature to go down, as we had just completed a particularly sunny stretch. Fortunately the rest of the hike had more shady spots. We continued down Gunshot Fire Road into a canyon-y, oaky area and came out on Pipeline Road. There's a waterfall here during times when it's not bone-dry and the middle of the damn summer... it looked like it would have been pretty nice. Pipeline Road took us back to the truck, though not before first stopping at a conveniently placed mud puddle for a refreshing high-noon wallow. Arty, dear to my heart that he is, got to ride back in the front seat despite his mud-encrusted exterior. All told the hike was a brisk and pleasant 4.7 miles with a 1200' elevation change.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

This hike is from last Thursday, 7/27. I'm starting to run out of hikes at Point Reyes National Seashore- I think I have maybe three or four major hikes left there, and a couple of out and back to the beach hikes still to complete.

Thursday was my short day at work. We had a meeting that day that was productive overall but that was marred by what I perceived as foolishness on the part of one of my coworkers- he was making assertions based on his own wishful thinking rather than on the available facts. I called him on it, probably a little too sharply. My other coworkers perhaps didn't think much of it, but it stayed with me the whole time I was hiking and I kept replaying it in my brain (I'm unused to confrontation... can you tell?). I thought about it so much that I gave myself a headache. It was one of those times that it would have been nice to just have an off-switch in my head. Grrr.

The hike was nice despite my preoccupation. I started from the Sky trailhead, hiked down the Fire Lane Trail, down to Coast Camp, and back up the Laguna Trail,which goes by the youth hostel and some sort of environmental education center. It was a greyish day on the coast, which was quite welcome after all the damn heat we'd been having. The hike was 8.2 miles, all told.

Young California quail are out in force. I probably saw six or seven families on the trail between Coast Camp and the youth hostel. The quail are a lot easier to get close to when they've got babies around.

I also ran into a group of six or so 14-year-olds that appeared to be backpacking on their own. They were doing really well... they seemed like they were keeping a good pace, their packs looked to be in good order, and all the kids seemed like they were happy to be there. The lead kids shouted back to the kids coming up behind that someone was on the trail and that they should stand aside. Nice to see manners in the young folk. I was thinking how cool it was that these kids were entrusted with the responsibility to do an overnight trip on their own, but then a mile or so down the path I ran into the rest of their group, which had adult supervisors. Oh well. If I ever have a kid I think I would like to send it on solo or small group (with other kids) overnights at a youngish age (preteen to teen), if that's something that they were into. I think kids in a lot of cases can handle more responsibility than we give them, and develop responsibility by being entrusted with things.

I made a cake for my boss' birthday, which we are celebrating at work tomorrow. Now I am going to go frost it. There are two more hikes in the hopper... I will report upon them soon.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

So if my hike of two weeks ago was annoying and uncomfortable, my hike of yesterday was disastrous. Arty and I are both very sad today: Arty because of his two bandaged front paws, and I because my carelessness resulted in injury to my dog.

The hike started out well. I had a long (~12 miles), interesting route planned, in an area that I wasn't really familiar with yet. I started out from the Azalea Hill trailhead on the Fairfax-Bolinas road, which descended very steeply to the Bon Tempe Road (though it's on the map, I don't think it's an official trail, given its grade). I'd be returning via the same route, and I remember thinking as I picked my way down, "This is going to be a bitch to climb back up after 12 miles of hiking!" And I was right.

We took the Bon Tempe Road across the dam (spillway # 718, in case you're interested) that creates Bon Tempe Lake, which is part of a chain of artificial lakes within the Mt. Tamalpais watershed (water from which, I think, eventually drains into Lagunitas Creek and out Tomales Bay, which partially defines the peninsula-like landmass that is Point Reyes National Seashore). The whole is managed by the Marin Municipal Water District, which also maintains trails through the protected lands associated with the watershed so that you and I can recreate in the outdoors *and* enjoy clean drinking water. I found pennyroyal for the first time along the road leading up to the dam, in a marshy spot. Pennyroyal, introduced from Europe, is in the mint family (Lamiaceae) and is actually minty-- used for teas and such. There's another mint that grows almost ubiquitously around here (it's in people's yards a lot) that isn't minty, and try as I might I can't identify it, though I've got a key to plants in the Bay Area. So that's a bit frustrating.

From the dam we hiked up the Rocky Ridge Fire Road, which climbs around 500 feet or so and then levels off to follow (wait for it) a rocky ridge. We encountered a peculiar-acting coyote along the road. Most of the coyotes I've encountered during the daytime have been pretty shy and retiring, but this one was yowling and yipping away in a manner that seemed almost aggressive. S/he was standing uphill from us around 50 meters away, and at first I thought s/he was trapped because she was just staying in one spot and yammering, but then I saw her take a few steps. Arty was completely freaked out. I leashed him as a precautionary measure but there wasn't really any need... he stayed as close as he could while we passed her. We gained the top of the ridge and were rewarded with views of Mt. Tam, the lake, etc.

Took Stocking Trail back down into Doug fir forest with pockets of redwoods here and there, then joined the Kent Trail (I had actually been on a .9 mile stretch of this trail before for my Cataract Creek hike) which descended to skirt the southeastern shore of Alpine Lake. Took this trail back to the dam, where I decided to continue on to circumnavigate Bon Tempe Lake rather than taking the short route back.

Arty was still in good shape at this point... we had hiked 7-8 miles. And, he enjoyed much of the hike along the southern shore of the lake. However, the northern shore was much more exposed to sun, and more heavily used by fishermen and picnickers. So, I clipped him back onto his leash, which (I didn't think of at the time) had the effect of forcing him to walk on the hot, rocky trail, rather than in the cooler grasses where he probably would have walked had he been off-leash. By the time we finished our circuit of the lake, he was still walking ok, but occasionally licking his feet and, sometimes, lying down in the shade and demonstrating reluctance to get up. I checked his feet, because he was behaving as if he had a burr caught in one of his paws, but couldn't see anything. By the time I realized that his feet were getting burnt by the trail, we were back at Azalea Hill and ready to start our climb to the trailhead. I released him from his leash so that he could at least seek out cooler surfaces, but at that point I think the damage had been done. He was still walking alright, but was starting to show some discomfort. We struggled back up the hill, resting frequently, and probably would have presented a rather pathetic sight had we encountered anyone. I was starting to get a little dizzy from the heat and exertion, and, in my heat-muddled stupor, left his leash somewhere along the way. I found out later that the high was 93 degrees yesterday, and we were both suffering pretty badly by the time we got back to the truck. We hopped in, I blasted the aircon, and we thankfully drove home.

I cleaned Arty's feet and examined them more closely and discovered that he had sizeable blisters on each of the 'palm' pads of his front paws. They weren't ulcerated, but he couldn't walk more than three or four steps before collapsing onto his knees and lying down. I wrapped his feet in gauze and covered this with a pair of nylons (the first time I've used those in years...). The bandages seem to allow him to walk without too much pain (he doesn't collapse) but he doesn't like them and I have to prevent him from taking them off. Today Arty's taking short trips to pee and drink water but other than that he's just lying around looking sad.

So in the future I must, must, must, 1) check the weather before hiking with Arty, and leave him home if it's going to be too hot 2) hike with him in places that are adequately shaded and 3) leave him off leash or walk him in the grass if we end up in a similar situation again.

Two Saturdays ago Arty and I went on an eight-mile-or-so hike from Deer Park in Fairfax, only three-or-so miles of which I actually enjoyed, unfortunately, due to various annoyances, my own bad 'headspace', and Arty's discomfort. Started out earlyish, at around 8:30 or so, and hiked up the Ridge Trail, which is a secondary trail heading southwest out of Deer Park, marked on the map but not signed. Annoyance number one was that this trail, as a consequence of its infrequent use and maintenance, has a lot of vegetation crowding it, which spiders apparently find convenient to string webs across. At face level. Combine this with the fact that the trail starts with a rather steep climb, and that it was already promising to be quite hot out that day, and the result is a cobwebby, nasty, sweaty mess, not to mention the insistent notion that there were spiders crawling around in my hair (I'd call it paranoia but I don't think the notion was at all an unreasonable one). Ugggh.

My route started getting a bit convoluted after that, a result of taking a non-direct path to stay on hiking trails I've never hiked before. Let's see... took a short spur off Ridge to the Canyon Trail, which hooked into the Concrete Pipeline Fire Road after .2 miles. Was informed by a sign that Concrete Pipeline Road was closed for repair, which was annoyance number 2, but this turned out not to be the case, so the annoyance was short-lived. Ever increasing crowds of people (no more Deer Park on the weekend for me- I think I've made this resolution before, but maybe this time I'll stick to it) rapidly took their place as annoyance number 3 and remained as such for most of the rest of the hike. Point six miles on Concrete Pipeline to the Five Corners Junction, where we picked up Shaver Grade. Stuck with that for .4 miles to the Logging Trail, another unsigned, unmaintained trail that was nonetheless marked on the map. Annoyance number 4 took the form of an invasive species of plant called French Broom, which was over-growing the trail to the point that I felt like I was swimming in the stuff at times. Fortunately the Logging Trail was another short spell: .4 miles and I was out of the jungle to rejoin Concrete Pipeline Fire Road. Stayed on that for a whopping .7 miles and then picked up Madrone Trail for .2 to Fish Gulch for .3 to wind up at Phoenix Junction on the westernmost point of Phoenix Lake.

Taking the mysteriously named "Phoenix Ord Trail" (or so it is called on my map), Arty and I hiked around the south side of the lake, which is shaped like a crescent with the concave side pointing southwest, and back around the east side of the lake. Despite the continuing onslaught of masses of people, I was finally starting to relax into the hike, and the lake is certainly pleasant, picturesque, and replete with bathing opportunities for Arty. We picked up the Yolanda Trail in the middle of the convex, northeastern side of the crescent. This is where the hike started becoming a trial for Arty, as the Yolanda trail climbed a relatively exposed ridge and by this time it was pretty much high noon, an uncomfortable, shadeless time for a black dog. We found some remnant pools of water in dried-up stream beds for him to refresh himself in, but overall he was not having a great time. When we reached Six Points junction after about 1.5 miles, I took the shortest path back to the trailhead rather than the more roundabout route that would have taken in Mt. Baldy, as I had previously planned. Both Arty and I were happy to finally reach the truck at the end of the hike. Bummer.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Can I boast about something? I have to admit, I feel pretty proud of myself- hopefully I'm not struck down by some higher power for my hubris. It might not sound like much, compared to the accomplishments of marathoners and iron-person competitors. But for someone to whom feats of physical endurance have never come naturally, I feel that hiking 19.6 miles in 9.5 hours is pretty good.

I went on Sunday, to the Point Reyes National Seashore, and when I started I was thinking the route I had picked out was maybe, 16 or 17 miles, which is still further than I've hiked before. I quickly figured out that it would be longer than I had planned, but I had plenty of food, and, well, almost plenty of water, and I figured I'd just go ahead as planned anyway.

I started on the Five Brooks trailhead on Rte 1 and hiked the Stewart Trail up and over the ridge to the Wildcat Camp on the coast. That was the first 6.7 miles. I then proceeded south along the Ocean Lake Loop Trail (which features a great view point of the coast) to the Coast Trail, past Alamere Falls (at which point I took a .8 mile side trip to see the actual falls. There were naked guys there.) and Bass Lake to the junction with the Lake Ranch Trail, which was the previous northernmost point to which I had hiked the Coast Trail. Hiked back along the Coast Trail, then joined up with the Old Out Trail at 13.2 miles (including the side trip), took that back up to the Alamea Trail, which joined up with the Ridge Trail, merging with the Bolema Trail to the Olema Valley Trail and then back to the trailhead.

And then the aftermath. I was feeling very peppy for the first 13-14 miles or so, but the last six miles took their toll. When I got home at 7pm I called up my dad for Father's Day, showered, and then hopped straight into bed. I woke up with some strange aches and pains. I was sensible enough to stretch out all the obvious muscle groups during and after the hike, so my legs were ok. My butt was sore, which wasn't entirely surprising. But my ribs? My neck? And, of course, it turns out that a single application of sunblock is not near enough to get you through 9.5 sweaty hours. I guess I could have told you that beforehand if I'd thunk it through, but I'm a bit lobstery now.

I think the best thing I figured out was that taking a break, stretching, and then lying down with your feet elevated makes a big difference in staving off tiredness. Of course I'd read this before but never really tried it out. It was kind of nice.

Monday, June 19, 2006

On Saturday (June 17)Arty and I hiked the Dixon Ridge Trail, just a couple of miles in, across the private land, to the public land, then back to the private land again.

It's a pleasant hike, passing in and out of shady areas and sunny areas, views and glades. There are a lot of birds. I saw juvenile chestnut backed chickadees and Swainson's thrushes. In fact, it's a unique place, kind of like all the other unique places I've been to so far on this project.

It's all the more unique because of a one-quarter mile section of the trail that's at the center of a conflict pitting the owners of the land it traverses against a group of citizen-recreationalists from San Geronimo Valley and beyond. The trail segment in question is currently accessible to the public. However, the landowners hope to preserve their right to restrict public access for the sake of building their dreamt-of Pinot Noir vineyard, which would be negatively impacted by heavy public use. A local group of citizens is trying to convince/cajole/coerce them into granting an easement to guarantee continued access to the trail segment. If that fails, apparently it goes to the courts. According to this citizen group's website, a proposal to reroute the trail is unacceptable, as the proposed reroute would traverse an area prone to landslides and would cost the county too much money to maintain (yes, stealing the land would be cheaper- they do have a point there). For more info, check out this story in The Point Reyes Light.

I'm kind of getting the sense that I'm taking the unpopular side by saying this, but my sympathies still reside with the landowners, as I've stated in a previous post. This is what I came up with while I was hiking the trail:

1) How many other counties in the United States with comparable population densities can boast the sheer acreage of publicly owned land that Marin County, California does? Marin County Open Space District owns 33 separate parcels all available for your outdoor recreating pleasure. Then, there's the Point Reyes National Seashore, Samuel P. Taylor State Park, the Marin Municipal Water District, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, Mount Tamalpais State Park, Muir Woods National Monument... am I forgetting anything? With this embarrassment of riches, it seems almost gauche to try to seize private land for the purpose of... *MORE* outdoor recreation!

2) I'd prefer to hike where I'm welcome, just as I'd prefer to enter someone's home with an invitation to dinner rather than a search warrant, and just as I'd prefer to hire a taxi wherever I'm going rather than hijack someone's car. I'm glad that the neighbors of these folks are willing to grant me access to their land, and I'll gladly take them up on it if they'll have me. But if the landowners in question want to build a winery rather than have a hiking trail on their land, then I don't particularly want to force my way into their party. It'd just feel awkward, don't you think?

3) The house I grew up in used to be beige. I've driven by it recently, and it's now lavender, with purple shutters. I kind of liked it better when it was beige, but I don't feel entitled to have the house taken away from its current owner because his color choice is not to my liking. If I really wanted it to remain beige, then I shouldn't have sold it in the first place. If this trail is something that needs to persist in its original state, why didn't Marin County Open Space District buy it to insure its continuance at the time it was for sale, knowing that the purchaser would have no legal obligation to do so? In the above referenced article, County Supervisor Kinsey is quoted as saying, "In the same way that farmers get upset when the public tries to put a trail across their ranches, the public gets upset when farmers try to put a ranch on their trail.” Well, this seems kind of obvious to me, but maybe it needs pointing out: if the public doesn't want a ranch on their trail, then they need to make sure their trail doesn't get bought by a rancher.