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, 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.