This was the last weekend, and I didn't have to work. I looked over my list of "things to do" (See redwoods. See Alcatraz. More shopping. Get chocolate truffles from The Fudge House to bring home. Hunt for books all over town.), then at the weather forecast and decided that I didn't want to climb up and down hillsides in the rain promised for Sunday.
So on Saturday I forced my sluggy self out of bed at eleven, got into the car some time later and set out for Portola Redwoods State park between the southern end of the Bay and the Pacific, halfway to Santa Cruz. That meant taking the San Mateo bridge, which, I thought, shouldn't be a problem. Just get on the I580, and then take Highway 92 when it branches off the interstate, over the bridge and into the mountains, then left unto Highway 35. The day was bright, traffic was not too bad -- only, the Highway 92 stubbornly avoided me. I overlooked signs, got into a traffic jam, didn't manage to change lanes in time, ended up off the freeway and in thick traffic in Hayward, and was very close to giving up. ("If I'm not on that darned bridge by 2pm...!") It was a quarter to two when I found the bridge. (It's really easy. There are signs everywhere. Can't miss it.) It is a very nice bridge, going low over the water for miles before rising in a steep arch. Then the highway takes the shortest way through San Mateo before winding up into the Santa Cruz mountains.
Highway 35 at least I found with no trouble at all. It's named "Skyline Boulevard", and that's what it is. The road winds around hilltops, one left, one right, a ridge between, with deep drops and incredible sights, about 700 metres up. Clouds from the sea streamed over it like smoke or water, thick and fast, fog solid enough to cut with a knife on the west side of the road, shredded into twirling ribbons by tree branches, while to the east the whole South Bay area spread out like a map in bright sunlight. Under the trees, thick drops of rain were falling, heavy showers that the windshield wipers had to work to keep up with, then a left curve and sunshine again. It was amazing. A dip in the road, another highway crossing this one, and on the crossroads a gas station with one pump, a small wooden feeding place, fifty motorbikes, and me going green with motorbike envy. The name of the feeding place is "Alice's Restaurant", named after the song.
But the day wasn't getting any younger, so I stopped only to get gas.
To get to the park, you have to get off the highway and unto a road where you would really like to find a place to stop and gawk, but there isn't any, and you really can't gawk while driving, or you'll see the valley ground much more close-up than you intended. The road wound downhill, into a sunny valley, and to the park entrance. My guidebook had recommended a trail which I thought promising for its length, redwoods, and halfway level profile, but it turned out that it relied on some bridges that aren't there until late Spring (and March is early spring, even if it's 20°C and the insects are starting to get busy). So I asked the park ranger for recommendations, and twenty minutes later, fighting my way through the crowns of fallen trees up a steep path, wondered if that had been such a good idea. I overcame the trees, the doubt and the incline in another ten minutes and started looking at, smelling and photographing redwood trees. Those are coastal redwoods, the high ones, not the fat sequoias Ceridwen and I had admired in '93, but they are impressive enough, far larger than any other tree, thick as old oaks and twice as high, with very red bark. Some had hollows in their trunks, large enough for two people to have a picnic in, with fire-blackened walls, yet they didn't seem to care. Redwoods are good at surviving forest fires. And they smell very different from any other tree I know, a bright and deep smell, less sharp than pines, lighter and wilder than fir trees. I could not name any of the other trees, but at least I know that the icky, yet fascinating yellow giant slugs that you see in the damp parts of the forest are called "banana slugs". Very fitting, once you think of it, but not the first thing they reminded me of.
I crossed a small brook on a very serious bridge -- nothing like the "jump if you dare" bridges in Norway, where I discovered that getting on the bridge was easier than getting off it: Jumping down onto something that swings is easier than jumping up from something that moves! This bridge was actually connected to the ground on both sides. As the rest of the park had been rather wild, fallen trees on the trails and all, I had been a little worried.
I was back at my car just when I started to get into stride, but it was one hour until sunset, and my stomach had started an argument with me. I can't eat before I do anything strenuous, be it hiking, singing or working out -- I'll get sick. Being hungry is far less unpleasant.
On the drive back I found that the fog had made progress. The vistas to the east were clouded now, and a very cold wind was blowing. "Alice's Restaurant", however, had cool evening sun, burgers named for motorbikes and bottomless coffee. I stuck to coffee, because I felt that I really needed a shower before having dinner. That was stupid, but I didn't find out until two hours later. This time, all the roads were where I expected them to be, and all the traffic jams had decamped and gone home. I got back, had my shower, went out for food -- and found that Saturday evening, half past seven, is a time where it's impossible to get food, because everyone is trying. Instead of the steak I had hoped for, I settled for takeout fish and chips and a book. And then I got back to the hotel, had dinner, had tea, and started feeling queasy. I gave up around half past nine, went to bed and was too miserable to sleep. My head hurt. My teeth hurt. Breathing hurt. Opening my eyes hurt. And the fish contemplated a comeback. Maybe I should cut back on the coffee. As soon as I'm home, I will.
Around 1 am, the pain stopped and I read my new book from beginning to end, turned off my cell phone alarm, and slept for ten hours. And on Sunday, I didn't do much except writing dozens of postcards (if you are not getting one, and feel you should, I might have lost your address), tidying up the drawers (its incredible how fast clutter accumulates!), getting the CD I needed to complete the soundtrack for Solveig's "1983"-story, cooking dinner and reading some more. No Alcatraz, no more book hunts, sigh.
And this is exactly the right time to be talking about one specific book:
Jane Huber: 60 Hikes within 60 miles - San Francisco
This was the guidebook I used for the trip to the Año Nuevo State Reserve (the one with the elephant seals), the two walks on Mount Diablo and the one in the Skyline Wilderness park near Napa, and, of course, this one, and the only thing I can complain about is that I did only five out of sixty walks, and I have no one but myself to blame for that. The book is a little heavy and I wouldn't want to carry it around for a real backpacking trip, but on a daytrip the weight is negligible.
For every hike there's a map (at least as good as the ones you get with the entrance fee at the park gates), a height profile (so you know what you're getting into), info on length, hiking time and general characteristics (exposure, traffic, scenery) and a detailed description of every walk. There's also a very useful keyword index, and a great variety of different walks, which of course means that "only" ten or so fell into my parameters for length (long) and difficulty (easy). Which proved to be more than enough. The "getting there" descriptions do not eliminate the need for a road map, especially if you are not exactly in San Francisco.
I was surprised that the estimated times for the hikes were very accurate for me. Maybe they are far too generous for someone in better shape.
All in all, I found the book very useful and can recommend it to weekend hikers.