January 20th, 2002


A birthday trek

I left the house at a little before noon yesterday, to go to Big Sur. I brought a sandwich, orange, yogurt. The sandwich was substantial: squaw bread, the tofu scramble stuff with a bit of lite mayo, avocado (a whole one, but a small one), sprouts. I also brought along a large car-cup of coffee. My first stop was the drug store by Scolari's. I bought a four-pak of film and a 1.5-liter bottle of water.

I left the Scolari's lot at about 12:10, headed north. Morro Bay, Cayucos, San Simeon.

It was a beautiful afternoon. The ocean was a deep blue-green, the traffic was steady. As I passed our favorite viewing point for elephant seals I saw it had so many people in it that they were stacked against the fences. Cars were parked along the side of the
highway as well as filling the parking lot. I was glad we'd gone there a week before.

I continued on this most scenic of scenic highways. It is the most beautiful drive I have ever taken and it is hard to imagine there is any other so incredible and so available, anywhere in the world. The road has been improved since I was last on it so it is safer, and it is well maintained. But it is still one windy curve after another, right along the
coast. I stopped a few times to take pictures and just to drink it in.

It was while I was driving along this road that I realized something. THe last time I was on this road I was afraid to drive it. I had such a fear of heights and was so afraid of losing control and going over the edge that I would ask whoever was with me to drive and I would peek out the best I could, wrapped in my fears yet aware still of the spectacular beauty. It has been a trial, a challenge, something I avoided.

But this time I felt no fear. Even when I tried to pull out the mental state that would feel fear I was unable to do it. Here was absolute proof that I have conquered my fear of heights. I can't tell you how this made me feel! It was extraordinary. I kept going, kept wondering, will it change, will I come across a section that makes me a quivering mass of nerves? It didn't happen, never, on the whole 90-mile drive from San Simeon to Carmel.

Of course it was terrific that I had this experience the day after my birthday. It was like a move to another slot, an affirmation of sorts, a wonderful beginning of this year. I thought about how it had come about. It was no accident. I had chosen to face my fears a few years ago by looking at them objectively. I would ask myself, what is really going to
happen? What is there really to fear? When I realized that I wasn't going to die, and if I were going to die what's the difference anyway, I started to make progress. Now, obviously, I am all the way there. I feel almost drunk with the headiness of it.

As I got into the windier portions my coffee cup suddenly flew out of the cup carrier and onto the floor. I had forgotten I had it. I snatched it back before it leaked everywhere and had a few sips of the warm coffee. There was no way to keep it in the cup carrier on that road without wedging it in with some crumpled paper, which is what I did. I think the cup is still there, nearly full of cold coffee.

The beauty of the drive and the realization that I was now able to take it in without fear was so consuming that I did not think of eating. I had food with me but did not consider taking it out. I drank water, plenty of it, and eventually I did need a bathroom.

I stopped in Gorda. There are a few tourist places there, restaurant, store, "visitor center". I wanted a map of trails. I have a way of getting lost on hiking trails, no matter how well marked they are. Even with guide I can get lost. The antique store had one guide, full of hikes in the Ventana Wilderness. I learned that all of that land there is the Ventana Wilderness. But the book cost $20. I decided to take a chance, go in a
park, follow signs. How bad could it be? I'll tell you later how bad it can be.

I had a latte in the little restaurant. The restaurant looks something like the inside of a ship, with plaster pictures of mermaids and wooden carvings of whales and well-coated carved wooden counters and all manner of clutter on the walls. I asked for nonfat milk but the woman said they only had whole milk. I took what they had. The latte had no foam, was not particularly good, but I sat there and drank it while writing down my
impressions of the place. It was the last place where I would actually write while on this trek. I saw, as I left the place, large home-made pies. I was tempted. Someone there is in the back room making pies every day, uninterrupted, undistracted, by the temptation to run down to Wal-Mart or the Scolari's bakery.

I headed out. I was headed for Big Sur, thinking maybe a hiking book, maybe a map of trails, but I first came across the Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park, the McWay Canyon entrance. I thought I was where I wanted to be. I was confusing it with Pfeiffer state park, actually, didn't realize until much later. Now I read, on some web sites, that this 2,000-acre park is "the perfect introduction to Big Sur" so perhaps I fell on my feet.

I drove in, no day-use fees. Two parking lots, a sign that said "Please park in marked stalls only". All stalls were full. I didn't want to hang around like a parking vulture, waiting for someone to leave, so I pulled out to the highway and parked alongside the road there, where there was a small turn-out. Walked back in, a short distance.

According to one web site:

". . . But Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is such an incredibly
beautiful place, that it would make the best lists for anywhere
in the world. May not be one of the best in Big Sur, but surely
one of the best in the world."

There was a map and description of the trails on the board there. I dismissed the half-mile trails, wanting more. There was a description of the Ewoldsen Trail and the Canyon Trail. The Canyon trail is a short one that runs along the river there, while the Ewoldsen trail parallels the Canyon for a distance, then adds a loop. The hike on a map looks rather like a lollipop. The entire distance is about 4.5 miles, mostly uphill (I suppose, technically, it is only half uphill...). The description says "be prepared, because it can take most of the day". By the time I got to the park it was about three in the afternoon so I did not want to get caught in that loop. I was afraid, first, that it would be
too strenuous for me, and second, that it would turn dark. I did not bring a flashlight and would not enjoy hiking in the dark anyway. So I figured I'd do what the board suggested - go along the Ewoldsen trail until it crossed to the Canyon trail, and take the Canyon trail back.

The hike, from the very beginning, was picture-book beautiful. More than picture-book. A stream running across boulders, surrounded by tall redwoods, filtering the sunlight. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, does not ever require grabbing onto a rock or anything like that. But right from the beginning it also climbed. Kept climbing. When my watch showed I had been going close to a half-hour, I thought perhaps I would turn back at the half hour if I didn't find the connection to the Canyon Trail. Just then I saw a sign. It pointed right, said "loop begins". Didn't want the loop, so instead I turned left, followed the trail across the stream, figuring I was connecting there to the Canyon Trail.

Odd, though. It just kept climbing. I wondered when it would level off and start heading down again, but I kept going. Such a beautiful hike. I met several people who were on their way down, most of them looking like real hikers. There was just one single person, an older man. When I saw him I assumed he was some kind of backwoods character, completely familiar with these trails, but there was no reason to assume he was not as new to it as I was. I kept climbing. I began to wonder why this was taking so long.
Came to a bend in the path. It read "Ewolden Trail" and had arrows pointed both directions. Because I had assumed I was on the Canyon Trail I wondered about this, wondered how I had accidentally gotten back on the wrong trail. I followed one of the paths, which led to a clearing not far from the intersection, where there was a beautiful view out of the ocean. There is a lot of this there! Peeks at the ocean from within or from distances high above. That part of the trail was clearly not well-traveled and ended in the clearing, so I went back and continued in the direction I had not taken. It rose up steadily to a cliff path. I walked along the cliff, high over the ocean, seeing signs warning that the earth was unstable, don't go off the path.

I had been walking about an hour now and knew I had missed something. As I turned a bend and onto a path that overlooked a canyon, I saw a woman heading my way.She was carrying ski poles. That wasn't a good sign to me. But I stopped her. I asked which way was closer to getting back to the parking lot. She said I was on the loop. Turning around was closer. "But!" she said, "if you continue on this trail, not more than five minutes, you'll reach the viewpoint. It's fabulous. There is a sign, you go up hill a little way and reach the high point of the trail. Then you can head back the other direction." So I knew I had to do it. I had not meant to go on that loop but I was this far along so I might as well continue.

HIking got harder. I was tired and the ascent was getting to me. I met a few more hikers with sticks, the last time I saw anyone on the trail. When I reached the turning point, the viewpoint sign, I found it difficult to make that little climb uphill, but I did it. And was it ever worth it!

I took some pictures. You can see someone else's photos here:


They give you a hint. I looked for condors, because they have been sighted here, but did not see any. there was plenty of evidence of other animals. Noises, birds sounds of all kinds, rustling in the undergrowth. I sat at the high point, alone with the world and my camera. I took out my sandwich. Earlier I had said to myself "I don't need to bring food on a short hike. Next time I won't". But I was very glad I had. It wasn't such a short hike. I reached the peak 1-1/2 hours after I had begun and was proud of myself for getting there that quickly, considering the slope.

After eating and resting about ten minutes I headed down. My legs both appreciated and didn't like the downward walking, as you can imagine. They were aching but still I felt I could do it, I felt I had the reserves. Here was where I realized the second Big Thing: I have gained in stamina and strength far more than I knew. IF this is the reward for six days a week with exercise videos then it is well worth it. I felt so strong and I
thought of the warning, that this could take most of the day. Obviously, not for experienced hikers. And not even for me.

It seemed a loooong way back. The sun was setting, I was worried, I wanted to beat it. When I finally reached the end of the loop I was well downhill and what sun there was was not going far into the canyon. I felt I was on the home stretch, I could do it, though. When I got to where I could actually see the parking lot at a turn, I accidentally headed off in the wrong direction - on the Canyon Trail! Fortunately, I soon realized my mistake, turned around, and found the right way back to the path. My legs were really aching by now. More than once I felt grateful that my insides were cooperating. I did not feel impossible urges to evacuate bodily wastes. I thought what would I do it I did? There weren't many alternatives, places to hide.

When I reached the parking lot there was only one vehicle in it, a camper-topped truck. A man was digging through the trash can with a flashlight. I said "Good evening!" cheerfully, so very very happy to be back, and he said something like "How are you?" a bit gruffly, and I said "fine". One part of me had wondered if anyone would be there, wondering who was left on the trail. I was obviously the last one out. It was almost dark, the last several hundred feet had been very scary. There was no welcoming committee, though, just this one scavenger. The hike had taken 2-3/4 hours.

I got to my car and, legs wanting a rest, settled in. I wondered if I should stretch them out first but chose not to. Back on the road, watching the last of the setting sun on the ocean.

I wound up the coast in the dark, figuring it would be better to cut across to highway 101 for the trip home than to drive down 1 in the dark. When I hit Monterey and saw highway 68, toward Salinas, I took it. In Salinas I accidentally happened upon the Steinbeck center and saw that it was open, even though it was after seven at night. I went in. The place was filled, there was some sort of dinner thing off to the side, a
check-in table. I asked what was up. The check-in people told me it was a Rotary banquet and wine-tasting. So I left. Too bad! I would have loved to go in there and see the place, but perhaps another day.

I got onto highway 101 and stopped in King City for a miserable dinner, salad bar. I have got to remember not to go there again. Any place that calls itself a "Coffey Shoppe" is suspicious from the start. I got home a little after ten.

I had some pea soup (yum) and bread, rinsed the lentils (they are starting to sprout now), watered the little herb pots. Got two cats inside. Simba slept with me, the supreme snuggler. He digs his way under the covers, sleeps next to me, either side, sometimes lands on my head, kneads, purrs. There is no way I will ever not know he's around any more. Bullet slept on the chair in the living room. At least he is back to sleeping inside most of the time.

I have a bit of a headache now. I woke up several times last night, thinking of the day, thinking about writing it all out, and being a bit uncomfortable because my legs ached. Not really serious. AT one point as I headed up the coast my right leg cramped up and I was afraid I'd have an accident. I kneaded it a bit and it backed off and finally went away. I was lucky, but I think I would have controlled the car no matter what.

some kind of birthday trek. I am so glad I did it.

Gosford Park

Good movie. Because of the way it was directed and filmed, at times it seemed almost out of focus, but I had expected something of the kind. The real story came through easily.

I made notes of things I overheard in the theater. Not much, but maybe I can use some of them for starters for stories.