Once upon a time, I used to hike in the wilderness fairly often. At the time, daughter #2 lived near me and at least once a year, we would hike to the top of our mountain (where I live there is literally ONE mountain – but it’s a respectable 4,600 foot climb). It was kind of a ritual – we would spend most of the day climbing the mountain, then take the tram down (because there is no way we were going to hike ANOTHER 8 miles), and then we would go to a nearby BBQ joint and eat everything and anything we wanted (because we must have burned off about a gazillion calories, you know?)
Sadly, a year ago my daughter moved far, far away – and when I lost my hiking buddy, the yearly hikes to the top of the mountain stopped. My remaining daughter is just not into hiking and while Doc will take the occasional hike, two miles of climbing is about his limit. I’ve been missing hiking – it’s one of my happy places (for about the first 4 miles or so). So, when I woke up yesterday to beautiful weather, I asked Doc if he wanted to hike with me on the Piedra Lisa Trail.
The Piedra Lisa Trail is actually 5.7 miles long, one way. However, it begins and ends at trailheads with parking – so if you weren’t into hiking nearly 12 miles roundtrip, you could leave a car on one side and then drive another car around to the other (but then you’d have to drive back to pick up the first car when you finished). That seems just too damn complicated. So usually, on this trail, we just hike two miles to the top of a ridge, take in the beautiful view, and then turn around and head back down to our car.
However, about halfway up the ridge, I started to think (it’s rare, but it happens occasionally) – the weather was perfect, I had plenty of water, and I was feeling great – maybe I would just keep hiking! I could do the WHOLE trail on my own and let Doc go back to the car and drive around to the other trailhead to pick me up. I changed my mind about a dozen times along the way (I hadn’t eaten a great breakfast and after a particularly rugged patch of climbing, I would feel light-headed, slightly nauseous, and horribly out of breath). But when I got to the top of the ridge, I sat down next to another couple to enjoy the view. As we talked, I asked them if they had ever hiked the entire trail and they confirmed that yes, they had. “How is it?” I asked. I was told that it was not bad at all – mostly downhill, and it had some spectacular scenery. Doc asked if the trail was clearly marked and the fellow responded that there was one bit where I would just “need to keep to the arroyo” and that I would also come to a barrier that someone built across the trail, but that I just needed to go around it. Simple, right? Riiiggghhhhtttt.
I told Doc I was going to go ahead with the rest of the hike and I cheerfully took my leave from the group – immediately taking a wrong turn and having to sheepishly retrace my steps before waving once again and heading down the other side of the ridge. The going WAS easy and the trees were large and beautiful. All was well – until I got to the bottom and the trail disappeared into the sand of a large, dry creek bed. I stopped and looked around, confused. Where was I supposed to go? There was an area of disturbed underbrush directly across from me, but when I examined it, I could tell that wasn’t the trail. I remembered the advice of the gentleman before – “keep to the arroyo” – I decided that maybe he had been talking about this sandy creek bed, so I followed it down the mountain, hoping that I would see the trail somewhere along the way. However, soon I came to a large pine tree that had fallen directly across the creek bed and blocked my way. I couldn’t see anything but more of the sand on the other side and no way to get around. I turned around – maybe I had missed the trail? (I don’t have a picture of this tree, because about this time, I was thinking I should save my phone batteries in case I had to call for Search and Rescue to come and find me).
Tracing my way back the way I had come, watching the side of the arroyo closely, I found a small trail going up a hill, so I followed – but it led me to a large meadow with no distinct trail and only an old, abandoned fire pit to show that someone else had ever been there. At this point my heart started to race a little bit. I knew I wasn’t LOST – I mean, I could always turn around and hike back up the ridge I had just descended, but the prospect was daunting. I had no fuel left in my tank – at least not enough to sustain a major climb like that. Taking a deep breath, I climbed back down into the creek bed and walked to the pine tree again, this time looking closely to see if there was a way around it. That’s when I saw some broken branches to one side – it appeared that someone may have broken the limbs purposely, to clear a path? I followed, finding more broken branches – and suddenly the trail appeared ahead of me again. Not only that, but there was a SIGN indicating how far I had come and how far I needed to go (they couldn’t put that right NEXT to the tree?)
Feeling much calmer and confident, I started on my way again. The scenery was spectacular, but the trees and underbrush were dense. And I was all alone – I hadn’t seen a soul for over a half hour, which didn’t really surprise me, as this portion of the trail was not as popular – but it was quiet…very quiet. It was then that I started thinking about the sign they had posted at the trailhead:
I know it’s kind of difficult to read – so let me break it down. Basically, it tells you what a great place this is (which is true) and then it tells you what might kill you while you’re here. For example, there is this:
Here you can see the bears and cougars that might eat you up…but notice this particular sign doesn’t say anything about them…instead it tells you to watch out for the killer falling trees (because apparently, when you’re targeted by an angry, hungry killer tree, you’re pretty much dead meat).
….I think it was trying to tell me there are Bigfoot in the area (or should that be Bigfeet?)
In another part of the poster, it did talk about the dangers of cougars:
So, as I was hiking all alone (I’m a rule breaker — OK?), in the very quiet, dark, dense forest – I started thinking about that sign – and about cougars – and the fact that there had been documented cases of cougar attacks on this very mountain. And it was spring – which meant that any bears in the area might have cubs – and a mother bear is a dangerous bear (well, ALL bears are dangerous – but you know what I mean!) I was a bit too breathless to sing to warn cougars and bears that I was around, and I hadn’t thought to wear anything jangly. How could I announce my presence well in advance of running into any wildlife? I knelt down and picked up two fist size rocks – holding one in each hand and giving them an experimental knock together. They made a satisfyingly clank – which I was sure carried at least 100 yards. So, as I walked, I would knock the stones together every few steps
I’m happy to say that I didn’t get eaten by a cougar (or an angry tree), and after another two hours of sometimes difficult hiking, I finally left the wilderness. I’m serious – there was even this sign to prove it!
Doc followed through on his end, meeting me on the other side with sustenance and hydration. It occurred to me after the fact that a 6 mile hike my first time out in over a year was probably a bit more ambitious than necessary — but I enjoyed the solitude, if not the aching feet and legs I get to contend with for the next few days.
Are you a nature lover and do you like to hike? Or are you more comfortable in a resort, preferably on a massage table? (I think that might be my next adventure!)