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Foothills Segment

April 16 – April 20. 71 miles.

Six miles East of Lodi. This is where I start. My plan is to get onto country roads as soon as possible, and off of highways. If you want to know what that first half-day was like, see previous post.

But after a few hours I am on a gravel section of Acampo Road and at the same time the pavement ended, the agriculture ended. So I am now walking along that Blue Oak-grassland that I love, and it is no longer flat.

After no cars for 45 minutes, there’s an Amazon delivery van. Then another Amazon van. Finally, a tough-looking guy in a pickup stopped and asked a question in Spanish, then translated to ‘Need a ride?” I said I was enjoying walking. A big smile from him, a “No problem,” and he was off.

I was legit that night, in a real campground, with families and such. My favorite thing was the vulture perched on the fish cleaning station, expectantly.

Up and out pretty early the next morning. For the next two days I was going to be on a trail, blessed be, and not roads. The Mokelumne Coast-to-Crest Trail goes through this region for 30 miles, East-West, near Camanche and Pardee Reservoirs.

Blue Oaks, Gray Pines (we called them Digger Pine, back in the day), manzanita, coyote bush… No vast fields of flowers but lots of pretty individuals: Paintbrush, Ithurial’s Spear, Mariposa Lily, Fiddleneck, Lady Slipper, Scarlet Pimpernel, Monkey flower…

Oaks are expressive.

Now that there aren’t any No Trespassing signs, or barking dogs, or security cameras, I am thinking more sympathetically. Why are people so fearful? Time was – before my time, of course – when security came from being a member of a community. You needn’t fear because you knew everybody. Now, security comes from security cameras, guns, signs, private property and anti-microbial soap. Much money is being made from all this fear.

Beautiful. I’m lucky to be here. I’m treated to lovely birdsong all morning. Green, green, green. My first Buckeye! Fifteen vultures circling overhead. What’s the collective noun for a group of vultures?  I decide it should be ‘wake’ – a wake of vultures.

I am occasionally visited by daymares, my mind playing out some fairly scary ‘fantasy’. I wonder whether there’s a correlation between uphill walking and the incidence of daymares. I think so.

I met some horse people at one staging area.  After they were done hosing off and watering their horses, I filtered water from the hose (sign said non-potable) which was ever so much easier than finding a way down to the reservoir and filtering water from that. The two women from Fiddletown agreed the hose water was probably cleaner than the reservoir water anyway.

A coyote, trotting along, nestles into the grass so that all I see are ears.

There are no campgrounds except back where I was last night, so when it is getting close to 6:00, I take the short spur to the “olive orchard.” It has been many decades since anyone tended to these trees. They have gone feral.

As I am bedding down, I think of this site as classical – since the Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians had olive orchards. Strange sounds all around me as it is getting dark. I attribute it to quail, who I had seen earlier. Maybe.

Third day – it is nice to wake up here. I’ve used all my water, but within a half hour I cross a nice stream, so that problem is solved. A deer comes bounding happily toward me. Then stops and eyes me warily from 50 feet away. I realize it wasn’t bounding toward me, but I enjoyed that sense briefly.

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Two people pass me, in two small off-road vehicles, attending to park business. Both are friendly. One stopped and said, “You have a long way to go!” and asked if I had a tent. I said just a sleeping bag and he said, “Oh, well you can rest anyway!” Why do people think I would need a tent in order to sleep? I’m a bit concerned that they will ask me where I spent the night, because I was not supposed to spend the night outside a designated campground. But my real concern is for two nights hence when I will be near the town of West Point and all that private property

Before I leave the reservoirs for good, I watch some people fishing from a boat. They just stand there. People think it is odd that I walk. But they just stand there, for hours on end. Is that any less odd?

My first Ponderosa Pine!  The landscape is gradually changing. And now I do see fields of wildflowers: Poppies, Lupine, Goldfields(?)

To avoid walking along Highway 49, I had thought of crossing highway 49 and entering Mokelumne Hill from the back side, through someone’s private property. But then I remembered dogs!  Those people would have dogs that would alert them to an intruder.  Fortunately, that short stretch of Highway 49 has wide shoulders, so I am glad of my choice.

Walking into town I encounter friendly people. I had idly wondered whether my room at the Hotel Leger would have a microwave and coffee maker. Silly me. Indoor plumbing is as modern as this place gets. Charming, actually.

Up and out early. I had decided to walk 26 miles to West Point rather than 16 miles to West Point and I’m glad I did. Or rather, I decided to walk on Jesus Maria Road and Railroad Flat Road rather than on Highway 26. The latter had constant cars, while on the route I’ve chosen as much as ten minutes can go by with nothing. This does mean that I have to find a place to camp tonight, amidst the no trespassing signs, in a community that people have warned me is not, shall we say, welcoming. But it is another beautiful spring morning. I’m no longer in the grassland – that seems to have ended about the elevation of Mokelumne Hill.

Once I’m on  Jesus Maria road I walk downhill for 40 minutes. That’s not good, since I know that West Point is at a higher elevation than Mokelumne Hill.  Fortunately, the inevitable up, though very, very long, is not steep.  I cross a stream where swallows obviously live, under the bridge.

This is burn country. Not sure when the fire went through here, but there are snags everywhere. There is something compelling about those poor dead trees. And these small trees with the very pretty, very red unfurling leaves must be Black Oak.

Where to camp this night has been on my mind for days. Many hours earlier than I need to I’ve been scanning the sides of the road for places to camp. There’s a safe looking place to camp! If only I would encounter that six hours from now when I need it!

My first Douglas Fir! Cedars, Maple, Madrone. Are we there yet? Two ravens overhead – Flirting? Fighting?

Twice on this segment I encounter people who offer me places to stay. In each case I have to say that I need to be farther along, but thanks!  Ah well, that would have solved my problem. I tell people I intend to find a place where the No Trespassing signs are the least aggressive. I also know I need a relatively level spot without poison oak, not visible from the road. 

Redwing blackbird song. Another abandoned olive orchard, and stone buildings. Fantasies of buying it and living here. What do people do with their time? Walking like this is not particularly comfortable. I think being comfortable in the moment is the hidden but powerful motivation for much of how people spend their time. That’s a big difference between the kind of nothing I’m doing and the kind of nothing most people spend their time doing.

I assume that the shotgun blast to the window of this car occurred after it had been abandoned here, and was not the reason for its demise.

I should have sent mail to some of the addresses near West Point, explaining and asking if I could sleep out back. The thought brings tears to my eyes as I think that I would have met someone friendly, maybe even made a new friend.

Still beautiful. I wonder when will I reach Railroad Flat Road and realize I don’t need to know. Just walk.

When I do finally get to Railroad Flat road, I encounter Byron and Anita on bicycles. Byron stops and the first thing he does is offer me fresh fruit, pulling an apple from his pouch. I accept it gratefully. These two strike me as the kind of people who might have the Tibetan prayer flags I saw a while back. As opposed to the American flags I see so many places. I realize I feel unsafe when I see an American flag. That’s sad, and so wrong.

Each day on the roads there are a few enthusiastic wavers – who stick out their whole arm to wave. Momentarily I wonder if it is someone I know, but of course it isn’t. I do like that, though. 

The little ‘town’ of Railroad Flat has a store. I go in and buy myself a fruit juice and ask if there is a place I can fill my water bottle. The lady says there’s a faucet outside. I partake of a bit of conversation. The accents are all hillbilly – really! But universally friendly. The lady offers worry about my plan: “People are pretty sketchy these days.” I am thinking, yes, those people one imagines.

My first Dogwood! Pretty country. And another pickup slows and asks if I want a ride. This time, after I gratefully decline, he says there’s a river down there. Thinking he’s engaging in some kind of joke, I say there’s a bridge, right? He laughs and creeps on down the hill while saying there’s a great place to camp. I say REALLY?! Yes, on the downhill side…as he is driving off. This is what I wanted to hear and, sure enough, when I get to the bottom it is a real (though small) river and I find a place downstream, on the bank, flat, with no signs at all! It’s the kind of place one might drive all day to camp at – it is that beautiful.

I’ve laid out my stuff when I hear a pickup cut the motor. Two dogs wander up to me and the barking alerts the man to my presence. He asks if I am going to spend the night. “That’s my plan.” I say, and he just says, “I won’t bother you none,” and says he lives just around the corner. He goes off with his dogs for some fishing.

Just after I’ve crawled into my bag an hour later, and it is dusk, I hear a rustling on the hillside behind me. I think, “Bear!” I get up on my elbows and turn to look. Bear. But a rather small one, very light brown, who seems not to have seen me. It is engaged in stripping bark from downed logs to look for grubs. For some reason (probably the size) I am not scared. 40 seconds after I first see it, it vanishes. I assume it saw me, and decided that, though I was not particularly large, it would rather not encounter me.

Last day. About six miles now to West Point, which is the place from which I plan to start the next segment. I suspect West Point might be a real town – houses right next to each other, a couple places where streets meet at right angles, that sort of thing. And it mostly is. As I arrive, some folks sitting on a porch wave vigorously at me so I walk over. It turns out they thought I was someone they knew, but we are all happy to talk. They explain it is a house full of veterans. They ask if I’m a vet. I have to say no. I am offered coffee, water, beer. There’s also a young woman who is visiting – and who must have a selfie with me. Sure, what the heck… They confirm for me the direction of the Cozy Cabin Café. I am smiling as I walk off. Always, I feel good after these short conversations.

The Cozy Cabin Café has been a destination for me from the beginning. It doesn’t disappoint – French toast, eggs, bacon, coffee and locals. The folks there were just what I expected in West Point (the waitresses have worked there forever, for example) except that at one of the four table, one of the three locals is black. Just not what I expected.

There turns out to be a lot about this area that I didn’t expect.

The earworm seems to have become a regular feature. This time, I was visited by:

  • Mercedes Benz (Janis Joplin)
  • We Three Kings (everybody and his uncle)
  • Darn That Dream
  • Nothing But a Breeze (Jesse Winchester)
  • A Spoonful of Sugar (that Poppins woman)
  • One of my songs
  • One Toke Over the Line

I am most familiar with the version of “Darn That Dream” sung by my friend Patrice, here. But Dexter Gordon does a beautiful version too. That song of mine – I came home, complete revised it, and did a simple recording, here. The version of “One Toke Over the Line” on the Lawrence Welk show (really!) is priceless…

Interlude…Lodi

I am between segments. Ended the last one a few weeks ago East of Lodi, and I plan to pick up there later this week and keep going East. The weather looks good. This begins the segment I am least familiar with – Maybe I was in Mokelumne Hill once? It should mostly be new to me.

(I’ve been in the Denver area for the past two weeks, where spring is just now, barely, starting to arrive. It is shocking to return to the Bay Area where spring has been raging for months…)

Who ever heard of West Point, California? I like that. Even someone like me, who prides himself in knowing all the towns in California, hadn’t heard of this one until I started mapping out my route. My next segment will end thereabouts.

I spend more time trying to figure out how to get to and from ends of the segments than I do planning the walking. I came back from Lodi last time via Greyhound. For this segment, I will take the train from Jack London Square to Stockton, then Greyhound to Lodi, where I spend the night in a motel and get a Lyft or Uber in the morning to the point 6 miles East where I ended last time.  At the end of this segment, I walk about seven miles to Pioneer (on highway 88) where I catch a bus. Transfer. Go to Sacramento. Transfer to Train. Ride to Oakland. All in all, not counting the seven-mile walk, six and a half hours to get home… This means I need to carry some (lightweight) reading material with me on the walk. But I sorta like planning even these parts – it gives me a bit of an idea what it might be like to not have a car in California. Plus I just like planning things that are geographic because I get to look at maps.

Walking is in some ways like viewing a dance performance. Each moment is here, then gone. Each instant of movement, angle, composition, light…changes. Unlike a dance, I can pause it – by just standing in one place for a moment. It is curious how we want to freeze moments on walks with a camera, as if the still image is the reward. No one wants to freeze a moment in a dance – it is the movement itself that one wants to see and feel. I try to have that attitude when walking – awareness of the everchangingness of it. But, of course, I do pause and take photos.

A walker is in some ways the choreographer – designing the visual dance he or she walks through, by direction and pace. A dance often has music. But a walker experiences sound, scent, cool/warm, breeze, kinesthesia, and perhaps various sorenesses, irritations, etc. Along with the visual.

I could write a book. Except, of course, that it’s already been written, a number of times. “Wanderlust” by Rebecca Solnit for example, is exactly about walking – the act of it, the history of it, the meaning of it. “The Gentle Art of Tramping,” written in 1926 by Stephen Graham. And “The Old Ways” by Robert Macfarlane (by “Ways” he means routes, paths, etc.). This one is lyrical, even romantic. Much about Britain with forays into other landscapes. “Tamalpais Walking” by Tom Killion and Gary Snyder. “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. I recall that I once read a book called “The Complete Walker,” though I remember nothing of it except that you are supposed to remove the little paper tags from your tea bags, to reduce weight. And Thoreau.

Writers write about the action of walking, bipedalism, the rhythms, the feel of the action. They write about the landscapes through which they have walked. They write about who else they encounter, who might have originally walked these paths – in some cases thousands of years ago. Or they write about those who have no choice but to walk, and those who cannot walk.

I’ve made an attempt (emails, no replies so far) to find out if there are any known native paths in the areas I will be walking through. Yet another book I read (and I can recall neither the title nor the author) talked about routes like this in the Appalachians. But I can imagine, which might be just as good.

Why can’t the weather bureau just publish some reliable schedules?  The airlines do it, and so do many other organizations. But not the weather bureau!  They’re like, “It’s going to rain that day, uh, no it isn’t, uh, yes it is…” So what the hell are we supposed to do when planning our walks across California??  Sheesh.

Lodi – Oh lord…

If you are of my generation, you cannot think about Lodi without thinking about that song. Oh well, I give in.

“…Rode in on the Greyhound
I’ll be walkin’ out if I go…”

Actually, I walked in, and rode out on the Greyhound.

But what I want to talk about is my experience looking disheveled (unshaven, et al) and carrying a backpack. We immediately make assumptions about such a person – if they are not in a park or wilderness, that is. On the Greyhound, one guy said to me “Awesome rucksack, dude!” He had a less awesome one. I smiled and said something. I did not say, though I thought about it, that my ‘rucksack’, clothes and everything else came from R.E.I. with a pretty high price tag. One person bought me a cup of coffee (I had ordered it but when I pulled out my wallet, he stepped forward and told the vender to include it on his tab). Maybe he had just vowed to do that, regardless of whether the person in front of him had a pack or not.

The motel I first went to was the “Del Rancho Motor Inn.” After some confusion with the management (because I didn’t realize she was basically asking me if I lived there) through the little Covid window, she realized when I said a had a reservation that I must be intending to go to the “El Rancho Motel,” 100 feet on farther. Silly me, I had just assumed that remembering “Rancho” would be enough. At the El Rancho, although there seemed to be some long-term residents there, too, they take reservations.

I don’t quite know what to say about my experiences in downtown Lodi, Greyhound stations (especially Sacramento) and walking the streets with a pack. I want to try to describe it, but I give up. I’ll only say that there were moments when I felt like I had nothing but what I could carry. Very brief moments. Linda spent a week on the streets in the Tenderloin, on a Street Retreat with the Faithful Fools. Maybe she could talk about it better than I.

Monetization.

A word that didn’t even used to exist, but now it is used frequently. It is exactly what I am not doing with my blog.

If, however, you have some extra money hanging around, give it to your favorite non-profit. If you don’t have one, then give it to the Faithful Fools.

Delta segment

March 21 – March 23. 55 miles.

There are worse places to walk.

After an uneventful hour from the BART station, I walked onto the Antioch Bridge. And I was walking toward cars and trucks racing at me at 65 mph, with just a white line between us. On my right were the speeding blurs. On my left was the railing over which I kept thinking I might have to leap, followed by a 150 foot drop. 2.2 miles of this. My only photo was taken when there was a gap in the traffic. I jogged the last quarter mile, with pack, so eager was I to get off the damn bridge.

At the turnout where I got away from the cars, I could see a dirt road to my left, with a fence and blackberry brambles between me and it. I didn’t know that there was also a deep ditch with water. I bushwhacked that far. The ditch looked jumpable. Picked my way down carefully. Threw my pack across and the momentum carried me forward so that I had no choice but to leap, unprepared. My foot landed on the bank and again momentum carried me forward, praise be. So I was on my hands and knees on a steep bank with my pack beside me.

Maybe my walk really started then. I was now actually on the Delta.

We Californians drive around the Delta a lot: on I-80, I-580, or I-5. Even the roads that purport to go across it (Highway 160, Highway 4, and Highway 12) really just skirt it. You really can’t drive across it because of all the private islands and sloughs. If you aren’t into boating and fishing, you could forget it is there. But runoff from the entire Central Valley and Sierra Nevada range, and much more, goes through the delta on its way to the Bay and Golden Gate.

There were birds. Huge flocks of white birds rising up in the distance before settling down again after a few hundred yards. I was never close enough to identify them, though I saw countless geese, as well as herons, egrets, and cormorants.

Wikipedia says that a census in 2012 estimated 49 million ducks on the Delta. And 150 private duck clubs which are not, although the name implies it, there for the benefit of the ducks.

There was a swallow doing incomprehensible things upwind of me. Normally, I think of them as darting around, catching flying insects. But I hadn’t seen a bug all day. So was it somehow finding them? If so, its eyesight is as amazing as its acrobatics. Maybe there were no bugs, and it was just dancing.

I walked on levee roads. On one side, I looked down five feet to a slough. On the other side was the farmland – fifteen feet down. For a stretch, there was barely a shoulder, and if I took a step to my left I would be in the water.

At one time, this delta was a vast marsh of reeds and tules, inhabited by the Miwok and Maidu. The present state is the result of “reclamation” for agriculture. Oxidation of the peat soils and wind erosion resulted in the lowering of elevation to as much as 20 feet below sea level. This requires serious levees. The ‘nice’ homes are 4 stories tall (despite a seeming abundance of land) so that they can see over the levee from the top floor. Not many people live here.

There are many places labeled “Marina-Resort” on the maps. Walking through, it became clear that although there are some day-use boats and RVs, these are largely occupied by long-term tenants. That is, they are pretty much trailer parks.

I hadn’t seen a hummingbird all day. At lunch, I pulled out my bright red Nalgene bottle. A hummingbird appeared in an instant.

I had a reservation at a state park campground the first night. I was the only camper. I arrived with four hours left before dark. … Can I do nothing for that long? I wandered down to the boat ramp. Some real fat cats here (who probably get a lot of fish heads and such.) Wandered back to my site. Warm, sun, napped a bit. Went down to the bank of Three Mile Slough and watched the water. It was moving every direction at once. It connects the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers, and is subject to tides. I guess that explains its confusion.

Always on the lookout for alternatives to my cold instant coffee, I called the Terminous Store to find out if I could get coffee there Tuesday morning. The guy said, “If I know you are coming I can make some”. Finally it was dark enough to go to sleep.

The next morning was lovely. I was in no hurry to get started.

There must have been a heyday of the Delta. I passed what surely had been an elegant dock for cocktails and boating, with Tiki torches. Through a caved-in roof, I could see the old chaise-lounges.

I am fond of aged wood and faded paint (admit it, Brian, you just like that ‘derelict’ look). I also spent summers and holidays on my grandparents’ farm in Chico when I was young, so since the Delta is farmland (albeit unusual farmland) there was a nostalgia element I felt in looking at the farmhouses.

The second night I had decided I would camp at the Westgate Landing Campground near Terminous, despite the fact that it was closed. Well. There is a permanent occupant of an on-site trailer, who came putt-putting after me in a golf cart. Nice man. If it was up to him (but we both agreed it wasn’t) he would have been happy to let me spread out my sleeping bag. So I went to the Terminous Store and after chatting for a while with the man there (who knew me from the phone call), got his permission (not really his to give) to sleep behind the picnic table in front of the storage place next door. I would set up after dark, and leave before light.

It was going to be light by seven, so we agreed to skip the morning coffee after all – I wasn’t going to wait around until he opened up at nine. I walked four and a half miles to the Denny’s off I-5 for my coffee. I thought about how I used to commute by car for over an hour every morning for years. Decided that walking, even along Highway 12, was no worse.

The waitresses at Denny’s were working hard and yet being very gracious.

The wind had been bad, and became ferocious. But the shoulders were wide and after a while I stopped looking at the cars and started noticing the trash. No attempt to pick up roadside trash in these parts, I would guess, since the days of the Spanish. Much of my walking that day I was occupied by thoughts of wind and trash. My eyes downcast. I finally decided to do an inventory of the many kinds of trash I was seeing: Gloves, cigarettes, glasses, USB charger cords, broken scissors, receipts, carpet remnants, CO2 cartridges, sauce packets, unidentifiable former articles of clothing, beer bottles, beer cans, liquor bottles, roof tiles, jigsaw puzzle pieces, every kind of car part imaginable, and a million small sparkly bits of broken glass. And road kill.

I laughed at myself at one point when I realized I was doing exactly what the pharmaceutical corporations do: After two pickups had passed me, I decided to do some research: counting pickups and non-pickups – between here and that stop sign up ahead. But the next three cars were non-pickups, so I decided to abandon my project. That was when I realized I was doing exactly what they do – reporting only those studies whose results they like and not reporting those whose results they don’t.

I was subject to daymares as I was walking – imagining that the drivers wanted to kill me. In fact, they really were attentive and careful when they passed. I always lifted a hand and smiled. And got a wave back in nearly every case – showing that they were alert to my presence, and probably not thinking of swerving and hitting me.

I walked six miles past Lodi. That marked the end of this segment. I then walked six miles back to my motel in Lodi. I was leaving from the Greyhound terminal downtown at 8:00 the next morning.

So, how was this segment?  Well, the previous one had been almost all on trails, in parks, in beautiful weather. This one was almost all on roads, with the Antioch Bridge the first day and ferocious winds the third. I needn’t be explicit about the comparison… And yet, I was happy to be there.

Oddly, not so many earworms:

  • Walking to New Orleans (Fats Domino) Even though I was not on that delta
  • There Ain’t A Cow in Texas (Merle Travis?) What is it with that song?
  • Many Rivers to Cross (Jimmy Cliff)
  • Jardin d’hiver (Keren Ann)

Coast Range segment

March 11 – March 14. 54 miles

Thirty minutes before my alarm was to go off Thursday morning I was lying in bed listening to rain. But the night before the weather service said it wasn’t going to rain… By the time I got up, the rain had stopped.

Misty, as I crossed Redwood Regional Park.

In one way, this is the simplest of the sections – park trails 90% of the way. That’s not to say easy, with about eight serious up/downs. I planned to walk across Redwood Regional Park, along EBMUD trails to Rocky Ridge, over Las Trampas Ridge, up to Mt. Diablo, to Black Diamond Mines Regional Park, and thence to the Antioch BART station. And I did, and it was glorious.

Rain brings out worms, apparently. I found myself looking down a lot. I continued to watch for worms and worm trails throughout the morning, dawdling and photographing the ground.

Because of the rain the previous two days, there were some very muddy, slippery sections. At one point I was actually doing the cartoon walking thing – my feet making walking motions uphill, but my progress being negative – slipping back farther than I was going up. For a few seconds only, until I found a way to adjust, but silly.

“I’ll have a lot of time to think,” then corrected myself, “I’ll have a lot of time for my mind to wander.”

I was really counting on water at the Bollinger canyon parking lot. But no! (off/covid). An older couple in a car saw me trying the fountains and faucets and saw my dismay. They offered me some water. So kind of them!  I accepted a little plastic bottle and thanked them earnestly. They were so gracious. That little bottle was just enough that I felt I could continue. Fortunately, part way up the Las Trampas ridge the trail crossed a stream with a little water in it. I filtered and filled both one-liter bottles.

It was coming on dark when I found a beautiful spot on Las Trampas ridge, hidden from sight. As the sun set, there were twinkly lights to the East and North. Then it was so dark and cold that I was in my sack from dusk to sunrise. Maybe 12 hours. That sound in the night was surely just a wind rustling my ground cloth, rather than the growl (purr?) of a mountain lion.

The temperature in the morning was 32 degrees. But it was a gorgeous morning, rivaling the glory of the evening. I took my coffee like medicine: Still in my sleeping bag, I put a little water in the cup, added the instant powder, stirred it up, drank it down, and tucked back into my sleeping bag. So different from the way I usually enjoy a hot mug of coffee in the morning. This was as beautiful a place to wake up as any in the high Sierra. Except for the dull roar of I-680 far below me to the East. Eventually I got myself together and started walking again.

Does this mean I’m narcissistic: The Jays make a small racket when I’m around and I think they are talking about me. I can hear them at a distance, too, so they probably have something else to talk about – they don’t need me.

Under the freeway and onto the Las Trampas – Mt. Diablo Trail.  The first few miles were past the backyards of the wealthy. I realized that the new signifier of wealth is to have a vineyard in your back yard. I saw quite a few of those, as well as kidney-shaped pools, gazebos, and chicken coops…

Just past the Macedo Ranch staging area I joined the Mokelemne Coast-to-Crest trail and the American Discover Trail, which I would be following for the next few days. They took me now to Live Oak Campground.

As always, my destination had looked far away, and then I was there. I was surprised, again, by how far I can go walking. It was around here that I realized that the high Sierra is just high – no steeper than the Oakland hills.  But every bit of it was beautiful. Even the backyards. And I felt great. I was glad to be where I was, doing what I was doing.

That night I was legit, with a campground reservation. After setting down my back, I scrambled up the rough trail behind my site. Rock City at sunset. Must come back. Campgrounds are curious when you are alone with just a pack. I did make a point of introducing myself to my neighbors. Ladies preparing dinner on the right. I suppose the ladies were doing dinner on the left, too. Checkered tablecloths at both. I was crawling into my bag about the time they were all sitting down to dinner. Through my earplugs I could hear Happy Birthday from somewhere… I can get lonely with people around

40 degrees early the next morning. Even with my long, slow start, I was just walking off with my backpack when I saw people first emerging from the tents. I was prepared to wave, but they didn’t look in my direction. I scrambled back up to where I’d been the previous evening and found myself on an actual trail (“Trail Through Time”).  Caves with hand prints – future Lascaux caves. But done with chalk or spray paint or something, that won’t last.

If it is foggy enough and early enough, perhaps the usual rules of animal/human interaction don’t apply? I saw a coyote twenty yards from me, looking at me in an unconcerned way. And then maybe ten yards ahead a red-tailed hawk flew into a small tree!  I kept walking and it took off again when I was within five yards.

Each morning the first person I saw was either a mountain biker or a dog-walker. (Back in Danville, the dogs were fancy breeds – yer snickerdoodles and whatnot.)

For the next few hours I was climbing toward the summit of Mt. Diablo. There I encountered people (and parking lots) and even a bit of snow on the ground. And, I was pleased to see, water and restroom. With Covid, water is rare in these parks. Chatted up a couple of people with packs who turned out to be training to walk the John Muir trail.

Beautiful. (Have I said that before?) I really like when there’s no one else on the trail.

The great thing about walking is you don’t have to think about anything else you need to do – you can’t do anything else, so there’s no sense of, “I should be …” All you can do is be here now. After a few hours, I was down from Mt. Diablo and in the town of Clayton.

I had arranged to meet John Mercurio that afternoon, and we sat at a table outdoors in a restaurant. He had a beer and I ordered a sandwich to go (dinner). He is the State Coordinator for California for the American Discovery Trail and the East Bay – Contra Costa County Segment Coordinator for the Mokelemne Coast-to Crest Trail. I had contacted him to learn more about the trails. We discovered that we are similar in many way, like that both of us pick up old mylar balloons when we hike – a form of litter people don’t think about when they set them free… He was very helpful, with ideas about my upcoming segments. I’ll be on the Discovery Trail out of Antioch, and the Mokelemne Trail for some long segments once I hit the mountains.

That night, I found a non-windy spot in the very windy Black Diamond Mines regional park (the campgrounds are closed). My grilled sandwich was still warm! But it had dripped all over stuff. Not that it mattered, it was all pretty unclean by then.

The next morning it was a balmy 42 degrees. As usual, it took me an inordinate amount of time to get started, but it didn’t matter, I only had about 10 miles to go that day – to the Antioch BART station. Not for the first time…I thought: The only hardship is not having hot coffee.

Has anyone noticed before what an amazing thing the sun is?

As I was strolling, looking for a place to remove the silk long johns I’d needed the night before but were now just making me too hot, I saw a spot and thought, “Oh, a lot of human people have been there.” And immediately laughed at myself for that phrasing. Like the animals were just non-human people?

It is amazing how far voices carry. Sometimes I hear voices a mile away. And if I overhear other people, they are never talking about where they are or the walk they are taking. What they are talking about invariably has nothing to do with where they are. Another reason I really enjoy solo walking.

One thing I had wondered about – and allowed for the possibility of not – was whether I would actually enjoy this walk. This morning I am more than happy. Even though I’m overlooking wind farms and the Antioch bridge…

“Level is a treat” a phrase I just said out loud to myself. Just walking on level stretch is a treat – and pretty rare on this 4-day segment.

What does your brain do when you’re not using it? In my case, that was probably 90% of the time. So I had lots of time to find out.

Blue oak grassland! This is the foothills that I love so much. The shapes of the hills, the colors of the grass and rocks, the oaks and madrones, the flowers. Here come some birds, I hope they land here.

There are times – very fleeting and rare – when upon looking at the land I feel the shape of it viscerally. Also, just as fleeting and rare, when I feel the swoop or lift or flutter of a bird. This never happens when I’ve been watching the bird, only when the movement surprises me.

Interesting to come back into civilization. Part of it is wondering what people think of me. You don’t see backpackers (who haven’t bathed or shaved in four days) in strip malls very often. I don’t know how to articulate this sense I have that the people here are paying attention to something quite different from what I’ve been paying attention to. The interior self that I’ve been with for a few days is very different from the interior self of these people. And me when I’m in civilization – which is usually.

So I’m back – Streets, parking lots, auto repair places, gas stations, auto parts stores, drive-thrus…in a word: civilization.

But also baklava…

A four-day solo walk is a good breeding environment for earworms. I noted all the ones I had, in order:

  • Jardim (Rosa Passos)
  • Defying Gravity (Jesse Winchester)
  • There Ain’t A Cow in Texas (Merle Travis?)
  • 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover (Note: Walking to Nevada is not one)
  • Nobody Can Turn Me Around (Mighty Clouds of Joy)
  • How Do You Do It? (The Beatles…trust me on this)
  • WS Walcott Medicine Show (The Band)
  • One Note Samba (Getz / Byrd)

Not bad. I had feared I’d end up with something like Muskrat Love… It turned out, actually, that my mind was occupied by earworms far less than when I’m back in civilization.

Day One

Loved it! I had originally intended to do five days to start. But the weather service was uncooperative. I went ahead with the first day – because one doesn’t get a second seventieth birthday and I swore that nothing short of a blizzard or tornado in San Francisco would stop me. Now will wait for the next un-rainy stretch, which should start Thursday.

While I was walking, I had the thought that “Anyone can do this.” Even if only for a few miles. It wasn’t the ‘big walk’, because that doesn’t happen all at once. It was the moments of passing things quietly and being aware. It helps to have San Francisco in your backyard. But it could be any city, or town. Just take a few hours – especially in the morning. If it’s not something you usually do – especially if it is not something you usually do… Then see what that’s like. Being present, what a concept. We don’t do that in this day and age. We have something constantly that we are doing, listening to, watching, going toward… I found myself observing small ordinary moments in people’s lives and they didn’t feel ordinary to me.
For the route, see map below, done with my sharpest crayon:

I particularly liked being out early. There is a quality to the city waking up which I relished. A few early bikers or dog-walkers. A few people sleeping in the park. An old school bus with windows covered, which was obviously ‘home.’ One apartment window with lights, across Lincoln Boulevard from the Park. People waking up in the Outer Sunset district.
Because I’ve lived 65 years near San Francisco, there were constantly feelings in me associated with places. Let’s call that ‘nostalgia’. Like the AIDS memorial grove, where my Dad and Marian were early and avid volunteers. A lovely place to walk through.


The last hour in San Francisco, in the shopping and downtown part, it started to feel like everything I was seeing was corporate messaging – shops, billboards – and so much less interesting because of it. Odd, because corporations have the means and talent to make things appealing and they fail. Is that just me? And when they do attempt to be folky, it is transparent. You can see right through it. Even the attempts to be un-slick seem slick.


The ferry ride!! Why don’t I do that more often? Approaching the dock in Oakland, we came alongside a container ship being loaded. Staggering – I estimated that it holds 2,000 freight train cars (containers), at least. One ship had some containers with cars in them – they looked so tiny!
After 15 miles (not counting the ferry ride across the Bay), I arrived at Linda’s house at the crest of the Oakland Hills. Feeling better than I expected to. But then, I carried next to nothing and had a cappuccino and croissant in the Haight-Ashbury. When the guy asked if I wanted my croissant heated, I hesitated for a second, then said ‘Yes,’ remembering that I get to make the rules on this walk. I had lunch at a restaurant in Jack London Square, where the muzac played Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. Not a hardship to be found.
Fifteen mile walking? (Eva and Pascal are thinking) Hah! Try 26 running!

What a contrast! I finished packing my pack for tomorrow. It is as big and heavy as it has ever been for wilderness backpacking! Because I just don’t know what to expect in the next four days…

Any Questions?

I thought so. Like… When? Why? Where? How? And the ever-popular Huh?

When?
Starting on my 70th birthday. March 8, 2021. Sunrise. (Ocean Beach)
I don’t intend to do this all in one go, or “through-hiking” as they might say on the PCT or AT. That would involve more logistics (and rain) than I want to deal with. I plan a series of segments, each time picking up where I left off the last time. Probably ~5 segments, of ~5 days each. …Ending early summer, or as the snow-pack allows.

Why?
Because I can. A condition which, I am told, is temporary. I am also told, though I refuse to believe it, that denial is futile. [When I first wrote that, I was thinking of physical ableness. But a woman, or a black man, could well have safety concerns that I don’t have. To the point of thinking, “Maybe you can, but I can’t”.]


Because I want to experience all the different landscapes across California – at a walking pace. From the sea, through the coast range, valley, foothills, forest, high mountains, and desert. And towns, maybe even suburbs(!)


The seed of this idea was planted during a soil science summer field course in 1973, when we did (as part of our 6-week ramble around the state) a ‘transect’ across California. Since the type of soil is determined by all manner of things, we were always basically asking, “Why is this landscape the way it is?” I loved that course.


More recently, I was given an exercise where I was to name the things I really wanted to do with my remaining life. “Walk Across California” was one of four. The fading lavender sticky note is still on my mirror, six years later. At that time, I got as far as creating this fading website: https://california-transect-trail.org/

How?
On foot.
West to East. I could go the other way – there is historical (European) precedent for that direction, including my great-great-great grandfather who came that direction in a covered wagon in 1857 and left a journal. But if I want to do it in a fairly short period of time, West to East makes sense because of climate: Summer is the only time to walk across the crest of the Sierra. And summer is a pretty miserable time to do the foothills and valley.


Spring is the glorious time to do the foothills.
Therefore… the first segments in Spring and the last segments in Summer.

Where?
From the website above, you can see that I had in mind a walking route that sort of paralleled Highway 20. There were two main reasons for that choice: (1) The Sutter Buttes break up the otherwise monotonous Central Valley; and (2) that route goes through quite a bit of public land. I.e., the ‘access’ problem (see Here Be Dragons).


But I recently encountered the Mokelemne Coast-to-Crest Trail!! (https://mc2ct.org/) So I will mostly use the established parts of this trail and let their trails guide the rest of my route. (Direct link to their map: The Big Map)


Also, I suppose that seeing what they achieved – a darn good start – with twenty years and an actual organization, made me less enthusiastic about my own hypothetical trail.
Their map is a pretty good approximation of what I have planned. But I will start at the Pacific Ocean, and will end at the Nevada state line.

The “Perfect” Walk…

  1. Would be all-in-one-go.
  2. Would never be on roads.
  3. Would be walking the entire way unless there was a body of water that couldn’t be walked around or across. In which case… swim?
  4. Sleeping out – always.
  5. I would be John Muir.

The Actual Walk…

  1. In segments
  2. I will try like heck to avoid roads.
  3. I will take a ferry across the Bay, and use whatever bridge is handy to cross rivers.
  4. Sleeping out – often. But I might stay in a motel if I end a day in a town, like Lodi. And at Linda’s house in Oakland at the end of the first day.
  5. I am not John Muir, nor do I live in his times.

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Here Be Dragons

Turns out we live in a country where private property is sacred. Who knew?!

In March of 2019 I spent a couple of days in the Sierra Foothills (a.k.a., the gold country). One reason is that this landscape is beautiful in the Spring – wildflowers and green grass, small, rocky streams and blue oak. The other reason was, admittedly, perverse: To see just how little of this wonderland a person can actually set foot on.

I really don’t want to walk through people’s houses, or through their yards. I’m fine staying off private property when that property is an urban or suburban lot. And farms are not so great for walking most of the time – I don’t need to walk through fields of irrigated beans. It is the glorious foothills that I wish to be able to walk through.

Above about 4,000 feet, the land was pretty much economically useless (at least after most timber had been removed) and it therefore often became public, and we can walk on it.

Because of the foresight and efforts of the Coastal Conservancy, and because the immediate coastline is pretty useless for farming and ranching, we have all of the California coast to walk on!

But the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys were great for agriculture. And the grassy foothills were great for grazing. So we can’t walk there – with very, very few exceptions.

I saw a sign like the one above in the foothills. The photo above is not of the actual sign I saw because I was too freaking scared to get close enough to take a photo. I guess the sign did its job.

Although I was, in mid-March, much too early for the peak of wildflowers and the weather was gray, the foothills were lovely. And, sadly, I was observing all this beauty from the road, looking over a fence with a no trespassing sign on it, always.

Other civilized countries are so much more civilized about this!

  • In Finland, everyone may walk, ski, ride a horse or cycle freely in the countryside where this does not harm the natural environment or the landowner, except in gardens or in the immediate vicinity of people’s homes (yards).
  • Everyone in Norway enjoys the right of access to, and passage through, uncultivated land in the countryside.
  • In Sweden, notwithstanding the right to own property everyone shall have access to nature in accordance with allemansrätten (“the everyman’s right.”)
  • In England and Wales, there is a limited right to roam, without compensation for landowners.
  • In Scotland there is a right to be on land for recreational, educational and certain other purposes and a right to cross land. The rights exist only if they are exercised responsibly.

(I didn’t do extensive research – the above items are all from a Wikipedia article on Freedom to Roam.)

The title of this post is, oddly, what comes to mind for me when I see signs on the trail informing me that a path or area is off limits. And here are a few photos from my 2019 trip to the foothills:

(OK, the one in the middle is not 2019 – my Dad took that in 1960)

And I am reminded of the 4th verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”, not usually sung:

As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said “No trespassin'”
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

Another Possibility

Something happened two thousand years ago in the Middle East. For some, there is a sacred text which tells it exactly, infallibly, as it happened. For others, it is something to be explored and understood historically. But maybe it happened like this:

Astronauts were sent off to visit outer space and see if there was any intelligent life. Although they found no signs of advanced civilizations they did, after a few generations, find a planet with life.

Seeing the state of affairs on this planet – poverty, terrible wealth disparities, and much smoting – they felt compelled to help. They caused a woman to become pregnant mysteriously and give birth to a child who embodied the very values they held dear – kindness, empathy, selflessness, honesty and generosity. They made a bit of a show of it – having their UFO shine in the sky brightly enough to lead some wise guys to a manger – so that it would get good coverage

And so it came to pass.

This Being was eventually killed, of course, as one would expect of someone who proclaimed that the wealthy should not be so wealthy. He was then beamed up.

Seems as plausible as other versions, no?

To some extent, this intervention was successful, in that people in subsequent generations who actually lived by the words and recorded deeds of this Being did much to imbue the planet with goodness. But earthlings being what they were, there were inevitably many (guys, mostly) who co-opted the symbology as a way of consolidating and expanding their wealth and power, and giving an excuse for even more smoting.

Infinitely sad.

…There’s actually a bit of a back story. This hadn’t been the astronauts’ first attempt to help. About a week earlier (by their calendar) they had tried something similar in another part of the planet. There, instead of creating a new Being, they just exerted mind control over an existing one. They picked their subject and, as he was sitting under a Bodhi tree not wearing a tin foil hat, took over. In this instance, too, the message was all about goodness, though they wrapped this into some existing cultural narratives involving sequential lives and such.  They got mixed results with this one, too.

Between these two interventions, they amused themselves by making large-scale art on the Andes mountains and introducing the Axolotl and Pangolin to the planet.

No movies were ever made about these Aliens, of course: no violence.

The Job

I was born into the golden age of The Job. I couldn’t imagine a different world. Adults had Jobs, I would have a Job. From this emerged all else.

I couldn’t have known that this was just a small moment in time, before and after which there was no such thing as a “Job.”

Only recently have people begun to acknowledge that the Job is rapidly disappearing. For a few decades, individuals lost their Jobs and had to scramble to make ends meet but didn’t realize this wasn’t about them, it was about the world changing.

There are some rearguard actions – for example, to try to get paid vacation for Uber drivers and such – but that does little to slow the demise of the Job.

The Job was born of the industrial revolution, when factory workers were needed. The scale of the enterprise also resulted in a few layers of management in addition to the assembly line workers. Nothing on this scale, with this regularity, had existed before. Before, there was agriculture and craft. Little else.

Because of the stability of factory work, employees (both blue-collar and white-collar) could expect the work to continue indefinitely. The employees had skills such that it benefited the management to keep the same people. Employers paid them a fixed amount, regularly. They had Jobs.

Jobs begat Jobs. Once everyone had a Job, businesses proliferated. People with Jobs could buy cars, houses, vacuum cleaners, radios, and insurance. They could pay for train fare, haircuts, dentists and dry cleaning. There were Jobs in all these new businesses.

And then it all stopped. Where a Job resulted in good income, the managers had an incentive to find cheaper ways to get it done – by off-shoring or automation. And anything you can do a computer can do better (with apologies to Irving Berlin.) If not now, by next week, certainly.

The access to all information at all times, via the Internet, meant that a task could be matched to a person directly and instantly, obviating the need for someone to have that Job. Through Uber, Task Rabbit, et al, Jobs are replaced by the gig economy. No more reliable, predicable income. Interestingly, this returns us to the very early days of the industrial revolution when people would just show up at the factory each day hoping to get a day’s work. So at either end of the Job economy is the gig economy.

But we are probably not going to return to the days of guilds, apprentices, and feudalism.

Something else is coming. What?