Covid has changed my world. Day to day at the hospital where I work is anything but day to day now. There is an underlying stress to working closely with patients as I do, the unspoken thought being, “Is this the one who will get me sick?” And as a singleton living remotely, wondering, “What will happen if I do get sick?” That being said, it feels extra important to take care of myself, slow down, reassess priorites, eat my veggies, practice gratitude for my health, sleep a lot, lower my stress, and for me, get outside in nature, every day, if at all possible. There’s no scientific evidence for this but it just feels like the fresh air, towering redwoods, spring flowers, sunshine, and ocean breeze, will help keep the Covids away.
Sheltering in place has made that a litte more difficult. With the closure of all the campgrounds, most of the parks and many of the trails, we’ve had to get creative. This weekend the Three Amigos who traversed 500 miles of the PCT had another little hiking exploit. Hummingbird (me), Twinkle Toes, and Just Pat had a social distancing Covid camping adventure.
The plan was to meet at Just Pat’s place in Bonny Doon, a remote outpost high up in the Santa Cruz mountains. Twinkle Toes and Hummingbird would set up tents in the back yard for an authentic “camping” experience and stash food in the fridge for BBQing later that night. We laced up our boots, shouldered our packs and crunched downhill into the woods. We wanted to make it all the way to the ocean to the little coastal town of Davenport. One snafu. There is no trail.
It started out quite pleasant. The massive redwoods and tan bark oaks soared overhead providing much appreciated shade on this unseasonably hot day. We stopped often to look up and shake our heads in wonder at their incredible girth and height. There is nothing like a 500 year old tree to make you feel small in a good way. The ground was springy with several feet of duff underfoot. Wildflowers bloomed and we breathed deeply, exclaiming with pleasure at the perfumed air. After about an hour, we made it down to the San Vicente creek. The trees grew closer and the brush became dense.
The hike became an obstacle course. Huge down trees blocked the way and had to be climbed over or around or tight-rope walked across. Thickets of dead brush had to be crashed through, arms crossed protectively across your face. Many times we would go to step on a log only to have it disintegrate beneath our weight or plunge through what appeared to be solid ground up to a knee. The footing was often not as it appeared and we quickly learned to step with a testing foot. We traversed terrain so steep, my right hand dragged across the ground grasping for hand holds-just in case, air to my left. I learned that a deep “BLOOP” sound meant someone’s foot had slipped off a mossy rock and into the creek while a wet smack meant someone had fallen in on their bottom. It was a cross country trial (not trail) and I was glad that we had the natural beauty to distract us.
A hike like this is all about attitude.
There were no trails when the first explorers came through. Nobody ever used to have trails. They did it. So can I.
My legs are covered in cuts and I am bleeding. Are you going to die? No. Are you really even in pain? Actually, not really. Ok.
Are you feeling stressed because you are going too slow? Why? Do you have to be at an appointment or something? No? Oh, ok. Is there somewhere else you’d rather be? Actually…no. So enjoy your day out in the woods.
I’m dirty, and hot, and sweaty and kind of tired. Yea. And you get to see this precipitous gully that almost nobody else will ever see. Because there is no trail and no road and you had to work to get here. So you get to see this babbling brooke with tiny, spotted trout darting here and there, the orange and yellow newt trundle by like something out of Alice in Wonderland, shafts of sunlight piercing through a cathedral of redwoods, lighting up that fern like an alter of glory, and can’t you almost hear the angels singing it’s so mysterious and beautiful?
Five and a half hours later we tumbled out of the forest, bleeding, bruised, exhausted and oh-so-happy to see the ocean. It was the kind of day you can’t make up, the sun warm and kind, the tang of the ocean breeze, the sky a bluebird blue, the forest marching away behind us like the mountains of Austria, the green hills tumbling down below us to the sea like Ireland. The fields were a riot of purple lupines, yellow broom, and orange poppies. We couldn’t stop exclaiming over it all.
We had long since missed the only bus back up to Bonny Doon. Just Pat’s brother was willing to make the drive down to get us, and thank God for that, because I couldn’t walk a step further. Back at the homestead, the hiss of a steak hitting the grill, the chk-a-chk of a martini being shaken, the rinse of a hot shower, the soft puff of my down sleeping bag, and the woosh of the bonfire being lit, made Hummingbird, one happy camper. After dinner, sitting outside in the cool night air around the crackling bonfire, fingers sticky from s’mores, looking up at the sky, I saw a shooting star streak across the sky. We ooh’d and ahh’d and then I said, “Another good adventure to add to the list. In a few years from now we will be sitting around saying, ‘Remember that time Pat thought it would only take 2.5 hours to hike from Bonny Doon to Davenport…’ “.