Learning to hike

One of the many hiking trails
Fall in Briones Regional Park, about 20 miles east of San Francisco.

I grew up going on hikes but it wasn’t until this year, at age 35, that I learned how to hike.

I have a confession to make. My relatives may be shocked.

For the last 35 years I didn’t really enjoy hiking. It’s just something I did because I was raised going to a lakeside cabin every summer. I loved Pinecrest Lake— I still do — but I looked forward to the cooking, the swimming, the reading on the hammock. Hiking for me was a sideshow, not the main attraction.

I’d hike for the sole purpose of reaching a destination like Cleo’s Bath, or Herring Creek, or around Pinecrest Lake to pick up some buttermilk on the shore opposite my family’s cabin in the Sierras. I’d muster the energy and enthusiasm and head out and let my mind wander to pass the time faster between the start and the end.

My Aunt Harriet and Uncle Dan take a completely different approach. They drive all around Pinecrest to various trailheads and do day hikes. The hikes are the activity. It’s not about which lake they went to or what peak they summited. The whole point was to hike.

I always admired this about them but I didn’t understand it. How could you just… hike? I should know this. I should be one of them. My family has this unique mountain legacy but I didn’t become a hiker until this year and I wasn’t converted at Pinecrest Lake.

It all happened in Briones Regional Park with my second daughter in tow behind me. It only took me 35 years to learn how to hike.

One of about 100 hikes in the past two years. This one was on Norah’s first birthday.

I’ve now probably gone on 100 hikes all around the east bay. Short hikes, long hikes, some with my older daughter, some with my younger daughter, and always with my dog Blue.

Somewhere in those 100 hikes a change happened. A point on the map was no longer the destination. The hike itself became the point, and I learned how to really truly enjoy it. I’d pay attention to the creeks to my left and the crests to my right. I’d notice how the shrubbery changes when water is nearby and how grassy meadows smell differently than oak forests.

I also learned the logic behind trails. A straight long climb probably follows a waterway. Those are my favorite trails. Those climbs eventually leave the creek and start to zigzag up a hillside and then there’s usually a trail along the ridge and another one back down the other side. Eventually a trail will traverse back to reconnect the two. Those are favorite kind of loops.

I now can tell how long a hike will take and I can keep a good sense of where the trailhead is relative to my position on the trail. I’ve never been lost (and fortunately Google has a lot of these trails mapped with accurate GPS placement) but with a baby on board it’s of course important to know how long it will take to get back to the car.

I’m accustomed now to hiking with a 30 pound baby on my back, jabbering and sleeping and tugging at the back of my hat. I also now know that there is such thing as being in good hiking shape. The first time I did some of these climbs I was completely winded and had to stop a few times on the way up. Now I do it in one go and reach the top sweating but not out of breath. Hiking is not the same thing as walking and it is a really good workout. It took me about 25 hikes to figure that out.

Hiking no longer feels like work. I look forward to it every time. These days, with Toofr doing well and without a nanny on Wednesdays and Fridays, I take Norah hiking while most dads are at work. Two hours on the trail in the morning goes by fast.

Do I want to find a new trail or do an old loop? How far out do I want to drive this time? How long ago did it rain? Does it look like the trail follows a creek?

These are the the questions that hikers ask. I’m glad to be among them.

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