Gratitude for our trails

Thanksgiving and Gratitude

Sunol Regional Park, Alameda County, CA

Here in the S.F. Bay Area, the days have been so mild with daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70s, it’s hard to believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving. However, when it starts getting dark at 5 PM, and colder, we realize we have to work a bit harder to fit hikes into our shorter daytime hours.

This reminds me that I have much to appreciate about where I live, why I try to support environmental causes, and how grateful I am for the thousands of people here who work to protect our environment.

Sunol Regional Park, Alameda County, CA

In particular, I am reminded of the importance of the regional parklands around me, which…

  • provide hundreds of miles of trails that I can hike. 
  • bring ever-changing displays of flowers, trees, and other plants. 
  • have quiet places to clear my head and exercise my body.
  • inspire my writing and photography with its scenic beauty.
  • support wildlife—from ladybugs covering entire branches; herons stalking their prey; hawks soaring overhead; flickers hammering cavities in tree branches to build their nests.  
  • offer the opportunity to gain perspective on our place on this earth.
  • allow free, or inexpensive, visits to all who want to come. 

And, people are instrumental in what happens…

  • by envisioning the setting aside of parcels of land to create parklands.
  • when they work to acquire properties that would otherwise turn into developments.
  • by volunteering to help with fund-raising, to interface with the public at the kiosks and gift shops, and by organizing work parties for weed control.
  • when they become park employees that build fences and picnic tables, clear out invasive plants, repair storm damaged trails and roadways, and educate park visitors. 
  • by voting in tax measures to support and improve our parks

Galen Rowell, photographer, climber, author (1940-2002) in  Bay Area Wild: A Celebration of the Natural Heritage of the San Francisco Bay Area wrote,  “The San Francisco Bay Area holds the most extensive system of wild greenbelts in the nation, with more than 200 parks and other protected areas lying within forty miles of the city.”

We are truly blessed to live here. 

Where Else to Roam?

‘Bucket List’ or Serendipity?

On the Vezelay Camino route, after Limoges, we found many castles and fortresses!

“Once upon a time” I thought that one really should do a “bucket list,” or set out to check off the places listed in “1000 Places to See Before You Die,” or some other similar book with a catchy title. I’m not saying that these concepts are bad, just that, in my experience, they don’t allow for real life! At least not ours, we like to be more flexible. 

Truthfully, when Ralph and I started the John Muir Trail in 1989 (the year we were married), we hadn’t planned to do more than backpack from Kearsarge Pass (near Lone Pine, CA) to Mt. Whitney. In fact, it was several years (meanwhile backpacking in other parts of the Sierra Nevada) before we decided to do another section of the JMT.  Because our time was limited for each backpacking trip, we actually hiked the JMT in sections—returning four times to do it all.

But ‘what then?’ What then, because I had just officially retired, but could keep teaching as a job-share, was that we were able to take off for longer periods—we came down into Yosemite Valley at the end of trip #4, went home, and repacked, and then flew to Spain and start the Camino Frances—the best known of the Spanish Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trails.

A Reality Check

Ralph (83) and I (78) are at a point in our lives where we can facing the fact that we may not be able to hike ‘forever.’ We have no way of knowing if we will even be able to hike another few years—things happen!

We know that we are not as strong as we once were and can’t hike as fast or as far as we once could. Also, increasingly, we see friends developing conditions or illnesses that limit their mobility. This is just part of the aging process. So, we are approaching travel, especially that will include hiking, more carefully. We are being more selective about destinations.

Our plans include

One thing seems certain, we will continue to explore routes of the Camino de Santiago. We are part of the pilgrim community here, and find the Camino trails of Europe compelling. Each route is different; we enjoy experiencing the cultures, the places the trails take us, and meeting new people. We have about 140 miles more to go on the Vezelay, French route to reach Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees so returning there is on the horizon.

The ‘biggie’ coming up even sooner, however, is a cruise to Antarctica—the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctica peninsula. This year we are celebrating our 30th anniversary and this is one way that we are making it memorable. 

Minimizing your impact on the trail

 

Trail and Camp Ethics

Don’t build illegal campfire rings!

Anytime we hike or camp, we have an effect on our environment. The goal is to minimize negative impacts. If we damage the trail, we might  affect the next person’s trip or destroy the homes of wild animals. Some actions that may seem benign to us at the time may be quite disastrouspolluting the drinking water of a community, causing flooding by erosion, or destroying homes and forest by fire. 

To start… 

1.Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites [ed.: don’t cause erosion by taking shortcuts!]. Those shortcuts that create new trails through the dirt will become channels for water during the winter. 
2.Pack it in, pack it out. After use, inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter. [ed.: Orange peels can last 6 months, bananas 12 months.] 
 
3.Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. There is little to no chance that these items will decompose before they are discovered by animals or other humans. There are far too many people on our trails and in our wildlands for these products to remain undisturbed and unnoticed. 
 
4.Deposit solid human waste* in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet (about 70 human paces) from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. Note: leaving your poop under a rock near your campsite is not ok! Not only may it be a health hazard, but the next person to move the rockto build a campfire pit, for repairing a trailwill not appreciate the mound of feces that you left behind. Bury it!
 
*In some areas, there may be regulations required that human waste be carried out—for example, on Mt. Whitney or Denali, or in various river rafting areas.

Leave No Trace…

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics’ website tells us that the principals they give are modified or revisited from time to time as researchers gain new insights into protecting our outdoors. The current seven LNT Principles are: Plan and Prepare; Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces; Dispose of Waste Properly; Leave What You Find; Minimize Campfire Impacts; Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors.  Click here for more info. 

Treasures of the Galapagos

Frigatebird in flight

In 2014, Ralph and I were able to visit the Galapagos Islands with Wilderness Travel. I expected that we would see some amazing wildlife and landscapes, but I had no idea how unique our trip would be. Visitors to the islands usually have to chose between the eastern or western group of islands. However, a friend who knew about which animals lived on each cluster of islands encouraged us to visit both groups. We decided to make our trip a two-week adventure—living on the romantic Mary Ann, a three-masted sailing vessel.*

Our leisurely days

Generally our days began with an early walk on an island or two> Then we came back to the ships for a delicious breakfast of fruit, breads, and eggs. Depending on where we had sailed, our next stop might have been another island visit.

After that workout, came a hearty lunch; then a swim,  snorkel, or kayak period in the afternoon. Generally by that time of day, we were ready for a nap, followed by dinner (often fresh seafood) and conversation. Sometimes the boat moved to a different island during the day, usually it did so at night. 

Unique wildlife

For most of us, it was not just seeing all of the exotic wildlife, it was the fact that most of the birds and other animals were not afraid of us. They didn’t run or fly away when we approached (the number of boats and visitors is strictly controlled by the Ecuadoran government.) That allowed for wonderful viewing and photography!

Male Frigatebird

The Frigatebird

One of my favorites was the Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens).  While this strange looking bird is not endemic to the Galapagos, it is usually only found on the America’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts from Georgia and California to Ecuador and Uruguay, and on the nearby islands.

It would be hard not to love these odd-looking birds. The male shown here is doing a courtship display. When he tries to show his dominance over other males, and woo a female, he inflates his gular sac, which then puffs out into the heart-shape.

He also clacks his beak, which resonates in the sac like a drum beat. Researchers have observed that the more adept the male is at his drumming routine—faster and longer—the more successful he will be at attracting females. And if that isn’t enough to attract a female, he may even shake his head or his body disco-style.

Frigatebirds are not considered to be at risk as a species—but we were only able to see them in great number because it was mating season. The rest of the year, they may spend months in the air–only swooping down to the sea for moments to capture a meal.

There’s no doubt about it, this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip!

*The Mary Ann is used by various Galapagos tour companies. Though the crew does use the sails a bit of the time, during most of our cruise, we were powered by motor.

Is 10,000 a magic number?

What about 10,000 steps?

Along the Vezelay, FR., Camino route.

For many years, 10,000 has been given as the magic number of steps to take daily to improve our fitness level and boost our longevity. More recently, however, we’ve read that 10,000 is really an arbitrary number. In one study of women (average age 72), click here, it was found that 4,000 steps per day was beneficial. Additionally, the study said that anything over 7,500 steps brought no additional benefit.

That is not to say that counting steps isn’t a helpful tool; it can be. It is an fairly effective method of keeping track of your steps and mileage. Just as writing in a food diary is a more accurate way of seeing what your caloric intake is than relying on a running total in your head, a step counter will probably keep you more honest. And, as the study stated, for most people, any increase in steps is helpful. 

For us as hikers, another takeaway is that counting steps is not a well-rounded way to become trail-ready, particularly if your aim is longer hikes and multi-day backpack trips. Nevertheless, I find aiming for 10,000 motivating, and I am relieved to learn that I am not harming myself when I don’t reach that number. 

In my article, Training for Walking, Hiking, and Backpacking, you’ll find plenty of advice to achieve greater hiking stamina and strength that goes beyond counting steps.