Helen’s Travel Corner

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untainted trails: a journey to where the sidewalk ends

September 12th, 2009 · 2 Comments

I’m in San Fancisco right now on vacation and this is a guest blog post from my old roommate and good friend Lily about our hiking adventure yesterday.

sometimes you just have to make your own adventure.

after a mellow week at burning man (no really, I was so burnt out from working this year, burning man was the first chance i had to really relax…and i did. i came home well rested and ready for some vacation time), my former room(soul)mate Helen came to visit, whom I haven’t seen in about 3 years. At her heels was Johan, our Belgian little brother, who lived with us for about a month, couchsurfing in our living room when we lived in Boston. We became a happy little family, with an evil rebellious fourth member who shall remain nameless…but that’s a story for another time.

after a successful day of acquiring smoothies and a new polka dot vintage dress in the haight and exploring the assortment of cell phone charms in japantown…and a night of sipping wine while watching jellyfish and petting sea urchins…we decided it was time for a real adventure.

we planned to be out of the house by about 10 or 11 am, and head across golden gate and up the coast to do some hiking. after shopping for picnic supplies, making ham sandwiches, and a lovely breakfast of garlic cheese scrambled eggs ala Helen, we got out of the house at about noon. Rising above a cloud that appeared to hold the city of san francisco in the rear view mirror, we crossed the golden gate bridge singing the theme song to full house. over the bay and through the woods to a wild and beautiful land…we took curves too fast along seaside cliffs, stopping for pictures and directions, and continued through eucalyptus forests, quaint beach towns, and memories of good times, past. We came to a sign that read “Road not maintained by county” just before the road turned to dirt and gravel, and we bumped our way to the end of the road to the trailhead.

just after 2 o’clock found us on our way down the trail that first lured us from behind our computers by promises of rope swings and waterfalls. It being a weekday, we were thankfully not met with much company. After about an hour of contemplating the possibility of me becoming a japanese pop star and what i would write songs about, we decided on a brief respite in the shade with the comfort of ham and cheese. Johan contemplated aspirations of carving packs of wolves out of wood and Helen daydreamed of the London Olympics. Another hour uphill and i was convinced we finally found the lake. Unfortunately, it was more like a frog pond with no trees nearby that seemed worthy of a rope swing.

Hopeful for bigger and better lakes, we continued along the trail, finding the real lake shortly after. The one full of water and wonder, surrounded by dense woods and a circle of hills. We asked a passing wanderer about the rope swing, and he pointed to a point off in the distance, where a large tree hung over the still water, but said the rope had been cut. Helen was the first to brave the crystal clear water, which didn’t just look like ice, it felt quite similar. She slowly waded into the water, while Johan and I decided fastest was bestest, and dove in. We all headed to the large tree, which looked a bit closer than it was, and slowly but surely paddled our way across the water, enjoying the view of the clouds while floating on our backs. We reached the tree, and he wasn’t lying, the rope was just too short, despite Johan’s attempts at devising a MacGyver plan.

We swam the long trip back across the lake, taking our time to stare into the sky and watch the ring of trees in our peripheral vision as we followed the birds above the water. While we dried off, we took out the book that Helen chose from my library for us to read while we rested, “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” by Shel Silverstein. I read my favorite poem, “hug o war,” and each of us read a few more until it was time to continue. Blissfully serene, and back on the trail, we headed about another mile until we reached the rabbit hole. A sign marked “Unmaintained Trail” (mistaken by Helen as reading “untainted trail,” which led to an inevitable reworking of the lyrics to tainted love along the way) led the way, and we followed single file through dense brush that stretched over our heads and snapped back in the faces of the unlucky two who were not in the front of the line. the hole opened up to the edge of a cliff by the water, where we could hear the rushing river falling to the sea….but where was it?

The third leg of the triathalon (hiking, swimming, and…) was the only path, and it was a steep downhill climb through brittle rock that crumbled under your feet. So down we went, sliding a bit, but bounding like little mountain goats for the most part, until we reached the soft sand. Around the corner was the prize, water cascading through bright green ivy, down the face of the cliff and into the ocean. Alamere Falls, in the orange evening light. A flock of pelicans flew a few feet above our heads, welcoming us to sit and enjoy some trail mix and bananas as our reward. After a photo shoot in front of the falls and a few more poems that are deeper than many of the children reading them will understand until they are much older, we faced the sheer cliff ahead of us, and began the climb.

The journey back took half as long as the trip out, but began a night that reminded us of how close we really are to nature. Along the path, we came across a flock of quails, that quickly disappeared into the brush only feet away, but invisible. By just after 7, we reached the car, and were more than ready to find dinner. Along the dark winding road back to the nearest beach town, we encountered deer, including several bucks who were in no hurry to cross the road, a fox, a hawk, and many more quails and their little head thingies that i love to giggle at. We then reminded ourselves how delicious nature can be, with pulled pork, pork chops, and fish and chips…and many forms of potatoes…under the stars and next to a comforting heat lamp at the Sand Dollar in Stinson Beach.

Tired, sore, and full of meat, we drove through the clouds on a bridge to nowhere, that eventually opened up back in the fine city of San Francisco. It was like coming back from the fantasy world of brilliant pink sunsets and crashing waves to the harsh but familiar reality of flashing lights in a busy city.

One more bridge and we were home. Johan curled up into a ball on the couch as Helen took a warm bath…I laid down and watched a program on the biography channel about the meth problem in America. A successful adventure. Surprise, laughter, and untainted trails surrounded by natural beauty. Along the way, we discovered that the three of us share many things, including a constant hunger for something bigger than us and bigger than what we have, whatever that may be, and have a thousand ideas and a hundred opportunities but are disheartened by the reality of having only one life at a time to live. We’re thinking of starting a business, someday.

On a final note, Helen made a revelation about my life through an argument I made about never wanting to try a white russian. I told her that i was afraid of trying a white russian, because my favorite drinks are milk and chocolate milk, and i am terrified that if i had a white russian, i’d love it, get too drunk on them, throw up (as is the tendency when i drink too much), and never be able to drink chocolate milk again, because it would always make me feel sick. Then she blew my mind and summed up my life story, which will also be the theme of my new Japanese pop album, “White Russian,” coming sometime: “Knowing what you want. Knowing how to get what you want. and fear of losing what you want.”

alamere-falls

Tags: travel

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Erica // Sep 21, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    What an adventure! I LOVE the photo. And I really like this part
    “…a constant hunger for something bigger than us and bigger than what we have, whatever that may be, and have a thousand ideas and a hundred opportunities but are disheartened by the reality of having only one life at a time to live.” Great guest post!

  • 2 Helen Todd // Nov 2, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Thanks Erica! I’m getting into this guest posts and interviews!

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