Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On the Darkside


 I have come to regard November as the older, harder man's October. I appreciate the early darkness and cooler temperatures. It puts my mind in a different place than October. It is a month for a quieter, slightly more subdued celebration of summer's death as winter tightens its grip.---Henry Rollins

I don't know why, but the falling back of one hour in daylight savings times always surprises me. I'm not ready for the dark. Before my eyes, the sun is being slammed into the horizon. Exploding into little bits before disappearing into the night. It happens all too fast.

I was paddling up to Rattlesnake Bar from Donton's Point on Folsom Lake. It is not usual kayak outing for me. I had never it done before and always wanted to do. The north arm of the lake turns from big open water to a narrow canyon. With low water, the rock formations climb out of the lake in dramatic fashion. For paddlers, this is most interesting part of the lake. Round trip its about 10 miles.

It was a late afternoon start at about three when I dropped my kayak in on the south side of Doton's Point. Each day the lake is being drawn down further and further. Driving down to the water's edge, the dry lake bed looks more like a dry desert or the moon. Parking on a high spot on the beach, the truck should be easy to see coming back.

The hanging sun dipped behind the clouds and hovered over the horizon behind me. I looked over my shoulder the whole time wishing I had more time. I had beaten the darkness before. Late summer nights while camping in Minnesota, I would paddle out for sunset trips across the lake. Listening to the loons, watching the orange ball sink into Lake Itasca and still have enough light to paddle back,  beach my kayak and light the campfire before nightfall.

Even this past summer, while helping out with evening paddles with Current Adventures we had beaten the dark. The paddlers we were training for Eppie's Great Race on the American River would finish just short of sunset. We would carry the kayaks up the hill at River Bend Park in the twilight and load up under the stars.

Yes, I had won the race against the darkness many times before. But, this time I was surprised. I had gone to far and still had to come back. This time I wouldn't beat the night. I would be paddling back in shadow. I hurried back as fast I could. My fingers and feet tingled as I pressed into the foot pegs and paddle. Faster, faster I thought to try to will my kayak back to the put in. But, no matter how fast I paddled the sun light was gone and night had prevailed.

I paddled back toward the lights of Folsom Dam. To the east a full moon arose over the foothills. It provided some friendly comfort. I was not totally in the dark or alone anymore. I had been on a few full moon paddles before and found them quite tranquil when I was prepared. Hugging the shore,  I was looking for my truck. The land and water amalgamated into murkiness. I can't say I was lost. I knew the lake pretty well by now and I knew how to get back. It was more like fumbling around in dark bedroom trying to find the light switch. I know it was there somewhere. I just have to keep looking.
The moonlight glistened on the water as I approached Donton's Point. In the shadows I could make out the silhouette of the truck's body. I was back to my starting point tired and relieved. I loaded up and drove away thinking, I better get an earlier start next time. It was only a little past six.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Cronan Ranch

A waxing moon shines over the eastern horizon. Golden foothills glow in fading sunlight. Far off,  the Sierra Nevada mountain tops are covered with snow. It is autumn at Cronan Ranch.
Not looking for a walk around the block, we picked Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park for an afternoon hike. Debbie likes its peacefulness, while I like getting to see a river view. The park is located in Pilot Hill, California. It has 12 miles of trails for biking, horseback riding and hiking near and along the South Fork of the American River. There is a variety of terrain to traverse from gently sloped hills to oak woodlands and rocky riverfront trails.

 We got a late start. The sun was already beginning to dip behind hills when we started on the Down and Up Trail. It lives up to its name, as it takes us up through the bright gold colored grasses of the Sierra Foothills. We follow a ribbon of red dirt as afternoon shadows creep over the hills chasing us along the way.
The trail reaches the top if the hill and then winds us down into a ravine of oak and pine woodlands. We can hear the rush of the river hidden in the trees. Like always, I can hear the river calling before I can see it.

We follow the trail all the way to the river. A canopy of trees oaks, pines and willows cushion the water edge. In high spots we can see the river not blocked by the trees. At last, our trail intersects with the River Trail. Near the river, area commercial rafting companies have set up camps here. During the summer, boaters make a pit stop here before heading into The Gorge. On our trip we found the site quiet and the river at a peaceful low.
We walk along the river's banks for short time before heading back up Long Valley Trail. The sun has set by now, leaving us to walk back in darkness, listening to the hoots of the owls.

The Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park was purchased by the American River Conservancy,  Bureau of Land Management and other partners and placed into public trust to be used for recreation and wildlife conservation.