Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Date with Diablo

I'm not much of a hiker. I'm a paddler. My wife Debbie is the true hiker of the two us. More than just a casual hiker she has trekked many Californian trails and carried a backpack across Europe.  She is always ready for a stunning mountain view.
 When she suggested a trip to Mount Diablo after we dropped my visiting parents off at SFO airport I had to agree.
Mount Diablo State Park is one of the many jewels in the California State Park system.  Nearly 20,000 acres of mountains, forest and panoramic views, the park is located in the east bay area. With hiking, bicycling and equestrian trails along with camping areas and picnic spots, it's perfect for a weekend vacation or a day outing. The 3,849-foot summit and surrounding peaks are not the tallest of California's many mountains, but because of the low rolling hills and the flat valleys that surround the peak it can be seen as as far as 200 miles away when conditions permit.
The day we went was particularly hazy which is not common for January. It's been a very dry in California this winter. Still, the layers of fog and smog were just as stunning from our view point at the top of the summit.
Our first stop was Rock City near the Live Oak Campground for a picnic lunch. It is called the Rock City because of all the interesting rock formations one can explore.
Artist Point at Mount Diablo State Park.
The rocks come with distinctive names like Elephant Rock, Sentinel Rock and Artist Point. From Artist Point, we looked over the southern part of the valley. Having climbed to about 1500 feet, we had seen spectacular views, with still more elevation to go before we reached the summit.
It is about a ten mile journey to the top of the mountain from the entrance of the park. Many hikers and bikers make the trek, but most visitors drive to the top of the summit.  Pay attention to the signs before starting out. They give some warnings such as do not pass on blind curves, wearing headphones in both ears is prohibited and use caution. The winding road weaves back and forth up the grade with many scenic overlooks.  Just take it slow and watch out for the many road bikers.
At the summit, we were rewarded with a sensational view of California in all directions at the Summit Visitor Center. The interpretive center presents the park's geologic history, an interesting video, gift shop and a viewing platform beside a lighthouse.
Afterwards, we took the Mary Bowerman Trail, a complete walk around the summit of Mount Daiblo.  The trail has 14 stops along the way, the best being Stop Number 6, a wooden platform view to the northwest and Stop Number 9, a view of the central valley and up close look at the red-colored monolith called the Devil's Pulpit.
Stop number 6 a perfect spot for yoga.
Stop number 9 at the Devil's Pulpit.
The south side of the mountain is now fire scared after a recent wild fire.  We could still see the after math of that event last fall. It reminded us that even this year the area could use rain.
We finished up our tour and journey back down the mountain hoping to come back for a couple of days to camp and hike some more. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Paddling from Here to There.

"When you wake up and discover the hurt places don't run. Sink your paddle in and ride the river. Every time. Dive in,  let the river take you..." 
  That is what Charles Martin's book said in Where the River Ends, a story about a husband taking his dying wife on one last canoe trip. I read that book after my wife died in 2010.  Soon after that,  I was kayaking.
  I never kayaked much before. Sure, I took high school and church canoe trips, went camping with the Boy Scouts and went on the occasional hike, but it was limited. I was always drawn to the outdoors and the water, especially the water.
  There is healing in the water. In my grief I found peace in touring the rivers and lakes in Minnesota. The year of her death,  I bought 3 kayaks for my family and I. We kayaked some 44 days before winter froze over the season. Up north you trade your paddle for cross country ski poles and wait for it to warm up. It seemed like a good way to honor her memory and at the same time continue to look at new horizons.
  The next year I added three more kayaks and recorded 66 days paddling. Living in Fargo, ND at the time, I always knew there were lakes and rivers just across the border in Minnesota.  I had the interest to see what they had to offer. All in all I visited some 15 Minnesota state parks; kayaked on 8 rivers and countless lakes including Lake Superior. The river trips included the St Croix, Rum, Kettle and a white water trip to Wisconsin.
  The following year I kayaked 117 days. Spring came early to Minnesota that year and by then I had the passion, strength and determination to paddle from when the ice breaks on the Otter Tail River to when it returns again in the late fall. I went up and down 11 rivers, even more lakes and added 9 more Minnesota parks to my passport. It was a pretty remarkable year. The next year, I thought would be more of the same.
  However, I didn't even come close. Only 56 days on the water in 2013. I guess that is what happens when you get married, sell your house and 3 kayaks and move away. It was a good effort even to make that many days on the water. Goodbye Red River and Minnesota and hello California.
  I did gain a new paddle partner with my wife Debbie and a boundless frontier of new places to paddle. I live just down the street from Lake Natoma and the American River with a good view of the Sierra. The ice will never keep me off the water again. Since the first of the year I have already been out 7 days so far. For some that is not many, but for me it is a blistering pace for the year.
 I'm looking forward to more adventures on the water every time I load my boat up. Paddling is just something I need to do now. Now like air, it is something I will always need to keep me alive.
On Folsom Lake New Year's Day 2014