Saturday, January 6, 2007

Windy and Chilly Racho Hike on 12/27/2006

(I finally have photos. You may click and download them for prints)

Thuesday group hike has been talked for years, but we seldom find agreeable time with everyone.

Thuesday, coined by the spiritual leader Eric Belden, is a running group of Oracle employees at the headquarter in Redwood Shores, CA. The name comes from our official runs at lunch time on Tuesday and Thursday, but some hard cores actually run everyday - rain or shine. Though some of us, including myself, have left the company through years, it's still fun and inspiring to exchange our running experience.

Finally, we plan a hike on 12/27/2006 at the locally favorite Rancho San Antonio. It is a great park for runners and hikers. I remember doing a trail training run there with Eric and Yuki in preparation of my (and Yuki's) first ultra - Quicksilver 50K in 2004. Running slowly and walking on hills did open my eyes about trail/ultra running. Only then could I extend my distance and overcome difficult terrains.

The thunderstorm has come for a few days. The day before the hike, I saw off my wife and daughter at SFO. We experienced strong wind at San Mateo bridge when approaching I-110 from East Bay. On coming back, it was heavy rain. I knew from Yahoo weather that the storm would move away right after our hike, so I figure that we might not be able to do hike next day. One friend has to pull out since he plans to push a jogging stroller, which may not be a good idea in such harsh weather.

These days, I have spent hours with my son on his school work. It's like a part-time homeschooling and both of us really enjoy this close father-son interaction. We spent some time at Math problems and went to bed late the night before the hike. Next day, I see sunshine sprinkling and imagine a nice hiking day - the rain just left, but we got up late. I called Eric that we might not be able to make it (on time), but we could meet somewhere when they come down the hill. Frankly, I do not have much intention to hike. But I then think why not just go for a hike since Rancho San Antonio is only 10 min driving from my company. I also want to give my son the time to enjoy the trails and get relaxed after his hard work.

I take the morning off from work because I have a meeting in the afternoon. This is still like holiday, so we have a very light traffic. As usual to be an insider of a Rancho hiker, we parked our car in the Montclaire school parking lot, about a mile from the park. I forget if this is the way to save the entry fee, or else, but I do see three other cars when we get there. They must be in our gang!

Wow! It is very windy so that my car is opened by the almighty wind. The wind does not slow down even when we walk on the street. Nathan is in a little fearsome. I have to cheer him up right away because it is just the beginning of the hike and we have not entered the park yet.

We finally arrive at the park. There is no one around. Thanks to the bad weather, we feel like we own the park. I try to show Nathan this our way to be positive against any odds.

Of course, we are not alone. We begin to see runners and hikers. They must have some determination or understand the beauty of the park in such weather. I find a fallen tree and refer it as the "deadwood". Nathan remembers there is a Deadwood Canyon before the grueling Devil's Thumb climb in Western States 100 Miles.

We pass the ranch farm house. There are deers, which arouses Nathan's interest. He gets motivated. We soon get to a water fountain and quickly fill up our water bottle. I remember this is the only one water on the way to Black Mountain when I did my first backpacking trip years ago and had a windy but starry night at Black Mountain.

We also bump into Nancy and Rodney running down. Without stopping, Nancy quickly mentions the group is at some trails. I do not hear clearly, but keep going forward. Then we get to the Wildcat Loop. It is a loop and either way leads to Black Mountain trail, so I am wondering which way, clockwise or the other way, we should go in order to meet the others. I pick the right one because it is the straightforward way to the Black Mountain. It turns out to be the "right" one.

It now begins with some slow hills. I ask another runner down the hill, but he does not see such a group. Well, why worry? It becomes quiet as we move on into the place not many people around. Trees along the trail are trimmed and have the cuts left. Nathan imagines the cuts as the eyes. Walking in such a trail with those trees makes us feel like in some fairy tales, where every life really comes alive. Still with wind, those trees now have their spirits with branches waving like their hands. It's getting more interesting and fancy, but Nathan feels a little scared.

I try to recall what Eric said over the phone. He seemed to mention that they will cross the dam, which I am not quite sure. We did walked over a high bank of dirt path. I suspect it is the dam, but below is dried like a deep canyon. After the hike, Eric shows us a picture when there is a pond for the dam. It was shot in June. There are a few arguments about ducks above or under the pond.

I think we probably need another hike in summer to verify all these - picture and ducks. Then we may need to face the 90+ degree heat. Perhaps jump into the pond (and look for the ducks) is a nice way during the hike.

Pass the dam, we get to the Chamise trail, which I call Black Mountain trail. There are no other trails, so we will meet them if they are on the way to Black Mountain. It also becomes steeper, but with better view since we have left the canyon and hiked the ridge. Nathan feels sore and tired, so we stop to enjoy the view.

We are interested in those red berry tree along the trail. They look shiny under the sun. We have taken a light breakfast, so we start to feel hungry on seeing them.

While we walk up, I show Nathan that there is a group of hikers at the other side across the canyon. We can not see them clearly, but they must not our hikers.

We check the map and confirm that we are on the correct trail to Black Mountain. I show Nathan the top is at a power tower far away. To ease his worry of going that far, I then immediately tell that we are not going there because we will not go that far and will turn around when seeing others.

To make Nathan forget the hard work on hiking up the trail, we keep busy at observing the environment around us. We still make up some scary story based on the waving trees with cuts. Nathan is also interested in trees with dark red bark. I don't know its name , but I did see it a lot before (in Henry Coe State Park). I should have consulted my tree books.

We are getting higher and finally get to a nice place that is on the map - Duveneck Windmill. The area is flat and not with much wind. I know a side trail, called Rhus Ridge trail, is no far from here. Nathan has been wanting to go back. I promise him to get to a place that is known from the map because we don't want to turn around at nowhere.

Soon I can see the side trail, which can connects to civilization (a paved road). The trail to Black Mountain is on the left. To our surprise, I spot a group of hikers staying 50 yards ahead. I wonder if they are Eric, Rubik, etc., and they are. Although it's uphill, I urge Nathan to walk fast and we are excited to see them there, so it's time to turn around and go back!

We are happy to exchange our stories. Gregory, Rubik's son, enjoys his iPod. He is now fit enough without looking tired so far. I believe Gregory will take tougher projects from his dad in no time. Nathan is now too shy to talk with Gregory. Perhaps this is inherited from me.

Bruno also comes for the hike, his favorite and nearby park for running. He plans to do some marathon (such as Big Sur International Marathon) this year after finishing Silicon Valley Marathon in 2006. Coming down on the trail becomes nice and easy and we have the chat all the way. Now I and Nathan are getting hungrier without notice. Bruno has banana to share. This is the best snack ever!

We pass the farm again. Eric tells more about it. On the way back to the parking lot in the school, Nathan and I fall behind as Nathan is exhausted. Eric produces home made cookies from his car. They are very delicious, but we don't know the recipe - I like baking.

Although it was storm-like weather, very windy, and chilly in the beginning, it turns out to be a nice hike with those friends. I believe Nathan will like it some day, so I am eager to write the report for what we have done.

Now it's time back to my company for the other half day of work.

Thanks everyone!

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