My 75-mile, 50th-birthday hike ... and the agony of “da feet”by andy altman-ohr
|Follow j. on||and|
Complete, utter frustration. I was swearing out loud, kicking at a blameless trail in the Marin Headlands, wisps of dust rising to represent my dream going up in smoke. Only a few hours into a mostly solo, 75-mile, five-day hike to commemorate my 50th birthday last week, I was lost, and with only a few hours of daylight left, I had to make a decision that pierced my gut: I wasn’t even going to complete Day 1 of my walk.
I couldn’t believe it. I had been looking forward to this journey for months. I had trained with long walks all over Oakland: 7.5 miles to an A’s game; 12-milers into the Oakland Hills. I had been eating right, working out almost daily. I was in good shape, ready to walk every step of the way from Union Square to the little town of Point Reyes Station.
Day 1 was from downtown San Francisco to the Pelican Inn in Muir Beach, a little over 16 miles. I stopped off for a power breakfast at Miller’s East Coast Deli on Polk Street and then continued to the Golden Gate Bridge, where my wife, Stacey, joined me for the 1.2-mile walk across.
As she re-crossed back to the car, I continued into the Marin Headlands. I didn’t have much experience there, but when I found the main trail I was looking for — and it was clearly marked — I figured I was home free. I went up, up, up over my first mountain, tackling it with ease. Then I went down, down, down into a barren valley. And suddenly there were no more trail signs. And almost no other hikers.
Where was I? I consulted my rudimentary map and printed directions, and resumed hiking, but after about a mile, that seemed to be the wrong way, so I started back. Eventually I met up with a bicyclist and asked him how to get to Muir Beach. His eyes popped. “Without a car or a bike?” He doubted I could make it, telling me it was 12 to 14 miles away. But he pointed me in the right direction.
Or did he? After another mile and a glance at my $8 plastic compass, I could see I was off target. Again I headed back. Again a cyclist told me getting to Muir Beach by dusk was unlikely.
It was only 2:45 p.m., but I had to face reality: Could I hike up to 14 miles in four hours? Over several mountains? Without precise directions? And with a forecast for a chance of rain that evening? Dark clouds were rolling in off the ocean.
It’s hard to convey just how awful I felt, but — arrgg! — I had to be prudent.
So I called my wife, already in Muir Beach, and asked her to pick me up at the Marin Headlands Visitor Center. Then the call dropped. Not only were we both in poor reception areas, but unbeknownst to me, my phone had been “searching” for service, draining nearly all its power. As I hurriedly tried to call her back, a woman on a bike asked if she could help.
As I told her about my plans and dejection, she looked me over and said, “No. You can make it. You can do it!” Hmm. My chest puffed out a bit. Maybe I really am super fit! Only later did I realize she must have been eyeballing the T-shirt I was wearing, “Golden Gate Triathlon finisher” — which I had purchased at Goodwill.
She wrote down precise, turn-by-turn directions, and said it was “only” seven or eight miles. The lost traveler was saved.
But as quickly as I was buoyed, panic set in. I texted my wife. I called her. Nothing. No cell service, my phone almost out of power. And she was on her way to pick me up. Couldn’t be stopped. Again arrgg! There was a pit in my stomach the size of the valley I was in.
I felt utterly helpless. I swore again. Kicked more dirt. Finally, after 15 agonizing minutes when I thought my suddenly salvaged journey was suddenly doomed again, I reached her. “Don’t come!” I nearly cried tears of joy that my journey would continue.
I kicked butt over two huge mountains, finally saw the Pacific Ocean, and then raced down into Muir Beach, enveloped by fog (not storm clouds) just before dusk. With my “detours,” I had hiked about 19 miles.
I was on top of the world. Little did I know, more travails awaited me.
Be the first to comment!