I guess I now hike. Sitting next to my door is a pair of new Merrell hiking shoes. Hanging from the hook behind the door is my silly-ass walking hat. The Prophet is actively planning trips to places that I only know of as places you pass on your way to good food or drink. The Land's End hike: you pass that on the way to have cocktails at the Cliff House. Muir Woods? It's a turn-off on the way to Pelican Pub near the beach. Calistoga? When you know to turn around and head back 'cause you missed the vegetable stand you were looking for. And yet, we have plans to go to these places and walk around, thru woods, over bramble.
My own fault. Over a very nice lunch at Park Chow she and I were discussing birthdays and I happened to mention that several times in my past I'd gone to Pinnacles National Park around my birthday. She lit up like the flash unit of a paparazzi's camera as Paris Hilton gets out of a car. And like Paris, I'd over exposed myself. She'd just seen an episode of Bay Area Backroads that featured Pinnacles and we should really do that!! Of course we should, my birthday was in two months, why not?
We finally ended up going two weeks ago. I now know what my own lungs tastes like.
I swear it wasn't that steep six years and one knee surgery ago, the last time I ventured down Soledad way. From the parking lot to the top is 1.8 miles, but it's also 1200 ft up. Okay, that's a 7.3' grade, which doesn't sound steep, but . . . Okay, I was out of shape. Or, the shape I'm in is only appropriate for sitting at a bar, leaning on it for support.
It was a beautiful day, in the low '70s, clear, and just a light breeze from time to time. The wild flowers were still in bloom, the lichen was intensely varied in its color, the wildlife was cute/non-threatening, and there was still a trickle of water in the stream bed. Couldn't have been nicer.
The Pinnacles are 2/3 of a volcano that used to be in Los Angeles. But, it got tired of trying to keep a thin ash layer while still having a huge lava dome, and eventually headed north where the mountains are more accepting of natural formations. That is, plates moved, and 25 million years later we have a hiking path.
Once we got to the top, we met Brant, the ranger. He was there because it was Bird Migration Weekend and he was there to tell us about the avia. The Prophet had her heart set on seeing a condor, I hoped to see one of those phoenix birds that gave Harry Potter a ride in Chamber of Secrets. Instead, we saw hawks, swifts, and turkey vultures. But we saw them at the height they fly, which was cool until a swift split the three feet separating Brant from me. That was a bit unnerving because I saw The Birds last winter and don't trust 'em. In bird language I'm sure he twitted Hey, if I get this one to lose his balance and fall down the mountain, we eat for a month!!
Brant answered all of our questions. All of them. We had loads. The Prophet wanted to know about Condors, neighboring mountain ranges, wild cats, educational walk and other things. I was stalling until my spleen got back down beneath my lungs. Once she was out of questions and I could breathe, we headed down.
Down is much better. Not because it's easier. In fact, my knees starting filing protests like Democrats at a Ohio precinct count. What makes it better is the view. Coming down is just a constant state of jaw opening beauty. It also helps to know that the picnic food is down there somewhere.
I've dragged other friends up there and each one of them had the same response when I tell them of what happened once we got down and drove out of the park
What? There's a winery right there? Chalone is right there, with an air-conditioned tasting room and tree covered parking lot to sit in and have a picnic? We sat on a dirty metal picnic table in the relentless sun and there's a winery 7 minutes away?
Why, yes, yes there is. We got to Chalone and we had the place to ourselves- for about 8 minutes. Then three mini-vans of a touring family showed up. These people had been doggin us since the park site. We were all heading to the bathrooms from different directions and I told the Prophet to run otherwise she'd be in line behind 8 women in a two stall outhouse. They don't get a lot of visitors and the guy behind the bar was not pleased about the group that followed us in. He opened our bottle, told us to come back and pay after we were done, that we'd be better off doing our tasting once he'd cleared the others out. So, with a chilled bottle of their Chenin Blanc we went to the T-Bird to have our meal.
Sitting there, in the shade, with the top down, a cooler filled with Red Hawk Cheese, La Brea ciabatta, proscuitto, guacamole, chips, and papaya . . . well, life was pretty damned good. It's no secret that environment can improve experience and the great thing about having outstanding food and drink is that it somehow increases the pleasure exponentially. These are the moments I live for, when the company, situation, and setting are the stuff you want to imprint so you'll never forget it.
We also found out that there is a Bed & Breakfast right next to the winery, so there won't ever have to be camping involved. I hate camping.
The drive back was nice. The Prophet made the mistake of calling me out on my appreciation for 70's singles and it blew her away when I started putting the cd's in and we sang all the way home.
As fine a day as I've had this year, I must say. So good, that I've now agreed to go hiking. Regularly. With proper hiking shoes and my silly-ass walking hat. Provided there is good food and wine at the end of the trip.
Go in Peace