Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
East Bay Backpacking, Day 2
After a long night of off-and-on sleep, I arose at the crack of dawn and broke camp quickly. Stuffed my still-wet tent in my backpack, hopped back over the fence, and continued my hike. Only a few hundred meters later, I was on a hiking trail again, in a regional park! Didn't know that was coming. No good camping spots though, so it was just as well that I stopped last night where I did.
After less than an hour, I found myself at Briones Reservoir. It was an almost-clear day, still quiet, early in the morning. I heard a voice shouting from far away, almost like it was giving commands. It sounded like maybe someone was leading a workout? A few minutes later, I got a broader look at the reservoir and saw a few sweeps rowing on the lake. Ah.
I was keeping my head down to avoid puddles and the sloshier muddy spots when I saw a piece of black mud moving across the trail. What? I looked closer, and it was a salamander. A big one! Most salamanders I've seen are about the size of your pinky, tail included. This one had a body that was easily the size of your index finger, and the tail was just as long. Plus it was black. That's just freaking cool. I kept running into these, every five minutes or so. I liked the twisty way they walked.
After leaving the reservoir and walking along a road for a ways, I found a side entry gate into Briones Regional Park. It even had a smaller gate for foot traffic, and no sign telling you not to use it, so I let myself in. A few minutes later, I was in a parking lot from where most of the trails let out. There were two cows grazing.
I was refilling my water bottles just as a cheerful 50-something woman approached with her three shaggy dogs.
"Someone must have left a gate open!" she exclaimed, smiling. Now what accent is that? It's not quite German. Austrian, maybe? Czech? Danish?
"You mean the cows?"
"Yes! There are many up on the hills! Sometimes you don't know what they are going to do, the bulls, and you better not be in their path!"
Most cows I've ever met are pretty docile, but maybe they're more territorial out here? "I'll keep that in mind!"
I mentioned the mud yesterday. I don't necessarily feel the need to go over it again. Suffice to say, there was a lot of mud today. I mean the trails were 90% mud, and mostly the sticky kind. And when you were going up or down a hill, which was often, it could be nearly impossible to get a footing. I was sliding all over the place for a couple hours.
Aside from the mud, it was a pretty park. I feel like I got it on a bad day. With better trail conditions, it would've been a thoroughly enjoyable hike.
I took lunch just before leaving the park, thankful that I was going to be walking on pavement again (that's how bad the mud was!). I walked through a small neighborhood and spied an orange tree. It was completely full of ripe oranges, and a few dozen were on the ground. Clearly, the owner isn't interested in eating every last one. I snagged one off the tree as I walked by, then promptly ate it. My goodness! Maybe I was just hungry, but that orange straight from the tree was most likely the best orange I've ever eaten.
Near a highway, I came across an odd faux cemetery. Thousands of crosses, along with the occasional Star of David on a stick, Muslim crescents on a stick, and even a few Buddhist Dharmachakras on a stick. A few were decorated. It wasn't until I was halfway past it that I was able to see what it was. I liked that it was simply a memorial, not trying to send a message one way or another.
Only a block later, I saw a BART station.
So if I wanted to give up now, I easily could. During a backpacking trip, a return to the land of showers and chairs always sounds tempting. But that would kind of ruin the whole point of going in the first place. I kept walking.
I had to walk on a road for a few more miles before I made it into Redwood Regional Park. Luckily, I found a back way in that saved me a few miles! On top of that, the trail was nice. Put you immediately deep in the quiet, serene redwoods, almost dark near the forest floor. I love calm, peaceful woods like that. Even the mud was a little more firm and less sticky with all the leaves and pine needles resting on top. My spirits picked up in a big way. I liked this place.
When I found the next trail I was to turn on, I immediately recognized it from the Canyon Meadow Trail Run. I laughed to myself. I've already done this trail four times! I could head south instead of north for now, then double back in the same direction on another trail, but I didn't see the point. This trail was pleasantly dry too, and I remembered this section being easy to run, so it was hard to walk away from that. Besides, with all the trail runs I've done in the area (like Cinderella), I've probably done just about every trail in Redwood Regional Park anyway. After running like blazes every time before, it was nice to walk and enjoy it this time.
I had planned on camping in Redwood Regional Park tonight, but after logging a few extra miles yesterday and making good time again today, it was clear that I could go farther and make it to another park if I wanted to. So I did. I had dinner as I left Redwood Regional Park and set off for my last hour of hiking, mostly on Skyline Blvd. I saw at least a dozen cyclists up there. Can't say I blame them. Not much traffic, great views, and the road was mostly flat, even up in the hills. Nice area.
I walked into Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve at around 6:00 PM. There were a handful of people leaving, most of them with dogs. I was worried I'd be stopped by someone asking about my backpack, who would deduce I intended to camp there. It was starting to get dark already. I took a trail that led more into the interior of the park, rather than the one that quickly went through, as I originally intended. As soon as possible, it would be a good idea to disappear into the woods and find a good spot to camp.
But where? There didn't seem to be any flat spots, and unlike Redwood Regional Park, undergrowth was rampant on the forest floor, so there weren't any clear spots either. It was starting to get dark. I kept walking and looking.
I found myself at a junction of two trails. There was an outhouse, a couple picnic tables, and a map of the park. I looked at the map, hoping it would have terrain detail and I could figure out where to find a flat area. Practically on top of the "You are here," I saw the words "Backpacker's camping area."
I looked over towards the picnic tables again, and there it was, clear as day, a sign for the camping area. So I accidentally stumbled into an area specifically for backpackers to camp out! I couldn't be luckier. As I approached, though, I saw the smaller text on the sign: By reservation only
I looked around. No one was there, and no one was coming by. It was already getting dark. The spot for the tent was even slightly over the crest of the hill, so you couldn't see it from the trail. This would definitely be more OK than camping in some random spot in the woods; it's a spot for camping. I figured there wouldn't be any park rangers coming by to check in the middle of the night, and if anyone else passed by, they'd probably assume I had the reservation. I set up my tent.
It was a nice spot, too! Flat spot on the side of a hill, near the top, overlooking the rolling landscape. I managed to read one chapter of my book before it got too dark, called my friend to let him know I'd be back early tomorrow, then went to bed at 7:30 PM like an old man.