Some of us collect anecdotes of stupid hikers at Whiting:
I met him just as he was coming off the Edison Trail in Whiting Ranch, a small, spindly man with no hair, shorts, a short-sleeved plaid shirt, and a pair of earbuds blasting Beethoven as loud as he could stand it. A few months before I had met a mountain lion on this very trail, so I stopped him.
“There’s deer up there at the end of the trail,” he said, waving his arm in the general direction of nowhere in particular. I have to admit that I was surprised that he saw them.
“There’s also mountain lion up there,” I said, motioning to his earbuds.
“Oh yes,” he shouted with a smile and went on his way.
I have added links to the meetups that I lead each month. You can keep up with what I am doing by looking at the right hand column under “Meetup that I lead”.
Birds subdued their calls. I saw no tracks other than boots and bicycle treads, so I dedicated the day to understanding the landscape. My pocket notebook was filling up with entries about the geology of Whiting Ranch — how the ridges north of Dreaded Hill came in waves, each of them consisting of a different geological formation. A loud buzz startled me from my observations. A blue-black insect the size of a bumblebee shot out of the sage scrub and zoomed down the road toward me, zigzagging before it hit me. I followed it — first by sight, then by foot — as it flew a little further and alighted on the stubble at the edge of the road.
Cactus Hill, March 9,2014
Voices alert me that someone is around the corner or beyond the trees. I heard them as I walked down the Concourse Park Road into Whiting on Monday. I rounded a corner and found two mountain bikers — a young Asian man and a white man who was perhaps a decade or more older than me — resting in the shade of some oaks. The elderly biker leaned over his handlebars and panted hard in obvious distress.
“Are you all right? I’ve got a cell phone.” I said as soon as I got close.
Lynn has been out of town in observance of her mother’s eightieth birthday for the past several days so I had a weekend to fill. Going to hiking meetups seemed the thing. The first one taught me the importance of carefully noting the meeting place. Just because a prominent trail begins in a county park, do not assume that the members will gather there or that you will hike the whole length of the trail. The Arroyo Trabuco trailhead that I know lies in O’Neill Regional Park. I arrived there shortly before the departure time to find the lot empty except for a sports car and an oversized pickup truck. Only a couple of bikers on their way back from a ride lingered at the beginning so I wondered if I had chosen the wrong date or time. The network was thankfully connectible, so I installed the Meetup app and discovered that I was there at the right time, but — this took awhile to sink in — at the wrong place. The organizer had chosen a spot two and a half miles away, so I hoofed it over a path thick with stones the size and shape of prehistoric eggs until I caught up with the other hikers — who were on their way back.
I made good time going down Whiting Road even though I had to keep stopping and climbing back until I saw Lynn waving and jabbing her poles against a fall as she crept down the double track. The clatter of chains alerted me to the mountain bikers sweeping through Sleepy Hollow, but I was surprised when I saw another hiker in front of me, a man of average height who wore one of those green boonie hats that one associates with Vietnam. He draped himself in camouflage and wore black combat boots. The only thing out of keeping with his casual uniform was his blue backpack and the tube from his Camelbak. I followed in silence for several steps, watched as he stopped to tie his shoe then resume without noticing me.
“On your left!” cried a voice behind me and “On your right!” as it passed me. The mountain biker shouted the same warning as he passed the trooper, who turned around and noticed me for the first time. He jerked as if he was thinking of reaching for his gun and then realizing that he was unarmed, picked up his pace a little and fast-footed it down the trail, glancing behind every few seconds to see if I was still there. We parted ways when I turned to go up the Concourse Trail to my home.
I thought about his dress and his gear. Was this some sentimental journey for him? Was he remembering old companions? Or did he miss life in combat zones? I thought about what a bad option camouflage was when you didn’t need to hide from people. A nice bright color — a white or a red or an orange — were my choices when I went afield. I made sure that I could be seen should there be an accident. Plain brown and forest green suited this man. We didn’t talk, so I didn’t know his mind but I wondered about his march and his mental destination. This landscape of golden oats and dead mustard stalks was like none of the places that America has battled in our lifetimes. People came to Whiting for the peace. This man found himself walking in war, an adventure in which he would not die or have to kill someone.