My stiff legs grew stiffer overnight. This morning I was tottering like an old man, my hips virtually fused and my tensor fasciae latae tightened like the mason jars at Dave Draper’s house. Climbing stairs, I wondered if both my kneecaps were about to fly off. Nothing hurt, per se, but everything felt used up.
Regardless, we had another nine miles to hike. Today’s target: Annadel State Park. The first lesson of the day: Tiger Balm is my friend. It cooked the ache out of my legs. Or, at least, the burning sensation on my skin took my mind off the soreness in the muscle underneath. Any other painful distraction might have worked equally well — sand in the eyes, needles under fingernails, testicle clamp, etc.
We started up the Warren Richardson trail, which presents a gradual climb. I felt okay, all things considered, but noticed that I wasn’t moving very quickly. I tend to climb fast, but here I was trudging. Over the course of the day, I realized that my speed is proportional to the incline. Two years on the treadmill have optimized my system for hauling ass up a 13% grade, but anything level, or with a slighter grade, or (gasp!) downhill, and I can’t move as fast. I’m just not used to it.
We’d printed a map of the trails in Annadel, and carefully marked our 9.5-mile route. At every intersection, we pulled out the map to compare it with signposted reality. Halfway around the loop we began experiencing problems — the expected trails wouldn’t appear when due, or we’d show up at an intersection not on our route. We kept to the right at every crossing but still found ourselves edging left off the map. Finally, after about eight miles, came the sinking realization that we weren’t getting any closer to where we were supposed to be. At the next intersection, which made no sense when compared to our map, we didn’t even know which way to turn.
We needed a sage, a wise old mountain man who could lead us out of the wilderness. Fortunately we found just such a guy: fringe of grey hair, worn long around a shiny pate… skinny frame indicating a wholegrain Sonoma-county lifestyle… helpful and caring demeanor despite the fact that his best intentions would send us several miles out of the way.
His sandals and small water bottle tended to indicate that he hadn’t hiked far. So we believed him when he said we shouldn’t continue down the trail, but should instead cut overland in the other direction. We did, eventually finding our way back to the park entrance — two miles down an asphalt road from our car.
After hiking as much as we had, those final miles of pavement began to hurt. We tried to walk down the shoulder, but everything green looked like poison oak. And yet we turned down the offer of a lift — we were both determined to finish under our own power. No pain, not sane, or something like that.
At the ranger station, we checked out the posted maps. Some of the trails had indeed changed. Part of our carefully-plotted route no longer exists. So, it’s no wonder we’d walked off our map. Subsequent analysis put the day’s distance at 12 miles.
Overall, we fared well: in three days and 30 miles, we suffered no real injuries, no blisters, no stamina problems, no cougar attacks, no urushiol or stinging nettles or ticks (and leeches). To stay in shape, inasmuch as this can be considered “shape,” we plan to hike every weekend until mid-June; in fact we’ll return to Annadel next weekend in hopes of making sense of the new trail system. And to have a few pointed words with that old man in sandals, you can be sure.