We really don't get lost that much. It's just more newsworthy when we do. We've been going to Gray Whale Ranch a lot, for several reasons. We usually go in one of two directions which take us to where there are sometimes chanterelles, on the one hand, and where there have historically been huge drifts of craterellus ("black chanterelles") on the other. The place where the path takes off from the road is easy to get to, just beyond the west gate to the University. The walks are easy but good exercise: no excessive steepness, but a lot of underbrush. We're at a time in the year when there may be still some chanterelles and when the craterellus may bloom at any moment. We've found wine agarics there. The whole trip can be done in an hour and a half if we're in a hurry, like if it's lateish in the afternoon and we're trying to beat the sunset.
So the nice fellow thinks this is a good day to try going a little farther downstream. Nothing much. So we're going home. He says. I have this feeling, but I haven't been paying attention and I don't have any better suggestions and I therefore can't blame him for what happened.
After a while the nice fellow becomes convinced that he's lost. Honestly, we're in a spot we were in before, years ago when Zak led us to get lost -- he's famous for that -- but we've no better idea of its actual relationship to the trail than we did then, and if Zak were with us I doubt that he would know any better either.
The nice fellow decides that our best bet is to descend the steep ravine before us, cross the creek, and head back upstream on the other side. Again, I don't like this, but still, I don't have any better ideas. Descending was not so bad, though the ground is all loose from the fact that it's rainy season. Did I mention that it's about four o'clock and rain has been forecast?
Crossing the stream is no problem, as it turns out: nice rocks all across the bed of the stream almost as if they had been put there (hmm, in light of what followed . . . nah). I've stopped taking pictures because we're trying to get out before dark or rain catch up with us.
Getting up the other side, now, that's a problem. The other side is much steeper and the ground is much looser and right now I discover several things about my body: I'm panting and sweating like a person in heart failure: my ankles are turning: and I don't seem to be strong enough to pull myself up this slope, even with the help of twin walking sticks foraged from the forest floor and even going down on all fours. Yep, asthma strikes at the worst times, definitionally. Not bad asthma though: no cough, no wheezing, no godawful feeling like I was about to die: just the inefficient breathing and sweating. There's some unpleasantness here, with me kind of freaking out because the nice fellow's charging along way ahead and I'm sliding down as fast as I'm climbing. And then he gets sharpish and I'm more freaky and finally he gets it and comes back and stops berating me for not taking the direction he took (which was impossible for me), I get up the bank, and we're setting off on more manageable terrain. Barely more manageable, at first.
Did I say what beautiful forest we're traversing? It's intertwined fingers of mixed broadleaf (not deciduous, mostly: evergreen broadleafs like oak and bay laurel and madrone)and mixed conifer (pine and fir and redwood) forest. All green and lovely up above, all yellow and brown and orange and red and black and crumbly and mushroom-scented below. Except for the fact that we don't know how far we are from the road, or whether we're headed towards Empire Grade where the car is or Highway One which is a few miles downhill, and the anxiety over whether my body's going to stop functioning long enough to strand us, we're having a fine time.
After a false start following an old logging road till it petered out, we find a hint of a trail going uphill, upstream, and northeast, which is a better bet than going southwest at this point. And then --
We find ourselves on a hard, bare track, almost as firm as if it were asphalt. The trail has become easy, inclining gently -- my ankles stop turning, my breathing returns to normal and so therefore does my pace. The nice fellow points out the impression of a mountain bike tire. "Some crazed bike nazis come up here," he says.
I say, "They don't have to be crazed to ride this trail, it's so easy and solid."
A while later I have to agree with him about the crazed part, because the trail starts sprouting this elaborate jumps and ramps made out of fallen timber and cut-up pallets. Some of them look impossible -- they'd surely tear up the tires of any bike that tried to make them. There's lots of these. Each is unique, of course. We're sure that this must be clandestinely created by mountain bike commandos, possibly on moonlit nights. No pictures -- we're much happier about our prospects but we don't know how far we've gone or how far we have to go, and the higher we go, the bigger and darker the trees are, so we really don't want to risk sundown. We're walking as fast as we think it is sane to do.
Then the trail splits. But one part of it is a wide stretch of rotten asphalt, and the other is more bike trail, so we take the rotten asphalt, figuring it will lead somewhere. It does. It leads past a locked but easily bypassed gate -- with a sign that says "are closed," referring to the place we're coming from -- to an actual road, one lane, barely paved, which stretches off to the left and uphill and down to the right. We can't hear the main road, but there's a feeling that it's out there -- which we didn't have before. While we're studying this and feeling a strong pull to go right, the nice fellow hears a dog barking. When we got lost that time in Fall Creek, we headed for the dogs barking, and found the light of a house that way. So we go off down to the right in the direction of the barking dog, and we see a light -- a car! Nice cheerful lady informs us we are headed the right way to get to Empire Grade, and it's not far now. She seems to think our getting lost at Wilder Ranch is a pleasant amusement that everybody indulges in, like marathon running or something. Yes, I know, I said we went to Gray Whale Ranch but she said we were coming from Wilder Ranch. All I know about that is that they are both public land and they both stretch from Empire Grade to the ocean. And they're partly contiguous.
We came out on Empire Grade just a quarter mile or so up the road from the car. Walking back along the road is nervewracking -- it's winding, narrow, shoulderless and bordered by slippery ditches overgrown with prickly things, and the cars come around the curves at some outrageous speed (oh how I hate Locals on country roads!) but since we know where we are and we have almost a half hour of daylight left and it looks like it won't rain for hours yet, we're actually kind of ecstatic. The dog, who has been a complete darling all through this, is completely unnerved by the road, and wants desperately to bolt and run under some car's wheels.
But so, we're home, I'm tired, and feeling quite quite alive, thank you.
And, icing on the cake: the nice fellow pulled a tick out of my shoulderblade which had been there for days because I couldn't see it properly and assumed it was a scabbed-over burst pimple. The nice fellow found one mushroom that intrigued him -- he thought it might be a matsutake, but then he decided it was not, and neither were its many large neighbors under the huge tree with the elaborate treehouse built into it.