Pride Goeth Before The (barefoot, muddy) Fall
Dec. 1: along with the new month, a new season began today: Mud!
This week’s rains freshened up the air, closed all the trails in the OC Parks system, and forced me out of my Barham Ridge comfort zone into new territory: Black Star Canyon.
Named after a failed late-1800’s coal mining operation, this beautiful canyon is home to many sad and strange stories.
Several years ago I hiked Black Star a couple of times and never had any problems, so I thought it would be nice to see how the recent rain had treated this moderately remote corner of wild Orange County.
What leaves the sycamore had left were stunning—the peek-a-boo sun gleamed them gold while it sparkled the evergreen oaks.
Puddles doubled the leaf-glory.
Mosses and lichens and dudleyas had already plumped up. Webs were a-gleam.
And then there was the mud. Oozy, delightful mud. Slippery, slidy mud.
While no one is a bigger fan of dusty trails than I am—so silky soft, the dust along the Willows Trail splashes in some deep spots—there is just something about mud that brings out the kid in me. All I want to do is wiggle my toes and make squishy prints.
Combine that with a freshly stoked barefootin’ ego from random fellow hiker comments (“Wow, that’s hardcore!” and “Zola Budd!”), and the stage was set . . . (cue dramatic violin music).
I had walked for an hour and a half, over the some-time blacktop, and packed clay, and puddles of the lower flat canyon and up about a mile on the switchback road. At my turn-around point, I decided to run as much as I could on the way back. My left knee lasted exactly 20 minutes, then began the same ol’ stabbing pain routine it has pulled so. Many. Times.
At minute 18 of my downhill return, however, I was still feeling pretty invincible. I’d just “aw-shucksed” past the two previously mentioned compliments, and came upon an adorable family of four hiking up the road.
“Good morning!” I chirped, increasing my pace a bit. (Actually, I’d speeded up the minute I’d rounded the corner and saw them. I always do this. It is a sickness.)
“Hey, barefoot lady. The two men down the road told us to stop you and tell you we saw a bobcat.”
That was good to hear. I’d had a long conversation with those two nice gentlemen, who had turned around early after seeing one too many “mountain lion danger” signs. Even though I had gone over all the statistics with them, how they were very unlikely prey since it was daytime, there were two of them, etc., they still decided to head back.
It was, however, an enjoyable conversation, and then we were off on our separate ways, me the confident solo trail runner heading farther into mountain lion country, them the two city guys just not ready to take any more chances. (Had my ego swelled a bit more then, being the mountain lion expert and all? Was that was took me down later, my goiter-like ego pulling me off-balance into the . . . but I get ahead of myself.)
So I was happy to hear the husband and wife tell me they’d all seen a bobcat. “That’s very cool!” I told their two little kids. “Not many people in Orange County have seen a bobcat in the wild.”
Their wide eyes and nods made me feel even more guru-ish.
“Have a good hike,” I magnanimously uttered, breaking back into my super-awesome-barefoot-all-the-way trot.
I could feel their eyes following me as I headed down the road. Ah. Another puddle. I had walked through them all on the way up; this would be my first run-and-splash of the day.
I’ll show those kids what’s even cooler than seeing a bobcat—running and splashing through the big old mud puddles along Black Star Canyon Road.
My right foot hit the water. Murky. A few inches deep. Squishy under the surface.
Left foot. Splash. Slide. Slip.
Arms, flailing. Ego-goiter, sailing.
Me: beached-whaling there in the muddy middle of the road. (Was that whooshing the sound of a barefoot ego deflating?)
“Are you OK?” Both the husband and wife really did say this in unison.
I sloshed to my feet. “I’m fine,” I replied.
Or something like that. I do not really remember what I replied; I just remember looking at my hands and legs and seeing them all covered with mud, and being overwhelmed with an urgent desire to clean them immediately.
So I did. I scooped up silty water and sloshed it over me until most of the oozy goo was back in the puddle where it belonged.
My left elbow hurt from the impact—tough love, mud-style. Thanks. I needed that.
My blue shirt was now brown-mottled, as was my running pack. But my camera was dry. (Unlike my lower body: while the rest of the way back to the car also reminded me of being a kid, it was not in a warm-fuzzy barefoot-running-is-fabulous way. It was more of a flashback to wetting my pants while camping and having to deal with the resultant chafing issues while I slinked back to camp.)
Still, there were no muddy shoes and socks to deal with, and no visible bruising. Just a mud-spattered ego, just another Black Star Canyon tale.
In other news: David Whiting, columnist for the Orange County Register, wrote the “story of my life” in a piece that appeared on the front page of the newspaper this week. While he did a fine job, and I am happy to have had some positive feedback–I wanted it to be inspirational, and people have said that it was–it has been disconcerting to think of thousands of people reading about my checkered past (you’ll note this blog focuses pretty much on the present). That’s why today’s incident made me laugh–and want to write about it. I am all about mud . . .