Monday, August 28, 2006

High Hike

Like many males, I enjoy exploring. I'd driven around a little bit when I came out here for apartment hunting, but was very rushed and so I stayed confined to a few major thoroughfares. After I moved in, though, I had a few days before work in which to expand my circle a bit and get a better feel for my new surroundings.

One of the most crucial items to locate, of course, was a bookstore. Before leaving Kansas City I'd jotted down the location of a nearby Barnes & Noble, so before long I headed over there and started browsing. I love bookstores and can spend hours and hours inside one; this time, though, I had a slightly stronger agenda than usual. I ended up with a pocket map of San Jose, a larger atlas for the city, "South Bay Trails," and some comfort books. In the year since, I have not used the atlas once, have occasionally used the city map (which unfortunately mostly covers downtown), and have heavily used "South Bay Trails" virtually every weekend since.

I've enjoyed hiking for quite a while; it's a pleasure I've inherited from my family, although my practice of it waxes and wanes over the years. When I graduated from Wash U my friend Arline gave me "Hiking Kansas City," a wonderful tome that I used for two years to find great spots where I spent many weekend mornings and afternoons. Having a book was a great resource, for a variety of reasons. First, with so many different entities in charge of parks (city, county, state, and private entities each running their own), it's remarkably difficult to find online resources that bring the options together. Second, the authors' descriptions are very helpful in evaluating which hike would be best for a particular day. Also, it provides a convenient structure in which to plan and organize your hikes, since I can check them off as they are finished and move on to the next, and it helps me stay motivated to continue.

For all those reasons, I was anxious to find a book to replace "Hiking Kansas City." There were several options I saw; I chose "South Bay Trails" because it focused on my immediate community and was clearly oriented towards hiking.

There are different kinds of exploring, of course. One kind is the analytical kind where you're acting as a kind of cartographer: in my case, getting used to the names and looks of different streets, building up a mental map of important locations, figuring out effective routes, and so on. The other kind is a more sensorial type: trying to grasp the character and feel of a place. Driving into downtown San Jose that Friday to get a smog check done on my car was the former kind; spending half an hour wandering the streets was more of the latter. My goal wasn't to figure out what was where, it was to figure out what that part of San Jose felt like, and whether it was an area that I would want to return to.

Likewise, that Saturday's activity was very much a sensorial type of exploration. I picked out a hike that was relatively close to home, seemed to have a decent length, and was appropriate for August. The hike was in Almaden Quicksilver County Park, following the Randol and Mine trails on a trip around the mountain. The emotional high I got from this trip is hard to describe. Going up into the dusty warren of paths, walking past lots of exotic trees unlike what I was used to in Kansas, and then suddenly reaching a clearing where - WHAM! - I could see the entirety of the South Bay spread out before me. I just stood and stared, and honestly thanked God for bringing me to such a place. That moment epitomized so much that I'd hoped for in my move, the congruence of natural beauty and impressive technology. Not to mention the fact that I love hills and mountains (as you have probably discovered by now if you peruse my photos), and the vistas they reveal are nothing like the views I could get when hiking in the flatlands.

Fortunately, that hike was just the start of a wonderful habit that, a year on, is still going strong. For the first month or so, and time I would talk with my parents about a hike, I would earnestly say, "I think this is the best hike I've taken yet!" At the time I acknowledged that I was probably going through a honeymoon phase, but if so I'm probably still in it. It's impossible to disappoint me. These hikes rejuvenate and placate me, clearing away a week's worth of minor stresses and replacing them with a serene gratefulness.

I haven't actually kept count of how many hikes I've taken so far, but it must be in excess of 40. Every single weekend when I'm in town and don't have visitors I go on one; depending on who the visitors are, sometimes even having company won't stop me. After each one I get to make a little check mark in my book, and write a little paragraph capturing my thoughts on the hike and any information that the authors omitted. I haven't done every one in the book yet, but I have hit just about every 3-5 hour hike close to home - Coe Park, about 90 minutes away, is home to the most unhiked territory. Pretty soon I'll start repeating myself or pressing further out to new parks. And you know something? That's OK. Finding new places is great, but I will not mind revisiting old favorites. Especially if I vary my trips - there is a world of difference between hiking in March, when the eastern hills are a lush green and waterfalls rage, and hiking in September, when everything looks golden. Each season brings a different quality, and by revisiting I won't be retreading already explored terrain, but more deeply exploring the character of each location.

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