In the spirit of spontaneity and being social, we went out for dinner on Saturday with some friends - and four kids between us. Our attempt at said spontaneity almost failed when the first restaurant we went to, after discussing the cheesy retro vibe we'd experienced there in the past (think 1950s Polynesian), turned out to have a ninety-minute wait - not doable with four kids when it's already 6pm, so we opted for a French restaurant that our friends recommended.
That French restaurant ended up being the best decision we'd made all week. All the waiters were actually French, donning T-shirts proclaiming, Everything French but the attitude. It was the kind of evening that involved large quantities of bread and butter, red wine, cheese, butter, pastry, more buttery goodness... you get the idea.
The next morning, J went off to teach a Tai Chi class. It was a drizzly morning, so his plan was - if the students didn't turn up - to go for a hike above the park. My plan was to offset some of those French calories by hitting the gym when he got back, but I wasn't feeling particularly motivated. After looking at some of the hiking views that J texted me, I decided that instead of the gym, I'd have a crack at that hiking trail too.
There are a number of hiking trails in our area, but it's something I've only done once before; a different trail. The main problem with these trails is that they rarely afford any shade. For a large part of the year - when temperatures are in the thirties (ºC) - hiking doesn't appeal to me at all. I'm all for spectacular views, but not when it involves relentless heat for a few hours. J and I often talk about doing some big hikes together and watching the sunset, but the reality is that unless we can get the girls babysat, it's not going to happen (we've taken them on small hikes, but not the challenging ones).
After J came home, I told him I was going to try hiking, too, instead of the gym.
He raised his eyebrows, as he is so good at doing. "You? Alone?"
"Yeah, why not? You went alone, didn't you? You're in one piece. I'll be fine." This was accompanied with an exaggerated eye roll and sigh.
He shrugged, but didn't appear convinced. "Have you got your phone? Is it charged? Make sure you've got water too."
Sometimes I think my husband believes he's married to an idiot (to give him credit, I am rather clumsy and accident prone).
After being warned about some incredibly steep parts, and how the trail forks off into other paths - making it difficult to know which is the route to stay on - I drove off towards the park and it began to rain. Not strongly, but more of a fine misty drizzle. The clouds had rolled in, and I knew I might not get much of a view, but I reminded myself of all the buttery French goodness I'd consumed the night before. I needed to do this.
After parking the car, I walked over to the sign at the start of the trail and studied the map. I took a photo for good measure, just in case there was no phone reception out there and I somehow found myself lost.
How hard could this be, right?
I set off, beginning behind the library. Despite the light drizzle, there were happy tweeting sounds from the scrub and small trees. The air was fresh, and my inner dialogue went something along the line of: tra lalalala, this is easy, what was he talking about? I'm fit, I've been doing so much exercise this year, look - not even out of breath yet, easy - gosh he exaggerates sometimes, piece of cake, look how easily I'm taking these inclines, wow - check out the view down that way, the baseball field looks so small now, easy.
The first fifteen minutes or so really were easygoing. I wasn't puffed, and felt confident. I went higher still, then realised I was starting to work up a sweat. Okay, a sweat is good, right? It means my blood is pumping, and I'm getting a good work out. After going a little further up, I turned to take in some of the scenery.
Woah. This is pretty high... and I'm very thirsty now. Also, drizzle combined with sweat? Ick.
Three men passed me from the opposite direction, and I looked where they'd come from. It was the peak of the trail, and not far off. I just had to get up the long and steep, slippery path first - without getting blown away by the wind.
It's not obvious from the photo, but there were some treacherous areas and I had to watch my footing very carefully. By the time I made it to the top, my face was a red hot mess, but I was doing internal fist pumps and feeling pretty stoked that I'd made it. Seven Tree Plateau - sounds like a peaceful place to stop and rest for a while.
At this rest stop, there were a few benches, maps, and signs about the wildlife. I was yet to read them when an elderly man walked over to me. With a look of concern, he asked "Have you ever seen any mountain lions here?"
"Uh... no. This is my first time on the trail."
"Well... I saw one back in February - it was around sunset - over where the uphill part of that trail begins." He gestured over towards a different ridge, which I understood was where the trail continued down, unless I wanted to descend the same way I'd come up. "You be careful, now, okay?"
He wandered off in the direction I'd just come from... and I looked over to the other ridge, gulping. Fuck. I'm not sure I want to be here. Maybe I'll just sit here and wait, and then continue on when there are other people around, heading the same way. I walked over to the park maps and signs.
Nothing makes a person regret hiking alone like seeing signs warning of mountain lions. Really.
I read it - heart thumping - and suddenly I was convinced I was going to encounter one. Thankfully, I managed to talk some sense into the panic, and latched onto two of the bullet points from the sign, rationalising that these animals tend to be most active between dusk and dawn, and are wary of people. I also knew that, given the unpleasant weather, there weren't many people around if I wanted to wait. I could be up on that plateau for hours... so before I could change my mind, I continued along the trail.
About five minutes later, I realised the trail was feeding back onto the trail which I'd had to climb up to the plateau. Shit. I backtracked until I saw a tiny divergence, and followed another trail. It didn't take long before I was wishing I'd stayed at home - or at least hiked with company. The path I was on couldn't really be described as a path. Or a trail. I don't know what it was, but it was tiny, and steep, and I had to scramble down on my arse (in hindsight, backwards may have been better). Occasionally there was a tree branch I could grab at to steady, but mostly my inner dialogues consisted of swearing. The ridge was incredibly narrow and I was convinced that one false step would see me rolling off the side.
Suddenly, the trail appeared to end. I looked ahead, and it disappeared down a steep, rocky incline that would have been impossible to tackle. At that point, I was ready to cry. Trying - again - to fight off panic, I looked around and noticed that the trail I was on actually veered sharply around to the left and became more of a ledge cut into the side of the hill. With relief that I wasn't stranded, I began following it, but still swore, still convinced I was going to fall to certain death.
The ledge eventually gave way to a wider, sturdier trail and taller scrubs. I felt less exposed, and - sensing I was heading the right way - I began to relax.
What can I say? I made it back down to the park, and all was good. I'm pretty certain that up there on the ridges, I was about a hair's breadth away from a full-scale panic attack, though. I shudder to think how that would have gone down. I've only ever experienced a panic attack once in my life, but it was enough to know that I never want to go through that again... let alone out in the elements on the side of a mountain range. Whew.
This particular park has a gorgeous Japanese tea garden which is only open to the public a few days a week. I'd noticed when I parked the car that the gate to the garden was open, so I wandered over, hoping it would help me wind down completely. There were several women in kimono, because there was a special tea ceremony taking place in the tea house, and I was invited to come and watch. I felt like a smelly bag of sweat, so (regretfully) I declined. It just didn't feel right, although I normally wouldn't hesitate. I love so much about Japanese culture. Instead, I walked around the garden for a little while and began to feel silly for letting panic and fear get a look in on my hike.
Next time? Well, next time I'll read up more before taking on a trail. After consulting the map at the end (it was difficult to get a sense of it when I was on the trail, but I did try and work out where I was each time I thought I was lost), it turns out I hadn't taken any wrong turns. The steep, narrow, rocky parts were just part of it. Good to know for next time but for that particular trail, I will definitely make sure I have someone with me in future - it's better than feeling like an idiot.