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March 6, 2011 / Maleesha Kovnesky

The Wrong Way

I’m hanging out in California this week and next.  No trip to California would be complete without protestors, so I am here to tell you my short but thought-provoking encounter.

First I have to tell you that I went to the Muir Woods early on Saturday morning.  It was the one thing I really wanted to see when I was in San Francisco – giant redwoods that you can never really appreciate in pictures.  I drove to the woods and parked my rental and hopped out to talk a short walk.  Left the water and my coffee in the car, after all, I was going to be right back.

I headed for the ranger station to pay my $5 entrance fee.  On the way there, I saw a folded up twenty dollar bill on the ground.  The groups in front of me had walked over it, and there was no way to guess whose money it was.  If there is anything I learned from waitressing, it’s that you NEVER call out “Did anyone drop a twenty dollar bill?”  If I would have seen it fall out of a pocket or a purse, I would have chased the person down.  Instead I used it to pay my entrance fee, putting the change in my purse.  The lady at the window asked me if I wanted to buy a map for a dollar.  I didn’t.  They really ought to give out free maps at parks if you ask me, so I declined.  Besides, it’s a TINY little national monument, will well marked trails and tons of people strolling around.  What could go wrong?

I was drawn in to the forest…the high pine canopies darken out a lot of the sky, and soon after walking down a trail you are in a dark, emerald woods.  Mosses coat tree trunks that are as large as cars.  The ground is spongy and black.  The redwoods are truly giant.  I wished that AJ could be there with me, and vowed to return some day so he could see these massive trees that are over a thousand years old.  Trees that were giant even when Columbus accidentally discovered the East Coast. 

I ran into a fork in the road.  The trail to the left (1.7 miles) looped around past more redwood groves.  The trail to the right (2.3 miles) went up toward the Panoramic Highway and had a killer view of the Ocean, though “parts of the trail were steep.”  Pshaw, I’m from Montana and I am not going to pass up an ocean view, steep or not.  I figured 2.3 miles with some steeps could take me around an hour, maybe an hour and a half if I stopped to take some pictures.

Pretty soon I was deep in the forest, keeping to the trail next to a fast moving creek.  Maybe it was a river, I am not sure…I notice that creeks in Montana are usually considered rivers in a lot of other places.  I stopped to take some pictures of the creek, the bridges that I would cross, and the trees.  Things did get steep and I contemplated turning back…I did leave my water in the car.  But the temperature on Saturday was 60 which seemed just about perfect to me.  I noticed lots of the locals were wearing winter coats in the woods, but I had to take off my light jacket and tie it to my purse, because hiking in 60 degree weather when you just came from the frozen north causes perspiration.

Every now and then I would pass some other hikers, but for the most part, I had the redwoods to myself on this trail.  Steepness did occur.  In fact, there were sections of the trail that rose up the hill like staircases that didn’t stop for thousands of steps.  Here I passed some folks that hated the steepness and had stopped.  This went on for a long, long time and I realized when I stopped to catch a break, my heart was pounding.  I was getting thirsty, so I popped a piece of gum in.  I figured at this point I was probably halfway done.  So far, the trails had been marked in the crystal clear technique used by the Park Service, but I ran into a couple of forks that weren’t market at all.  I hate that.  No one was around, so I took note of a few unique things about the fork incase I needed to come back, but I went in the direction that seemed the most logical.  I do have a pretty good sense of East West North South but being in a new place with no landmarks does make a person question themselves. 

I kept going.

And going.  Pretty soon it was just me and the trail…and up ahead, a creepy dude.  Oh my God, do NOT tell my mother I was running around lost in the woods outside of San Francisco with a creepy dude just up ahead, she will really freak out. 

Why was he creepy?  He just had that child molester look about him.  Glasses, a bad combover, a polo shirt and pale skin like he spent most of his time deep in a basement.  I don’t know, sometimes you just get a creepy vibe from people.  And he was by himself in the woods.  What kind of person just wanders around in the woods by himsel…oh nevermind.

Creepy guy appeared to be in the same boat as me, as he sat down on a log and opened a map.  He looked this way and that, obviously trying to figure out where he was and if he was on the right trail.  I blew past creepy guy and kept on moving.

Now keep in mind I wasn’t really lost.  I could hear the Panoramic Highway off in the distance, and if things got “scary” it would be pretty easy to go up and hitch a ride call a cab back to the parking lot.  But it’s way more fun to pretend you are lost and in trouble.  In fact I kept identifying flowers that were edible alongside the trail.  I like to imagine disaster in a dramatic fashion.

So I kept going and eventually ran into three people coming the other way.  “Is this the way to the parking lot?” I asked.

“Parking lot?” they said.

“To the woods?”

“The Muir Woods?” they said.

“Yes,” I said.

“No man, the Muir Woods are that way,” said one of the men, pointing behind me. 

“No they aren’t,” said a woman, “They’re that way.  I think.”  She pointed in another, useless direction.

“You probably shouldn’t ask us,” the man said.  “Good luck!”  And off they went.

Well, crap. 

I decided Creepy Guy and his map might be a good point of reassurance.  He was about a half mile behind me now, but I turned back just incase.  I could always go back the way I came, but that would take a long time and and this point I wanted to jump in the car and go find a gallon of water NOW.  I found Creepy Guy back right where I had passed him, sitting on a log, eating a turkey sandwich.  He was still studying his map.

“Can I look at your map?” he asked. 

Creepy Guy almost lost his sandwich.  I guess I was more scary to him than he was to me.  He set his sandwich down and looked at me for a while, possibly trying to decide whether I might be a local lunatic who hides in the woods and sneaks up on people who are alone and trying to eat a sandwich.  He was outfitted with a backpack, hiking poles, high quality boots, and food and water.  Here is this girl with a red purse and bright blue tennis shoes, he might have thought.  She’s clearly and idiot who just needs some directions.

“I’m not sure I will be much help, as I am from Wisconsin,” he said.  He opened his map and said “We are right here, and if you walk down this way…”

Creepy Guy ended up being about as creepy as a Beanie Baby, and he directed me to the trail.  I had been going the right way all along, albeit the extra extra long way.  I thanked him and turned back around and continued on the path.  All I had to do was find the Dispara (sp?) trailhead and it would take me right back to the visitor center.

Getting to the trailhead took a long time.  And when I got there I was met by a lot of cones, tape and a sign that said “TRAIL IS CLOSED DUE TO SPAWNING OF COHO SALMON.”  Then a sign under that sign said “BRIDGE IS ALSO WASHED AWAY DUE TO FLOODING.  USING THIS TRAIL IS DANGEROUS AND ILLEGAL.”

Illegal didn’t really bother me…dangerous did.  Even though I knew that the Coho salmon would be able to spawn just fine and I promised not to bother them, I didnt’ want to cross that river that I could see from here…that, and the forests here are full of poison plants that would induce itching.  My last choice was to follow the road. 

And that is what I did, I walked back to the parking lot along three miles of switchbacks, instead of a half a mile straight shot on the closed trail.  There was no shoulder to speak of, and lots of cars. 

I finally found my car, and when I sat down in it, my legs felt like they were vibrating.  Ow.  I was going to jump straight into the hot tub when I got back.  I couldn’t wait for my hotel room, fluffy towels, cold water to drink and hot water to bathe in.

I drove 30 miles back to the hotel to find the entrance blocked off by people in…animal costumes.  Seriously.  About half the protestors lining off the hotel parking lot appeared like they had found a clearance sale at the Halloween store, and were dressed as colorful tigers and bears and zebras.  Many of them held up signs protesting The Safari Club.  Apparently, The Safari Club was staying in the same hotel, and the local animal lovers came out to protest their gathering.

Now by all means, I do not believe that anyone should be out shooting zebras and tigers.  I hadn’t ever heard of these Safari people, but I was thinking that if they weren’t afraid to march up to a real tiger and shoot it, then they certainly weren’t going to flinch at a 140 lb college student dressed up as a tiger. 

I turned right into the parking lot, slowly, as protestors surrounded my car.  They didn’t touch it, but they were peeking in to see if I was one of them…the dreaded Safari People.  I raised my eyebrows at a lady who waved a sign into my windshield.  The sign said “REAL MEN DON’T KILL ENDANGERED SPECIES!!!”  She shouted something too, but I didn’t catch what it was.  Part of me wanted to roll my window down and tell them they weren’t being very convincing.  The other part of me wanted to bitch slap her and say “Do I look like I’m on a safari?  Get the $^@#& out of my way I want my soft towels!”  Instead I just beeped my horn, causing some of the protestors to jump and let me drive in. 

I parked my car and got out.  Two of the REAL Safari people had parked a few spaces down.  The men got out of their truck, dressed in camoflage Cabela-type shirts.  They were laughing and calling the protestors bad names.  One of the men wore a hat, the other had a haircut like the evil commander from Avatar.  They did seem like the type of people who would happily shoot tigers. 

I decided I wasn’t on anyone’s side, and went up to my room to clean up and watch some TV. 

God Bless America!

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9 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. teeni / Mar 12 2011 8:57 pm

    Wow. You are a braver soul than I. I’m glad that your Creepy guy turned out to be not so creepy after all. Protesters are scary too though. And I’m glad you made it out of the woods. It’s been a while since I’ve been here but I had fun catching up on some of your posts. I especially loved the diary posts from your childhood! So are you wearing one sock or two today? 😉

  2. Greg / Mar 12 2011 8:37 pm

    Such a good read. I really, really like the way you tell a story.

  3. bluesuit12 / Mar 10 2011 8:14 pm

    What a fantastic adventure that made for a great story and entry. Hope you got some great shots along the way!

  4. scotott / Mar 7 2011 6:08 pm

    Based on the very precise trail measurements included in your story, I can only assume you made peace with having to spend the $1.00 on a map. 😉

  5. Dave / Mar 7 2011 9:44 am

    Can’t believe you didn’t buy the map. It was practically free, after all. Did you at least get your ocean view? Bummer to walk that whole way and not get to see it.

    I remember seeing the redwoods as a kid and enjoying them. Glad you got to see them.

    Oh yes, I got the ocean view. But I was too tired to care. The bright side is I definitely saw a lot of the park!

  6. Mike Goad / Mar 7 2011 7:15 am

    Interesting adventure. It sure can suck when the trails a poorly posted.

    Or I could have just bought the map!

  7. David / Mar 6 2011 8:24 pm

    I know right? People alone in the woods. They’re an endangered species in their own rite. Pun intended.

    I like this post a lot. Thousand year old trees and California nutters in the creamy nougat of Maleesha’s fine narrative. Blog goddess, I salute you!

    I hope the hot tub and fluffy towels work the magic like this post did. 🙂

    They sure did…it was nice to get past the furries and into my room. Thanks!

  8. Oregon Sunshine / Mar 6 2011 7:30 pm

    Sounds like you had quite the adventure! I’m glad Creepy Guy wasn’t so creepy after all. And, well, I dunno. I might be intimidated a bit if I came across a WM, former or not, out on a trail, in the woods, while I was lost myself!

    It was a lot of fun…once I found my car. When I got close enough to see Creepy Guy’s face he really wasn’t too bad at all…just a nice guy from Wisconsin with a turkey sandwich…

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