“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” –Tennessee Williams
The day is sunny and warm as I leave my apartment at 10:16 a.m. with the plan of walking to Stinson Beach, which, I calculate, should be about an 8 mile hike. My new 2 liter Osprey reservoir is tucked safely into my old REI “Runoff Hydration Pack” along with snacks (I have a cheese stick, a cracker, three carrots, some popcorn, and, in case I get desperate, a can of sardines), my one-gallon Ziploc “trash” bag that I use over and over, my old Nike windbreaker (that is comfortable and functional but not particularly attractive), tissues, a leather coin purse with my ID, money, and a credit card, and, to read on the bus ride home from Stinson, Margaret Atwood’s, After the Flood, my most recent find at the Mill Valley Library.
I climb the familiar route through the residential streets of Mill Valley, until I reach the little-known trailhead veering off someone’s driveway, which leads me into a beautiful forest full of moss-covered trees and narrow trails before bringing me back out to open space with beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay.
Eventually I make my way to Four Corners, where the Muir Woods and Sequoia Valley Roads coincide with the Panoramic Highway. After taking in the views, and with some difficulty because of all the traffic, I cross the roads, then make my way perhaps a half mile down Muir Woods Road until I reach the Dipsea Trail which I descend until I reach the Muir Woods parking lot where a ranger is directing traffic and a woman is doing some kind of video report on her iPhone about the free entrance and the havoc it is wreaking by bringing in so many visitors.
A sign tells me that the bridge across Redwood Creek is out and the ranger informs me that because of that, I will have to take the Deer Park Fire Trail instead of the Dipsea. I walk down Muir Woods Road with oodles of tourists for about a quarter of a mile without seeing my turnoff. I have to admit, I’m annoyed. Since there is no cell reception and I can’t Google the trail, I unhappily retrace my steps to the parking lot where I look at a map and find that I hadn’t walked quite far enough so I trudge back down the busy road until I find my turn off at 12:15.
I make my way up the fire trail, relieved to be away from the traffic and crowds, happy to be surrounded by the trees and birdsong. When I get hungry at 12:30, I find a grassy spot in the shade of a little tree at the edge of the trail, sit on my Ziploc trash bag so as not to get wet, and contentedly eat my banana while enjoying the serenity of my surroundings. On my way again, I go up and up and up and up until finally, I reach Coastal View trailhead, which has some of the most spectacular views around.
Throwing myself onto the grass, I eat my cheese and cracker and then the popcorn while taking in the views and enjoying the hot sun on my legs. Although it is sunny and hot on my grassy knoll, the fog is creeping in below me from the Pacific Ocean, which right now is an ocean of fog. I people watch other hikers for a time, then read a few pages of my book. At some point it occurs to me that it might not be a bad idea to look up the bus schedule and so I do only to discover that the next eastbound bus to Mill Valley will depart Stinson at 3:00 and then Pan Toll at 3:15. I’m really close to Pan Toll and it’s only 1:50. Stinson is three miles away and mostly downhill, so it’s either sit around Pan Toll for over an hour or hightail it down to the beach, which is what I decide to do.
Eventually I walk into the fog, which is making its way slowly up the hills but it is a warm and peaceful fog and I enjoy the way wisps of it are floating through the trees. Down, down, down I go, then head straight over to the bus stop at the entrance to the Stinson Beach parking lot, arriving right at 3. There is a short line of people and some of them tell me that because it is a holiday schedule, the bus will not arrive until 3:17 so I head across the parking lot for a quick view of the crowded beach and use the restroom before going back to the bus stop, where the line of people has more than doubled.
When the bus has still not arrived by 3:30, I become a little antsy and nervous. I have to be in San Rafael by 5:30 at the latest for an appointment and want to shower and relax first. By 3:45 some people in line are saying that not only is it a holiday schedule, it is a special holiday schedule and so we will probably have to wait until 5:07 for the next bus. That’s not going to work for me with my evening plans so I walk back the way I came, confident that I can catch a ride from the corner of Panoramic and Shoreline to Four Corners or at least to Pan Toll and catch another ride from there.
As I am passing the Parkside café, I see one of my students and her mom standing in line so walk over to say hi and also run into a former student and her mother. We chat briefly, then I continue my walk to the intersection above town where I stick out my thumb every time a car turns onto Panoramic. One car is full of people and some of them were also at the bus stop; they must have had the same idea.
Within ten minutes, a cute young couple from San Francisco stop to pick me up and I ask them where they are headed. They tell me they are headed nowhere in particular, just out looking around, so I ask them to drop me off at Pan Toll and suggest that they take Pan Toll Road to Rock Springs, then head up to the East Peak of Mt. Tam to check out the views and then back to Ridgecrest Blvd. (although I mistakenly called it Bolinas Ridge Road-oops!) for the sunset. They ask how much farther it is to where I actually want to go and when I tell them 15-20 minutes, they offer to drive me all the way there then they start joking around about when I am going to murder them. We talk about the difference between how hitchhiking is viewed in the U.S.A. vs. in Europe and when I ask them why they decided to stop and pick me up, the girl says, “He saw you and said, ‘Should we stop and pick her up?’ and I said, ‘She doesn’t look crazy. Why not?’ So we did.” I am truly grateful for the ride and as it turns out, they appreciate the suggestions for where to watch the sunset.
By the time they drop me off at 4 Corners, I’m exhausted, not just from the hiking but also from the stress of trying to get to the bus on time, then having to figure out an alternative to the bus, and finally, hitchhiking, which I’ve done a number of times in my life and feel safe doing in Marin but which always feels a little embarrassing to do. But I hop out of the car and rally for the 1.5 miles I have remaining. As I backtrack the trails I walked up this morning, it’s interesting to see how different everything looks now that it is covered with a layer of fog. I take photos from the same spots I took them in this morning to show you the difference:
Right above 4 Corners at 11:10AM and 4:15PM
Looking east from just above Homestead Trail at 11AM and 4:20PM
I finally arrive home at 4:50, tired and sore, jump into shower and change, then hop into my car and head for the gridlocked freeway where I make my way north on 101 toward San Rafael…
Weather: Part 1: Sunny and warm. Part 2: Warm & foggy. Part 3: Cool, foggy, breezy.