Take a Hike in Armstrong Woods
Mountains are the cathedrals where I practice my religion ~ Anatoli Boukreev
I used Armstrong Woods in Northern California as one of my training spots before my Appalachian Trail hike two years ago. I had not had the chance to get back there until this week. I really love Armstrong Woods, it’s a beautiful state park full of Redwoods and Live Oaks and a lot of different levels of hikes. You can do the flat ground look at the big trees loop. You can do a little bit of uphill, a lot of uphill or you can kick your own ass doing a big loop. The mileage isn’t huge but there are plenty of places on the bigger loops that range in 500 to 800 foot per mile slopes. So my 8 mile loop this week wasn’t long but it definitely woke up my glutes and my quads and had me breathing heavy from time to time.
One of the things I was interested in seeing was my speed and fitness difference from before and after my Appalachian Trail hiking experience. I was happy that both had improved, I didn’t stop on the biggest climb of the day, I had three stops there when I was training. Over the 8 miles I was about a half hour faster, not a huge gain but one that made me happy. And one that verifies that the fitness routine I’ve kept up since the trail is helping me hang on to at least a decent level of hiking fitness.
The First Big Climb of the Day
I start on the East Ridge Trail whenever I’m hiking in Armstrong Woods. It’s a trail that hits you straight away with a quick climb right out of the parking lot. Then a much bigger climb, the first big climb of the day, the 4 or 5 small climbs in succession. Day hikers her right on my tail out of the lot, started to drop away on the big climb and by the fourth climb I never saw them again.
I love the first big climb of the day. At first, it’s absolutely horrible, especially if you haven’t been on trail for a time. Your legs start whining, your heart starts thumping, your hips are asking what they did to deserve you putting all the weight on them. The pack is uncomfortable, it cuts into your shoulder or your neck, the waist strap is wrong. You lungs start screaming and you don’t feel like you can even breathe right, or at all.
Then as a hiker, your body starts to remember, your legs stop whining, your hips give into acceptance, you get the straps moved around. You lungs remember they can fully expand and so you start taking in enough air. Your pace starts to level out, you start remembering how to walk and breathe in concert, how to set the right pace for the hill, it all starts to fall into place. The best part of this is not that you start to feel better, it’s the expansion of focus. On the early part of that first hill, your entire focus is right with you, a tiny little bubble of perception around your body focused on your body parts, your pack and the step right in front of you. Then you find your stride, your body relaxes and your focus starts to expand. You start to notice how quiet it is, you smell the forest, you hear the birds and the litter critters scattering away. You start to feel like part of the forest, it’s usually about that time you’re rewarded with your first big critter or some cool sight. For me this week it was a doe and two fawns who blasted up the hill as I took a corner. I was home again.
It’s at this point that you absolutely remember why you’re here, why you hike, why even though tomorrow your quads will be sore, your calves tight, even though later your feet will hurt, it was all absolutely worth it. The nice thing on the East Ridge Trail, is all this happens with in the first mile and a half. The left me with a couple of hours of just being, walking watching squirrels play, lizards dance and scramble. Noticing light filtering through the redwood trees. Nothing but amazing, nothing but quiet and nature, well unless until the guy came up the trail behind me with his radio playing. But it was a brief annoyance as he took another trail and I was alone again. This is why I love hiking. So my friends take some time, get out and take a walk, go up that first big climb of the day and have a happy day my friends. ~ Rev Kane
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