It all begin with a simple passion of mine.
And that is to hike, trek, mountaineer, maybe rock-climb a little and basically discover what it’s like to visit the Natural Reserves in America.
And I wouldn’t have expected myself to learn so much. To be inspired so. Just from a simple trek across this place known as Mt. Tamalpais.
It all begin with my accidental discovery of a natural reserve they call Miur Woods National Monument. I chanced upon it when I was searching for the top 10 places to visit in San Francisco. A random google search brought me to this tour website that went on and on about cool places in San Francisco downtown. And a small comment replied to the website by saying that nobody who’s in San Francisco should miss out on a place known as Miur Woods which is a ‘mere’ 3 hours drive away, crossing the golden gate and across Marin County and up mount Tamalpais.
I was caught off-guard. I thought to myself. This might be the adventure I have been looking for.
So I google-ed Miur Woods. And the articles aroused my total curiosity.
Apparently, tourists have been traveling to Miur Woods (about 1m visitors each year) particularly during the Spring and Summer seasons for ages from San Francisco. But local tour-guides have been lobbying against public transportation to the place for generations, to maintain their ‘dictatorship’ (that’s what I would call it) on the local monopoly on 3-4 hrs tours that cost around 50-80USD up north to the area. And a subsequent google-map search proved that right. There was simply no way I could take public transportation to the place. I was stumped. There was no way I am willing to part with that much money. Furthermore, I hate guided tours.
And I felt defeated. I was lost.
Then a ray of hope shone upon me the next day.
I was touring the really popular area in San Francisco known as the Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a really cool place, but prices are really jacked up here and the Aquarium is imo really over-rated. But you can still find pictures of my trip here on my facebook album on San Fran. Anyways, when I was in the area, I was at a tourist information counter, and I just thought, hey, maybe I’ll just pop the question about Miur Woods, though I was kinda sure what the answer is gonna be.
“Hey, I just wanna know if there’s public transportation up north to Miur Woods”
Local: “Hah, you’re lucky, I might just be one of the selected few who knows the answer to that one question”
The local was really helpful, she printed out maps for me. Really detailed maps and instruction to get a transit bus across the golden gate bridge to a county to board this Marin County express bus that’s known as “Route 66” that will take me straight to the gates of Miur Woods and there was it, I thought, it’s all settled.
But I felt unsettled, I’m sure life doesn’t end that happily.
And this is those rare few times I wished I was wrong. It so happens that I found out that Route 66 only starts operating during the spring season where there’s more demand for it (May) and it was only March.
But I’ve already came so far to give up now. I told myself. Damn this, if there’s no easy way. I’ll do it the hard way.
So I did my homework. I found the map of the entire natural reserve area (it’s darn big god damn it) on the U.S National Park Service website.
I crossed reference with all the local Marin County buses to see if any of the local westward-bound buses will in any way come close to the Woods.
And just simply minutes of researching (thank TA for imparting such good researching skills to me) I found this “Route 61” that comes close.
But here’s the catch, it drops me somewhere up north. (I later found out that it drops me at panoramic highway somewhere 2 miles from the BootJack trail you can see in the map, but do keep in mind that this information was not available to me)
And after I alighted at a random stop (I kinda rolled the dice in my head to decide on a stop) along the panoramic highway. Cause I thought hey, it’s on the map. It can’t really be that far away right?
After I got down the bus. I looked around and I see are trees, streams and random trails that have like so many intersections and crossings and simply no signs. In fact, now thinking back, I wonder how I found the balls to just do what I did then. I din’t have a map (I couldn’t print the above map in the hostel), I had no cellphone with me (it ran out of batt the night before and I din’t have a charger) and I had virtually no human contact/interaction for god knows how long and all I had was my camera, a 3/4 filled water-bottle and my headset & mp3. I din’t have any food on me as well.
Whatever I was thinking then, I basically just went, since I’m here, I’ll just wander around the mountain, maybe I’ll get lucky and chanced upon the woods. I even imagined myself doing a maths game to find out the exact probability with that. (It’s not really that hard, I just need to know the pace at which I hike, find out the area of effect at which I could venture around, make a few assumptions like straight line, constant rate of hiking yada yada and draw it out on the map). Well, insane maybe? But I was alone hiking for a few hours, and my camera and mp3 chose the very right moment 2 hours into my random hike to die on me. But prior to their deaths, I took a few good shots of my trail. Some are attached as below, you can find ALL my photos on my facebook album “Nature is under-rated”
And after my initial 2-3hours of random wandering around the mountain area. And after multiple falls and mud-splashes. With the heavy rain pelting down on me. And the slow monotonous droning of lakes and streams. Loneliness starts creeping in. And the first thoughts of giving up came.
I thought. Hey. I’m alone here. With virtually no way of engaging or locating another human soul. I can so easily get lost in the wilderness. There are many paths and treks and obvious signs of path-finders in the area, but god knows how far and how long these paths lead. And I so wanted to turn around, back track and take the bus home. Oh God, the temptation was so strong. And there was no words to explain how I felt. But to get a feel of it. Try imagining it yourself. You alone in the middle of the woods. You have no food and just a bottle of water. No GPS. No Phone. No nothing. You’ve got mp3. But you’re so close to finishing 10 circles of the same playlist. And you’re walking aimlessly, simply mis-orientated 90% of the time. There are no signs. There are occasional views of how high up in the moutain you are when strolling past a path leading to the edge of the mountain. Sometimes, the paths lead to nowhere, and you simply have to keep bashing till you find another obvious sign of human-paths. I could go on and on. But I think you kinda get it.
Whatever it was. I told myself. I’ve come this far. And I’m not going to give up on my very first setback.
And I kept telling myself that. Over and over again.
I fell so many times, tripping over trees, crawling beneath roots, cutting myself with thorny branches. But I simply kept picking myself up, motivating myself and moving ahead.
And this was the first true lesson I’ve learnt about life.
Lesson #1. Sometimes, all you’ve gotta do is to keep telling yourself not to give up. And you’ll surprise yourself! You will actually really never give up.
And if anything’s true, it’s true that nature rewards those who persevere. My determination finally moved the hearts of whoever is above. And I found the following sign below. 2.7miles to Miur Woods.
A simple mental calculation. That makes it about 5km to my destination.
But hey. This is no 5km run of 30 mins my friends. This is a 5km bashing through the forest, crossing lakes, and fighting nature. My army training taught me better to prepare myself mentally for another 3-4hours of hiking. Without any navigating tools and mostly trial and error of trails. Maybe 5-6 hours even?
And I was quite right. It was at least 4 hours of walking (almost aimlessly) but with a certain direction in mind (the sign pointed me a general direction) that I finally came close to Miur Woods.
All this while, the feeling of utmost insecurity was gripping me. Questions like, “Am I walking the right way?” “Did I miss a obvious trail?” “Did I make the right turn” was totally suffocating me mentally.
AND it was only until about 4 hours later when I met another hiker. It was a biker to be more exact.
He saw me, smiled and was like: “Hey buddy, how’re you doing?”
“I’m okay, this place is really cool, but I’ve kinda lost my way. How about you. It is all cool?”
He: “I’m totally enjoying this place, oh god this place is awesome. Come join me for some lunch, I’ve got energy bars.”
(With my stomach growling for 3 hours already after skipping breakfast and lunch, I could not possibly lie to myself and say no to him)
Saying my thanks and all, I sat down with him and shared life experiences. He’s a really cool guy. And finally the million dollar question came.
He: “So where exactly are you heading?”
I was kinda dreading the question, as I simply could not bare knowing if I was actually no where near my goal. But I told him anyways.
And he was like, “Oh you’re close. It’s about a mile more. Just follow this lake and you’ll find yourself beyond the world’s greatest beauty”
OH THANK GOD.
Lesson #2. Lesson #1 strikes back. Never give up.
And so, I found my way to Miur Woods largely by chance.
But the story doesn’t end here.
I trekked Miur Woods for 2-3 hours. Simply mesmerized by the sheer majesty of the world’s tallest and oldest trees (some are way past 1000 years old) and simply amazed by the fact that these trees are the very same species of trees that lived in the woods since time immemorial. Their direct ancestors (same species) lived through the dinosaurs’ age, the ice age, the stone age, and even now the modern age. And thankfully, with human intervention. They can continue to thrive and persevere maybe till the worlds end. There was a really nice tree that I loved, well the thing about this tree is that it died in a forest fire (charred and felled to its very core) But around this blackened remains of the tree, lies a ring of trees. The story goes that this tree died in a forest fire, but its roots lived on, and branched out to form other baby trees of itself, and today stands tall and strong in a ring around it. It may have died, but its death was the spark for the life for others. I mean seriously. How cool is that! (I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of it, my camera died, but just google it if you’re truly interested, though I doubt you are as amazed as I was. These are the few things that truly touches your soul when you’re there in the midst of it to experience it yourself. Because along my journey, I’ve seen so many fallen trees. And it heartens me knowing that they may have died, but their legacy lives on in the forest forever more)
Lesson #3. The end of a journey, will be the start of another! So just keep living your life and never be saddened to find that you’ve reached a dead end. There are no true endings. Only beginnings. (:
Now now, if you’re wondering. Why aint the story ending? Do remember. I may have found my way TO the woods. I have yet to find my way FRO the woods.
OH GOD, NOW YOU SEE. It took me all morning, all afternoon to trek my way to woods. Going back UP the mountain to catch a bus? Simple calculation. 9,10am to 4,5pm to find my way (pardon the approximation, I wasnt sure of the time, it wasnt exactly my topmost worries) to the woods. How am I to find my way back before darkness befalls.
So, with a little thick-skin-ness I approached the Miur Woods Ticketing counter (note that I went by a backdoor trail to the woods and did not pay the $5 entrance fee that the normal tourists taking guided tours would have had to pay) and asked if there was public transportation back to marin county.
Well. There was. The very same route 61 that I took.
Damn luck. Damn local tour companies and their lobbying for monopoly power. Damn commercialization of nature. Damn it all.
The good side? I could walk on the road that the cars drive for a easy 2mile route up the mountain to a different stop (ALOT NEARER) but that was still another hour of walking. And I’m dead tired. My soles were killing me.
But I had no choice anyway. And on top of it, I had a last bus to catch. I remembered clearly that the last bus was 5.45pm. And it was around 5pm.
I swore I wish I had my sleeping bag with me there and then.
But I started breaking into a run in the direction I was pointed to. And life kinda likes to joke on you when you’re having troubles. I soon found myself in a T-junction. One was downwards the mountain. One was upwards. It was a 50/50 chance I took, but I did a right turn. I mean. Right has to be right, right?
Hah. It wasn’t. It was left that was right.
But I had no idea. And I kept running.
And the cars just kept driving past me. What I wouldn’t give then and there to be on any of them and be on my easy way back to marin county and then san francisco.
It was at least 20 minutes of blind running that I started to realize that I might have been on the wrong direction. In fact, I was sure I was in the wrong way. Because the roads start to narrow, and no public bus could have made it through. I was exhausted. But my mind was strong and fresh, and simple deduction told me. This is it. 12 hours in the cold, and night alone in the woods. Well. I tried to tell myself that I might not be too bad, if I simply start making preparations to stay warm and comfortable.
And so I sat down. And prepared myself to catch the sunset. I mean. I’m already down in the drains. Why should I make life miserable for myself? I’ll be strong and make the best of everything yknow! And I’m at the top of the mountains. With the mist covering the sun. It may be a perfect view for a sunset. And it was with that optimism that I smiled and sat down and relaxed.
It was then, a car drove past. Then reversed. And stopped.
A guy came out. He was probably 30 odd 40 plus. He said: “Hey son, whatcha doing alone here? This is no place to picnic and chill past the night my friend.”
So I told him my situation.
And he said, “Come, hop on, I’ll take you to your stop, I know where it is. I live here afterall.”
And at that, I exclaimed: “You live here?! On top of the mountains?! God you live at a gorgeous place!”
He smiled at that and replied “Yes it is, and you know where’s the nicest view of it all?”
“No idea? Miur Woods for me I guess?”
He: “Haha, you’re naive my friend. The nicest view of it all, is on this hilltop bar that I’m bringing you to now! Come we’ll catch a beer together. You will have about 20 mins to spare till your bus. Take a few photos and be on your way!”
And so Mr. Nice Angel from Above drove me all along the road, and to this bar. He even lent me his camera battery for me to take these 2 photos! And trust me, the view took my breath away. It simply did. Imagine a bar. At the top of the mountain. With the mist at your feet, and a 360 degree of all the green beneath your feet. There is simply no way I can describe what I saw with my eyes. It was heaven on earth my friends.
And the last lesson that I’m about to share with you, is a lesson that this lovely and helpful man taught me. It was something that he said, in fact, that truly inspired me.
We were having a fast but good nonetheless conversation in the bar. And he asked, Are you traveling by yourself here in the mountain?”
And I replied: “I was with a friend back in san francisco, but I made the decision to come here to Miur Woods alone.”
He: “Alone? Don’t speak that word my friend. And remember this. You’re never alone! You may be traveling alone the way you did today. But sincere and genuine help is always around you. There are friends you make along the way. Friends like me! And friendship transcends space and time. You are alone, yes, but you are never truly alone.”
And with that. I end my narration of my hike. Everything I wrote above is true to the finest details. And it is with the most sincere signing off that I signed off my story with my last life lesson that I know I will remember my entire life.
Lesson #4. I’m never truly alone. And so are you! Because help is always there when you need it most.
P.S. I wish my mum doesn’t read this. I promised her not to do anything alone. :S