Trip report: Spring serenity at Briones Regional Park

From Briones Peak, a view to the north of cattle ponds and Carquinez Straits.

From Briones Peak, a view to the north
of cattle ponds and Carquinez Straits.

The day after a snowstorm, folks who ski tend to reference sunny, clear-blue skies as evidence of a bluebird day. If I can extend that term to include my hiking adventures, then I’ve recently enjoyed two bluebird days – one at Big Basin Redwoods back on February 24th, and the other this past Sunday at Briones Regional Park.

Quite fortuitously, each of these hikes had occasion to occur two days after moderate seasonal rainfall late in the week, each rain quickly giving way to clear weather and allowing adequate drainage and drying of the trail surface. By the time I’d arrived at their trailheads, the soils at each park had yielded a near-perfect tack, comfortable underfoot and presenting only minor incidence of loose footing in the shadowed low spots.

Red Maids (Calandrinia ciliata) were a common sight on the sunny saddle between Briones and Mott peaks.

Red Maids, Calandrinia ciliata, were a common sight on the sunny saddle between Briones and Mott peaks.

It had been another in a series of long weeks at work, and I first had to get past the frustrations of deciphering dense Engineerese and an all-too-tall pile of workload. A good night’s sleep and a few miles of road between my Sunnyvale home and the hills of Orinda seemed to carve away the vestiges of these vexations, but once I stepped out of my truck at Briones Park’s Bear Creek Trailhead, breathed the cool green hills, laced my boots and embraced a friend, all care quickly melted into a serene pace and welcome chatter.

Within a few steps, my week had suddenly and gratefully distilled into a decoction of carpe the damn bluebird diem.

We strode out on a counterclockwise loop, Angela and I, first walking a trail east along Bear Creek before angling right along Homestead Valley Trail. We encountered the softest earth along these lower flats which, though pocked with cow sign, were easily navigable, yet too laden with moisture to support wildflower displays. After perhaps a mile, our route took us left onto Briones Crest Trail and into hills rampant with coast live oak, yet studded here and there with madrone, bay laurel and, as we climbed higher to a junction with Table Top Trail, a scattering of surprisingly tall, quickly-growing buttercups.

Mt. Diablo glows in the morning haze.

Mt. Diablo glows in the morning haze.

Eventually we emerged from the trees onto an open ridge below Briones Peak and enjoyed our first glimpse of the surrounding countryside. Mt. Diablo shimmered beyond us to the east above the town of Walnut Creek, its twin peaks prominent on the morning skyline; to the west, we could easily recognize the unmistakable contours of Mt. Tamalpais.

We sauntered on, gaining Briones Peak, then continued northwest, following the crest of the ridge toward Mott Peak. The land undulated away to the north below us, offering a dazzling view of the Carquinez Straits, the Mayacamas Ridge in Sonoma County beyond and, just below us, the twin Sindicich lagoons.

Up until now we had generally followed the main trails, which had in large part been wide ranch road. But having seen that the trail we were on skirted the high point of the park, Mott Peak, I eschewed pretense and instead decided to follow a fenceline cow trail directly upslope to its summit. Mild protestations from Angela elicited a brief discussion of rhythmic breathing technique and, before we were scarcely aware of it, we were communing with the meadowlarks and ravens atop the peak, and hungrily unwrapping our sandwiches.

The Herrick Red from Conn Creek Winery: well-structured, fruit-forward, and absolutely delicious.

The Herrick Red from Conn Creek Winery: well-structured, fruit-forward, and absolutely delicious.

At 1,424 feet, the view from Mott Peak is nothing if not commanding, and so we sat and gazed awhile at the splendor surrounding us, gratefully chowing down and occasionally commanding sips from a bottle of Herrick Red from Conn Creek Winery, a classic yet affordable Bordeaux-style wine sourced and blended from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes grown in Napa Valley’s Rutherford district.

On such a comfortable, sun-warm day, it was easy to accept the notion that we should simply linger in the grass among the Red Maids, allow the gentle Bay breeze to caress us, and let our thoughts wander in unbroken reverie, but our feet eventually ruled the moment, given to notions of wandering themselves. And so we ambled downhill, back along Mott Peak Trail to Black Oak Trail which, though it descends sharply enough to wisely warrant a counterclockwise circumnavigation of the Briones Crest, quickly returned us to Old Briones Road and our cars.

If you’re going to Briones Regional Park

The wildflowers are just beginning to bloom, so now through mid-May is a great time to explore the magic of Briones Regional Park. The majority of the park’s over 6,000 acres of open space is unshaded and open to the elements, so be sure to wear sunscreen, even a wide-brimmed hat. The Briones Regional Park website a includes a downloadable trail map; parking at the Briones Park office and the Alhambra, Bear Creek, Lafayette Ridge and Reliez Valley staging areas is $3 and is open from 8 a.m. to sunset.

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Have you hiked Briones Regional Park?
If so, did you see any wildflowers or enjoy the view from Mott Peak?

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~winehiker

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Sunday, March 24th: Vista Grande Loop, Sunol Regional Wilderness

From Eagle Valley Trail looking east.

From Eagle Valley Trail looking east.

6.1 moderate miles, 1700′ elevation gain, early Spring wildflowers

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Duration: approximately 3–4 hours
How to confirm your attendance: Simply add a comment at the bottom of this post.*

Sunol Regional Wilderness
The end of Geary Road
Sunol, CA
(510) 635-0135

THE HIKE
A trip to Sunol is a trip to the country. Unlike many other East Bay parks, Sunol isn’t bordered by neighborhoods or major thoroughfares. You can’t reach it any other way than to drive slowly on a narrow country road. When you hike the grassy, oak-studded hills of Sunol, all you see are more grassy, oak-studded hills! Those, and an occasional glimpse at shimmering Calaveras Reservoir.

Our hike is a six-mile loop tour of Sunol that reveals many of the park’s best features. It is steep in places, so come prepared for a hike that feels like a bit more than six miles. We’ll warm up gently, though; the route for our hike will navigate the relatively easy Canyon View and Ohlone Road trails adjacent to Alameda Creek before we turn uphill at Cerro Este Road. We’ll climb for at least a mile to Cerro Este Overlook at 1,720 feet, where we’ll catch our breath before we bear left on Cave Rocks Road toward a right turn on Eagle View Trail. A gentle ascent over the next mile will bring us to a magnificent view at Vista Grande Overlook at 1,680 feet. We’ll then turn west on Vista Grande Road and descend to High Valley Road, where we’ll turn left and head toward the barn and picnic area at High Valley Camp. From there, we head toward Indian Joe Creek Trail, which we’ll descend back toward where we started.

The view from Vista Grande Trail above High Valley Camp.

The view from Vista Grande Trail above High Valley Camp.

After the hike, expect to be hungry! So let’s adjourn to downtown Sunol and enjoy lunch together at Bosco’s Bones & Brew.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From Interstate 680 south of Pleasanton, take the Highway 84/Calaveras Road exit. Turn left on Calaveras Road and drive south 4.2 miles. Turn left on Geary Road and drive 1.7 miles to the park entrance. Continue about ¼ mile to the entrance kiosk, pay your fee, then drive 100 yards past the visitor center to the parking lot across from the horse rental area. The trail begins on the left side of the rest rooms at the footbridge.

CARPOOL
From the South Bay: meet at 8:30 a.m. at the 680/Mission Park n’ Ride Lot located at the intersection of Highway 680 and Mission Blvd. in Fremont. We’ll leave at 8:45 sharp. For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling.

NOTES
Parking at Sunol Regional Wilderness is $5 per vehicle; here’s an online trail map. Drive time from San Jose may take 25-30 minutes; from SF, perhaps 20-30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:30; our hike will begin promptly at 9:45.

Parking should be adequate at our trailhead near the horse stables. Nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are allowed on this hike for a $2 fee per dog.

Maguire Peaks under cloud shadow at Sunol Regional Wilderness.

Maguire Peaks under cloud shadow at Sunol Regional Wilderness.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for East Bay Parks.

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

————————— ♦ —————————

Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming – simply reply in the Comments below.
Thanks!

————————— ♦ —————————

*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike – just in case you need to contact me on your way to the trailhead.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

~winehiker

Saturday, March 9th: Loop of the Briones Crest, Briones Regional Park

 6.8 moderate rolling miles, with scenic ridgetop views

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Approximate hike duration: 4-5 hours
How to attend: Reply in the Comments section of this post.

Late winter rains add vivid color to the hillsides at Briones Regional Park.

Briones Regional Park
Bear Creek Valley Entrance
Orinda, CA
(888) 327-2757

THE HIKE
This rambling loop hike includes parts of the Homestead Valley, Briones Crest, Table Top, Mott Peak, and Black Oak trails, and is a great introduction to the southwest half of this expansive, 6,117-acre park. It’s an area of rolling hills, high ridges, and forested canyons, but the real reward for hiking the Briones Crest will be late Winter/early Spring wildflowers and those stunning 360-degree views.

Much of our route will be out in the open, climbing high atop the rolling hills that characterize this regional park, but we’ll also appreciate the wide variety of trees that grow along Bear Creek. Birds appreciate this landscape too, and we may hear the sharp cry of a northern flicker or the call of a California quail as we amble along.

After the hike, we’ll be hungry! So let’s all chow down on wood-fired Mexican comfort food in downtown Orinda at Barbacoa.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From Highway 24 in Orinda, take the Orinda exit and drive northwest 2.2 miles on Camino Pablo to Bear Creek Road. Turn right and, after 0.3 mile, reach the entrance kiosk; continue 0.1 mile to the last parking area. Our trailhead is just beyond this last parking area.

CARPOOL
From the South Bay: Let’s meet at 8:15 a.m. at the 680/Mission Park n’ Ride Lot located at the intersection of Highway 680 and Mission Blvd. in Fremont. We’ll leave at 8:30 sharp. For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

NOTES
Parking at Briones Regional Park is free; here’s an online trail map. Drive time from San Jose may take 55-70 minutes; from SF, perhaps 10-20 minutes less. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:30; our hike will begin promptly at 9:45.

Parking should be adequate near our trailhead at the end of Bear Creek Road. Nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are allowed on this hike for a $2 fee.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for East Bay Parks.

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

————————— ♦ —————————

Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming – simply reply in the Comments below.
Thanks!

————————— ♦ —————————

*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

~winehiker

Sunday, February 24th: Meteor Trail Loop Hike at Big Basin State Park

 

Remnants of logging activity linger many decades in Big Basin.

Sunday, February 24th: a moderate 6-mile loop w/ 400+ feet elev. gain

Meet: 10:30 a.m.
Hike: 10:45 a.m.
Approximate hike duration: 3-4 hours
How to attend: Click the Join button on this Facebook event* or reply in the Comments section of this post.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park Visitors Center
21600 Big Basin Way
Boulder Creek, CA
(831) 338-8860

THE HIKE
Walking the Meteor Trail Loop is a fine way to wander among the giants at Big Basin Redwoods State Park without the crowds on the more popular trails. In Winter and early Spring, the surrounding creeks burble to life, making the Meteor Trail one of the best riparian hikes at Big Basin. And on clear days, Ocean View Summit from Middle Ridge Road offers an expansive view from over 1800 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

We’ll probably arrive at the spur trail to Ocean View Summit before we know it. After many a lingering gaze, we’ll then head south, returning via the Dool, Creeping Forest, and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trails to where we started at Park Headquarters.

After the hike, we have the option of tasting the wines of Cinnabar Winery at their tasting room in downtown Saratoga, back along our return route to Highway 280.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From the SF peninsula, take Hwy 280 to Sunnyvale/Saratoga Road. Turn south toward the hills and drive 5 miles to Saratoga and Hwy 9. Turn right at Hwy 9 and drive up the hill for 7 miles to Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35). Continue over the other side of Skyline along Highway 9 about 7 more miles to Highway 236. Turn right and drive about 10 miles to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We’ll start our hike at the Visitors Center.

CARPOOL
From Cupertino: Let’s meet at 8:15 a.m. at Coffee Society, located at 21265 Stevens Creek Blvd, opposite De Anza College. We’ll leave at 8:30 sharp. The merchants have posted a number of signs warning “non-customers” not to park their cars in the plaza parking lot. So, please park on N. Mary Avenue behind Oaks Plaza. If you plan to meet at this carpool, please share a note with your R.S.V.P.

For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

NOTES
A $10 day-use fee is charged per vehicle at Big Basin; trails maps are $3 at the Visitors Center. Drive time from San Jose may take 75-90 minutes; from SF, perhaps 30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 10:30; our hike will begin promptly at 10:45.

Parking is usually adequate at the park’s main parking lot adjacent to the Big Basin Visitor Center. Nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are not allowed on this hike.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy boots for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail will likely present themselves.

The phone number above is for Big Basin State Park.

*A few days prior to this hike, I will share my cell phone number with all people who RSVP either by clicking the Join button on the Facebook page for this event or have commented on this post.  (If you and I are not Facebook friends, hit me up at http://www.facebook.com/winehiker.)

Meet 10:30 a.m., hike 10:45 sharp.

See you at the Visitor Center!

~winehiker

P.S. This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

Saturday, February 9th: Bob Walker Ridge Loop Hike

The view east toward the Sierra Nevada from Bob Walker Ridge.

Saturday, February 9th: a “ridge run”, approximately 5.9 moderate, rolling miles

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Approximate hike duration: 3-4 hours
How to attend: Click the Join button on this Facebook event* or reply in the Comments section of this post.

Volvon Staging Area, Morgan Territory Regional Preserve
Morgan Territory Road
Livermore, CA
(510) 544-2750 

THE HIKE
Morgan Territory Regional Preserve is one of the most remote and scenic parks in the East Bay, perched at 2,000 feet on the southeastern ridge of Mt. Diablo State Park. It’s within sight of Mt. Livermore, Altamont Pass, and the Central Valley.

The trail names here are based on Native American history and tradition: Coyote is a mythic personality of Indian legends, and the Volvon were one of the East Bay groups that resisted the Spanish mission system. The preserve itself is named for Jeremiah Morgan, an early settler, gold miner and rancher. Bob Walker Ridge honors a photographer and environmentalist whose efforts on behalf of EBPRD from 1984 until his death in 1993 led to additional land acquisitions in Morgan Territory and Pleasanton Ridge. (Someday it might be worthwhile to walk the length of the Bob Walker Regional Trail, which connects Morgan Territory with Mt. Diablo State Park.)

Seclusion and wilderness make hiking here a special experience. It’s really a beautiful hike. Our loop will traverse the Coyote, Volvon Loop and Volvon trails and includes a deep canyon and a climb to expansive views atop lofty Bob Walker Ridge. If the weather’s clear, we may experience a pretty fine view of the snowy Sierra. So bring your binoculars! And a camera.

After the hike, let’s return down the mountain to have lunch at First Street Ale House in downtown Livermore, where the grub is tasty and they always have 24 beers on tap.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From I-580 in Livermore, exit onto N. Livermore Ave. and turn north. Shortly after N. Livermore curves left (west), turn right onto Morgan Territory Road and follow it for about 5.5 miles to the staging area. From Walnut Creek/Concord, take Clayton Road to Marsh Creek Road, then turn right onto Morgan Territory Road. The staging area is 9.4 miles from Marsh Creek Road.

CARPOOL
From Sunnyvale: Let’s meet at 8:00 a.m. at Tasman Square, located at the corner of Tasman Drive and Lawrence Expressway between highways 101 and 237. Park near the fence fronting Lawrence Expressway and look for me nearest the Taco Bell; I’ll most likely be sitting on the tailgate of my black Dodge Dakota pickup with black camper shell. We’ll leave at 8:15 sharp. If you plan to meet at this carpool, please share a comment with your RSVP.

For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

NOTES
Wear sturdy boots for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail will likely present themselves.

Though parking is usually adequate at the Volvon Staging area, it may not be by mid-morning if there are other large hiking or equestrian groups also meeting there. Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. Leashed dogs are allowed. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive. Phone number above is for the East Bay Regional Park District Office.

*A few days prior to this hike, I will share my cell phone number with all people who RSVP either by clicking the Join button on the Facebook page for this event or have commented on this post.  (If you and I are not Facebook friends, hit me up at http://www.facebook.com/winehiker.)

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.

See you at the trailhead!

~winehiker

P.S. This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

RESCHEDULED for January 19th: Russian Ridge Loop Hike

The first few yards up the Bay Area Ridge Trail from the Russian Ridge trailhead are a nice, easy amble.

[Editor’s note:  it was apparently my turn to wear a big mitt and catch the flu on the 11th, and boy, did I catch it!  So, I rescheduled this hiking event for next Saturday, January 19th. I hope you’ll join me!]
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Easy 4.4-mile loop with 550 feet of elevation gain.

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Meet: 10:00 a.m.
Hike: 10:15 a.m. sharp
Approximate hike duration: 2-3 hours
How to attend: Click the Join button on this Facebook event* or reply in the Comments section of this post.

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve
Alpine Road at Skyline Blvd. above Palo Alto, California
(650) 691-1200

THE HIKE: DO IT FOR THE VIEW!
Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve is more than 1500 acres of windswept ridgetop paradise. The weather may be foggy along the coast, but the sun is usually shining brightly on Russian Ridge. From the Preserve’s 2300’ elevation atop Borel Hill, you’ll admire the view west above the layer of fog blanketing the ocean. And, when you turn to face east, a commanding view of San Francisco Bay stretches out before you.

GETTING THERE
From Interstate 280 in Palo Alto, take the Page Mill Road exit west. Drive 8.9 winding miles into the hills to Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35), taking care to share the road with cyclists. Cross Skyline Boulevard, where Page Mill Road becomes Alpine Road. Drive 200 feet on Alpine Road and turn right into the Russian Ridge entrance.

IF YOU WANT TO CARPOOL
Let’s meet at 9:00 a.m. at the Page Mill Park n’ Ride, located at the intersection of Highway 280 and Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. We’ll leave at 9:15 sharp!

For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

*NOTES
If you are interested in attending this event, please be courteous! Simply click the Join button to let myself and other attendees know you’re coming.  This event is limited to the first 15 people who RSVP in this manner; crashers, regretfully, will be turned away.

Parking and trail maps are free at Russian Ridge OSP; maps can also be downloaded at http://www.openspace.org/preserves/maps/pr_coal_creek_rr.pdf. Drive time from San Jose may take 45-60 minutes; from SF, perhaps 30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate drive time so that you arrive at the trailhead by 10:00; our hike will begin promptly at 10:15.

Though parking is often adequate at Russian Ridge, it may not be by mid-morning, so I always urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see below). Dogs are not allowed on this hike. A pit toilet is available at the trailhead. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks and/or lunch for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. I also recommend leaving a small cooler in your car containing Gatorade or other life-affirming cool post-hike beverage.

The phone number listed above is for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. You can indicate attendance in the Comments section of this post, but I will only share my cell phone number with all people who properly RSVP by clicking the Join button on this Facebook event.

*A few days prior to this hike, I will share my cell phone number with all people who RSVP either by clicking the Join button on the Facebook page for this event or have commented on this post.  (If you and I are not Facebook friends, hit me up at http://www.facebook.com/winehiker.)

Thank you! See you on the trail.

~winehiker

P.S. This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

A group of happy hikers on the summit of 2,572-ft. Borel Hill.

Morning pain, afternoon comfort

I recently decided to explore the East Bay Hills in an area near Hayward, California, just south of Oakland. Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park promised to be an area of open grasslands and green velvety hillsides worth exploring. So, I put a group of hikers together and we met this morning for a romp-n-stomp. There were 11 of us, and none of us had ever been there before. It didn’t appear to matter, however, that we were all going to tread new ground.

Hey, sometimes that what it’s about, right? Discovering new territory, seeing new places, enjoying the possibilities of the new and different. And sharing it with like-minded folks.

I had originally planned a ridge run loop that would be about 10 miles. Alas, we didn’t complete the entire loop. For the first time I can recall in a very long time, I found myself suffering – in real pain – and proposing to the group that we cut the hike short.

Fortunately all agreed and, having completed about 6 miles, we returned to the trailhead. We had already planned on a post-hike picnic, though, and by the time we had returned, the low clouds that had covered us all morning had largely burned off and the day was becoming most pleasant. I was glad to remove my pack, having felt shooting pains on the left side of my neck and down my left shoulder. As we picnicked, it was good to have my friend Gary Fox there with his delicious supply of home-made Merlot, a liquid anesthetic that I found most refreshing.

The fact that we lingered awhile, noshing our bounty, admiring the green hillsides, dreamily soaking up the day’s warmth and enjoying each other’s company found us all glad to be together – even though some of us were strangers to one another – and wishing we didn’t have to leave.

Some days are like that, you know? It feels good to know that, even when things can feel rotten in some respects, people can pull together to simply be happy about where they are and who they’re with. I count myself among the very thankful that I associate with such good folks. Far be it from me – pain notwithstanding – to rain on such a parade. In fact I was quite happy to just be where I was with such an engaging group.

It’s because of such moments as this that I do what I do on the hills and trails of California. Despite days that can challenge me beyond the realm of comfort, I am glad to take comfort in what really counts, and that’s the desire of people to be the best they can be with each other. And sometimes, that’s enough to pull the pain right out of me.

~winehiker