Setting group expectations when you haven’t yet hiked the trail

Sunday morning I read a post on WildernessDave’s blog that delved into how diffident you can feel when you’ve decided to host a group hike but haven’t yet explored the trail you’re going to be hiking.

As Dave recounts:

We got an early start on a cold morning just as the sun was coming up.  I may not have made it entirely clear from the beginning, but I had never hiked this trail before.  I was going off of a pretty decent map and a trail description found online.  I didn’t know if there would be trail markers or not, or how easy the trail would be to follow once we got out of Spur Cross Recreation Area.  There is an expectation, when hiking with the person who has suggested the trail, that they are leading the hike.  This dawned on me shortly after we got started and I felt the pressure of needing to know where we were, where we were going and how far we still needed to go.  Every time someone asked, “is this the trail?” or “do we cross the creek here?” I felt like I should not only know the answer but be confident about it.

I appreciate Dave’s frankness in spite of what we may suppose are his ideal notions of himself; he encapsulates his experience well. I’ve certainly experienced the emotional struggle he was feeling; after all, every new trail is one you haven’t walked before. But when you’ve got other people joining you who may be new to hiking or haven’t yet hiked with you, or even seasoned hikers who may respect your abilities by reputation or proxy but don’t know the trail either, delivering on expectations can be of prime importance well before everybody arrives at the trailhead.

So how do you deliver?

Advance research is crucial for ensuring a fun, worry-free group hiking experience.

Advance research is crucial for ensuring a fun, worry-free group hiking experience.

Certainly a responsible hike organizer doesn’t show up at a trailhead as host of a group hike without doing as much advance research and planning as possible, as I figure Dave tried his best to do. Trail research can mean a good scouring of the available guidebooks, online trail descriptions, route-finding apps, weather predictions, seasonal trail conditions and hardcopy maps that you can lay your hands on – even enlisting the help of one or more of your fellow hikers – then taking the next step by setting proper expectations for the group. By all accounts, Dave is an experienced outdoorsman and, as he and I have learned from honest experience, one must also have confidence in one’s abilities as a seasoned hike leader, as well as confidence in the tools one uses to navigate the trail safely and as planned.

Which, for me, naturally begs two questions: what tools do you trust while researching a new trail and, aside from much of the typical gear you might pack with you, what tools do you trust once your group convenes at the trailhead?

I alluded to these questions in my comment on Wilderness Dave‘s post:

Once, in Paria Canyon, having seen 3 different GPS waypoints for the same trail destination prior to a hike into the Coyote Buttes, I’ll be danged if I’ll ever solely trust a GPS. Thank goodness I had my wits, a friend, trail descriptions and a map – and we reached our gruesomely twisted sandstone destination, The Wave (where we took another GPS reading that yielded yet a 4th coordinate).

While it’s preferable to have scouted a trail prior to leading a group hike over it, one doesn’t always get the opportunity, especially when the trailhead is a little further afield. But whether you know the trail or whether the hike will be a new experience, it always pays to set the group’s expectations early – once in the event write-up, then again at the trailhead before embarking down the trail. It’s at the trailhead that I tend to use words such as “discovery” and “adventure”, which I find resonate with folks. I also ask my fellow hikers to confirm my map readings so that there’s more of a consensus than an undue trust in my map-reading abilities. And that means more than any GPS interpretation can provide.

Entering The Wave, September 2003.

Entering The Wave, September 2003

It’s best to know what you’re getting everybody into…

Experience aside, you don’t want to lead other trusting souls on a group hike if you don’t know what to expect once you’re committed to leading it. But if you first take pains to characterize your hike so that you are reasonably satisfied with your expectations of what lies ahead, then when you publicly convey it as a bonafide hiking event, you’ll likely also attract the right people to your hike, simply because they will have reasonable expectations about the outing too.

Setting these kinds of advance expectations in your event write-up also raises the probability that you’ll keep out the riff-raff, which is to say, you’ll discourage those would-be attendees who, by seeing how you’ve characterized the hike, will likely realize they are not adequately conditioned or prepared; most will simply not show up for it. (Seasoned hike leaders will tell you: that’s a good thing.) Over time, you’ll become aware, and even thankful, that setting adequate expectations for your group will mean that your experience will be the fun outing that you planned rather than, as Dave may have experienced (and as I have too), an endurance exercise in people management.

So what kinds of expectations should you take pains to convey to your would-be group? The following list is a reasonably comprehensive one, and I consider its elements to be tantamount to crucial. So should you:

  • Always list the total distance. If there’s no adequate trail description handy, grab a good map and tally up the mileage between trail junctions/waypoints. Then, double-check your math – even triple-check it.
  • Always characterize the outing as a function of terrain and distance, and include seasonal factors such as weather, potential thunderstorms/flooding, and boil it down to a basic difficulty level, i.e.:
    • Easy
    • Moderate
    • Strenuous
    • Very strenuous

    As an example of this, a 10-mile hiking route in late Winter can be a very different experience than hiking the same route in the heat of Summer. What may seem like a moderate hike early on can seem brutal, unforgiving, and therefore very strenuous later in the year.

  • Always offer as much detail as necessary to get your hikers to the trailhead. This consideration is likely the most important one once people have committed to a hike’s distance and characterization, therefore requiring due diligence on your part so that all attendees arrive where you want them to – even when you want them to; i.e., how long they can expect to drive getting there.
  • Always state when you will meet and when you will hike. Because some people will have a tendency to show up at the last minute, I usually set a 15-minute window to allow for traffic conditions and to give early arrivers adequate time to get parked and perform their pre-hike ablutions.
  • If at all possible, always list an office phone number for the jurisdiction that manages the land you’ll be hiking in.
  • Always provide your own phone number or some other means of quickly contacting you during the hours and minutes preceding your hiking event. It’s reasonable to share this information privately with confirmed attendees rather than post it publicly in your event.
  • Optional, yet can make the difference in attendance numbers for many group hikes: a description of the expected experience, e.g., bird life, forests, grasslands, scenic views, tug-at-the-heartstrings chamber-of-commerce stuff if you prefer, plans for after the hike.

Do all of these things, and they will be the things that set a great hike leader apart from an armchair hike leader.

…so don’t be solely reliant on technology.

I’m sure it’s readily obvious from my comment to WildernessDave that I don’t place much faith in GPS technology; I surely don’t abide using a GPS system as the sole mechanism for safe and sane trail passage. I don’t believe other folks should do so, either; GPS technology is not nearly as reliable as some people tend to believe it is.

But whichever technojimcrackery you may hold in your hand, just because it’s got a microchip and software to control it doesn’t mean that it’s flawless! Don’t let technology (and its flaws) control you – or, by extension, your hiking buddies.

That’s not to say that GPS tools don’t serve a useful purpose. After all, they’re used to support land, sea, and airborne navigation, geophysical exploration, mapping and geodetic land surveys, vehicle location systems, and a wide variety of additional applications. The key take-away here is: a mobile GPS system is designed to be a support tool, not the only tool you should rely on.

————————— ♦ —————————

There are other life- and safety-critical reasons for not placing too much trust in your GPS system, as determined by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University. To learn more, read an article titled Researchers Detect Big Flaws in GPS on the Tom’s Hardware website (a self-billed Authority on Tech).

————————— ♦ —————————

Researching my brain for a few final thoughts about…you guessed it: research.

If I may make one additional observation about setting expectations for your group hike, it is this: do your homework. And also know that placing undue faith solely in technology in lieu of adequate research one too many times will likely result in your being shunned as any kind of responsible leader by your local hiking community.

It’s a hard truth to saddle your horse with, but I’ve seen my share of this kind of bravado, and I cannot condone it. Indeed I’ve at times felt it necessary as a hike participant on another host’s event to step up and, using not much more than my wits and experience at reading unknown trail, help lead others back to where we started when confidence in the hike leader has been lost. Deciding to override the presumed authority of the hike organizer does not come easy, but when it’s a necessary decision, it’s always been the right decision in retrospect. Nevertheless, the profound outcome is that the experiences of all concerned could have been much more satisfying if the group host had been responsible in the first place. Fortunately this type of episode was not nearly the case with WildernessDave at Spur Cross; after all, his confidence in his abilities is hard-won from years of experience and experiment, virtue and volition, the tried and the true.

And: pre-hike research.

For the greater good, then, it’s better to deliver on your group’s expectations by always conducting thorough research – which, for the sagacity (and therefore, confidence) of the budding hike leader, should always mean advance trail reconnaissance – prior to even thinking about posting your group hike at that new trailhead.

————————— ♦ —————————

Have you ever organized a group hike but hadn’t first walked the trail?
Have you ever participated in a hike in which trust in the hike leader was compromised?
Please feel free to embellish upon my thoughts by adding yours.

But please, don’t judge. No group hike leader is ever a good group hike leader
until he or she makes the commitment to being one – a commitment that must renew
with each group outing.

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Trip report: Nisene Marks State Park & Burrell School Vineyards

It just wasn’t our Fault today.
‘Twas a bit early and a bit chilly Sunday morning when I related my intentions to y’all about the day’s planned excursion through the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. It was 45 degrees at 9:30 a.m.; not typical for early November in the San Francisco Bay Area. But even so I thought an uphill walk would warm me sufficiently. Golly, I might have been wrong about that. Already, it was going to be my fault not to don the silk longies.


It was good to see the park again; I hadn’t spent much time at Nisene Marks since my mountain biking days. I’ve always enjoyed the heavy canopy of the park’s redwoods, regardless of the weather. Combined with the low sun of the Fall season, the forest shade was to keep our group cool for a large part of the day. Though ours was a friendly group, ready to brave the forest chill for a long romp through glorious redwood enchantment, we were a shivering group. But we planned to soon be warm: we faced 10 miles of steady hills.

A good day to be in the woods.

A good day to be in the woods.

We started out at the Porter parking area and walked steadily up the former railroad grade that is Aptos Creek Trail, covering nearly six miles before turning off on Big Slide Trail. That’s when the fun began: the trail wound down along a narrow redwood- and fern-lined canyon, alternating between moments of deep, mossy, forested darkness and fleeting glimpses of sunlight. Curving, twisting, and rolling downstream, the trail showed hardly a sign of human passage. The challenge of keeping to the dim path while reveling in the glow of this elfin paradise bore the seven of us, seemingly, to a sidereal separation from earthbound worry.

The group always wins
Alas, the reverie broke too abruptly. Another hiker, one who’d passed ahead earlier, was now returning, informing us that the trail ahead was signed as being impassable. Darn.

Double darn!

I can be ambivalent about such matters. Because if I’d been alone, I would have attempted to pass through the impassable, defying the faceless functionary who placed the sign, to determine the trail’s supposed impassability for myself. A guy’s gotta try, right? You’ve heard the standard phrase: Always Question Authority, Absolutely.

But the group always wins, of course, and for an obvious good reason: doing the right thing usually means nobody gets hurt.

So, after a moment of wistful wishes to continue mixed with negotiations for good citizenship, safety, and compliance, we turned back uphill instead of continuing into areas grey with unforeseen shadows.

Because we were good citizens, however, we never got to see our intended target for the day: the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. We did, however, get to hike about 4 more miles. But that was probably a good thing, since it kept us a little warmer a little longer.

We didn’t make it, but anyone else can
I figure we hiked about 14 miles Sunday. But the good news is: anyone who wants to can get themselves easily to the epicenter without hiking even one-fourth that long. That’s because there’s a much shorter trail that leads to it from a trail junction we had passed early on. But if you should take the long way and try to find the epicenter from the uphill side like we did, and if you find the trail impassable, not getting there won’t be your Fault, either. Unless you read this first and go anyway.

State park budgets being what they are these days, I don’t expect this trail to be repaired very soon. Like “in the next five years” soon.

The group always wines, too
Nevertheless, undaunted and not to be outdone, the seven of us actually did arrive at Burrell School Vineyards about 4:00 in the afternoon for a well-deserved wine tasting in their enchanting little ridgetop schoolhouse. And while only two of us, my buddy Vindu and myself, were keen to tongue-wag about the wines’ characteristics, all of us were keen to their beneficial effects.

Ah, liquid anesthesia!

Vindu and I even found three out of the five bottles poured to be quite worth taking home. I sprung for a 2002 Zinfandel from Ryan Oaks Vineyard, Amador County ($30), which I found quite jammy and well-finished. Vindu, flush with endorphins and polyphenols, let his MasterCard speak for Burrell’s 2002 Estate Chardonnay from their schoolhouse estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a fine combination of butter and spice, on sale for $16. Plus, though they weren’t pouring it,* Vindu also picked up 3 bottles of 2003 Cabernet Franc from the Santa Cruz Mountains, a young (but highly drinkable now) estate-grown pure varietal that is very much worth cellaring; it’s priced at $40 a bottle.

Wait! There’s more.
I’d mentioned in my last post that fellow outdoor blogger Tom Mangan would be along for this hike. You might enjoy Tom’s account of this day, a darn-fine photoessay.

*A side note on the Cab Franc: we had thought we would taste this wine at the winery. However, Burrell School is currently down to less than 20 cases and is therefore no longer pouring it at their tasting bar. You can still buy it, though, if you hurry. Vindu and I enjoyed one of these solid Cab Francs for dinner that evening, the upshot being that we both purred like satisfied cats and finished the bottle. And that was nobody’s fault.

See a related story, Why I love redwood trees.


From sexyhotbeauty: Ten Easy Steps To Getting Started In Hiking

Today’s guest post, albeit a “stylized” one, which you’ll readily notice if you click through. My conclusion? When all else has you in conniptions, hire an experienced guide. Like me, for instance.

Ever dreamed of hiking but do not exactly know where to start? Don’t worry. You are not alone. You are one of the many who have chosen to embark in the process of staying fit by means of hiking. But good hikers haven’t reached that level literally and figuratively overnight. They were also briefed on some basic things every hiker must know.

read more | digg story

Trip Report: China Hole Loop Hike, Henry Coe State Park

At long last: the following photoessay has been over a week in arriving, but I blame nobody for my tardiness in posting it but the Hades Inc. Department of Pinched Nerves and Spinal Subluxation, Special Expensive Downtime Division. Thank you, dear reader, for your patient tolerance while I’ve been recuperating from this @#$*! neck thing – I quite frankly couldn’t work the keyboard for more than about 15 minutes for about 9 days. Could it have been the rigors of this hike that sent me spiraling into the Nether Depths of Neckdom? Well, highly doubtful. But dang it all anyway.

And so, onto the show: to see larger versions of each photo, the content of heart need only click once.

Sunday, October 15th, 2006
I got together with a few of my pals for a double-digit romp through one of my favorite backyards, Henry Coe State Park, which waits for the adventurous soul on a high ridge about 30 minutes’ drive along a twisty, tortuous mountain road east of the South Santa Clara County hamlet of Morgan Hill, California.

Henry Coe State Park waits for the adventurous soul on a high ridge.

Coe Park is Northern California’s largest state park – even larger than Big Basin – at over 87,000 acres of former farm and ranchland.

Coe Park is Northern California’s largest state park – even larger than Big Basin – at over 87,000 acres of former farm and ranchland.

Henry Coe kept a few horses in his stable, which still stands…

Henry Coe kept a few horses in his stable, which still stands.

…along with his family’s former homestead, which is now the Henry Coe Park Headquarters and Visitor Center.

The Coe family’s former homestead is today the Henry Coe Park Headquarters and Visitor Center.

Much of the splendor that Coe Park offers awaits the ready hiker just across the road from the Visitor Center. I say “ready” for a reason: most of the hiking here requires stamina and a few good base miles. Our group, I’ll admit, was more than ready to tackle just a little more than ten miles’ hilly hiking along the Corral, Springs, and Manzanita Point trails to a keyhole loop of the Madrone Soda Springs, Mile, and China Hole trails.

Our group was ready to tackle more than ten miles’ hilly hiking along the Corral, Springs, and Manzanita Point trails to a keyhole loop of the Madrone Soda Springs, Mile, and China Hole trails.

Though the heat of Summer in the Diablo Range was over…

The heat of Summer in the Diablo Range has given way to cool fog.

…we’d be hard-pressed to find any compulsion not to catapult ourselves off the trail. Yet somehow we escaped that fate.

The sign indicates "NO DIVING". Somehow we escaped the fate of catapulting ourselves off the trail.

At the junction of Manzanita Point, Corral, and Springs trails, we stop for a confab. It’s always good to meet halfway on stuff such as stopping at all hilltops and trail junctions. But it’s the spooky month of October, and who knew what critters lurked just off-trail, waiting to pounce on the unwitting, chatty hiker? I decided we’d better review our worse-, worst-, and worster-case scenarios before plunging down Springs trail.

At the junction of Manzanita Point, Corral, and Springs trails, we stop for a confab.

After all, it may be Fall, but there may just be big hairy spiders springing upon us.

A signpost directs us south toward Manzanita Point.

Meanwhile, the day was still ripe for some fine late-season ambling among the oak- and brush-dotted grasslands.

The day was ripe for some fine late-season ambling among the oak- and brush-dotted grasslands.

Hark! A stag a-leap!! And a fine piece of sharp-eyed camerawork, too. Photo credits – and there are many – go to Mr. Mark Shepley of Walnut Creek, California.

A black-tailed deer leaps just off-trail.

We continue, crediting Nature with this tranquil scene of pines and hardwood hillsides. And then…

Tranquil scene of pines and hardwood hillsides.

…out leapt wave upon wave of big and scary demented hairy beasts!!

Big and scary demented hairy beasts!

And so my prediction comes true: MJ, ever stout of spirit and brave of heart, models the latest line of furs from Halloween, Incorporated…

MJ models the latest line of furs from Halloween, Incorporated.

…yet there is much more trail to discover. Happy in our arachnid discovery, we continue, spirits aloft, to tramp down the trail. Andy and Annie, to my left, are almost bigger hikin’ fools than I am: we’ve pounded a lot of trail together these last coupla years, both locally and otherwise.

Happy in our arachnid discovery, we continue, spirits aloft, to tramp down the trail.

While it’s only been about 2 miles or so to this point on the trail, and while we haven’t yet enjoyed any strenuous hillclimbing, the endorphins are coursing, and it shows easily and often in the smiles of ardent hikers Caroline and MJ.

The endorphins are coursing, and it shows easily and often in our smiles.

Though they say that a picture paints a thousand words, Mr. Shepley’s sense of composition has certainly added a broad palate of fine brushstrokes, as depicted in this still of a tough old ridgetop oak.

Juxtaposition: a tough old ridgetop oak and a foreground stump.

Into the canyon
The remains of the old Madrone Soda Springs resort, built in the late 19th century and destroyed by abandonment and neglect, but mostly by a much more recent Soda Springs Canyon flood: this former two-story building used to stand about a half-mile upstream.

The remains of the old Madrone Soda Springs resort, destroyed by a Soda Springs Canyon flood.

The descent from Coe Park’s Pine Ridge down Soda Canyon spills, finally, onto Coyote Creek.

The descent from Coe Park’s Pine Ridge down Soda Canyon spills onto Coyote Creek.

With 13 creek crossings and some truly fantastic wildlife sightings – the latter being nearly always true for Henry Coe Park – the hike thus far has been an exciting one…

With 13 creek crossings and wildlife sightings, the hike thus far has been an exciting one.

…but that’s because it’s all been downhill to China Hole, a perfect place to swim in Summer if you don’t mind the long, hot, steep, and sweaty hillclimb out from here. Alas, even though the air temperature is rather warm, the water is already too cold for frolicking and wet-play, and all we’re doing is stripping down to our lunchbags.

China Hole is a perfect place for a Summer swim if you don’t mind the long, hot, steep and sweaty hillclimb out from here.

“I smile unto you, my Children.”
Thus uttereth a satiated Winehiker from a well-placed post-lunch promontory. And yet somehow, wine was not involved.

The winehiker surveys the scene from on high.

Mark’s sharp eye once again captures a fine moment in wildlife poseurship: this time it’s a male Dark-Eyed Junco, a common sighting all over coastal California.

A dark-eyed junco whistles overhead.

The old rancher’s grasslands spawn many oaks and many pines. This Monterey pine is more picturesque than most.

A picturesque Monterey pine.

Our Coe Park sortie dissolves, as it nearly always does, into a fine mix of food, laughter, beer, endorphins, and hilarity. Such are the wily plans of a crafty winehiker. If I recall correctly, we also shared a bottle of 2001 Lindeman’s Pyrus from Coonawarra, Australia that afternoon, and I might just have to blog about that wine. [Editor’s note: I’ve now done so.]

Our Coe Park sortie dissolves into a fine mix of food, laughter, beer, endorphins, and hilarity.

The hike was officially over, but not so the day: Mark sighted this coyote through his viewfinder…

A coyote jaywalks along the mountain road.

…and the coyote sighted Mark. Good thing Mark didn’t think this critter was a wolf!

The jaywalking coyote turns to sullenly mock us.

Glad he’s on the other side of that really stout fence
No photoessay of the hills east, north, and south of the San Francisco Bay would be complete, of course, without including its most conspicuous citizen (besides us two-legged varmints). This steer appears well-practiced at posing for photographers exiting Coe Park.

This young steer seems well-practiced at posing for the camera.

On the drive home, we cross a bridge above the junction of Coyote Creek and Anderson Reservoir above Morgan Hill. Pine Ridge is witness to our departure in the mid-afternoon distance.

A bridge above the junction of Coyote Creek and Anderson Reservoir above Morgan Hill.

A view to the west out over Anderson Reservoir is quite enchanting. In late season, this pond is more full than usual.

A view to the west over Anderson Reservoir.

Yes, it’s been a good year.

It’s been a good year of winehiking.

And thus concludes our broadcast day from Henry Coe State Park.

Thus concludes our broadcast day from Henry Coe State Park.


When the objective is not the goal

It’s not often that I’ll catch a Sunday football game, since I’m usually out sauntering along a trail somewhere. It doesn’t really matter that I’m missing this ritualized violence anyway, since I’m working in an environment in which there’s quite an assortment of 49er and Raiders fans who all dish out the Monday morning chatter at each other to a degree ever-so-slightly below gonzo fanaticism. All I have to do to find out who won over whom or which player is wearing too much bling is just keep my ears open.

Or tune ’em out.

So this morning I learned that two people got arrested at last week’s Raiders/Niners game for having sex in the stands.

Let’s see: the Raiders still haven’t won a game this season. Instead, they’ve lost five straight games. At this rate, I’m surprised more bored football fans aren’t getting it on in the seats.

In a comment on the incident, one of my Raider-fan colleagues remarked, “Well, at least somebody scored.”


An ace up my winehiking sleeve

I’ve been holding back these last 3 seasons, keeping the Fall Creek Loop to myself. It’s one of those special, magical outdoor locations that, while so close to the megalopolis that is Silicon Valley, can seem so remote, uncharted, and gloriously far away from everything.

Ah, but I invited my crew there to hike with me Saturday; it was time to play my hole card and share a little magic.

Aces. You got to know when to hold ’em.

Aces. You got to know when to hold ’em.

They say that the Fall Creek Unit at Henry Cowell State Park, with it’s rugged “chutes and ladders” trails, is the longest seven miles they’ve ever walked. I’m sure that’s true, being as it’s actually more like nine miles, but it’s nine miles through some of the loveliest redwood and big-leaf maple forest that you’ll ever see, especially in late summer when those maple leaves are turning to gold and the tanoaks are dropping their acorns.

But even in September, what you hear as you descend the Fall Creek Trail is equally enchanting. Serenaded by the murmuring voice of the creek, you can’t help but feel mesmerized by its siren call. There’s something about the endorphin-inducing combination of a semi-steep morning hillclimb followed by a descending romp alongside a trailside creek – not to mention a chomp down a creekside lunch – to put one under Nature’s spell. I consider it mandatory to volunteer for such duty to the point of addiction.

I was glad to have fellow outdoor blogger Tom Mangan along, too. But golly, if you would think that I’m a hiking addict, then my addiction needs tweaking – this was Tom’s fourth day of hiking in a row.

(Hey Tom, don’t you have a day job?)

At any rate, it was good to talk shop with Tom about the world of blogging, the worlds of wine and hiking, and the world in general. And, bless his heart, Tom has graciously shared his thoughts about the day, too.

Give him a read, won’t you? And enjoy Tom’s photos. Then take time to heed that Fall Creek siren call for yourself. It’ll become an ace up your sleeve, too.


Trailside crew brew

Enterprising though they may be, Starbucks has yet to figure out a way to bring their franchise to the trail.

May they never do so!

But heck, we coffee-guzzling wilderness lovers need not fret: now we can enjoy Java Juice which, according to their website, is “a pure coffee extract that turns into a bonafide cup of 100 percent organic, and certified Kosher, Arabica coffee when mixed with either hot or cold water.”

Java Juice: your main squeeze when in camp.

Java Juice: your main squeeze when in camp.

Kurt Rapansek of the National Parks Traveler explains:

…for those who need a punch of caffeine in the morning, one that actually tastes like a rich cup of coffee, Java Juice meets the need. It comes packaged in these little squeeze bags, similar, but larger, than the ketchup packets you get at fast-food joints. Each half-ounce packet contains enough coffee extract for a cup of coffee between 12 and 16 ounces, depending on how strong you like it.

I’m thinking I need to be rethinking my inefficient, very messy, and not-nearly-so-volumetric French press routine! But now all I need is a JetBoil system – one that doesn’t have throw-away gas canisters.

This post courtesy of, which bills itself as The Best Show-And-Tell Ever.


Why I hike, too

Tom Mangan, in his blog Two-Heel Drive, this week posted some eloquent reasoning behind why he got started hiking. They’re good reasons, and they match my own. Often there are people who make an impression upon us, giving us just enough cause to make the leap, buy the gear, and get out there to where Nature waits. The following is from my “feedback” response to Tom’s post.

There are moments out there – real, honest, emotion-inducing moments wherein the eyes well up, the spine tingles, and the captured memory – of such a single astounding yet fleeting blip in your Life – finds itself inescapably resonating with you long after you’ve left the trail. Be it a tree growing out of a rock and thriving, or two rattlesnakes mating, or a night filled with horizon-to-horizon meteors, or directly making eye contact with a bobcat, there is nothing like hiking in Nature to bring balance and absolute harmony to one’s Life – not to mention endorphins and the smell of a forest.

We need to be thankful that we have such bounty around us that we can escape into when the feeling calls. I, for one, cannot fathom what it would be like for me to forsake regular visits to the wilderness – even when it’s just the local paved bike path along the creek at lunchtime.

Come to think of it: there was an extraordinary man in my early life who shaped much of the person I am today, and his name was Don Carre; he was my music teacher in high school, but also (lucky for me) an avid backpacker who advised our student’s backpacking club. I learned so much from Don about organizing trips, menu planning, wilderness ethics – even how to tie climbing knots. I remember less about playing the tympani for him than I do the fundamental grounding – and desire to be out there – that he left with me.

If you and your wife Carol are still out there tramping trail, Don, I sure hope to walk with you again.


Meeting chicks on the hiking trail

My friend Tami joined me yesterday evening for a hike at popular Rancho San Antonio OSP in the low hills above Cupertino, in the western portion of the Santa Clara Valley. The temperature was a bit warm in Rancho’s lower meadows – only about 93 degrees – in effect keeping the usual crowds away but also making for a wonderfully unique glimpse into the park’s local wildlife population.

Having visited Rancho many times over the years, in all seasons and weather, it was unusual, nearly surreal, to see this park almost devoid of people and families and tricycles and baby carriages and all-girl running teams. The daily flux of scores of people in this park, together with the park’s often-seen fauna, had previously caused me to observe how habituated the wildlife had become to passing hominidae like Tami and me.

Almost right away, we spotted a family of California quail along a single-track stretch of trail approaching Deer Hollow Farm. We stopped abruptly to admire their activity in the shade of a Coyote bush: Mama Quail scratched and bathed in the dirt while Proud Papa, wary of our approach, guarded seven little ones. Suddenly oblivious to all else, we were fascinated by the smallest quail chicks we had ever seen, scarcely (in my estimation) two weeks out of the egg.

It was palpably warm, and we were standing in the sunshine. So, after a moment, the two of us resumed our walk. Seeing our movement, Mama cluck-clucked to her brood, and six of her babies scampered into the trailside brush. While this sudden flurry brought smiles to our faces, we couldn’t escape noticing that Number 7, who had been off on his own, wasn’t quite getting the alarm message. Papa, his head down and concern showing, hustled after the little guy and, finally, after some confusion, Number 7 safely rejoined his kin. Papa then fluttered up into the lower branch of a nearby tree – right at eye level with me as I walked by – as if to warn us against any untoward depradation. I stopped again to regard him. What a beautiful creature! At a distance of less than four feet, this was the best look I had ever had of California’s official state bird.

Tami and I eventually complied with Proud Papa’s wishes and, smiling at our wonderful Nature moment, we ambled on.


The Journey of a Winehiking Novice

Rebecca came from the Midwest to discover winehiking, though she didn’t know it at the time. The following is an illuminating record of our recent correspondence.

Hi Russ,

I’ve really been enjoying the hikes I’ve been doing lately, and I have discovered that I like hiking a lot more than I thought I did. That all means that it’s time to consider trying one of the hikes led by the best hike leader around. But I wanted to ask, before signing up for your next hike: the distance doesn’t scare me and I think I could handle the elevation gain though it would be a challenge. But I am wondering about the pace?  If you do all of this at a fast pace then maybe I’ll just have to resign myself to joining one of your hikes later on, after I’m more up to speed. But if you go no faster than the pace that the hike w/Debbie went a couple weeks back, then I think I could do it?  What do you think?  Also, I’m not really a wine person, but I gather it’s OK to do your hikes and either skip the wine part or just go along for the social aspect but not the wine stuff?  It’s all lost on me, though I finally identified that I like red better than white. That’s about as far as it goes for me though.

P.S. Never mind, looks like your hike has filled up already. Thanks anyway though.

Shoot, Rebecca, I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to you earlier while there was still room on the guest list.

Judging by the crowd, I’d have to say that this hike may indeed be fast-paced. Nevertheless, your predisposition toward hills and distance says to me: “2 out of 3 ain’t bad!” So, you might consider signing on to the wait list.

As to post-hike wine tasting, there’s no pressure to participate, but you’re welcome to come along, as you say, for the social aspect — which is what it’s really all about, anyway. The thing I like about wine tasting most is that, because there are so many styles and flavors of wine, every tasting is a learning opportunity, and delicious fun too.

Keep on keepin’ on down that trail, Rebecca!


Well, if they’re all pros, then I guess I’d be the one people complain about afterwards, who holds up the group. So, best to wait. Hopefully it won’t take long.  I lapsed in my running in the past year but have started up again along w/the hiking so I should hopefully be ready for one of your hikes before too long.

As for the wine, we should have a conversation about it some time. You strike me as very down-to-earth, as well as someone I like a lot from what I’ve seen of you, and all this doesn’t jive w/my (stupid, close-minded) stereotypes of the wine-tasting culture. Honestly it’s all a big mystery to me why people would choose to invest so much time and energy in tasting and discussing different forms of a beverage. I went wine tasting once up in Sonoma and it made me laugh. But that’s just my Midwestern ignorance and narrow-mindedness coming out. Maybe sometime you can help unravel this mystery for me. It was Mark, from Bay Area Linkup, who unraveled the hiking mystery for me. So BAL is doing pretty well at challenging my stupid preconceived notions.

Anyway, thanks for your reply, hope to see you on one of your hikes before too long.


Rebecca, you seriously crack me up. I think I should invite you to a wine tasting at my home on the 27th. Feel free to check out my posting: I hope you can come!


??? Gewurtz what???  If I can’t say it will I still be allowed in?  Before you allow me to sign up I should confess to you now that my wine rack (yes, I have one, for guests of course, but my well-kept secret, until now that is, is that I don’t know how to use my corkscrew so I just casually hand it to the guests while I pretend to be busy with something else) gets stocked according to two criteria: 1) Price (about $16 is what I typically go for, seems I am in line w/what you are recommending for your event!!!) and 2) Attractiveness of the label. I’ve never heard of a Gewurtzraminer, have no idea if I have one of those in my wine rack, though now you have piqued my curiosity, so after I send this email I will have to go check!

OK, I will sign up for your event. Is it OK if I laugh?  I’ll be laughing WITH you. You can laugh back WITH me for organizing a cooking event, where we talk at length about such things as how the food was prepared.
Uh-oh, just read your event post to the end. What’s a foil cap?  Oh boy, in over my head. It’s worse than a hike w/ a 2000 foot elevation gain.


Ah, the foil cap!  Alas, poor Rebecca….

We shall learn a few things. But I’m willing to bet that you can piece together what a foil cap is — the “cap” being what covers the cork, and the foil being what the cap is made of; sometimes these features, by virtue of brand labeling, colors, etc., can give away something about the wine within to the cognoscenti. (Yes, I have actually been able to declare a wine just by seeing the top of the bottle — don’t ask me how or why). So, removing the foil cap is just being fair to all — but it ain’t no big thang.

I’ll also open the wines myself unless one of the other guests really wishes to. Nevertheless, I’ll be happy to perform a demonstration of proper technique if’n ya like.

In the end, this here Geh-VERTZ-tra-Mee-ner tasting will be just like your foodie exploits: we talk about it, we develop our learning about it, and we have a few laughs in the process!

Glad you’re coming, Rebecca.


OK, yes, I did figure out the foil cap when I went to look at my wine rack (no Gewurztraminer there, seems to be just the usual stuff, though I see I somehow managed to sneakily slip in some sparkling cider too.)  Anyway, in the process of examining my extensive and varied wine collection I discovered that in addition to having a propensity for $16 wines I seem to also have a propensity for burgundy-colored (oh, I get it!!) foil caps.

If I told you I have half a bottle of wine in my fridge left over from a dinner party about two months ago would it make it clear to you the extent of the problem you now have on your hands?  It won’t be pretty, I can tell you. I promise to observe proper decorum though. This is serious business!

Anyway, thanks for the invitation. I’ll go brush up on my German, do some mind-opening exercises, and see you on the 26th! (or the 20-whatever). Forgot already, but will put it on the calendar and be there on the right day.)


Rebecca –

TRULY, ya done cracked me up six ways from sideways. How’re you going to top yourself?

Russ recommends the following:

1) Pull that bottle out of your fridge, pull the cork immediately, and set it on your favorite table.

2) Fetch your best wine glass, and set it on the table next to the bottle.

3) Wait 30 minutes. Or do something! But do it for 30 minutes.

4) Sit down to the table.

5) S-L-O-W-L-Y pour yourself a 1/4-glass of that wine, observing every nuance of the pour.

5a) OK, I’m kidding about that last predicate there. (Maybe.)

6) Twirl the glass, sniff its contents, and pull it into your mouth to savor the flavor, S-L-O-W-L-Y.

7) Repeat until content.

8) Return to Step 5.

Oh, and: that’s Thursday the twenty-seventhththtthhh.


ummm, wouldn’t two-month old wine, I mean after it’s already opened, be vinegar by now? I am kind of afraid to find out. Good thing it’s way at the back of the fridge.

Ah-HA! Thy words thus speaketh unto steps 1-3 above.

The fact that the wine has remained chilled has probably preserved the wine fairly well. But, to really taste the wine, one must let it release its flavors. The only way to do that is to let the wine remain open so that it warms to just-near room temperature — or longer if you can wait longer than 30 minutes (but no more than 60!). Then, after a fit of mild patience (in my case), you can receive the full panoply of the wine’s aroma and taste.

Wash down your dinner with it. And then decide if it’s vinegar.

We’ll do this again on the 27th, but we’ll do it so that we can compare each wine’s subtle proponents. You’ll drop your midwest “twang” oncet fer good. Guaran-dang-TEED!


Umm, OK, I’ll try that. But will have to wait until the weekend. Being basically a one-glass-of-wine-per-year kind of girl, I can’t really do that on a school night – it would be like you drinking a keg of beer or something. Not sure how I’ll get through tasting six wines and still remain intact, but maybe I’ll start practicing so I’ll be in shape by then. Like gearing up for a Russ hike, I guess.


The student doth learn Lesson One!