There we were, power-hiking up Dog Mountain on Friday morning. We had soft, damp dirt beneath our feet; moss-draped trees, ferns, and ivy within arms’ reach; and the rolling hills, mountains, and waters of the Columbia River Gorge as far as our eyes could see.
Toto, I was not in New Mexico anymore.
People joke about the fervent environmentalism of the San Francisco Bay Area and points north, but to take just one step outside in those places is to understand that sentiment. The very air is green. Moisture abounds; plants flourish; the oxygen is practically visible. When visitors inhale that air, they get an instant craving for fresh vegetables and recyclable grocery bags. Or at least I did.
I arrived in the Bay Area [specifically in Kensington, a town right next to Berkeley] on Saturday morning. My brother Chris and his family live in a gorgeous home that has multiple patios and has a backyard view of Tilden Regional Park – an enormous network of hills, dirt trails, paved paths, and the occasional grazing cow. I’m starting to drool a little bit with envy just thinking about it.
After I got settled in and did some necessary snuggling with my extremely adorable year-old nephew, Hudson, we all headed off for a run in Tilden. It was definitely more rural than the runs of my previous visits, but it was beautiful. We finished the run, went for a short hike that featured one of those San Francisco views (Bay Bridge on one end, Golden Gate on the other, and everything else in between), and refueled with some delicious Thai food for dinner. I was wearing jeans and three layers on top – a far cry from Albuquerque’s 90-degree evenings!
The next morning, I went for a Father’s Day run with my brother and a friend of his, again in the Regional Park area. Now, my longest run since Boston had been six miles. What the three of us did that day was around 12 miles of some of the hardest, prettiest running of my life. We ran on trails, on roads, up hills, through jungle-thick greenery, up bigger hills, past cows, up BIGGER hills, under eucalyptus trees…and felt good at the end. Good enough to enjoy the heck out of a lunchtime cookout, sip some locally-brewed Pyramid beer, relax, and then, later that afternoon, accompany my brother’s wife to a yoga class. I felt a little like a stereotype strolling around Berkeley with a yoga mat tucked under my arm, but I loved it, and my first California yoga class did not disappoint. Nor did the deep-dish pizza we devoured for supper that night. YUM.
The next day was…my birthday!!! With everyone at work (or in Hudson’s case, stirring up mischief at the nanny’s), I had the place to myself. I went for a run in an entirely bright-pink outfit, possibly blinding some garbagemen and a woodland creature or two, but no matter. It was wonderful. I kept to “exploring” pace, found a spectacular view, and just breathed for a minute. Not a bad way at all to kick off the big 32.
After a shower and a quick bite at the house, it was time for exploratory mission #2. According to my brother’s wife, Tanya, there was a coffee and sandwich shop not too far away. This was my destination. It was just a matter of getting there: Kensington/Berkeley is criss-crossed by a system of really cool hidden stairways and paths, and I aimed to find at least a couple of them to expedite my journey. Armed with a map and a prayer, I set out, and after a handful of wrong turns and hopefully-discreet pauses at intersections, I found the place! Hooray!!!
With difficulty, I refrained from doing a victory dance, and did my best to calmly walk into the shop to place my order. I parked myself on a bench, gobbled up my lunch, and braced myself for the walk back uphill to the house. But it was fine: I took my time, stopped to snap some pictures, only trespassed on someone’s property once, and was relaxing on the patio with a book, a beer and Roscoe (the family dog) before I knew it.
Shortly thereafter, Tanya came home, Hudson in tow. She went out for a quick run while I hung out with Hudson, and then it was birthday dinner time! Chris had to work late, so unfortunately he couldn’t join us, but Tanya, Hudson, and I enjoyed a scrumptious meal of tapas and people-watching on the patio of a nearby restaurant. Ahhh.
Tuesday morning was a blur of an early wake-up call and last-minute packing, but I managed to squeeze in one last run. The morning air was cool, the pines and eucalyptus were releasing their fresh-new-day fragrance, and I took in the views one last time before heading back to my family.
I was ready for the next leg of my adventure.