Mary's Pescadero Hike


The Story

November 26, 2010, San Mateo County Park

I wake up knowing I am going to hike up to Butano Ridge Fire Road. Not sure if I will have time for the whole trail but I will at least get up to the mountain ridge. The morning seems full: breakfast for the Thanksgiving crowd, nice walk with Doug and Bill and Anna, then chatting with people around camp. 

I am finally ready to leave for my hike. Granola bars, apple sauce, water, map, an additional shirt, and my iPod come with me. About a mile down Old Haul Road I realize I did not bring my flashlight. Oh well, no worries, I'll be back long before dark. I continue on my way. Butano Ridge trail is less than 2 miles down Old Haul Road, and soon I am hiking my way up to Butano Ridge Fire Road. I plan to stop for a rest at the top. It is a fairly steep trail and I am working hard to keep up a good pace. I'm tired but determined not to slow down until I've reached the top. The need for water requires brief stops. Finally, I need to stop, sit, eat, drink; refreshing myself, even though I have not reached Butano Ridge Fire Road. 

Along the way I am listening to the The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. A sad story of a man selling his soul to the devil for years of pleasure. The tale would terrorize me, if I were not secure in my relationship to God through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Praise God that He is a living, breathing, caring Father, who diligently watches over His wandering and sometimes wayward children. The thought sends a chill up my spine as I walk along the road. 

A short time later I am at the Butano Ridge Fire Road where I get my first look at the sun's position, realizing the sun is much lower in the sky than I would have thought, less than two hours into my walk. Checking the time, 4:00, I know that I must have left camp much later than I had thought, 2:30 according to the time I have been listening to my iPod. Here I am, 1 ½ hours from camp, 1 ½ hours of daylight, no flashlight. Well, my hike plan has changed, I must return straight away. I have enough daylight for the journey but none to spare. Still listening to the end of the play I walk toward the trail head.  

Butano Loop Trail will take me again to Old Haul Road and to camp. Easy enough. But I missed the trail head. My story ends, the iPod is put away, as I see the need to pay closer attention. How could I have missed the trail? Turning around I go back. Where is the trail head? And where am I in relation to it? I turn again. Ah, there it is. The sun has set, leaving a bright sky, the ground dark. (I now know the sun had set at 4:51.) Walking quickly down the trail, taking one last look over my shoulder to see if any view of the sun is to be had before leaving the ridge, suddenly I am sliding, feet first, down a grassy, wet, leaf covered hill. 

Standing, I evaluate myself. I am not hurt but have slid a ways. Walking back up to the trail on the slick terrain is going to be difficult. The trail is on my right, of that I am sure. If I walk around the hillside in that direction I will cross it. This must be more simple and less time consuming. At least it sounded like a good idea at the time. 

There is a creek bed, I follow this, remembering the number of creeks that cross Old Haul Road. Any way I get there will be fine with me, or so I thought.  

I tend to be quick to worry, slow to trust and slow to be calm. Being the child of a very awesome God has its very great rewards. During all this time, even with the bleak prospects of not sleeping in my warm bed before me, God is granting me a very calm, peaceful heart. I even laugh at myself. Wanting to meditate on scripture, what pops into my head.? "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." 

“Seriously Mary,” I laugh aloud, “Can't you find another verse?”

This time I ask God for another verse. Ps. 119:105 Thy word is a light unto my feet, and a lamp unto my Path. Ah, much better. Thank you Jesus. Lord, this is my prayer. I need to you guide my steps, keep me safe from harm and please, return me to my family and friends.

Following the creek becomes increasingly treacherous with the fading light. I climb to the top of a ridge, away from the water torn creek bed. 

As I walk it is growing darker. I know I am fine. The park, with its trails is not a vast wilderness. I know too, that I am between two fire roads, with a trail to my right. If I miss the trail completely, I can not miss the Old Haul Fire Road. The largest problem is that I have no flashlight. This is making moving at all risky. I have already fallen once due to the lack of light. The next fall could have serious consequences. This is a risk I am not willing to take. The reality of spending the night in the damp cold is beginning to sink in. I think of my family and friends back at camp with grief, knowing they will be worried. 

Fearing injury to myself if I continue, I evaluate my surroundings, find a place that I believe is “safe”, sit down to pray, eat and consider how to keep warm. Offering a prayer for protection and wisdom the thought comes to me. My iPod! Thank you Father, a light source!  

By now it is very dark. There are no stars, I know rain is in the forecast and clouds hid the stars along with the light I was counting on. I am on a ridge looking over to another ridge a short distance away - a stone's throw, if one has a good arm. I can see only the silhouette of the next ridge.  From my very good sense of direction I conclude the trail must be around this next ridge. Well, if it isn't, at least I might be able to see lights from a building or campfire. Anything would be an encouragement. 

A helicopter flies overhead. Not thinking they could be looking for me, I feebly lift the poor excuse of a light source, the iPod, over my head, hoping it could be seen. The helicopter flies away, taking no notice of me. A pang of sadness surges through me but does not dwell long. 

My ears must be playing tricks on me. I believe I hear a voice so I yell loudly for a few minutes. No answer. I must have just been wanting to hear it. 

Looking again to the next ridge I realize it is treeless. If someone is looking for me they could see me there. At least there would be a greater possibility. I slowly begin to make my way in that direction. My trusty iPod provides only enough light for the next two or three steps, so planning out my next move is extremely limited. Again, I pray that God will guide my steps. 

Walking along the top of the ridge from one to the other looks to be the simplest idea. A few steps reveals a very thick patch of foliage. If I can just crawl under a bit of it, I will get past it and be able to walk. This proves to be extremely difficult. I'm stuck under the bushes for a short time, my small backpack getting snagged on the branches. Going back the way I came is the only way out. Thoughts of disturbing hibernating snakes encourages my exit. The next plan is to go around the bushes, staying close to them and as close to the top of the ridge as I can, step by step. 

Before proceeding, I stop to thank God for His direction, that I have no injures and to ask Him for protection from seeing (or hearing) any scary creatures. At this point a chipmunk may have been scary. We had heard report of a mountain lion near the camp. I was not near the camp but one never knows the path of a mountain lion. Making the acquaintance of one now was not on my list of what-to-do-next. 

The hill grows more steep with every step I take. Thinking it will level out again after a few more steps, I continue. Walking on a slant is growing tiresome so I find a place to rest. I know the ground is too steep to just sit on, so I find a tree to straddle. While sitting on the ground, straddling a tree, my feet do not touch the ground. Here again I try to evaluate my surroundings. I felt like Piglet, “Oh my, this is a very steep hillside for such a little me.” 

I don't like heights and I don't like being where I am. The thought of sliding down a hill, finding a cliff to fall from, and breaking my legs is very unappealing. Believing this will be my nest for the night I work to make myself comfortable. I take the extra shirt I had packed and carefully remove my vest and put it on, so as not to drop any of my things. After I put gloves on my hands and get a drink, I check on the power level of my light source, which offers little encouragement. The tree bark is smooth, I am weary, laying my head on the tree I am able to doze off. After less than fifteen minutes I am very cold. While I had been moving I was warm but being still chills me quickly.

I check the power level of my iPod again. It is very low. Red is not a good color. My experience tells me I have minutes of power left before it dies completely. Knowing the small amount of light available to me will soon be gone, my need to move in the cold night air increases and my situation calls for me to be still draws me to again ask God for His direction and wisdom.

Sitting in this sad state I hear the wonderful sound of my name. I yell back with all my voice until I am hoarse. Again, no one answers my cries. Amazing the tricks my imagination is playing on me. The voices seemed to come from over the ridge to which I am heading. 

I estimate the time to be between 7:00-8:00 and again, I evaluate my situation. Sitting here is cold, very cold, even in the early evening. I need to move a little. Even the exertion of yelling warmed me some. I try dancing while sitting on the ground, straddling the tree. This does not provide the warmth I was hoping it would and no, I will not repeat the exercise in public, I promise myself. 

I pick up my iPod and wonder if it will even turn on. It does! I see another tree a few feet above me. That tree would bring me a little closer to the top of the hill and possibility to where I could walk. It will also give me the opportunity to warm myself. I move, digging my toes into the soft dirt and leaves. 

The effort does warm me but this pine tree is not as comfortable as the oak tree had been. Great! I am climbing around the forest, in the cold night, evaluating the comfort level of the trees! Again, I laugh out loud. God is comfort. I stop and thank Him for the safety He has provided. I pray that He would comfort those at camp. (Little did I know how quickly and far word had spread of my disappearance.) 

Again, I hear voices. This time I am sure it is Stephen's voice. Or am I insane? Quickly I realize that my metal bottle would make more noise than my voice. I begin beating it with the metal carabiner. When my hands get sore I stop. Again, no one answers my noise. I am hearing things. Still I am sure the next ridge holds my escape. But it is out of reach. Looking toward the ridge I see a fire burning in the distance. Again, the desire to continue to head in that direction burns in me. This fire must have people around it.

The cold is again tightening it's grip on my neck and back. It is time to move again. If I had any light. Again, the iPod turns on! Thank you Father! Going downhill to my comfortable tree is out of the question. Uphill is easier and seems to be a better direction to travel. A look up reveals large boulders. Great! There is no way to move around those. I see a tree at the base of these boulders just in view, to my right. I'll go there. The ground is very soft, the rock does not provide a hand hold. Fear of falling is great, and just as I lay hand on the tree, my feet slip out from under me completely. I feel a pain in my leg. Hanging from the tree, clutching the iPod tightly, I manage to climb, breathless, onto this tree. The exercise works great to warm me. The comfort level of this tree is absolutely unimportant. Again I resolve to not move until daylight. I believe I have cut my leg but do not want to expose my leg to the cold and dirt. If it is cut it is better tucked away than exposed openly to the dirt. It does not feel bad. 

As the cold follows me again, I determine not to move. So far I am not injured and I plan to keep it that way. But I just can't stay here. I'm shivering with the cold, and one more time I hear voices, was that laughter? The desire to reach the next ridge is rekindled. I pray earnestly. "God, if I should move let me know it clearly, if I have light, if there is a reasonable place in which to move, then I will go. Lord, please hold me in your hands." 

The iPod light turns on, and there is another tree in view, above the boulders. I am able to climb on the top side of the boulders, where the dirt and boulder meet and creates a footing. The top the hill seems to be a little less steep. I move and the next tree is reached. I stand on the base of the tree and look up the hill. I see it is getting more level, though heavy shrubs cover what ground I can see. The thought of standing on solid ground stirs me and makes me think of the song, I'm Standing on Solid Ground. This gives me more courage to press on. Another spurt up the hill brings me to ground that I can stand on without holding on with my hands. What blissful relief! Thank you Father! 

I now go from climbing with hands and feet to crawling on my belly under short but thick bushes. I do think of the possibility of poison oak but one must weigh the risk of exposure to the risk of avoiding it. Mindful of the need to protect my eyes, I push my way under and through the shrub until I find a place in which to stand upright! Woo Hoo! 

I am now absolutely charged with excitement. Again I crawl through the bushes, coming to a steep drop off. I'm not going there again. Backtracking a bit I am able to climb up hill again under the bushes, until I can stand once again. Not only can I stand, I can walk! I pray again, "God help my light continue to shine. Direct my steps and lead me back to camp." 

Little by little I walk toward the ridge. Funny how obtaining the thing so sought after can leave one feeling so empty. Here I am, in the open. I have, with God's help, made my way to the ridge. Now what? I am cold standing still, my light does not offer enough information to provide direction. Straining my eyes for light or any sign was useless. 

I look down. Here, under my feet is the trail! I smile and thank God. "Now, Lord. I need light to take a step. I will trust that the light will take me as far as you want me to go." 

As I follow the trail I am overjoyed with being able to walk easily. My legs are sore from climbing. My hip and knee hurt -normal pains when I over-do it. This is beyond over-doing-it. 

The thought to check the power level is replaced with another prayer to God, "Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. I will trust you alone." 

The light brings me to Old Haul Road. I had thought that walking down this road without a light might have been possible but it is too full of tire ruts and pot holes. I will need a light source to continue, even here. The risk of turning my ankle would be too great, I need a light. God I will continue to trust that you will keep this light glowing for as long as you need it to glow.

Another hour or so, I begin to see signs that I am coming to the end of Old Haul Road- lights from the houses near the trail head, the meadow I had come to enjoy in the past few days of walking, the glow of lights from camp and the faint sound voices. What beautiful voices. 

I can not find the trail directly to camp, how did I miss it? I am not turning around to look for it. So I walk up hill to the road and walk down. As I near camp I wonder to myself what to say when I get there. Surely they have missed me and would be wondering where I've been. "Hi guys, whatcha been doing?"  Hmm, somehow this does not sound right. An apology is in order. 

As I walk into camp I have no need to greet any one. Jen saw me, “Mary? Mary!” I am instantly hugged with greetings of relief and joy. I feel the release in the press of people around me and then the familiar hugs of my dear children surroundings me. What a wonderful place to be. Doug joins them. My heart is full as I enjoy being in the warm comfort of my the arms of my family, as dear friends watch on.  

Then came the sheriff's voice, “Young lady, we would like to talk to you.” I know I am in for a well deserved lecture. It does not come. Instead they want to evaluate my mental and physical status. I assure them I am fine on both accounts, which takes some convincing.

Yes, I hear you arguing against my mental status. What was I thinking! The thought has crossed my mind. 

After talking to the sheriffs and telling my story to the camp crowd, Emily walks with me to take a shower with Stephen's poison oak scrub and to check for ticks. I stop and say, "Emily want to see how much light I had to work with?"  I pick up my iPod to show her but it will not turn on. 

For over four miles I walked, after the climb, spreading over six hours, with an iPod that was nearly dead. God allowed it to shine as long as it was needed and not a second more. 

All praise and glory to my perfect Father, who has mercy on His foolish daughter.

- Mary Valkenaar