I'm back for a week and a half where I grew up. It was a little town of 3000 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I was able to shoot in 3 directions without risk of hitting anything, and regularly did. Don't quiz me on gun control, unless you want to hear about the dangers of leaving your guns unloaded.
From 1970 to 1977 we lived beside a huge wood. As we drove in from the airport, we drove by the old place, and I was taken with the urge to see my old haunts in that wood. I drove myself back after settling and chatting a little bit, and found a hole in a fence to let myself back into my first home away from home.
I remember how huge and forbidding those woods were at 6 years old, and how large they still were when we moved 4 miles away at 13. By the time I was 13 they were too small to impress, but still too large to really know every inch. It was about 1 mile wide by 3 miles deep. Awfully huge to a 1st grader.
I immediately settled to look for the big bike jump. Back in the day you could see over it, but only barely, and the hill leading to it could push you to terminal velocity (the fastest speed you could possibly make your bike go.) I took my biggest spill off that jump before Mr. Hamilton gouged it forever with his dozer.
My search was in vain. The dirt trail had been 5 feet wide, and as near as I could tell it was just gone, lost in a sea of fresh growth. I found a little mound of dirt, and wondered if I was just remembering the jump wrong, but it was completely in the wrong place. Nope, the whole road was gone.
So I wandered up a new trail that would parallel where the old trail had been. In minutes, I was at the top, and turned left. Every trail in that wood was enclosed within a triangle, and if all was right, I was turning that triangle.
As I went down the second leg of the triangle, I saw a trail just off to my right. I had gotten lost on that beckoning trail when I was 6. I still remember seeing it tempting me just 10 yards away or so, and jumping from the one trail to the other. I was still a greenhorn trying to get home from Eric's house through the woods, and had set off on the wrong trail to begin with. That was why I had never seen the mysterious new trail before. And all the decisions I made on that new trail (calculated to set me back on the first leg of the magic triangle again) tended to guide me down a narrow corridor of the wood that actually stretched the full 3 miles without a break. In the end, I followed a set of hydraulic mining water pipes to pavement. I was literally walking the only path that could have kept me lost for so long.
When I finally came out on pavement, I had been crying for at least a half hour. A nice old man gave me a ride to the first thing I recognized, the city pool. I walked the last mile home because I was not supposed to accept rides from strangers, so once I saw something I recognized, it was time to get out and get back home under my own power. When I got home I was in huge trouble. I was almost 2 hours late. I guess Dad got in pretty bad trouble too, for believing I could find my way home alone in the woods, but we all survived.
Tonight, I did not jump to that trail to the right, though I'm sure I'd not cry if I got lost.
At the end of the second (downhill) leg I decide to turn right instead of left on the third leg. I wanted to get to one particular trail - Killer Hill - but it could wait. I want to verify that Eric's house was where it should be. If it was, then I've read the trails right. If not, then I need to go back to the drawing board.
In fact, it's almost a third of a mile away. But when I get there, all the trails are exactly where they should be. Hmmm.
I go ahead and walk up to the outlet on Gold Drive. Yep. It's all there. That can only mean one thing, so I backtrack to the end of that second leg. Yep. My second leg was not the second leg at all, but the very Killer Hill for which I was looking. I walked down the whole thing, and didn't recognize it.
I walk back up it.
I'm looking for a very specific 3 tree roots. 2 of them are on the right side of the trail as you head down, and 1 is on the left. As I walk back up, I begin to notice how the curves of the trail are all in the right places, and the stands of manzanita are where they belong. I make it the whole way to the top, and my 3 tree roots are not there. I turn around and walk back down.
I reach two conclusions. This is definitely the right trail, and young boys have tunnel vision. I'm amazed at all the hundreds of things just off the trail that I never, ever saw. There are some amazing trees, obviously much older than I am, that I just don't remember. They were never worth cataloging in my memories, and I will probably remember them better 30 years from now than I remembered them today.
The two roots are still not there, though. That's critical, because they were the scene of my coolest bike wreck. I decided to take the double root jump to the right, rather than the single root jump to my left on that fateful day. I got loose off the first root, and hit the second off-balance. The second threw me to the limits of control, but I stayed cool and kept the wheels under me - until my handlebar caught a manzanita bush. I was probably doing 25 mph or so, and when my front wheel went instantly perpendicular to progress, I went into a double nose roll. I hit knuckles/back/back tire/front tire/knuckles/back/back tire/both tires, and stopped on my wheels - then fell over. It was a bizarre feeling, and I've treasured it for years.
I could see where it happened, but not the roots nor the bush.
A lot has changed. The spooky place with cedars so thick the sun could not get through has chilled out a lot. That's probably the 40 year old dude walking through it, though. The mud puddle that was always just after the spooky place is still there, but the trail is now 3 times wider so people can always go around it.
The biggest change, though, is the adults. I see 2 men, 1 boy, 2 women, another woman, a kid on a bike going up Killer Hill, and then 2 more men. In 7 years, I never saw an adult in my woods, but that was before they invented Jogging (jogging had been around forever, but Jogging was born of the '80's). And gears. Our bikes never had gears. The kid riding his bike up Killer Hill tripped me out. We never rode our bikes up Killer Hill, because we couldn't. He was wearing a helmet and pads and had a bike with 20-some-odd gears. He would have been as foreign as an Arab to us.
Oh, and there's one other little change.
Killer Hill is now called Pipeline Trail. The parks department has marked all of our trails, and named them.
Yeah, the trail actually has pipeline beside it and even showing through in some places where the road runs right over them. From 3 miles away, the day I got lost, if I had followed the pipes that eventually led me out to pavement in exactly the opposite direction of the one I'd chosen, I'd have been right here. Those were the very pipes that peeped through our very own Killer Hill. But even after we learned of the magic of following the pipes, we'd never have stooped to call anything "Pipeline Trail."
It's an odd thing to go home, and find out my woods have grown up, and I haven't.