Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Back on the Road

It's good to be back, but the break, some new (and very hot) weather, and a new setting have changed some aspects of the journey.
After a week off, it took a little while to get back in the swing of things. I had to recoordinate the swing of arms and legs, rediscover how to walk and look and think all at once, become comfortable again explaining the project and hearing what people have to say, and immerse myself once again in the world of the walk. By the end of yesterday I was getting there. Halfway through today I am close. The injured Achilles remains a challenge, more mentally now than physically. Any kind of sensation in my left ankle causes me to worry a little, with varying degrees of distraction. I've also adopted walking poles (never thought I'd see the day...) to help ease the burden a little. These too require a new rhythm and are distracting in their own way, requiring physical attention and providing a rhythmic clink on hard surfaces. This morning I carried them on my shoulder, for better or worse, to hear the songbirds around Coyote Creek Trail in South San Jose. It may not be the Dorian mode of the legions' march, but it paces me well. Despite reconfiguration, the pleasure of of walking has not dissipated, and I am happy to be once again on my way.
The bright sun, 90 degree heat reflecting off asphalt and concrete, and limited shade are quite a change from the rain-drenched days at the beginning of the trip. A new set of conditions to adapt to. I'd walk naked to stay cool if I could, but from Swedish, Scottish, and Irish stock I'm about as sun-sensitive as they come. So it's been long pants, long sleeves, and lots of sunscreen for me, with salty results. Last night was warm and breezy though, reminiscent of my home in Alabama around this time of year, and I was delighted to sit and sleep outside.
The new setting is a more urban one. I walked through downtown San Jose yesterday, catching up with the Coyote Creek Trail and finishing at Hellyer Park. The park, run by Santa Clara County Parks Dept., is well within the city limits. I met with Don Rocha of the parks dept yesterday, who pointed to the additional management challenges in city parks - providing access and recreation while still preserving resources, trying to limit vandalism or poor management by park neighbors, and accomplishing all this with a limited set of tools appropriate to a city limits (no controlled burns in San Jose citylimits, for example). Talking with Don brought up a really important issue - the recreational component of protected land. SCC parks dept. includes recreation as a key component of their mission, only recently including resource protection among their priorities. When I asked Don if they feel additional pressure from developers and the like to give up land, he said to my surprise that the opposite was true - there is pressure to lock up more land and limit access for its protection, a practice contrary to the department's goals of providing access. For some, the issue of access is essential to the desirability, function, and politics of a park. I have certainly benefited from public access, walking through many parks, trails, and protected areas over the past few weeks. Parks like Hellyer with heavy use on a daily basis, "backyard parks" as Don Rocha called them, can suffer from this kind of easy access. Along the Coyote Creek trail, the creek's waters, shores, and hollows, are all filled with trash and other signs of people, and the trail itself is paved. Don Rocha pointed out that even more remote parks in undeveloped uplands suffer major impacts from trail construction and use, despite the commone perception that this infrastructure is harmless. Thus, on the other hand, I can also sympathize with one of Edward Abbey's more outlandish claims that there ought to be some wilderness areas off limits to people altogether - it would be interesting to see how this worked, though chances are that if nothing else, a lot of clandestine weed farmers would quickly take root...
In additional to the managerial difficulties of urban parks, there were some personal ones for me as well. I spent the afternoon lounging in Hellyer park, watching runners, recumbent bicyclers, fishers, fellow loungers, some better stewards than others. Much of the park is a grassy lawn, allowing for a variety of activities, and having consequences for me, though still unknown in the daylight. I spoke for a while with the park's senior ranger, thinking back to pre-development landscapes. Before he left, I asked him where to sleep. He replied, "pretty much anywhere, though you may not be alone..." Bums walking coyote creek trail at night. Poachers (poachers? poachers!?) fishing the park's lake illegally under cover of darkness. Neither a group I'd like to run into in the night. I therefore spent some time finding an out of the way spot to sleep. I was trying to decide whether to look more or less like a bum - if the former I might be thought a bum and left alone; if the latter, the unusualness of a man sleeping outside his home might steer people away... After deliberation I decided that none of these preparations really mattered and went happily to sleep, weary from the return to walking. I was awakened suddenly and violently in the middle of the night.
There are a lot of obvious ways to tell whether a park allows overnight stays or not. Hellyer doesn't. It mentions this explicitly in a number of places. It has no campsites and locks its bathrooms after hours. It closes its entrance gates when the sun sets.
There is another, less well known way to find out. Sleep in the middle of a grassy lawn. If you are awakened, drenched, as sprinklers continue to startle you and soak your belongings, you probably are in a park that does not accommodate sleepers. If you then move, to a dry spot, only to have the original sprinklers shut off and new ones turn on feet away from you, startling and drenching you a second time, you can be just about sure that the park isn't designed for overnight guests, even if they've made an exception for you. If you find yourself in this situation, just hope it's a warm night.
Before I close, running out of computer time as usual, I want to again extend a very kind thanks to both East Bay Regional Parks District and Santa Clara County Parks District for their support of the project - it has really made the most of the trip to have your help, and I appreciate it dearly. Thank you for accommodations, meetings, and support and interest in what I am working on!


  1. I just realized that you were blogging and I am so behind in your posts! Sounds like it's been pretty exciting...and I look forward to seeing what you face next.


  2. Hey Alex do you have rubber tips on your poles? It makes them quieter on pavement!
    Peter and I are headed to the San Joaquin Valley this weekend. Where will you be on Monday?

  3. Having fallen a week behind, I am looking at Coe/Pacheco Pass for Monday. Let me know what you think!