First Solo Night Hike

About a month ago, I decided it was time for another solo hike. I’d really like to get myself ready to do a solo overnight this summer. I figured this was a good start. So it couldn’t just be any solo hike. It was also going to be a solo night hike. Because…challenges! 

I’ve hiked the Blue Ridge/Homestead trail near Putah Creek several times, including by myself. It’s a great hike that goes a little over 5 miles and a little over 1500 ft elevation gain. The views are amazing from the top–east into the Sacramento valley and west looking out over Lake Berryessa into the Napa Valley. Every time I’ve been up there I think that it would be an amazing spot to watch the sunrise. 

I got up Monday morning at my usual time (3 a.m.  I know, I know–baker’s life!). On the road by 4 a.m. It’s about an hour drive with one quick stop to blow up the gas station bathroom (I was drinking coffee!) and then buy Skittles because I felt guilty. Also, I wanted Skittles.

I was at the trailhead right at 5 a.m. A couple deep breathes and a last check of my pack and trekking poles and I was ready to go. This was when I realized that my heart was pounding. I had been so focused on getting there that I hadn’t stopped to consider being frightened. There is about a 50 yard road walk from the parking area to the trailhead. This was the scariest part. I didn’t want to be seen by anyone. Either good samaritan or asshole–I figure that a woman walking alone in the middle of nowhere at 5 a.m. will get the attention of pretty much anyone. Every time I heard a car coming, I clicked off my headlamp and faded into the bushes by the road. It took about 10 minutes to reach the trail. Once I was on the trail I had to stop and breathe for a minute; my heart was pounding and I had already broken a sweat. 

Once I started hiking it was good. I’m glad I had my poles, they helped a lot hauling ass up the ridge. As I climbed higher, each switch-back revealed more and more light beginning to creep into the sky. I didn’t stopped at all; I was so determined to be on the top of the ridge at sunrise

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When I came over the last edge onto the top of the ridge, I burst out laughing! Serious, loud, belly laughs. I was so high on hiking right that minute!! The sky was bright but the sun wasn’t quite up so I looked for a good spot to perch and watch the last of the magic. Another ten minutes brought me up to one of the highest spots with a good flatish rock. I was glad I brought my jacket. I hadn’t been wearing it walking and was thinking that I was silly to have thought I would be cold but once I stopped it got chilly fast. I had some oatmeal cold-soaked with rice milk, raisins and peanuts for breakfast. ImageOatmeal–true dirtbag style

Another five minutes and I began to see the edge of the sun peeking over the horizon. Over the next 15 minutes it slowly rose, flooding the valley and the ridge with rose and golden light. It was joy and wonder and left me breathless with the everyday-ness of the miracle of sunrise. How long since I watched a sunrise (peeking out the bakery door after 2 hours at work doesn’t count)? Really sat and let the awe of it wash over me? I can’t even remember. This is all the magic that my soul craves. This is why I hike.

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Another 20 minutes and I was getting pretty chilled. I spent a few minutes doing some yoga stretches to warm myself up again and then set off along the ridge. The morning continued to be exquisitely beautiful as the sun flooded more and more of the sides of the ridge with light and began to peak over the top to spill morning sun down into the bowl of Lake Berryessa, which was so still and smooth and silvery.

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(those are my new SmartWool socks in the pictue. I love them so!)

The trail follows the ridge top for about 2 1/2 miles and then drops down to a series of very steep steps much deeper in the woods. There were lots of wildflowers and I saw a couple of pretty little fire-bellied newts. (None of the terrifying wildlife that others seemed so sure I would encounter hiking around in the dark by myself!) It was cool and dim and dappled and I moved along very smoothly feeling completely in my rhythm. I could have hiked for hours and hours more but after about a hour I was down off the ridge and following a dry creek bed back towards the road. I passed a few other hikers as I neared the end. I think I surprised them–coming from the that direction so early in the morning.

This hike was more than I expected, honestly. I wanted to challenge myself by doing something that scared me just for the look-what-I-can-do of it. But I feel like there was something more that happened. A sense of the magic that I can find outside of the usual, on the trail. It created a touchstone, I think. A single moment that is a marker for what I can do and how I can get it done. Also, it made me feel like a badass. And that’s never a bad way to feel.

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