San Francisco in my opinion, is one of the coolest cities in the world- somewhere like London and Paris where you feel you can do just anything you want and be successful with it. A major added plus over the other two mentioned cities are the breathtaking landscapes and natural scenery that you can only get in the US West coast. The 4 days I spent at SF last year seemed woefully inadequate and hopefully I will get to revisit the city one of these days.
I recently went to the movies to watch ‘The Rise of the Planet of Apes’ (An entertaining film set in San Francisco) and was delightfully surprised to find quite a lot of scenes featuring the Muir Woods National Monument (I love it that even a forest can be called a monument – et pourquoi pas?).
I have amazingly fond memories of Muir Woods- both because of the natural beauty of the tall redwood trees dreamily stretching towards the skies and also because of a major adventure which my friend and I had when we visited the Park.
It’s never fun to do a 27 hour flight all the way from India (with a short break in Frankfurt) to San Francisco. It is even more tiring when you set out to do active sight seeing (being on your feet for a couple of hours in galleries and museums, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge etc) right on the day after the long flight. But when you’re in a place of natural beauty like SF you really don’t feel the fatigue creeping in (at least until it is very late).
It seemed like a great plan when at 4 pm on day 1 of sightseeing we decided to head to Muir woods to hike a bit along the trails in the woods. The Muir Woods area is a protected forest which sprawls over roughly 200 hectares of natural red wood growth. Which meant plenty of space to get lost in- which is exactly what we did.
The beginning was excellent- we started off on the common trail stopping to take photos and videos of the sprawling trees and the vegetation on the ground. We would stop to read the signboards and the trivia boards. We were vaguely aware that it would get dark in about a couple of hours but we were convinced that we would only take a quick hike through the woods and be out by about 6.30 at the latest.
It was enchanting walking though the forest. Being a weekday evening there were not many people around and it felt like we owned the woods. We decided on a trail from the map which seemed reasonably do-able in about 1.5 hours and started hiking. Already by this time my jet lag and physical exhaustion after having spent an entire day on my feet were beginning to set in but I ignored it.
Soon the reasonably modest trail started going through deep ascents, descents and switchbacks and a mild apprehension started setting in. We were still upbeat though and continued cheerfully for a while.
Panic set in when at about 5.45 we lost all trail signs and seemed unable to locate any of the landmarks on the map. We needed to make a decision about whether to head back or head forward in the hope of re-finding the trail. We decided on the latter though the former would have been wiser. A few more steep slopes and 20 minutes later we were still lost and at this time really worried as the sunlight was beginning to fade. It was already past 6.30.
This was when I started to whine. I was truly exhausted to the bone and I felt like Atlas carrying the world on my back even though my backpack was not very heavy. My friend thankfully helped me by carrying my backpack as well as hers for a while. Realising that we needed to absolutely refind the trail in the next couple of minutes or accept defeat and head back my friend left me waiting to catch my breath and went ahead to look for trail signs.
For a few minutes I was completely alone in the forest. Exhilerating though it was, I was quite worried about finding our way back to the gate and hoped that my friend would return soon. She eventually came back in a couple of minutes without success (the only sign she could find was for a much longer trail which we neither had time nor energy for.
So we had to take the inevitable decision (in truth, we didn’t even have a decision to make if we wanted a warm dinner and bed) and turned back. We retraced our path in the falling darkness and in about one hour we were back to the main trail area. At this point we had to use our cell phones for light as it was pitch dark and there was not a single soul around us. Thankfully there was also a bright moon to give us light in the clearings. It was an out of the world experience to be walking in complete darkness in a forest so old. We could feel the trees watching us.
We finally made it to the gate at about 8.30 pm- the only car left in the parking lot was ours. Thanking our stars for having made it out and also for the wonderful experience we drove back home. Needless to say I blacked out even before my head hit the pillow that night!
(The trip was done before I had my more modern digital camera with my old faithful point and shoot!)