River Fire Still Burning

With each River Fire report, my mind is flooded with memories of Toro Park.

Wendy and I were Tiger Moms. I admit this now. Wendy, if she were here, would say, “No, we were doing our best.” The thing is we were highly competitive. Not with our children but with each other. Never more so than on the hills.

I used to be a competitive swimmer. I was okay, hung with super fast Olympians, so I was fast by association. It took years to squelch that competitive nature. It’s in my spirit, it’s in my soul, and I cannot turn it on or off. If I run with someone, I strive to maintain pace at their shoulders or get ahead. The latter, of course, is preferable. Wendy, on the other hand, never competed. It was not something her family did, nor did her boarding school offer. But, Wendy would have been top-notch, a beast, number one, had she been given the opportunity. I know this because of how many times we marched up Toyon Ridge, Cougar Ridge, or Black Mountain, really, any of those butt-burning hills. We did a few, including the Big Sur Marathon, but that is another story. This is about our close encounter with a bull.

On this particular day, we hiked up Toyon Ridge–not East Toyon, but the fire road that goes straight up, like 20% grade. Okay, maybe 12%. The entire time, Wendy was asking me questions, and not questions to which I could gasp a simple “Yes” or “No.” No, Wendy would ask, “How do you feel about” questions. Or “What do you think about” questions. Questions I had to answer, because I could not show that I was out of breath or act like I was dying. In fact, I was exhausted, long into anaerobic glycolysis, and accumulating lactic acid in my blood stream, as I panted and puffed my way up the hill always at her shoulder. For her part, she smiled at me, almost laughed, and I know darn well what she was thinking. She was thinking she’s in better shape, and yes, yes, she was. Every once in awhile, Wendy humored me into thinking I was pushing her.

After an hour or more of hiking, we reached the top of Mt. Ollason, enjoyed the view to the coast, and headed the downhill trek to the parking lot. It was still early afternoon when we connected with the Gilson Gap trail, so we decided to veer toward Meyers Loop, adding an additional three miles to our already five mile hike. Easy peasy. It’s still pretty much downhill, and we had plenty of snacks and water, so all was well.

Until, the end of Meyers Loop. There, the trail narrows to a one-way animal trail, with steep canyon walls covered in poison oak on both sides. I was in the lead, practically racing home for a bubble bath and glass of Chardonnay to soothe my aching muscles. Wendy was behind me, and at least two of our daughters (I have no idea which ones went on this walk) behind her. Directly in front of us, on this single-lane track, was the biggest bull I have ever seen, and I have seen a few bulls since our girls were in 4H. We froze. The bull froze. The herd behind him froze. He stared at me. I stared back. What now? No way were we going to back up the hill, and add yet another three more miles to the walk at this point. Wendy suggested sliding down the ravine, damned be any rashes we get. The girls behind us were terrified, trusting in their mothers’ wisdom and instincts.

I was too tired to think clearly. Instead, I responded as real cowboy would (or how I imagined one would). I raised my hiking sticks high in the air, like as lasso above my head, and yelled “Git along, little doggie. Git along.” The bull, along with his herd of cows, responded with terror at this mad-woman screaming and yelling. The cattle turned and ran back down the hill, and we were free to pass.

Sky met a cow for the first time in Toro Park

Looking south east toward Eagle Peak

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