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    Austin Creek State Park - Between the Rain

                  On Thanksgiving I drove to Armstrong Woods, through the redwood grove, and up the winding road to Bullfrog Pond.  The rain clouds were gathering and blanketing the few remaining patches of blue sky, but there were several hours before any real downpour was to occur, so I began my hike to Austin Creek.  The hike starts off downhill from the Vista Point trailhead which merges with the East Austin Creek Fire Road.  This easy decline lead to a rapid pace, which contributed to my optimistic outlook and affirmation that I had made the right decision to go hiking during a break in the rain.  The first heavy rainfall of the season had occurred the night prior, and I had wanted to see what the first rain had brought out.  The answer was banana slugs, newts, and mushrooms. 

                The fire road bottoms-out at a bridge where the trail splits between the fire road and the inviting Gilliam Creek trail, which I took. The creek trail was damp and lush, covered with fallen leaves and pine needles. The forest floor was filled with ferns, which also grew from the stumps of trees.  Moss coated the tree trunks and branches, from which lichen hung in long laces. The creek itself was stained dark brown with the tannin of decomposing leaves saturating the creek and diluting the water.  I wanted to write that part about the tannin in my notepad, but when I reached for my notepad in my pocket it wasn’t there.  I had lost it at some point on the hike, perhaps when I had written down my last note which had nothing to do with the hike (the last note pertained to a short story outline and read “Caligula – banging on his chest like a gorilla.)  So I hurried back along the trail for a half mile before I found the notepad, and then turned around to resume the hike.

                The trail traversed the creek three times, and I managed to stay dry during each crossing.  Having neared the edge of the park, I ate lunch on a log and watched the falling leaves and flowing water.  There was not a soul around for miles and, satisfied with having ventured into a sufficiently remote region of the park, I decided to call it day.  After all I had been invited to eat dinner with some close friends and looked forward to seeing them.  It was around this time that I realized my car keys were not on my person.  I stopped and checked my bag, but they were not there either.  I still was not worried, for worst case scenario I would miss the dinner, spend all afternoon walking out of the park and to the nearest town, and then call a cab home. 

                The rain began to fall and still, I did not worry. It was only when I realized that I had gone the wrong way on the fire road and wandered into an altogether different part of the forest that I became concerned.  I didn’t know if I should continue down this way in hopes of linking up with a trail that would somehow bring me back to where I wanted to be, or if I should cut my loses and turn around, going back to the way I came  The road become muddy and grim.  Dilapidated shacks with broken windows and run-down barns with caved-in roofs appeared in the forest.  The yards of old homes were littered with rusting appliances and rotting or partially-burned lumber.  Private property signs hung from fences and hand-painted no trespassing warnings were nailed to trees. I peered over a gully and there was a car that lay smashed upside-down at the bottom.  Warily, I kept on going forward, turning around on occasion to see if anyone was behind me.  It was like The Blair Witch Projectmeets Deliverance, and I was concerned I would see an apparition of a ghostly woman in a broken window, or the horse-head people suddenly standing behind me, or the girl from the Ring inverted and crawling on all fours, her head fully rotating around her neck.  It was time to turn around and go back the way I had come.

                By the time I returned to the parking area it was getting dark, the rain was falling hard and the wind had picked up and was howling.  I was drenched and my legs were shot.  I had eaten all my food except for one can of sardines.  I was keeping my fingers crossed that I somehow left my keys in my car for if I had to walk back to town I would surely contract hypothermia.  I reached the car and on the door handle the keys had been taped.  Someone had found my keys and taped them to my car.  Whomever it that person is – thank you.  I got into my car, turned up the heat, and headed back home to shower and change before dinner. 


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