Back at Sunol, minus the rain

Back at Sunol, minus the rain

It’s been a rough few weeks for going outdoors, with almost neverending rain. The week’s headlines say it better than I can:

  • March 27: Keep that umbrella handy; Another big storm expected today
  • March 27: Rain, rain won’t go away: Region facing rainiest March on record
  • March 28: Dubious honor: It’s nearly rainiest March on record
  • March 30: Closing in on rain record
  • April 1: It sure is a pain, but it’s only rain
  • Saturday’s Buddy Hike: Sunol
    (Photos coming soon)

    So Saturday wasn’t looking so great for our second attempt at hiking Sunol. The first time was a much-shortened hike because the planned trail was rained out. This time we at least had a Plan B route into the hills to avoid the flooded trail (undoubtedly still flooded considering the rain hadn’t really stopped all week.)

    When the alarm rang at 6 a.m. Saturday it was raining in San Francisco. No, make that pouring. Torrential downpour. I debated getting up. Who wants to hike in that!?#$@! But the rain slowed as the snooze alarm rang, and I decided I had to do this — I signed up for it, rain or shine.

    In a very symbolic gesture of hope, I booted up my computer. I’d heard the forecasts all week: rain, rain and more rain as far as the forecast went. But maybe, just maybe…

    The weather radar looked promising. The rain appeared as a few splotches over San Francisco proper and to the north. Sunol is east and south of the city. It was under a clear patch on the radar screen. There was hope.

    On to the forecasts.’s weather had the doomsday cloud with downpour image. Gack. Let’s try Similar rain image. One last attempt at keeping the hope alive: Sure enough, the image was only a cloud, with the words “scattered rain.” I liked that one. I put my full faith in AccuWeather as I got dressed and at my breakfast while the rain outside slowed to a steady sprinkle.

    As Debbie (from my buddy group) and I drove east, the skies began to clear. Amazingly, by the time we got to Sunol, it was sunny and quickly warming to the predicted 60 degrees. Way to go AccuWeather!

    The hike in Sunol was perfect. The first two hours were a very steady climb up the ridge. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining and the cows were out in full force, mooing as we passed, stepping gingerly around the patches of cow patties dotting the entire trail. I took it a little slower than usual stopping to enjoy the views and soak up the Vitamin D. It was a really great day to take our time.

    Debbie and I managed to separate from the pack enough to really get some quiet on the trail. Because Saturday was a “Buddy Hike” instead of a “Team Hike” there were fewer people in the hike group. On Buddy Hike days each buddy group of 5-10 people chooses a destination usually close to home. Since only Debbie and I were hiking out of our group were decided to join up with a couple other groups that were heading back to Sunol with Coach Carolyn. In all, there were about 25 people on the hike.

    At the top of the ridge we could see a rushing river below us, rolling grassy hills of open cow pastures, and a picturesque barn. As we decended the ridge and walked by the barn a bunch of ground squirrels (maybe 10-15) dashed for their holes in the ground. One lone curious one kept its head out, eyeing us to see where we were headed. So cute.

    Then we headed back uphill again, through 3-inch mud and manure muck. Yuck. It was like walking uphill on sand (only more disgusting), with each step forwarded sliding back a bit. My calves definitely felt that uphill climb. But it was worth it as we reached the top of Flag Hill. The scenery was amazing. The parking lot seemed so very far below as we peered down from the rocky outcropppings at the top of the hill.

    Then it was back down a narrow and somewhat treacherous route, that though not muddy like the uphill was rocky and slick with our muddy boots on the wet earth. We entered groves of flowering trees with picturesque gates, all dotted with sunlight. The full hike took about 4 hours, 30 minutes less than the original plan, and was a perfect way to spend a much-needed sunny day.

    Needless to say, today, it’s raining.

    Today’s Steep Hill clinic

    Today was an optional steep hill clinic, in Berkeley at 8 a.m. With the time change last night, that meant getting up at a disturbingly early 5:30 a.m. (it was 6:30 by the clock, but it felt every bit like 5:30). And it was raining again. This time, it did not stop for the training. And most hikers didn’t make it. We were a small group of 5 (including our 2 coaches).

    The clinic was on Marin Ave. near Grizzly Peak in Berkeley – a 24% grade hill. We started at the top. Hiked down. Then came back up. Luckily the rain kept to a drizzle with moments of sunshine here and there. It felt good to hike without my backpack for once. It was only a one-hour clinic so no need to carry full water and gear.

    Part way back up the hill we did a step test. Everyone on the team has to complete one before the Grand Canyon to determine their skill level. The method: 3 minutes of stepping up and down on an 8-inch step. Check the pulse right afterward, then wait 60 seconds and recheck it. It’s a test of how quickly you recover. Quicker recovery = better fitness level. I was happy with my numbers: 126 bpm after stepping, 90 bpm a minute later.

    The two photos here were taken near the bottom of the hill. At left, looking back up at what appeared like a neverending series of steep inclines, interrupted only periodically by a brief flat patch at a cross street. And looking down (below) to the circle where we turned around to head back up to the very top. In all, we hiked for about an hour, most of the time going uphill.

    Help the cause: If you haven’t already donated for the hike and would like to pitch in to help me reach my $3,500 minimum goal (and in turn help the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in their fight against blood cancers), log on to for more information and an online donation form. Rather donate via check? E-mail me for details.