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Sonoma Land Trust Hike

Tolay Creek
Southern Sonoma County
April 14, 2011

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The old man told me that, when he had been a young teacher, he used to work out at a gym where he boxed a teenage George Foreman. We were walking slowly behind the other hikers, falling further behind with each step. The man was using hiking poles to move himself along, like a cross-country skiier. He was leaning heavy on the poles and using them to keep his balance on the rugged surface of the meadow.

I had agreed to stay at the back of the pack, while the leaders led the group and described the landscape, the plants, the birds to the hikers up front. Now, as the man struggled on his poles, we watched as the hikers crested the hill and crossed out of view. Even his wife went with them, while we lumbered down into a creek and up the opposite bank.

Foreman was a street fighter, the man said. He was already good enough to box adults when he was a teen. By the time he was getting ready to go pro, the man said, his punches landed so hard that he couldn't box with him anymore.

We paused for breath at the top of a hill. My walkie talkie crackled. The hike leader said he could see us from the top of the next hill. We waved at the tiny figures in blue and red jackets. I told him we would turn around and see them at the parking lot.

On the way back we took a wrong turn and found ourselves hiking on the steep side of a hill, with deep divots where cattle had left hoofprints in the mud during the rainy winter. The sun had dried the adobe mud as hard as concrete. The man struggled across the jagged incline with his poles. He had been a competitive skiier into his 40s, he said. That's how he was able to get a wife 15 years younger than him.

After the hills we found ourselves ankle deep in the cool muddy water of vernal pools. The man kept walking on his poles. Finally we made it back to the cars. I opened the van and invited him to come in out of the wind. He said no, he was fine. A few minutes later I asked him again and this time he climbed in. I didn't have any food or water. We sat there breathing hard, warming up out of the wind, while we waited for the other hikers to get back.