So I arrive at a municipal parking lot in Los Gatos where I’m supposed to meet my fellow hikers and I see some folks milling about. They look gray-haired and respectable, so I park the Hiker Hauler and wander over.

“You guys with Bay Area Linkup,” I ask.

One of ‘em says “What?” in a tone that says I might as well have asked him if he was a member of President Bush’s Secret Service detail.

I take that as a no.

“You guys going hiking by any chance?” I ask.

“Yeah, Waddell Beach to Berry Creek Falls at Big Basin.”

Turns out they’re with the Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Association,
a club that maintains trails and organizes hikes throughout the mountain range closest to the Pacific Ocean to on the west side of Silicon Valley. This parking lot gets lots of hiker traffic, I take it. Pretty soon a couple of carloads of folks from the Bay Area Linkup hike I’m meeting start to show up. I go ahead and hike with them as planned but I’m making a mental note: Next time I want to hike with a group, maybe I’ll just show up at this parking lot and see if I charm my way into somebody else’s group (this sounds like an excellent strategy for ensuring a solo hike, given my charm capacities, but it’s nice to dream.)

On to the hike. This one is to Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos, a small town south of Santa Cruz. The organizer is Vindu, who happens to be the roommate of Winehiker Russ, whom we’ve met on a few previous hikes. Vindu and I share the same employer and he even works in the office I used to work in up through a couple months ago. But in my seven years at the paper we always worked in different jobs that didn’t have a lot of crossover — he supervised business reporters, I worked on the features copy desk — so our paths just never crossed. So thanks to my meeting Russ via my hiking blog, I finally got a chance to have a conversation with Vindu on a hike intended to visit the epicenter of the 1989 earthquake that rattled San Francisco (it’s the one that hit during the World Series).


The quake occurred along the Loma Prieta Fault, which runs under Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. You can hike right to it from the last parking lot inside the park. Supposedly there are some strange undulations of the land signifying the shifting of the earth’s crust. We never did make it to the epicenter — turned out the trail was closed along the route we’d chosen — but we had a fine hike nevertheless. The pix:

Skies o' blue


We had gorgeous blue skies but our hiking routes were all through deep forest so we didn’t see much of the sky in 5.5 hours of hiking. Forest of Nisene Marks is all second-growth, dense timber that has reclaimed the hillside after loggers cut it all down by the early 1920s.

Lunch near a lagoon

We lunched by pond mostly covered with bright green scum. This is a a rare clear spot.


Way down deep in the woods


We’re now deep in a valley on our way to the trail going past the the quake epicenter, but another hiker has just informed us the park rangers have closed the trail, so we bravely turn tail and slog back up the hillside.


Fungus!


We didn’t notice this excellent bunch o’ mushrooms on the way down. Good thing we turned around, eh?


Creek


So we hiked up for a quite a ways, then down for an even longer ways. Near the end, a creek’s reflected in the afternoon sun.


About done


Another scene as we near the end of our hike.


Fall color hanging in there


We haven’t had one of those major rain storms that knocks all the leaves out of the trees till spring.


Afterward, sipping wine


We stopped by the Burrell School Winery on Summit Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains to take in a tasting on the way home.

Why they call them vintners


Why they call them vintners: Because the grapes grow on vines.


Russ is up for the vino


Russ is up for the vino: The tastings will begin any minute now.


Pouring a red


The wine here is generally excellent, but as that guy in the movie “Sideways” remarks, the Merlot is the weakest of the lot. (Merlot is better with a meal than in a tasting situation, Russ informs us).

Down goes the sun


The sun dips toward the Pacific Ocean beyond the deck of the Burrell School Winery. Excellent end of a perfect day for a hike. And we’ll have an excuse to return to see that damned ol’ earthquake epicenter.