You’ve no doubt heard of the term “muscle memory.” I think it means, “what happens when your legs have forgotten how to go downhill.” I tested the concept Sunday at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness in Contra Costa County in the hills west of Danville, perhaps one of the worst places on earth to be if you’ve spent two months planted on your ass staring into a computer screen. Hey, my fingers got some exercise.

Las Trampas is much like Sunol Wilderness just down the road in that you park in a valley and it’s all up from there. There’s nothing north of 1,800 feet in the whole park, but if you hang around long enough, you’ll get some serious hill-climbing in. How out of shape was I? Well, it took five hours to hike 7.7 miles, but I will say in my defense that I climbed 2900 feet, the equivalent of a 7 percent grade for the entire hike. Deeply inadvisable after an 10-week layoff (though not as inadvisable as the actual layoff, so I figure I was atoning for all that goofing off).

Main thing I noticed was far more leg fatigue on the downhills. Apparently everyday walking-around is much more like going uphill, because my lower extremities remembered how to climb up (also remembered the concept of “dead dog slow”) but had excised all memory of the pleasures of going down; bottom line being the downhills brought little relief from the uphills.

Of course I had it all coming to me, but that wasn’t much comfort yesterday. May as well look at the pictures, which were only so-so because the sun refused to come out until I was just about done for the day and I refused to take any pictures of the patches of blue sky out of protest. Here’s a Flickr slide show if you’d rather go that route.

I started out at the Chemise Trail, which seems designed to prove the adage “it’s always muddiest closest to the trailhead.” (Last seen during the 2007 Ground Hog Day Invitational.)

Chamise Trail, Las Trampas Wilderness

Note the fog layer hovering at the hilltops: I spent more time up there than I care to recount. I ended up on the Calaveras Ridge Trail, checked my map and decided it’s be fun to check out the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, which is at the bottom of the Del Amigo (Spanish for “pain is your friend”) trail, which is one of the steepest half-miles in the Bay Area. Well, it felt that way yesterday. Here’s a tree along the way:

Del Amigo Trail

I make it a point to hike all trails named after people, reasoning they’d never name a bad trail after somebody.

Virgil Williams Trail

It’s a nice oak-woodlands single-track with a decent stream crossing to break for lunch, but I think Virgil probably deserved better. Did get this pretty pic along the way, though:

View from along the Virgil Williams Trail

Can’t complain about all this green the second weekend in February.

Another Virgil Williams Trail scene

More green. Come to think of it, I snapped all my best shots all along Virgil’s trail, so maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

The Eugene O’Neill Historic Site, managed by the National Park Service, can be toured if you make a reservation. All you can see from the trail is a big brown barn and a few flashes of the mansion where O’Neill wrote some of his most famous plays, including “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” I did notice this, though:

Blemie's grave

It’s a memorial to Blemie, O’Neill’s dalmatian, apparently so beloved that Eugene wrote a last will and testament on the dog’s behalf. An excerpt:

I have little in the way of material things to leave. Dogs are wiser than men. They do not set great store upon things. They do not waste their days hoarding property. They do not ruin their sleep worrying about how to keep the objects they have, and to obtain the objects they have not. There is nothing of value I have to bequeath except my love and my faith. These I leave to all those who have loved me, to my Master and Mistress, who I know will mourn me most, to Freeman who has been so good to me, to Cyn and Roy and Willie and Naomi and — But if I should list all those who have loved me, it would force my Master to write a book. Perhaps it is vain of me to boast when I am so near death, which returns all beasts and vanities to dust, but I have always been an extremely lovable dog.

How cool is that? More on the historic site at this National Parks page.

I got myself turned around a bit and ended up heading back up the same brutal Del Amigo Trail, where I got rained on just long enough to learn the pluses and minuses of hiking in a poncho (plus: waterproof layer brings warmth very fast; minus: flaps around like crazy in the wind).

One more pic:

Bits of sun breaking through

Saw just a bit of sun at the end of the hike.

Las Trampas links: