Saturday, October 5, 2013

No Hazardous Materials

So I hiked Hill 88 last Sunday, and I'm gonna do the same this Sunday. Hill 88: aka, what my friends and I fondly call "The Loop". Love that damn hike, as many of you faithful readers already know. It's so close (just across the GGB in the Marin Headlands), and it's always beautiful. It's relatively compact (just under 5 miles, if I remember correctly), but it has so many breathy ups and downs. Gets the leg muscles and the lungs a-pumping for sure, kinda' like a bonafide out-of-doors stair-master. Plus, on Saturdays and Sundays it's reachable without a car. Yup, I rode the bus over and back...the #76 MUNI bus, one of the grandest, prettiest and, perhaps, vertiginous bus rides in the galaxy, if I do say so myself. Certainly one of the grandest, prettiest and vertiginous in the Bay Area.

I've been spouting off about this for some time, to those who would listen, and now I'll do it again for those who have not heard: There is so much work going on in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (of which the Headlands are a part), so much of our taxpayer money being spent on maintenance and improvement! (Okay, maybe not exactly right now, what with that pesky government shutdown, but you get my drift.) It's amazing, really, the funds and man power invested, and over the past five or so years I've watched the progression. Trails, roads, benches, toilets, railings, campsites, trees, native and invasive plant species, wetlands, creeks, streams, marshes, bridges, signs, trail markers, ADA accessibility, the remaining historic military sites: it's all being fixed up, updated, built up, cleaned, rebuilt, repainted, installed, pulled up, pulled out, spiffed out, planted, replanted, re-graded, re-landscaped, all of which ultimately means...protected. Big time. The reason I mention this again now is that I came upon a big huge sign leaning against the side of a outhouse building in the parking lot at Rodeo Beach, a brand new sign that has yet to be installed and displayed, a sign that shows in graphic detail all the aforementioned "work" the Park Service is undertaking.

VoilĂ ...a link to the actual website, apparently named Project Headlands. (Sounds cryptic, I know.) Also apparently, and you'll see this on the website or on the sign once they all get back to work, Phase 1 is now complete, and Phase 2 is underway. Just saying.

The hike was a scorcher, indeed, especially in the protected valleys away from the ocean. It's also, right about now, a freakin' tinderbox over there, dry as a dead dingos donger (that's an Australian expression; not sure what it really refers to/means, but there you have it). If you like your vegetation sere and brittle and are into earth tones - brown, taupe, ecru, sand, gold, beige, tan, khaki, brownish-grey, olive green - with tiny bits of withered orange and yellow flowers beneath a big, bad-ass blue sky streaked sometimes with wispy white clouds...well, if you're into that then get out there and get yerself a-hiking. The fog is mostly kaput, the relentless wind is a little less relentless, and the seaside days and evenings are warm (inland it's an inferno). No doubt about it, my fellow bipeds: October - Rocktober, as it's known in these parts - is a GREAT month to hit the trail.

On the return bus ride I sat near a woman with her small dog, which was very well behaved, and which reminded me of a canine interlude from last year: same beach, waiting for the same bus, after the same hike.

*  *  *

"Wait a minute, sorry," the bus driver said, as he motioned for us to stop, "you can't get on the bus." I stood with an odd assortment of folks in the parking lot of Rodeo beach, the odd assortment one usually finds riding the #76 Marin Headlands on Saturday and Sunday, all waiting to be transported back to San Francisco. "Some lady's dog threw up on the floor."
     My first thought was, Where the hell is she, and why did you let her off the bus without making her clean up after her animal?
     The bus driver was obviously addled, not sure what to do. A few of us peaked inside. A few folks actually snuck on and took a seat while the driver called headquarters. (Really?  Headquarters?  Can't figure this one out by yourself?) Sure enough there was a small, unsightly pool of puke in the aisle.
     "It's dog vomit," someone called out. "We don't care."
     "It's a bio-hazard," the driver countered. And he was dead serious.
     "Bio-hazard!" I sputtered. "You gotta be kidding me? It's gross, it's a nuisance, and it's smelly, but it's not a fucking bio-hazard!"
     The standoff continued - I could not believe how long it continued - until headquarters, at last, called back. I'm not sure what they said. Hopefully it was something like this: "Hey...get a backbone and get those people and that bus back to San Francisco! What are you, insane?" By that time a couple of my fellow riders and I had walked to the restrooms, snagged a bunch of paper towels and laid them over the mess, thus at least containing the mass as we rode the curvy, hilly, vertiginous roads back to the city. Which, twenty minutes later, we finally did.
     Bio-hazard, my ass.

*  *  *

I feel so sad for all the people - the families, the young couples, the retired folks, the honeymooners, the tourists, the hikers, the kids, the outdoor enthusiasts - all those who have been turned away from (or had to vacate) our National Parks because of the USA government shutdown. Shit outta luck. For many of them, I imagine, their current trip might be one of those once in a lifetime trips. Lord knows we have plenty of those once in a lifetime places here in California, especially for those who travel halfway around the world to visit: Yosemite National Park, all the parks along Highway 1, all those in Big Sur and Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains, Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore, the Redwood National Parks, King's Canyon, Death Valley...I could go on. And that's just in California...think of the rest of the glorious west! (Yeah, I know, y'all back east, too.) As someone who has been blessed (extremely blessed, and I take none of it for granted) to have taken several trips of a lifetime I'm sure as hell glad it didn't happen to me and my fellow travelers. Here's one personal example: Imagine getting all the way to the Galapagos Islands, only to find the park closed. I'd be really, really pissed!

Goodbye, summer.
Welcome, autumn.
Ciao, y'all, for now.
Peter J. Palmer