A Spring Day on Palomar Mountain

Fresh off of a re-commitment to blogging, I set out for a moderate hike at one of my favorite stomping grounds, Palomar Mountain State Park. This was partially a test to see how my still-inflamed Achilles bursa would respond to a more significant hike, but I also went with the intention of hiking mindfully.

At least, I set out to hike mindfully to the extent that I actually know what “hiking mindfully” means. On this particular hike, it meant hiking slower than normal (a strange sensation) while allowing myself abundant time to pause and relax along the way. At some point, I’ll have to dig into what mindfulness is and how it would look on a hike. Ask me tomorrow, but not today.

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I reached the free trailhead at the entrance to the park, strapped on my gear, and struck out past Big Willy’s grave along the Silvercrest Trail. A dense bank of marine layer stratus splashed up against the Silvercrest, creating that beautiful “ghost ocean” effect that’s so enjoyable during the spring. Sporadic patches of wildflowers sprouting after the winter’s measly rainfall totals brightened up the trail, while lingering pink-tinged black leaves showcased the last of the park’s “Spring Color.”

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As I walked, I attempted to slow my pace down toward something that more closely resembled “mindfulness.” Please note that I don’t know what the official pace of mindfulness is or how many miles it can cover in an hour. What I did notice was that I expended the majority of my mindfulness on trying to retrain my body not to maintain a march tempo. This is surprisingly harder than it might sound. It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that walking slowly is harder than walking quickly, but my body has been so well-trained to walk at a certain pace that it throws everything out of whack when I walk at a deliberately slow pace.

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My experiments at mindfulness ended in futility a few miles in as my mind wandered through ponderances about the relative value of my time and what I should expect in return when I sell. I refer to the notion that when we work, or really when we do anything, we are selling our time in exchange for something else. Sure, you could hoard your time and end up starving to death. Or you can sell most of your time and end up working yourself to death. Most of us end up in the middle, but not as many of us have the luxury of considering what value we should ascribe to our time.

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While this is definitely a privileged luxury not afforded to many, it is a worthwhile consideration if you’re trying to decide what to do with your life for money, fun, sustenance, relationships, etc. Every second you spend occurs at the expense of something else you could be doing, and I found that considering it in a transactional nature was a first step toward prioritizing what was most valuable so that I could spend my time in the most efficient and, err, mindful way possible.

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While my mind wandered through these vague flights of fancy, my body wandered through Palomar’s mixed-conifer forest. I stopped frequently to take photographs, allowing myself to focus on the more artsy-fartsy aspects of picture-taking. The one burp in the otherwise tranquil experience came as I encountered a use-trail cut in by mountain bikers heading down from the Baptist Center. It appears they ride down their illegal trail, continue along Doane Creek, and then ride up the Baptist Trail (or vice versa). I know that mountain bikers don’t really commit a disproportionate amount of trail faux pas, but when they do, they sure leave a lot of evidence. I saw tire tracks and downed logs cutting off the proper trail – all in a state natural preserve.

After my customary relaxation along the Weir, I headed back via the north side of Lower Doane Valley and back to the pond via the Doane Valley Nature Trail. From there, I returned to my car via Thunder Spring and Chimney Flat. I saw evidence of a later-than-usual wildflower bloom with many of the dogwoods still in peak bloom and the azaleas waiting to start. This is about 2 weeks later than last year when I visited in the spring, and it reflects the relatively cold end to our rainy season.

I’ll keep trying the mindfulness thing. The next step, I think, is to bring a paper journal along to slow me down as I record my thoughts. I can’t remember half of what I thought about this time around.

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If you’re interested in the hike, start at the Silvercrest Trailhead at the park entrance. Follow Silvercrest to Silvercrest Picnic Area, and then cut across the road to the Scotts Cabin Trail. Turn right onto the Cedar Trail, and keep left at the pond. When you reach the parking lot, follow the Doane Valley Nature Trail northwest, keep left at the Weir Trail, and take a nice long break at the Weir. Retrace your steps to cut across Lower Doane Valley and follow the French Valley Trail back to the Doane Valley Nature Trail, which will then lead you to the parking lot again. From there, follow the Thunder Spring Trail to Chimney Flat, and then keep going uphill back to the park entrance.

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