I turned 49 today.
No parties, no balloons, no birthday cake with candles. It was pretty much just another day like the holidays. I’m getting dangerously close to that age where a man is supposed to realize there are fewer years ahead than lie behind. As much as I tried to play the day down I thought I needed to make it special for me, so since I had the day off I decided to go for a hike, a long hike.
Whenever I feel I need a special hike I turn to Mount Diablo State Park. The myriad of trails at Diablo offers something for hikers of all skill levels. I decided my special hike on my birthday would be a trek to the summit. I have made the solo hike to the top a number of times but never in winter. I usually reserve that hike for late spring or summer.
The route I would take would take me from the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area down Mitchell Canyon Road to Deer Flat. There I would pick up Deer Flat Road to the Juniper Campground. The hike would finish with a climb through Juniper Trail to the summit’s lower parking lot where a short stretch of the Trail Through Time would take me to the main summit building at 3,849 feet.
My first two winter hikes this season were muddy adventures and I braced for the worse but I was pleasantly surprised with mostly dry trails all the way up. Gone were the snow and ice at the higher altitudes that dusted the Diablo peaks in early January. A layer of clouds hung over the mountain as I headed out just after 7:30 a.m.
I was stoked for this hike more than any other in recent memory. I was up at 4 a.m., in my car heading down Grant Line Road at 5:45 and sitting in front of the locked gate to the Mitchell Canyon parking lot at 10 minutes to 6 a.m. I wanted on the trail bad and I had time to strap on my hiking boots as I waited for the gate to open.
I set a quick pace, at least for my 49-year old legs could churn. I made it to the Deer Flat picnic area a little over 3-½ miles from the Mitchell Canyon Road gate and sitting at 2,100 feet in about one hour and twenty-three minutes. That’s pretty much my time give or take a minute or two. Being 49 wasn’t slowing me down too much yet. I had slogged through the switchbacks and survived and now I set my sights on the steep climb up Deer Flat Road.
The mountain was quiet as I trudged ahead. I couldn’t hear any birds, the wind was still and except for the occasional jogger sprinting by I had the trail to myself. I cruised to the end of Deer Flat Road and arrived at the campground where the entrance to Juniper Trail is located. This is always the worst part of the hike for me. After two hours or so of hiking I am gassed and the last couple of hundred feet seems to be the biggest struggle. I could feel each of the 49 years slowing me down.
Try and push as hard as I could as I stepped onto the summit parking lot and walked to the visitor center my GPS logged the climb at three hours and six minutes. I have only broken the three-hour mark once in the dozen of summit climbs I have made. So things seemed pretty much the same on the trail from 48 to 49 years old.
The view looking out from the summit had a thin cloud deck hovering over the nearby peaks and valleys. Some might have found the view disappointing but the tapestry the clouds wove through the hillsides was stunning and worth the huffing and puffing up the trail. I spent about a half an hour at the summit to catch my breath before I headed down the mountain retracing my steps.
Arriving at my car I had spent five hours and eighteen minutes making the nearly 14-mile hike up and down the mountain that had me climb nearly 3,900 feet during the hike. Tired, my feet sore and blistered I sipped a Gatorade as I looked back at my 49 birthday.
It may not have been filled with party revelers, music and dance but my quiet time on the mountain was all I really needed as I turned the pages on another year of my life. Soon this year will pass and another chapter will begin. I may not have the opportunity to mark the occasion with a hike but I can always remember it’s the quiet times and seeing those special moments on the trail makes any day of the year something special to celebrate.