Dan and Hannah Hike at Russian Gulch State Park, California


As we wake this Monday in late January, the forecast from New England has bumped up to 18 to 24 inches of snow starting Tuesday morning. Though we have a rescheduled Tuesday night red-eye, the planets and the Weather Channel are aligning so that this monstrous storm may mean even one more day here in paradise.

Flashy interior of our Virgin America carrier

Flashy interior of our Virgin America carrier

Again, Virgin Atlantic Airlines has been terrific. After waiting on hold for 23 minutes (I had been alerted that it could be 25-40 minutes – they so get “under promise and over deliver”), I had a helpful agent get us on a Wednesday night red-eye.

RG Virgin Atlantic at SFOStaying in California these extra days is an unexpected bonanza. What I don’t want to do is get to the San Francisco Airport, have the flight cancelled, and sleep on the airport furniture.  Just too old and too soft.  That’s me, not the furniture.  I’d rather get an overpriced San Francisco city hotel room than be marooned for days at the SFO airport.

RG fox rent a carFox Rent-A-Car people are not so understanding. A deal is a deal seems to be the company line. Despite the airline cancelling our flight, they are going to penalize us $40 for a second extra day after docking us $29 for the first. Park, Ride, and Fly where we stowed our car outside of Logan Airport in Boston gets that this is an epic storm and flexibility is needed. They never charge us for the extra two days of sheltering our car and there is certainly no penalty for doing so.

You want snow?  We got snow for you!

You want snow? We got snow!

With open arms, our friends Tree and Scott welcome us for a fourth and then a fifth night at their place.  Nolan, Will’s best man and high school buddy, is set to plow our driveway (eventually he plows it twice because there is so much snow). Our new neighbors Marco and Jane have got Sadie’s back and are clearing out a path to our propane exhaust. Our ping pong friend George calls to see if he can be of help. It takes a village to take care of Dan and Hannah when they are on the road.

The deer in Tree and Scott's backyard

The deer in Tree and Scott’s backyard

Since the snow gods have given us a second bonus day in California, there is little for us to do but enjoy the hell out of another hike on the Mendocino coast. We have the same serpentine, cliff hugging drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Mendocino. Exiting west, we take a 10 mph one-way road back under the PCH to the Russian Gulch parking area. While beaches to our right are closed, we head inland on the campground road past a state park crew replacing a water main.

RG Russian Gulch signAt Russian Gulch, the tourist season has not begun and the state park campground is yet to open for the season. The overcast and fog are thick and we’ll be needing our sweatshirts.  As we hike east away from the Pacific Ocean, we wonder if this sopping, shaded trail beneath the towering redwoods and pines ever gets sunshine.

On the Fern Canyon Trail among the redwoods

On the Fern Canyon Trail among the redwoods

Native American Pomos lived in this part of northern California for 3000 years. Eventually they were drawn into the mission system in the early 1800s. The Spanish missions comprised a series of religious and military outposts that were established by the Catholic Church to spread Christianity among the natives. A generation of conflict and exposure to European diseases decimated the Pomo population.

RG3A  more redwoodsRussians who established Fort Ross in 1812 were probably the first white men to explore and chart this area. It is believed that U.S. government surveyors later gave the name “Russian Gulch” to honor these early pioneers.

Everything is soaked, from the campsites to the paved campground road with puddles that we easily step around and through. After a half mile, we begin the Fern Canyon Trail. It, too, is paved, as we step around dripping ferns along a rushing canyon creek.

RG2A  start of trailThe Fern Canyon Trail begins quite level following the Russian Gulch Creek Canyon, wide enough for us to walk side by side. As a bonus day on our California hiking vacation, we never give the snows of New England another thought.  Here, a mid-December deluge caused blowdowns that the state park crews have already sawed into chunks and moved from our path.

It is a banquet of redwoods again for two and a half miles.  Being before the season, we find few others on the trail – a retired couple here, another one there, here in the Amazon rainforest north.

RG3B more redwoodsAs you might guess, lumber mills for the redwood flourished here in the 19th century. Redwood was cut for railroad ties, and Russian Gulch produced many of the ties used on the transcontinental railroad. Once the lumber industry died here on the northern California coast, the state government fortunately stepped in to save the wilderness for the many, rather than have it exploited by the few.

RG4A H on trail w redwoodsSoon we take to the Falls Loop Trail anticipating the waterfalls ahead. Hiking at a 2-3 mph pace, we descend the rocky trail by the falls. There, the once hidden waterfall tumbles 36 feet below. Far too cold for skinny dipping, the pool beneath is ideal for an iPhone video.

RG4C H by stream by trailThe seven miles of hiking today does The seven miles of hiking today does not require one to be an uber hiker. There are climbs, but it’s a walk down a boulevard of redwoods. Once my Maine sweatshirt broadcasts where we are from, everyone comments about the storm in the East with sympathy and understanding. Despite three days of anticipation, as we hike this Monday morning, the storm still hasn’t even started in New England.

Virginia Commonwealth University  v. George Washington University

Virginia Commonwealth University v. George Washington University

Returning to Tree and Scott’s nest for another VCU basketball victory over George Washington University, we later hot tub it and sleep contentedly as we know there is little we can do about the storm. Thanks to the snow gods we have two more days in California – one to hike again in Mendocino County and then a full day to travel to Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco before we take a red-eye to Boston and all its snow.

It’s all good.

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