Sat, May 25, 2013
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The hike up Orestimba Creek is a long one, taking some two hours to cover the more than seven miles which follow a good dirt road, probably better suited for mountain biking than hiking. The road crosses the creek half a dozen times over the distance, passing by several corrals (one of which had a herd of maybe 50 cattle penned inside) and some abandoned-looking ranch buildings. One of them appeared to be a hunting cabin, probably used in season. I was a bit uneasy until I could ascertain there were no vehicles to be found. I startled a small herd of ferral pigs from the creek as I passed by, the first of half a dozen encounters with the animals I would have over the course of the evening. Their sudden grunts as they suddenly ran out from the brush or near the water's edge hardly spooked me at all, familiar as I was becoming with them. Near the start of the Narrows I encountered a sulphur spring, cold to the touch, one of many found along the upper portions of Orestimba Creek. There is a gate at the start of the Narrows with a sign, "Biosecure Area" on it. That one threw me. What's a biosecure area? An online search later suggested it was simply a measure to keep the cattle out of a dangerous area, perhaps to keep them from drinking unsafe water from the springs behind the fencing. But it did a good job of making me think twice and I decided not to enter the gate. I had planned to hike another half mile up the Narrows before leaving the canyon for the shortest ridgeline to Black Mtn, but changed my plans and started up on the one immediately south of the gate.
The alternate route was not a bad one, but involved a somewhat longer path and the necessity of going up and over several intermediate bumps along the way. For the most part the terrain was open with minimal bushwacking through brush. The little brush that was found was concentrated at the bottom near the creekbed and at the very top. That at the bottom had convenient cow paths through it until reaching more open grass and oak slopes above. The route was often steep but with good footing. The grasses, now gone to seed, were not overly obnoxious with the stickers they contained, in fact I only had to pause a few times to remove a few of the annoying ones which had penetrated my socks. There were a few rocky portions found along the ridge, requiring something almost approaching class 3 to surmount. These were minor obstacles that added some unexpected fun to the hike.
After the two hours along the road, I spent another hour and a half climbing the ridgeline with a last steep slope heading to the summit. The brush found just below the summit was not as difficult in reality as it had seemed when I first approached the dark wall about head level in height. A fire had swept over the mountain sometime in the past ten years and the growth was not as thick as might otherwise be encountered. The hardest part was avoiding all the dead snags left from the fire. With a bit of patience, I was able to find my way through the stuff without much difficultly.
The summit of Black Mtn is hardly distinct and somewhat disappointing. There is a fence running along the ridgeline in a north-south direction. On the west side of the fence runs a ranch road while brush covers the east side that I had come up. There is no obvious highpoint and nothing that I could find to mark the summit. Because of the brush facing east, I couldn't even find a place to set the camera to take a picture of the Central Valley, brightly lit with the lights from dozens of small communities and more sparsely lit rural areas. The views in the other three directions took in miles of softly lit, but well-defined hills, mountains and valleys on the east side of the range, making for a fine scene all around.
Because I had researched the route a few weeks earlier instead of immediately before, I had forgotten that there was a road running over the summit. Towards the north, it goes halfway down the original ridgeline that I had planned to ascend before peeling away to the northwest. Though there is no road running through the narrows, it seemed the use of the road for at least half of the descent would help things go quicker. So I got over my concern about the biosecure area and decided to go down the original route. It worked nicely, with some jogging down the road, followed by some very steep, grassy slopes down into the canyon, then some animal trails to help me negotiate the bottom section and the Narrows itself. There were pools of water, not very strongly smelling, but eerie-looking in the filtered moonlight that barely made it to the bottom of the canyon. There were some slightly scary, deep grunting noises coming from the shadows. Possibly boars that didn't frighten as easily as the sows. They didn't run off like the others, but didn't come after me either. Seems they just wanted to let me know that they were there and that I better not bother them too much. There was much evidence of water errosion on the rocks that lined the bottom of the creek in the Narrows. This must be a fine sight when water is flowing freely. Near where I knew several buildings to be, I climbed up on the embankment on the north side and found a rusty folding chair overlooking a low bluff into the Narrows - someone's contemplation site. Just above this was the first of two large buildings, old homesteads or cabins that appear abandoned. Junk is strewn about the grounds surrounding them. Though forlorn-looking, they are not yet in a state of irreversible disrepair, but they certainly have seen better days.
It was 1:20a by the time I reached the gate that had discouraged me more than two hours earlier. Two more hours of steady hiking would be needed to get me back to the start which I reached just before 3:30a. At this point I was figuring I might get back home around 5a, a bit later than I'd hoped but not all that bad. But I had more fun in store. It took only a few seconds to realize something was not right with the car. The gas cover was open and a metal rod was sticking out of the hood (the post to hold the hood open, it turns out). Then I saw the broken glass on the ground and the busted window. There was much more glass inside the car. Both driver's side and passenger side windows had been broken and the contents of the car were strewn about inside. The ash tray was broken and left discarded. My cooler was still there, but one of the drinks was missing, one was untouched, and a third had been half consumed with the twist top carefully replaced and left unfinished. There was very little of value that the thieves could have gotten. Luckily I had my wallet with me and then most they might have gotten was about $5 in small bills. The trunk had been rifled through, but nothing of value was there either. When I opened the hood I immediately had a sinking feeling - the battery was missing. Now I was stranded. This turned out to be the crux of the matter. For the most part, the intruders were thieves, not vandals. They could easily have done far more damage to the car, totalling it in a matter of minutes if they'd wanted. Seems they just wanted stuff of value and only found the battery of any use. Since they didn't stick around for the interview, I can only guess at their motives. Who knows, maybe their own truck battery died and they don't have a AAA membership. Luckily, I do.
At first I thought I might have to hitch a ride home to San Jose and then come back with another car to repair the Honda. Even then, they might have done some additional damage that I didn't notice that might keep the car inoperable. As I was walking the extra mile out to I-5 along the lonely stretch of Orestimba Rd, I realized I could get the car towed to San Jose for free. I had updated my AAA membership the previous year to include 100 miles of towing. A quick calculation (15 miles to SR152, 46 miles to US101, 35 miles to San Jose) told me I was just under the limit. Cool. All I needed was to make a call to AAA. Too bad I don't own a cell phone. This would become the new crux of the crisis. I'll probably get a lecture from my wife on how this is a perfect example of why I should have one.
When I got to I-5, I started walking towards the Newman exit on the southbound lane with my thumb out hoping someone would stop to help a poor soul lost on the Interstate Highway system at the ungodly hour of 4a. None of the ten vehicles that came by in a stretch of five minutes even slowed down. I spotted a trucker on the entrance ramp to the southbound direction, thinking I might get him to stop before he got up to speed. Before entering the freeway however, he pulled over on the side, well before he might have spotted me. I guessed he was looking for a spot to take a short nap. I ran over to his truck to catch him before he was asleep, but he was quicker. I found him slumped over the steering wheel for a catnap, but somehow he sensed me outside the door and nearly jumped out of his seat when he saw this stranger standing outside the truck at that hour. I apologized and asked if I could borrow his phone. He obliged. The call did not go as quickly as I would have expected from previous AAA calls. Seems I got the new girl at the help desk and she took forever trying to located me, first by Orestimba Rd, then by the town of Santa Nella, then by the town of Los Banos, none of which she could manage to find on whatever map she was staring at back in her cozy office while I was starting to freeze my butt off. It was seeming hopeless and I thought the truck driver was going to get restless when I asked her if it would help if I gave her an exit number. "Oh yes, that would be great." "Interstate 5, exit 423, northbound - that's where I can be found," I replied hopefully. Even this took some time, but eventually she said in a soft voice which I could barely hear over the highway traffic, "Oh, here it is." There was more banter back in forth, giving her car information, AAA number, explaining there would be no callback number, etc. Finally she hung up and I returned the phone. The driver had had enough by this time too and apparently was wide awake again because he took off before I could cross the highway to the northbound side.
I had been told that I could expect a tow truck anytime between the time I hung up and an hour and a half later. Ugh. This could be a long wait. I paced back and forth under a street light, watching every vehicle carefully. There aren't that many of them at 4a, so it didn't take all that much concentration. I was dejected when I saw a tow truck zip past me. Did I just miss my ride? I had only given my chances at 50% that the AAA operator would be able to properly direct a tow truck in my direction. I wondered if the driver was looking for a car, not a crazed loner wandering the highway. Five minutes later, what looked like the same tow truck went flying past in the other direction. I experienced feelings of doom.
Sometime after I had paced the back and forth for the fiftieth time, but not nearly as long as I had been prepared to wait, my saviour came driving off the exit ramp. I flagged him down and got him to pull over and stop, but he wasn't convinced when our conversation started. He apologized and said he couldn't help me, he was looking for a car. "A gold honda, right?" I implored. "Yeah..." he replied with a confused look. English was not his primary language, but with a few minutes work I explained that my car was a few miles away and that there was some communication difficulties with the AAA operator. He drove me out to the lonely stretch of Orestimba Rd and loaded the car on the back of his trailer. The sun was more than an hour from rising, but it was growing light out on the eastern horizon as we got on our way. A long night was drawing to a close. I had at least one thing to be happy about - it was only 92 miles to San Jose...
I got back to San Jose while it was still very early in the morning. I had the car cleaned up with all the broken glass removed before anyone in the family was even up. You wouldn't even know the windows had been broken unless you tried to roll them up. Over the next several weeks I got replacement windows off Ebay that I installed myself. I got a new battery and even got an ashtray for $15 on Ebay to replace the one that had been broken. Everything was finally back together after 4 weeks. My son then used the car to drive to Arroyo Seco for a week-long Scout outing. Left in a dirt lot for the week, it was stolen after about six days. My son called in a panic, and I quickly found myself on an unexpected 2hr drive to Arroyo Seco. The highway patrolman that had responded to the stolen car report found it a few minutes up the road before I had gotten there. Thieves had stolen the entire exhaust system, the spare, jack, electric antenna, minor engine parts, half the wheel lugs and siphoned half a tank of gas. The inside had been ransacked and the wiring harness made a mess of in order to hot-wire it. It looked like it would cost several thousand dollars to get it back together this time. As I carried no comprehensive coverage, there was no insurance payoff to compensate. I ended up giving the car to the tow truck driver who was happy to take it back to his home in Greenfield. We joked that he probably knew the thieves and could get a discount on the parts he needed.
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