Posted by: GeekHiker | November 22, 2009

Boulder-Hopping Reprieve

Saturday morning, with winter (such as it is for Los Angeles) settling in, I headed out to The Secret Spot.  I didn’t arrive as early as I’d hoped, owing to an accident on the freeway, then road construction, but nevertheless felt an immediate sense of calmness as I turned off the road to the parking area.

I disparaged as I pulled into the parking lot at first, as it appeared to be completely packed.  Rounding a corner, though, I spotted a single, solitary open space left.  Apparently just for me.

It’s not the first time that’s happened, and I while hesitate to anthropomorphize too much, it’s dammed hard not to feel like the place knows I’m coming sometimes.

I grabbed my pack, put my Tilley hat on, and headed out.  The day was clear, with a slight crispness to the air.  It was one of those days where the temperature depended on where you stood: standing in the sun was warm enough to break a sweat, while standing in the shade brought on goosebumps.

I meandered up the canyon, heading off trail to a favorite spot of mine.  I settled in, munching on a Clif Bar and reading through an old photography magazine that’s destined for the recycling pile.

The sun, already low on the horizon as the winter solstice rapidly approaches (where has the year gone?), shifted behind the chaparral.  I pulled out my book, and moved to a sunny location as the cool breeze picked up.

For the next couple of hours, I read and moved: into the shade as I grew too hot, back into the sun when I got chilled.  All the time, reading.

All was going fine until, at one point, I read a chapter in the book that hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks.

It was a wonderfully written passage, describing events and emotions of beauty and passion.

Yet, I found myself struck deeply, my eyes slightly watery because what I was reading also made me reflect on my own life; reminding me of things, feelings, events… so many things that I sometimes doubt I will ever know or experience.

I reached the end of the chapter, closed the book, threw it in my pack.  I felt deeply moved, and deeply disquieted.

I needed to move, physically.

So many times, I go to the Secret Spot to read, to think, to spend quiet time by the lazy creek.  The area, though, is full of other possibilities: boulder strewn sections, trails up the canyon walls, open vistas from ridgetops.

I threw my pack on, and started moving up the canyon bottom.  Hopping from rock to rock, climbing over boulders, ducking and weaving around sycamore trees, their leaves tinged with late-autumn color.

Boulder hopping is one of the few physical activities that I find truly distracting.  It’s not like the gym, where the exercises are all about repetition: time spent on the cardio equipment, multiple sets of lifting weights, etc.

Boulder hopping combines the two: moving quickly through the environment, which changes ever year as storms move things around, so it’s always different.  Lifting yourself up and over obstacles.  Figuring out the best path through the underbrush.  In the end, it’s one of the few exercise forms that seems to occupy my mind and body fully, my concentration truly focused and everything else falling away.

My path soon crossed a trail, and I veered onto it, climbing my way up the canyon wall.  With no camera or gps or need to take notes for a hiking post, I moved along at a brisk pace, panting, sweating, breathing in the crisp, wintery air.

I reached the top of the ridge, looking back down on the territory I had just come from, my spirits lifting a bit along with the gain in altitude.

In many ways, the Secret Spot had worked its magic again.  I wondered if there wasn’t a bit of serendipity involved.  That I happened to read that passage, in that book, in the one place that I could immediately turn to to relieve my troubled mind.

I wondered, too, as I returned to my car, if my troubled mind was relieved, or if I’d simply pushed off what I’d felt to another day.

I shrugged it off.  For better or worse, I decided not to ponder that question on that particular evening.  After all, whatever the case, I certainly won’t be re-reading that chapter again…



  1. It may be a little of both. I think dealing with physical side effects of stress through activity allows your brain more breathing room to process it on some level.
    I’m sorry you were upset by the chapter.

  2. I am curious: what’s the name of the book? It sounds really powerful. You don’t have to tell if you don’t want to…

    Another heartfelt post! Glad that the Secret Spot still does it for you. We all need something similar to escape to when we need to. Hang in there! I keep feeling that a trip is in order. You prob. really should consider taking a vacation and going somewhere far away just to shake things up!

  3. Loved this post.

  4. Well, that was a truly great post! Thanks

  5. If you ever do visit NYC you can engage in pedestrian-dodging.

    Unlikely to leave you feeling refreshed, however. . . .

  6. MissMcCracken – Hm… don’t know that I actually processed it though. Hard to say.

    K – Yeah, a trip. Right after I win that darn lottery!

    Narami – Thanks!

    Gany – Thanks to you too!

    AbsurdBeats – Meh, I did that in SF. Not much more exciting there, I’m sure…

  7. Nice post. I wish I had a Secret Spot…

    Now I will find one.

    Thanks for that.

  8. hey GH, this is some really nice writing. loved the descriptions, both physical and emotional. and i too am curious what book you were reading…

  9. Well done post.

    Like Derek, I wish I had a secret spot … but I’m bad at keeping secrets.

    I’ve never taken a book with me on a hike. I suppose if I had a secret spot I would.

  10. It is my mission now, to find a Secret Spot. I don’t know why I haven’t done it yet.

  11. Derek – Everyone should have one

    BlakSpring – Thanks for the compliment!

    Homer-Dog – Well, in your case, I think it would be okay to share with The Wife. Do find one, so you can get some reading in.

    100peaks – I’m sure you will. Plus, it’s one place you won’t blog about, so there’s that bonus

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