Image by (Leticia Luna/The Citizen)

May 5th, 2021

By Gabe Johnson, Staff Writer

Over the past year people have been rediscovering ways to enjoy the outside world in a safe and active way. The social scene has shifted, and even though bars and restaurants are slowly reopening, it seems that people are getting back to good old-fashioned outdoor activities that they may not have had time to indulge in since they were young. I would like to share a little about my new found favorite activity–one I hadn’t taken advantage of for some time, but now can’t go a week without: hiking. It has really eased the stresses of the pandemic for me, brought me back to a curious, explorative state of thinking, and allowed me to become more in tune with my five senses by placing me in a more peaceful environment. Without further ado, here is a report on a recent hike I took.

Beautiful majestic Madrone tree along the MacDonald hiking trail in Chabot Regional Park. (Gabe Johnson/The Citizen)

On an early morning after my routine 7AM jog in the neighborhood, my lady and I prepared some smoothies and set out on an early “raise the sun” hike. This hike was part of a short series of hikes we took during spring break; we went on three in total; each in a different Oakland setting and each one in the morning as the sun rose. I found our hiking experiences to be very healing and enriching, and a great prologue to a busy day.  

Hanging out on a small bridge over a creek. (Gabe Johnson/The Citizen)

On this particular hike, we left home earlier than usual–granted, 8AM may not be acknowledged as early to many, but on this day, it was impeccable hiking time. Today we were headed to Anthony Chabot Regional Park: a vast forest in the East Oakland hills that is home to numerous hiking and horseback riding trails, and lovely creeks surrounded by very inviting tree and plant life. We parked at an entrance known as MacDonald Staging Area, grabbed a map pamphlet located at the trailhead, and began our trek. 

The chilly air and dense fog couldn’t shake our burning desire to explore the green forest scenery. About half an hour into our hike we discovered the Bird Trail–one of two trails at the trailhead. The Bird Trail was definitely the smaller of the trails, and we chose it to prevent the risk of coming into close contact with other hikers, which worked out as planned. We surveyed many plants and their water source; a quaint babbling brook tucked between moss-covered tree roots and sprouts known as Horsetails. We stayed on the slightly inclined trail awhile, and at one point I noticed my girlfriend was shivering hard–the air was still cold and the sun hadn’t broken through the trees yet. As I was preparing to ask if she was cold, a sudden ray of sunlight beamed at us through the dense trees, and a very strange but pleasant gust of warmth filled our immediate area, as if the forest had specifically come to our cold human aid. Seriously, it warmed up in that area a significant five or so degrees, like some crazy natural phenomenon(hold your breath global warming fans). With the warm boost, we pressed on, and even picked some leaves off of an overhanging Bay tree. 

Wild fungi growing from old tree stumps. (Gabe Johnson/The Citizen)

The narrow Bird Trail ended quickly and we had to turn around and head back down it, but we were fortunate to find a little bridge–probably the only obvious human imprint of these woods–that cut across another creek to Big Bear Trail on the opposite side. Seeing that this bigger trail had many people on it, we decided to stay on a trail alongside it. This trail followed the creek upstream, and was home to some robins out on their breakfast hunt as well as various little ferns. We spotted some fungi blooming out of some rotting stumps, but we did not forage any( foraging mushrooms would take place on our Leona Creek hike). The trail took us up to what seemed to be the beginning of the creek, where we stopped and took the mandatory nature selfie. 

Freshly-picked Mugwort and Cleaver plants from Big Bear Trail. (Gabe Johnson/The Citizen)

After being creekside long enough, we finally started up Big Bear Trail: a much steeper and wider trail. While cruising up the hill, my girlfriend noticed a plant that followed alongside us the entire trail length called Mugwort. This sharp-leafed green plant seemed to grow like a weed there, which my girlfriend did not hesitate to pick her fair share of. She taught me that it can be taken in tea form, and is very medicinal and good against parasites, digestion discomfort and menstrual cramps. 

Ten minutes later we reached a high point of the Big Bear Trail, where the view was oh so spectacular. Rolling hills, all covered in forest, with the tiniest sliver of road sticking out in the middle. We took advantage of the elevation by billowing out some screams and listening to their echoes. My nature-enthusiast adventure mate picked some beautiful sage, and we admired some more vibrant flowers, before making our descent back to the car. On our way out, my lady picked another generous bunch of mugwort to add to her home apothecary, and we sent our regards to some beautiful chocolate-colored madrone trees. 

The hike was a very rewarding experience. Not only was it great physical exercise that got our bodies warmed up properly–it was also a sort of salutation to nature and how necessary it is to be in it from time to time. These hikes have led me to realize that nature is truly the best healer, and the best place to be during these times of isolation and distance. Being outside in the wilderness can really get you thinking about the person you are, if you give it the time. I feel that this self-realization will help people who have struggled throughout this pandemic, because it will teach them how to be patient, how to love, and how to gather the courage to press on. So if you have any time you can spare for Mother Nature, my advice is this: get your hike on, the hills are everyone’s backyard expedition!!!!