A to Z:
Hiking the Alphabet Soup of Parks
in the San Francisco Bay Area

by Dinesh Desai

R to Z: The end is in sight

Rancho San Antonio County Park is one of the most popular parks in the South Bay. On weekends, finding one parking spot can be difficult, let alone five, which is what six of us would have required on that Sunday. We live about half a mile from one of the secret entrances to the park, but no parking is available near the entrance. We started the hike right from our home. Of course, under my rules, I don't count the miles getting to the trailhead. We walked about 16 miles but I considered only 15 of them as "qualifying miles". Our destination was Black Mountain, a peak with a large flat area at the top and expansive views. The moderate temperatures made our lunch break at the summit very enjoyable.

Joy spells 'A to Z' with small stones

Joy's rock art: A to Z
Dinesh, Joy, Patrick

five hikers on the mountain's wide summit

The happy hikers on Black Mountain
Ushesh, Joy, Naomi, Dinesh, Sunil

Though the heat wave was gone, it felt like we were in an oven as we hiked in Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. I was happy that we weren't here last week during the heat wave. We had the company of Janice, who was training to hike Half Dome in a few weeks, and her friend Shirley. Janice hadn't brought enough water and she was struggling on uphill sections. Water does weigh a fair amount and many people tend to carry less water than necessary. They are unaware that even slight dehydration impacts their ability greatly. Shirley had started with some foot problem, which only got worse as the miles accumulated. But, she kept going. She used to run ultra marathons, those insane 100-mile races. I have noticed one common trait in the ultra runners I know. They are highly motivated and they are determined to achieve their goal. They are willing to put in tremendous effort and endure a lot of pain too. In spite of her severe foot problem, Shirley joined us again three days later.

The Ultimate Guide to Motivation - How to Achieve Any Goal

By Leo Babauta

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal." - Henry Ford

One of the biggest challenges in meeting any goal, whether it be related to productivity, waking early, changing a habit, exercising, or just becoming happier, is finding the motivation to stick with it.

If you can stick with a goal for long enough, you'll almost always get there eventually. It just takes patience, and motivation.

Motivation is the key, but it's not always easy, day in and day out, to find that motivation.

What follows is a guide to motivation using what I've learned.

(Note: This rather long but provocative article is reproduced in its entirety at the end of the A to Z write up. )

I will always remember our walk at Vasona County Park. Our friends from the San Diego area, Gary and Paula Suttle, had driven up just to walk with us for a couple of hours. Gary is the author of the book "California County Summits". About 20 years ago, Joy and I had set out to climb the highest peak in each of the 58 counties of California. At about the same time, Gary was on the same quest, but with the intention of writing a book about it. By chance, we connected and became good friends, trading location and route information and stories. Sadly, Gary has been very ill for some time and on most days, his energy level is quite low. We were honored to have their company.

San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens is just not large enough for a 14-mile walk. We started our walk there and then took a route along the waterfront.

Joy standing next to a life-sized bronze statue

Joy finds a 'new friend'

outdoor spider sculpture

Maybe I should recruit this spider to take care of Joy's 'new friend'

We went past Palace of Fine Arts and up Baker Street towards Pacific Heights. Slowly, the gradient increased till it became so steep that the street, though open to pedestrians, was closed to automobile traffic. That two-block hill was the steepest one we had encountered in all of our 26 days. The urban walk was a pleasant change. Finding restrooms could have been a problem except that Patrick had meticulously marked all the public restrooms along our route. And how did he know where they were? He had run a business in San Francisco for many years.

hiker climbing a very steep paved path

Is that steep or what?

Zmudowski State Beach is about three and a half miles long. Elkhorn Slough blocks the beach at its south end and the Pajaro River at its north end. We could probably have forded the river in the morning; it was just after low tide. But the return, several hours later, would definitely have posed problems. We decided not to take a chance on the last day. Our penalty? Walking back and forth four times. It was interesting to observe the difference between Zmudowski and New Brighton beaches. Zmudowski Beach is close to the farmlands of Monterey County and most of the beachgoers were Hispanics. Fishing was a big activity and kids just played in the water. In contrast, New Brighton draws people from more upscale communities. There were joggers, mostly young women and families with tents, beach chairs and toys and more toys. Even the State charges six dollars for parking whereas it is free at Zmudowski.

After a wonderful day of beach walking, we returned to our cars. We were elated that we had achieved our goal and were ready for the usual American celebration after such activities; pizza and beer. But we had to wait a bit longer for it. Patrick produced a chilled bottle of champagne from the cooler in his car and we had the bubbly right there in the parking lot.

Dinesh Desai
June 2008

The next page is "Confessions of a Novice Hiker" by Patrick Cloherty. It is followed by the list of A to Z parks, the list of participants, our 14-mile loops in selected parks and "The Ultimate Guide to Motivation".

The story of "Henry Coe vs The Desais" is here.