Deer along trail
Originally uploaded by don33c
NOTES FROM THE TRAIL
by Don Chaddock
When I first ventured onto the Western States Trail (marked along the way as WST) from Auburn’s Overlook Park about a year ago, I was amazed that people would hike all the way to Cool. Athletes training for endurance runs are one thing, but an average beginner hiker like me making that seven-mile journey seemed out of reach at the time.
With one 6-mile hike under my belt, as well as a few 4- and 5-mile jaunts, I figured it was time to take the leap and hike the distance between Cool and Auburn. Harvey Roper recommended beginning in Cool, which I was reluctant to do since that was an area of trail with which I was unfamiliar.
I checked maps, scouted part of the trail the day before my planned outing, and decided to trust Harvey’s judgment.
At 7:30 on Sunday morning, Rachel dropped me off at the parking lot near the fire station in Cool, just off of Highway 49. I had packed four liters of water and two electrolyte sports drinks, the trail guidebook and the map. My heavy pack also held a small cooler containing a peanut butter and honey sandwich, an apple, a hunk of sharp cheddar cheese, trail mix and a granola bar.
There were no markers at the trailhead, but judging from my map, I had a general idea which of the four trails was the correct one.
The trailhead is across the street, on what is now a charred ranch preserve, the result of recent fires. I took the more obviously well traveled path, which meandered up a small hill. Less than a quarter-mile in, I saw the first marker, indicating that Auburn was 7.1 miles by one route (over No Hands Bridge) or 8.5 miles via the coffer dam.
The plan all along was for me to go over No Hands Bridge, so I followed the path that eventually intersected with another, which was well marked. It indicated I should follow the trail behind the sign, which I did, and ended up at another intersection, this time with no marker or sign to lead the way. I chose the trail heading north and it turned out to be the correct choice. Ahead of me was the 6.5-Mile Marker on a post sporting a WST sticker. Another intersection and more signs directed me to the Wendell Robie Trail to reach No Hands Bridge. The trail, thankfully, leaves behind the burned ground and opens into meadows of oak trees. Eventually, the trail crosses what remains of an old barbed wire fence, mostly removed for trail users.
The plant life changes at this stage and so does the trail. It drops into a wooded area and then eventually comes to another fork. A sign marked the Wendell Robie Trail Short Cut, but I chose to stay on the main path.
It winds through trees, brush and over dry creek beds (I’m sure they are running during the spring). After an hour or so, traffic sounds from Highway 49 break the silence. The roar of motorcycles, trucks and other noisy vehicles were my only companions until I reached the bridge.
Other trails connect with this one, including the Pig Farm Trail and Training Hill. The main trail finally reaches a switchback and led me to No Hands Bridge.
This point is about three miles into the hike and I felt pretty good. I had gone through 1.5 liters of water and I knew what was coming, the 4-mile uphill climb to Overlook Park.
On the Auburn side of the bridge, there is a plaque proclaiming it part of the National Register of Historic Places as well as an informational display about the bridge’s history.
The air was still and hot in many parts of the canyon that day, even at 9:30 in the morning. When a breeze kicked up, it was a godsend.
As I rounded a bend in the trail, sounds of a waterfall greeted me. Ahead, at the bottom of a fairly steep stretch of trail, is a waterfall and pond. I spotted a frog and nearby, a lizard.
Parts of the trail in this area are steep. Just beyond the pond, which crossable by a stone path, the trail climbs to an old foundation, probably once supporting a bridge. The numbers “1921” are written in the concrete.
Beyond that, the trail reaches the area my daughter and I hiked down a while back, trying to find the 3-mile marker (there isn’t one, by the way). The return trip can be tough in spots, and fairly steep, with switchbacks to help lessen the grade of the incline.
When I reached the intersection of the access road (with about 1.2 miles remaining on the hike), I stopped to eat my lunch, washing it down with an electrolyte drink.
I made my way to the Hambone Memorial Bench and came to the large fig tree. There, deer were grazing, using the tree as cover and shade. I waited for a while, snapped a photo, and apologized to the deer as I interrupted their mealtime.
When I reached the half-mile marker, that’s when a serious case of the tired legs hit me. About a quarter-mile later, I had cell reception, so phoned Rachel to let her know I’d be at the top very soon so she could meet with the car.
A woman riding a horse came by and asked how far I’d hiked. “From Cool,” I responded. “What? That’s a good pace. You must’ve started early,” she said. I started back on the trail, but quickly had to make way for another horse, this one being walked by a woman.
“I just wanted to tell you that I love reading about your exploits on the trail,” she said. “You mean the ‘Notes from the Trail?’” I asked. “Even before ‘Notes from the Trail’ became its own thing,” she said.
I thanked her and she told me she walked from the trailhead at Overlook to the bench just to see how far it was. “That’s a decent hike, especially for kids,” she said.
When I told her I started the morning in Cool, she said she was really proud of how well I’m doing and much I’ve progressed.
As I plopped down at the picnic bench at the Overlook Staging Area, my legs covered in deep brown dirt, I felt like I had really accomplished something. And for a reader to mention my steady progress with only a quarter-mile left on my milestone hike, made it that much more special.
I've taken up hiking and have been trying to get out on the trails at least 3 or 4 times per week. Today I hiked the Stagecoach Trail from Russell Road down to the American River Confluence. According to my hiking guide book, it's 2 miles each way. The direction I traveled was all downhill for the first half and, oh boy, was it ever a killer coming back out. Whew! On Father's Day Weekend, Parker (my 8 year old daughter) and I hiked 6 miles along the Western States Trail. It was a great workout.
I've also really gotten back into photography and my art. I recently completed an 18x24 pencil sketch of a lighthouse for a friend's birthday. My photos are here: www.flickr.com/photos/donchaddock
I was supposed to be on the Western States Trail this weekend to help film and photograph the 100-Mile Endurance Run, but because of two fires burning near the course and the thick smoke blanketing the area, the run was called off for the first time in its 35 year history.
Rachel is 14 weeks pregnant and still doing great. On Sunday, it will be 15 weeks. I have my 20th High School reunion this year and it is about the same time the baby is due. Peggy, our good friend, has offered to accompany me as my "date." That would be hysterical. Her hubby Tom said he'd keep an eye on Rachel for me.
The kids had a great Easter. Their step-cousins came over and we feasted on ham, lamb chops (courtesy of Rachel's mom), homemade ice cream and sausage. The kids hunted eggs, also. We fixed their bikes and they spent a ton of time riding around town. While Rachel's mom couldn't come, she was here in spirit.
We said goodbye to our little blue pickup truck on Saturday. I spent all Friday afternoon getting it up and running and it went to live with Rachel's mom in Carson City. She's going to use it to transport her dogs to the hills for their walks. The good news is that we can finally park in our driveway!
We've been getting into gardening and have planted all sorts of bulbs and other flowers around the yard. They are all in bloom and look great. We're taking Thursday through Sunday off so we can get some rest and be recharged.
We're thinking about getting a second car that is small just for around town (and for when I'm on the road picking up the kids from Merced). I don't like the idea of leaving my pregnant wife stranded at the house.
Cian turns 10 years old in May and Madison, my goodness, is 15 now. She'll be taking driver's ed this summer. Parker turns 9 in September. (Am I really old enough to have kids this age and be out of high school for 20 YEARS????)
What was once the Kabob House (and the Santorini Grill) is now a friendly, open restaurant that’s very down home. Technically not located in the Downtown business district, owner Greg Holt told me he was trying to make the grill the centerpiece of the restaurant and the name “Downtown” was referring more to the style of cooking and the layout of the restaurant, rather than its physical location.
There’s really no confusion when it comes to the grub. To go orders are common, which I noticed as we waited for our order. Clean wooden tables sit in a colorful dining area and a large flat screen TV keeps the lunch crowd entertained.
Greg tells me that his ling cod is fresh, delivered daily, and when it’s gone, it’s gone (until the next shipment, that is).
Rather than batter dipping their fish, Greg says his are breaded in a fine cornmeal mixture.
My fresh ling cod, cooked to golden brown perfection, arrives on a bed of skin-on French fries ($6.95). Ketchup and mustard are on the table, but malt vinegar and other condiments are located against the wall near the soda fountains.
Rachel’s chicken with cheese sandwich ($7) looks tasty and after she adds pickles, red onion and lettuce, it tastes great, too. With two sodas, our bill comes to less than $18.
I love fish and chips so I was skeptical regarding the breading but after the first bite, I knew I made the right choice. The cod was flaky and light, the cornmeal giving it a slightly crispy shell. The fish wasn’t greasy, oily or dripping with fat from the batter. On the contrary, the ling cod was a welcome treat on a hot summer day.
Rachel sampled a few of my fries, then a few more, and declared that they were “really good.”
Overall, the service was excellent and the food was great.
The menu also features hamburgers, salads, hot dogs, grilled cheese, shrimp, calamari, beer, wine, energy drinks, coffee and espresso. They are open everyday except Sunday from 10:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, or 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Downtown Grill is located at 359 Nevada Street. For more information, call 530-889-1810.
Auburn has many excellent dining establishments and now there is one more to add to the list. Recently opened in the former spot of the Shanghai Restaurant and saloon, the Auburn Alehouse features Michael Kent Murphy architecture, world-class cuisine designed by Executive Chef Luis Gomez and suds brewed by longtime brewmaster, Brian Ford.
Old time fans of the Shanghai will recognize the exterior of the American Block Building and the interior brick walls, but that’s about it. The building was gutted, right down to the dirt under the floors. All those familiar old antiques hanging on the walls were auctioned off shortly after the restaurant and bar were shuttered. But, the real story is how the new interior shines. From the new floor and dining area to the bar that’s handcrafted much like the brew sitting behind its shining surface, this business venture represents a new vitality for Old Town Auburn.
But enough about the aesthetics of the place, let’s get down to the food and the service. Monique was our waitress and she was top-notch. Despite a packed house, she ably handled our orders and questions, keeping a smile on her face the entire time. A quick perusal of the menu revealed reasonable prices, which is not what I expected when I walked in. With entrees hovering around $12-$19, and custom brews at $3 per glass or $4 for a pint, I knew this was my kind of place.
We started off with a cheese loaf appetizer ($8.25) that was big enough to feed four. She brought out a round of baked sourdough bread, stuffed with garlic and cheese, sitting on a plate drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Rachel said simply, “This is good.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Sandy Stoltz, one of the wait staff, refilled our water glasses and told us the cheese loaf appetizer was his favorite. Our first round of brew was a Shanghai Stout for myself and an Old Town Brown for the missus. As a Guinness drinker, I immediately drew comparisons. Guinness is thicker on the tongue and has more bite, but the Shanghai Stout was smoother and, frankly, better. The Shanghai was creamy with a nice head, dark in color (as it should be) with rich full flavor. Ah, perfection. Rachel, not a stout drinker, also enjoyed a sip. “I don’t like stout, usually, but that is nice.” In turn, I sampled her Old Town Brown, which had a pleasant mellow flavor.
Next, Monique brought our main courses. I couldn’t decide between the grilled swordfish with avocado salsa served over mashed potatoes and veggies ($18.95) or the grilled salmon served with orange and caper hollandaise over garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal veggies ($14.95). The salmon won out, finally, and I wasn’t disappointed. The salmon was cooked perfectly, the presentation was great, and the asparagus was cooked but still crisp -- excellent. Rachel had the chicken breast served over risotto with a vegetable. The breast was cooked skin on, which she loved. She gave her meal a thumbs up also, with her only complaint being the risotto was a touch too salty. I could say the same thing about portions of my salmon, but overall it was excellent and salt level is a matter of personal taste.
With main courses almost finished, Monique brought us our second round of brew. I ordered the Miner’s Wheat Ale while Rachel went with Fool’s Gold Ale. After tasting them both, I preferred the Fool’s Gold. Surprisingly full-bodied, Fool’s Gold was robust and almost sweet, but not quite. The Miner’s Wheat Ale was light and made a nice summer beverage, but isn’t something I would order in a brew house.
We finished off the evening with a key lime tart ($4.95) for dessert. The vanilla-cookie crusted concoction hit the spot on a warm summer evening. Featuring toasted coconut, whipped cream and a light lime custard served with mango coulis, the dish was the end to a perfect dining experience. In my book, the Auburn Alehouse perfectly complements the established restaurants in Old Town and hits a home run for beer lovers like myself. I highly recommend the food and the brew.