Early on the first Saturday of spring break, I packed my car with snacks, water bottles, and two friends. We grabbed bagels from Beauty’s on Telegraph (which had a line nearly out the door even at 8AM on a Saturday) and headed out of town.
Our destination was Pinnacles National Park, situated about two and a half hours south of Berkeley. America’s most recently designated national park, I hadn’t heard of Pinnacles until just a few days earlier, when I’d run across some outdoorsy click bait on a routine scroll down my Facebook news feed that suggested I Explore this Hidden Gem Just South of San Francisco! It sounded fun to me.
According to the Internet, the park promised multiple networks of caves open for public exploration, and a chance to catch a glimpse of endangered California condors in the wild.
The day of our hike was clear and warm. We left the car in overflow parking and hopped a shuttle to the trailhead. The first landmark we encountered, soon after we started on our way, was the Bear Gulch Cave. The vast chamber into which we entered soon shrank around us until we could barely stand. “I need some of that stuff from Alice and Wonderland!” my friend Christy joked. “The stuff that makes you shrink.” The sound of rushing water that we had heard as a sort of background static suddenly increased in volume as we observed, awestruck, an underground waterfall cascading who knows how far down into senseless darkness. By the time we made it through, our hands were dirty from bracing against moist cave walls and our feet were soaked from the unavoidable puddles that covered the pathway in places, but our spirits were high. We were ready for the next stage of our adventure.
About six miles later, after stopping for lunch on the rocky shore of a picturesque reservoir and scaling a particularly precarious section of the trail known as the “steep and narrow,” we saw condors, too. A group of at least fifteen hikers stopped on top of a bluff, necks craning upwards. Following their gaze, it was possible to make out, atop a spindly protrusion of rock, a great black mass sunning its wings. Through borrowed binoculars, my friends and I could see the zigzag of its feathers, the strange pink skin of its odd bald head.
But there was another feature of the park for which the Internet had not prepared us: A profusion of UC Berkeley alumni, who saw our blue and gold and immediately felt a connection. Throughout our day of hiking, whilst climbing steep hills or stopping to admire stunning views, fellow park goers approached us with remarks like “I was at Berkeley too! A long time ago!” or “What are you three studying?” One man, hiking with his Boy Scout Troop, would feign terror whenever we crossed his path. “Bears on the trail!” He would announce. “Look out for bears!”
I’m from Colorado, where my Cal gear will fetch the occasional appreciative nod or inquiry as to whether I know somebody’s niece/grandson/sister’s husband’s cousin, but I had not experienced the feeling of camaraderie and kinship that I felt on the trails of Pinnacles outside of Berkeley before. It made a day spent outside all the more enjoyable, and I was still thinking about it as I bit into my animal style In-N-Out burger later that evening, halfway back up the highway towards home.