In Praise of Pavement

Paved trails get a bad rap. Hiking snobs dismiss the paved route as a walking path for wimps.

I’m not that picky. If I have a choice, I’ll usually head out on the dirt, but I love a good paved trail and I’ve walked on plenty. I also hold this perspective close: Most ADA-accessible trails are built using pavement or crushed gravel. They are generally flat, short, and smooth, but what the traveler experiences is not diminished by the composition of the treadway. You don’t have to wear the fancy shoes with the lug soles; you don’t have to worry about burrs in your socks or boot-sucking mud or twisting your ankle in the divot left by the horsehoof. Anyone can go: Grandpa with his stuttering walk, Grandma with her walker; the baby in their stroller, the friend in their wheelchair.

Thinking this way, every path is a trail. Thinking this way, the paved trail saved hiking this year, even for snobs.

When the first shelter-in-place order was issued a year go, the parks closed. All of them. My initial response was panic. I lasted about two days, pacing circles in my yard. I’d always thought all I needed to maintain my mental health was to be outside. The pandemic taught me otherwise. I needed mileage.

Then, the blessing that is my son’s dog became even more apparent. Pandemic rules permitted us to leave the premises to walk the dog. I could walk the dog! So what if Mugi wasn’t mine: Any port in a storm. And the need to walk the dog was real—if she didn’t get her exercise, she would zoomie the house to smithereens.

Like so many of my neighbors, I took to the streets. Who knew it took three masked people, walking abreast in a phalanx, to walk a dog? We swept around each other like the wings of birds, sometimes stilling on opposite sides of the road when we recognized each other. We pounded the pavement for miles to see each other, and to let the wind wash pandemic and political doom from our heavy minds.

We are lucky here in Glen Ellen and Kenwood; we have beautiful streets. Without cars on them, they are even more beautiful. But streets are for cars, and as pandemic restrictions and fears lift, traffic will increase. Hiking on pavement will become less attractive; walkers will be driven back to the dirt. No complaints though, because dirt is normal, and we all need normal.

But I cherish the peace I’ve found hiking the double yellow line on London Ranch Road. It became the town’s stairmaster last March, so dubbed by Jack London State Historic Park’s executive director. Given a hefty lead, Mugi can range from verge to verge if I stick to the middle, walking a good four miles for my two. She has smelled the seasons change and I have watched them, from springtime wildflower blooms to the autumnal turning of the grapevines at Benziger to the blooming of moss on tree trunks with the first winter rain. 

Usually, we ramble up to the park’s kiosk and back, taking in the views and the pee-mail. Usually we make way for a car or two, or more, as we walk. But the other evening, we made it all the way up the hill without meeting a soul. Standing at the kiosk in the golden hour, with the sunlight long on the earth, I couldn’t turn back. I decided to take Mugi down the paved trail to the Wolf House. 

And the paved trail got magical.

In most state parks dogs are not allowed on trails, but the route to the Wolf House is an exception. The trail begins in a thicket of eucalytptus, now beautifully restored by park staff to mitigate wildfire danger. Their work has illuminated the fact that these trees were imported as a crop and planted in orderly rows, with the intent to harvest and make lumber or furniture. The wood proved lousy for both purposes, but grew into a sturdy windbreak and, as time went on, a significant fire hazard.

As we’d been on London Ranch, Mugi and I were alone on the trail. We walked down past the vineyards, glowing in the last of the daylight. We walked down through the hollow, where the no name stream ran with just enough water to babble and the ferns grew thick on the embankment. We climbed past the trail to Jack and Charmian’s gravesite, rising into sunshine in the greening meadow before making the final descent to the Wolf House ruins.We made a slow circle around the house, walking slowly, quietly. The crowns of the redwoods were bright, and the sun shot a final burst of brightness through the stone windowframes before it dropped behind the shoulder of Sonoma Mountain.

Then we headed home, still alone in the gloaming. Back through the patch of meadow, back through the hollow, to the junction with the dirt trail that leads up to the House of Happy Walls. I clutched at a memory that this path was also dog-legal; I balked at the thought of leaving the pavement. But only for a moment. I’m a dirt girl at heart. As we climbed the narrow track toward the House of Happy Walls, I swallowed a bug. This, I thought, is my punishment for breaking the rules. Then the trail surface changed to weathered asphalt, and I exhaled my guilt. I was right; dogs were allowed. The bug was just a protein supplement. Every hiking snob knows that.


A story of humility and a primer on what hikers should always carry in their packs

This was not my finest hour.

Last month, while hiking with my friend Nick, I slipped on a steep pitch of trail and folded my ankle over onto a rock. The impact fractured the base of my fibula, but I didn’t know that in the moment. All I knew was it hurt like hell and I needed to lie down.

Nick, following my lead, gave me space, then gave me a stick, then two sticks, then his arm. The thinking was if I could stand and hobble, maybe I could make it back to the trailhead without much fuss and the hike wouldn’t be a complete loss. We were five-and-a-half miles into what would have been a lovely seven-mile ramble through the backcountry of Jack London State Historic Park and the Sonoma Developmental Center, following trails we both know well. A snoop around Camp Via, a blossom hunt in the old orchard, a visit to the ancient redwood—the grandmother tree, too gnarly and difficult to be brought down, just like me.

Or not.

The fall happened on the downhill run, as we were approaching Fern Lake. All adventurers  know if something’s gonna go wrong, it goes wrong on the descent. Blink. Slip, twist, down. And down for the count.

I knew I’d probably broken something. There was a telltale crunching noise in the disasterous mix. But I’m prone to rolling my ankles, so as I lay in the dirt trying to settle my stomach, I held out hope that’s all it was—a bad roll. After a few long moments I stood up, hoping to carry on.

No go. Two sticks and Nick’s strong arm notwithstanding, when I put weight on my right foot, pain ricocheted around unhelpfully. I got clammy and queasy and had to lie down again, while Nick paced the fire road, a self-described “brilliant humorist at the height of his powers,” saying helpful, apparently hilarious things I can’t remember.

Eventually I sat back up and began rifling through my daypack for my first aid kit, looking for a painkiller. I am a hiking guidebook writer, after all. I carry all kinds of nerdy equipment no matter the length of a chosen ramble. Emergency blanket, check. Water purifying tablets, check. Buck knife, check. First aid kit … crapola.

I did have a small flask of whiskey, however—a throwback to my circumambulation on the Tahoe Rim, when we would end long days on the trail with a bone-warming tipple. If a cowboy could medicate with whiskey before the doc dug the bullet out, a shot oughta get a hiker with a bum ankle down a trail, right?

I took a swig. I stood. A blast of pain, and my stomach revolted. I threw it up.

My predicament wasn’t an emergency, I insisted to Nick, after he propped me up against a log. We’d been discussing ego earlier on the hike, and mine took firm control of the decision-making process. I am a hiking guidebook writer, after all. I’m all about self-sufficiency in the woods. We needed to figure out how to get off the mountain without summoning the National Guard — and it turned out the National Guard was a distinct possibility, since a passing mountain biker told us a unit was training on SDC that day, along with the sheriff and the fire department. A helicopter flew overhead. I sank deeper into the log.

Fortunately we were close to home, we had cell phone coverage, and together Nick and I sorted our options. Plan A involved calling the non-emergency lines at the Eldridge Fire Department and SDC police department to see if we could get someone to open a couple of gates; that way one of my sons could drive up and retrieve me. Plan B involved calling friends who own land bordering the SDC; Steve knows the web of trails better than anyone, and has a four-wheeler that could get me out easily. Plan C involved crawling and crying.

Plan A was a wash: My son ended up leaving messages that weren’t returned until several hours later, when I was being treated in the emergency room. Calling 911 would have gotten us a quicker response, but … well, hiking guidebook writer …

Fortunately, Plan B was a success. Several “where are you again?” calls were necessary, because SDC’s trails aren’t marked and must be described using language better suited to wayfinding in the nineteenth century. After clarifying our location with reference to creeks and dams, Steve and my son navigated to my rescue.

Time of fall to time of arrival back in civilization was, all in all, about two hours. We got a little cold while we waited, but both Nick and I had layers. If we’d had to wait longer, even overnight, we had food and emergency shelter and ways to purify the water Nick could have retrieved from the nearby creek. There would have been crying and crawling, but we were equipped for survival. Hiking guidebook writer, after all.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what happened on the mountain since the accident, if for no other reason than I can’t do much else. In researching Search and Rescue Alaska (where I wrote about survivors) and Death in Mount Rainier National Park (where everybody dies), a significant common denominator became crystal clear: The folks who survive bad breaks of all kinds in the wild are the ones who are prepared, and who follow bad luck with good choices. Nick and I didn’t compound a bad situation with bad decisions. We didn’t panic. We didn’t despair. We were prepared, mentally and physically, to cope. Our resilience was in the layers we carried ward off the cold, and in the good humor we shared as we waited.

I’m a solo hiker—I’ve walked most every trail in the guides I’ve written alone. I’ve had more than my fair share of uh-ohmoments; I’ve also had more than my fair share of good luck. In this instance, luck took the form of a clear-thinking companion. But I also carry luck with me, in my pack, on my back. Even without Nick, even without first aid kit, I would have been just fine.

What’s In My Pack


Hat and gloves

Lightweight jacket

Buck knife and pocketknife

Emergency blanket




Notebook and pen

Cell phone

Camera, tablet, GPS unit (if working on a guidebook)


First aid kit

Poop bags for the dog

Poop bag for myself (TP + ziplock bags to pack it out)

Water purification tablets + ultraviolet water-purification wand

Medicinal candy (Sour Patch Kids. Trust me.)

Electrolyte tablets


Flask of whiskey (optional)

Published May 1, 2021, in the Kenwood Press