Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
The thing that keeps hikers going is an insatiable desire to see what is beyond the crest of the next hill. Even late in the afternoon, when we know that we really should be getting back to the car before nightfall, which is the time when hungry mountain lions are most active, we can’t resist the temptation to trudge a little bit farther up to that next crest, just to see what’s on the other side…. In 2004, I went on a short hike -- equipped with nothing but a pocketknife -- at one of the trailheads near the Japatul Fire Station. It was an early afternoon in November and a small rain storm was approaching. With the arrival of the first few drops of rain I started back to my car in the gravel parking lot. When I reached the car, I was surprised to see a hiker who had just arrived, getting ready to start out on the trail. I thought it was a little crazy to start on a hike in such weather, but this guy obviously came prepared: he had a huge backpack that looked like it must have weighed a hundred pounds. He was a tall guy and strong, obviously not hampered by the weight of the pack. He was younger than me – or so I assumed (it turns out he was actually ten years older than me). I greeted him and he said hello back. As my interest in East County hiking trails increased, I got some videos and a book (Afoot and Afield in San Diego County) by Jerry Schad, and in them I recognized the guy with the big backpack, and realized what a dedicated hiker he was. Eventually I started an email exchange with Jerry. He was working on a new edition of his book; I had some questions for him, and he invited me to make suggestions for the new edition.
In 2007 I once again met a stranger at the parking lot near the Japatul Fire Station. I had just finished a morning hike and on returning to the lot, was approached by an old retired guy and his dog. They were getting ready to set out on a hike, just as Jerry had been a few years before. The man was overweight with a big pot belly, clearly no match for Jerry Schad. But I let him approach me as I was about to get into my Civic, and we chatted a bit about the local trails. He seemed to know a lot. I asked him about Bell Bluff, and he told me how to get there from Alpine, and told me that he and his dog had hiked there the long way, from Japatul Road. I was astonished that someone with his body could have done such a thing, but he described the route in convincing detail. Then he asked me if I had been to C………., saying that it was the greatest hike in the area, so great that it should have been a national park. It turns out that he was exaggerating a bit, but after (with much determination) overcoming the man’s wrong directions, my son and I found the place, and in fact it became my favorite place to hike in all San Diego County. I taught a night class for one semester that fall at Mesa College, where, once a week, I would get an amazing gourmet dinner at the little restaurant managed by the Culinary Arts department. One evening I saw Jerry there eating dinner at the next table – Jerry was on the full-time faculty there – and so we launched into a discussion about our favorite topic. And so I asked him why C………. was not mentioned in any of his books; I assumed he would be familiar with the place. He was, and he told me that he hadn’t written about it out of respect for the people living in that quiet community with lots of horses but no marked trailheads or parking lots or geocaches or any of that sort of thing (but, I must say, with its share of off-road motorbikers). I never did buy the last edition of Jerry’s book; by the time it came out I felt like I had hiked San Diego County, and was eyeing Riverside County, San Bernardino County, and Arizona for new adventures. And so I didn’t think about Jerry Schad for a while…. The thing that keeps hikers going is an insatiable desire to see what is beyond the crest of the next hill. I wonder where Jerry Schad is now; wherever it is, we can surmise that he’s already over the crest of the nearest hill and moving on to the next, higher one, heavy backpack and all -- and not waiting for us stragglers.