At the East end of my street a mountain loomed. As a young child it seemed days away, in truth, it was only several hours walking. As I got older, it became clear to me that it was possible to spend half the day walking to the mountain, and half the day to get back home. It should probably be during the long daylight of summer in order to have a little rest and relaxation at the summit.
There was only four of the neighborhood kids that were old enough to be away from home for the time that we had calculated. Several of us had walked as far as the roller rink, and we assumed that the mountain was directly behind it. Add another hour and we should be there. The only problem was at the route to the roller rink veered to the right. We needed to find a more direct approach to save time.
At the peak of summer we headed out with packs of snacks, a compass, a signal mirror, a watch, binoculars, and several canteens of water. And rope, we had to have a nice long piece of rope. Probably the heaviest thing we carried.
The first ten blocks were direct, and perfectly East. The mountain was stlll visible and perhaps only a little closer. Every few blocks we checked the compass, the East was still the East. Finally, the neighborhood changed and the streets began slant off, leaving us with a choice. We could do our best to follow the streets, or we could drop down to the creek, which we knew led to the park where the roller rink was.
It never occurred to us that there would be two creeks so close together.
We took off our socks and waded through the ankle deep creek in our tennis shoes. The water seemed clear to us, although today I realize that it wasn’t so much spring fed, as runoff from lawn watering, and car washing. Every once in a awhile there were suds.
It was by far not a straight shot, creeks curve back and forth, following the contours of the land. Mostly the creek bed was flat like a path, at times there were “holes” that were quite deep. We found tires buried in the gravel, we found rusted shopping carts, mostly we stayed cool under the shade of overgrown banks. Trees and bushes shielded the sun, but they also kept us from easily leaving the creek bed.
It was a little bit like the African Queen movie, slogging mile after mile, in wet clothes. It was a fine summer adventure. When we realized that the freeway was crossing over us we decided to climb out. We really didn’t need he rope, but heck, we brought it with us, so we tied it to a tree and up we went. When we got out to put on dry socks that went into wet shoes, we saw that we had swung at least a dozen blocks to the north. The concept of two creeks came alive.
Fortunately there was a street going straight south that would eventually cross the road leading to the roller rink. We were only two hours behind our timetable. Two hours exploring Wildcat Creek, the other creek.
It wasn’t long before we were behind the roller rink, trying to find an easy way up the hill. We were too close to recognize the mountain, all we knew was that the grass and dirt in front of us sloped upward. We marched on, sometimes going to our hands and knees. Looking back we began to see the city grid stretching below us. We were gaining altitude!
After at least an hour, we came upon a ridge that was well above the park. There was also the dead end of a road that dropped down the creek where we had been. We saw that we had taken an almost direct line, straight up to the ridge. We also realized that the actual top of the mountain was still an hour away, through a cow pasture, and barbed wire fences. We sat down on the ridge.
As the leader, I checked our time, and officially called the expedition to a conclusion. We had technically made it, we had gotten to the highest point that a car could drive. That was an accomplishment. We sat down and drank the rest of our water and finished that last of our snacks.
Looking out over the grid of our city we tried to find our street. It should look like a line pointed directly at us. We used the binoculars to try to narrow our choices but we weren’t sure. We could see the bridges and the Bay beyond, but we couldn’t see the cross streets that would have defined our block.
There was still a chance. A friend couldn’t come with us because of a sports commitment, but he promised that when he got back that he would try to help. For three or four minutes on the hour, every hour, he would stand in the street and flash a signal mirror at the mountain.
We had ten minutes to wait till the next flash. Maybe he forgot, maybe he was not home yet, maybe he went shopping, he got caught up in some Saturday afternoon movie. The hour had come and we saw nothing flashing from the grid below us.
Then there it was, as plain as day. Through the binoculars we even imagined we saw a speck in the street, holding the flash. We looked through our packs and found our mirror. For the next several minutes we pretended to know Morse Code, flashing back and forth from Ridge to Grid, from Grid to Ridge.
It was late afternoon when we headed back, no creek wading, just neighborhood street after neighborhood street. We were tired, but we had been somewhere, and we had done great things, and we even had used the rope that we brought. There was still 30 minutes to dinner time.
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