.Aptos Creek Fire Road Trail Hike

A beach hike is different. Your path is a vast nowhere, and the ocean itself disappears on the horizon, showing that the earth is round. A hill, on the other hand, is inherently deceptive: a day hike among the biggest trees on earth, you get a sense of the colossal size of the world. You get a sense of your own patience and fortitude. You get to go home.

I love Steven Wright’s hiking joke: “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” The Aptos Creek Fire Road is a 24.3-mile out-and-back trail near Aptos, in Santa Cruz County.

There are a lot of hikers, bikers and cars on the Fire Road, but veer off onto a path up a hill and you’ll find solitude. If you are upset by so many other people on the trail, you just haven’t taken enough time. Yosemite is famous for crowds, but that’s because 90% of the visitors to Yosemite never make it off the valley floor. Walk a trail for 10 minutes and you will be alone.

My hiking bros only go on weekdays here on the Central Coast, when it’s way less crowded. I hike solo this Saturday morning and there are lots of cars and people on the main road, called the Fire Road, up Aptos Creek in Nisene Marks State Park. I walk by one trio of young men who are drinking beer. Hiking while drinking is called wanderlush. 

Not-In-My-Back-Woods Is NIMBAWism

Sometimes walkers will castigate me for writing this column, saying that I am making a well-hiked trail hiked even more. The photo shows that the Fire Road can become congested with hikers and cars. Many hikers want it for themselves. I present news! It’s not your trail, it’s everyone’s trail. That’s why it’s called a trail.

Upon reflection, the trail is not even “ours”; it belongs to the bugs, beasts and blooms that live there. It’s nice to feel other heartbeats in the forest, whether human or something more native. My mission is to get more people hiking; I believe that will help develop the ecological consciousness we need to deal with the environmental shit storm upon us.

Sit as little as possible; do not believe any idea that was not born in the open air and of free movement—in which the muscles do not also revel…sitting still is the real sin against the Holy Ghost.  —Friedrich Nietzsche

Fairy Rings

Get off the Fire Road and you will encounter natural majesty. Ten minutes off the main road I am utterly alone and walk up to a fairy ring, where a giant, old-growth redwood has burned out and new redwoods grow up in a ring around the burnt elder.

Fairy ring (old stump surrounded by younger trees) in a redwood forest
A fairy ring gives the redwood a huge ecological advantage. Photo by Richard Stockton

Redwoods Program Manager Desert Waters explains why fairy rings are important:  

“A fairy ring is a common name for a group of redwood trees growing in a circle, usually around the stump of a logged old-growth tree. After being cut down (or burned down), a new generation of trees sprout from the roots of the fallen redwood, often creating a near-perfect circle or ring. This is one of the ways redwoods regenerate, giving them the tremendous advantage of already having a full root system compared to species that reproduce through seed.”

Hiking: Exercise Before There Was Exercise

I return to the Fire Road to go farther up Aptos Creek. I walk by a lean guy with his hat on backwards doing serious squats just off the road. He straightens up and asks how I’m doing, and I’m in conversation with former pastor Bud Lamb. 

Bud tells me he is not a jogger; he is a runner, but not a sprinter. I guess there are people who run the trails as fast as they can, and I’d love to be able to talk to these people, but they are hard to catch. Bud runs three miles a day and visits the Aptos Creek Trail three times a week to seek communion with the people he meets here: “They become like family after a while.”

Bud is a Santa Cruz style pastor who quotes Ram Dass and says running in nature helps him to “be here now.” And that he values the free Vitamin D. I’m not sure where you can pay for Vitamin D, but it’s good to know it’s free on the Aptos Creek Trail. I introduce myself as Reverend Dicky Bob, Universal Life Minister. Bud’s eyebrow twitches twice but he makes no comment. 

Guy doing squats on a forest trail
Bud Lamb is as intense as he looks and proudly tells me he is 72 years old. He has reason to be proud: This is one super-fit man. Photo by Richard Stockton

I ask Bud why he uses the Aptos Creek trail so often. “I like it because it’s straight out and back. I can focus on just the run and the redwoods rather than the technical part of running on trails. Running on the trails, I have to pay more attention; it’s narrower, so there’s more slowing down and saying ‘excuse me’ to folks that are hiking. When nobody’s there, I’ll run the trails.” 

Etiquette tip: From the list of unspoken hiker etiquette by Mike Wendland: Yield to uphill hikers. Hiking uphill, you have the right of way. Hiking downhill, step to the side to make room for those hiking up to pass.

I tell Bud that I’m healing from a knee injury: “Last year I tried to take up running. This year I’m trying to take up walking. People told me that running at my age would damage my joints; that’s why I smoke them before I run. It was in that pain-free cannabis state that I overdid it and tweaked a knee.”

Bud says, “There are two things that I’ve learned you can’t avoid, and that’s pain and injuries. One of my favorite mottos is ‘Fall down seven, get up eight.’ That’s from the Bible, Proverbs 24, verse 16.”

OK, with my Bible quota filled, I head to Porter Creek.

More Wanderlush

I turn onto the Porter Trail where a sign says No Bikes. About one hundred yards beyond the sign there is a massive tree trunk 3 feet off the ground that I would imagine is way more effective in discouraging bike passage. It’s a short walk down to the creek.

Man throwing stones in a forest creek
Man skipping stones in Aptos Creek. Photo by Richard Stockton

There is a group of men finding their 12-year-old-inner-stone-skipper, and they are also drinking. I guess Saturday is Wanderlush Hiking Day. I should not judge; sometimes I use cannabis to hike. People in grass houses shouldn’t throw matches stoned.

How To Get There: Take Highway 1, State Park Drive, right on Soquel, left on Aptos Creek Road. There is an $8 vehicle day-use fee. The Fire Road has lots of parking.


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