A reflection on Thanksgiving, 1984

Ah, 1984. Van Halen’s album of the same name. 501s. Cassette tapes. Shoulder pads. Bad hair. I, of course, wore hats.

Ttrmt2-fmJmcxpS6JOVtuRZ2Voe2STV4oQ18dqB1UBsDad and me (I’m on the left/not the older guy), Kings Mountain circa 1986. Photo credit Greg Lincoln

Thanksgiving morning. Early, EARLY Thanksgiving morning. It was for all intents and purposes still Wednesday night. It was d-a-r-k and we were already headed south along Highway 1 in Dad’s car. Between naps punctuated by bonking my head on the window, I stared blearily out at where the ocean would be visible once the sun rose in an hour or two.

My Dad loved hiking. He loved being outdoors, exploring. He loved us kids. He spent his teenage years growing up in Redwood City and spent most of the rest of his life on the peninsula. Most of the time he eschewed shoes, electing instead to walk barefoot pretty much everywhere when he wasn’t at work.

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He knew everything. I don’t say that derisively or with any sarcasm. The guy knew everything. And he loved spending holidays with us this way: Get up much too early, hike all day, come home and feast, go to sleep exhausted.

So, there we were in the car, barrelling south from Half Moon Bay, CA in the middle of the night on Thanksgiving ‘Day,’ 1984. My brother and I were barely conscious. It was dark, my dad was driving us south to hike from Waddell Creek Beach inland to Big Basin State Park, where we would have lunch and then head back, working up our appetites for turkey dinner.

The Google internet machine shows that that hike is 10 miles from the Ranger Station in Big Basin to the ocean where we started the hike.

Did I mention that it was 1984? Yeah. There was no internet. There was no GPS. That meant that trip planning was a bit of an arcane and labor-intensive exercise.

You could buy paper ‘7.5 minute’ topo maps at the United States Geodetic (now Geologic) Survey. Yes, you read that correctly. You had to go TO the USGS to get the topo map you wanted. You had to know the Lat/Long of the area you wanted, match that to a legend that showed the region and THEN find it in a bunch of drawers. And then you had a map. Bright side? Once you found the right one, it cost about 3 bucks.

That week, Dad had run out of time before coming to pick us up and hadn’t stopped at the USGS in Menlo Park to pick up the  map of the area where we’d hike on Thursday morning.

That’s alright, he had said. “I used to ride my motorcycle with the guys up that trail when we were just out of high school.” They started in Woodside, headed over to Gazos Creek, rode back to Woodside through Big Basin and down Skyline. He knew right where we were going.

We sat in the dark and wished we were still in bed.

Getting out of the car I began shivering immediately and thought we were going to die. It was bone-chillingly cold, windy and dark. The first 45 minutes of the hike it was dark. We were underdressed, but we’d brought our jackets. ‘Sun’ll come up and you’ll wish you weren’t carrying that jacket, son.’ He liked to call my brother and me, ‘son.’ He knew everything. We left the jackets in the trunk.

Hours later and we were still hiking this beautiful trail. I don’t necessarily remember thinking how beautiful it was at the time, but at least by then it was warm and there were trees. I was glad I’d left my jacket all those miles away. We shared a banana and a tangerine between the three of us for breakfast. Every once in awhile, Dad would say, ‘Ohhh, this looks familiar. It’s gotta be right up here somewhere.’

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This went on for another 2 or 3 hours as we legged out what we’d learn later was the inward, 10-mile leg of the hike. It’s gotta be right up here somewhere.

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Upon reaching the much talked-about grocery store in Big Basin State Park (where we had envisioned gorging ourselves), there was more disappointment.

The store was closed.

Because it was Thanksgiving.

Dad had cash in his wallet, but not much change. There was a soda machine that of course only accepted coins (damn you, 1984). Dad got 55 cents (or whatever it was) put together and we shared an Orangina from the soda machine, found a drinking fountain to fill our (one) canteen and started back. Back down the ten miles of trail to the ocean, to Dad’s car and eventually, to a turkey dinner that would be ready to eat at about 11:30 that night (once we got home and he started baking it in the oven).

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Yesterday, I hiked a good chunk of that same Waddell Creek/Skyline to Sea trail. My hike was ‘only’ 8 miles of the 20 we Lincolns hiked that day all those years ago. These photos are from yesterday’s hike along that familiar trail and its many memories.

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I sit here 31 years later, paging through these photos and thinking about my Dad and that marathon hike. He passed away the Thursday before Thanksgiving in 1992, on November 18th. Since that year, the holidays have been a downer, though recent years have started to reverse that trend.

Looking back now, as a dad myself, I’d like to think that he knew exactly how far we were going to hike that day and that the lack of preparedness was intentional. I’d also like to think that Dad knew that we would still be talking about that day all these many years later and get a kick out of the memories we all made that day.

I thought I remembered that this bridge where I turned around yesterday was 3 miles in. Nope. It was 4 miles according to my handheld GPS. I caught myself muttering, It’s gotta be right up here somewhere.

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