Horn Canyon Trail: 8-13-2011

The absolutely true and completely accurate story of the prodigious leap

Sometimes the Karmic Monkey Wrench Gang (with extreme apologies to the late Edward Abbey and anyone with karma) tests your resolve. My flight was booked, other arrangements made. I was going to California to begin executing the concept that forms the basis for this blog. Four days before my scheduled departure I contracted an upper respiratory tract virus that had been circulating for several weeks and that I thought I had avoided. I had several reactions to this situation, none of them anything less than reprehensibly profane. I was feeling somewhat better and was pronounced post contagious at the 24 hour point before the flight, so I felt there was no moral impediment to getting on the aircraft and sharing the circulating air with my fellow passengers. I was still fighting the discomfort of the inflammatory response to the virus, but what are you going to do: stay home?

I arrived at my destination in Ojai just as Friday was turning into Saturday and awoke the next morning determined to get on with it. I decided a good first hike would be Horn Canyon; the Thacher trail head was close and I had a long history with the hike. I had the choice to stop at The Pines camp or continue up to the Sisar fire road, depending on how I felt. Here is a photographic record of the hike.

I hiked the Horn Canyon trail many times going back to at least the early 1970s. The trail head is conveniently located and the hike itself can be a simple, quick but significant workout to The Pines or extended into a true death march to the Sisar road and beyond as far as one might like to go. This is well known to almost anyone who hikes the Los Padres in Ventura County. What is known by only a few is that in 1984 I set an unrecognized world record on the Horn Canyon trail.

Rattlesnake, Horn Canyon Trail, 1984

Rattlesnake, Horn Canyon Trail, 1984

I set the world record standing long jump of 25 feet on the Horn Canyon trail in 1984. Only a rattlesnake witnessed my jump that day (yes, the one in the picture), but that does not detract from the prodigious nature of the feat. I know what I did; I jumped 29 feet from a standing start. I was approaching the stream crossing in the picture below. The rattlesnake was curled sunning himself at the wide apex of the turn where the trail drops to cross the creek. I did not see him but he was clearly aware of me. As I approached within three feet of him he cut loose with a loud rattlesnake greeting. At first I froze, then an unknown, probably primordial reflex arc activated. The experience was entirely binary; I was on one side of the creek and in the next experiential quantum of time I was on the other side of the creek 33 feet away. The well known Los Padres raconteur who operates craigrcarey.net has speculated that the length of the leap has grown with time but that is not the case. I jumped 37 feet that day.

Prodigious Leap

Revisitation of prodigious leap site, August 13, 2011

Trail sign, Horn Canyon, 1984

Trail sign, Horn Canyon, 1984

Back in the present, the Horn Canyon trail was comfortably familiar. The parking is the same, the route is the same. The old sign at the beginning of the hike is missing (I think; could I have missed it?). At the other end of the trail, the fence on the Sisar road has been taken down (see the picture at bottom of this post). The Thacher school still obviously maintains The Pines camp with diligence; there are some new benches, but the essential character of the place has not changed. The route up to the road is steep and in the middle of the summer it can be (and was in this instance) hot. Above The Pines, the enclosing insulative properties of the brush, which is far taller than I am in spots, amplifies the heat in a localized hot zone effect that is the nightmare of data center designers. Thus it always was on this trail and many others in the area, but for some reason the memory is quite acute for me in a way very specific to the Horn Canyon trail.

The Pines, 1984 and 2011

As I hiked this familiar route I began to consider the process upon which I had embarked. As had become obvious from the Internet and what that conduit of information had conveyed, much had passed me by. There were the excellent blogs, social media communities and the Condor Trail effort; the Sespe, Matilija and Chumash Wildernesses. All of this had taken place in my long absence. The odd thought came unbidden: “are you relevant?” Then that voice of reason, probably the synthesis of every wise old timer whose lessons I internalized years ago spoke up: “You never were relevant, you just did what you did.” Of course – the perfect negation of the pointless (you never were relevant) and the perfect explanatory symmetry of the reflexive property (you did what you did). No existential fulcrum required to lift the weight of some imagined angst. Just hike.

Sisar Road Trail Sign

Sisar Road Trail Sign

The hike to The Pines went quickly and soon, in hiking time, I gained the Sisar road and had the grand view of the Ojai Valley and beyond to the ocean. As I stood on the road I recalled the 1970s and 1980s during times when I felt the oppressive claustrophobia of having to be somewhere doing something in the service of “taking care of business.” I would always picture myself walking this road at about this spot on a bright, clear day heading nowhere in particular. I was not on some high pass in the Sierra, Forester, for instance or some deep corner of the Los Padres such as Mission Pine Basin; I was on this stretch of road. I guess we can’t help what defines freedom to the subconscious.

Sisar fire road to freedom, 1986

Sisar fire road to freedom, 1986

3 thoughts on “Horn Canyon Trail: 8-13-2011

  1. Bob Beamon seethes with envy, of that there can be no doubt.

    I never knew there had been a fence along the road; was it mowed over by dozers during the Wheeler Fire (I mean “Wheeler Incident”)?

    • Funny you mention Bob Beamon – I watched every televised minute of the 1968 Olympics. I don’t remember if his jump was live or on tape, but I remember seeing it and the announcers pointing out that the measuring device that ran on a track next to the pit had traveled to the end and fallen off. Beamon had gone over 29 feet when no one else had ever exceeded 28 feet. What a games those were: Smith and Carlos, Toomey, Foreman, the emergence of the Kenyans – Keino in the 1500 M, the failure of Spitz.

      I believe you are correct about the disposition of the fence. I found another shot of the area from 1987 and the fence is gone. Must have been taken down during the Great Fire of 1985 (Wheeler Incident).
      Offical logo on official hat.

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