Courtney McLaughlan

English 134-20




Land at its Finest


            Each day I wake to the sunÕs rays through my dorm window, but on this particular morning, the beeping of my alarm clock jolts me out of my bed.  It may be early, but I can already feel the excitement building up within me.  As I gather my Nalgene water bottle, notebook, and Cal Poly Land: A Field Guide, I wonder what the Poly ÒPÓ Loop hike will consist of.  At the trailhead, the cold wind blows slightly and my breath mists in the air.  Although I am wearing three layers, goose bumps arise on my arms and all that I can think about is a hot shower.  Just as I erase the image from my mind, the hike begins.

            The beginning pace of the hike is leisurely, so I take in my surroundings.  After two weeks of rain, the land has become like a sponge, absorbing each droplet of water.  On my left, I can hear flowing water from Brizziolari Creek, and on my right, a stream of water forms a minute Grand Canyon within the mud.  The riparian area is vibrant with life, and the creek bed is home to an array of vegetation.  Eucalyptus trees, not native to America, run parallel to the creek, forming a barrier as if the creek were a castle and the trees were a wall.  Then a few steps away, the multi-colored leaf from poison oak becomes the center of attention.  Just at the opening of the canyon, willow trees immerse their ÒfeetÓ in the moist creek soil, and near by, Sycamore and Oak trees create a small amount of shade.  As I continue up the trail, I hear the gravel crunching under my boots and the birds chirping around me.  Just ahead, a StellerÕs Jay lands on a tree branch and basks in the warm sun.  Then out of nowhere, a bridge appears to the right]  .

            Built in 1865 by a Cal Poly student for a senior project, the bridge is the start of our incline.  The gravel trail narrows and my classmates and I walk one after another as if we were in a marching band.  Grass sprouts are visible on both sides of the path, and a thick, soft mud separates them.  The boot from the person in front of me leaves an indentation in the dirt, so I am positive of where to step next.  A small watercourse runs along the side of the path, and a few rocks lose grip of the soil and tumble downhill.  The trail gradually increases in elevation, and we leave the trees that encompassed us, and begin to climb a hillside of serpentine outcrop.  Only half way up, we stop in the sunshine for a sip of refreshing water.  In the background lies Rock Slide Ridge and the Cal Poly architectural area, and in the middle ground, the one hundred and fifty year old Peterson Ranch sits motionless as if out of a landscape painting.  Just beyond a distant hill, the sun rises and brings light to the rest of the rolling green hills and livestock below.  Along the contour of the mountains, a stretch of clouds moves slowly, but then floats like a hawk searching for prey.  A wind picks up and nearby grass begins to sway back and forth.  The view is breathtaking, but I want to see more.  I gather my belongings and begin to hike the rest of the way up.

            Consisting of continuous switchbacks and the same vegetation, the rest of the hike up the mountain is long with little to see.  Finally though, I make it to the peak and am utterly speechless.  Before me lies the whole city of San Luis Obispo, and  beyond that, a one hundred and eighty degree view of the Pacific ocean.  San Luis Obispo fits perfectly in between both mountain ridges like a piece of a puzzle. Even though I feel completely engulfed by nature, I can still hear a car alarm, the Cal Poly bell tower striking nine, and the freeway traffic just below.  I wish I could take in one more moment atop the mountain, but it is time to head down.  The walk down is slow, and while I descend, I take some time to appreciate what I saw.  The vast stretch of hills, the creek flowing with water from the past weekÕs rain, and the city, all leave an imprint on my mind.  At the bottom, I pound the mud off my boots and begin my walk back to the dorms.  ItÕs there that I collapse onto my bed, give a sigh of relief, and fall asleep .