Monserate Hill has been many things to me through many years. It has been a workout, a release, a sanctuary, a hiding place, a passion, and a medicine. It has been a place to cultivate friendships, old and new, to regain perspective on the complexities of life, and a place to learn a little more each week about the inner me. It’s a place that has made me whole in times when I have felt broken. In short, Monserate has been my friend.
Time And Time Again…
This hill rises just about 1,200 feet from its base beside Interstate 15 in Fallbrook, CA. The most direct trail to the summit is 1.6 miles. If my math skills serve me well, 1.6 miles over 1,200 feet comes out to an average grade of about 23%. It’s steep. I try and get to the hill at least a couple of times per week, but will go every day if the circumstances provide for that. On the weekends it’s not unusual for me to hike it 3 or 4 times in 48 hours.
On the short route there are essentially 4 steep and challenging sections, and 2 flat sections. None of the challenging sections are any less difficult than another. The sections differ only in landscape, trail surface, and view. Steep is steep, and effort is effort. As for the flat sections, a friend recently pointed out to me that they really aren’t flat at all, only less steep.
When time is tight I take the short trail which gets me up, down, and out of there in 45 minutes or so. When I have less going on, I take the long route which is a 5 ½ mile round trip. This takes me about an hour and 15 minutes. The long route offers some extra credit as far as the cardio goes, but also offers extra credit with even more beautiful views.
There are times when I take on this hill full-on. Be it alone, or with a partner, the goal is to get to the top as quickly as possible. This pace tests the conditioning of the mind, as well as the body. This is when Monserate is my workout, and can be daunting when the pace is that aggressive. I have even run it, bottom to top on occasion, but there is no joy in doing so.
Other times the pace may be fast, but not all out. Then there are just those days when a long walk with a good friend is in order. Pace means nothing, and fellowship is the order of the day. After all, Monserate is a church not made by hands.
Regardless of the goal, and the pace, never do I get to the top without pausing for at least a moment to honor the gif of the view. To the east lays Palomar Mountain which can be dusted with snow in winter. That aesthetic is always striking since there are citrus orchards, palm farms, and avocado groves in the foreground. To the west is the town of Fallbrook, where I live. On a clear day one can see the ocean nearly 20 miles away.
In October of 2007 this area was decimated by fires. In Fallbrook alone, over 500 homes were lost. Those fires reworked the Monserate landscape into a different level of beauty. This allowed me to see the hill from the perspectives of fragility, and strength in recovery. Gone was the overgrown brush, and exposed was the hidden terrain from which the growth once reached. The growth would return, and that served as a reminder to me of the cyclical nature of existence.
Each week through that winter after the fires I watched the scenery evolve, and turn from charred black remains on red clay, into purple flowers, yellow blossoms, and rich green hues. As the growth returned so too did the smells. If Monserate has a secret weapon for seduction, then it’s the confluence of scents of the varying plants which inhabit the area.
In the early mornings, when the marine layer is just right, and as the fog slowly flows over, and around the hills in the area, the scents of sage, citrus, and eucalyptus among others waft, and blend.
Above the clouds…
When I find Monserate to be most inspiring, most meditative, and most transformative is early on a Sunday morning when the fog is heavy. On those days, little can be seen beyond 20 yards, sometimes less. Then, after about 800’ or so of climbing, I emerge from the fog only to look down upon the top of it. The triangular peaks of the distant hills peek through the clouds, and it appears as though the whole world is just a cauldron of soup made from clouds, and hilltops. Above, the sky is an untouched blue.
In these moments when no roads, no structures, no anything can be seen, I feel alone in the universe. Then, I’ll hear a hawk, see a rabbit, a lizard, or even a coyote scamper, and nature becomes larger than man, and I am the outsider.
The rhythm method…
I may suck at running, but I climb hills as well as anyone I know, and I enjoy doing it. Due to the steep grade of the trail, each stride is more a lunge than a step. I land flat-footed, and push off from the heel with every stride – years of lunges have trained me to do this with efficiency. I have strong legs, powerful hips, and a low center of gravity. Jhciacb does hills. Rarely do even my partners pass me, and if they do they don’t stay in front for very long.
Step. Step. Step. The climb itself is a rhythm, but it’s a slow rhythm. Heart-rate increases and breathing expands. Time begins to slow, and the transformative state begins. Step. Step. Step. This is the metronome which keeps the physical me in tune, and in step with the thinking me. The chaos of the day dissolves as the music of physicality gets louder. Step. Step. Step.
As I advance, I begin to forget about those who half-wittingly toss out their opinions about the idiot in the white house, corporate greed, or why I’m so wrong about so many things. As the news of stolen babies, raped altar boys, school shootings, and genocide swirl about my brain with the chaos of the day, and as my head feels like it’s going to explode from these, I simply put one foot in front of the other, and establish a rhythm with my body. As the rhythm of my body increases, the rhythm of my mind slows to a tolerable level, if only for a while. Step. Step. Step… Be well. Rc
If you are a San Diego local, and have an interest in hiking Monserate, but would prefer to do it for the first time with an experienced guide, please contact me here. I would be glad to show the way. My fee for the hike is a Greek salad, and a pitcher of iced tea from the Main Street Café here in Fallbrook.
Please stop back in two weeks to see what happens when I hit the “stop” button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there is this from, Little Hurricane. Enjoy..