Busted on Elkhorn Peak

I'd love to tell you about how cool this run was, except for the part in the middle that wasn't. I've been a smart-ass in earlier posts and had a little disclaimer about trespassing and not getting caught if you don't have permission. Take this story as a lesson.

I connected the Jameson Canyon to Skyline Regional Park in Napa via Elkhorn Peak. I followed my usual routine: I picked a fenceline that wasn't marked with "No Trespassing" signs every 1/3 mile, crossed through a gate in the fence, and started my run. I intentionally picked a spot farthest from farmhouses on either side - I don't want the owners to think I'm coming to cause trouble, or casing out their homes, or something.

The run up towards Elkhorn Peak was bushy, with grass and plants up to my chest, slowing me down to a walk. It wasn't until I reached a ridge-top dirt road, leading to another gate and cow trails, that my pace picked up. As I reached Elkhorn Peak I saw a farmer driving around the lower fields on a four-wheeler, but really thought nothing about it. There were three fences between him and I, and three barns and houses in sight, so I had no idea if I was even on the same property as when I started this run. The Scottish thistle on the final slopes of the peak, following an old road, were thigh-high and they hurt. After a cool scramble down the steep and wooded south side of the peak I stopped to shake the dirt from my shoes, tighten my laces, and take a picture of my legs.

Moments after I started again I saw a farmer - the same one it turns out - on a four wheeler with a cool Aussie cattle dog riding shotgun. He said, "I was going to find you!" and I replied, "Of course you would..."

"Why were you running away from me?" he challenged.

"Beg your pardon?" I said, stumped. Running away? He repeated the question.

"I wasn't running away," I tried to explain, "I'm running. Training. Trying to run from the highway to that cell tower over there."

I won't go into details, but his arguement was: 1) I was trespassing, 2) I had to have permission, 3) I may scare the cattle, and 4) He had one hand driving a pickup looking for me and another on horseback. He was one seriously pissed off farmer.

I stayed as polite as could be and told him how: 1) I wasn't hunting or fishing, 2) I worked to avoid any building and cattle to avoid scarying owners or cows, 3) I used only gates and hadn't climbed over any fences, 4) there weren't any "No Trespassing" signs around the perimeter of the farm that I found and 5) I didn't think it was reasonable to knock on every door in Jameson Canyon to determine who to ask "please" from. As I understood it, I wasn't trespassing, and I was being low impact and quiet.

This very abbreviated synopsis reflects a conversation that last for about a half hour, with me getting more and more nervous. PG had dropped me off, and my car was parked at the end of the run. If this dude wanted me to walk out with him, it was completely within his right, and I'd be stuck with hitch-hiking to my car. You could see the same gears turning in his head when he learned about this.

We talked a little bit about where I lived (barely 10 miles away, but a world apart in realities), and what I did for work.

"You don't get enough exercise with that?" he asked.

"Guess I'm not a very still person." I answered. Phew - if he's willing to joke about it, he's willing to let me go.

And he did, but warned me never to be on his land again, and not to bother coming by and trying to ask for permission next time, 'cause there wouldn't be a next time. So I'm stumped trying to find another way around Jameson Canyon to Skyline Park.

Which is too bad, because the rest of the run was beautiful. Old oaks trees hugging the hillsides, a loan small watering pond, and one for-sure-not-legal fence crossing lead me into the very southernmost tip of Skyline Park. I discovered a fawn who couldn't have been more than a day old, trying to hide in the non-existent cover on the trail. Her mother watched anxiously 20 yards away wondering what harm I'd give her child. After a few photos I carefully stepped around the terrified baby and continued on. I followed the Skyline, Buckeye, and Ridge-To-River trails through the park and to my car.

Statistics: Elkhorn Peak - Skyline Regional Park Run. 9.4 miles on cross-country, unmaintained dirt roads, unmaintained trails, and maintained trails. 350 feet elevation gained, 860 feet elevation descended. 2:14 minutes (including a +30 minute conversation with an irate land-owner).

Disclaimer: Always make sure to gain permission before traveling over private property.

Post script 22 April: I had a conversation last week with a California District Attorney about trespassing (he was my client on a trip). Turns out I was right, but as soon as someone has notified you that you are trespassing, you're required to leave the property. Still, its polite to get permission first, and I'm going to make a bigger effort to do so.