I rode my bike for the first time in months Tuesday. I hiked a new-to-me loop in the community forest Wednesday. Monday evening, I hung out at the Shanty without a drop of booze, a situation that has never happened before in all of history.

Riding my bike from my house in Manila to my son’s place up near Arcata Elementary prompted the same thoughts riding my bike from Manila to Arcata always does: Why can’t we have nice things? Like a bike lane or decently paved roads? How did we miss a chance to get a trail put in as mitigation for the massive fiber optic cable being laid alongside Highway 255? We can connect Arcata to Singapore, but we can’t connect the peninsula to town in a way that doesn’t require pedaling alongside distracted, speeding drivers and/or riding on back roads in such disrepair one must stand up for much of the ride or risk bruising one’s tender bits. (Simona Carini wrote a nice piece in the NCJ last week about the pros and cons of cycling around Humboldt Bay.) At least the cows and birds distract along the way.

Unlike its back roads – which are the county’s responsibility, not the city’s – Arcata’s forest trails invite traveling along them. When my husband and I, with our three kids, first cruised through Arcata in 1995, we stopped at Redwood Park and fell in love with what it offered: a playground, towering trees, a broad expanse for throwing a Frisbee, pathways into a forest that feels as magical as ever all these years later. I have a regular loop I do when I’m looking for a nature hit during the workday, starting at the 14th St. parking lot, heading up past the disc golf course, circling round on the logging road and dropping back down on the playground side. The hike takes about 45 minutes, perfect for a lunch hour or quick detox from a day spent staring at a screen. 

I’ve occasionally gone farther up Trail 9 or descended on the Jacoby Creek side, have come in via Cal Poly Humboldt’s trailheads and explored a bit of the Ridge Trail as accessed from West End Road. Characteristics of each overlap – trees tower, ferns abound, various berries and flowers appear along the way – yet the trails differ enough to invite trying new ones to see exactly how. Some offer more water, crossing creeks or meandering alongside. Some lift you up for a view. I’ve been curious about the South Jacoby Janes Creek Trail and figured I’d check it out during a break in the work day. I drove to the end of California Street, past Arcata’s million-dollar homes, parked the truck and wandered in at the well-marked trailhead.

My allotted time, I realized quickly, would not be enough to do the loop I was hoping for – and I do prefer to loop! Turning back at some point rarely satisfies as much as completing a circle-ish shape does – but I looked at my map and figured out an alternative route. The beginning of the trail runs adjacent to the neighborhood and the homes, expansive, multi-story structures that much run 3,000 sq.-feet or more, insert themselves into the view. After 10 minutes or so, however, the forest reasserts itself, all trees and berry bushes, ferns and underbrush, the sounds of frogs and loud-voiced birds replacing those of the nearby roads. I’d hoped for trilliums after seeing people posting about them on social, but didn’t find any. I expect I’ll have better luck in the older parts of the forest. Even without the trilliums, the two-mile hike sorted out some of my bad mood, stretched my legs, reminded me to shift my brain into appreciation mode. 

Something else assisting my mental state: This ongoing break from booze, 263 days as I write this. Keeping alcohol out of the house and avoiding going places centered around drinking have made this success possible, but sometimes a woman needs to socialize or, in this case, make an appearance at her husband’s hangout spot. And so I went to the Shanty, a place I’ve happily swilled down more than my share of vodka gimlets, of whiskey. Bobby was already there – we drove separately in case I needed to bail and he wanted to stay – and so I rolled up to the bar solo and asked Mike for a club soda with bitters. 

Duly armed, I braved the back patio, where the husband held forth with the usual crew (a Humboldt financier, a reporter, a maritime worker, a mover-and-shaker, an artist, a manager of local media, a historian) most of whom I knew in varying degrees. Sober and with the residue of pandemic isolation clinging to me, I nonetheless managed to make some conversation and commit to an obligation or two. The difference between drinking and not is that I remembered both the conversations and the promises the next day – and I didn’t feel like garbage on that bumpy bike ride.