The first hike after a long layoff is always a bit daunting. Do you start with a quick neighborhood stroll, or a lap around a lake, or do you dive in to something vigorous and accept that it’ll be painful and rough?

That’s usually my choice when I’m forced to go a month between hikes as I recently did, but this time, I planned a bit differently, finding many ways to stay in shape during the interim. Those ways included a 100-degree road race, my continued torture regimen aka Bikram yoga, and heavy airport-walking stints. Usually I spend my time in airports along the southern arc of the country, but thanks to nothing, I had a few hours in some new ones recently, hence more indoor hiking.

Anyway, on Saturday morning, I was at the Palomarin Trailhead at Point Reyes ready to hike. Our plan was to hike to Alamere Falls, a beautiful waterfall that comes down a cliff into the ocean, and then turn around and go back. Our group was on a speedy clip, so we added a larger loop that would take us up through hillsides and then back down to the beach for a mile-long sandy walk to get to those falls. About 12-plus miles, covered in six hours, including a meal break. Not a bad clip.

I’ve done variations of this hike three or four times in the past two years since moving here, but each time, it is truly a new experience. Sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. It’s summer, so some of the striking colors of the plants have passed or started to brown a bit, and the poison oak is rampant. I had expected the waterfall – and the three smaller waterfalls that run above it – to be not too much more than a trickle given the lack of rain in recent months, but instead all were flowing at a pretty strong clip.

For the first time, a small lake that you pass soon after leaving the trailhead was not just a body of water. There were dozens of people on rafts hanging out in the sun. The water isn’t all that warm, but with the sun out and temperatures close to 80, it looked like a smart thing to be doing. No one in our group headed in for a swim, but instead, we got to hang out at the beach itself, walking in the surf a bit and hustling to beat the incoming tide. One of the best things about Alamere Falls is that it’s possible to make it an easy hike or a hard hike, a day trip or a multi-day camping outing, a morning stroll or a moonlight journey, but whatever way you choose, you get to hang out on the ocean and watch a waterfall come cascading off a cliff over your head.

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