When I found out I was pregnant with twins, my doctor suggested that I stick to "gentle stretching," walking and swimming for exercise. That sounded like the most boring nine months ever. During my first trimester, the only time I didn't feel nauseous was when I was eating or being active, so I ran, biked and hiked as normal. As my belly grew and my ligaments loosened, my running became lumbering and balancing on my bike became more perilous. But this winter has been so mild and clear that I have had a hard time staying indoors. Except after 7 p.m., when I am curled up with a body pillow in an elaborate set-up that aligns my hips, supports my belly, elevates my head and takes up the entire bed. My husband is a big fan of this arrangement.
During daylight hours, and especially on the weekends, my energy level is still good and I have clung to hiking as the only outdoor activity I can still do in a manner that somewhat resembles my pre-pregnancy self. This month I explored the newly completed trails in the Lacks Creek Management Area in Redwood Valley, about 45 minutes from Arcata.
According to the Bureau of Land Management website, Lacks Creek is "a recreational treasure hidden in the coast range and offers a wide range of outdoor opportunities." It includes 8,763 acres in and around the Lacks Creek watershed and is surrounded by intensively managed timber land. The multi-use trails accommodate hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. Backcountry campsites dot the trails, allowing for multi-day trips.
My hiking companions were a registered nurse who is an avid backpacker and her 11-year-old son. Given my current stamina level and trimester, I thought this was a reasonable crew to spend the day with. If something went wrong, Christi had both backcountry knowledge and first aid skills. Lucas is an enthusiastic outdoorsman, but also a kid, so I figured he would get tired and want to head home within a few hours, thus allowing me to save face by graciously agreeing to cut our hike short for his sake, instead of admitting that I was tired and ready for my body pillow.
We headed out from Arcata in the late morning. After a week of rain and gray skies, the day broke clear and crisp. We drove east on State Route 299 towards Willow Creek and took the Redwood Valley/Bair Road turn-off on the left, just past the Lord Ellis Summit. After a 4-mile descent into the valley, we turned right onto a gravel road marked by a sign that said "Hoopa – 22 miles." The road was steep but clear, and 4-wheel drive wasn't necessary. If road conditions are muddy or snowy, I recommend a vehicle with good tires and high ground clearance. The road winds back up into the hills for 6 miles, at which point we saw a brand new sign demarcating the Lacks Creek Management Area on the left. You can park your car just beyond the sign in the parking area and start hiking up the jeep trail. If you have 4-wheel drive, you can continue on Lacks Creek Road for 1.6 miles to the trailhead for Beaver Ridge Trail.
Beaver Ridge Trail is pretty much the only game in town, hiking-wise. From Beaver Ridge you can create a loop by linking together the shorter hiking and jeep trails. We followed the Beaver Ridge Trail for 1.5 miles and then took the Faulkner Trail down and out through Faulkner Prairie. Beaver Ridge descends through the watershed and includes many stream crossings. We waded and rock-hopped through most of them, but the first (about .25 miles in) required scrambling across fallen logs. The manner in which I accomplished this task was not graceful, but it got the job done.
The trail is well maintained with an easy grade, densely lined with beautiful canyon live oaks, manzanita, madrones and firs. This is not pristine forest; there is evidence of recent and distant logging everywhere. But while hiking through old growth redwoods is a beautiful, magical experience, it was a pleasure to explore a different, younger ecosystem. We stopped for lunch at the junction of the Beaver Ridge and Faulkner Trails.
The Faulkner Trail opened up into a wide prairie dotted with oaks and grass, with spectacular views of the western Lacks Creek area. At this point, Lucas was ready to stop hiking. He was dismayed to realize that our trail was an out-and-back, not a loop, so instead of backtracking we decided to bushwhack up the prairie's ridge to meet back up with the Beaver Ridge trail. While this move saved us some time, it also involved hauling my belly through a steep gain in elevation. Lucas took a few seated breaks during the climb, which I took advantage of to stretch and re-adjust my pelvic support belt.
Once back on the trail, we moved at a steady clip towards the trailhead, except for a brief detour to climb up a creek and search for a lost pocket knife. By the time we were back at the truck, we had logged 6 miles: a triumph for both the 11-year old and the pregnant lady. Christi could have handled much more, but instead of pointing this out, she pulled Nutella and apples from her backpack and fed Lucas, me and the twins. My days of bagging peaks may be on hiatus, but I can still appreciate a clutch backpacking move when I see one.
Wear a maternity belt. Pregnant hiking hurt is different from typical hiking hurt. An adjustable pelvic support belt will ease the strain on your lower belly, back and hips. Mine is a Gabriella. I do not leave home without it.
Eat and drink frequently. Snacks and hydration help maintain your energy level, refuel you after exertion and keep contractions at bay during activity. Plan to guzzle water before, during and after hiking.
Choose footwear wisely. Many women experience foot and ankle swelling during pregnancy. Consider wearing sneakers and wool socks to give your feet breathing room instead of rigid hiking boots.
Choose your route wisely. Especially if you are hiking later in your pregnancy, consider your risk management plan when choosing your trip. If something goes wrong, how far will you be from a ranger station/cell reception/road access? You don't have to rule out solo hiking, but if you go alone, be sure to tell someone what trailhead you are starting from, when to expect you back and when to call Search and Rescue.