Wallowing in My Bliss

Dear Diary,

I know it’s been awhile, but I’ve been busy conquering a mountain. A mountain you say? Yes. I conquered a mountain.

From the time I was old enough to look out of the window and take note of what was outside, Cucamonga Peak has loomed large over my very small life.

For 57 years, this mountain has given me assurance that some things are unchanging. And when I am gone and come back, Cucamonga Peak means I am home.

This peak and I go so far back that I long ago considered it mine. It may stand tall over millions of Southern Californians, but it’s my compass that Cucamonga Peak  provides a true north for.

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Now imagine my surprise when that flat topped source of a lifetime of comfort began taunting me.

“Beat me. I dare you.”

It’s no secret in this diary that these mountains have done nothing but teach this city girl respect. And terror.

Remember that time I was on an icy ridgeline and narrowly escaped sliding to my death 6 Things I Learned On the Trail – That Everyone Else Already Knows? Or how about the rattlesnake that was kind enough to teach me what one sounds like when they are mere inches away from my exposed chubby leg People are Funny, Rattlesnakes are not?

And all of these occurred before I ever got to set foot on the actual peak of my desire.

Why would a perfectly normal baby boomer who lives in a perfectly normal house, with a perfectly normal husband (ok, that one might be a stretch) keep self administering the pain and agony associated with hiking?

All I can do is tell you what I tell the women in my Bunco club, “It quiets the voices inside my head .” Then we all have a little laugh.

But the joke is on them. It really does quiet the voices in my head. The manic pace that thoughts race through my brain. The sheer speed and randomness make it impossible for me to grab hold of one and make sense out of it’s origin.

The only thing worse than those manic thoughts are the tired old thoughts that come back over and over again to crush me under their weight. To sneak through a crack in my carefully crafted wall of defense to demoralize me.

Besides, it might be rude if I answered the Bunco ladies question of why I hike with truths. Like; “I just don’t find cleaning my house over and over again fulfilling”, or this one “Having faced my own mortality, I would rather walk while I still can”, or the ever popular “Trapped on a ship with 5,000 other people is much like sitting in traffic 24/7 to me.”

That last one is super snarky I’ll admit. But since I’ve never really said it out loud, it doesn’t count.

Besides, for the life of me, I really don’t know why I wouldn’t rather be sitting in a stateroom waiting to be pampered by food servers rather than punishing myself on the slopes of a mountain that may not even like me.

But I wouldn’t.

So I hike, but I have no illusions about my limitations. I am used to being the slowest one on any given trail. I make myself feel better by remembering that just 3 years ago, I wasn’t able to even make it around my block. But still the mountain taunts. It doesn’t care about me and my little woes.

So last week I pack my 10 essentials and head up the same old worn out trail I have huffed and puffed up many times now. But today would be different. All the right elements (I didn’t even know what they were before they actually occurred) came into alignment like planets to the sun. 1. A couple of women my age played leap frog with me (meaning we had the same skill level) up the Ice House Saddle trail (that leads to 5 different peak trails) with me and were headed up to Cucamonga. 2. I made it up to the aforementioned saddle in new record time (for me), which meant it was still early enough in the day to actually consider making an assault. 3. I could still breathe after 3.4 miles and 3215 ft.

So I texted my husband that I was going to take on Cucamonga (for some freakish reason, I have phone coverage at the saddle) and on I went. The two ladies who shared my skill level were long gone once I finished my protein bar and considered actually taking on the mountain. I was alone.

So it was just me vs. the Cucamonga Peak trail. And it proved to be all that I had read about it. Painfully steep, terrifyingly narrow, with drops so far down I couldn’t see where they ended.

But both the manic and familiar destructive voices were silent. Only my breathing and balance mattered.

I adopted a mantra “if they can do it, I can do it” that kept cadence with my feet. Once in a while, I allowed myself to stop and take in the vista. The wonderment kept me buoyed to have the faith that I would make it.

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Of course, I made all the same mistakes. On the most narrow and terrifying parts of the trail, I froze instead of keeping my pace. But each time I would find the nerve to steady myself and move forward. Without falling. I can’t help but think that God has great influence in saving me from myself.

Being the slowest one up the mountain (except for a couple that quit early on, and thank you for that), has it’s surprising advantages. The view ahead is sometimes good too. But I digress.

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I caught sight of one of my greatest hiking fears (besides bears), forest fire. But it was far enough in the distance to not be a threat.

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Long past the point when both my legs and lungs had given up, I kept going by sheer will power. I could not quit. The damage done to my psyche would be irreparable. I made up my mind that even if I had to spend the night in a hollowed out tree, giving up was not an option.

I had to rest after each 30 or 40 steps on the last mile. The switchbacks went on for miles in that last mile. I felt like after every one of them the summit would be in sight, but just more switchbacks met my expectations. Even the seasoned hikers that seemed to fly by were groaning under the ascent.

After seven hours, the two women who had originally inspired me were on their way down. One said, “I thought we lost you at the saddle”. At this altitude, I couldn’t get enough oxygen to my brain to understand what that meant. All I could do was smile. It must have been painful to look at because she went on to say, “you are only 50 ft. away from the top.”

So like Dory from Nemo fame, I just kept swimming. And 50 ft. later I came upon the summit that had either comforted me or taunted me every day that I called the Inland Empire home.

But this time, I was the champion.

There were others at the summit so I refrained from actually collapsing. Well I collapsed, but I executed it in slo-mo style so it appeared that I was in control of my knees. I finally found the energy to ask a fellow peak bagger to take a photo of me. Even I wouldn’t believe it without proof. I had ascended 5,407 ft in 6.4 miles (according to my gps). I bagged one of the highest peaks in Southern California.

I win.

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No matter what happens in my life after this, I have only to look out of my window to remind myself what I am capable of. I shall wallow in this bliss for a very long time.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

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Piute Springs – A Trek Through Time in the Wild West.

Dear Diary,

How appropriate that on the last day of 2015 we took a trek back in time to the real wild west of old. To a place so far off the beaten path that one feels like they might be intruding on unseen activities going on has they have for a thousand  years.

We continued our quest of following sections of the old Mojave Road. We headed out to explore a place just off the “old government road”.

This road has been used by Native Americans, Spanish missionaries, explorers, Mexican traders, the Pony Express, American Cavalry, miners, and western settlers alike.

All with the same quest; to reach California.

Long before any non-native set foot in the area, legend has that bands of Paiute, Navajo, Apaches, Chemehuevi, and Aha Macav (Mohave) Indians fought for ownership of the most valuable resource in the desert.

Water.

And as we would find out for ourselves, Piute Springs has plenty of it. Cool and fast flowing water that comes up out of the ground only to disappear back into the desert in just a half mile.

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The native Americans used this route to trade with coastal Indians in California. The Mohave “Runners” could cover 100 miles a day in some of the most inhospitable terrain to be found.

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Just trying to hike amid the cactus is challenge enough for this city girl…I can’t imagine running through it for a hundred miles.

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Ok dang it, I’ll just admit that I can’t run a half mile anywhere. Even if someone was chasing me. With a gun.

The earliest recorded non-native traveled this road in 1776 in the form of Francisco Garces, a Spanish Franciscan missionary who would convert the first area native to Catholicism in what is now Hesperia, California.

Francisco Garces would be killed in Yuma just a few years later by natives as a punishment for Spanish settlers violating terms of their treaty.

The Mohave tribe first provided guidance through Piute Spring for Friar Garces into what is now known as Cajon Pass in 1776, and for many more  for the next nearly 100 years until the Mohave and settlers/soldiers/miners became increasingly hostile over what amounted to simple misunderstandings. As a result, Fort Mohave was erected at the Colorado River to keep peace and provide protection for white settlers.

Fort Mohave no longer exists.

Just 22 miles west of the Colorado River however, lies the ruins of what is now known as Fort Piute (originally called Fort Beale after the man that brought camels into the area as a failed experiment).

So off the beaten path we go to find this relic of wild west history. 21st century explorers replete with our spirit of adventure and a well appointed off road vehicle.

God bless GPS. Within just a couple of hours, we had traversed a very rough road (I actually have city girl bruises from foolishly trying to rest my arm on the door while being bounced around like a tournament ping pong) to reach our destination.

We parked the Jeep and equipped ourselves in preparation for going back in time. For peeling the layers of human habitation and walking among the remnants of those intrepids in whose footsteps we were about to follow.

The most obvious and looming is the ruins of Fort Piute, built in 1867 and abandoned in just 6 months.

Fort Piute

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I walked into the fort and as always, am filled with a certain reverence for those who came before me. Especially in a place as harsh as this.

As I looked back at our lone steed parked below and took in the beautiful vista, I thought about how this place had been a flashpoint of violence for generations of peoples.

View from the soldiers quarters room.

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Fireplace

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And I don’t feel alone. I feel as though there are still sentries here.

What looks like a fort is really just a single layer amid many layers of human struggle. Layers of time one on top of the other like an onion. The Indians, the Spanish, the soldiers, the homesteaders, all imprinting this tiny half mile of land with their own blood, sweat, and tears.

Just a few feet from the fort is the snapshot of a layer from 1929. The Smith family lived here and although it is overgrown, I can still see where their home sat.

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Really? They had a regular ole car that managed to carry them to and fro? I’m not feeling so good about my bruises from the Jeep right now. A little wimpy in fact. Nothing new.

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Members of this family still live in nearby Needles, California.

Just east of the Smith home lie the layers of ruins from two failed farms.

In 1928 Thomas Van Slyke homesteaded here to make a go of farming fruit and grapes. He patented the land and subsequently sold it in 1944 to George and Virginia Irwin who attempted a turkey farm. A letter from George and Virgina Irwin to a Mrs. Welsh in 1957 brings this couple to life with their own words…


George and Virginia Irwin to Mrs. Welch, 7/10/1957

This letter was found at a garage sale by Keith Collins.

Wednesday July 10, 1957
Box 247 Needles, California

Dear Mrs. Welch;

We have been the owners of Fort Piute or as it is known in the War Department records, Fort Beale, named after Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale who made the original survey in the year 1853, since 1944. The property was purchased from Mr. Thomas van Slyke who took a homestead and later patented the land in 1928. Mr. van Slyke told us that the fort was built in 1867 and it was one of six such redoubts that were established along the old Government Road from St.Joseph Missouri to Los Angeles (Wilmington – Fort Drum). This road roughly ran paralell (sic) to the 32 meridian and was surveyed as early as 1847 just prior to the finding of gold in California. After the news of the gold strike activity was increased in making roads across the country therefore these stopping places were established which were near water and were approximately one days traveling time between stops. There have been many articles published about this old Government Road and it would take a small book to elaborate on the history of this road. However we like to pass on any information that we have and we are in a position to refer you to Mr. L. Burr Belden who is the history editor for the San Bernardino Sun newspaper. He has at his fingertip pictures and the full story of this famous trail. May I suggest that you write him in care of the newspaper. I feel sure that he will answer any questions you might have. If you are ever out here near the fort drop in and see us and we will be glad to talk to you about the fort. We live at tne Metropolitan Water District switching station 25 miles west of Needles on Highway 66. As you no doubt noticed the area is replete with Indian writing petroglyphs. These writings are very old and even the Indians who live near here at this present date do not understand them nor can they interpret their meanings. Also there are numerous graves located along this trail and unless one were pointed out they would pass unnoticed.

We hope this information will be of help to you and would be glad to speak to you in person if you are ever out this way.

Sincerely yours,

George & Virginia Irwin

As for the ancient petroglyphs? Yes, they are there providing a deep time layer amid the more recent ruins of the turkey farm. Pet-Mojave-014

The ruins of the turkey farm and the home of George and Virginia (feel like old friends now don’t they?).

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Lastly, I add my own layer in the form of footsteps as we hiked the “old government road” (old Mojave Road) through Piute Springs and back again.

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What an ending.

‘Til next year dearest.

 

 

Hole in the Wall, Mojave National Preserve California

Dear Diary,

Some of the most memorable trips are those that you decide to take on a whim. This is one of those.

And very far off the beaten path.

In fact, this one is so far off the beaten path I questioned our sanity on the way there. I definitely questioned who in their right mind would want to live in such a harsh and unforgiving environment. But that would be a rhetorical question, because one thing never changes with the desert eccentric (also known as desert rats)…they’re just plain crazy.

My hubby is part of that tribe.

While I pine for the ocean and forests, he is most at home where there is no shade, no water, and temperatures are in the extreme.

This place was no exception.

We recently embarked on a quest to follow the Mojave road.  The road originally created by Native Americans as a trade route between tribes of the Mojave Valley and the Coastal California Indians.

One can traverse this road in 2 – 3 days,  but because of work commitments, we intend to take it in sections.

Hole in the Wall in the Mojave National Preserve was our most recent destination. While it is not technically on Mojave Road, it is a point of interest we didn’t want to pass up. I was as excited as I can get about a remote place within a remote place in the middle of nowhere.

The Mojave Road is noted in green, Hole in the Wall is circled in red.

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Since we were coming back to So. California from celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in Arizona, it was a perfect time to fit this little side trip into our itinerary.

I noticed this destination was between two places with pretty ominous names…Death Valley and Devil’s Playground. I don’t know about you, but I make it a habit to avoid anything having to do with Death or Devil.

Not my desert rat of a hubby, these kind of places are right up his alley, so off we go to camp between them. The soft creamy center of a Death and Devil sandwich.

Saints preserve us.

While I was busy wondering what he was getting us into, I thanked God it was winter time and not summer. Death Valley became the hottest place in the world on July 10, 2013 when it reached a record 134 degrees. Not hard to understand why it’s called Death Valley. I don’t even want to know how the Devil’s Playground got it’s name.

Upon arrival to the Hole in the Wall campground, I had to admit the campsites are very nice. I was pleasantly surprised that we were the only one’s there. We set up our camp and walked to the ranger station to get a map of the area in anticipation of hiking the next day.

This would be Lucy’s first camping trip in our posh rooftop tent.

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We hadn’t even gone 50 feet before I noticed that she had already attracted a large chunk of Cholla Cactus in her fur. Cholla cactus is a nasty foe and I try very hard to stay out of it’s way. It’s called the “jumping cactus” because you don’t need to be near to attract a painful hitchhiker.

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With Lucy’s fine hair, it was embedded so deeply that I’m sure we appeared to be performing surgery if there had been anyone there to witness it. Needless to say, I carried her the rest of the way to and from the station.

Such city girls her and I.

I was excitedly waiting to have a campfire. You can’t really have campfires in So. Cali so this was a real treat for me. We cooked our evening meal and settled down to wait for sunset. Now that all sounds pretty standard for camping folk doesn’t it?

Here’s the problem.

California cold

I remember thinking that it would be nice to be in colder temperatures since I had spent most of the summer boiling.

That is until it actually got cold. Silly me.

As the sun went down the temperature dropped accordingly. By the time my hubby started a fire, I was already frozen through and through. Even my butt was cold, and I would have thought something with that much padding would be insulated.

In this photo I am considering actually jumping into the fire (don’t worry, I would have handed Lucy off beforehand). I am totally not joking.

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Evidently, the above applies to California dogs too. Lucy wouldn’t stop shivering until I put her under the blanket.

Needless to say I didn’t sit outside long to enjoy the campfire experience. Forget the smores.

We got into our tent and for only the third or fourth time in my life I could see the condensation coming out of my mouth when we spoke. I would have said I was in hell, but it wasn’t warm enough.

Thankfully we had brought a propane heater (I can’t say we, my hubby had the foresight to bring it). I also had brought my Kelty Ignite 20 sleeping bag, but I wondered about the rating. Is it rated for 20 degrees or for a 20 year old (and not a more “mature” woman). I suspect it was the latter because I was paralyzed with cold.

Even with the little heater going full blast, my hand was too cold to hold my paperback book so I could read myself to sleep.

Thankfully I had brought an extra blanket because the little Walmart doggy sweater I had gotten Lucy was not enough. I wrapped her up and tucked her between our sleeping bags.

My hubby and I laid there staring at each other like burritos in a freezer.

Finally Lucy and my hubby fell asleep with both snoring. I alone laid awake to battle the cold and cacophony of nasal noise. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I promise you it was not soon enough.

Where I live, I am accustomed to roughly 360 days a year of sunshine, but never have I been so happy and appreciative of it until I felt it warm the tent as it rose.

When I felt I could finally peek outside of our tent without suffering the loss of my nose due to frostbite, I noticed Lucy’s dog water had been frozen solid. Another first for me.

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The arid barren landscape belied how cold it was. I felt like there should be 10 feet of snow on the ground, but with an annual rainfall of only 3 inches a year, I reckoned that doesn’t happen much.

After a cup of tea (oh thank you for being so fast Jet Boil!) and hot oatmeal, we headed out to follow the only trail in the area. The 6 mile Barbour Peak Loop trail would meet up with the short 1 mile Rings Loop Trail, which traverses the Hole in the Wall canyon.

Having learned my lesson when we were stranded by the flash flood in the Grand Canyon just a few months ago, I brought the ten essentials. My hubby had to backpack Lucy since the area was full of a variety of cacti including the “jumping cactus”.

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I remembered what a friend from Nova Scotia said when laying eyes on the California desert for the first time…”it looks like the surface of the moon”.

I would have to agree. And just as inhospitable I might add.

I suspect that the area looks exactly the same as it did 150 years ago when Mojave Indian runners would cover as much as 100 miles a day on foot. With one exception…see those vapor jet trails overhead as I strike a pose?

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They are from maneuvers being performed by aircraft from nearby Fort Irwin (I’m assuming since it’s the closest military base).

One aircraft came so close to us that I’m pretty sure I saw him tell his co-pilot “look at those fools down there.”

The only sign of life was this pesky bull blocking the trail, or was he protecting the only tree?  He was quite large and immediately started to stare us down.

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No worries I thought, I have my trusty “loudest whistle in the world.”

I put it to my lips and blew out a disturbingly shrill sound that was so loud I thought the blast might bring down one of those jets.

The only way I knew the bull even heard it was the barely perceptible muscle twitch in his back leg.

Wait a minute, this isn’t supposed to be how it goes. The animal is supposed to run away in fright.

No way, no how. This bull was dead serious about standing his ground. I imagined how easily he could run me down and put one or both of those horns through my spinal chord.

My hubby and I carefully made our way backwards and took an alternate route that gave Mr. Horns a wide berth. I never turned my back on him, but made sure to not lock eyes either.

Lucy however, set a decidedly perturbed look on me that seemed to say, “thanks for assaulting my very sensitive dog ears for no good reason.”

We reached the Hole in the Wall canyon which was easy to spot, since it was riddled with holes.

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We sat at the foot of the canyon entrance in the photo above and ate our packed lunches.

There were interesting sizes and shapes of holes everywhere as we entered the canyon in anticipation of the Rings Trail.

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And finally we were upon it.

My hubby headed up first with Lucy on his back as I brought up the rear. There are 4 or 5 sections of ring loops that are straight up. This is a photo of the first section.

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He made it look so easy I scrambled up behind him. The first section wasn’t so bad. The second section wasn’t horrible either. The third section (I don’t have any photos since I was using both of my hands to keep from plunging into the abyss below me) was an entirely different story.

I put my left foot onto a rock, then found a foothold with my right foot, then another with my left. I realized that the next foothold was roughly half of the length of my body above me. I tried to move upward, but the absence of a thigh muscle prevented me from executing that “step”.

Dammit. I was stuck. I couldn’t go up or down.

I called out to my hubby and said I tried to make the Paul Bunyon step but I didn’t have enough strength in my left thigh muscle to make it happen.

He replied, “You can do it, just do it”.

You know what? Shouting down the Nike brand mantra doesn’t miraculously make my left thigh able to perform a giant leap in mid-air while my right arm tries to support my pear shaped body (in other words, a big butt) by holding onto a ring.

If I could do that, I would already be a medal winning rings gymnast in the middle-aged category of the Olympics (if they had one).

He should know that I already tried my damnedest before I had to admit I was stuck in the first place. How in the heck did he do it with a dog on his back?

Thankfully my Eagle Scout hubby had brought a rope and he was at a place in the trail that he could set down the dog, make a loop in the rope and throw it down to me.

I put the loop around me the best I could with one hand holding onto the ring, while he braced himself against the rocks to pull.

When I said I was as ready as I would ever be, he dragged me up while I did virtually nothing to help since I couldn’t get a foot or handhold anywhere.

By the time I made it up to the landing where he was, I was a sight to behold. My pants had been pulled down as I was drug up, and I sustained a bloody scrape on my knee from getting onto the landing.

Just call me Edmund Hillary.

I was horrified to hear voices coming from below me, I rushed to compose myself before they came into sight, but thankfully they were struggling and not making good enough time to catch sight of me.

That was a blessing for both of us.

I redeemed my pride in a small way by making the next section by myself (it wasn’t hard in other words).

Before exiting the canyon, I rolled up the rope and slung it over my shoulder and walked out like a boss that had actually been rock climbing.

Like this.

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Not from being drug up the rings trail, definitely not like that. Never mind that bloody knee.

The trail took us passed the rangers station where my hubby went to use the restroom (and probably check for a hernia) while I amused myself in the main area where the ranger sat.

He took one look at the rope and the knee, and he knew. He knew.

I blurted out, “you should warn people that the rings trail is no joke. It’s very hard!”

He looked me square in the eye and said, “little kids do it all the time”.

Really? That’s how we are going to play it?

I retorted, “That’s only because they have muscles and joints that are still brand new right out of the box ya know.”

Take that Ranger Smart Aleck.

As my hubby and I walked down through the parking lot and onto the road that lead back to our camp, I noticed a middle aged woman in very fashionable high heeled boots (I presumed they were taking a side trip from Las Vegas) getting ready to take on the rings trail.

Good luck with that.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Summer Without Makeup OR This is Me Kicking Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder’s Ass

Dear Diary,

Dearest, you took these journeys with me in posts this summer 2015, but pictures are worth a thousand words. This is me pushing beyond the fear, the doubt, and the pain to conquer them all.

If I can do it, anybody can.

In order of appearance; Crystal Cove (So Cali), Icehouse Trail, Mt. Baldy (So. Cali), Toroweap Overlook, North Rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona),  Pink Coral Sand Dunes (Utah), Slot Canyon (Utah), Pine Lake (Utah), Red Canyon (Utah), Side Canyon, North Rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Point Sublime, North Rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Gold Bluffs Beach, (Northern Cali), Fern Canyon (Northern Cali), Cedar Glen, Mt. San Antonio (So. Cali), Havasu Canyon/Havasu Falls/Mooney Falls, All on the Havasupai Indian Reservation (Arizona).

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Until next time dearest.

The Next Little Thing

Dear Diary,

I did it. This city girl backpacked.

In the wild.

Alone.

With wild animals.

I knew that I had to pull the trigger on backpacking just so I could answer the question, “am I able”? How can I proceed onto The Next Big Thing if I’m not able to backpack one night alone on the mountain that’s practically in my own backyard?

Obviously I survived because I am writing this post. But just barely.

I made some significant errors in judgment, but you probably already knew I would dearest.

I learned a tremendous amount about backpacking (but to be fair, just driving out of the city with a backpack in my car is new) but unexpectedly and uncharacteristically, the biggest revelations were about myself.

I did a couple of things right;

I chose Mt. Baldy because it’s close and there are no bears (I learned there actually ARE bears, but thankfully I was blissfully ignorant on this subject going in). The downside to this however, is that it is a MOUNTAIN which means my options were straight uphill or straight uphill.

San Gabriels

The camp I chose I have hiked to 3 times now (sans backpack) and it is only 2.75 miles from the trailhead where I parked my car, so I would not get lost and could easily bug out if needed. The downside to this is that if you are unable to walk, it doesn’t matter where your car is.

Proud of me so far? Me too. Things began to go downhill from here though (except the trail, as stated earlier).

I had packed my backpack a thousand times in my mind. When I actually did it however; I over packed. In fact, I think I shall change my style of backpacking to be called overpacking.

In my defense…

  • The first aid kit I assembled included supplies for every possible scenario. An EMT would have been impressed. Why? Because I’m a Mom. Being a Mom is like having a disease called “worry in advance”, and I’m afraid there is no cure.
  • I brought clothes to sleep in and a change of clothes for the next day. That’s 3 sets of clothes for one night out. I brought a jacket. Evidently I thought I might spend all of winter up there? In addition, I brought all the hygienic products that one would normally use to keep themselves clean and minty fresh. I have only one thing to say here…city girl. Duh.
  • Extra food. This is one of the ten essentials, so I packed 3 days worth of food. Thank God I’m not a foodie and Top Ramen and Cliff Bars were my choices. I brought my cooking equipment along with the largest butane fuel thingy they make. Because it was already used in the Grand Canyon this summer and why waste it?
  • Tent. Unfortunately I chose my tent when I still thought my hubby would humor my calling to the outdoors. It’s quite roomy and heavy for one person, but what the heck I took it anyway.
  • The largest and heaviest bear spray made by Counter Assault, on the off chance I would meet up with a hostile animal or a psychopath. And I like the product name. I also included a boat horn and a flashing beacon light for self defense. Because I read it on the internet.
  • I took all of the things my Eagle Scout of a hubby told me to which was; enough para-chord to circle the Earth (even though I can’t retain how to tie a proper knot), a knife (again, don’t know what for but it is part of the 10 essentials  so whatever), a large tarp (he says it’s important to protect the bottom of my large tent), extra tent stakes (not sure where I would lose the regular ones, but God bless him he’s just looking out for me), a mattress pad to protect me from the cold (because it’s Southern California in August for crying out loud where there IS no cold, not even in the mountains) so I dutifully packed it.

I’m even boring myself at this point, but you get the picture. Add in all of the hydration equipment (including filter), navigation equipment, sleeping bag, and a book for entertainment and you’ve got a” bursting at the seams” situation. I weighed it on my bathroom scale at 33 lbs without water. I thought that was doable.

I called one of my selfish kids that had a day off to watch Lucy (my little grand dog and BFF) overnight so that I could concentrate all of my efforts on this outing of mine. No dice. Why was I surprised?

So I had to take her with me.

This required more water storage for her and some snacks for later, but I decided she had to carry them herself. I attached her doggy bones in a baggy to her collar with a paper clip and hung her water bottle from the same. Problem solved.

Never mind that little strip of black on her back. She chased a lizard under the car. She’s ferocious like that. Lucy packI filled up my hydration bladder with 3 liters of bottled water and was ready to hit the trail.

I was feeling pretty darn accomplished at this point.

I drug my backpack into the car, all the while convincing myself that it wouldn’t feel so bad once I had it properly attached to my body. Ah yes…the optimist self. Where is my pragmatic self when I need her?

I drove up the mountain and parked my Jeep where it would spend the night.

I went around the back, opened the hatch, and sat down in the back so I could strap myself into the overpack (remember that’s what we’re calling it now). How could 38+ (remember I added 3 Liters of water) pounds be so heavy? I had carried children that weighed that much.

No matter…I could do this. I HAVE to do this.

I threaded the handle of Lucy’s retractable leash onto the waistband of the overpack and we were off on our adventure.

By the time we were half a mile in I was aware of the change in altitude, the unforgiving terrain (the first mile in gains about 800 ft. in altitude and includes some rock scrambling), how much longer it was taking than without a backpack (4x as long), and that Lucy looked like a little white fluffy Scooby snack in the great big wild.

At the 3/4 mile mark I hiked down to the stream that ran alongside us and took off the overpack to fill my 24 ounce reserve water bottle and Lucy’s water bottle. Once filled, I realized I would have to carry her water bottle too. She could still carry her snacks, and she got a big drink and cooled herself off in the stream. Lucy water

I sat down on the rock and tried to hoist the overpack over one shoulder and “holy crap” was all I could think. It felt like I was trying to strap a recreational vehicle on my back.

At the 1 mile mark I thought (my wimpy self did anyway) maybe I should just cut bait and find a nice flat place by the stream to spend the night. Turns out the wimpy self might have been the prudent one.

I probably should have listened.

I kept pushing myself up the mountain until I finally hit the 2 mile mark. At this time I realized that I am going so slow that I may end up racing the sun. But I kept going.

At 2 1/2 miles I was having to stop and rest every 20 steps or so. My legs and back were in so much pain, my mind was oxygen starved (it felt that way anyway), and I knew there was a possibility that I would not be able to go forward or back. The trail was only 2 feet wide on a ridge so camping there was not an option.

And still the sun was going down faster than I could move.

Every time I had to bend down to untangle Lucy’s leash from around my legs, herself, or my trekking poles with that recreational vehicle strapped onto my back, I became exponentially fatigued.

Even my personal coach self was waxing weak. There is nothing she could say to wring blood out of this tired turnip.

Still, I inched forward.

WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE

Then out of nowhere the seldom present “bad ass self” took over. Evidently she is a mad hiker, ’cause I heard myself yell “FUCKER” every time the camp was not just after the next bend like the personal coach self kept promising.

When I felt the need to rest after just 10 steps…the bad ass would yell in my head, “no way…you CAN’T rest your fat behind and make it before sunset. Keep going.”

So I kept going. Who knew this abusive bitch would be the one to get me to push myself so far beyond my limits? Never mind, the title of this blog says it all.

The bad ass promised I could drop my pack as soon as I saw the campground sign, and that’s exactly what I did. The sun had set, there was a little light in the sky, but I still needed to drag that overpack up a little bunny hill to my camp site.

I couldn’t do it. My legs were shaking, I was dizzy every time I stood up, my mind and body were exhausted by the superhuman struggle to get this far. I just wanted to lay down in the dirt and give up the ghost.

Thankfully, there was no one else around to witness that I had become the psychopath on the trail.

I disengaged my tent and tarp from the overpack and drug it up the hill. I picked up a small rock to pound in the tent stakes and could barely lift it far enough to bang it back down. It was not enough to drive them far, but I didn’t care.

As soon as the tent was up, Lucy and I fought to be first to get into it and lay down. A couple of chubby bitches that had been pushed too far.

I made myself get up and zip Lucy into the tent so that I could finally work without the leash.

I picked up the overpack and forced one last push up the bunny hill.

It was getting dark, and there was no moon. Crap.

I found my headlamp and switched it on. Then promptly broke the strap. Now I was working with one hand, but no matter. The hard part was done, the tent was up and my pack was in it. I would spend the next 2 hours unpacking what I needed and cooking my dinner of Top Ramen.

When my head finally hit the jacket (my pillow), I was grateful for the book because of the cacophony of sound coming from crickets and other insects and/or amphibians. There was an owl “who-who” ing in a tree overhead. I remembered my Grandma telling me that if an owl whoots only three times, someone in your family will die. If it is more than three, it is a lucky omen. So I started counting, and let’s just say I must be the luckiest darn person alive.

After an Ambien and a couple of more hours I felt myself fall into a delicious sleep, only subconsciously aware of giant heavy footprints outside of my tent, but very close to my head. Was it a good thing that Lucy began barking loudly to rouse me, but also to chase off a herd of what turned out to be big horned sheep? Not sure.

It was a long night for both Lucy and I. Unfortunately she could sense much more than I, so her constant unease, pacing, and occasional outburst of barking inside the large tent was not exactly soothing. She’s a city dog after all.

Finally she settled wearily on the sleeping bag, and I let her have it. Lucy sleepingbagAs I sat in my oversized tent going over all I had done in this day…I was finally able to move beyond whatever mistakes I had made, whatever sins I had committed (all that cussing), and I was left with a slowly burgeoning realization;  From what I thought was a little thing, I had accomplished something big. Really big.

I had pushed myself beyond any prior capability. I had accomplished my goal of reaching the camp, however unrealistic it had been. When I had a minute from pushing myself forward to take a look back, I had come a very long way.

Not just the distance from the trailhead, but a long way from the depression of my empty nest, a long way from the daily struggle with my auto-immune disorder and adjusting to the retirement it forced me into, a long way from trying to get my hubby to look up from his ipad, and a very long way from the city girl who always played the supporting role.

A very big thing from something I thought was a small step toward a larger goal.

The next day I dressed into my white shirt that became black when I packed up my tent and belongings. I only had enough water (Lucy still had most of hers…but I couldn’t live with myself if I used it) for a cup of coffee or breakfast…so I had the cup of coffee.

The best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.

I belatedly realized I had not packed anything to brush my hair with, so I did the best I could with my fork (thank you Ariel) and carried on.

I made it down the mountain in record time. I suspect it was because I told myself I had to be down before Del Taco quit serving breakfast burritos. Whatever works.

And I made it down off of the mountain with a new realization that the next small thing may be the next big thing in disguise. And to never, ever, forget to celebrate your accomplishments….no matter the size.

You and your bad ass self are pretty darn awesome after all.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

Gold Bluffs – A Beach Off the Beaten Path

Dear Diary,

Oh my goodness. How do I begin to describe a trek with sea mammals, land mammals, live animals, dead animals, and 10 miles of mostly inaccessible beach all served up on a plate of adventure? Easy.

Gold Bluffs Beach.

The deadline I gave myself for The Next Big Thing had to be moved up a month…which means I am almost in the month it was moved up to (August). Whoa there time, I’m not ready!!!!!!

I have yet to spend a night with all of my new fancy shmancy backpacking equipment. Or for that matter even hike in it. In the wild. By myself. With wild animals.

So there are many questions to be answered, nonetheless is the top one on the list – Can I even walk 8 miles a day in the sand?

I had an ulterior motive in camping on Gold Bluff’s Beach in the Prairie Creek Redwood State Park. I had to know the answer to that question. If the answer was no, why bother with any of the rest of it?

If the answer was no, I would simply dig a hole in said sand, and bury myself in it. Because where am I without hope? I didn’t want that to happen, so failure was not an option. Or so my personal coach self says.

The Lost Coast Trail (my next big thing) is just south of Gold Bluffs Beach, so I set aside one of our 3 days there to make an 8 mile trek (4 miles there and 4 miles back) along the beach.

I set out with the 10 essentials which consisted of my navigation equipment (compass, GPS on my iPhone, and iPhone charger this time), safety equipment (the bear spray I had forgotten the day before), lunch, layer of clothing (a puffy vest), matches, flashlight, sunglasses and cap, 3 liters of water, emergency shelter (one of those .69 cent foil looking things all folded up to about the size of a wallet in plastic, I have never actually opened it), and parachute line (I have no idea what that’s for) on my back and a great deal of optimism.

You have to have optimism when your only survival skill is finding parking in Los Angeles.

I also brought 3 different cameras. If I didn’t make it back, at least there would be some good film footage of whatever ate me.

I took off down the beach with some familiar companions; the very vocal personal trainer self, who keeps me focused from distracted by shiny objects self and whiny that’s good enough self.

Yes, they all reside inside my head.

The pain from my dark passenger (that’s what I call my Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder with Autonomic Involvement, formerly known as the Lupus Link) is real. I wondered if it would rear it’s ugly head, but it usually waits until after the personal trainer self has gone. I was feeling pretty darn good after my trek in the Redwoods the day before.

And Jesus of course. Jesus is real too. He’ll prove it once again on this trek.

I looked ahead to my destination…the end of the beach. Way down there where the land curves out to meet the sea.  Or 4 miles towards it anyway. I was giving myself 8 hours to make it happen. I told my daughter to not call the cavalry until after 10 hours.

Not that easy to discern where the end of the beach might be in this photo, but you get the idea, don’t you dearest? Destination

The weather in Northern California in July is simply divine. A perfect 79 or so degrees and with a little cloud cover, who could want for more?

Besides, getting to spend the day alongside my favorite (the ocean) would mean I could handle a lot worse than this. Ok, maybe a little worse than this.

Within just a mile or two, all sign of human footprints were long gone. When I looked behind me, the only thing I saw were my own. Now we’re talking.

footprints

Gold Bluffs Beach is only accessible from a few places, none of them are easy to get to (ok, 6 miles down a dirt road is relatively easy, but I mean by LA standards), and those were gone once I left the campground. I didn’t expect to meet anything or anyone along my way, but I would be pleasantly wrong in short order.

Another noticeable change was the cloud cover was completely gone. It was then that I realized I had not applied nor packed any sunscreen. DANG IT! That is one of the 10 essentials with sunglasses and hat. This would be extremely problematic since I am as fair as fair comes. I already have a million sun kisses (freckles) from tangling with the sun in my youth. I have no wish to burn today.

And there is a second, more deadly reason. That pesky dark passenger gets easily awakened by the sun. I DO NOT WANT THE DARK PASSENGER AWAKENED! The dark passenger does permanent damage when it is fully awake, and it is too hard to get it back to sleep.

I couldn’t bear to go back though. A lot was riding on this trek, and I should be replicating what I would be facing on the Lost Coast Trail. I wouldn’t have a camp to go back to then.

So I did the only thing I could think of, break out my puffy vest and drape it over the arm that was taking on the most sun. It was sleeveless so wearing it was out of the question. But I was on-trend.

I let down my hair to save my neck, and carried on. Soon the sun would be directly overhead though.

I noticed something in the water as I walked along. I stopped and waited to see if it would come back up…and it did. Up and down, up and down, over and over. Only skimming the surface to move farther up and down the shallow water. I thought at first it was a seal, but it was too small.

It was a sea otter. Oh my gosh what a treat! His little head finally stayed up long enough to get a photo, but not long enough to zoom in! Click for a closer look. Aviary Photo_130832156696986887

This completely took my mind off of any other little thing and shot me full of joy adrenaline. There were about 3 or 4 of them I think. I stayed and watched them hunting for awhile, they need to eat 30% of their body weight a day to survive. That’s a lot of crabs! The evidence of their handiwork was strewn all along the beach. I picked up a large claw that had just washed up from being discarded by the otters and packed it away for my daughter’s bf.

I’m a giver that way.

So merrily on my way I went. Then distracted by shiny objects self and the dreaded I must save the planet self made themselves known by taking on a peculiar habit I was unable to break for the entire trek. And that was picking up any and all trash that I found washed up on the beach and place it far above the high tide line.

Plastic shall be the death of Earth. Oh sorry…that was I must save the planet self butting in on my post. Ahem. Moving on.

Evidently this new habit was just fine with my personal coach self. It never said a word, but I detected the whiny that’s good enough self faintly and prudently protesting that I probably should be saving all of those steps for the trek. Poor “whiny”, nobody ever listens to her.

I was up to 3 miles now and to my left I sensed something larger than a sea otter popping up regularly, but every time I turned to get a better look, it was gone. I finally took my camera and while still facing forward, managed to catch my curious companion in the shot. A California harbor seal! Again, no time to zoom on this one. Seal and arrow

As it turned out, this little seal would follow me for the whole rest of my day, but for now I just felt blessed that I got to see another ocean mammal on my adventure. I hadn’t expected such happy luck. When I would look over he would dive, but very soon he realized I was no threat.

In fact, I’m sure he thought I was the slowest swimmer in the world. Curiosity got the best of him though, he couldn’t let me out of his sight. I loved that.

The sun was straight down on me now. I moved the vest back and forth over each arm, trying to temper what I knew was coming in short order.

On my right I saw two humans a little farther up. I could see they had spotted me and had walked into my path, clearly waiting on me.

Well now. I hadn’t banked on this either. I finally made my way up to the couple and we exchanged hellos. They asked if I had come from Fern Canyon. I said no, I had come from a little further down the beach at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. They said they had braved a long treacherous descent down the cliff from the Coast Road to get to this point looking for Fern Canyon. I told them they could get there from here, but that it would be about a 6 mile round trip from this point. In the sand.

This was clearly not good news for the female of the couple. After all, they were at least my age and had already had a long steep descent and a bit of a walk to get to this point on the beach. The male half was determined to see it though.

I asked them why didn’t they just drive down there?

They both looked at me with gaping mouths. The man said, “You can get there by car?”. I said yes and gave them the instructions. They were downright giddy.

Here’s where the Jesus part comes in. I blurted out, “you wouldn’t happen to have any sunscreen would you?”, without even thinking. This is so far out of character for me, it couldn’t have BEEN me. I can’t ask for help normally. I just can’t. I don’t know why.

The woman said, “yes I do” and promptly handed me some Neutrogena sunscreen out of her purse (yes, she trekked with a purse…I can respect that).

I was saved. Just in time to hopefully keep the dark passenger in check. Thank you God for that. I wasn’t greedy, but chose to take just enough to cover my arms. I would take my chances with the rest.

We cheerfully parted ways, each of us getting what we needed just in the nick of time. And people say there is no divine intervention. I most humbly disagree.

I carried on, knowing that my destination was just ahead. Then I came upon something so curious for a city girl. I didn’t know what it was at first but quickly realized it was the hide of an elk. Elk Carcass

My city girl self immediately said “yuck”!  But my silver lining self quickly followed up with “just think what it looked like before it was reduced to being Davy Crockett’s blanket though”. I love her.

About 20 feet down the beach I found a couple of it’s rib bones and a couple of it’s spinal vertebrae bleached clean and white from the sand, water, and sun. I packed those up for my scientist daughter.

I told you I was a giver.

And off I went, picking up random trash, and checking for Sammy the seal along the way. Yes, I named him. Don’t tell anyone.

I noticed a large (and I mean large) white thing on the beach. Not moving. No threat. So I approached with caution. All the while I could hear my whiny that’s good enough self  saying “why, why, why?”. Faintly.

Poor thing, nobody ever listens to her.

When I got up to it, I knew it had to be a ginourmous fish of some sort but like city girl self said, “how in the world would I know what this is?”. I was both horrified and intrigued at the same time. I took a photo of it to be identified later. You know, in case I should ever run across something like this again. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Turns out it is a Triggerfish. Who knew? I would have put my pack down as a size comparison, but um…no way. Not in this life.triggerfish

Before I knew it, my handy dandy little GPS app chimed out…4 MILES.

Yahoo! I made it! My ankles and knees were definitely feeling the effort of trekking in sand, but I was good to go otherwise. Fatigue was not yet a factor but I was beginning to be a little weary. No sweat. Time to turn around and go back.

Then my personal coach self demanded to be heard. “Look how close the end of the beach is or at the very least, an impassable bunch of boulders. You mean to tell me you are going to quit when you can go another mile and be able to say you did it?”. End of the beach

Whiny that’s good enough self said, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I only agreed to 8 miles there and back. Not 10 miles”.

“Fine. Then you don’t get to eat lunch.” my personal coach self fired back. Gosh, she can be such a bitch.

But all of my selves like lunch, so onward I went.

Almost there, I noticed a large rock that provided some shade on a meadow next to the beach. It was the only shade I had seen all day. I headed toward it to eat my lunch and give my legs and feet a little break. Rock by beach

As I climbed over the small high tide bank and toward the rock I saw something coming into view that seemed to be staring back at me. Something large. Very large. What the heck?

I grabbed onto my pepper spray and tried to grab my courage, but couldn’t find it.

I wanted the shade damn it. I cautiously moved forward, it did not move. But it was looking at me.

As I was able to see it a little more clearly, I believed it to be a Roosevelt Elk laying down in the meadow. Don’t be impressed, I learned it on the internet while researching the area.Elkandrock

I dropped to my knees in awe. I didn’t want to scare it away, or be any closer for that matter…this thing is huge.

As it turned out, kneeling down where I was turned out to be quite the error in judgment. I was in a sea of some of the worst stickers I have ever experienced. They were in my knees and the lower part of my legs I was sitting on, not to mentioned what happened when I tucked my shoes under my butt. Not good.

I needed the shade more than ever.  Luckily the sense of awe helped temper the screaming pain suffered by the stickers in my skin through the “moisture wicking” paper thin pants I had on.

I stood up into a bent position and slowly but doggedly “made for the shade” if you will.

When I finally got there I looked over and realized there was a herd of them eating and relaxing in the meadow. Oh my gosh. herd

There were more to the right, but to get a good photo of the entire herd I would have had to advance. Nope. Not going to do that.

I needn’t have been worried about scaring them. They were entirely indifferent.

How many people can say they lunched with a wild herd of Roosevelt Elk on the beach? My personal coach self can….and does. She never lets me forget that if it wasn’t for her pushing me (and denying me lunch), this wouldn’t have happened. She is intolerable. But right.

What magic!

I soon enough finished pulling those wicked stickers out, eating my apple and half a PB&J sandwich, and was back on my way. The end was in sight.

The boulders were indeed impassable, in fact where I climbed over to get to the impassable rocks was probably not accessible during high tide. I caught a glimpse of the shadow of myself when I was climbing to get a photo of what was on the other side.

I had already gone native. In just a few hours. I had completely forgotten that I’d picked up some pelican feathers and stuck them in my cap. Pocohantus

The view on the other side. Beautiful.

beachonotherside

But I had to go. Even my personal coach self was satisfied.

The end of the beach gave me a glorious send off.

Roughsurf

I looked over toward the meadow to say a mental good-bye to the elk when I nearly came out of my skin. One of the elk had moved directly onto the beach. I’m not going to lie, it scared me a little. Elkonthebeach

Maybe she was just bidding me goodbye in a glorious fashion as well. Thank you for that Jesus.

There came a truck driving down the beach gathering drift wood and unless they have an exclusive agreement with the State/National park, that would be illegal. That’s not what made me really really mad though. In many cases, the trash I had so neatly piled above the high tide line was right next to the drift wood they were collecting, but they never bothered themselves with the trash. Even now all I can do is sigh. I wish I had brought a trash bag so I could have taken it myself. Maybe I’ll make that the 11th essential. Never mind.

I was gong to get mad about the tire tracks ruining my photo shots, then my silver lining self pointed out what a gift (from my trekking partner Jesus no doubt) they were. They were so much easier to walk on. I thanked him but didn’t use them. I wouldn’t have them on the Lost Coast Trail.

If not for Sammy, the trek back would have been rough, but he was ever there. Sometimes swimming ahead, sometimes just staring at me while bobbing up and down or diving into a breaking wave. But never still.  Always moving. Which helped me do the same…er samey. What the fatigued mind comes up with is frightening isn’t it?Aviary Photo_130832169777237671

My little otter (no name) was on the beach this time, digging for sand crabs. He didn’t appreciate being interrupted.SeaOtteronbeach

When I finally headed into camp, I was elated, but more than a little sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I was over the moon that I was not only able to do the 8 miles, I could do 10 on my first try. But I was sad that an end had come to a most magical day.

I handed out my “gifts”, enjoyed a much earned hot meal, and headed back out to get a closer look at the sun lower itself into the sea.

And I gave tribute.

Sunset Until next time dearest.

 

Off the Beaten Path – A Trek in the Redwoods

Dear Diary,

I made the decision to continue on into the Redwood forest from Fern Canyon via the James Irvine Trail and the Miners Ridge Trail (not sure why it’s called Miners Cabin Trail on this map) for a complete loop back into our camp on Gold Bluffs Beach. My trek looked like this, luckily I can walk in between the lines better than I can draw but only if you click for a closer look.

PrairieCreektrailmapNow normal people would just do the loop and their 8 miles or so, but I had to turn it into about 11.5 because I decided to double back and do the loop after I had completed the Fern Canyon loop.

But it was some of the most beautiful 11.5 miles I have ever seen. I can only thank God that I found this place by accident on a prior trip, because it would be so easy to miss.

And yes, I have been to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks and they are impressive, but they are also where everyone else goes to see the giants. This trail is well maintained and easy, and best of all I only met a couple of people (who were very nice) the entire day during the height of tourist season….just my cup of tea.

I felt sure I had all of the things I needed in my day pack so off I went on my solo adventure. I’m getting used to the solo thing…it’s hard to talk city folk into accompanying me on my recent outdoor madness.

Not to mention there is such a freedom in having every decision be your own, especially for someone like me who has lived their entire life in a supporting role to loved ones.

As I entered into the forest, the trail took on a Tolkien-ish quality. I expected to run into a hobbit or at the very least, a few of their homes in the Shire. tolkiensteps

The air is damp and fresh, the aroma is of old redwood and pine, mixed with damp green flora that line the path.

As I followed the trail, the feeling of getting smaller that I had experienced in Fern Canyon continued as the trees and plants got larger. I felt I had entered into a mysterious but magical place.

It strains a mere human to see the full length of a Redwood tree. It cannot be done while in motion, a Redwood demands that you stop any other activity to gaze on it’s entirety. Then it mesmerizes you.

I think that these must be God’s favorites, because he made them so close to him.

Here is a photo of the trees as they started to get larger, again I can only capture the trunk in a photo, it is impossible for anyone to capture a mature tree in a still photo.

Looks like a normal forest photo you say? Look again at the one below it with my trusty daypack as the only thing I had available to show it’s true size.giantnobackpack

Now with said daypack.giantwithbackpack

Now you see what I mean? My daypack is anything but mini I might add. I gotta have things. Like water. And food. And a phone. And a solar charger for the phone (for GPS purposes you understand). I would discover later that my cord to transfer said power to said phone was back at camp…luckily the trails were so well maintained, I didn’t really need the GPS.

Back to the trees. They were big, but not the old growth I was hoping for. Not yet anyway.

The forest was completely silent. I could not hear my footfalls on the trail covered in moist redwood chips. The trees filter any outside noise out before it could get to me.

The silence was deafening for someone who lives with city noises 24/7. Traffic, kids, dogs, cats, people, trash truck, mail delivery, parcel delivery, car doors slamming, house doors slamming, trains, planes, lawnmowers, and on and on and on. You know what I mean. I don’t even really hear them unless something stands out (like a car alarm).

Just silence in this forest. Nature’s reverence for one of planet Earth’s greatest.

Then I remembered the trail training I learned about bears (from where I have learned everything else about the great outdoors – the internet). You don’t want to startle them. You don’t want to sneak up on them. I guess they get grumpy and seek revenge easily.

So I sang. Let me apologize now to the big trees that had to hear my voice. I sang the only song I know by heart in it’s entirety because it’s easy and short. And as a prayer, it’s not that far off for my own life. Don’t judge.

Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Song by Warren Zevon

  • Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The sky was on fire
    When I walked to the mill
    To take up the slack in the line
    I thought of my friends
    And the troubles they’ve had
    To keep me from thinking of mine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The moon has a face
    And it smiles on the lake
    And causes the ripples in Time
    I’m lucky to be here
    With someone I like
    Who maketh my spirit to shine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight

 

Luckily I was not in song mode when I met up with a few people this day. I am not that comfortable in my trail skin to not care if I look (or sound) crazy just yet.

As I continued to get smaller, I came upon a bridge that had a plaque inscribed by the most beautiful phrase that was far more meaningful than anything I could say about this place. It is the John Glascock Baldwin Bridge which spans a narrow chasm. I don’t know who you were John, except that you lived in Redwood City, attended Berkeley, and applied for a passport in 1923 at 21 years old, if it’s the same man (from a Google query, I’m not a stalker I swear).

Nobody could have said it better John, whoever you were. JohnGlascockBaldwinBridge

The stream below the bridge that offered the singing John referenced, indeed provided it for me as well. Stream

Have you ever been to a place where only a stream can be heard? No birds (I’m not sure why, maybe they are too high up?), no wind, no planes, no people, nothing but the singing of the stream and the majesty of the trees. Was this what it was like in early Northern California?  Will it still be here a hundred years from now?

Dear God above, please let it be so.

As I trekked deeper into the forest, all of the other cares of the world fell away. My soul soared.

I was shrinking at a fast rate now. Even the fern fronds and other unidentified flora (I am no Bear Grylls here) leaves were getting larger than my pack.

Then I was among the giants. The old growth. The trees that were born around the same time as Jesus Christ was.2giants

They defy description. I could only walk among them in awe.  anothergiantwbp

How does one reconcile walking alongside a living thing that has been here for 2000 years? What secrets do they hold? They have watched animal life evolve around them, yet are unchanging. They have seen 2,000 winters and summers. They have lived through how many fires? Been struck by how many bolts of lightening?

Until men came along, and wiped out whole forests of the old growth. According to the Save the Redwoods League, in less than a century 95% of ancient redwoods had been logged at least once. According to them, “The places that survived were either too difficult to get to, beloved by some family who made sure they were not logged, or purchased by groups like Save the Redwoods League.”

Thankfully the logging companies have gotten on board with more responsible habits, and the State and Federal Governments have worked together to set aside land for an aggressive regrowth program that will remain undisturbed…for now.

The ancient Ents in Prairie Creek state park are part of that 5% and are magnificent.big trees

Here is the size of a tree that the park service left alongside the trail, with the year it was born (by counting the rings). It was born in 1850, and my daypack looks normal against it. 1850treefixed

So how old was this behemoth when it fell?fallengiant

No pack in this one…I was starting to get a bit tired to keep running back to take the picture and strapping back in every time. Can you picture it by now though?

Remember the old riddle; If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a sound? I’m pretty sure this one did. A mighty big sound.

But even the fallen soldiers provide life. This fallen tree has ferns and other plants growing from it, along with another tree. fernsfromdeadtrunk

While this younger fatality is hosting mushrooms. shroomsThis is a more recently fallen ancient, and I can honestly say it was taller than the second story on my house. treerootI had stopped singing long ago. I was imagining how easy it would be to picture dinosaurs here. I was thinking how lucky I was to be in this place, and thanking God for the ability to do so. I was thinking about my dead phone and wondering how far I still had to go. I was thinking how dark the forest is because so little light is able to get through where no trees have fallen.

I was not however, thinking about coming upon a big old pile of steamy bear poo. I mean it had just pinched this poo log. Even a city girl could see that.

Oh crap. Literally.

I thought about the bear pepper spray I had left back in camp. Dammit…how come I can only think of 8 or 9 of the ten essentials when I pack my pack? I thought about the canned air horn I was going to get to throw in my pack as another deterrent in case the spray failed, and never did.

Crap, crap, crap.

It’s amazing how “un-tired” one can get in a matter of just a millisecond. With adrenaline pumping through my veins I took off at a good pace (never run…according to the internet) but honestly, if it wanted me it could have gotten me. I’m sure I just oozed fear in the air for miles. Not fear, terror.

I’m not sure what terror smells like to a bear, but I’m sure I was as aromatic as a cheap whore on a Saturday night to them. Er…I mean cheap meal.

I started alternately praying and singing as I made my thinly veiled panic of an exit. Luckily my hiking partner is Jesus and he saw fit to have me finished this trek unscathed. In fact, I never saw hide nor hair of the poo perpetrator.

But I suspect he/she knew all about me.

After I got home, I was able to identify the poo (or scat as it’s called by wild men) as being from a mountain lion.

Oh, I feel much better now.

Guess who took their bear spray (also can be used on mountain lions) on the next day’s trek down a mostly inaccessible beach? Yes, that would be me. But I forgot something even more important. Dammit with the 10 essentials.

I guess I’ll have to get the list tattooed on me somewhere.

Until next time dearest.

Off the Beaten Path – Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Dear Diary,

I am deliciously exhausted from my latest adventure into the unknown. Living in Southern California allows me access to just about anything a heart could desire…desert, mountains, beach, forest, you name it, we got it.

This time however, my sights were set on a much more northerly area of my state.

I loaded up the Suburban with everything one would need for spending a week in a magical place where the redwood giants meet the ocean. A place so special I hesitate to mention it for fear that by reference alone I would somehow diminish it’s enchantments.

Prairie Creek Redwood State Park and Gold Bluffs Beach.

Doesn’t sound so special you say? Nay nay mon frere, it is as special as they come.

I promised myself I would be back here when I discovered it on my Pacific Coast Highway adventure a couple of years ago. I vowed to return when I had more time to explore.

Having spent this summer’s first adventure in the Grand Canyon during a heat wave last month in June, I was ready for cooler, wetter weather.

So I hit the road with my daughter and her boyfriend for a long 13 hour drive to the very Northern part of California by a tiny town called Orick.

I have been to the larger tourist stops across California…and there are many. But these days there is a hunger in me to get off of the cement jungle highway. To bid room service good-bye (ok, that one hurts a little bit), and turn onto the lesser traveled dirt road.

If only the dirt road didn’t make everything so dirty. I’m still adjusting to leaving my city girl roots behind. It’s not easy, but I’m getting there.

Ahem…back to my story.

In the interest of time we took the inland freeway which provided us miles and miles of agricultural scenery. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, and finally the vineyards. We could chart our journey by what was being grown around us.

We cut over to the coast just before San Francisco. Ah San Francisco, how I love you but we had no time to stop. Even for those just passing through, San Francisco still holds reign over roadside wonders.

The Golden Gate Bridge.

No matter how many times I come to San Francisco, the bridge never, ever gets old.

Don’t mind that dirty windshield, it had seen a lot of miles by then (see what I mean about feeling the need to apologize for dirt? Such a city girl thing to do).

golden gateNot my photo…and a bird’s eye view.

california-golden-gate-bridge

But onward we went.

Onward as the trees got larger and more dense, and even during this particularly bad drought, the world around us became green. Something I’m not used to, even during non-drought times in So. Cali.

Then finally we came to the unassuming spot I remembered from my coastal trip…Elk Meadow. We turned onto Davison road and instead of parking we continued onto the dirt road that would lead us to Gold Bluffs Beach.

On the East Coast, we would have been through 5 states by now.

We had arrived. We had just set up camp when the sun bid us farewell over the Pacific Ocean.

GBBsunset

I thought I would not be able to sleep for the excitement of what lay ahead in the next 3 days, but the sound of the ocean surf puts me out like nothing else.

How could I forget that?

The next morning we headed out for Fern Canyon. The prehistoric-like setting for movies such as Jurassic Park 2, and Walking With Dinosaurs was filmed here because of it’s surreal properties as a narrow 50 ft. high canyon completely covered in ferns.

It is so unique that it is both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.

The floor of the canyon is a stream bed which provides for a contrast of water, rocks, and fallen lumber against the impossible green of the canyon walls.

FernCanyon

As we followed the stream further into the canyon…I got the sense that the surroundings were not getting larger, but that we were getting smaller. We had fallen through Alice’s Wonderland hole, but instead of an animated world we were in a tunnel devoid of time. We could easily imagine the presence of dinosaurs among us.

Without the terror of being lunch of course! Whew.

My daughter and her BF as tiny versions of themselves against the Fern Canyon backdrop.

SandTFernCanyon

The further into the canyon we went, the larger everything else became. Fallen trees became so large that they provided a kind of super sized jungle gym. Getting past these wooden fortresses was quite a challenge and again I felt the sensation of being not only small, but very young when everything is large and navigating over, under, and through  is so much fun.

I want to thank Mr. Red Vest for providing a size example.

Redwoodjunglegym

This is the spot where the less daring or less ambulatory were thinned from the rest of the herd. We kept going, and even when it seemed we were at an impasse, if we could make it over the hurdles, the canyon kept us in suspense by continuing on.

And of course, boys will be boys. Because it’s there, it must be climbed.

Troy

And on we went…over and under, beside and behind.

FC

Finally we reached a place in the canyon that would have required a little more climbing equipment than we had (which was none).

So we doubled back to a place with some ancient (seemingly) stairs covered with moss that would transport us up outside of the canyon and toward the second half of the Fern Canyon loop trail.

And even though we were in a new growth forest, still we seemed as smaller versions of ourselves.

newgrowth

And so we parted ways. The youngsters back to the beach, and I onto a solo trek through the magical forest known as the Redwoods. Home of the silent giants.

Another story altogether (and yes, there is a bear scare in there).

Until next post dearest…

 

6 Things I Learned On the Trail – That Everyone Else Already Knows

Dear Diary,

I totally accept the fact that I am a very late boomer (play on words there) when it comes to the outdoors. We are just now getting acquainted for the first time in 3 decades.

But I am hell bent on getting trained for the Next Big Thing.

I appropriately equipped myself (this time) on my solo day hike to bag a new trail on an old mountain.

I have been preparing for this day for months. Trekking sticks, check. Hydration pack, check. Hiking shoes, check. Hiking socks, check. Annual parking permit, check. I’m  good to go.

So with a very light heart and a song on my lips I set out to seek adventure in the San Antonio Mountain Wilderness (in California, not Texas), which is also the mountains I grew up by and can see out of my current home’s windows. I see it everyday, and every day I vow to conquer it.

The day has come. On a Thursday morning the parking lot is not full yet and I jump out of my car and to the rear of the Suburban to gear up. I have filled the hydration pack with 2 liters of water (more than I should need), a light lunch, and emergency matches etc.

I noticed that my hydration pack was wet so I assumed I set it on the mouthpiece, and I made a mental note to be more careful next time.

I set out on the trail and am feeling dang good about myself. This is my mountain, and the old Ice House Trail is one I was originally introduced to by my intrepid Mother when I was a tender 4 years old. That was 53 years ago, and even though I have taken a 30 year hiatus from this mountain, I have a lot of great family memories of this trail and the swimming hole creek that it follows.

After about a mile I reached back to feel of the hydration pack and noticed it was still dripping. A lot. The only reason I hadn’t felt the wetness is because I had tied my down jacket (did I leave that out of my original list of trick equipment? Sorry.) around my waist.

I sat down on a log and took it off for inspection. I couldn’t really find anything wrong with it, but as I took the entire bladder out of the pack, I noticed that my Curious George of a husband had not snapped the tube back into the bladder after he had taken it apart.

Because that’s what guys do. They have to take things apart. They just do.

I snapped it back in and noticed I had lost a whole liter of water. Thank goodness I brought extra.

Another mile and I was turning onto the trail of my desire. It added 2 miles to the destination versus the Ice House Trail, but was not as steep of an ascent. I was anticipating a leisurely climb to my destination known as the Mt. Baldy Saddle where many different trails converged.

The first 3 or so miles was aromatherapy heaven (scents of pine, California sage, and other plants I don’t know), except for the group of women ahead of me that were talking so loudly it was kind of defeating the purpose of getting out in nature. I couldn’t see them, but I could definitely hear them talking in their native tongue, an Asian language.

I made it to a tent camping site along the trail (known as Cedar Glen Campsite) where the women were seated on the only felled log, eating their lunches. It was hard to be mad at them, they were pretty adorable. They asked me if I was going to the Saddle, I replied “Yes, I’ve never been this way before though”. They replied with a like destination, and it would be their first time to the Saddle on this trail also.

Good. I thought to myself that I would wait for them at the Saddle so I could give them all “high fives” to celebrate our mutual achievement. Then I moved on.

I noticed right away that the trail was markedly different than what I had experienced before Cedar Glen. The trail earlier had been equipped with railings to protect against the steep talus (loose broken rock) mountain side.

The railings were gone. The trail narrowed to about 12 inches wide and I noticed a new development…snow. I wasn’t worried, the trail was well marked by a couple of sets of footprints (quite large actually) so I set my foot down on one of them to follow.

Shawoop! The footprints had turned to ice and were so slick not even my new trick hiking shoes could grab hold of a footing. I stopped and looked around me. The snow on the steep mountainside above and below me tracked with big horned sheep footprints going in a straight vertical trajectory. HOW DO THEY DO THAT?

I reasoned that if the big horned sheep can go straight up, and a couple of large men are ahead of me on the human trail, certainly I could do this.

I recited a mantra of my husband’s, “Don’t let fear hold you back” over and over in my head as I made my way through the slick ice and onto solid ground just 10 ft. up the trail. No sweat I thought, I can do this.

The next patch of snow/ice was on where the switchback turned sharply to the left and  up. I put my foot down on what I thought was solid ground and Shawoop again! If not for my trekking pole, I would have fallen backward down the rocky mountainside.

I at this point noticed how very far down that was. About 500 ft. down a rock and log strewn steep mountainside so far down that I couldn’t see where I would actually land.

I shouldn’t have done that.

It was then I noticed I could no longer hear the Asian women coming up behind me. I am standing on ice, with only ice ahead of me and behind me. I am too frightened to go back down passed the very slick part I had just traversed, and since there was open trail just pass the slick switchback…I pulled myself up to it with my arms and trekking poles.

I was not having fun anymore. Not at all.

I kept going with the thought that the Saddle was probably just around each slippery bend, and then I could take the familiar Ice House Trail back down to my car.

But it didn’t happen. The trail just kept getting more and more steep.

I kept pushing on until I reached a point where the trail had washed out due to a landslide, but the landslide was only about 2 ft. wide. I stepped over the landslide and froze.

My trekking pole had caused a tiny landslide where I had planted it, and I made the mistake of watching the rocks go down. So I am literally frozen with terror with my legs wide apart and no leg muscles to either retreat or advance.

It occurs to me here that I am waaaaaaaaay out of my league here. I have made a dire error in assessing my skill level. I made mention of this to God in my almost constant praying at this point. As the panic begins to rise, I think of how long it will take to find my body. I told my hubby where I was going complete with the name of the trail, but I know he wouldn’t retain it.

I have no choice but to move my now shaking legs. I tried to get on my hands and knees, but the trail was too narrow and unstable to allow it. I moved forward an inch with my back foot, and after about 15 minutes, got it to about a foot away from my front one.

About 4 more feet forward and I was off of the talus. I couldn’t go back now for sure, but forward was so steep and treacherous that I stopped again and considered my options.

No cell phone service. No other person in sight. I had no options.

It was slow going after that. I reluctantly put one foot in front of the other with such trepidation that it actually took me an hour to go a mile. The snow was getting deeper, which actually made it easier, but I was getting cold.

I stopped to put on my jacket but as I turned my head to unwrap it from my waist, I saw just how far down the mountainside was now. I couldn’t see an end. I was overtaken by such a quick and deadly vertigo that had I not had my trekking pole on solid ground, I would have toppled over.

In all of my 57 years, I’ve never had vertigo before. I don’t like it at all.

I dared not make a move to put on my jacket which would require letting go of my poles. No way. I’d rather freeze.

If I wasn’t so terrified, I would have been mad at myself for putting me in a position where I could actually die. Why can’t I just be happy with crafting and DIY projects like my friends in retirement? Oh the irony.

Just as I was about to burst into tears from panic and fatigue, a man came tearing around the bend in the trail (no trekking poles) and bade greeting.

Instead of crying out in relief and begging for his help…I composed myself and asked him if I was almost to the Saddle.

Because that’s what we humans do. We try not to appear as though we are the dumb asses we actually are. Wait…I might be just speaking for myself here. Never mind.

He assessed my equipment and said with my ankle high hiking boots and trekking poles that I should be fine, but the last bit would be much more steep and treacherous. He said I might ask the opinion of the two women coming down behind him, and he went on his way.

SERIOUSLY? MORE STEEP AND TREACHEROUS THAN THIS?

I was again literally frozen in terror. A terror that I have never known before this point.

Before I can get too maniacal, the aforementioned women (in their 50’s, a very fit 50’s) came around the bend in a lighthearted, upbeat pace. They are not racing like the man before them, nor are they clinging to their trekking poles and carefully making a shaky commitment to every labored step as I am.

They stop and greet me and without so much as a “Hello”, I blurt out a question as to the quality of the trail further up. I state that I am not enjoying myself anymore and need to make a decision whether to keep going or cut bait and retreat. Can they help?

They reply, “If you don’t like this, you definitely won’t like what comes next. We probably should have worn our crampons.”

That did it. Sometimes the evils of the known are better than the evils of the unknown. I don’t even know what crampons are, and ignore that it rhymes so closely with tampons.

I ask if I can follow them back down and they said no problem.

But I didn’t miss the look they gave each other. It was an exasperated “Oh no, not another annoying newbie”. They said a little impatiently to “just follow their footsteps” and continued on their way.

I said, “Ok, thank you”. But in my head I thought…”screw you, I’ll follow my own footprints”.

There she is. The saucy city girl that will fall down the side of the mountain with her pride intact.

I don’t know if it was because I no longer felt so alone and vulnerable, or because the sun had melted some of the ice (let’s go with that one shall we?), or just because I knew that other people were able to do it, I made it down quickly.

Well quickly compared to how slowly I had gone up after I lost my nerve.

The women had vanished in the distance long ago, but after passing Cedar Glen I relaxed a little and itemized what lessons I had learned this day. If you read them and apply “duh” after each one, you will replicate how I heard them in my head.

1. Fancy shmancy equipment does not take the place of leg muscles.

2. Check said equipment after Curious George has had his hands on it.

3. Don’t explore unfamiliar territory without Tarzan as a hiking companion, alone (this is problematic to future hikes as just about everything is unfamiliar to me).

4. Stop and turn around when the Asian women do.

5. Write down where I am going in the event I do not return so Curious George will know what to tell the authorities after 24 hours has passed.

6. Do not look down.

I finally make it back to my car (with no water left) and realize that in my excitement to hit the trail, I left the driver side door standing wide open. For 5 hours. On the most crowded mountains in LA and San Bernardino Counties. Oh.My.Gosh.

Thank God my hubby (Curious George) does not know about my blog. This shall be our secret ok?

I quickly assess that my purse is untouched, as are the fancy shmancy trekking poles I bought my husband in the hopes that he would go with me someday.

I am still thanking God for saving me from myself yet again. In so many ways.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

View Out of the Side Window

Stuckeys

Dear Diary,

It’s probably no surprise that I am a backseat, a passenger seat, and every other seat, driver. That’s what happens to us folks who have trust issues that turn into control issues and whatever else kind of issues that I am sure are side dishes to those.

I have long been remanded to silence on car trips (in my backseat driving capacity anyway) so my driving instructions, criticisms, and suggestions only occur in my head which leaves not much room for any other kind of thoughts.

On our long trips from California to Arizona and back I know the road so well that there is nothing new to discover, and nothing to distract me from the traffic. We have been in every establishment along the lonesome 40 at some time or another, so it has been relegated from road trip to just the trip home.

In recent years I have taken to reclining in the back seat and giving up control completely to my able bodied hubby to get us where we’re going.

My hobby is looking at the world through the side window which surprisingly is a whole new area of discovery. What I thought was familiar territory is quite different. A Dead Poet Society “aha” if you will. I look at the world anew, and it sometimes reminds me of places I’ve been so long ago that I almost forgot what they looked like, or that I was there at all.

For example, the Cajon Pass out of the side window on a rainy day looks like the cliffs of Hawaii, and for a moment I am transported there. The sights, the smells, the sounds of the tropical paradise of my youth.

The Mohave desert out of the side window reminds me of car trips (how long has it been since people took Sunday “car trips”?) with my mother and grandmother when we would stop at Stuckey’s and get pecan rolls to snack on. For a moment I am transported back in time to the little red Mustang with white upholstery and I can almost hear my Grandmother’s voice again. My little sister asleep by my side, and me dreaming of the day when I would be old enough to sit behind the driver’s seat. Little did I know how lucky I was to not have the responsibilities that come with that age.

The side window is a time portal, and I its willing passenger.

Try it sometime.

Until next time dear diary.