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.

 

 

 

 

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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…

 

Point Sublime – Off the Beaten Path in the Grand Canyon (Part 2)

Dear Diary,

I think John Wesley Powell said it best; ” The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail “.

In short, words or photos cannot come close to describing the beauty of this place.

We left Toroweap and moved on to a much higher elevation for the second part of our vacation week. Point Sublime was our next “off the grid” destination.

sub·lime
adjective:
  1. of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.
Of course the question was…would it live up to it’s name? Could it live up to it’s name? In a place that is already beyond description…what could merit such a lofty title?
We drove to the Grand Canyon North Rim national park entrance with our trusty Jeep and off road trailer. It was a great relief to be out of the 106 degree heat of Toroweap. This part of the North Rim is green and much cooler.
We didn’t go far until we encountered these monoliths from our American Great Plains past.
buffalo
A large herd of these guys grazing next to the road. According to the park service, there is no room for them here either. They are the ancestors of Charles “Buffalo” Jones ill fated attempt at transplanting the Bison in 1906 to breed with his cattle, but that failed.
The bison herd now numbers 300, and are eating the native animals out of precious food sources and fouling the ground water with their waste. The NPS is trying to relocate them, but may have to resort to lethal removal.
There is no room for this giant animal to roam freely in their native habitat, so where do they go now? Montana? Wyoming?
We move on to resume our adventure into the unknown.
We turn off onto a dirt road where we were prepared for the 14 mile trek into the back country. The road wasn’t bad at all, in fact we were thinking you wouldn’t even need a high clearance vehicle, but there were a few spots that would have been tough without it. Mostly deep mud from the rain a few days earlier. I wouldn’t have chanced it in the rain without a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
The Jeep pulled our little off road trailer like a boss.
Jeep and trailer 2
I was so grateful for the forest compared to the barren desert landscape of Toroweap Overlook. What a contrast, but then the Grand Canyon is all about contrasts.
We finally reached a narrow part of the road with drop offs on either side, and I knew we were close. When we finally pulled into Point Sublime, we could not have anticipated the grandeur of this place. Surely it is aptly named.
And we had it all to ourselves.
me on edge
I cannot capture the depth, breadth, and beauty of the Grand Canyon any more than I can capture the wind, or a sigh, or a dream. But click on the photo for a tiny representation.
11221373_10204387776914878_3996678945438741957_o
This is Point Sublime.
Away from the tourists. Away from the grid. Away from water. Wait…that last one might prove problematic (luckily we brought 12 gallons for our 3 day stay).
I could hardly believe we had left the crowds behind…but we only saw another couple for one day during our entire stay (and became fast friends before they left).
How quickly my hubby becomes redneck when we step outside of the rat race. By day two…this is how he took in our surroundings.
GC redneck
But the energizer bunny finally relaxed. Finally exhaled. Finally let the Canyon breathe it’s peace into his soul.
The Grand Canyon is carven deep by the master hand; it is the gulf of silence, widened in the desert; it is all time inscribing the naked rock; it is the book of Earth.   Donald Culross Peattie
The Grand Canyon is a place on Earth that surely God made for himself. It is too big, too beautiful, too wild, too unforgiving, too timeless to be made for us. Yet…it seems to beckon us to look over the edge. To breathe deep the rarity. Once we look upon the Grand Canyon…we are forever changed.
The Grand Canyon is an ultimate bucket list item, and Point Sublime is the perfect place to become intimate with it. I have but to think of it and remember, but pictures don’t hurt either.
Evidently I will do anything for the perfect sunrise photo…just look at that ensemble.
me in pjs
Bucket lists are made up of places we will go, but once we get there, are made of moments we will remember.
For a moment, it wasn’t about the bills or the kids, the future or the past. It was just about us. In this place that God made. For us. For now. Forever.
hiking boots
So I leave you now Dear Diary with a quote from Edward Abbey – “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds”.
sunset
Go find your moments dearest.
Until next time…

Toroweap Overlook – Off the Beaten Path in the Grand Canyon (Part 1)

Dear Diary,

I know I have neglected you dearest diary but I have been very far off of the grid (so hard to do nowadays) and living la vida loca. Well, maybe a G rated vida loca. But let me tell you where I’ve been…

The Grand Canyon.

There is a reason it is considered one of the 7 wonders of the world. There is no photo that can do it justice. Not one.

Everyone without exception does the same thing when they first look over the rim and that is an involuntary gasp. It literally takes your breath away. Nothing in the world can make me feel simultaneously insignificant and esoteric quite like the Grandest of Canyons.

Go ahead and click on this and then click on it again, and still it falls far short.

Panoramic Grand Canyon 2

It leaves me breathless every time I lay eyes on this magnificent marvel, whether it has been years or a moment.

I have been to the crowded South Rim on a few occasions now. The hotels and handrails are there for convenience, but I wanted more.

I wanted to see it without having to share it with busloads of tourists, all trying to get the perfect shot of one of God’s most amazing creations (I’m pretty sure he must have created it for his pleasure, since there is nothing else quite like it).

So with the appropriate amount of research (months literally) and a well timed request for a Backcountry Permit from the NPS, we packed up our Jeep and newly renovated (circa 1940’s) military trailer for parts previously unknown.

Jeep and trailer 2

We were not disappointed.

The first half of the week we had slated to camp in the Grand Canyon National Park at a remote campground in the north rim area known as Tuweep/Toroweap Overlook area (I’m still confused as to why it is referred to as either name).

This trip is not for the impatient. After leaving the paved road (in Utah), we traveled down a very well maintained dirt road (it would be hair raising if it were during wet conditions) for 61 miles. Note the sunning lizard on the mileage sign.

Lizard Sign 2

We were warned about there not being any services, food, or water available. Duly noted. We were prepared.

Warning sign

I’m not gonna lie, that last couple miles are rough. When they say high clearance vehicle, they are not kidding.

We made ourselves at home (at an empty campground, which to a Southern Californian is mind boggling) and set off to see the real attraction…the Grand Canyon via Toroweap Overlook.

Our home sweet home is pictured below. You KNOW me diary, I am a big city girl…so this is a bit of a redneck culture shock for me. That’s probably why I sustained a teeny tiny head injury while attempting to be useful at setting up. I think I’ll just stick to carrying my purse from the car to the tent next time (my usual MO).

But I am embracing it. If you knew me, you wouldn’t know me right now.

homesweethome2It was what I like to say…H – O – Double TT.

Hot!

We knew it would be hot with little protection from the sun, but the. Grand Canyon is formidable when it comes to teaching one humility with aridity. And it just happened to be during record heat in Arizona this week.

Out of the 12 deaths per year at the canyon, only 1 or 2 are falls (sadly they are already at this number for 2015), many more are due to environmental issues (drowning and heat). Still, with 4.3 million visitors annually, the Grand Canyon is a very safe place to be.

I have a theory as to why.

This place is so overwhelmingly immense in every way, the mind is immediately and automatically on high alert to self preservation.

With my teeny tiny head injury (the scalp bleeds so much for such a little cut doesn’t it?), a hat was out.  No matter, with water packs on our backs, off we went to see what Toroweap Overlook had to offer.

I shall let the photo do the talking, even if it does a poor job of capturing the grandeur.

Toroweap Overlook 2

It’s just too dang high up (over 3,000 feet) to stand on the edge. The mighty Colorado River looks like a small stream from this height.

Never mind that unlady like pose…I felt I needed to be planted pretty steadily.

See those white caps on the river that look like a babbling stream? Those are what is known as Lava Falls Rapids, a level 10 (the highest) for difficulty. The only clue we had to their existence was the roar of the water…even this far away. Oh, and the internet research we’d done beforehand.

Here is an example of what it looks like on the water…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38fzPEq2W1U. I will add that the 4 rafts we watched go through the rapids (they looked like tiny toys) successfully navigated it, but they all stayed to one side unlike the raft in this video.

My photos are unenhanced, sadly I don’t have a reliable program on this laptop to edit them, yet it is testimony to how beautiful the canyon is. Even an unenhanced photo is magnificent.

What a different experience than being among the masses on the South Rim. Other than the occasional gust of wind and very distant roar of the water, this place was silent. No railings, no cars, no voices, no phones, no signs, no anything but the majesty of the canyon.

But it’s true we had to earn it. If it was easy, everybody would be here.

There is a growing necessity to unplug. It is the only time the soul can push forward of the mind and get the food it needs. Beauty, solitude, and the rehabilitating energy of natural and spiritual life.

I know I sound alarmingly like a tree hugger, but don’t judge ’til you try it.

It was 106 degrees, but it didn’t matter. The canyon kept calling me like a beautiful song I know I may never hear again. So I kept answering.

Torweap Overlook hiker 2The vista changes with every movement of light. The sun and shadow play on every crook, cranny, and crevice like an ever changing canvass, never being the same painting twice.

The next day we explored our surroundings early since we knew the heat would be upon us. We discovered another beautiful overlook off of the Saddle Horse Loop. Beautifully alluringly treacherous like a femme fatale, we made our way as close to the edge as we dared. My hubby gave me a choice on which side of the rock I would like to stand in order to not block the river view. He’s hilarious like that.

Saddle Loop Hike Overlook 2

Here’s a much better photo (not mine) of roughly the same spot…this madman must have had an extension pole.

not mine

My manic spouse actually unplugged enough to read a book. I know right?

That night I was awoken by my hubby’s nasal symphonies (remember, no electricity means no white noise), so I crawled out of our tent and sat in silence. As I raised my eyes to the sky, I was captivated with a visual feast that I have never seen anything like before in my life.

The purest night sky. No light pollution, no moon. Alas, my photo did not come out, so I am using one that most accurately portrays what I saw.

Night Sky North RimShooting stars were everywhere. NOW I know why it is called the milky way, something I can’t see at all in So Cali. It was so incredibly beautiful I almost cried with joy.

And gratitude.

We cut our stay short by one day only because we found ourselves huddling in the shadow of rocks for respite. The heat was oppressive and relentless, but the beauty of this place will stay with me forever.

Until next time dearest.

 

Shoal Bay East – A Dream Within a Dream

Dear Diary,

I’ve saved the best for last. Shoal Bay East. On an island full of beautiful beaches, this one rises above the rest. With it’s impossibly white powdery sand, warm aquamarine water that gently kisses the shore, an absence of footsteps but our own, and a shallow area of reef for snorkeling, this beach has it all.

Shoal Bay East

As I went through the images that we took there, I realize anew that photographs are the windows to which we can view our memories. A moment forever frozen in time. A tiny time machine that can transport us back to that place and be relived as often as we desire.

This is one of my happy places. This moment in time with my family on the most beautiful beach in the world. This window to a memory where I am always on vacation, my daughter is forever a child, and my husband wears a perpetual smile.

FAMILYMAN

Along the 2 mile beach, there was a place we stopped to eat. A local man was there resting his freshly broken arm. He was very friendly and I found myself in conversation with him immediately. He asked me about LA and seemed to relish in my description of life in Southern California.

I asked him how he broke his arm. He told me another local had broken it the night before. I was more than a little taken aback. I couldn’t help but ask him why someone would do that. He simply replied, “because he doesn’t like me”.

He went on to write down his name and address on a little index card he pulled out of his pocket. When he handed it to me he said, “Please think of me now and then when you are in your Southern California paradise”.

I realized then that this man was desperate to get off of this island. This place that I had saved so long to come to, this place that I was trying acutely to drink in every minute, to remember every sound and sight of.

One man’s paradise is another man’s hell. How many of these cards had he handed out?

It had gotten awkward.

We politely moved on, but the man still haunts me from time to time.

We spent the rest of the day walking, laughing, swimming, snorkeling. I couldn’t bear to leave it. But we had to, so I thought of something I could do to help me remember this place.

It was just a simple thing. I just wanted to take a little of this powdery sand with me to have a tangible reminder of paradise. If anyone ever doubted how perfect this sand was, I could whip out my little sample and let them ooh and ahhh as they ran the tiny specks of heaven through their own hand.

So I took out the only thing I had on me to gather sand in, an empty Pringles container. I filled it half full and took my prize with me back to our room.

I reluctantly packed our bags to leave. It seemed like just a memory already. The post vacation depression was already setting in and I hadn’t even left yet.  RendezvousBayview

Early the next morning we left our perfect beach that I had come to know as my own. I was a little mad that it didn’t care that I was leaving. It would go on being indescribably beautiful to someone else. Or to nobody else. It didn’t matter. I wouldn’t be here ever again, which struck me sullen.

At least I was bringing a tiny piece of it back with me in the Pringles can that was carefully packed in my luggage along with a couple of shells. Such a small token of what loomed large in my memory…and still does.

We retraced our travel back the way we came. We didn’t have to fly with chickens or an overweight plane this time though. Thank goodness.

We arrived in Puerto Rico where we had to claim our luggage and go through customs, which was on the far side of the airport. The airport in Puerto Rico makes me feel a little like a zoo animal. It is floor to ceiling glass on a single level, with everyone outside pressing their faces to the glass to get a look inside.

We dutifully picked up said luggage, made the long walk to customs and took our place in the queue to be inspected. I looked behind me (as everyone Mom does to make sure we hadn’t dropped anything) and to my absolute horror noticed on the dark floor a powdery white line all the way across the airport to my suitcase.

Oh. My. Gosh.

I pulled my suitcase forward to try and distance myself from it, but since it was coming from my suitcase, it just continued to follow me.

My face went red hot. I broke out into an immediate sweat as if I had just run a marathon.

I felt like a very bad drug mule that was clumsily trying to smuggle cocaine into the US.

I don’t do well in these kind of situations, I immediately go to worse case scenario.

Locked Up Abroad.

I knew I looked guilty. I couldn’t help it. I don’t normally smuggle white powdery sand into the US, so how was I to know how unreliable my Pringles vessel would be at transporting my stash?

Damn that Shoal Bay sand for being so impossibly fine and white!

I tried to get my husband’s attention without drawing any to myself, but he was focused on placing his luggage on the conveyor. It was too late. All I could do at this point was hope he would get a good lawyer so I could come home again.

It was my daughters turn to put her little SpongeBob rolling case on the conveyor and they waved her through.

Good they were through…hopefully they could behave as though they didn’t know me when the customs person nodded to the policia and they took me down.

I set my suitcase on the conveyor and braced myself. No matter how I set it, the sand just kept coming. All the saliva had left my mouth. My face was tomato red and I could feel my heart beating out of my chest as I handed over my passport.

I stared at my husband and daughter waiting for me, memorizing their faces.

The attendant hands me my passport and tells me to pick up my suitcase.

Just like that I am through customs.

Thank you God! Thank you, thank you God!

When we finally got home and I opened that suitcase, let me just say I have never seen such a mess in my life. It’s like I threw a few cups of flour in with my clothes, not quite sure if I was baking or traveling.

It took me a week, but I managed to salvage some of that sand with a paint brush. It now resides safely in a bottle in a shadow box along with other little baubles I picked up, and a photo of my daughter and I walking along the beach in Anguilla.

ShadowboxA window to a beautiful memory.

As for my smuggling career? Well over my friend, well over.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mead’s Bay and a Chocolat Day

Dear Diary,

I had chosen Anguilla for it’s idyllic beaches first and foremost, but not far behind was it’s rich and unique culture. How many Caribbean island nations can say they launched a revolution to be independent as recently as 1967? And won! They are still distantly associated with the U.K. as a territory, but enjoy much more autonomy than “Pre-Revolution”.

You gotta love that spunk in an island of only 6,000 people (in that time, the population has swelled to 13,000 modern day).

I had only spent a couple of days on Anguilla and I already felt a panic that time was going too quickly. When you work 51 weeks to have 1 week away…how can you not feel as though Father Time is a cruel taskmaster by it not being the other way around?

I had done my homework and booked a day tour on a Catamaran called “Chocolat”. We were picked up in a dinghy with about 6 other folks to sail and snorkel for a day. I had lived on a Catamaran for a week on Bimini when I went to swim with the dolphins (I never did get to actually swim with them, but we chased them around in the Catamaran and they chased us which was good enough), but this was a first for my hubby and daughter.

What a first it was.

Chocolat

Captain Rollins is very seasoned which was a delight as we sailed around to nearby Prickly Pear Cays where we snorkeled and enjoyed lunch. We then sailed to Sandy Island where we again took to the water.

My daughter and I with Captain Rollins (seated) preparing to snorkel. The gentleman in the blue shirt is another tourist (my hubby is behind the camera). Isn’t the clear turquoise water alluring?

Captain Rollins

Very interesting coral as shown below, but  I shall not bore you with the countless photos of fish I took.

Sandy Island Coral

Except for this guy might prove interesting.  A Barracuda, but we were not afraid of each other and he moved on (thankfully because they have a nasty bite). They are masters of camouflage, can you spot him?

Barracuda

We had to cut the day short because of a fast moving storm coming in and we didn’t want to end up like this guy. Just kidding, this ferry was picked up and dropped here by hurricane Luis that devastated an otherwise temperate island in 1995.

Beached ferry

We headed to another nearby beach on my list to see (Mead’s Bay) but the storm moved in and the surf picked up so we walked along the shore until we came to Dolphin Discovery.

The day decidedly went downhill from there.

My husband is aware of my adoration of dolphins and whales, and knew I was lost to him for an undetermined amount of time at that point.

I love pretty much any ocean mammal, but especially dolphins and whales. Dolphins are second only to humans for brain power (recent studies indicate Dolphins may actually use more of their brain than we do).

I grew up watching the wild dolphins in the ocean in Hawaii. We were fascinated with each other, from a distance. Which is how it should be.

I am always torn when I feel a rant swelling up and wanting to come out on my blog. I’m torn because I think I should let it, then I squelch it because negativity isn’t good for anybody.

But what if it were good for dolphins?

So here I am wandering around the rusted tank where the dolphins are held captive (because I can here in Anguilla) just staring at them in adoration, admiration, and raw pain. It kills me to see them treated like circus animals. In the wild, dolphins live up to 40 or 50 years old while in captivity their mortality rates are staggeringly low at 8.2 years. I can get really, really mad about it if I let myself.

One of the dolphins swims up and rolls over so it can see me. We stand like this for at least 30 minutes. I wish I could know what it was thinking. Does it know what I am feeling for it?

Dolphin

I decide to walk around to a different spot, and here it comes, following me and rolling so it can see me eye to eye again. At this point I am spilling tears. I can’t help it.

Dolpin2

People who enjoy swimming with dolphins, or dolphin-assisted therapy, often say that the dolphins themselves seem so happy. Sadly, but understandably, they are misunderstanding the situation. The apparent smile on the faces of dolphins is actually just a physicality, not an emotive response. It remains there as part of dolphin anatomy, no matter how sad, upset or ill they may be.

Does it just think I am a source of food? Apparently not, because when one of the trainers walked by, it still focused on me.

I felt so bad that it’s dorsal fin was torn from giving people rides in the water (this is a big tourist draw from the cruise ships at St. Maarten). There are 3 dolphins that give roughly 30,000 tourists entertainment a year at this facility. That is a lot of shows, and a lot of dragging large people through the water with a little dorsal fin.

After an hour I tore myself away. I would give anything to be in the water with them, but will not propagate dolphin captivity by giving them my money to do so. So I leave.

As an update to the Dolphin Discovery environment, it has been moved to open ocean water, but is kept by the ferry station and is very shallow. They are subject to 24/7 ferries and associated gas, oil, noise, and trash that accompany the busy pier.

I think it poignantly ironic the Republic of Anguilla that so deeply values their freedom, has a national flag with three dolphins that are meant to symbolize Friendship, Wisdom and Strength.

2000px-Flag_of_Anguilla_(1967-1969)_svg

I think it is only when we are standing at the throne of God will we truly grasp at what deplorable stewards we were with the wondrous resources he entrusted to us here on planet Earth.

Maybe then I can swim with the dolphins.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

Liquid Bliss – Little Bay, Anguilla

Dear Diary,

Day two on Anguilla. A desert island in the northern most part of the leeward islands in the Caribbean. Paradise Island.

One of the provisions that my hubby insisted upon in agreeing to accompany me to Anguilla was that he be able to rent a 4×4 for the duration of our stay.

I didn’t understand why one would need a vehicle on an island that is only 16 miles long and 3 and half miles wide with only one stop light, but a deal was a deal.

So off we went into the only real “town” on the island to rent the Jeep I had reserved in advance. As it turns out…there is a catch. A driver’s license from California does not fly in Anguilla.

Really? So someone who can negotiate the serpentine lanes of hell in Los Angeles is not qualified to drive on a remote little island where most folks travel by bicycle?

Nope.

So off we went to the little DMV (haha, that’s funny. It was a counter in a drug store I think) and took the “test” (show your valid license from anywhere) and paid the fee (pretty hefty at 20.00) and the hub was officially licensed to drive in Anguilla. A genius way to have users help pay for the maintenance.

driver's license

Pretty easy huh?

Not so fast.

Ever tried driving on the opposite side of the road you are accustomed to when there is no other traffic to help keep you in line? Very hard to make a left turn into the left lane when you have spent your whole life executing that turn into a right lane.

Needless to say when we would actually come upon another car, it was nerve wracking to be second guessing whether or not you were in the right place (at least once…we weren’t).

I was trying really hard to not get mad about having to spend so much time on the second day of my very short vacation having to negotiate red tape and relearning how to drive backwards…er sideways. And by drive, you know I mean backseat drive, right?

Luckily, I could distract myself with the directions on how to get to Little Bay Beach. Even though it had started to rain lightly but steadily, we were undaunted in seeking our destination.

Even now 10 years later, I can’t help but smile when I think of Little Bay Beach, Anguilla. Why?

So many reasons.

I had done my homework before going to Anguilla, so I knew Little Bay was a must on our itinerary. It is listed as remote and serene…does it get any better?

Little Bay is only accessible by boat or repelling down an ancient rope on a vertical cliff. When we had finally found the beach and looked down from the overgrown aforementioned vertical cliff, we had to rethink repelling. It was slick, and even if my hubby and I were willing to gamble with our adult lives by living so dangerously, neither of us were willing to take the risk with our daughter.

Already the Jeep was paying for itself. It would have been a long walk in the rain if a taxi had dropped us off.

So off we were to find boat transportation to Little Bay. We parked at Crocus Beach and began asking around at the locals hanging around playing dominoes. Not those actually playing dominoes because by interrupting a domino game in Anguilla you would be putting your life in mortal danger (probably not literally, but I wasn’t going to gamble there either), but those standing on the periphery.

We were informed to ask for Calvin who would be sitting under a tree.

Indeed he was. We enlisted his charter (a little dinghy) and I instantly fell in love with him. He brought a large umbrella for us (from a local café I think), and used his well worn party hat to shield himself. Does it get any more adorable? Somehow, I don’t think the hat was doing much good but you wouldn’t know it.

calvin

Within just a few moments our destination was in site. It didn’t disappoint. Then again, nothing in Anguilla does.

As we neared the shore, the rappelling cliff came into sight. Probably a good idea to have Calvin boat us in. Please disregard the rain on the lens ok?

Littlebaycliff

Oh but even in the rain, the little beach (hence the name) was divine. I am including a photo I plucked off of the Anguillabeaches.com site since I didn’t get it in it’s entirety..

Little Bay Beach

Just as soon as we disembarked the sun started peaking out from the clouds, but I was already in the water snorkeling with my little family. What an incredible place to be underwater. There was so much to see I couldn’t nearly list it all here, but I will try with horribly inadequate photos…

I have circled some sea urchins, a parrot fish, and Blue Tangs all in this photo. The entire Bay was teaming with life. I had no idea what was coming though…

underwaterlittlebay

As I free dove I noticed a little tiny school of what looked like bait fish of some sort…

smallschool

and within seconds I was completely engulfed by a huge bait ball which was remarkably fascinating and a little gross feeling (on my skin) all at the same time.

bigschool

Even if I would have been thinking about what follows bait fish, I wouldn’t have been afraid. I have never been too afraid (although I have not come face to face with a Great White and I hope I never do) of underwater creatures. I am much more frightened by those who walk on two legs.

Oh and bears. You know I’m terrified of bears.

Still surrounded by the bait ball, I made my way to the surface to get air and right before I broke the surface I came nose to nose with a giant sea turtle. I still wonder if the startled scream I let out could be heard coming out of my snorkel above water. The poor sea turtle was just as startled as I, but did not scream.

I wish I would have had the presence of mind to snap a photo. But I didn’t.

When I filled my lungs with air and ducked back underwater, my friend was gone. And so apparently was the bait ball. Just that fast.

An unforgettable experience.

I did however have the presence of mind to snap a photo of what was above water, a most incredible cave. The perched Pelican can give you an idea of the scale. Unfortunately my free dive fins did not allow for easy exploration so I just marveled from the azure water.

cave

While scouring the bottom of the bay, I found an old wine glass (these use to be pirate waters) and as soon as I handed it to my daughter to look at, it was promptly dropped back into where it came, never to be found again. I suppose things are meant to be where they are.

Sigh.

After spending what seemed like minutes but was actually hours, Calvin came to fetch us from our liquid bliss at exactly the agreed upon time. I could pretend that this Eden was my own playground (we didn’t see another soul all day), but I couldn’t pretend to stop time.

Double sigh.

Goodbye Little Bay. I still miss you.

Goodbyelittlebay

And I still smile.

Until next time dearest.

 

The Most Beautiful Beaches In the World

Dear Diary,

Oh I know what you’re going to say, “Have you been to every beach in the world”?

You know I haven’t.

But even if I had, it’s subjective isn’t it? Still, the travel gurus (Trip Advisor, Travel Channel et al) seem to agree with me since at least one of Anguilla’s (British West Indies) beaches make their lists every year.

The truth is, I would be happy on any beach.

But this is one of those places that you just knew would be perfect, but reality even managed to surpass that expectation. And I had some pretty stiff criteria.

Perfectly White Sand Beaches

No Other Footprints But My Own

Relatively Low Crime (I was so stressed out from work, I couldn’t take a whole lot more worries)

Warm Tropical Water

No Street Traffic (Oh please God, Los Angeles is too much!)

So when I arrived with my young daughter and reluctant husband in tow (this was in 2005) after flying from LAX to Fort Lauderdale to Puerto Rico to Tortola to St. Maarten and finally to the island of my dreams…Anguilla.

Oh you know it, it’s the island Brad and Jen were photographed together for the last time, Orlando Bloom honeymooned, Jay Z and Beyoncé on the beach, Sandra Bullock with her son Luis and ad infinitum.

Because it’s just that beautiful.

But how does one on a budget go to an island that is the playground of the rich and famous? It can be done.

I knew I was in trouble though as our planes kept getting smaller, and by the time we left for St. Maarten from Tortola, some of our fellow passengers were chickens.

Nope, not kidding.

Also on that plane was a woman so large there was a plank put in the aisle so she could sit down for take off….and that is why we arrived without our luggage. They had left it on the tarmac because the plane was too heavy. Not just ours, but that didn’t make me feel better when we had to wait for 4 hours in St. Maarten for another plane to bring our luggage. But that’s part of the adventure right?

So when we were finally told that our luggage would not arrive until the next day and hailed a taxi to take us to the French side of the island so we could catch the ferry to Anguilla, how stressed out was I when the taxi driver told us we only had minutes before the bridge between the Dutch and French side closed for the night. Seriously?

To his credit and my frazzled last nerve, he drove like a crazy man and I am quite sure there were not more than a few bicyclists stuck to his grill, but we got there in time.

So after a day of travel that spanned 6 countries and more than a couple of mishaps, how do you think I felt when I opened the French doors of our room and looked out at this view?

RendezvousBayview

Blissful.

Here we were on Rendezvous Bay at the Hotel and Villas with the same name. A Rendezvous with heaven it must mean.

It was everything I had hoped. Perfectly white sand beach that went on forever with nobody else on it. I dared not breathe lest I wake up back on the plane with the chickens.

But it was real.

We shed our travel clothes and cares and dove into the crystal clear warm water where I would stay, on one beach or another, for a week.

Arriving at the destination of a bucket list item is the fruition of a dream. What makes the dream real however, are the moments in time that follow the arrival. The moments we spend in awe of beauty, in respect of other cultures, in interactions with the people in those cultures, and the time we get to spend with our loved ones away from the hustle and bustle of our every day lives.

So are they the most beautiful beaches, or the most beautiful moments?

I will expound on this island and it’s most beautiful beaches in the world in future posts, but I will leave you with some photos of beautiful moments, forever frozen in time on Rendezvous Bay, Anguilla, British West Indies, Lesser Antilles.

My daughter and I strolling along the empty beach. Priceless.

BEACHWALK2A mermaid in an aquamarine Eden.

underwater

Our upstairs villa room is the one with the towel hanging over the veranda. I think we were the only ones there. In May no less. LA seemed to be on a different planet.

ourhotel

My hubby photographing me waiting to try and photograph the perfect sunset.

meandsunset

And I got it…

perfect sunset

I snapped this as I walked along the dirt road with my hubby hand in hand to check out of our hotel. The palm trees frame the shot of Rendezvous Bay, and another perfect moment forever in my heart.

RENDEZVOUSBAY2

We say good-bye to this beach, but not to Anguilla. There are more beaches and moments to share.

Until next time dearest.