Maine! I love you. I really do. On a regular basis I tell people we live in paradise. And we do. But you are not perfect, damn good, but not perfect. Let’s talk.
It has to do with your winter. Though Hannah and I have lived in New England for 33 years we have never warmed to your winter sports. Sure we ran in your sub-zero temperatures and your snows for 20 some years, but we just never got into your skiing thing, be it cross country or downhill. Skating? Please? I can’t believe I am saying this, but maybe my future is as a snowbird.
So when the days are short and the dark rules New England, I want to take a big bite out of winter by traveling to where it’s warm. It used to be Florida. And Florida still is in our future as we plan to rent a VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) house in Englewood, FL next year so our kids and grandkids can visit. But until then, we have found gold in the Golden State.
Waking early on a January day that will top out at 15F and then go down to -10F by the following morning, we drive in the predawn to Logan Airport to fly Virgin America for the first time. Virgin America? Is it a real airline or just puddle jumper? We know of the celebrity of Richard Branson; the price is right and it’s a non-stop flight; so I am trusting the FAA on this one. Settling in for six hours crossing the country, I have visual platinum in front of me – the mini-TV. Arriving in LA by noon, we steal a day of vacation by flying east to west; this Tuesday is not just a travel but, but we have the entire afternoon and evening in California.
Before we flee Los Angeles for Santa Barbara 100 miles to the north, we rent a car from Fox. We like Fox Rent-a-Car; it’s inexpensive. That said, the counter guy says “Do you want to have coverage for roadside assistance?” Really? Isn’t that part of the deal that when we pay you $468 for two weeks, you provide us with a car that works or you fix it? It’s like the Post Office asking if you want to pay for coverage for lost or damaged parcels. Isn’t that part of your job to make sure the package arrives safely?
California Dreaming! An easy going life in tee shirts and shorts. A place to be whomever you want, with as many tattoos and piercings as you want! Horace Greeley’s exhortation of “Go West young man, Go West” still applies to the tech savvy and the dreamers and Maine residents. Why tomorrow we will see a young man para-sailing high above our heads at the mountain top.
Santa Barbara, our stopover for two days, is a community with lush, year round vegetation and Spanish architecture that has a Mediterranean vibe. Palm and olive trees abound; athletic and tanned folks bike to work or just because they can. And all of this is done in January! In a heart beat I would move here as a snowbird (spending the winter in a warm climate) but for one rather significant reason: it’s just too far away. With grandkids Owen and Max in the picture, no place can trump family in our lives.
Awaking in the still dark of Wednesday after sleeping poorly having not yet acclimated to the three hour time difference from the East Coast, we breakfast at our Quality Inn and prepare for the the Tunnel Trail under blue skies with full 60F degree sun.
Taking Foothill Road to Mission Canyon Road, we veer left onto Tunnel Road. Along the winding road near the trailhead we squeeze into a roadside parking spot in an exclusive, upscale residential neighborhood. Soccer moms are running and soon students from University of California at Santa Barbara will be hiking in packs of fun.
Thought of as one of Santa Barbara’s most popular trails, the Tunnel Trail is a macho hike to be sure at 11 miles roundtrip with a gain in elevation of 3000 feet! But it’s just what the doctor ordered on this first day of our hiking vacation.
As we climb steadily for a mile into the foothills, the trail begins on a cracked paved access road that the local power company uses . With very little shade, the trail speaks to sun lovers like Hannah or really anyone who is sentenced to winter in New England. The green landscape of grasses and bushes hide the fact that California remains in a serious drought. Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn that low flow toilets are everywhere and residents harvest rain water from roofs.
The rocky trail of dusty sandstone makes hiking boots a must. Though climbing on the cliff edge, we never feel in peril. Wearing three pairs of wool socks to buffer my feet from the rocky under footing, I wear my floppy hiker’s hat for protection from the sun. In the past on this mountain we have shared the trail with mountain bikers, who, to a person, have been respectful of us hiking sort.
Soon we ascend on eroded rocky sandstone trails into the mountains. The desert landscape is no match for the heavy rains of last month having run rough shod on the switchbacks that take us up the steep mountainside. Hiking in the foothills of the Inez Mountains at each turn we have views of the Channel Islands just off shore. It’s mid-60s, feeling like 70s in the full sun, and a million miles from Maine in distance and disposition.
Four and a half miles into our climb, the trail becomes a paved road to the top that makes for an easy rhythm of walking and conversation. The views of the Pacific Ocean above Santa Barbara are stunning. Climbing relentlessly, we burst with pent up hiking energy and are on top of the world this first hiking day of our two weeks in California.
At the top we find a cell phone tower which allows me to Instagram pictures to family and friends. After we deboot and desock with the Pacific Ocean in front of us, we feast on our homemade pb and j at a picnic table at the summit.
Hannah calls this a “good workout.” You know her standards are high when we hike two hours up over 3000 feet to La Cumbre Peak at 3995′. Great Day Hikes in Santa Barbara rates the Tunnel Trail as 4 of 5 for difficulty. It’s a workout but not a killer one or a hike that has you begging for mercy. Over the next sweet two hours of downhill, we feel our knees creak, but that is small price to pay to hike in California in January.
Twenty minutes by car back to our Quality Inn, we celebrate as Dan and Hannah are wont to do – poolside with Dos Equis on ice. Let our California bite of Maine winter begin.
Tunnel Trail rating: Four stars. It’s for macho women and men. That said, we did it and so can you if you think four hours under the sun in January is your idea of a good time.