Dan and Hannah Knock on the Door of Big Sur in Cambria, California

AM map of big sur

Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo are just south of Morro Bay

Big Sur is not a town; it may be a state of mind; but it’s definitely a 100 mile stretch of California coastline from Cambria in the south to Carmel in the north. The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from Cambria to Carmel was built over 16 years (1921-1937) at cost of nine million dollars. Of course, those were depression dollars that put many men to work.

After four days in the coastal mountains and on ocean bluffs for hiking, we decide to chill this Sunday in mid-January.  A minor crisis arises as we pack up to leave Pismo Beach – I can’t charge my iPhone; stick with me – it’s the camera for my blog.  You might think WTF (Why the [long] face?).   I text and play Words with Friends and Lexulous (Scrabble games) to connect with mi amigos. But it’s the camera that I need. Fortunately we discover that there is a Verizon store in San Luis Obispo open this Sunday.

Before we head north to the gateway of Big Sur in Cambria, our plan is to find a little morning meditative peace at the Unity of San Luis Obispo service. With a small congregation of 25 or so, similar to our Unity of the Seacoast in Dover, NH, the service brings some calm to our world where we can be a little too focused on being productive and efficient.

CP verizonArriving at the Verizon store in, as the locals say, San Luis or SLO (pronounced es-el-oh), I explain my iPhone situation to the young woman who greets us. Immediately she says, I know just what to do.   Minutes later she returns with my charger working and my undying gratitude. Pocket lint builds up. I just used a heavy duty hand fan to clean it out. There is peace in my valley again.

CP1 motel sign

Thirty-five miles north on the PCH we arrive at the Cambria Palms Motel. Given high fives by former visitors on TripAdvisor.com, we find it the best deal in town, too. It’s AFC championship Sunday as our New England Patriots play the Indianapolis Colts for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Another plus of California is that sporting events start three hours earlier than they do in the East.

Greeted by a delightful, eager to please couple, we see that they have free bikes, wine glasses for our use, and a gas fire pit out back for guests.  Arriving early afternoon, Hannah and I have time to take the one speed cruisers to Moonstone Beach Drive before the game.

The bluff off Moonstone Drive in Cambria, CA

The bluff off Moonstone Drive in Cambria, CA

As the gateway to Big Sur’s amazing California State Parks – Julia Pfeiffer Burns, Pfeiffer Big Sur, and Andrew Molera – Cambria has the feel of Sedona, Arizona and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Trendy, boutique-y in a small town way.

With the Cambria Palms not providing a morning breakfast as our Quality and Comfort Inns do, we figure we’ll breakfast in town at some funky diner. There are no funky diners to be had. Classy bistros and cafes where $8.50 gets you what’s known as a “simple fare breakfast” with one egg, toast, and home fries.  No thank you.

Thanks to another helpful Canadian

Thanks to another helpful Canadian

There is relaxing vibe as we pedal our cruisers four miles down the main drag. Crossing the Pacific Coast Highway, we head down Moonstone Beach Drive with no crush of traffic; the beaches and coast trails are active on this holiday Sunday of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend but certainly not summer-time-on-the-Jersey-shore busy.

Our one-speed cruisers from the Cambria Palms

Our one-speed cruisers from the Cambria Palms

At Moonstone Beach, we ask the first person we meet to take our picture. Nicest guy. What a surprise. He’s Canadian. Let the stereotyping begin. We tell him you match all the stereotypes of Canadians – friendly, accommodating, pleasant. He’s from Alberta and says if that’s what you think of Canadians, I’ll take it. We’d like to take him home with us.

Windsor Drive front yard sign

Windsor Drive front yard sign

One speed bikes are ideal for the level ride along Moonstone Beach. As we bike up the hill to the upscale neighborhood of Windsor Boulevard, we see evidence how the local residents deal with the ban on watering their grass or plants – harvesting rainwater.

The bluff beyond Windsor Road

The bluff beyond Windsor Boulevard

At the end of Windsor Boulevard, we bike a wide, hard-gravel trail at a city park along the ocean while walkers follow the bluff path by the sea. Heading back to the Cambria Palms, Hannah stops to shop while I check out the beat down that our Patriots are administering to our son Will’s Colts; it’s on to the Super Bowl.

Early morning on Main Street

Early morning on Main Street

As we leave town the following morning to hike on the Big Sur coast, Hannah spots four players lawn bowling right along Main Street. In teams of two, they are playing what seems to be a variation of bocce. We stop, get out, and chat them up. They invite us to play and offer us coffee from the court-side pot.  Though Maine is home, I could get used to the small town California feel of Cambria, especially in January.

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Dan and Hannah Hike Oats Peak in Montana De Oro State Park in California

The pool at the Quality Inn at Pismo Beach, California

The pool at the Quality Inn at Pismo Beach, California

We are suckers for morning motel breakfasts! We love ‘em before we hike. First off, we don’t have to leave the Quality Inn in Pismo Beach for them. We just walk down to the motel lobby; today I get a little decaf with a Danish and head back to our room to watch Sports Center. Ten minutes later I am back to the lobby, toasting an English muffin with another cup of joe. Some scrambled eggs, then a bowl of Raisin Bran and Cheerios with sliced bananas follow. Second, they are served buffet style so there is no waiting. Third, most places have the USA Today. Fourth, Hannah can write post cards. And fifth, it all comes with the price of the room.

OP MDO mapForty-five minutes north on the 101 through San Luis Obispo and Los Osos to Montana De Oro State Park, we have a fourth day of 70 degrees with full sun. Known for its rocking, crashing waves with a bluff trail above, Montana De Oro offers us mountains today on this Saturday of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.

OP1A Oats Trail signAfter a yesterday of bluff hiking here on the central California coast some 200 miles north of Los Angeles, we come again to Montana de Oro State Park for the Oats Peak Trail. On a trail with no shade or water, I lather on the sunscreen, pull on my floppy hiker’s hat, and slip on my aviator sunglasses to complete my modest attempt at West Coast hiking cool.

VCU Rams love to hike, too

VCU Rams love their hiking

Compared to the 3000’ and 4000’ peaks we climbed near Santa Barbara, Oats Peak is a mere 1367 feet above sea level. That said, starting at sea level on the Pacific coast, the Oats Peak Trail is 11 miles of gently sloping switchbacks that will caress our feet for the next four hours.

Mountain bikers on the trail

Mountain bikers on the trail

After a steep climb at the outset, the trail meanders among the scrub brush for miles. On this holiday Saturday, there are many hikers and mountain bikers that give our hike a Hannah and Dan party feel.  Generally we see guys on mountain bikes; a running club of women from nearby Fresno, CA passes us going back down the trail.

Runners passing us on the trail

Runners passing us on the trail

As the young men and women run or bike by, I wonder what to stay to encourage them. As a guy, it’s easy for me to say looking good to guys. I hesitate to say that to these athletic women. You go girl is a little cliché.   You da woman sounds a little frat boy-ish. As I step aside when they zip by on this narrow trail, I try clapping.  I am trying out – you’re rocking the mountain. I am looking for something encouraging without being condescending or stupid. Women of the Blog, what would you like to hear on the trails?

Hannah on the trail with the Pacific Ocean in the background

Hannah on the trail with the Pacific Ocean in the background

As we hike, we notice that this trail could be much shorter up these mountains; these are not steep cliffs in need of mellow switchbacks. And then it hits us that mountain bikers must have had a role in the layout out of this trail. The Oats Peak Trail allows many body types and those with limited hiking experience to enjoy the trail. If you played high school sports and haven’t done much athletically since, this still can be a super hike for you.

The rocky Oats Peak Trail

The rocky Oats Peak Trail

Wandering far from the coastline, we see, at the three mile point, few other hikers and only the occasional mountain biker. When we hear one, we step aside and are blown away with their daring to roar down this very rocky, loose stone mountain. I don’t know if it’s the sun or what, but we start thinking that next year we could rent mountain bikes and rock these hills on fat tires ourselves. Honestly, we are not smoking anything.

The summit!

The summit!

Nearly two hours in, we pass a faux peak; then in the distance we see Oats Peak. Climbing with purpose over loose stones on the sandy trail, we summit at trail’s end. At the top of Oats Peak, it’s a full 360 degree view of the coastal mountains. Check out our mountain top video.

Oats Peak Trail

Oats Peak Trail

I rate Oats Peak Trail a 3 of 5 on the difficulty scale. It’s accessible to many levels of hikers and, as a there and back hike, one can turn around at any point. Though there is precious little variety in the scrub desert terrain,  it’s California; it’s sunny; it’s 70 degrees. How hard is a little tedium of landscape to take? Not one bit.

Hiking four hours under the coastal sun today demands all that we have and leaves us mellow and satisfied as we drive back to Pismo Beach. We celebrate poolside in the mid-afternoon with the last bit of afternoon sunshine with our California beverage of choice – Dos Equis on ice. California is a habit we don’t want to break.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Point Buchon Bluff Trail near San Luis Obispo, California

es coastal cali map 3

Point Buchon lies just south of Morro Bay

After two days hiking in the San Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara, the bluff trails of the central California beckon. Driving north on the 101, we turn at San Luis Obispo for Los Osos on the coast where we wind our way to Montana de Oro State Park.

The Point Buchon Trail begins

The Point Buchon Trail begins

On this off-season Friday in mid-January, the “rainy” season again is not delivering the goods. Though terrible for Golden Staters, it’s muy bueno for us hikers from Maine. A month ago the Pineapple Express storms blessed this region with heavy rains which turned the fields and hillsides a lush deep green. They dress up a serious drought.

BP1B rock formations near coastOur bluff hike today is on private land that Pacific Gas and Electric has opened to the public for the last twenty years. Driving along the Pecho Valley Road within Montana de Oro State Park for a mile or so, we park in the lot above Coon Creek. From there it is a third of mile walk down on a paved road to the bridge across Coon Creek itself, then a climb to the ranger cabin.

Another VCU Ram sighting

Another VCU Ram sighting

Warned that cows may be on the trail at the end of our bluff hike, we begin our nearly seven mile round-trip with the spectacular wave crashing shoreline of the Pacific mid-coast. Though sunny, the coastal winds have picked up and chill us to where sweatshirts feel good.  This is a counterpoint to the friends and family in New England we abandoned who are dealing with winter’s death grip.

Sunshine girl on the sunshine coast

Sunshine girl on the sunshine coast

Being a Friday, the trail is quiet with the white surf contrasting with the blues of the Pacific. As we did yesterday at Romero Canyon above Montecito, California, we draw upon Arthur Aron’s 36 questions for our conversation (click on this link for his questions). The first we take on is What would constitute a perfect day for you? After that, we Name three things you and your partner have in common. We go back and forth with this one and reach double digits.

BP2C Rattlesnakes sign and trailNever seeing a rattlesnake or, for that matter, a coyote as we did last year on the trail, we weave past vista points at Point Buchon and Disney Point.  On this bluff trail with no water or shade but port-a-potties at either end, we, after thirty minutes, take the trail inland –still in sight of the coast but no longer along the bluff. Hiking at 3 mph pace on this flat and friendly trail along the Pacific, we soon climb into the foothills to Windy Point .

Trail's end

Trail’s end from Windy Point  (You can see the nuclear power plant in the background)

Above the meadow at Windy Point within a mile of the end of the trail, we see the aforementioned cows in the trail.  Once down the hill, we see the bovines turning as one to check us out.  Though they seem quite docile, they do outweigh us by what must be 400 pounds. Ergo, we give them a wide berth as we head to the trail’s end.

Bovines checking out the hikers from Maine

Bovines checking out the hikers from Maine

In the distance we see two massive nuclear reactors operated by Pacific Gas and Electric. Nuclear energy! In the Fifties and Sixties nuclear energy was going to be the alternative energy source to save us all and wean us from our addiction to oil. How’d that work out?  Where do you keep the spent nuclear fuel cells? Oh Nevada, you must have some mountainside for us. Just as long as it is NIMBY (Not in my back yard).

And now we are sold a bill of goods that fracking for oil will do the same and allow us to live indulgently into the next century. More fool’s gold.

The below video gives you a 360 degree view of the trail’s end.

BP4B better bluff vistaWe go for one final 36 question. Would you like to be famous? In what way? For me, it’s no way, Jose.  In fact, I never buy Megabucks lottery tickets.  I truly would not want to win and deal with the changes to my life.  Hiking with Hannah on the Pacific Ocean is my idea of winning the lottery.

Dan and Hannah Hike Romero Canyon above Montecito, California

First off, I love the lyrical sound of so many towns in California. No, not Oxnard. Today it’s Montecito where we will climb a mountain.  In the days ahead we will hike in Sausalito and Mendocino. The romantic lives in California.

It’s not news that the Cali (FYI, the hip name for California) is quite diverse compared with Maine. We hear Spanish on the streets and yearn to speak Español.  I taught Chicano kids in Anaheim, Cali and Tempe, Ari who only spoke English at school.  Though I took a course at Arizona State in Spanish, it was “conjugating verb” Spanish, not conversational Spanish.  I learned very little and vow to learn Spanish in my next lifetime.

At the trailhead heading up into the Inez Mountains

At the trailhead a VCU Ram is spotted heading up into the Santa Ynez Mountains

Yesterday while hiking the Tunnel Trail above Santa Barbara (see blog for January 31. 2015 under California), we met a hiking surfer dude on the trail. Nodding his approval of our nearly completed hike on the Tunnel Trail, he said, The Tunnel is “legit.”  That was cool.  Asking for a hiking recommendation, we saw him look across the valley and he said, That mountain (which by the way was nearly vertical) across the way is a gnarly hike. We demurred and said, We just don’t do gnarly. Got anything else?  He responded, Romero Canyon is just south of here and it’s another “legit” hike. Without a hiking plan for our second day in Santa Barbara, we venture seven miles south to Montecito to challenge another mountain.

Hannah leads the way

Hannah leads the way

Wanting to take advantage of poolside sunshine mid-afternoon, we leave our Quality Inn by 9A by way of the 101. (Don’t you love how Californians use an article in front of their highways to elevate their status (another e.g., the 405)?  Taking the Sheffield exit in Montecito, we find Romero Canyon Road, then Bella Vista Road to the trailhead, thanks to Great Day Hikes in Santa Barbara (2008).

Montecito, California

Montecito, California

Like yesterday in Santa Barbara, parking for the Romero Canyon Trail is street side in an upscale neighborhood. Montecito is home to Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah. In looking through the Real Estate site Zillow.com, there is not a house below a million; many 3M and a bunch north of $10M.  There is one for $125M!   Replacing our sandals with hiking boots this mid-January day, we head for a trail rated 4 of 5 for difficulty by our trail guide.

More rocks than you could ever want

Rocks aplenty

Walking through an iron cattle gate, we cross a concrete bridge a quarter of a mile later and then step across the stream a quarter mile after that. The trail begins with a steady climb under shade trees over rutted and grooved trails littered with stones. Though a popular weekend trail for mountain bikers, we will see only one this Thursday.  To our left, the creek winds its way to the Pacific Ocean.

Hannah cooling her jets

Hannah cooling her jets

As the trail narrows, Hannah and I walk single file over rocky terrain on a day when we will climb more than 2000 feet. The water pools below rock dams and provides us with a “picture taking for the blog” break. There’s not a cloud in the sky with temps in the 60s. Having just been in Maine two days ago, we know our neighbors on Chases Pond Road will be lucky to hit 15F today.

Further along the Romero Canyon Trail

Further along the Romero Canyon Trail

Second days on the trail can be transitions from living in the death grip of winter to starting to feel that this daily sunshine could be habit forming. As a full time resident of Arizona in the 1970s, I acted so damn superior to the snowbirds that wintered in our Cactus State. I’m starting to feel a little like a snowbird myself.

Taking to the Ocean View Trail

Taking to the Ocean View Trail

It’s two miles of rocky trail up and down the hillside above the creek. No steep elevation gain yet; the trail is shaded,  but the incline has me shedding my sweatshirt for my ever present VCU tee shirt. Crossing the running stream bed a number of times, we can only imagine the torrent it was in December after the heavy rains of the Pineapple Express came through.

While we hike we refer to a crinkled, folded sheet of paper with Arthur Aron’s 36 questions. Recently the NY Sunday Times had a lead story “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” (click on this link).  To do that, couples share the answers to his 36 questions. As a lucky in love couple, we pick and choose the ones that are grist for our hiking mill. #14 is cool. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible. On that trail we don’t abide to the time limit and this leads to many tangents as the hiking miles fly by.

Higher and higher

Higher and higher

At the two mile point, we cross what appears to be a fire road and take to the steeper Ocean View Trail up into the Santa Ynez Mountains. The edges of the cliff are steep and the sun reemerges after miles of shaded canyon hiking. We know we are in for a battle, but it’s a just such a cool challenge under the California sun. The below video provides a feel for the steepness of the climb.

Near the summit we spot a mesa to climb for its 360 degree views. The final assault of the summit takes all we have, but again it’s a day in the 70s.  That said, how tough can such a climb be in this weather in January? Check out the summit video.

Side saddling it down the summit mesa

Side saddling it down the summit mesa

Coming down is no bargain for our knees as we both side saddle down the loose rock sandstone trail. We do realize how well matched we are as hikers. We both are not “stop and smell the roses” hikers. With Hannah in the lead, we keep up a good pace and gets us the workout we yearn for.

Well-matched hikers from Maine

Well-matched hikers from Maine

After taking the Ocean View Trail back to the shaded Romero Canyon Trail, we have reached our limits of three to four hours of hiking.  It’s twenty minutes back to Santa Barbara by the 101. Dos Equis on ice by the poolside awaits. Maine seems so far away.