Dan and Hannah Hike the Bluff Trail at San Simeon Point, California

Central California coast

Central California coast

Waking before dawn at the Mariner’s Inn in Cambria, some 200 miles north of Los Angeles on the California coast, Hannah and I meditate together for 15 minutes. With first light appearing from the mountains to the east, we take our pre-breakfast walk by the Pacific.

Cam Pfe boardwalk at sunrise

Sunrise at Moonstone Beach

It’s not just any walk; we have the serpentine boardwalk along Moonstone Beach here in Cambria.  This mile foot-soothing walkway of planks takes us to the edge of the cliffs with the beach sand below.  The continental breakfast at the Mariner’s Inn with dark roast coffee, pastries, croissants, and bagel rolls comes from the local Acola Bakery.

Morning boardwalk at Moonstone Beach

Morning boardwalk at Moonstone Beach

Packed and ready for a morning of bluff trail hiking, we drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway just eight miles to the William R. Hearst State Park, directly across the highway from the entrance to the Hearst Castle.  William Randolph Hearst was the Donald Trump of his era – rich beyond belief with an ego that demanded he get what he wants.  His life story was the inspiration for the Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane.

Morning Hannah at Moonstone boardwalk

Morning Hannah at Moonstone boardwalk

It is widely believed that his newspapers invented sensational stories, ran phony pictures, and distorted real events.  This chicanery is often referred to as yellow journalism.  Baby boomers may remember his granddaughter Patty Hearst who was kidnapped by the Simbionese Liberation Army and later fell under their spell.

Turning left towards the ocean into the parking lot of the Hearst State Park, we see elementary kids from Paso Robles, CA field-tripping to check out the marine life of the area.  Of late, stray elephant seals have come to the San Simeon Beach, 4 1/2 miles south of the main spawning grounds with hundreds of elephant seals at Ano Neuvo State Park.

Elephant seal

Elephant seal

As we cross the beach, we chat up Cubby, the kayak tour guide and unofficial guardian of these errant elephant seals.  Most willing to fill us in, he tells us that the five behemoths here on the beach today weigh some 1000 t0 1500 pounds less than mature adult males.  Locals call this area “Loser’s Beach,” for these smaller males have not been able to establish their “real estate” at the main beach.

San Simeon Beach

San Simeon Beach

He cautions us to give them a wide berth for they have established their “territory” on this beach.  By law we must be 100 feet away; it turns out that these blobs of nature could out run us over 30 yards.   As we carefully observe from a distance, they don’t even budge .

Trail between the bluff and Hearst Estate protected with barbed wire

Trail between the bluff and Hearst Estate protected with barbed wire

Winding our way by these marine mammals, we soon climb the hill at the end of the beach on to the private land of the William R. Hearst Estate.  Barbed wire sends the message that Billy’s heirs do not want us on their property.  By California state law, the public has a right to walk these bluffs some 30 to 50 feet above the water through pines, cedars, and cypress.

Cam Pfe 3AA H on beach bluff trail

We take a wide farm lane along the peninsula perpendicular to the beach as we are the only ones out today on this mid-January Thursday.  The Day Hikes on the California Central Coast gives us the information that this two and a half mile round-trip hike has but 50’ of elevation gain.

Cam Pfe 4A D at point

As we bluff walk, we talk about why we hike.  One, hiking in January lets us take a bite out of Maine winters.  Two, Hannah learns what traveling teaches her about herself.  Three, I look forward to learning and experiencing things that I have no way of knowing will even happen.  The unexpected  joys of travel.

Cam Pfe 4B H at point

Four, the hiking we do complements our back home walking and exercising at the gym.  It keeps the gym from being tedious.  With balky knees, we do need an alternative exercise after having run the roads in Arizona and Maine for 30 years.  And five, I love having travel adventures to craft into blogs; I love the drafting, the revising; taking pictures to complement the text.  I post my blog to connect with others.

Cam Pfe 4 H climbing down to SS Point

At the San Simeon Point, we descend a sandy path down to the rocks below.  This video gives you an idea what we feel as we touch the ocean and have the waves lap at our feet.

Back on the bluff, the trail gets dicey.  Walking along the cliffs, we see the trail just disappear over the cliff edge in places.  At this point, we head inland through the tunnel of eucalyptus trees.  And then back again once more to the cliff’s edge.

Cam Pfe 6A D on cliffs

As professional athletes say, Father Time is undefeated.  Well, on the coast of California everyone plays second fiddle to Mother Nature.  With the sandy cliffs being eroding by the relentless sea, we wonder how much of this trail our grandsons Owen and Max will have to hike.

Cam Pfe 6B H on cliffs

Eventually the trail runs just out over one more cliff and we double back.  And we are soon back talking to Cubby, who once was a guide for groups to see the elephant seals.  I like him and am impressed that he is making a living outdoors as a small business owner doing what he loves.  He is living the dream.

Rich is next to Hannah in the front and Steve is behind Rich in the red shirt and hat

Rich is next to Hannah in the front and Steve is behind Rich in the red shirt and hat (c 2008)

He reminds me of my entrepreneurial college roommates, Big Steve and Rich Meyer.  While my career was working for local government as a public school teacher and later as a professor at Division 3 universities, Steve and Rich made careers constructing their own business, taking all the risks themselves.  With their wives, Steve as a printer with Amelia and Rich as a photographer with Mary, they only get paid when they deliver the goods.

Cheers to Steve and Rich, True Californians.  We salute them from the bastion of creativity and risk taking – the Golden State!

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Dan and Hannah Hike Valencia Peak on the California Coast

Montana de Oro State Park

Montana de Oro State Park

For three years running we have come to Montana de Oro State Park, west of San Luis Obsipo, to hike its bluffs and mountains.  Today we have 1342’ Valencia Peak in our sights.

After a night at the Quality Inn in Pismo Beach we wonder what in the world the United Motel Clerks of America are thinking.  Let me explain.  When we check in yesterday, I ask for a quiet room after our previous night’s experience in Santa Barbara.  She agrees and lets us know that that won’t be a problem since just 20 of the 100 units will be filled this Tuesday night in mid-January.  You think they might spread us out to ensure a quiet night of sleep for one and all.  But nooooooo!  As soon as we get into room 103, we hear loud footsteps above us in 203.  Really?

Quality Inn at Pismo Beach

Quality Inn at Pismo Beach

Being more pro-active than I usually am, I return to the front desk, relate the situation, and ask for a new room.  She smiles, agrees, and gives us room 104.  Would that have been too hard from the beginning?  Settled in, we do have the luxury of an outdoor hot tub and later wine by the expansive pool.

The surf at Montana de Oro

The surf at Montana de Oro

Taking The 101 north from Pismo Beach, we turn west on Los Osos Road which winds its way 40 minutes to Montana de Oro.  There, we pass parking areas packed with the cars of surfers as El Nino churns up the coastal waters.

VP 2A D at VP sign

Passing the nearly empty large family beach, we park by the Spooner Ranch House/Park Headquarters in the shade of some of the few large pines at the park.  The trailhead for the Valencia Peak Trail is 100 yards down the Pecho Valley Road.  In the distance, it is easy to identify Valencia Peak two beautiful hiking miles away.

Mountainside trail of Valencia Peak

Mountainside trail of Valencia Peak

At the trailhead, signs for mountain lions and rattlesnakes warn/scare us all, but it’s a long shot we’ll see a kitty or slithering reptile today.  The positive effects of El Nino are evident as the green leaves on the sage brush-like plants brighten our trail.  With not a tree on this landscape, the green is in stark contrast to the brown on brown of the past years due to the five year drought in California.

VP 2D D on trail above ocean

Winding leisurely into the foothills, the trail of packed dirt is easy on our feet and gently sloping towards the peak.  To our south we see the serpentine Oats Peak Trail (click on California to the left of this blog and scroll down to see the Oats Peak and other Montana de Oro blogs).  The Oats Peak is an eleven-mile roundtrip trail ideal for mountain bike riders.

Nearing the summit

Nearing the summit

Always within view of the turbulent sea to our west, the narrow trail takes us into the interior.  At the one mile mark, the trail sign forbids mountain bikers.  It is soon apparent with the increased elevation and the rock strewn trail that riding would be folly and badly erode the trail further.

VP5A more of trail

The trail steepens and the loose rocks dominate our walking path.  With Valencia Peak always in view, we have the crowning achievement within our reach.  The long sloping switchbacks take the steep out of the trail.  This video is taken within 300 yards of the top.

VP 4 D at top with VP sign

The top is a pile of loose rocks with views to the ocean as well inland toward the rolling mountains beyond.  As promised in Day Hikes on the California Central Coast, we have reached the top in less than an hour.  With 1150’ of elevation gain, the trail is a manageable four miles round-trip for many kinds of hikers.

Top of the world

Top of the world

Though this is an El Nino winter, we have had us a day when tee shirts and shorts in the 60s welcome us to the California coast.  While our VRBO friends Scott and Tree, just 400 miles north on the California coast, are having day after day of rain without end Amen, we are living Albert Hammond’s refrain, It never rains in southern California.

Central California coast

Central California coast

Once done checking out the nearby bluffs above the crashing surf, we drive the Pacific Coast Highway to Cambria less than 60 miles to the north for the night.  Searching the Internet for lodging the night before, I came across the Mariners Inn on Moonstone Beach in Cambria, which offered a room with a king bed for $79, down from $159.  I think, At that original price this must be some sweet room; the come-on price is just because it’s off-season.

On the bluffs of Montana de Oro

On the bluffs of Montana de Oro

Don Miguel Ruiz in his Four Agreements advises me to make no assumptions.  I should have heeded his advice.  The United Motel Clerks of America strike again.  Upon our arrival at the one story Mariner’s Inn, I ask if they’ll be busy tonight.  The clerk says, No; it’s preseason.  Being the Wednesday night prior to Martin Luther King, Jr., Weekend, I then ask for a quiet room with no one on either side.  She willingly agrees, and then goes right ahead and gives us the room next to the overnight manager.  You’re kidding?

White water glory of Montana de Oro

White water glory of Montana de Oro

Ours is a small room with only one chair and a king bed that fills the room.  One might think that this means we’ll be having our evening glass of wine with one of us sitting on the bed.   But that undersells our resourcefulness.  Despite temps near 50F with a biting wind, we notice an outside glass-fronted second floor deck with padded lounge chairs for viewing the Pacific as the sun goes down.

Hannah with Valenica Peak in the distance

Hannah with Valenica Peak in the distance

So, after a 5P sunset walk along the boardwalk at Moonstone Beach directly across the road, in light coats we comfortably settle behind the glass protected deck as we sit with wine and watch the night turn from cobalt blue to black.

And by the way, we have an uninterrupted night of sleep.  We don’t even know the night manager is there.  The dues paying UMCOA clerk knew what she was doing!

Dan Has Some Happy Money for You! (#8)

happy face

You’ve likely heard people say that money can’t buy happiness.  Let’s dig a little deeper into that cliché.  Really?  Perhapas, someone working two jobs making poverty level wages ($24,000 for a family of four) wouldn’t be happier working one higher paying job and being home with the family?

Research shows that people who make $55,000 are happier than those that make $25,000.  But here’s the surprise, only 9% happier.  It turns out that in the United States that once people make $75,000 per year, making more money has no influence on their happiness.   Those making $200,000 are not happier than those making $75,000.

happy money 2

I have an intriguing short book (157 pages of text) with many practical suggestions to improve your happiness for you to spend your money more effectively.  Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton may have you rethinking your particular romance with money.

In this fast read, the authors outline five ideas to improve your happiness with the money you have.

Chapter One – Buy Experiences

Chapter Two – Make It a Treat

Chapter Three – Buy Time

Chapter Four – Pay Now, Consume Later (I bet that sounds counterintuitive.)

Chapter Five – Invest in Others

Let me dig a little deeper into Chapter One.

Buying experiences is right up our alley.  As parents we focused on giving our kids experiences.  For example, we thought traveling West would be a short and long term positive experience for them.

Devil's Tower

Devil’s Tower

When our kids were young, Hannah and I took them on driving and camping trips to the American West for four straight summers.  For four to six weeks, we would drive to Yellowstone in Wyoming, Zion National Park in Utah, or even to Denali National Park in Alaska.  One night we all squeezed into one tent when torrential rains flooded our campsite at Devil’s Tower, WY.

Driving in a GMC Van with three rows of seats, we packed tents, sleeping pads and bags into a Sears Cargo Carrier on the roof, which allowed us still to have room for all five of our bicycles.  Camping in state and national parks and the occasional KOA Campground with a pool, we treated ourselves to breakfasts out and made lunches and dinners on the road.

The authors claim that experiences have value over material goods if they:

  1. Bring you together with other people to foster a social connection
  2. Make a memorable story that you’ll enjoy retelling for years to come
  3. Provide a unique opportunity without easy comparisons to other activities.

When researchers at Cornell asked strangers to discuss purchases that they made with the intent to increase their happiness, those who talked about experiential purchases enjoyed the conversation more than ones who talked about material purchases.

Other research shows that the satisfaction with experiential purchases increases over time while satisfaction decreases with material purchases.

Happiness is not something ready made.  It comes from your own actions.   Dalai Lama

Dan and Hannah Get a Workout Hiking to Gaviota Peak on the California Coast

Gav cali post card

Inspired by our California snowbird friends, Tree and Scott, next winter Hannah and I will become winter Californians.  Ever since public school teaching in Anaheim, CA in 1970, I have had California Dreamin’ cursing my veins.  It began with the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and believing that California is Fun, Fun, Fun until Daddy Takes the T-Bird Away.  And…  California was also the perfect escape, emotionally and literally, for an 18 year old from Jersey.

Summerland, California

Summerland, California

Looking for a place to share with our kids and grandsons, we have joined the VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) generation.  Just yesterday, we signed the paperwork to spend a month next winter in a vacation cottage for six in Summerland, CA.  Just four miles south of Santa Barbara, Summerland basks in sunshine between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean on a hillside, something out of the French Riviera.

Gaviotta State Park

Gaviota State Park

With the contract in hand on, we drive north on The 101 heading to Gaviota State Park to hike to its signature mountaintop, 2459’ Gaviota Peak.   The drive north of Santa Barbara is through farmland and pasture still brown from five years of drought.  El Nino rains have tinted the landscape a faint green, but the drought is far from over.

Three miles to the summit

Three miles to the summit

The Day Hikes on the California Central Coast guide has us turn off The 101 at exit 132 at the point the Pacific Coast Highway (Route One) breaks off for the coast while The 101 heads inland to San Luis Obispo (Saint Luis, the Bishop).  Turning right off the exit ramp, we see nothing that suggests there is a park anywhere nearby.  Nothing.  One sign does say that the road dead ends to the right.  Though I immediately jump to the conclusion that we have made the wrong turn, Hannah drives on looking to see what is down that road.

Tree-lined Gaviota Peak Trail at the start

Tree-lined Gaviota Peak Trail at the start

Lo and behold, there is a parking area with two other cars.  Seeing an elderly couple, I ask if this is the trailhead for Gaviota Peak.  With all the snark he can muster, the husband says, We are not from around here, but I can read the sign over there.  Ouch.  Good for him.  Duly admonished, I smile over to the sign and see that we are indeed at the Gaviota Peak trailhead.

With trailhead parking a mere $2, we fill out an envelope, place it in the three foot high metal cylinder, and have a hiking bargain this Tuesday in January.

The fire road through the brown pasture

The fire road through the brown pasture

Robert Stone, the author of the trail guide, warns us that we will be hiking a fire road with 1900’ of elevation gain for three miles to the top.  It is never steep, but it is relentlessly up and up without much of a levelness to be had.

Hannah and I are not fans of fire road hiking.  Though we can walk side by side, we have little of the excitement that we get hiking though the forest with bends here, there, and everywhere – to quote John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Sun-drenched fire road

Sun-drenched fire road

On the plus side, there is little likelihood we will get lost, we think.  The Gaviota Peak trail starts out promisingly through oaks and sycamores.  Within three tenths of a mile we come to the side trail to the Hot Springs.  Wanting to maintain our hiking momentum, we choose to take this side trail to the warming waters upon our return down the mountain.

The still drought-stricken fields of the central California coast

The still drought-stricken fields of the central California coast

Soon we are hiking the sloping, ascending switchbacks through a field of brown grass.  As promised, the trail steadily climbs briefly back into the forest.  At this point, we talk about our future VRBO in Summerland.  Our rental manager is friendly but maintains a professional distance.  From that thought, I leap to wonder about my decision to be called “Dan” by my university students rather than “Dr.  Rothermel.”  Was I muddling things by not maintaining an expected professional distance in the minds of my students?

In addition to the U of New Hampshire and the U of New England in Maine, I was prof at Eastern.

In addition to the U of New Hampshire and the U of New England in Maine, I was a prof at Eastern.

As a professor of preservice teachers, I wanted to live what I believed: that the foundation for successful teaching is building individual relationships with students.  “Dr. Rothermel” can be distancing.  Did the casual use of “Dan” build a connection with my students or did it open the door to be taken advantage of as a “friend?”    We were not peers, but we were partners in their education as future teachers.  I don’t regret being “Dan,” I just wonder what’s the up and downside of being “Dr. Rothermel?”

John's picture with the Pacific Coast Highway in the background

John’s picture with the Pacific Coast Highway in the background

The fire road is relentless heading us north up Gaviota Peak here in the San Ynez Mountains.  Traveling along the side of the mountain with views to the farmland and pasture to the east, we meet John, a trail maintainer, who takes our picture with the Pacific Coast Highway in the distance.

Five minutes away at the "saddle" of the Gaviota Peak Trail with the Pacific Ocean in the background

Five minutes away at the “saddle” of the Gaviota Peak Trail with the Pacific Ocean in the background

As we approach the “saddle” between two mountains, we have a choice.  Though John told us that we were just five minutes from the top, we notice that our fire road continues on into what seems like a higher mountain off to the left.  An eroded gully goes up to the right.  That can’t be the route to the summit, we think, so we continue to follow the fire road.  Fortunately ten minutes later, our nagging doubts have us check the map to learn that the sharp right was our turn to Gaviota Peak.  We reframe the extra mile on the trail as “bonus” hiking.

Gav 3B trail to the top

The hour and 40 minute climb has been a workout without much of the adventure of hiking through the forest.  With nearly an hour of braking ahead on the steep downhill, our toes yowl “No mas.”  But “mas” is what we have to have if we want to get to the trailhead.

Side trail to the hot springs

Side trail to the hot springs

Fortunately after an hour we make the turn to the Hot Springs, which is just what are barking puppies need as we dip our feet into the luke warm spring.

If you are looking for a California workout something akin to being at a gym, then this is the trail for you.  If you want trails in the forest with undulations and variety, find another hike.

Gav 5 H at hot springs

Oh, by the way.  Once back at the trailhead, changing from hiking shoes to sandals, we notice a California State Parks officer checking cars to see if the $2 fee was paid. A recent couple has not and the officer is writing them a ticket for what we later learn is $71!  Ouch.

Karma.

Dan and Hannah Celebrate Her 68th

This past weekend Hannah celebrated her 68th birthday.  By the way, she was born at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY during the winter of 1948.  She wrote a poem for the occasion that  I bring to you as a bonus blog this week.  At the end, she adds a quote from Ram Dass that captures her world view brilliantly.   Dan

Besides the wine…

We go on hikes to see the world,

traveling skies and highways too;

Redwood giants’ majesty

matches purple mountains’ hue.

Spacious skies and amber grain,

Grand canyons, rocks of red;

all delight our senses, true,

but there’s another way we’re fed.

Waterfalls and warm spring pools

soothe our screaming feet;

but at the end of the day (besides the wine)

it’s the people that we meet…

… Hazel, PJ, Scott and Tree, Jocelyn and her mother

who remind me what it’s all about – watching out for one other.

Yes, at the end of  the day (besides the wine)

it’s the people that we meet,

who show me time and time again:

with companions I’m complete.

tiny house

We are all just walking each other home.

Ram Dass

Dan and Hannah Hike to Saddlerock Mountain in Montecito, California

CalifoMc Santa Barbara map

There is so much to love about Santa Barbara, California in January.  They wear shorts and bike to school!  They have the Pacific for bluff hiking and the Santa Ynez for mountain trails in their backyard.  It never snows!

Mc Meditation

For a second day before first light, Hannah and I meditate together for 15 minutes in our room at the Quality Inn Santa Barbara.  Ever since being inspired by our sister-in-law Becky Kraai last spring, I meditate each morning as soon as I get up.  Though I was a 1970s practitioner of Transcendental Meditation by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with its technique of repeating a mantra, I now focus on my breath.  Of course, my mind wanders, but I return to my center by focusing on my breath.  Hannah dabbles at meditating, but here on our “take a bite out of winter” trip to the coast of California, she is the one suggesting we meditate each morning.  Ommmmm!

The trail begins

The trail begins

After a cool light rain yesterday in Santa Barbara where we needed sweatshirts and zip-off pants, today it’s shorts and tee-shirts for hiking in the Santa Ynez Mountains.  With close to a million hikes in Santa Barbara County, today we opt for hiking in Montecito, perhaps the wealthiest little town in America.  It seems every house is an estate and the residents have Oprah and Ellen as neighbors when they are in town.

Canopied opening to the McMenemy Trail

Canopied opening to the McMenemy Trail

Selecting a six mile hike loop on the McMenemy Trail to Saddlerock and then back via the Girard Trail, we have California sunshine as our partner.  The internet provides us with simple and precise directions to the trailhead that ends at East Mountain Drive in the foothills.  The below link also provides reliable directions for the actual hike itself.   McMenemy Saddlerock Girard Loop.

mc 101 at san ysidro

Briefly, from our Quality Inn in town, we take the 101 south to the San Ysidro Road exit in Montecito.  Turning on East Valley Road, we soon turn left towards the mountains on to tree-lined Park Lane.  From there it is at most a half a mile to the left to the trailhead with ample road side parking.

Bomber on the trail above Montecito

Bomber on the trail above Montecito

Immediately we take to a narrow rocky, rutted trail under a canopy of towering cottonwood-type trees that parallel the private road past houses that must be north of $5 million.  Though lacking that kind of coin, we are rich beyond belief this January as morning hikers on the coast of southern California.

Stepping across the San Ysidro Creek

Stepping across the San Ysidro Creek

Within a half mile, we turn into the forest and rock step over the San Ysidro Creek.  Surprisingly we are not alone on this workday Monday morning for it appears many locals, mostly women, are hiking in pairs with their dogs.  Always agreeable to our questions, they confirm the excellent directions we copied from the above website.

Mc 2A H on trail

Passing just above the estates of the landed gentry, the trail is amazingly well-marked with “Trail” signs conveniently placed.  In conversation with Hannah, I bring up one thing I took away from yesterday’s talk at Unity of Santa Barbara.  That is, to feel a part of any organization, it’s important to get involved, be engaged with others so to build a real sense of community.

Mc 3 H on trail

It holds special relevance for Hannah and me, who after two years as regulars at Unity of the Seacoast in Dover, NH, now attend Unity of the River in Amesbury, MA.  We’ve only been going to services for two months, but I still feel the outsider.  We do fellowship after the service, which is invariably pleasant, but we don’t have a common experience to bond us with others.  Upon returning to New England, it’s time to make that happen.

The trail remains well-marked though still rocky and rutted; the hiking gets our hearts pumping with a steady rise in elevation into the coastal mountains.  Traveling up the mountain on McMenemy Trail, we see a plaque celebrating Logan McMenemy, an influential and generous member of the Montecito Trails Foundation who made sure these trails would remain open to the public.

Mc 4 H at Saddlerock

After the McMenemy Bench, we head downhill through the foothills and then climb again on our way to the summit at Saddlerock.  The trail steepens and we have the workout we crave.  At the top we see Catalina and Ollie, students from northern California, atop a large boulder 25’ above us.  Looking up at them, I comment how challenging it must have been to get up there.  Immediately helpful, Catalina shows us the back way up the stone monolith.

Peace above the Pacific

Peace above the Pacific

But there is a numbers things going on here.  They are in their early 20s and we late 60s.  As we start, we wonder what in the world we are doing.  Even though there are very slight indentations in the rocks for footholds, we don’t feel nimble enough to take the first step.  But the bigger issue is that we have no exit strategy coming down this stone facade.  Without comment, we back down the sandstone climb and head on to the summit further to the east.

Atop Saddlerock

Atop Saddlerock

Later we again meet up with Catalina and Ollie at the top of Saddlerock for a lunch break.  We talk of their post-college dreams, invite them to Maine, share email addresses, and take each other’s pictures by the peace sign of rocks.

From the top, it’s all downhill, in a good way, from here.  A fire road from the peace sign takes to the Girard Trail.  Again, the trail is obvious and has us heading for the trailhead after two hours of hiking and hiker talking.

Low cut Columbia hiking shoes

Low cut Columbia hiking shoes

Though rutted and rocky, the sandstone trail is easy on our feet.  In 15 minutes we are back at the McMenemy Stone Bench and then head for the trailhead in Montecito.  My new Columbia hiking shoes have held up well.  In the past, I hiked in high top Timberland boots, but these light Columbias with hiking treads feel good and, in fact, are easier to pack for cross country travel.

Ready to descend the Girard Trail

Ready to descend the Girard Trail

Returning to the trailhead two and a half hours later, we have covered the nearly six miles of trail under the blue Montecito sky.  We both give this Loop trail our highest endorsement.  It is well-marked, challenging but not insanely so, such that moderately in-shape folks can enjoy the trail; and we are back in time for an afternoon nap.

Oh yeah, another advantage of Santa Barbara in January.