California! The La La Land of opportunity. The sixth largest economy in the world! The number one state for tourism. Home to Anaheim, where I began my teaching career in 1970. To live our California Dream, we are renting a cottage through VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) four hundred yards up the hillside from the Pacific Ocean.
Our reasons for coming West in February are many, but three dominate: (1) to be physically active in the outdoors during a traditional frigid month in New England; to walk each morning, to sit on the front deck with early coffee or later wine, to explore the area without being bundled up, (2) to find a community of pickleball players to sharpen our game and connect with the locals in more than a passing way, and (3) to hike its trails for both exercise and grist for my Saturday blogs, the writing that feeds my soul.
On our first full day on the southern coast of California, we drive four miles to Santa Barbara to check out the pickleball courts at the Municipal Tennis Center. Later, we get our walking jones a workout by strolling the seaside campus of Santa Barbara City College (tuition for California residents at $700/semester!)
After chilling for the afternoon, we take to the foothills just behind our cottage. With a hillside community of homes within literally an arm’s reach of each other, we pass the 69-student elementary school and the local petite Presbyterian Church on our way to the roadside trail.
Turning left on the frontage road (Lillie Road), heavy with late afternoon commuter traffic, we walk south on the sidewalk just above the clogged four-lane 101 highway. Traffic is constant, but the white noise is a sonorous reminder of how lucky we are to be here in southern California’s warmth in February.
Just past the upscale Summerland Market, wooden stairs lead us to a wood chip trail. With a grassy dog park to our left, we are twenty feet above the frontage road. Soon, passing the upscale “don’t even think about coming in” gated communities, we are soothed by the hum of the homeward bound commuter traffic and the occasional coastal Amtrak train.
After 15 minutes, the trail takes us inland; designed for horses, we step around the horseshoe imprints of the semi-muddy path. Fact is, we can’t believe our good fortune in having stumbled on a trail minutes from our hillside cottage.
Heading inland along the low stone wall of the adjacent expansive polo field (the size of at least twenty football fields), we have the trail to ourselves heading into the Front Country (i.e. foothills). Noticing that we have been out 40 minutes, we u-turn to explore this trail further on another day.
Warm enough for wine on the deck, we toast our good fortune on our first day in paradise. Why two days ago, I was chipping ice off our front deck in York, Maine and resigned to having the four-inch layer of snowy ice on our driveway basketball court there until spring.)
Mornings come early these first few days of California-ing because the three-hour time change from East Coast to Left Coast messes with our sleep cycles. A little after 5A, we stretch for thirty minutes, then meditate together.
Before breakfast, we drive a mile down the same frontage road (Lillie) then veer left onto Greenwell Drive, which takes us towards the Summerland foothills; there we park at the Greenwell Preserve trailhead. Our trail, maintained by the Montecito Trail Foundation, takes us into coastal horse country, far removed from the congestion on The 101. Click here for the link to the MTF site and its magnificent work.
As with the inland trails of last night, clearly these trails were created for horses of the well-to-do, the amazingly well-to-do, and the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet well-to-do. The average home in Summerland is north of $1M. Due to the recent rainy weather, the trail is pock mark by the horse’s shoes. This, my friends, is a first world problem.
Before the rest of the county is up and about, that is other than the migrant Hispanic workers tending to the animals of the estate owners, we have a narrow trail away to ourselves.
The MTF gets four stars for trail marking. At each turn when we aren’t sure where to go, there is a trail sign saying, you guessed it, “trail.” Soon we are climbing into the foothills with a lemon, then later mandarin orange orchard to our left. The rutted trail has been grooved by the horses and often we must squeeze onto the ridges on either side.
Passing potbelly pigs, the occasional barking dogs, and the most beautiful horses with goats sharing their fields, we hike in nature’s paradise on a mostly level morning trail through the foothills of Santa Barbara County.
Thirty plus minutes in, the trail becomes swamped with long, wet grass from the previous week’s rain. Though 50F, Hannah is chilled from her wet feet to her always cold hands. So being a man of amazing insight, I connect the dots and agree to head back to the trailhead.
After 75 minutes of hiking the trails of the Pacific coast, I sip my morning Peet’s coffee complemented by Hannah’s buttermilk biscuits. Our California breakfast of champions.