Dan and Hannah Hike to the Waterfalls of DeSoto State Park in Alabama

Even days before our departure to hike and pickle in the South, I am rethinking the wisdom, or really the lack of wisdom, of my scheduling our flight from Boston to Atlanta at 610A this Saturday morning.  On one hand, such early flights are often less expensive; another plus is that by arriving at 9A in Atlanta, we can then hike in northern Alabama and still have an evening with our friend Brenda. DS map of DS

On the other hand, we sleep poorly and awake at 130A to get to the airport on time.  It will be amazing if we are coherent and at all good company for Brenda this evening.

DS La La Land

Fortunately, we are flying Jet Blue with their seatback TVs!  Today for our 2h 30m flight we have La La Land.  Having seen it on a rainy afternoon in Santa Barbara two months ago, I know I am going to La La Love It.  The lovable Emma Stone!  The dashing Ryan Gosling!  The foot taping music!  The dazzling choreography!  The hope that comes with choices!  Believing in possibilities!  I can’t get enough of the inspirational grit and resilience of Mia and Sebastian, let alone the humor of the screen writing.

Stick with me for one example of the humor.  Mia and Seb are coming back together after he has been on the road performing while she has remained in Los Angeles preparing for her one-woman show.  He asks if she wants to join him on the road.  Where she asks?  Boise, he responds.  Boise?  To which he says, you’ll be able to check it off your bucket list.

Arriving in Atlanta on Saturday morning at 9A, we easily navigate the rail system to the rental car center miles away.  Being an Avis Preferred member (you get that status by merely signing up), we are given express service and have none of the usual fear-based questions that the attendants usually ask about buying more insurance and being responsible if you are an accident.

DS 1 D at state line

As planned, by 10A we are driving through Atlanta north on I-75.  Saturday mornings are great times to drive through the city since we have none of the snarling weekday commuter traffic.  Well north of town, we turn west on route 140 to Alabama, eventually stopping at the state line for pictures.

As a lifelong northerner, I come to Alabama with some uncertainty.  With its troubled racial past and conservative politics, I just don’t know what to expect.  Movie stereotypes of Deep South southerners often have them as threatening, xenophobic, and intolerant.   What is in store for the two of us who enthusiastically voted for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?  By the way, both were winners of the popular vote for the presidency.

DS 2A H on trail

Ever-trusting, we drive on to DeSoto State Park in Mentone, Alabama for waterfall trails.  Today will be Hannah’s first hike since she fell from the San Ysidro Falls Trail in California two months ago and ended up in the ER.  With no fear, she leads our hike as she always does.

DS 2B DS trail

This family-friendly hiking area has color coded trails that make it easy for one and all to find their way without fear of getting really lost.  Taking to the orange blaze trail, we are loving our time in the great outdoors, rich with rhododendrons, just above the West Fork of the Little River.

DS 3C D and H at Laurel Falls

Dan and Hannah at Laurel Falls

At Laurel Falls, we see dads watching their sons splash in the chilly pool beneath the falls.  In conversation, we learn that they are from Trail Life, a Christian group from near Birmingham, getting away for the weekend.  These dads have hit the lottery, creating memories with their sons that crush any afternoon games on TV.

DS 4 H at Lost Falls

Hannah at Lost Falls

Weaving between the campground and the river, we hike on to Lost Falls, our favorite of the three that we will see today.  Immediately climbing the cliff edge to approach the waterfall, Hannah is doing just fine on her reconstructed leg.  Check out the video below for confirmation.

With rain imminent, we feel like we are stealing a day of hiking that we easily might have missed.  To a person, the Alabamians we meet are friendly and helpful as we hike in near 80F, when it was 42F when we left Maine this morning.

DS 6 Indian Falls

Indian Falls

Looking for more waterfalls, we cross country road route 89 and hike to Indian Falls.  From there, we take the yellow blaze trail along the same West Fork of the Little River.  Big mistake.  In addition to never finding the promised Lodge Falls, we must rock scramble up and down with no hiking rhythm.  Abandoning ship after ten minutes, we backtrack and head for our overnight with Brenda in northern Alabama 90 minutes away.

Under threatening skies, we arrive at Brenda’s place minutes before the deluge.  Let me explain our connection to Brenda, whom we have never met.

FD 4C James' boots

Last October, we hiked the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina to Fontana Dam.   There we came upon two hiking boots filled with brightly colored pebbles, a living memorial to Brenda’s husband James who had recently passed on from cancer.  The explanation sheet by the boots asked hikers to take a pebble and carry it for James, who never got to hike the whole AT himself.

FD 4 BamaHiker overview

James, Bama Hiker

We took one, emailed Brenda with a picture of us there on the AT, and became North/South correspondents.   Graciously, she invited us to her place when we next returned to the South.   Click here for the Brenda/Fontana Dam blog.

Greeted like family this stormy evening, we see the cobalt grey skies, which soon morphed into a hail-filled downpour.   The threat of a tornado has Brenda thinking we may just need to go underground into her storm shelter buried in the backyard.

Bren biscuits with H

Hannah with Brenda the next morning

Fortunately, the tornado warnings end, but Biblical rains continue throughout the night.

Before Brenda’s lasagna dinner, I ask if I can give an Irish blessing.  It comes from my niece Tara’s wedding; we’ve used it in California, Georgia, and whenever we are invited out in Maine.

Thank you for the food before us, the friends beside us, and the love between us.

Brenda is the friend beside us and clearly all that’s good in Alabama; in short order, we feel like family.

Click on this link for a newspaper story about the continuing Brenda and James love story.   http://www.waff.com/story/35528290/late-alabama-hiker-inspires-others-to-finish-appalachian-trail

Dan and Hannah with Owen and Max in Santa Barbara

Once a week throughout the year, Hannah and I live the grandparents’ dream and head an hour south to Massachusetts to spend the afternoon with our preschool grandsons, Owen and Max.  In warm weather we have parks and lakes while in winter we turn to indoor fun centers: Loch Ness Fun Center in Chelmsford, Imajine That in Lawrence, or One Stop Fun in Westford.

Ratt map of SB

This winter, we have an entire week of days with the boys since they are coming to southern California to hang out with their Omi and Poppa.  Our plan is to take the boys for daily “adventures” while our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip get some time to hike or head to the beach.

Prior to the boys’ arrival, Hannah and I take in the Carpinteria Bluffs to learn whether this is a place for preschoolers.  With the few seals that we see far below the bluffs, that this is not the active experience we’d like for Owen and Max.   Preschool compatibility index – Not really.

OM Carp boys with bat

Owen and Max at Carpinteria Beach

Though this has been the rainiest February since Noah and his Ark, we have a sunny Sunday to take Owen and Max to the Carpinteria Beach just ten miles south of Santa Barbara.  With our guys, we know they love the filling of sand in their buckets, then dumping it all; then filling and dumping on and on.

OM Carp flying gull at vball

A tennis ball and fat bat as well as a Frisbee keep them on the move.  At the beach volleyball court, they make up their own game of throwing the ball over the net and trying to catch it.  The ocean water in February is fine for surfers in wet suits, but we all are just fine going to the water’s edge.  Preschool compatibility index – Off the charts.

Monday is a day when the rain gods bark, You’ve been bitching about the drought for six years; so tell me, what is your problem when I give you Biblical rains!  On such days, the universe provides the Sea Center on Stearn’s Wharf on the Santa Barbara beachfront for Owen and Max.

OM Zoo skates

Sea Center

OM Pier theater

Pulling onto the half mile wooden wharf itself, we have free parking for the first 90 minutes.  After, it’s $2.50/hour.  You can bet Dan and Hannah will make this an 85-minute visit.  For $7.50 each for seniors and $6 for kids age 2-12, the Sea Center begins with the boys petting baby sand sharks, sea anemones, and star fish. That lasts for about five minutes and then the boys are off.

The movie about sharks and the marine fishing vessel experience hold no interest for our guys.  It’s running around which they love!  As we move to the top floor, a barnacled large gray whale model dominates the airspace; this wows them for a good 15 seconds, and then run they do.

What does interest Owen and Max is the Marine Puppet Theater with stuffed animals such as a gray whale, hammerhead shark, two kinds of turtles, a purple squid, and octopus.  Though they never put on a play for us, they imagine with the stuffed animals, run about, tug over their favorite (the purple squid), and spend more time there than any other place at the Sea Center.

Hannah and I feel that the $27 admission fees are money well-spent supporting the Natural History Museum of Santa Barbara, of which the Sea Center is a part.   But….  Preschool compatibility index – Not so much; it’s a dry place on a misty day, but the place is more for interested adults and school age kids with a marine bent.

Tuesday, when it rains with preschoolers at the cottage, our choices of outdoor activities are limited.  Molly and Tip take the boys to story hour at the Montecito Library.  Later in the afternoon we adults watch The Best of Men DVD (PBS – Outstanding) while Max naps and Owen watches Dinosaur Train.

OM Lookout Point O and M

Lookout Point in Summerland

But by 3P, the sun comes out and we have the chance to give Molly and Tip their daily break (daily bread?).  Lookout Park on the Pacific here in Summerland is just down the hill from our cottage.  Walking with Owen and Max the half mile through town to the beach, we have a playground with a climbing wall, slides, and swings.

The train track gives Hannah an idea from her childhood.  She has Owen and Max put pennies on the track itself to be crushed by the next passing Amtrak train.  The boys are learning the meaning of watched pot never boils.  Eventually distracted, the Amtrak train roars through and delivers in a big way – squashed coins beyond recognition.   Preschool compatibility index – Late afternoon playground time after a day of rain – elixir for the whole family.

OM elephants

Max with the big fellas

Wednesday, the sun comes out and we are off to the Santa Barbara Zoo.  While Molly and Tip hike Romero Canyon in nearby Montecito, we drive the six miles to the Zoo just off the main beach in Santa Barbara.   To save the $7 for parking we park across the street from the Zoo entrance at Dwight Murphy Field.  Tickets for 2-12 year-olds are $10 and seniors get in for $13 each.  Money well spent.

OM gator

See you later alligator

The boys really love running anywhere – this time in a park setting.   Seeing the colorful parrots, the boys’ interest lasts about twenty seconds.  Let’s go is their refrain as Owen leads, Max follows and repeats whatever his big brother says.   They never stop.  We see flamingos, foxes, gibbons, elephants, condors, snow leopards, and alligators.  Surprising to me, Max has a fascination with the zoo map as he points out where we’ll go next.

But the Santa Barbara Zoo delivers in three big ways.  First, there are the lions that perch on manmade boulders at eye level.  Though they don’t roar, that doesn’t stop Owen and Max from communicating with them with their own best king-of-the-jungle roars.

OwenMax O and M with giraffes

Then there is the herd of giraffes.  Regal and stately, they are so much more impressive than what we see in books.   Later we hit the gorilla compound.  At lunch time the gorilla picks at his celery, beans, and lettuce through a grate in the ground, which, I am guessing, is to improve his dexterity and to teach him to eat in a civilized manner.

OwenMax H as trainer

My kind of zookeeper

A mid-zoo playground with a climbing spider web and a hill for sledding down on pieces of cardboard grabs the boys’ attention.   After three hours of running, we and they are pooped.   Preschool compatibility index – You’re in the running for grandparents of the year if you take your grandkids to the Santa Barbara Zoo.

SY 3B T with boys

Owen and Max with their Dad

On Thursday, our Owen and Max activity is hiking the San Ysidro Trail in nearby Montecito, California with their parents.  When hiking with preschoolers, Hannah and I have the one important ingredient today to make this activity fly – parents like Molly and Tip.  This four-mile round trip to a rocking waterfall needs playful parents who can distract their boys when they get weary.

SY2 4A five on trail

Prefall Hannah on the San Ysidro Trail with the Family Rawding

For much of the way, Tip carries nearly 3-year-old, 40+ pound Max in a backpack.  Such endurance is out of my league.  Owen, five in July, walks and runs most of the four miles, often holding the hand of his mother Molly.  Preschool compatibility index – Only try with athletic, vigilant, and relentlessly positive parents.  It’s too much for us alone.  Click here for that blog.

On Friday, we rest as Hannah recuperates from her fall from the above trail the day before.

Grandparents the world over will nod their heads and know that it’s been gold to have five days with our Dynamo Duo.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Storm Ravaged Coast of Santa Barbara, California

Despite a rainy month of February in southern California, Hannah and I walk every morning before breakfast while here on the Pacific coast.  For me, sub-freezing, windblown, bundled up morning walks on the coast of Maine are just not my thing.  I wouldn’t disagree if someone said I was soft.  Here, just south of Santa Barbara, we have trails into the hills, sandy beaches, and walks through the neighborhoods above the Pacific, all in 50 degrees or more.  We indeed are California Dreamin’.

Go 1B tree on the cliff

Tree living on the edge at Goleta Beach State Park

Even on days when it rains, we can take to the hillside roads with our umbrellas for our two to three miles of a morning pick-me-up.  This Friday, with rain threatening again, we take to the nature trail that is the Ortega Loop above The 101 highway here in Summerland.

Heading back to our cottage by way of the main drag (Lillie Avenue), we pass the antique shops, the liquor stores, the Summerland Café, and then the fire station.  On the wall of the fire house is this sign to the right.

Wondering just what it might mean, I google The Safely Surrendered Baby Law.

Sum safe surrender site

Safe Surrender sign on the Summerland fire station

The Safely Surrendered Baby Law responds to the increasing number of newborn infant deaths due to abandonment in unsafe locations. The law’s intent is to save lives of newborn infants at risk of abandonment by encouraging parents to safely surrender the infant within 72 hours of birth, with no questions asked.  Since 2001, more than 770 newborns have been surrendered in California.

Sum safe 2

You Go Golden State.   Damn, Californians have got to be so proud of their state!  Later, I learn from our social worker friend Maggie that most states have a variation of this law.  I had no idea.  This can be such a good and decent country.

Gol map of GB

Back in the cottage, we are housebound thanks to the deluge this mid-February Friday.  It’s an ideal time to head into Santa Barbara to the Paseo Nuevo Cinemas to see La La Land, the surprise non-winner for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards.  Later that day, we learn that up to 70 mile per hour winds have lashed the area with heavy rains turning creeks and rivers into brown torrents of mud.

Gol 1A another buckhoe at beach

Early the next morning, skies are clearing but we realize that our plan to hike into the San Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara is out of the question; what with the heavy rain making the trails sloppy with mud and pools of water.  We don’t even think about the possibility that mudslides might block the trail or that the trail itself might give way beneath our feet.  Click here to read about one trail giving way while we hiked.

An obvious high and dry hiking choice this Saturday morning is the Bluff Trail that starts at Goleta Beach Park and wanders for two miles along the edge of the Pacific and the campus of the University of California – Santa Barbara.

Gol 2A UCSB coast line

Bluffs with UCSB to the left

Pulling into Goleta Beach parking lot, we join the gawkers who are out to see the crashing white waves that have closed access to the beach.  Marveling at the power of the storm-whipped surf, we spot the surfers who have found the silver lining to this bluff-pounding storm.

Gol 2D Han at coast

From the online Noozhawk: Weather and waves have never been kind to Santa Barbara County’s most popular park.   Officials have reported that over the last three years, Goleta Beach Park has seen 53,000 square feet of land eroded by storms and wave action, prompting regular emergency action to protect the shoreline, parking lots, a restaurant, and picnic areas.

Gol 2E han wide out at coast

Rock revetments (retaining walls) have been constructed along the shore in the past, and last year, a geotextile mesh was buried below the beach to hold sand in place before becoming exposed.  In January, a sand berm was put in place, and though it protected the beach during a storm, it was wiped away in two days.  More rock revetments were installed in February after especially powerful storms, and the pier was closed for a month for significant repairs.  Click here for the full article.

Gol 2 warning sign at UCSB

Fence between the bluffs and the UCSB campus

Noticing the heavy earth-moving equipment, we see that the sea is taking what it wants of Goleta Beach.  When Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy rings true as Mother Nature is more than just a little p.o.-ed this weekend.  Talking with a construction worker, we learn that the park is losing two to three feet of shoreline a day.

Gol 3B more of Pacific coast

Having hiked these very bluffs two weeks ago, prior to the recent triumphant Tom Brady Super Bowl LI with our Maine friends Donna and George, we see the receding shoreline despite the county’s best efforts.  My advice to you is go to this park as soon as possible, rather than see it later only in pictures at the local historical society.

Gol 3A more of pacific coast

On this four mile loop above the bluffs and back through campus, palm fronds are here, there, and everywhere as the raging sea passes for entertainment for the student body.   Walking in tee-shirts on the sunny, blustery afternoon, we are appreciative of the turn in the weather.

Upon our return to Goleta Beach, I capture the excavator in action.

Even in stormy weather California delivers; for the day after the rain washes down the hillside into the seas and reservoirs, there is no shoveling to do.  At this moment in Maine, two recent storms have dumped nearly three feet of snow on Chases Pond Road, snow that will still be there in April.

Here are two votes for California in winter.

Dan and Hannah Pickle, then Hike to Black Hill at Morro Bay State Park

Mor map 3

Not every day do we hit a home run in California.  Today we doubled off the wall.  Though yesterday, we did hit a three-run homer on Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands off Ventura.  Click here for that blog.  Saturday past, we hit a grand slam at our first of two hikes to the San Ysidro Falls in Montecito.  Click here for that blog.

But back to the baseball analogy, we all know that a double is good hit.  We’re not complaining, but we have been getting used to four baggers here in California.  Let me explain.


With the forecast for sun on this mid-February Wednesday, we drive one hundred miles north from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo.  We have a 9A date with pickleballers from the central coast of California.

Mor SLO courts

Pickleball courts at Meadow Park in San Luis Obispo

Arriving at Meadow Park, we are immediately included in a game of doubles.  Here, guests don’t pay (we pay $4 each time we play at our home courts in Saco, Maine).  We notice that we are among family (i.e. seniors), which gives us a break from the high powered juices of the thirty-somethings we play with in Santa Barbara.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.

When in Maine, we play indoors; today in the great outdoors, we have sunshine to deal with when hitting overhead shots.  With only ten players by 910A for the three courts, it looks like we’ll have lots of playing time.

Mor SLO D on court

Not so fast, my friend.  Alas, twenty more soon show up, so we wait and wait some more for our next game.  This is not an uncommon problem with the growth of pickleball over the past few years.

You may not know that most pickleball sites have ambassadors.  These angels have a challenging job as they try to balance the competing interests of the different levels of players.  Understandably and most appropriately, ambassadors want to grow the sport and are excellent in embracing newcomers.  Fact is, most pickleball players welcome new players.   That said, beginners thrive in a setting where they learn with other newbies and are supported by the advanced players.

Mor SLO H on court

Advanced players were once beginners and feel a kinship with those just learning the game.  But advanced players also like the competition of other advanced players.  It’s an extraordinary balancing act for the selfless people who choose to be pickleball ambassadors.

One of our Maine ambassadors has the wisdom of Solomon.  Check his email out.

Recently an advanced player wrote me to ask what my thoughts were regarding “picking on” the weaker player on the court.  The following was my reply to him:

“Identifying and attacking the weaker player is a strategy very often used and should only be used in competitive tournament play.  To apply that same strategy in recreational play is just not the right thing to do. It is demeaning and embarrassing for the weaker player.  Many players feel that winning is everything!  It serves no purpose to “smash” a weaker player.  It makes more sense to try to improve your game by feeding the stronger player and attempting to return his/her shot….in other words, challenge yourself!

A little common sense goes a long way….an attempt should be made to balance returns between both players.  All of us, including myself, at one time or another are probably guilty of consistently taking advantage of the weaker player on the court. Let’s try to remember that Pickleball is about having fun….and that includes all players.

Roger Huppe, USAPA District Ambassador, New England

Today we model Roger’s suggestions with the beginners and intermediate players; we know that in the days ahead back in Santa Barbara, we’ll have the competitive games we seek.

Hiking Black Hill

Mor 1 sign at black hill trail

Let the hiking begin

With still lots of hiking miles left in our legs, we drive to the northwest twelve miles along The 101 highway to Morro Rock State Park.  Morro Rock is a 581-foot volcanic plug  located just offshore from the resort town of Morro Bay.

Mor 1A H on trail

On the trail.  Not Black Hill

But before we head to Morro Rock, we’ll hike to Black Hill in Morro Rock State Park a few miles away.  With a mile or so to the top, we’ll get a fine workout with a decent 535’ of elevation gain.  The trail climbs easily through the sage brush with the mountain top always in view.

Mor 1D H near top

We like to hike trails where others hike.  One, we are less likely to get lost.  Two, we enjoy the connection with others, however briefly.

Mor 2 H at top with MB

Atop Black Hill with the Morro Rock in the background

Though the trail is basically well marked, we find a way to miss a turn and start heading around the mountain rather than up it.  As the path narrows through dense sage brush, we realize the error of our ways, backtrack, and find our way to the top.   The fact is, this is an easy peezy hike, to be enjoyed by hikers of all ages.

Mor 2 D at top with MR behind

Looking out to the Pacific Ocean from Black Hill

Throughout the climb, we have the massive Morro Rock as a backdrop.  Dominating the coastline, it reminds me of Beacon Rock on the Columbia River Gorge in the state of Washington.

Mor 4 MR explan 2

Driving a roundabout four miles to explore the base of the Morro Rock itself, we wonder if there is more hiking for us.  It turns out not.  To the north of the monolith, there is a surfers’ beach with families on this last sunny day before the upcoming weekend of heavy rain.

Mor 2A MR

Morro Rock

Around to the bayside, there is more parking; on this day, we see a class of middle schoolers acting the part, – cool, bored, and disinterested.   That said, three cheers for these public school teachers for their commitment and perseverance to extend the student learning beyond the classroom’s four walls.  Whether they know it or not, they are planting seeds of exploration that will likely grow in the years ahead.  These teachers are among America’s heroes.

Mor 3 H in crook of tree preview

Morro Rock State Park

With non-competitive pickleball and a modest four miles of hiking, we wait on second base with our double.  With no teammates around, we are stranded there and decide to drive ourselves home (you get the pun, don’t you?) to our cottage to the south.  Fact is, a double means we are still batting 1.000 this February in California.