Let’s be real. And I’m not proud of this, but…as Hannah and I prep to hike in the mountains above Santa Barbara in early February, I turn on the Weather Channel. I have no shame. I want to see how much snow and ice are coming to New England. I take no pleasure in the dismal winter weather, but…I do smile to myself so no one else can see.
As Hannah and I start 2018, we are in a traveling/hiking transition. Having hiked throughout the West, in national parks in nearly every Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast state over the last ten years, we are evolving in our physical activities of choice. Let me explain.
As we each turn 70, we are pickleballing more and hiking less when we travel. Have paddles, will travel! Pickleball, be it Moab, Utah, Beaverton, Oregon, or Eureka, California, has combined our love of being active with getting to know others.
Rather than driving, often a thousand miles or more to hike in national parks over two weeks, this year we are nesting in Carpinteria for the month of February. Not abandoning hiking at all, we still have local trails as well as trails up the coast at Montana De Oro State Park and Big Sur. But pickleballing in Santa Barbara and Ventura now drives our bus.
Yet, after three mornings of pickleball this first week of February, we are ready to hit the trail. Driving north on The 101 for the Jesusita (pronounced HAY-SU-SEE-TA) Trail within the city limits of Santa Barbara, we have one of the few local trails at our disposal. Many trails are closed since the Thomas Fire (December 2017) and the Montecito debris and mud flows (January 2018), especially some of our favorites in the San Ysidro and Romero Canyons.
Parking at the Cater Water Treatment Plant at the end of San Roque Road above Santa Barbara, I strike up a conversation with three hiking women to learn from the locals about the Jesusita Trail to Inspiration Point.
Willing to direct us to the trailhead and describe the first few turns of the trail, the women feel it is a good hike, but they are not buying the inspiring part of Inspiration Point. True, Inspiration Point has views to the Pacific Ocean, but there are also many spots along the trail with ocean views. They themselves are all turning around before they get to Inspiration Point.
As with many trails in the Front Country of Santa Barbara, they are rocky and climb steeply into the San Ynez Mountains. The seven-mile round-trip Jesusita Trail with 1200′ of elevation gain fits nicely into our three-hour preference for the length of our hikes. As usual, Hannah leads because (1) she is a stronger hiker and (2) it allows me to focus on photo ops while she blazes the trail.
Due to the drought of the last seven years, the creek bed beside the trail is as parched as a bleached cattle skull in the Mojave Desert. The trail itself is shaded for the most part with dappled sunshine coming through the trees. A little more than a mile in, there’s a water fountain with covered picnic tables. While mountain bikers rest and brag, we motor past toward Inspiration Point.
Today is the first Santa Barbara hike for Hannah since her precipitous fall off the San Ysidro Trail just one year ago this month. (Click here for that blog.) Though she feels no ill effects from her slide down the rocky ravine that landed her in the ER at the local Cottage Hospital, we are both psyched that today there are no sharp drop offs on this trail; that said, we step carefully on the inside of the mountain trail.
Once past the mountainside McMansions, the trail rises steadily enough to get me breathing heavily. Hannah seems unbothered on this trail that is very well marked whenever we are uncertain which way to go.
Soon, we do the back and forth on the switchbacks up the mountain towards the Edison Road with its high-tension wire towers in the distance. When we eventually arrive there, it’s just another half mile to the uninspiring Inspiration Point. But I have not only been hiking but scheming to keep our hike to our three hour limit and have us turn around at the Edison Road at the three-mile point before we get to Inspiration Point.
As we approach the towers, I dazzle Hannah with a royal flush of persuasion if we keep hiking: (ten of hearts) that we’ll push us beyond our three hour hiking, (jack of hearts) we’ve been to Inspiration Point four years ago and know it is no big whup, (queen of hearts) we have had inspirational views of the Pacific on the trail already, (king of hearts) we don’t want to be wasted for tonight’s walk to the harbor seal rookery or tomorrow’s pickleball, and (ace of hearts) she just might miss her sunshine at our local Carpinteria Beach.
At the Edison Road tower, we see the rocks arranged in a heart shaped pattern. When the universe speaks, we pay attention! My royal heart flush triumphs as we head for our home-away-from-home in Carpinteria.
The shaded creek trail into the high desert chaparral gives the Jesusita the feel of a forest hike, not some aimless walk in the desert under a blazing sun. In addition to a heart-pumping workout, we are not in Maine where eight inches of snow blankets our house, our yard, our driveway, the wintery lives of our neighbors, and any dreams of an early spring.
Given that context, this is not just a good hike, it’s a fantastic day on the trail.