Dan and Hannah Hike the UCSB Bluff Trail Above a Stormy Pacific

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Just to the north of Santa Barbara

Traveling cross country on Delta Airlines, Hannah and I come to the mid-California coast of Santa Barbara for an extended break from Maine’s winter.  During our first week on the Left Coast, we return to an old favorite – The Bluff Trail around the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in Goleta, CA.

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The angry sea at Goleta Beach

Parking at the Goleta State Park Beach, we see big time, high tide waves crashing on and over the stone boulder retaining wall into the parking lot.  As we walk towards campus, we hear sirens, then see a red fire fighter SUV pulling two wave runners, and don’t think much of it.

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Surfin’ USA

Walking the half mile to the campus, we stop to see that there are indeed surfers out in the turbulent waters.  Stopping to watch against a fence feet away from the slowly disintegrating bluff, we talk to a young man who tells us that he heard a surfer in distress below and called 9-1-1.  (Ah, the towed wave runners make sense now).

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Notice no beach at high tide against the cliffs on the south facing coast

At high tide, there is no beach.  In fact, the bluff walls are unforgiving stone facades with nowhere to go.  As we watch, the distressed surfer paddles back out to avoid being a crash test dummy against the stone cliff.  The fire fighter wave runner streams from the Goleta Beach to the obviously hurting surfer.

At the same time the wave runner approaches, another surfer with a paddle board heads further out to sea.  Beyond are fifteen other surfers, paddle boarders, and one with what looks like a mini-kayak riding the wild surf.

ucsb close up rescue

All’s well that ends well for the surfer as the fire fighters secure his board and pull him to shore at the far beach away from the bluff.  Talking with another surfer as he ascends the stairway up the cliff side, he tells us that this is as wild a surf as he has ever seen in the area.  He feels good surfers can handle these waves; left unsaid was the rescued surfer was not in that category.

ucsb surfer rescue

His surfing buddy tells us that typically surfers get in trouble because they are totally exhausted from fighting the rip currents and the relentless incoming tides.

We learn later that there were five rescues this first Wednesday of the new year, including one by helicopter.  Thankfully no deaths are reported.

ucsb helicopter

Should the surfer have to pay for the rescue?  I am in the “no” camp.  Shit happens.  Mistakes are made.  That’s why we pay taxes.   California has services for its citizens and its visitors in distress (e.g. free ambulance service to emergency rooms that Hannah took advantage of after her fall two years ago).

With the drama behind us, we continue our bluff hike, forty to sixty feet above the surf.  (See pictures below.)  Ah, to be in California.

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West facing cliffs.  Previous pictures within the text were the south facing cliffs.

 

 

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Lagoon on the UCSB campus looking inland

 

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The lagoon on the UCSB campus looking out to the ocean

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Dan with Hannah As She Gets Back on the Horse on the San Ysidro Trail

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Tip rescuing Hannah (February 2017)

Crashing down a 25’ cliff, ripping open her thigh to the bone, and having a hot shot Ivy League surgeon sew her back together has not deterred Hannah in the least from returning to the scene of her epic fall.  Two years ago, she plummeted down into the San Ysidro Canyon in Montecito, California, thankfully to be rescued by our son-in-law Tip.  Click here for part 1 of the blog.

A year ago, Hannah and I had planned to hike this trail when all hell broke loose.  First, the Thomas Fire burned 300,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.  Then three weeks later the debris flow with car size boulders, whole trees, and Biblical mud roared down this canyon killing 23 people and totally reconfigured the landscape and closed the trail.

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Hannah at the start of the trail in January 2019

Today, fearlessly, Hannah joins me on the San Ysidro Trail to see if we can find where she fell and lay to rest any apprehensions for either of us about her fall.  Fact is, I am not nervous at all.  Hell, I didn’t fall down the cliff; Hannah does now hike on the inside of mountainside trails.  Her momma didn’t raise no fool.

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The non-tunnel of trees in 2019

With few cars parked at the trailhead on East Valley Road, we begin hiking on a trail once a tunnel of trees that now has clear views to a creek bed strewn with massive boulders that once were high above in the coastal Santa Ynez Mountains.

Paralleling the now scrubbed and scoured reconfigured mountain creek, we are stunned to see the hammering and sawing of workers rebuilding homes on the other side.  What part of deadly debris flows don’t they get!

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The scoured San Ysidro Creek.  Two years ago we could only peek through the trees to see the water flowing

Within a few hundred yards, we come to the staging area where two years ago a fire department ambulance waited for Hannah; she had heroically walked a mile and a half down the mountain with gashes in her leg so deep infection was an ever-present danger.

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Heading on the single file trail in 2019

As we climb towards the scene of her fall today, we wonder if where she fell is even recognizable given the recontouring of the creek.  At the one mile mark, the trail narrows, and we walk single file, climbing towards the waterfall now a mile away.  Over jagged rocks, we head to the falls on a trail that is mostly intact but has been shored up in places by the Montecito Trail Foundation.

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A 2019 view down to the creek where Hannah fell in 2017

Ninety-nine per cent sure, we see the wide spot in the trail where our daughter Molly distracted our grandsons, Owen (then four and a half) and Max (nearly 3), while Tip rescued Hannah from her perch on a cliffside of sharp, angry rocks 30’ above the unforgiving creek boulders below.

Much of the area where Tip climbed horizontally to rescue Hannah is now gone, but clearly this was where Carol King had it so right for Hannah when she sang, I feel the earth move under my feet!

Hannah doesn’t flinch as we examine the area and we both count our lucky stars.

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In 2019 trailside where Hannah fell

Hannah remembers:

We head back to the trail (San Ysidro) from which I plummeted two years ago…feeling just slightly uneasy, but not afraid. It’s both about getting back up on the horse – and also thanking the powers that be (both the terrain and the people involved in my rescue) for bringing me back from the edge. As we hike, I find I hug the inside of the trail.  Much more sensitive to “edges” since my slide – I wish Dan would be likewise.  We find familiar places along the trail ~ one of our favorite trails, still ~ smiling at the memories: Tip lifting us up over a rushing brook; Tip and the boys walking three across on a wider stretch of the trail; Tip being his calm, reassuring self as he “bandaged” me (with diapers) and brought me back up the cliff; Molly and Owen running ahead for an ambulance to meet us upon our return to the trail head; walking hand-in-hand with Dan that last mile and a half after the fall; then compassion-in-action as I’m lifted into the emergency vehicle for the eventual ambulance ride I was so sure I wasn’t going to accept.

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One last 2019 look at the spot where “the earth moved under her feet”

Yup, I’d rather not have taken that fall…but so much good came of it that I would otherwise have missed. I’m overcome with gratitude as Dan hikes back down the trail with me.  Again, I walk hand-in-hand with him as we head for the trail head – and Home.

Pictures from two years ago and today fill in the spaces of my narrative.

 

 

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The start of the trail in 2017 with its tunnel of trees with our daughter Molly, Owen, Max, and Tip

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The recontoured San Ysidro Trail after the Thomas Fire and the Montecito Debris Flow in 2017

 

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Hannah on the trail in 2019 where once a torrent came down the mountain into the main creek

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On the trail in 2017 with Owen, Molly, Hannah, Max, and Tip twenty minutes before her fall

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Hannah at the same spot in 2019

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The Ithaca Bomber in 2019 at the same spot

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The San Ysidro Falls in 2017

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The barely visible San Ysidro Falls in 2019.  Brush covered the trail so Hannah and I couldn’t get within 200′ of the falls as we did in 2017

 

 

Dan Returns to Junior High on the Pickleball Court

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For the sixth year running, Hannah and I have come to the Central California Coast to take a bite out of winter.  Returning to the Santa Barbara area, we have come to hike its mountains, walk its bluff trails, renew friendships, lunch in the sun, write and rewrite, and play lots of pickleball.

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Working on my third shot drop

On our first Tuesday of the new year, Hannah and I venture to the pickleball courts in Santa Barbara to see three players needing a fourth.  I offer to Hannah, Why don’t you play here?  I’ll warm up on the far court, where I see three others.

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Hannah always at the ready

As I approach, one woman immediately asks, What’s your rating?  I am naked, blindsided by her question.  I expected to just hit a few balls as I did two days ago in Ventura and establish my pickleball street cred.  With no pretense nor subtlety, she lays it right out with her underlying message, Are you worthy?

Similar to my days at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in Fair Lawn, NJ, I feel exposed and vulnerable.  Will I measure up?  Am I good enough?  As a teenager, the answers were no and no back in 1962 .  Will today be any different?

Ratings in pickleball determine the pecking order of the sport.  Beginners are 1.0 to 2.5.  Intermediate players are 3.0.  The 3.5 rating gets us invited to the pickleball courts for advanced play at the Westbrook Community Center in Maine.  And 4.0 is cool, not as amazing as the 4.5s and 5.0s.

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One of the many 4.0 faces at Santa Barbara Pickleball

I say to her, 4.0, without choking or looking at my feet.  She is appeased but only slightly.  She wonders about tournament play and I nod 4.0. This is a modern day version of the junior high lunch room, where the cool kids determine who makes the grade.

Having stumbled on to the 4.0/4.5 courts in Santa Barbara, I team up with Paula v the killer team of Betsy and Jim.  Distracted by self-doubts on this outdoor court (I play indoors most of the year in Maine), I am having my feet put to the fire right away.

My first shots float over the net and fall at their feet.  I exhale and realize that they are not 4.5s who would eat me for lunch.  But they are good.  The game is both subtle with third shot drops and dinks as well as slams when any of us leave the ball just a little too high.

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Former tennis champion and another face of 4.0 in Santa Barbara

Down 4 to 1 in a game to 11, I hear Good shot Dan when I angle the ball out of our opponents reach at the net.  Soon it’s 6-4 our favor as my soft game of drop shots and dinks proves successful more often than not.  I’m starting to feel like I belong as I my serve, though not powerful, is consistent and my short game mostly on target.

Unbelievably to me, we win 11-8.  At the net, we knock paddles in appreciation of a good game; they smile and nod at the newbie.  As we walk off, Betsy adds with a smile, You belong.

Mon dieu, it’s not Junior High Part II!

 

 

PS  Two days later, I match up with a bevy of 4.5s and feel what’s it like to be chewed up, spit out, and picked clean.

PSS  After two months, Santa Barbara Pickleball has been a godsend with good play with good folks.  Two of my favs are pictured above (Paula and Jim), but many others have made me feel welcomed (Dave, E, Amanda, Paul, Sal, Juan, Andres, Brent, Tim, Venetia)

Dan Eschews Safe Travels for …

Just two FYIs before I begin this posting.  One, I am now streamlining my blogs to make them one-pagers (one page long).  Two, I work on my leads and I thought “eschews” might grab your attention because of its novelty.  Oui?  And now back to our regularly scheduled mini-blog.

Hannah and I have escaped to Carpinteria, California, just south of Santa Barbara to take a big bite out of winter.  Not surprisingly, when we talk of our getaway with family, friends, and fellow pickleballers, they have, to a person, been positive and encouraging.  As you can see, we surround ourselves with good folks.

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Often, they conclude their good wishes by saying some variation of safe travels or take care.  They are endearing send-offs, much appreciated blessings.  But…it does have a cautious undertone.  Be vigilant. Safety first.

I am looking for an alternative that speaks of my wish for adventure when I send people off with my good wishes.  Focusing on possibilities, not what could go wrong, is my intent.

Go forth and multiply doesn’t quite capture my intent.  Godspeed probably worked back in the day.  I am looking for something that millennials won’t WTF me.

Farewell sounds too final.  Good luck could be appropriate on occasion.  But I’m looking for an all service variation of See you later alligator.

safe 3 bon voyage

I’ve been workshopping the old Roy Rogers Show sendoff of Happy Trails.  It’s fine, but it’s not quite there for me.

I could get my head around Bon voyage, especially since I took four years of French at Fair Lawn High School (NJ) and that together Hannah and I endured French 101 at the College of Wooster (OH).

safe 4 vaya con dios

Another linguistic fav is Vaya con dios (Go with god). Like French, Spanish is a lyrical language.  Though the religious overtones may give pause to others, I think that we are all children of God and it, too, feels like a blessing.

At this moment, the leader in the clubhouse is the Unity/Buddhist Namaste!  Hey, I’m a California boy.   How ’bout you?  Please comment in the space below.

Dan at 71! Part 7 Finale

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After many years of not knowing and not believing, I now believe in God, but… it’s not in the traditional sense.   Let me explain.

I grew up Lutheran (Dad’s choice, Mom was raised Methodist), Hannah and I briefly attended a Quaker Meeting, gave the Universalist-Unitarian Church a shot as well as attended the local Congregational church all to develop a sense of community.  For the last five years, Hannah and I are Unity folks.  Based in the example of Jesus, Unity draws on the wisdom of all the world’s great religions (i.e. Hindu, Islam, Native Americans, Christianity, etc.).  God is within me and you.

Hannah and I will not be buried or cremated when we cash in our chips.  We are donating our bodies to the med school at the University of New England.

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I married the girl of my dreams – one Hannah Banana.

I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Judge not.  Everyone is dealing with something.

 

Dan at 71! Part 6

I am a front-running, fair weather fan of the first order.  For 17 years I have been riding high with the Tom Brady New England Patriots.  When they turn mediocre (and Tommy’s looking less terrific of late), I will drop them like a bad habit.  I have no shame.

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My favorite team of late is the UConn women’s basketball team that has won eleven national championships, a gazillion games while losing almost none.  I came to love them when I taught at Eastern Connecticut State, eight miles from the UConn campus in Storrs, during the Diana Taurasi years. Once Coach Geno Auriemma retires (he’s 64), things are not looking too good for them or me.

My online game of choice is Lexulous (a variation of Scrabble with eight tiles, not seven, for a greater chance of bingos (i.e. seven letter bonus words).  Thank you, Molly, Bill, and Clarissa.

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I love this thought on worrying.  Love is not the same as worry.  Worry blankets your loved ones with your fears.  You are imagining the worst for them.  Love holds a vision of what’s best for them.

Karen Carpenter sings like a songbird.

Dan at 71! Part 5

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I ended my career in education with my dream job.  As a university professor in Education Departments (Eastern Connecticut State and the University of New England), I got to advise, mentor, and experientially teach (i.e. by giving my students experiences similar to what they would do as teachers).

It turned out to be a very good job but not without its challenges.  Teaching at the university didn’t have the “team” feel I was looking for.  We profs were all independent contractors who had to be sure we published, not perished and had excellent student evaluations.

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My favorite observation from my years at the university.  What’s the difference between a terrorist and a tenured professor?   You can negotiate with a terrorist.

That said, being a prof saved me.  After 20+ years as a classroom teacher in public schools, at the age of 48 I didn’t have the energy or the “want to” to keep up with the demands of middle school students.  Teaching middle schoolers is a young person’s game.

My best job?  At least in the top five was being an instructor in the Summer Writing Program at the University of New Hampshire in 1996 and 1997.  Thank you, Tom Newkirk, for trusting in me.

Dan at 71! Part 4

Where have electric tooth brushes been all my life!  I have spent a lifetime of carelessly brushing, for at most thirty seconds.  That has all changed with the Oral B electric tooth brush!  It’s two minutes each morning and each evening.  A full two minutes!  Run, don’t walk to get a $37 electric tooth brush.

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And let me suggest a Water Pik water flosser.  You wouldn’t believe all the crap in my mouth, bits and shreds of food, that this baby washes out.  I am literally a new man!

Meditating is the best.  Fifteen minutes each morning.   I know, I know that I’m retired, but do I ever wish I had made time to meditate regularly.  We meditate within an hour of getting up.  Relaxed and mellow, I’m ready for the day.  By the way, and this can’t surprise you, Hannah and I were into Transcendental Meditation by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1970s.

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When I meditate, I am not concentrating hard; I let my mind wander and bring it back by focusing on my breath, in and out.

On January 16, 2019, Hannah and I will have been married 17,000 days.  Whoa.