Dan and What He Shouldn’t Have Done – KGUA #77

For the February 7, 2022 KGUA Radio Writer’s Hour hosted by Peggy Berryhill and Mark Gross, we are asked to freewrite to the following prompt: You shouldn’t have done that!

I shouldn’t have doubted myself back in 2006.

On a family trip to Zion National Park, Hannah and I knew of the death-defying Angel’s Landing hike.  In fact, with our young family more than twenty years before (kids were 8, 10, & 12), Hannah and I had climbed to this heavenly perch 1500’ above the Virgin River.  But we were young and so naïve.

Approaching my 60th birthday, I was not so bold or naïve.  Though Hannah wanted to climb into the clouds grabbing onto inch-thick chains with the rocky cliffs and hard valley floor below, I wanted no part of it.  I believed my fear of heights would not make such a trek end well.

Relieved, I was pleased that we turned back.

Fast forward nine years later at the ripe old age of 68, the opportunity to climb the half mile cliff hanging trail to Angel’s Landing presented itself once more.  I didn’t sleep well the night before in the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah.  Breakfast that morning at Wildcat Willie’s found me distracted.  Hannah was again ready to climb to the perch, but I was still talking myself into it.  It was at most 50/50 that I would attempt the climb.

We drove to the trailhead and hiked the two miles of switchbacks before we would get to the chains.  And then I just grabbed on.  I didn’t freeze.  I certainly didn’t ever look down.  And one hand hold led to another.  I traveled through my fear.

Words – 245

Images of Angel’s Landing 2016

The chains of Angel’s Landing
We made it! The background is 1500′ below.
Hannah is as agile as ever.

Dan and Hannah Hike the West Fork of the Cold Spring Trail in Montecito, California

A week after hiking the East Fork of the Cold Spring Trail (Click here for that blog.), Hannah and I return to Montecito, ten miles from Carpinteria, to hike its fraternal twin, the West Fork.

For the first 0.3 of a mile the East and West Fork Trails are one. In short order we turn left and step carefully on rocks over the Cold Spring Creek.

Soon the East Fork Trail leads to the West Fork Trail.

Two years ago this trail was compromised by landslides from the Debris Flow of 2018.  At that time, Hannah and I hugged the mountainside on a pebbly narrow trail, forty feet above the creek below.

At the turn across the creek
The West Fork Trail begins

Hiking today in the shade into the mountains, we see that the Montecito Trail Foundation has shored up the trail in many places quite nicely. 

Montecito Trail Foundation to the rescue
Lush grasses from December 2021 rains
Stepping to the canyon wall side of the trail, we step carefully above the steep canyon cliffs

Our first half hiking destination is the wide culvert once used to transport water into Santa Barbara.  Today its crumbling concrete and rusted, forbidding gate block the adventurous from seeing where the culvert tunnel goes into the mountain.

Cold Spring Water Tunnel

At this 1.2 miles point of the trail, we turn left into the mountains as we have the Gibraltar Road in our sights.  Engaging a young couple (probably 30s) descending the trail, we ask what we have ahead since this part of the trail is all new to us. The guy says that we have a mile to go with 400’ more feet of elevation gain.  To Hannah and me that all seems quite doable on this mid-60s full sun day on the last Tuesday in January.  The guy seems believable.  Why you ask?  He is handsome, fit, dresses hiking-well and speaks with authority.  Oh, the assumptions I make!

Steep pebbly grade to Gibraltar Road
Into the Santa Ynez Mountains we go.

After some initial switchbacks to take the steep out of the trail, we have Adirondack switchbacks (straight up the mountain) for the next four-tenths of a mile.  But more challenging is the pebbly trail into the mountains.  Unspoken for both of us is that hiking down this trail will be far harder than climbing up due to the possibility of slip sliding away.

Climbing further up the mountain, we ask another older couple whom I make no assumptions about, how far do we have to go?   Jubilantly they say, You are almost there.  Maybe five minutes.  As they take the switchback turn past us, I shout, I could kiss you.  They laugh.  I don’t kiss them.

Info at the Gibraltar Road trailhead
The Gibraltar Road turn around

Arriving at Gibraltar Road jubilant, five minutes later, we, in fact, did not have as far to go nor have as little elevation gain as the young man had said.  I learn that handsome, fit, and confident may be charming, but I just might hold off on my foolish assumptions. 

Lunching on our pbj (just pb for Hannah) at the turnout of the Gibraltar Road,, we don’t delay in dealing with the pebbly steep climb down.  We figure we may have to just slide on our butts, but we don’t.  Hannah, in the lead, grabs the chaparral bushes on the side of the trail as I do the same and side-saddle my way down; we handle the vertical handily, albeit slowly.

Heading back down. Looks pretty sweet? Just you wait.
The chaparral comes in handy
Switchbacks that take the steepness out of the mountain
Steep but not dangerous clifffsides

Once back at the trailhead we know that we have another Santa Barbara hike for you to feast on.

Dan Publishes in the Los Angeles Times Online – 100 words of Gold

The Los Angeles Times has a daily online newsletter, Essential California, that deals with the news of the day pertinent to the Golden State.  Again my York and Gualala buddy Scott turned me on to this writing and publishing opportunity. The newsletter concludes with a memory from a reader that is no more than 100 words.  Here’s the California memory I submitted to the Los Angeles Times recently.

Los Angeles Times
Essential California Newsletter


Los Angeles: Sunny, 74 San Diego: Sunny, 68 San Francisco: Partly cloudy, 62 San Jose: Partly cloudy, 70 Fresno: Sunny, 72 Sacramento: Partly cloudy, 68


Today’s California memory is from Dan Rothermel:

As a Jersey boy in the 1960s, nothing was cooler than the Mamas and the Papas and the dream that my life would be so much better in California. Motivated, I headed west with stops in Ohio for three years, then one more year in Arizona. Finally, given the chance to teach fifth-graders at Patrick Henry Elementary in Anaheim in 1970, I knew I had found a home in Southern California. Living in a studio apartment at the South Bay Club, I was doing my best version of “California Dreamin.’” Thank you Michelle, John, Denny, and Mama Cass.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

Here’s the link to the entire Essential California from February 18, 2022


Dan Remembers on President’s Day – KGUA #79

It’s Presidents’ Day February 21, 2022.  For KGUA Radio Writer’s Hour hosted by Peggy Berryhill and Mark Gross, we are asked to freewrite to the following prompt: Tell us about a moment with a president.

Irish Hall, ASU

There must have been 20 of us gathered around a black and white TV on the first floor at my Irish Hall dorm at Arizona State University in early December 1969.  My buddies, Gale, Steve, Rich, and I were watching and waiting for our birthdays to appear on the screen.

You see the selective service was holding a lottery to draft males 18 and over to fight in the war in Southeast Asia.  A war supported by both Democratic and Republican Presidents

Though at the time I was an elementary education major, I had been an apolitical political science major before that.  Southeast Asia was so far away.  My focus was elsewhere. I played on the tennis team.  I was dating and not dating my fetching girlfriend.  I had a student deferment, but now as a senior at ASU, that deferment was coming to an end.   I was ripe for the plucking. 

MIne was 078!

Stuffed shirts in suits and ties from Selective Service selected September 14 first.  That meant that everyone born on that date from 1944 to 1950 would be the first to go to war.  For that draft, the first 195 birthdates selected would be eligible to be drafted in 1970.  All I had to do was not be in the first 195.

More birthdates were announced.  I wasn’t in the first twenty-five or the even first fifty.  And then I was hit with a barrage of bricks.  My birthday, December 27, was selected #78.  I had lost the biggest lottery of my life. 

Or had I?

You see, that moment helped me clarify what was important.  What direction my life would head.

And I wasn’t going to war.

Words – 269

Dan and Hannah Hike the East Fork of the Cold Spring Trail in Montecito

It’s Another Day of Sun (La La Land)!  No truer statement has been said of our winter home away from home. It’s right up there for accuracy with It Never Rains in Southern California (1972) by Albert Hammond. A “bad” winter day in Santa Barbara is cloudy in the upper 50s.  I think we’ve had one such day in the six weeks that we have been here.  Not bragging, just the facts, ma’am. Good news for us is bad, bad news for the locals who are in the midst of a 20-year drought. 

Google maps doesn’t acknowledge the East Fork Trailhead which is the same at the West Fork Trailhead

Today we have another jewel on the diamond bracelet of hikes in Montecito, just six miles to the north of Carpinteria just off The 101.

We begin heading inland on the East Fork, turn right on the Cold Spring Trail, and return via the Ridge Trail.

We’ve been to the East Fork before.  It was just days before Covid-19 turned the world upside down in the winter of 2020.  At that time, we saw the bridge across the creek washed away due to the Debris Flows of January 9, 2018. 

The newly constructed bridge previously washed away by 2018 Debris Flow.

The massive boulders (the size of SUVs and large vans) raged down the mountain killing 23 locals in the predawn hours.  All of this destruction was born the year before when the Thomas Fire destroyed the vegetation in the mountains above Montecito. The following year heavy rains unencumbered by the trees and bushes of the Front Country of Santa Barbara dislodged the boulders and sent them crashing into the homes below.

Reinforced trail along the Cold Spring creek

Reputed to be one of the three most traveled hikes in the Santa Barbara area (the other two being the Rattlesnake and Jesusita Trails), the East Fork of the Cold Spring Trail is a three-mile loop with creek side hiking to a small waterfall.

We’ll being hiking over Hannah’s shoulder.

Today, we see the new one-lane bridge across the creek.  Our morning sun at the shore is gone as the clouds of fog engulf the mountain trail.  Still sporting my new St. Joe’s College hiking shirt (I choose white for my hiking shirts for photo ops because it stands out about among the greens, browns, and grays of nature), I warm nicely climbing higher and higher.

Five years later the Thomas Fire has still left its mark
Mini-falls along the trail

Before us, we have a three-mile loop trail along the Cold Spring creek with 800+ feet of elevation gain.  As with most hikes above Montecito (see recent San Ysidro and Hot Springs Trail blogs), it’s a steady climb on dirt trails that are easy to step around the trail rocks.  Though there are steep cliffs into the ravine, never did we feel threatened or in danger.

Thanks to December rains the falls, in fact, fall.

With December rains, the creek is bubbling in ways we haven’t heard in the past four years.  Gott love nature’s rejuvenation and rebirth. 

Returning by way of the Ridge Trail we have views to the Pacific Ocean
Evidence that the Thomas Fire raged far and wide on the Ridge Trail back to the trailhead

After a mile, the trail meanders east and the creek can no longer be heard.  We reach the Ridge Trail that will take us down the mountain with its gentle switchbacks which makes for a hike families will love.

Being a loop trail, the East Fork of the Cold Spring Trail can in fact begin on the Ridge Trail where we ended up this morning.

Three miles later in just over an  hour, we return to the trailhead.  No heavy lifting today but good times.

Dan and His Valentines – KGUA #78

For the February 14, 2022 KGUA Radio Writer’s Hour hosted by Peggy Berryhill and Mark Gross, we are asked to freewrite to the following prompt: Write to your Valentine.

Hannah with our friend Tree behind her

Dear Valentines,

With Hannah this winter of 2022, I flew 3000 miles to Los Angeles from the East Coast.  We then drove 500 miles north up the 101, over the Golden Gate Bridge, lunched in Sausalito, and drove along the cliff hanging Pacific Coast Highway to the oceanside village of Gualala, California.

And there for the first time today I meet with my valentines in person. 

Let me backup.  I had been introduced to my 2022 valentines by my buddy Scott who told me the local radio station is starting KGUA writers in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic kicked into high gear.  Each week, there would be a prompt for free writing of, maybe, 250 words.

We have been asked to write about our youth, our dreams, our inspiration, our mistakes, our first car.  In fact, there have been 90 such prompts and today I am writing for the 78th time.

My valentines had no idea that they have given me the chance to write my autobiography.  Theirs was a weekly gift during the Covid pandemic that kept me going.  I now have my story for my grandchildren.  Rather than say that someday I am going to write my life’s story, KGUA gave me the framework to do that one week at a time.

Peggy and Mark in the KGUA radio studio

Gathering at the KGUA radio studios, I got to hang out with my valentines over lunch.  These two people gave me a voice every seven days, filled my mornings productively, and connected me with my peeps who follow my blog.

Theirs was a gift of a lifetime.  My lifetime.  Happy Valentine’s Day, Mark and Peggy. 

Dan from the coast of Maine.

Dan and Hannah Hike the High Peaks Trail in Pinnacles National Park, California – Part 2 of 2

After hiking through the Bear Gulch Cave, Hannah and I are ready to head into the mountains at Pinnacles National Park – the High Peaks! Click here for the Bear Gulch Cave blog.

Once through the Bear Gulch Cave, we begin the heavy lifting part of our 6.2 mile High Peaks Loop Trail with 1500’ of elevation gain. 

We leave from the Bear Gulch Cave Trail and take the Rim Trail to the High Peaks Trail. We complete our loop by hiking back to the trailhead via the Condor Gulch Trail
The reservoir at the end of the Bear Gulch Cave Trail

Before we hit the High Peaks Trail, we go from the reservoir on the Rim Trail.  I stop for a photo op of the valley with Hannah in the foreground.

One more photo opp before we head into the mountains

Just as we are about to ascend the High Peaks Trail, Hannah realizes she left her gray shirt somewhere back on the trail.  Without hesitation we U-turn it to recover her shirt.  It doesn’t take a genius in the marriage game to figure that eye rolling and complaining about retracing our steps doesn’t score any points with one’s spouse. Nor does it score points with anyone if the one who leaves behind her shirt beats herself up with such self-shaming comments such as How stupid could I be or What a dummy I am?

Looking back toward the Little Pinnacles mountains

No, Hannah and I have learned a lot about succeeding interpersonally. Stuff happens.  Not 0.2 of mile back, we find the shirt and return to our summitting of the High Peaks.

The High Peaks lie ahead

More of the gentle trail to the mountain top

The 1500’ of elevation is mediated by switchbacks and gentle climbs.  There is the feel of high desert with chaparral bushes green from December’s rain. 

And before we know it, we are among the condors (not literally but you get the point). It’s not a tough hike at all; just one foot ahead of the other.  Lunching on our Subway subs (mine tuna, Hannah’s Black Forest Ham), we let the condors and turkey vultures entertain us.

The High Peaks Trail begins

Crossing the High Peaks, the fun begins as we have footholds sculpted out of the rock and handrails to steady our climb.  Without the handrails this trail is un-hikeable, but with them and the footholds, we squeeze through the rocks in places, but in no way is it perilous. 

Steady as she goes
The handrails make all the difference
It’s all very 1500′ above the valley floor.

It’s certainly no Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park in Utah or Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park in Maine. It’s nonetheless satisfying and doable.

At the top we notice a park intern seeking condors holding a small version of the 1960s roof top antenna while a volunteer records the times when they hear the beeps emanating from the chips on the condors flying above.  The antenna detects condors within a five to ten mile radius.  Rangers apply the chips to the wings of young condors by enticing them with a dead calf in an enclosure that then closes the lid remotely once the condors are in.

All condors are tagged with at least one distinct color/number wing-mounted tags for identification in the field. They wear a GPS transmitter, which biologists use to track the condors’ movements while they are not at the nest. The transmitters can be seen on the wing just above the tag number.

Heading back to the trailhead via the Condor Gulch Trail

Once done with the High Peaks Trail we descend on the Condor Gulch Trail back to the trailhead at the Bear Gulch parking lot to complete four hours of hiking under the temperate January sun. We are told hiking in the summer brings temperatures in the triple digits.

Before driving the three hours and forty-five minutes back to Carpinteria, I feast on the second half of my tuna sub with wavy chips and a fine IPA. Hannah and I toast this out-of-the-way hike that we encourage you to consider for your Hiking Bucket list. Pinnacles is a national park for peace and quiet where cell phones do not receive signals.

PS Did you notice the new hiking shirt I am sporting? After seven years, I am no longer wearing my Ithaca College tee shirt. I am now all in on the Monks of St. Joseph’s College outside of Portland, Maine. Our son Will has taken a job in the athletic department at SJC. Go Monks! But what’s with the blue beard monk? I have no idea!

Dan Writes to High School Dan – KGUA #76

For the January 31, 2022 KGUA Radio Writer’s Hour hosted by Peggy Berryhill and Mark Gross, we are asked to freewrite to the following prompt: Dear…

Dear High School Dan,

As hard as it may be to believe, you are going to have a helluva life.  You’ll gain confidence you can’t imagine now.   Your shyness and being so damned worried about what others think will diminish significantly over time. But let’s be real it won’t completely go away.

Let’s clear up the girlfriend thing.  I know you didn’t have a girlfriend in high school. But you did meet the girl of your dreams in college.  And let me tell, you hit the lottery.

What winning the lottery looks like

It was clear from all your idle doodling of Mamas and Papas lyrics in high school classes that the West is where your heart was!  You did it.  First to Arizona for your senior year in college and then to California for your first teaching job.

After teaching twenty plus years in the public schools, damn if you didn’t land your dream job – teaching at the university. 

Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Oh Canada

Sit down for this nugget.  You will conquer your fear of heights by climbing to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park in Utah; you will challenge yourself physically like you never have done before by biking nearly 200 miles on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; and at the age of 74 you will grab on to handrails to complete the High Peaks Trail in Pinnacles National Park in California.

So please just relax.  Good things are coming your way.  It’s going to happen.  Trust me.  All in good time.

Dan, the Elder

Words – 243

Dan with Hannah as She Turns 74 Today

You might be wondering what would Hannah choose to do on the day she turns 74. Fortunately, there is no snow involved for she has been in California with me for the last four weeks.

This morning, as we do each pre-dawn, we walk the three miles plus up and down Carpinteria Beach.

Dawn broke at 650 AM and will set tonight at 535 PM
Shore birds keep us company

As we do each Sunday, we drive to the Unity of Santa Barbara service. It centers us spiritually. It is also where we met Nancy Rose five years ago.

Nancy is one of the Unity Singers (front row brilliant white hair)

Nancy and Hannah thrift shop each Wednesday and then walk to our local Harbor Seals Sanctuary.

Harbor Seal Sanctuary in Carpinteria

After the service, Hannah and I continue a birthday tradition started five years ago. We breakfast/brunch/lunch at the Summerland Beach Cafe in nearby Summerland six miles away for Hannah’s birthday.

Summerland Beach Cafe

Any special reason why you go there you might be thinking? One, it’s one of Nancy and her husband Duncan’s favorite spots for eating out. And two, you get a free meal when it is your birthday!

Duncan and I each have three fabulous shredded chicken soft tacos while Hannah and Nancy each have four pieces of French Toast, crispy bacon, eggs, cantaloupe, banana slices and strawberries. You’ll be happy to note that Hannah orders the most expensive breakfast on the menu. That’s my girl!

Nancy and Hannah chowing down in style on the deck on a 68F early afternoon.

Nancy and Duncan treat us and I do my modest part by over-tipping the waiter.

Later Hannah gets family birthday calls and texts. We’ll bike to the Rincon Bluffs before dark.

Rincon Bluffs

The connections we’ve made with pickleballers, Claudia and Bill, and Tim and Robin, fellow bicyclist and Wordle player Kim, and Nancy and Duncan give Santa Barbara and Carpinteria the feel of home for two winter months of the year.