Dan and Hannah Hit the Pickleball Hotspots in Northern California

HC 1A group picture

Reno Pickleballers

Though hiking five National Parks (Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Yosemite, Lassen, and Redwood) in California is a dream quintet, Hannah and I do love us some pickleball, too.  A week into our national parks road trip for my 70th birthday (in December 2017), we found quality pickleball in Reno, Nevada, a town that was not even on our original schedule.

After a weekend in northern California hiking at Lassen Volcanic and Redwood National Parks, we are ready for a day off from the trail; pickleball to the rescue.  Fact is, we are fried.  After nine hikes in seven days in the Sierras, we need this Monday for chilling; and pickleball is our chilling of choice.

PB map 3

Lassen is 60 miles east of Redding and Redwoods are 40 miles north of Eureka

Turns out this day in Eureka, we scored an $89 promotional rate room to the classy Clarion Hotel by Humboldt Bay.  Treated like royalty, we find the breakfast elite.  Sit yourself down and prepare to have your mouth watered.  For the first time on a road trip, there are flaky biscuits, and gravy for Hannah.  Add freshly-made oatmeal in a cauldron as well as eggs that are not left on an island, but are accompanied by crispy home fries and crispier bacon.  Heaven at Seven (AM that is!)

PB Arcata five

Arcata Pickleball

Our day away from the trail begins with morning pickleball at the Community Center in Arcata, minutes from the Pacific Ocean.  Ambassador Jan organizes a few drills; since there are only eight of us, we play non-stop for more than two hours.  Two other visitors, Rick and Eric, raise the level of competition and quality pickleball is had by one and all.

PB HSU sign

HSU has an on campus redwood trail that we hiked!

A day of chilling is followed by an afternoon walk through the campus of Humboldt State University in the aforementioned Arcata.  I do have one plea for HSU.  Both the men’s and women’s athletic teams are called Lumberjacks!  WTF!   Humboldt State could learn a thing or two from Northern Arizona University, where the men’s teams are the Lumberjacks and the women’s teams are the Lumberjills!

With temperatures going to the low 90s three hours to the south in Santa Rosa (an hour north of SF) this week, Hannah and I decide to spend an extra night in Eureka (Its summer temps are often in the 60s, winter in the 50s.)  And yes, that is the same Santa Rosa that ten days later was devastated by wild fires.

So pickleball in Eureka it is.  We know the gold standard of ambassadors in Laurie Lee of the Yonah Pickleball Club in northern Georgia and Roger Huppe in Springvale, Maine.  Well, my communication with the Humboldt Bay Pickleball ambassador Colleen Foster has been nothing short of supportive and attentive.  Her prompt and detailed emails kept us informed of the play in Eureka as well as play in the nearby towns of Arcata, McKinleyville, and Fortuna.

Eureka PB H serving

Hannah ready to serve at the Adorni Rec Center in Eureka

After two games with Hannah and two women on the Eureka courts, I step aside and wait to play with the guys on the last court, who look tough.  They slam, they bang, and they dink (soft shots strategically placed just over the net) at a high level; I’m pushing it to play with them, but I think, what the hey.

Watching from the sidelines for a while, I see they are going to switch partners and continue playing as a foursome.  Having more confidence than I ever did in high school, I approach them and ask to play.  They welcome me in, as Luis, a thirty something, gives me his spot; I play with Javier against two accomplished 4.0/4.5 rated players.

PB ratings

In pickleball, beginners are rated 1.0 to 2.0.  3.0’s play more consistently and are beginning to learn that pickleball is more than just slamming the ball as hard as possible.  3.5’s play the finesse game.  I think of myself as a 3.5 who, when on fire, approaches 4.0.  4.5’s and 5.0’s have it all.  I’d have to practice eight days a week to even sniff those ratings; call me soft, but I am just not motivated to reach that rung.  Being a three-days-a-week recreational pickleball player is just my cup of tea.

Playing with Javier, I see that our opponents have all the shots.  I can play with these guys but for the first time in a long time it is clear that Javier and our opponents are stronger players than I am.

For a little background, when I play on the road, I am often one of the strongest players, and, on occasion, the best one on the court.  At our home court in Saco on the coast of Maine, I am not Norm, the top player, but I hold my own.

PB humble pie

Dan has seconds

Today is different as I am on the “competitive” court and these guys make me pay by smashing any shot of mine that was just a little too high above the net.  I play four games with different high-quality players and never win once.  There’s no denying it, I am the weak link.  Once when my partner and I are up 10-7 in a game to eleven, our opponents talk strategy at the baseline, then drill me with their slams.  It works; they win 12-10.  Make mine a slice of humble pie!

Today, I take the long view and am so appreciative of the chance to sharpen my skills with these excellent players.

Eureka PB gang 1
Rockin’ Eureka Pickleballers

And it all began because of Pickleball Ambassador, Colleen Foster, who made Hannah and me feel that we had a home away from home on the Pacific Coast in Eureka, California.

Thank you, Colleen.


Dan and Hannah at the Nolan and Kara Wedding

Mainers like Nolan are the reason people move to the Pine Tree State and spend their lives here, as Hannah and I have done for the past 35 years.  When our friend George Derby got his van stuck in the mud of our side yard on a ping pong Thursday, I called Nolan to see if he could help us out.  Fifteen minutes later, (15 minutes!) Nolan hooked up a heavy metal chain from his truck and pulled the van out.

kn d and h with dontal and dorant

Good guys (Donal and Dorant) sought us out during the wedding reception

When I asked Nolan how to best get rid of poison ivy along the road by our house, Nolan sent two of his Patten Ground Care employees to pull out the poison ivy for us.  By the way, the two are Jamaicans (Donal and Dorant) who thanks to their body chemistry do not develop rashes from contact with poison ivy.

When Will was off at St. Michael’s College near Burlington, VT, Hannah and I bought a heavy-duty ping pong table from Dick’s Sporting Goods in Portsmouth.  Having no way to get it to home and in need of some serious muscle, we called on Nolan who used his truck to transport it back to our place on Chases Pond Road and help me set it up.

kn snow in driveway

And now with winter coming, Nolan is the first one on the scene when the big snows fall.  Nolan makes it a priority to plow our 150’ driveway, shovel out the garage doors, shovel a 70’ path to our generator, and dig a path to the propane exhaust vent (which if not done, shuts down the heating to our house which causes our water pipes to freeze).  He’s done this time and again when winter nor’easters come to York.

kn snow to generator

Our generator is in the distance

Nolan has looked after his best friend’s parents for a long, long time.

Friends since second grade, Nolan and our son Will played indoor soccer and youth basketball during their elementary school years.  Will still thinks of the basketball coaching he got from Nolan’s dad John in sixth grade as the foundation for his success as a high school and college player.

Working side by side with Nolan, Will got his first full time summer job as a landscaper for Patten Ground Care, which lasted for eight years.

H and Nolan at VCU

Nolan with Hannah at Will and Laurel’s rehearsal dinner reception at VCU in 2015

Years later in Virginia, Will asked Nolan to be his best man at his wedding to Laurel Ann near Richmond, Virginia.  Months ago, Nolan returned the favor in kind by asking Will to be the officiant at his wedding to Kara on a late November Wednesday.

Though Will speaks regularly to groups of athletes and alums in his position in the Athletic Department at Ithaca College in central New York state, he has had no more important speaking engagement than for today’s Kara and Nolan Nuptials.

kn kilgores 3 with w and l and us

At the reception with Will and Nolan’s York High School classmates, Adam and Zack Kilgore (Will, Laurel, Adam, Zack, Camille (Adam’s wife), Hannah and Dan

Pleased that Will asked for Hannah’s and my feedback on his speaking plan for the wedding, we are further gratified that his words are to keep the focus on Kara and Nolan, not on him, the officiant.   We have been to weddings where the minister sadly makes it all about himself with his clever word play and dominating presence.  Will gets it.  It’s Kara and Nolan’s Day!

Owen and Max Fosters 2

Three days after the Nolan and Kara Wedding, we took Owen and Max to Fosters to use the tickets Kara and Nolan gave everyone attending the wedding for the chance to win a special Christmas tree

As the localest of local boys, Nolan (and Kara) have chosen the Foster’s Downeast Clambake in York Harbor as wedding venue.  The Wednesday wedding is timed nicely for the kickoff of the Festival of Fostering Trees.  Foster’s raises money to help kids who have not been adopted and have aged out of the system.  In lieu of presents, Kara and Nolan have asked guests to donate to the Foster’s program.

kn kara and her dad

Kara with her dad coming down the aisle at Foster’s Downeast Clambake

Come 530P on November 29, 2017, with Will and Nolan waiting at the front of the hall, Kara and her dad come down the aisle.  A hundred plus have gathered on the benches at Foster’s to hear Nolan and Kara’s story of finally making it to the altar after 16 years.

kn k and n to be married

Kara and Nolan with Will officiating and Nolan’s brother Travis as the best man

Eloquent and brief, Will sets the stage.

The purpose of a partnership is to create something greater than we can create alone. Not because of any deficiency or incompleteness, but because each of us is unique, with our own talents and abilities.  In partnership, we improve the opportunity for creating something meaningful together. 

With Kara’s sister Bethany reading an email Nolan wrote to Kara and then Nolan’s brother Travis reading an email that Kara later wrote to Nolan, the ceremony is touching and personal.  Standing in front of Nolan and Kara, Will ends with some of my favorite lines ever to conclude a wedding service.

Before we send you on your way, I would first like you both to savor this moment. Not just the feeling of immense love for one another, but the feeling of love and support from those gathered here today. It is a true testament to what you mean to the people in your lives.

NK six at wedding

Will, Laurel, Kara, Nolan, Hannah, and Dan

Kara … Nolan—I could not be more excited for you to write this next chapter of your lives together.  And with that, it is a distinct honor to pronounce you husband and wife.

And it’s all a wrap in 15 minutes.  Is that a crowd favorite or what!

kn k and n dancing

Quite the couple!

The reception right here at Foster’s is equally cool with lobster rolls, clam chowder, fruit, cheese and crackers all washed down by champagne, wine, or beer.  Though there are tables for sitting, this reception is not a sit-down affair served by wait staff.  People can move around easily to connect and reconnect with old friends.  It’s relaxed and comfortable and so fits who Kara and Nolan are.

The best of it all for Hannah and me is to see the genuine love and affection Nolan and Kara show to each other throughout the evening.  Smiles, holding hands, looking at each other and listening when the other is talking.   This evening Hannah and I see the embodiment of love in Kara and Nolan.

Dan and Hannah Hike in Redwood National Park on the Pacific Coast in California

RW map of coast

After 1300 miles of driving for my 70th birthday California Road Trip, we come to the northern California coast to our fifth of five national parks.  Previously, we’ve hiked in Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Yosemite, and Lassen Volcanic, in addition to the Hunter Creek Falls trail in Reno, Nevada.  Today, it’s the Tall Trees of the Pacific Coast.

RW map of area

Driving 150 miles from Redding, CA in the Central Valley where temperatures this last week in September are in the 90s, we cross the Coast Range to get to Redwood National Park, with its year-round, sublime moderate temps.   Winding along route 299, we have one-lane delays as crews are dealing with the aftermath of the late summer wild fires.  We see the grey black metal structures left from decimated businesses and trailers and the concrete foundations that are all that’s left of some homes.

RW 1 banana slug 2

Banana slug at Hannah’s feet

Heading north at Eureka on the Pacific coast, we drive 45 miles north to Orick, where the Thomas Kuchel Visitor Center is located, with rangers at the ready.  Having been to the Redwoods National Park once before in 1993 with our three kids, Molly, Robyn, and Will, we remember the towering redwoods and the disgusting banana slugs.

RW 1D towering redwoods

Given our desire to hike three hours, the ranger suggests the West Ridge Trail out and the Prairie Creek Trail back for six plus miles of hiking through all the redwoods we could ever want.

RW 1E H among redwoods

Hannah among the redwoods on the West Ridge Trail

He mentions a “trail closed” sign at the start of the return trip on the Prairie Creek Trail.  But it’s a Hakuna Matata situation (no worries), for the creek is not high and fording the little water in the stream is not a problem; the sign is for insurance purposes only.  In addition, there is also a 100’ section of a massive redwood that has fallen across the trail that must be circumvented.   He reassures us that that, too, won’t be an issue.

RW reagan

In the 1960s, legend has it that then Governor Ronald Reagan said, If you have seen one redwood, you have seen them all.  From my research, that does appear to be exactly true.  It is more likely he said, You know a tree is a tree.  How many more do you need to look at?  It seems Reagan was trying to balance the interests of the lumbering industry with those wanting to protect our disappearing natural resources.  His speech writer must have taken the afternoon off.

RW 1H H among more redwoods

What is a fact is that 95% of all old growth redwoods have been logged.  And the few pockets of redwoods, all of which are along the Pacific Coast from Big Sur, south of San Francisco, to southern Oregon, are all we have left.

RW 1G H among redwoods

On a sunny 65F afternoon, we take to West Ridge Trail with its 700’ of elevation gain, which is primarily a stout climb at the start.  Among these numerous redwood giants, the mostly dirt trails are occasionally covered with pine needles and crossed by smoothed, exposed roots.  It couldn’t be a better massage of our hiking feet than if Dr. Scholl herself were caressing our feet.  (I’m guessing the good doctor is/was female.)  [A valued reader sent me a link to WILLIAM Scholl.  Who knew?   Click here for the full story of the good doctor.]

RW 2A trail thru redwoods

At the start of the steady climb, we find it a workout.  But after hiking at 7000’ at Lassen yesterday, this trail is not oxygen-starved as we hike at 100’ above sea level.  The trail is Mohammed Ali-like (it bobs and weaves throughout the mountainside of angled terrain), which may be the reason it was saved from the 19th and 20th century loggers.

RW 2 Zig Zag trail

Hiking over two mph, we then arrive at the Zig Zag #1 trail, the link trail to the Prairie Creek Trail.  Zig zag it does, as we switchback down the 700’ of elevation gain to the trail along the Prairie Creek that will take us back to the visitor center.

RW 3A bridge out

Where there was once a bridge

Soon finding the river crossing where once there was a bridge, we take to using well-placed stones to cross a creek that is no more than a few inches deep.  After 3+ hours of driving through mountains to the coast and now two hours into our hike, the level trail back is just what our tired bodies need.

Along the trail, Hannah spots a fallen giant redwood with light at the far end.  She and I walked through a Sequoia in King’s Canyon earlier in the week, and she wants to hang the pelt of walking through a redwood to her wall as well.  Scampering through without delay, she rejoins me on the creek trail.

RW 5A log

The trail continues to be easy on the feet: dirt, without rocks and maybe a root or two.  Nearly two and a half hours in, we arrive at the fallen king-size redwood.  Chainsaws have not sliced and diced it because it’s still the nesting season of the marbled murrelet.

RW 5 Han by fallen redwood

One big timber

Skirting the trail to the left as many have done, with each other’s help, we stretch enough to step up and over the fallen timber.  All a part of supporting each other for now 45 years.

RW marbled merrelet

Marbled Merrelet

At this point, there is no joy in Mudville as we both are just ready to be done.  No longer do the redwoods hold any majesty as we put one damn foot ahead of the other to just make it to the trailhead.

Nearly three hours after our start, we return to the Elk Meadow by the Visitor’s Center.  On cue, the obedient elk appear and munch away for our viewing pleasure.

RW muir woods with hannah

It turns we are tough graders.

Redwoods National Park earns the bronze on our list of impressive redwood parks.  The gold goes to the boardwalk trail of redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument, fifteen miles north of San Francisco (Click here and here for these blogs).

The silver is the little known but amazing Big Basin Redwoods State Park near our friends Tammy and Mike in Boulder Creek, near Santa Cruz (60 miles south of San Francisco) (Click here for that blog).

That said, bronze gets you on the medal stand.

Driving an hour south from the park on The 101 to our Clarion Inn in Eureka, we celebrate, as only we can, by tapping a fine boxed merlot to celebrate our afternoon among the northern California redwoods.

If you are thinking, these are two wine connoisseurs, you couldn’t be more right.


Dan and Hannah Hike in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California

LV map 2

A chance meeting with an older couple (our age!) in the elevator at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Reno this Saturday morning in late September gets me wondering about our plans for the day.  They tell us that they couldn’t get into Lassen (Volcanic National Park) because of the snow yesterday.  In the high Sierras, Lassen is where we are headed today.

LV map

Checking online, I find that a section of the park road is indeed closed due to snow; though we can get into the park, we will not be able to drive through as we had hoped.

LV shoe tree 1

Heading north out of Reno on highway 395 in California, we spot a tree with hanging ornaments at, what we later learn is, Hallelujah Junction.  As we whiz by at 65 mph, we see that they are athletic shoes.  Wanting to explore this mystery further, we double back and find that we are at a classic shoe tree.

LV shoe tree 2

I learn online that A shoe tree starts with one dreamer, tossing his or her footwear-of-old high into the sky, to catch on an out-of-reach branch. It usually ends there, unseen and neglected by others. But on rare occasions, that first pair of shoes triggers a shoe tossing cascade. Soon, teens are gathering up their old Adidas and Sauconys, families are driving out after church with Dad’s Reeboks and grandma’s Keds.

LV 1B sign with D and H choice

After cruising the flat high desert route 395, we turn west at Susanville onto route 36 to climb into the mountains where Lassen reigns.  At the entrance to the park, we learn the entire park road has reopened, and there are two waterfalls trails for our hiking pleasure.

LV 6B KC falls even better

Kings Creek Falls

On our park map, the ranger circles the 3.5-mile roundtrip Mill Creek Falls Trail that leaves from the visitor center and another 3-mile hike to the Kings Creek Falls Trail eight miles into the park; we would not have had access to the Kings Creek Falls yesterday due to the snowfall.

Different from most waterfalls hikes where we climb along the creek bed up into the mountains, the Mill Creek Trail has us hiking first up, then down along the hillside; but perplexingly mostly downs.  WTF!  Adding to the up and down-ness conundrum, the trail has no signage; after 15 minutes, I wonder why no one else is on this made-for-the-average-Joe-and-Jane trail; the trail is short, promises waterfalls, and leaves from the visitor center.

LV 2B picture of valley from MC falls

Valley below Mill Creek Falls

Hiking on for ten minutes more, we have to be a mile into the 1.6-mile hike at 6500’.  Still no signs and still no other hikers returning from the falls at what would be a very popular hiking time (130P).  I am ready to bail; Hannah is not; she pulls out the faith card.  Though I don’t have much faith in the trail, I do in her, so we continue.  Listening intently, I don’t hear any sound of a rushing creek or thundering falls; seems like a wild goose chase to me.

LV 2 Mill Creek falls

Mill Creek Falls

Finally, spotting two couples returning from the falls, Hannah learns that we are indeed on the right trail.  Forty minutes after leaving the trailhead, we arrive at the Mill Creek Falls.  Hiking an additional tenth of a mile to the bridge at the top of the falls, we have a classic picture of the valley below.

Upon our return to the visitor center, Hannah goes in to buy postcards as I sit in the sun on the bench outside the front entrance.  Ready to change into sandals from my hiking boots, I head to our little nothing rental Hyundai Accent, when I see an older couple approach.  She looks familiar.  Being semi-bold as any good introvert would be, I speak up and say, Do I know you?  She doesn’t seem to recognize me, but I am pretty sure and introduce myself.

LV sweet dreams robyn book

Joy responds, Dan Rothermel, yes.  Turning to her husband Ted, she mentions I told you about his book, “Sweet Dreams, Robyn.”   We have not seen each other in 25 years!  Her Centering Corporation published my first book back in 1991.  Joy was the one who believed there was a market for my narrative poetry about our family dealing with our four-year-old daughter Robyn’s leukemia (Robyn is now 36!).  Joy’s belief in me as a writer set in motion my writing career.  I am forever indebted to her for taking a chance on me.

LV 4B Joy and Ted choose

Joy, Dan, Hannah, and Ted at Lassen Volcanic National Park Visitor Center

What are the odds of us all meeting in this out-of-the-way national park, miles from civilization?  If there was thirty seconds difference in timing, we never would have met.

After sitting with them in the café for thirty minutes and still happily stunned at our chance good fortune, Hannah and I then take the winding park road (which was closed yesterday) past the 8501’ Lassen Pass for the King’s Creek Trail.

LV 5B roaring river at KC falls

Roaring creek just above the Kings Creek Falls

At 3P, we hike on the meadow trail, again unprepared for the steady descent over rockiness down to the Kings Creek Falls.  A mile and a half later, we see the rushing river down the canyon which ends at a fenced off area for viewing the falls.

LV 6B KC falls even better

Kings Creek Falls

Seeing twenty-somethings, and even a family with preschoolers down the cliffside, I descend for one more picture while Hannah follows.

Leaning into the rocky cliff away from the chasm below, Hannah is not loving the descent at all.  Once back at the rim, she tells me that this is the very last such rocky descent – ever!  It was only this past February that she fell 25’ off the San Ysidro Falls Trail near Santa Barbara; cliffside hiking is no longer her thing any more.

LV 6D H at falls

One last climb into the belly of the beast

With that realization, we blissfully return to the trailhead for our drive to Redding for our overnight.  We toast common sense with a fine Merlot.

Dan and Hannah Pickle in Reno, then Hike Hunter Creek Waterfalls Trail

HC pickleball

I just hate being the newbie.  I can guess what you are thinking, who does, Danny Boy?   Point well taken.  With introvert tendencies, I want to get past the initial awkwardness when we play pickleball at a new venue.  Showing modest courage, I suck it up and walk through these self-doubts to play when we travel; with Hannah, I’ve been that newbie in White County, Georgia, Santa Barbara, California, Moab, Utah, and Beaverton, Oregon.

Approaching 70, I love hiking with Hannah and playing pickleball.  There’s a significant difference between the two; hiking is an activity where we are not competing, just completing.  (Like that little word play?  As you can probably guess, I do!)  Man and women v. the mountain or canyon.  While pickleball is mano y mano, a  competitive contest.

That said, with two years of experience on the court, Hannah and I do love us some pickleball.  Whenever we play in a new venue, I wonder if my play be good enough?  It’s a self-imposed pressure, I get that.  When I pickle, I just want to work on my game with good folks.   That said, I prefer not getting crushed when I play.  I am not a tournament player; I am what you would call a recreational player, who loves to compete and improve.

HC Reno map 2

After yesterday successfully navigating a late summer snowstorm through the Donner Pass in California, this late September Friday Hannah and I are looking for pickleball love in Reno.  Who knew Reno, a town of 250,000, would have five venues for pickleballing?  Feeling confident, Hannah and I select the one site that is specifically for advanced players.   How is that for introverted-ness chutzpah!

HC 1 pickleball courts

Evelyn Mount Rec Center indoor pickleball courts

Arriving at the indoor Evelyn Mount Recreation Center in Reno, we hear the pickleballs beyond the gym door.  Stepping into the gym, Mark introduces himself and says there should be lots of play since not many are here.  While eight others play doubles on two courts, Hannah and I set up a third net and begin to rally.  Soon Chad and Pete join us, and play begins.

HC 1A group picture

Within the first hour we are reminded of why we love pickleballing.  One is that the overwhelming majority of pickleball players are friendly and welcoming, which these Reno players certainly are; and two, Hannah and I love whacking the wiffle ball with damn good players.  By no means are we better than the top players, but we are in their range.  After two hours of play, we feel like part of the group; taking a big risk, we ask for a group picture.  But… we are not so bold to ask for a group hug.

It is not lost on us how fortunate we are this morning to be in Reno rather South Lake Tahoe, our planned destination.  After hiking in Yosemite National Park yesterday, we had planned to go to South Lake Tahoe through the Sierras to play outdoor pickleball.  Since the cold and snow kiboshed that plan, we took the long way around to our new destination (Reno), 300 miles by way of Sacramento.  This morning, in the town of South Lake Tahoe at 7000′, pickleballers, if there are any playing, are outside in the upper twenties.  Ouch!  Today, we hit the jackpot playing in the warmth of the indoors with a good bunch of women and men.

As for being the newbie?  I just walk through any self-doubts or fears and come out the other side better than I went in.  Just got to remember that.

HC 2 start of trail

The Hunter Creek Trail begins

At noon, we head to the Hunter Creek Trailhead at 5000’, not twenty minutes away in the nearby mountains.  Booting up, we have three miles of hiking to the Hunter Creek Falls in the Toiyabe National Forest.  It’s a brisk 48F, and later on the trail we see yesterday’s snow high above the valley.

HC 2A fording stream H

Knowing that there are some water crossings as a part of this trail, we find the first, not 100 yards into the hike.  With large stones and branches over the white water of Hunter Creek, we have 25’ of river fording ahead.

HC 2BB more H fording stream

Finding a staff-like branch for me to use to balance my way across the creek, Hannah watches me first teeter then settle, finally making my way above the six inch rushing waters.  With her surgical repaired left knee (a skiing accident) and left thigh stitched together in a Santa Barbara emergency room (a fall off a mountain trail), Hannah deftly makes her way across the crick, and soon, we are on our way.

HC 3BB D with snow

September snow in them thar hills

Keeping the creek to our left, the Hunter Creek Trail is obvious.  From dirt to loose rocks, we are rocking along, warmed up after our morning pickleball.  Never perilous, the trail has expansive views of the neighboring mountains and the Hunter Creek Valley.  From grassy hillsides, we eventually turn into the forest.  There, we have two more creek crossings, but they are stone-stepping-ly easy to navigate.

HC 3D H on log

With the roaring creek to our left, eventually we must cross a 30’ log, eight feet above the stream.  Eighteen inches in diameter, the log is our only passageway to the falls.  Hannah crosses first and then I take the babiest of baby steps inching my way across, only staring down at the log before me.  Piece of cake.

HC 4B D at falls

Hunter Creek Falls

After hiking three miles in 80 minutes, we hear, then spot the 45-foot Hunter Creek Falls.  Unfortunately, a leafy tree has fallen to block a full view of the falls.  The Chamber of Commerce needs to do something about this visual.  Nonetheless, check out the falls video.

Now at 6300’ with cooler temperatures, we have gray, could-rain clouds above; cooled off noticeably during the ten minutes hanging out at the falls, we about face and beeline it back to the trailhead.

HC 3 trail into mountains

Reno Valley in the distance

Seeing what might be rain/snow clouds above us, we increase our stride length out of the mountains.  Navigating the two easy creek crossings, we soon are out beneath the threatening clouds into the sunshine.

HC 6 H fording steam

No fear.  The five foot drop off is to the left of the wobbly branch in the center of the picture.

One last obstacle – the initial 25’ roaring Hunter Creek crossing.  Hannah goes first, but something has changed.  The large branch is wobblier as she tries to cross to the other side.  She wavers and wobbles, then steadies herself.  Hoping she will just step into the 6” stream of smoothed rocks, I see her continue to teeter, pause, and pause some more.  The five-foot downstream drop-off into the rocky, soaking abyss makes me shudder.  Balancing precariously, she inches forward.

HC 6A H with staff

A true pioneer

Finally, she makes it to the other side; but she has made my choice of creek crossing an easy one.  I just stomp into the turbulent stream and walk across, soaking my socks and shoes while maintaining my dignity.

With soaking feet, I’m a believer (a la the Monkees).  When in doubt, balancing on river stones and well-intentioned logs comes in a poor second to just tramping through the stream itself.

What do you know?  Semi-maturing at nearly 70!  It’s never too late.

Dan and Hannah and the September Snowstorm at Donner Pass, California

Over wine poolside this late September Wednesday evening (70F!), Hannah and I wonder if we should roll the dice to squeeze in just one more hike in Yosemite National Park?  The weather forecast for Thursday is not promising.  Is just one more hike on the Taft and Sentinel Dome Trails off Glacier Point in the central Sierras too much to ask?

Y 3AA four on trail

Wayne, Hannah, Mary Lynne, and Dan with the Vernal Falls in the background

Moteled in Oakhurst, California, 16 miles from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, we struck hiking gold yesterday with our longtime friends from York, Wayne and Mary Lynne Boardman, climbing to the spectacular Vernal and Nevada Falls, on a golden day in the mid-60s.  Click here for the link to that blog.

Waking Thursday morning, we look out our motel window to see heavy gray clouds, smothering the nearby mountains.  The forecast hasn’t changed, but we have.

At 40F here in 2200′ Oakhurst, CA, we know it’s not likely that we’ll be hiking at 7000’ Glacier Point.  If we did drive into the park to hike, our plan was to continue to the 9945’ Tioga Pass to South Lake Tahoe.  Any precipitation today will likely be snow.  If the pass is closed, we will have to backtrack on winding park roads that will make our travel day a travel day and night-mare.

DP central valley map

Choosing not to roll the dice on the Glacier Point trails, we do the Columbus thing.  No, not wipe out the indigenous population, but go west to reach the east.   Driving west to Merced in the Central Valley, then north on the four-lane route 99 to Sacramento, we have the clouds parting and the sun emerging.  Though stormy in the Sierras, it’s 70s here in the valley.

Texting us as we drive east, Wayne confirms our suspicions about the weather in the Sierras; he lets us know that Glacier Point Road has been closed due to snow.  In Sacramento, I take over the driving with a sweet 100 miles of four lane Interstate all the way to Reno, Nevada.

DP dp map in california

In short order, ominous clouds are covering the mountains to the east where we will summit at the 7000’ Donner Pass.  Passing signs saying 1000’ of elevation, then at 2000’ and 3000’, we have threatening gray/black clouds blocking the sun.  Driving by pull offs for putting chains on tires, we are rolling along on this last day in summer.

DP sleet out front window

Hannah riding shotgun doubles as snow photographer

Clearly, if there were to be weather issues at the Donner Pass, the California Highway Department would close the highway.  They haven’t, and we motor on.  But now the car thermometer has dropped from 73F in Sacramento to 40F and the first rain drops spot the windshield.  Soon, heavy wet snowflakes bombard the windshield as the car thermometer keeps dropping, now to 37F.

As a major east/west truck route, the big boys are exiting the highway.  Clueless, I don’t make the connection to their leaving the highway and the increasingly nasty weather.  Cautiously driving at 40 mph, we are still climbing into the Sierras.  Only later do we learn of the forecast of 3 to 6 inches of snow along Interstate 80 above 7,000 feet!   That’s Donner Pass country, cowgirls and cowboys!

DP cbs snow

CBS News photograph

On the opposite side of I-80, we see a car off the road; for ten miles, as we head east, we see little movement in the trucks and cars heading west.  Later we learn that the slick roadway caused a chain reaction crash involving 16 vehicles with at least one fatality.  Click here for CBS News report

DP car passing by

SUV leaving me in the dust (snow dust that is)

Having travel issues on our side of I-80 as well as we climb to Donner Pass with low snow clouds, we crawl at a snail’s pace as two lanes merge into one.  Relentlessly, the snow comes down in large flakes as the wiper whips them away; we hear thunder and see flashes of lightning as the snow begins to accumulate.  Over 45 minutes, we stop, we crawl, we creep, we inch, but we mostly stop.

DP donner summit

Seeing signs for Donner Pass State Park, I notice another sign that warns us of a 7% grade descent over the next five miles.  On one hand, that’s good news that we are getting off the summit; on the other, we’ll be picking up speed going down the mountain on these slick roads.

DP donner party

And all the while the ominous history of the Donner Pass comes to mind.  Led by George Donner and James Reed, pioneers in the mid-19th century found snow blocking this very pass through the mountains.  Forced to spend the winter in the Sierras, only 45 of 81 settlers survived.  Reportedly some of the 45 resorted to cannibalism.  Clearly, Hannah and I hope the snows don’t cause any such historical reenactment.

Even though I am the slowest one on the road, I never feel the rental car slide or shimmy on the wet, snowy highway, despite it being a little Hyundai Accent nothing.  With few 18 wheelers on the road, we are trending well as we pass through Truckee at 6000’; the snow lightens and begins mixing with rain.

Soon the car thermometer rises to 35F, then 37F and the changeover to rain is complete.  Nevada’s warmth beckons.  Once in Reno at 4500’, 15 miles to the east of the California border, we are home free.

Tonight, at our Quality Inn, there are no news reports of cannibalism on I-80; Hannah and I celebrate with a gluten-filled mushroom pizza.

Click here for news link of this late summer storm.

One month later on Halloween, an early fall storm is on the horizon.  Forecasters said Monday that gusty winds and 1 to 2 feet of snow are likely Saturday and Sunday along California’s main mountain passes, including Donner Pass near Lake Tahoe, Tioga Pass at Yosemite, Ebbetts Pass and Carson Pass, with perhaps a foot along the shoreline of Lake Tahoe this weekend.  “There’s a potential for chain requirements, travel delays and possible road closures.” said Chris Hintz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. 


Dan and Hannah Hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park

Y 8 VF and NF picture at Comfort Inn

Nevada Falls above, Vernal Falls below.  Picture in our motel room in Oakhurst, California

We hit the mother lode of hikes today.  Let me tell you that our hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls rivals our favorite dramatic trails – Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Comet Falls in Rainier National Park, and Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River Gorge.

And it all happened by cosmic karma.  Hannah and I knew our longtime York friends, Wayne and Mary Lynne Boardman, were going to be spending a week in Yosemite at the same time we were passing through the park.  We go way back.  When our son Will was in fourth grade, he and I took a course in bicycle maintenance at York High School from Eric Boardman, their son.  Will and their daughter Lani competed in foul shooting contests in elementary school and later dated in high school.

Y 3AA four on trail

Wayne, Hannah Banana, Mary Lynne, and Dan with the Vernal Falls in the distance

We have scheduled to hike together in Yosemite National Park tomorrow (Thursday), one of the two days our hiking vacations overlapped.  But Thursday’s forecast is for rain, even snow, which would kibosh any hiking on the rocky, granite trails to the falls.

Y 3E closer to VF

Vernal Falls

If we want to hike the Vernal and Nevada Falls at all, we have to change our hiking togetherness day to Wednesday.  Texting with Wayne early this Wednesday, we all adjust on the fly to make our hike together happen.

Y map

Hannah and I have avoided Yosemite National Park for years.  Too crowded.  Finally, with Hannah giving me a 70th Birthday Road Trip to anywhere of my choosing, I chose Yosemite as one of the five California national parks we would visit.  Waiting til September, we’d miss the school kids and their families whose young’uns would be back to their classrooms.  But not so fast, my friend.  It seems that Asians and Europeans understand September is the perfect time to visit, too.  Oops.

Y map with oakhurst

Wayne and Mary Lynne are one of my favorite married couples; they always seem just so damn happy to be together; thoughtfully, they saved the primo Vernal and Nevada Falls hike, high above the Yosemite Valley, to do with us.

Y 1 fire damage on route 41

On route 41 from Oakhurst to Yosemite

Staying in Oakhurst (pop. 2829), the southern gateway city to Yosemite, we have a 90-minute drive to Yosemite Valley.  Just two weeks ago route 41 to the park was closed due to wildfires.  Passing within arm’s length of the charred trees and white ash strewn up and down the hillside, we soon wait for flaggers to let us through on a one-lane road; these government heroes repair the highway and use their chainsaws to manage the burned acres.

Y 3B H and ML on trail by river

Hannah and Mary Lynne at the Footbridge

Once in Yosemite Valley, we might as well be in Times Square as we are crawling in traffic, unable to find a parking spot.  Looping around the park road hoping for a miracle (It’s only 930A on a Wednesday in mid-September!), we create a spot by a side road, then take the park shuttle to meet up with Wayne and Mary Lynne.  Finally arriving at the Vernal Falls Trailhead 30 minutes late, we fall into their waiting and loving arms.

Y 3F on rocky trail to VF

Hannah on the Mist Falls Trail to the head of Vernal Falls

Make no mistake about it, Yosemite is busy in September.  At 4000’, the trailhead to Vernal Falls is teeming with hikers, but not in an objectionable way.   It’s all good!  We are in Yosemite, for goodness sakes.  Many go just ¾ of a mile to the Vernal Falls Footbridge, but numerous others join us on the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls themselves.  It’s 1.5 miles of steady climbing with 1000’ of elevation gain.

Y 3BB four with VF

The foursome at the Vernal Falls

At the Footbridge, we catch a view of the 317’ Vernal Falls in the distance.  They call it Vernal Fall.  What’s up with that!  No s!  Say Vernal Fall; you got to admit, it just doesn’t roll off the tongue.  I’m sticking with Vernal Falls.  (Dan, you are such a rebel!)  Soon granite steps take us higher.  With views of the falls as our constant companion, we let the exuberant step by and just mellow time it to the top ourselves.

Y 4B H on trail with metal fences

Just prior to the head of the falls, we hug the mountainside, though the very solid metal fence gives me the confidence that I would never have without it.  Among the steady stream of people, we see groups of school kids who, among other things, are asked to take their resting pulse.  California, at the forefront of education, (my first teaching job was at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Anaheim, CA) requires all school districts to provide a week in nature for all sixth graders.  That legislative mandate makes opportunities for all communities, not just the elite and wealthy.

Y 5A atop VF overlooking the valley

Merced River from the head of the Vernal Falls

At the head of Vernal Falls, we are with a hundred others taking in the view of the Yosemite Valley below.  Looking across the valley, we see no sign of the smoke and haze from recent wildfires.

From the top of Vernal Falls at 5000’, we take the trail along the Merced River to the 594’ Nevada Falls.  Steadily climbing through the wooded terrain, we soon hit the granite switchbacking steps that efficiently, but with some serious effort, get us to the top.

Y 6C four atop NF

Atop the Nevada Falls

Though a tough climb of an additional 900’ of elevation gain, once atop the Nevada Falls, we have a wide view of the valley as a backdrop to our lunch together.

Choosing to make ours a loop hike, we take to the more gently sloping, though one and a half mile longer, John Muir Trail back to the trailhead.  Throughout our descent, we have the Nevada Falls as a backdrop to our hike.

Y 7D D and H with NF

Nevada Falls in the background

We couldn’t ask for better hiking companions.  Fit and personable, Mary Lynne and Wayne are easy company with miles of good conversation over six hours of hiking up and down the mountains of Yosemite.

Back at the trailhead, the eight miles of hiking with 1900’ of elevation gain has made me one weary boy; satisfied and stunned with our good fortune to hike on a sunny 65F afternoon, we know weather nastiness is coming Yosemite-way tomorrow.

Y 7E four with NF preview

Quartet on the John Muir Trail with the Nevada Falls as a backdrop

Turns out on the following day, the forecasted rain and snow comes and the high is 44F.  In mid-September!

Y 7F ML and H on way down

Mary Lynne and Hannah on the John Muir Trail

If you have time for one hike in Yosemite, make it to the Vernal and Nevada Falls.  And if you can, take along hiking companions like Mary Lynne and Wayne.

Dan and Hannah Go Large in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (California)

With the promise of a 1200’ waterfalls as well as the second largest tree in the world, we leave Three Rivers, at the Gateway to Sequoia National Park, for a day of awesomeness.

GST Map of parks

Climbing into the Sierras at 6500’ to the Lodgepole Visitor Center on this mid-September Tuesday, we park at the near empty campground parking lot near the Tokopah Trailhead.  It’s 43F.

TF 1A H at TF trail

Ideal for hikers of every age with an easy rating, the 1.7-mile Tokopah Falls Trail with a modest 600’ elevation gain, gently rises along the Keowah River; a mighty river during flood season but now a meandering-between-boulders trickle after another dry summer.

Any trail with a waterfall promise gets our attention.  Seeing twenty-something couples or another with her mom on the trail, I wonder, don’t you people have jobs or school to go to on this Tuesday in September?   No judgement, just wondering and becoming more aware that the kids of California pot farmers must need some time to chill themselves.

TF 1C H at stone steps part of trail

On the easy peezy hiking trail, Hannah and I talk about parenting.  Ever impressed with our daughter Molly’s and her hubby Tip’s very intentional parenting of our grandsons, Owen and Max, we wonder how our own parenting developed.

TF Father knows best

We grew up in a time when Father Knows Best and our dads ruled the roost.  Willing to follow by nature, Hannah and I knew such parenting didn’t match our personalities.  Conventional then as now, Hannah and I shared the decision-making.  Fumbling along, we hoped that spending time as a family and valuing experiences over things would make a difference.

TF 2B H on rocky trail

Planets aligned, for we had the support of our families, I never lost my job over 40+ years in teaching, and we were humble enough to know that we didn’t have all the answers.  Perhaps, like many parents, we just got lucky.

TF 2A under big stone 2

Forty minutes from the trailhead, we leave the rock lined trail along the river for rugged stones and boulders along the mountainside.  Hannah offers to take the picture of two UC Santa Cruz students beneath this overhanging cliff, and they return the favor.

TF 3 falls themselves

Arriving at the landing area of the falls, we can only imagine the 1200′ crashing falls that must tumble in spring after the winter snows; today, we can barely make out any water falling from on high.  Our video captures the last 50’ of watery splendor.

With the giant sequoias in Kings Canyon National Park beckoning, we return to the trailhead in less than an hour.

KC Farrah

Continuing on the Generals Road for 45 minutes over 27 miles, we stop at the Kings Canyon Visitor Center for some hiking suggestions.  At the desk, Farrah, a park ranger, smiles and asks how she can help.  After she suggests the General Grant Trail one mile away, I ask if she was named after Farrah Fawcett.  Grinning for what must be the 10,000th time, she says yes, but adds that she never could get the hair right.   She’s a delight and I wonder what influence a name makes to the direction of one’s life.  I think that if we had hiked these mountains in 1979, Molly just might be named Sierra.   (At least, it’s not Sedona, Molly.)

KC 5 sequoia again

After lunch among the sequoias, we venture to the parking lot of the General Grant Trail.  For a third of a mile, the paved trail encircles the second largest tree in the world (Just south in Sequoia National Park, General Sherman is #1).

KC 2 D and H at sequoia

Taking a side trail, I notice a husband taking his wife’s picture in the crook of this giant sequoia.  I ask if he’d do the same for us.

Nearby Hannah spots a fallen sequoia, which upon examination, is a hallowed out tube with light pouring in at the far end.  Ever adventurous, Hannah makes it her mission to climb through the 70′ massive log.  I don’t exactly see the point for me to follow her.  Pushing her up and over the first interior ridge, she gains her balance and is soon navigating the innards of this fallen sequoia.

KC 3 H at climb through log

And voila, she appears at the far end and immediately says, you have to do it.  Having seen her bend, crouch, and step her way up on what turns out to be very slick, polished wood, I have little interest in the claustrophobia that lines the guts of the tree.

KC 3C H at log better one

She counters, you’ll love it if you do it.  Remembering the claustrophobic lava tubes we slithered through near Mt. St. Helens in Washington (Click here for that blog.), I just don’t see how my life will be fuller if I do this.  On the other hand, the Mt. St. Helens lava tubes were tighter and darker than this fallen tree; and I made it through them.  Hmmm.

KC 4 D at start of log

With me being just not into it, she drops her encouraging-ness, and we hike on the north boundary trail to get in our two miles and one hour of hiking.  As we double back, I think climbing through the sequoia could be blog-worthy.  With that as motivation, I decide to give it a go.  Oh, the things I’ll do for my loyal readers.

KC 4A D in log

Returning to the fallen hollowed out sequoia, Hannah says, You don’t need me to push you because I now see a foothold for you.  Really!  It’s a slick cupped polished indentation, no wider than three silver dollars.  But it’s just enough to get me up the first interior ridge until…

…I start to teeter forward into the abyss.  Out of control, I can see this is not going to end well.  The Vegas betting odds are that I’ll face plant three feet below me into the bottom of the unforgiving sequoia.  And then I catch myself.  Maybe it’s the morning balancing exercises I do.  Or, more likely, I’m just damn lucky.

The hollowed sequoia tunnel is amazingly slick and slippery as if others have done this many times before.  With no chance to go back, I trundle along with the sunlight in the distance.

KC 4B H climbing through a second time

Triumphantly out in the fresh air, I turn around to surprisingly see Hannah, 15’ behind me.  I never sensed or heard her.

Smiling, she says, I wanted to do it once for Owen and once for Max.  She’s one helluva Omi.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Marble Falls in Sequoia National Park (California)

On the continuum from structured to unstructured, I am slowly making headway towards the freewheeling end.  Drawn to teaching, in part, by its autonomy in the classroom (I could be in charge and organize the school day as I saw fit, for the most part – remember this was the 1970s), I got real good at having a plan and making things happen on time during the school day.

That said, the school day can be a strait jacket of structure.  You know the drill in middle and high school; the class periods end with the bell; students move on and a new group arrives.  The university is the same.  Class ends at 630P, which means it ends at 630P!  No one pays attention after the appointed hour!  But in California, the change in me is starting to show.

MF 3 falls in the distance

Marble Falls in the Keowah River Canyon

So, it’s the first full day of my 70th Birthday Road Trip.  And before we even get to our first national park (Sequoia), a local hiker suggests his favorite hike – Marble Falls.  Beginning at the trailhead at 2000’, the Marble Falls Trail is a big girl and boy hike at 7.5 miles round trip with a 2500’ elevation gain.  We had never heard of it and hadn’t scheduled time for a bonus hike, but…

GST 1A D and H at sign

Suckers for waterfalls that we are, Hannah and I are all in to changing up our schedule and stay an extra day in the area.   Ergo, we’ll hike the General Sherman Tree Trail this Sunday and hike Marble Falls tomorrow.

GST Map of parks

Ah, but we have, what turns out to be a $100+ problemo.  You see, we have reservations tomorrow night (Monday) in Oakhurst, at the southern gateway to Yosemite, that only can be changed up until 4P this Sunday.

Finishing our Sunday hike to the General Sherman Tree (click here for that blog) by 1P, we drive back to Three Rivers in plenty of time to easily change our Oakhurst reservation.  Getting a room for an extra night at our current Comfort Suites and Inn turns out to be much more of a challenge.

MF $100 bill 2

Checking the Internet to see if our current motel has a room for Monday night, I learn it does; but… our $103 room tonight is now $209 for Monday.  WTF!  How can that be?  It’s a Monday in September!  Not giving up and hoping to tap into my modest charm, I go down to the lobby and ask if we can stay one more night at our current rate.

Bingo, bango, bongo, the clerk taps his keyboard, nods with satisfaction, and saves us a cool $106.  The stars align, the cosmos returns to spinning left instead of right, and we are on for a hike to Marble Falls tomorrow.

MF 6A active bear sign 2

Setting out by 730A this Monday morning, we wind 11 miles on the two-lane park road to the parking area at Marble Falls.  Parking beyond the Potwisha Campground, we first thank God for not camping (lying on the rocky ground in sleeping bags with only a poly-urethane tent between us and any large wildlife is not our idea of a good time); we then boot up and hit the trail.

After yesterday’s black bear experience near the General Sherman Tree, the Active Bear Area sign reminds me that we may have company.  Fearless, we are vigilant but not fearful (as fearless implies).  Yesterday’s black bear paid us no mind if we kept our distance.  We are hoping any cousins are equally thoughtful.

MF 2 trail begins

Hiking on a gently sloping fire road along the Kaweah River, we wonder when the 2500’ of elevation will kick in.  Not a third of a mile later, the trail shows its steepidity (i.e. steepness), as we turn right into the north facing mountain; that turns out to be a good thing as we’ll be in the morning shade of the mountain for much of the climb.

MF 2C H on trail with distant mountain

Over the first hour, the trail rises steadily, but not where we are huffing and puffing.  Soon high above the river, we have a sweet, easy-on-the-feet dirt trail, whose switchbacks make for an enjoyable ascent on a hike rated moderate, despite the elevation gain.

MF 2D H on rocky trail

An hour in, still hundreds of feet above the river on a narrow mountainside trail, we find the trail steepens noticeably and gets far rockier.   The penetrating 930A sun rears its brilliant head as we hike with the Keowah River Canyon below.

And then most happily, the trail dips down towards the Marble Falls.  Hearing the rapids and the cascades in the river below, we trend downhill 90 minutes into our hike.

MF 4B D and H at falls

The kids from York, Maine at Marble Falls

And voila, the 40’ Marble Falls tumbles over what appears to be marble-looking stone.  We chat up a Parisian couple, who takes our picture at the falls.

MF 3B H climbing down

Out for exercise, not picnicking at the falls, within 15 minutes we head back for the trailhead.   As those of you can imagine who know of Hannah’s 25’ foot fall off the San Ysidro Trail in California (click here for that blog) this past February, Hannah is cautious on this narrow trail with a steep downside to the river.  She steps carefully on the inner half of the trail.

MF 5B deer even closer

Within shouting distance of the trailhead in the dense forest hillside, Bambi pops up on the trail.   We stop as she stares us down, not moving one bit.  Behind her are two fawns.  She stares right through us.  It’s not a tense faceoff, but we consider our options as we and she are going nowhere.  Her babies are minding their own business behind her, oblivious to us.

MF 5C two deer even closer

My thought is no matter the animal, one does not mess with mama when her babies are around.  We back up the trail 200’ and, what do you know, she and the kids follow us.   They show no fear; as national park deer, they must have encountered humans many times and know they are safe.

MF 5D H climbing up mountain

We continue to step back steadily and they keep on coming.  The cliff sides are steep with little place for us to go to let the deer pass us on the trail.  With our backing up strategy having no effect, we finally find a mountainside to climb up and let them by.  And then, with no warning, the deer disappear up the mountain themselves and are gone for good.

MF Molly Owen Max

Owen, Max, and Molly

This event makes me think of our daughter Molly, a mother bear with two cubs (Owen and Max).  Molly is good-natured, approachable, but don’t mess with her babies.  Like mothers all around the world, be they humans or animals, she is hard-wired to protect her babies.  I get that deer are not bears, but mamas are mamas.  I am glad we didn’t find out what our mama deer would do if she felt her babies were threatened!

Our clever friend Patty Puntenney from Oregon, responded to my text about our encounter with the deer, How sweet! And they are telling their family they saw 2 dears on the trail! 

It’s not a dramatic or amazing hike.  The falls are meh.  But it proved to me I can do a tough hike, which is good news with ten days of hiking ahead in California.

Dan and Hannah Hike to General Sherman in Sequoia National Park in California

GST Map of parks

Go early!

That’s the advice we hear all the time when planning to hike the populaire national parks of the central Sierras in California.  Positioning ourselves at that gateway town, Three Rivers, a mere six miles from the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park, we plan to be off by 8A this mid-September Sunday.

GST 1A D and H at sign

Waking at 4A (time change!), while Hannah sleeps, I do my daily stretching exercises, first in the king bed we share, then in the semi-dark to the bathroom light, convinced that an hour of stretching a day is keeping me in the game (i.e. hiking and pickleballing).  Breakfasting at 630A at our Comfort Suites and Inn, we are on the road within the hour.

GST 1C - Sequoias from the road

Stopping at the Foothills Visitor Center at the southeastern end of the park, we are interested in finding the signature hike of Sequoia National Park.  And that turns out to be the General Sherman Tree Trail; we add the Congress and Circle Meadow Loop Trails to give us three hours of hiking.

You must remember William T. Sherman!  He was a general in the Union Army during the Civil War, famous for his 1864 scorched earth March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah that was pivotal in ending the Civil War.  For all that and more, he is remembered by having the largest living thing in the known world named in his honor.

GST 1B one lane road

But, I am getting ahead of myself.  From the visitor center, we must drive 20 miles of winding switchbacks, including one two-mile stretch of one lane road under serious distress, governed by a pilot car leading inbound, then outbound vehicles.

Arriving a little after 9A at the General Sherman Tree parking lot, we have our choice of parking places this mid-September Sunday.  As a magnet for folks who have little time or interest in hiking at length, the half mile 200’+ descent to the GST is paved; it includes steps and benches along the way.  General Sherman is not only the largest living tree, but the largest living organism, by volume, on the planet. At 2,100 years of age, it weighs 2.7 million pounds, is 275 feet tall, and has a 102-foot circumference at the ground, with branches that are almost 7 feet in diameter.

GST 2A redwoods to GST

Let me further develop the CV (i.e. resume) of the GST and his brother and sister sequoias.   Able to live up to 3,000 years, the giant sequoias grow only on the western slopes of the Sierras between 5000’ and 7000’ in elevation.  While the largest of the sequoias are as tall as a 26-story building, their bark can be three feet thick.  Although sequoias were logged in the 1870’s, their brittle wood does not make for good lumber; thankfully now, most of the giant sequoia groves are protected.

GST Chief Sequoyah

Once inspired at Billy’s (i.e. William T. Sherman) awesomeness, we are off to the Chief Sequoyah Tree.  There, what seems like our trail is not.  Unbeknownst to us, we errantly leave the Congress Trail and take the Trail of the Sequoias.  It’s no longer paved, but an easy-on-the-feet dirt trail with stunning sequoias here, there, and everywhere.  Then, Hannah first hears, then sees something move in the berry bush eight feet to our left.

GST 4A bear in bushes

Look closely.  The teenage black bear is near the center of the picture.  Trust me.

If you are thinking black bear, go to the head of the class.  We pick up the pace but don’t run.  I am not one who ever wanted to see a bear of any kind in the wild.  I just don’t need that adrenaline rush to have lived a full life.   Thankfully the bear does not follow, but we do have one slight problem.

Wondering why we are not seeing anyone else as we hike, we check our map and realize we have taken the wrong trail (the aforementioned Trail of the Sequoias) and must double back the way we came.  Yes, back by the berry bush with one active and hungry black bear.

GST bear 1

Fearlessly, I take on the bear (with my iPhone)

As we approach the bush, we see that the bear is not there.  Relieved, but only briefly, we quickly gather that it could be anywhere!  Within sixty seconds, the anywhere it could be is on the trail 100 yards ahead of us.  It’s more than a baby, yet not quite a papa or mama.  I’d call it a teenager, hopefully with no attitude and no tattoos.

GST bear 2

Our teenage bear is not going anywhere soon

We dead stop, wonder what the hell to do next, and don’t move.  Hannah picks up a stick.  I’m not sold on that strategy and look to just stay as far back as possible.   Slowly stepping our way down the trail towards said adolescent oso, we pass another lofty sequoia and no longer see the furry one on the trail ahead.  Looking to our left, we spot it on the hillside beneath us, some 70’ away.  Paying us no mind, the bear chomps away, and we double time it away from the black bundle of fur.

Safe, we think, we see other hikers, including a senior couple and their daughter.  Being my usual chatty, cheery self, I ask if they want to see a bear?  Smiling in disbelief, they reveal in their faces that have absolutely no interest.   But see the bear we all do, unperturbed in the forest below.

Having had enough of teenage Smokey, we tip toe back on the Congress Trail and bid adieu to our surprise bear.  But, no longer are we naively hiking the rest of the trails this morning; we wonder if his cousin or, dare I say mama, is in the area.  Why, even charred chunks of sequoias look like black bears now!

GST 5 more sequoias

Over our nearly three hours of hiking, we soon stop seeing bears in our minds around each corner, and hike the Circle Meadow Loop through these massive sequoias.  On a Sunday morning in the Sierras of California, we find our hike really quite bearable.

And let me end with a black bear joke.

In the middle of the forest, a hunter is confronted by a hungry black bear.  Unsuccessful in shooting the bear, the hunter starts to run.  Trapped at the edge of a steep cliff and with the black bear fast approaching, the hunter gets down on his knees and prays, “Dear God!  Please give this bear religion.”

The skies darken and there is lightning in the air.  Just a few short feet from the hunter, the bear comes to an abrupt stop.  Looking up into the sky, the black bear says, “Thank you, God, for the food I’m about to receive…”