Dan Goes 0 for 10, Then Hits Gold (Well $20!)

There is no way to sugar coat it.  0 for 10 is pretty bad.   Let me explain.

20 larry stewart

Inspired by Larry Stewart, I had a plan for my 70th Birthday Road Trip to California National Parks to give $20 away every day.  Larry made a purposeful life by giving small amounts of cash away on a regular basis.  It all began in a diner when Larry, down on his luck, was given a free meal.  Years later in 1979, he saw a carhop, in need, and gave her a $20 tip when 50 cents was a big deal.  Click here for his full story.

Alas, Dan is not Larry, and that’s a good thing.  Dan is Dan and Larry was Larry (He died at the age 58 in 2007).  But Dan has his moments.  On this road trip, I just haven’t made giving $20 away a frontal lobe priority; I got caught up in our traveling, driving, hiking, pickleballing, new towns, and new people.  Blah, blah, blah.  What I now realize is that I needed to create a “to do” list each day with giving $20 away in bold letters.  But it’s a vacation; who makes out a “to-do” list on their vacation?

20 subway

On our third night in Three Rivers, California at the gateway to Sequoia National Park, Hannah and I did something cool.  After hiking to the Marble Falls (Click here for the link to that hiking blog.), we chatted up Patty, the manager at the Subway in Three Rivers late in the afternoon.  Her story touched us, including her upcoming marriage to the love of her life.  Once home, we sent her some wedding dollars.  That’s certainly a positive, but that was not technically part of my plan.  Ten days into our road trip, I still had not given one single Jackson away.

20 fortuna barn

Hannah in red playing pickleball at the roller skating rink in Fortuna, California

Waking in Eureka and then morning pickleballing in Fortuna, CA, 20 miles to the south, on our last full day in California, Hannah and I head south on The 101 towards the Good Nite Inn in Rohnert Park, just five miles south of Santa Rosa, California.  The same Santa Rosa that ten days later was devastated by wild fires wiping out whole communities and killing some 250 people.

20 mendocino map

Eureka is to the north in Humboldt County and Santa Rosa is to the south in Sonoma County


As Hannah drives south on this section of The 101, often referred to as the Redwood Highway, from Humboldt County through Mendocino County, we make a pitstop in Laytonville.

As Hannah pulls our rented Hyundai Accent into a shaded parking spot, she doesn’t see a man with dirty-blond, shoulder length hair sitting on the curb, cooling his jets on this 93F late September Wednesday.

Seated on the passenger side, I clearly see the man with a sweatshirt that says Bamboozled, a week’s growth of beard, ragged jeans, and perhaps his worldly possessions in a bag to his side; all the time with a dog as sidekick.

Opening my passenger side door, I say, Sorry for getting so close.  He smiles disarmingly and nods that’s not a problem.

Once in the Chevron Quick Mart, I realize that I can raise my .000 batting average of giving to .091 with a little timely generosity.

20 $20

Grabbing a $20 bill from my wallet, I return to the car before Hannah does, wondering what to say to the man, maybe my age, to maintain his dignity.

Inspired at the last minute, I walk over to him and say, Could you find a good use for $20?

He said he could, smiled, and the moment was over that quickly.  Soon, Hannah returns and we are heading south on The 101 towards our overnight just north of San Francisco.

20 wayne dyer 1

Hitting a robust .091, I am not in line for the Hall of Fame of Giving.   But I’ll give the final word to a man who likely is – Wayne Dyer.  Click here for his full four-paragraph blog on giving.  (Thank you Mitch Sakofs for reintroducing him into my life back in 2002).

Reduce what’s in excess in your life and then offer it where it can be utilized.  Begin with your stuff: clothing, furniture, tools, equipment, radios, cameras, or anything that you have too much of.  Don’t sell it; rather, give it away (if you can afford to).  Don’t ask for recognition for charitable acts—simply behave in harmony with the Tao by reducing your surplus.

Look for opportunities to fill the empty spaces in other people’s lives with money; things; or loving energy in the form of kindness, compassion, joy, and forgiveness. 


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 Hike the Matt Davis Trail at Mount Tamalpais

Serendipity.  We were supposed to be 175 miles north of San Francisco today hanging out with our friends Tree and Scott, but El Nino flooded the Pacific Coast Highway blocking our way north two days ago.  Since most of life is Plan B anyway, we instead hiked at Point Reyes National Seashore two days ago where we met Craig.

tam stinson beach map

Telling us of a shuttle that takes hikers from Stinson Beach up the Panoramic Highway to the Matt Davis Trail, he mentioned climbing through the forest of waterfalls at Mount Tamalpais State Park.  We are all in!tam 2a d closer up at waterfall

Leaving Petaluma today, CA, we head south on the Pacific Coast Highway to the lagoon by Stinson Beach.  About a 35-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge, Stinson Beach is below the Muir Woods National Monument and Mount Tam.

Stinson Beach, like Point Reyes Station, its sister town fifteen miles to the north on Route One, has a tiny downtown catering to all those wanting to escape suburban Marin County and urban San Francisco.  Never finding the Shuttle that Craig spoke of, we instead drive up the switchbacks of Mount Tam looking to find the Matt Davis Trail or any trail to hike before we head to San Francisco for the night.

tam 1c parking signs

Arriving at the Pantoll Ranger Station Park Headquarters, lo and behold we see a sign for the Matt Davis Trail across from the parking lot.  Though there is no ranger on duty, we self-register and pay the $7 for seniors for parking.  Having been told by rangers that the fine for not purchasing the parking pass is $71, we see a sign here suggesting it might be even more.

tam mt tam map

Looking at the trail map, surprisingly we see that most of the hiking we did in previous years at the Muir Woods National Monument was, in fact, here in the Mount Tamalpais State Park.  Pronounced tam-al-pie-us, Tamalpais roughly translates to “bay mountain.”

tam 1A h at md trail sign

Across the Panoramic Highway, we take stone steps leading to the Matt Davis Trail.  Rather than taking the Matt Davis all the way down the mountain to Stinson Beach, we opt to take it 1.7 miles to the Bolinas Ridge Trail, a part of the Pacific Coastal Trail.

Matt Davis Trail

Matt Davis Trail

Immediately, we enter the forest of oaks hiking on packed moist dirt softened by the rain of the previous week.  Water pools on the trail, but nothing that we can’t easily step around them.  Within minutes we are calling this our favorite trail of the ten we’ve hiked this January 2016 in California.  We are known to jump to conclusions, but this conclusion was right on.

tam 3c h at waterfall

Winding by mossy logs and trees to one waterfall after another, we have mountain streams crossing the trail where stones have been placed by trail makers to let us step easily across.

tam 4 h on bolinas ridge trail

Every so often we come out into a field of grass above and below us on the mountainside that would cause Julie Andrews of the Sound of Music to break out in song how the hills are alive.   Though the trails in the forest are not steep, these hillsides have grassy meadows that would have us sliding hundreds of feet if we misstep.  It never feels dangerous, but I think it will be a few years before we take our grandsons Owen and Max on this hike.

tam 4f h on hillside

Forty minutes into our hike we take the Bolinas Ridge Trail along the mountainside while the Matt Davis Trail descends to the ocean below.  The exposed trail remains easy on the feet with hard packed dirt now dried by the sun.  Below, the fog shrouds the bay and works its way up the mountain to us.

tam 5 h with wrecked car

Hiking above the Pacific, we come across a rusted, overturned truck blocking the trail.  Looking up the mountain some 100 yards above us on, we see a car driving on to the Fire Lookout at the top of the mountain.  Having driven four miles on the Panoramic Highway to the Matt Davis Trailhead ourselves, we know that the shoulders of the mountain roads are often non-existent.  Putting two and two together, we can gather what might have happened to the wreck on our trail.

tam 4b d on bolinas

Comfortable in a tee shirt on this mid-January day, we have a mellow ridge vibe for what will be eight miles of hiking.  The video below shows part of the Matt Davis Trail as we approach one of the many waterfalls.

tam mt tam map

Three hours later we return to the trailhead to desock and deboot and head for the airport.  Still deep in the Mount Tamalpais State Park, we have ten miles of switchbacks on the Panoramic Highway before we hit Route 101, the main artery to San Francisco.  At the top of the mountain we approach a seasoned cyclist going 30 miles an hour in descent.   With no shoulder for him to move over to, we follow him for three miles down the hill; thirty mph is plenty fast enough on this road for cars and bikes alike going down these hairpin turns.

Rather than take the redeye home tonight to Boston, we opt for a night at Quality Inn at the San Francisco International Airport to toast our fortnight on the trail.  Red-eying flights turn me into Zombie Dan.  Sleeping on planes, that’s for the gifted like Hannah, not for the poor sleepers among us.

Though we rise at 4A for our 7A flight to Logan International Airport, that is all a small sacrifice in exchange for living our California Dreamin’ adventure on the trails of the Pacific.

Dan and Hannah Hike in Van Damme State Park on the Mendocino coast, California


We wake to our first cloudy day of fifteen that we’ve been here in sunny California. Our neighbors on Chases Pond Road are waking to a storm that began overnight and will ravage New England for the next 24 hours. Parts of Seacoast Maine are under siege with blizzard snows of 30 inches. For us, twelve inches of snow is a big storm. In the 33 years that we’ve lived on the coast of southern Maine, we’ve never had such snow.

Nolan, Will’s best man, will plow our driveway, twice.   Our neighbors, Marco and Jane, have cleared the path to our propane exhaust and cared for our cat Sadie during the snowy onslaught.

VD map of snowstormThe snow is predicted to end sometime Wednesday; our twice cancelled red-eye to Boston has us now flying out of San Francisco International Airport Wednesday night to arrive Thursday morning.   We are feeling pretty good about finally getting back to New England, but we have no way of knowing how iffy things will really be.  Thursday morning there will be only one runway open at Logan Airport.

VD1B  D at Fern Canyon signNourished by oatmeal with Scott and Tree before they head for whale counting, we have another bonus day in Mendocino County. Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway 25 miles to the north, we set our sights on Van Damme State Park. Feeling like locals after days driving the PCH, we turn into the parking lot at Van Damme Beach.  The son of Belgian settlers, Charles Van Damme made his money as a businessman in San Francisco. Having bought 40 acres of redwood forest in the Mendocino area, upon his death in the 1930s, he left it to the State of California.

Little River along the Fern Canyon Trail

Little River along the Fern Canyon Trail

We love us some redwoods, but we are intrigued that the Fern Canyon Trail leads to a pygmy forest.  Since we are before camping season on the northern California coast, there is no one about as we take to a paved road with campsites on either side. As it was yesterday in Russian Gulch State Park, the campsites, the road, the trails are sopping wet from recent storms and the moist coastal climate here 150 miles north of San Francisco.

Blowdown across the trail

Blowdown across the trail

A month ago, blowdowns crossed this trail from a fierce December storm. But state crews have cleared the trail for us today. Our trail is amiably paved with deteriorating asphalt and covered with wet leaves as we step around large puddles and sogginess everywhere. Following the Little River into the mountains, we pass under a forest of redwoods and pines. Artfully constructed redwood bridges have replaced the onetime stone bridges built with care, I gather, by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. This was a time when the federal government put men and women to work when the world-wide Depression was at its worst.

Redwoods at Van Damme

Redwoods at Van Damme

Wrapping our sweatshirts around our waists, we gently climb along the river bed. Veering right we climb and leave our beloved redwoods behind. Once at the Old Logging Fire Road after 2.5 miles of hiking, we take a spur to the aforementioned pygmy forest.

Even a VCU Ram is not impressed

Even a VCU Ram is not impressed

We couldn’t be more disappointed. I am not sure what we expected. Walking on a carefully constructed boardwalk nature trail among dwarf trees in a swampy bog, we feel nothing.  The cypress, rhododendrons, and pine trees stand six inches to eight feet tall;  big whup!  Due to poor soil, the marshy ecosystem has stunted trees everywhere we look. Once under the Pacific Ocean, this area never reached the majesty of the soaring redwoods of coastal northern California by a long shot.

Heading back to trailhead under redwood canopy

Heading back to trailhead under redwood canopy

Most appreciative of this bonus day among the redwoods though, we return by way of the Old Logging Fire Road and eventually climb back down into the Little River valley.  Our day of hiking takes nearly three hours over nine miles.

One of many bridges across the Little River

One of many redwood bridges across the Little River

Driving the two miles north to the city of Mendocino for one last chance at relaxing among the funkiness and sun, we are met by afternoon Pacific sea breezes that have a different plan for us. The fog rolls in; the temperature drops to 50 degrees, and we close up shop and head for home to Scott and Tree.

Today we have the rainforest; New England has its blizzard. Glued to the Weather Channel once more, we see Jim Cantore and Mike Seidel report from the worst of the storm. It’s going to be a doozy, but that’s manana. Today we’ll lay back in the hot tub and think of how sweet it has been for us to take a two week bite out of winter.

Dan and Hannah Hike at Russian Gulch State Park, California


As we wake this Monday in late January, the forecast from New England has bumped up to 18 to 24 inches of snow starting Tuesday morning. Though we have a rescheduled Tuesday night red-eye, the planets and the Weather Channel are aligning so that this monstrous storm may mean even one more day here in paradise.

Flashy interior of our Virgin America carrier

Flashy interior of our Virgin America carrier

Again, Virgin Atlantic Airlines has been terrific. After waiting on hold for 23 minutes (I had been alerted that it could be 25-40 minutes – they so get “under promise and over deliver”), I had a helpful agent get us on a Wednesday night red-eye.

RG Virgin Atlantic at SFOStaying in California these extra days is an unexpected bonanza. What I don’t want to do is get to the San Francisco Airport, have the flight cancelled, and sleep on the airport furniture.  Just too old and too soft.  That’s me, not the furniture.  I’d rather get an overpriced San Francisco city hotel room than be marooned for days at the SFO airport.

RG fox rent a carFox Rent-A-Car people are not so understanding. A deal is a deal seems to be the company line. Despite the airline cancelling our flight, they are going to penalize us $40 for a second extra day after docking us $29 for the first. Park, Ride, and Fly where we stowed our car outside of Logan Airport in Boston gets that this is an epic storm and flexibility is needed. They never charge us for the extra two days of sheltering our car and there is certainly no penalty for doing so.

You want snow?  We got snow for you!

You want snow? We got snow!

With open arms, our friends Tree and Scott welcome us for a fourth and then a fifth night at their place.  Nolan, Will’s best man and high school buddy, is set to plow our driveway (eventually he plows it twice because there is so much snow). Our new neighbors Marco and Jane have got Sadie’s back and are clearing out a path to our propane exhaust. Our ping pong friend George calls to see if he can be of help. It takes a village to take care of Dan and Hannah when they are on the road.

The deer in Tree and Scott's backyard

The deer in Tree and Scott’s backyard

Since the snow gods have given us a second bonus day in California, there is little for us to do but enjoy the hell out of another hike on the Mendocino coast. We have the same serpentine, cliff hugging drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Mendocino. Exiting west, we take a 10 mph one-way road back under the PCH to the Russian Gulch parking area. While beaches to our right are closed, we head inland on the campground road past a state park crew replacing a water main.

RG Russian Gulch signAt Russian Gulch, the tourist season has not begun and the state park campground is yet to open for the season. The overcast and fog are thick and we’ll be needing our sweatshirts.  As we hike east away from the Pacific Ocean, we wonder if this sopping, shaded trail beneath the towering redwoods and pines ever gets sunshine.

On the Fern Canyon Trail among the redwoods

On the Fern Canyon Trail among the redwoods

Native American Pomos lived in this part of northern California for 3000 years. Eventually they were drawn into the mission system in the early 1800s. The Spanish missions comprised a series of religious and military outposts that were established by the Catholic Church to spread Christianity among the natives. A generation of conflict and exposure to European diseases decimated the Pomo population.

RG3A  more redwoodsRussians who established Fort Ross in 1812 were probably the first white men to explore and chart this area. It is believed that U.S. government surveyors later gave the name “Russian Gulch” to honor these early pioneers.

Everything is soaked, from the campsites to the paved campground road with puddles that we easily step around and through. After a half mile, we begin the Fern Canyon Trail. It, too, is paved, as we step around dripping ferns along a rushing canyon creek.

RG2A  start of trailThe Fern Canyon Trail begins quite level following the Russian Gulch Creek Canyon, wide enough for us to walk side by side. As a bonus day on our California hiking vacation, we never give the snows of New England another thought.  Here, a mid-December deluge caused blowdowns that the state park crews have already sawed into chunks and moved from our path.

It is a banquet of redwoods again for two and a half miles.  Being before the season, we find few others on the trail – a retired couple here, another one there, here in the Amazon rainforest north.

RG3B more redwoodsAs you might guess, lumber mills for the redwood flourished here in the 19th century. Redwood was cut for railroad ties, and Russian Gulch produced many of the ties used on the transcontinental railroad. Once the lumber industry died here on the northern California coast, the state government fortunately stepped in to save the wilderness for the many, rather than have it exploited by the few.

RG4A H on trail w redwoodsSoon we take to the Falls Loop Trail anticipating the waterfalls ahead. Hiking at a 2-3 mph pace, we descend the rocky trail by the falls. There, the once hidden waterfall tumbles 36 feet below. Far too cold for skinny dipping, the pool beneath is ideal for an iPhone video.

RG4C H by stream by trailThe seven miles of hiking today does The seven miles of hiking today does not require one to be an uber hiker. There are climbs, but it’s a walk down a boulevard of redwoods. Once my Maine sweatshirt broadcasts where we are from, everyone comments about the storm in the East with sympathy and understanding. Despite three days of anticipation, as we hike this Monday morning, the storm still hasn’t even started in New England.

Virginia Commonwealth University  v. George Washington University

Virginia Commonwealth University v. George Washington University

Returning to Tree and Scott’s nest for another VCU basketball victory over George Washington University, we later hot tub it and sleep contentedly as we know there is little we can do about the storm. Thanks to the snow gods we have two more days in California – one to hike again in Mendocino County and then a full day to travel to Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco before we take a red-eye to Boston and all its snow.

It’s all good.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Mendocino Headlands in northern California

mendocino-county-mapWith New England bracing for a monster snowstorm, we have delayed our flight home to Boston by twenty-four hours.  The Universe is smiling down on us as we are staying with friends Tree and Scott, who graciously welcome us for an additional night at their place on the northern coast of California. Nolan, our son Will’s best man, has offered to plow our driveway.  Our village is coming together on this late January weekend.

Taking advantage of the opportunity that the snow gods have given us, we drive 25 miles north to the Mendocino Headlands this late Sunday morning. The Pacific Coast Highway from Point Arena to Mendocino is classic hairpins and sparkling morning sunshine off the warm waters of the Pacific.  Enjoy the ride on the video below.

Moody's coffee shop and bakery in Mendocino

Moody’s coffee shop and bakery in Mendocino.  The place to chill with Internet access.

Surrounded on three sides by bluffs and cliffs, Mendocino is just off the beaten path (the Pacific Coast Highway); we park easily on Main Street. Mendocino is the mama bear of climates; not too hot and not too cold. Summers have frequent fog and highs in the upper sixties. Their winters are in the 50s with no frost or snow. A popular home to bed and breakfasts, art shops, and funky neighborhood restaurants, Mendocino is New England on the West Coast.

Along the bluff trail looking back to town

Along the bluff trail looking back to town

Home to transplanted New Englanders in the 19th century, Mendocino has many Victorian-style homes. Mendocino served as the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine for the hit TV series, Murder, She Wrote.

Mendocino water tank

Mendocino water tank

Famous for its water towers, Mendocino used windmills to power these towers built at the end of the 19th century. All one needed was a windmill tall enough to catch coastal breezes to power the pumps and a tank positioned high enough to provide adequate water pressure. Today, most of the windmills have disappeared, but less than a dozen of these towers are still standing, ranging from completely restored to the precarious.

Catchment tank

Catchment tank

One year ago, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors declared a Local Emergency and Imminent Threat of Disaster due to drought conditions. Dealing with the drought that all California is experiencing, Mendocino is offering 5000 to 50,000 gallon catchment tanks for landowners and organizations. Drought-stricken California, which just had its driest January ever, will smash another dismal record next month: the hottest February.  In March, Governor Jerry Brown will require mandatory water conservation after a winter with 6% of the normal snow pack in the Sierras.

On the Mendocino Headlands bluff trail

On the Mendocino Headlands bluff trail

From Main Street, hikers can walk just a few hundred feet to the Mendocino Headlands bluff trail. Some 50 or 60 feet above the shoreline, the bluff trails are serpentine paths through the heather and brush. On this sunny Sunday morning, we have many other hiker/walkers for company. Though fog does not come in today, it will tomorrow and drop temperatures fifteen degrees.

Looking out to the Pacific

Looking out to the Pacific

This three mile bluff trail within an arm’s reach of town lies above rich abalone grounds. This is not a trail on which I would take our preschool grandsons, Owen and Max. Though not perilous for adults, the trail is two to three feet from sheer cliffs dropping sixty feet or more to the beach below. As with most bluff trails, there is little elevation gain so it’s a “walk in the park” along the ocean for us today.

In addition to other wildlife, there are VCU Rams on the trail

In addition to other wildlife, there are VCU Rams on the trail

The trail winds to the north of town with cliff side views. We return to town along Lansing Street. The early afternoon has me sitting behind the Methodist Church on a bench just taking in the sunshine in this lazy funky town.  Good weather on vacation makes me think, I could live here.

Our front yard on Chases Pond Road

Our front yard on Chases Pond Road

The coming blizzard is now predicted to be 12+ inches. Virgin America Airlines has changed our red-eye from Monday night to Tuesday night for no charge. The Fox Rent-a-Car company is not so forgiving.   Though I mention that our flight has been cancelled, they are charging us a $29 penalty for bringing the rental car to the San Francisco Airport a day late.

Their inflexibility is countered by Tree and Scott’s embrace.  Another fine meal awaits; this time adult macaroni and cheese with penne pasta, ground turkey, and mixed vegetables.  They and their outside Jacuzzi warm us through and through as evening temperatures dip into the low 50s.

Cradled in the arms of our amigos on the northern California coast, we are indeed the lucky ones. Let it snow. New England can wait.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Point Arena Bluff Trail in California

PA map of coast and lighthouse

As overnight guests of Scott and Tree, we have all the comforts of home – a home that looks over the Pacific Ocean with friends looking out for our meals, catching the latest VCU basketball game together, and soaking in the hot tub for these, our last two days in California.

Tree, Scott, and Hannah with Bob

Tree, Scott, and Hannah with Bob

Scott and I go way back. We taught together at Frisbee Middle School in Kittery, Maine in the early 1990s.  He science and I language arts. We each married New York girls who were teachers: Tree a science teacher; Hannah a one-and-done physical education teacher. Though Tree and Scott are not wine drinkers, they buy us some fine vino for our nights together.

Scott and Tree awhale watching at Point Arena

Scott and Tree awhale watching at Point Arena (picture by Peggy Berryhill)

In 2013 Scott founded Mendonoma Whale and Seal Study (Mendonoma is a combination of the two local counties – Mendocino and Sonoma) to conduct seasonal observations of the gray whales’ behavior as they migrate along the coast of northern California.

Our morning cows

Our morning cows

Before hitting the trail, Hannah and I take a pre-breakfast walk along the Pacific Coast Highway. Having the two-lane, rural highway to ourselves this early Saturday morning in late January, we soon have some bovine visitors. Approaching a roadside pasture, we notice the cows from the foothills one hundred yards away are lumbering toward us.  As we continue north on the road, we all travel in unison. We stop. They stop. We turn for home. They follow. It’s the damnedst thing. Watch below.

The trail begins

The trail begins

Though we usually hike alone, today we have the good fortune to take to a bluff trail that Tree and Scott have personally selected for us.  Traveling south on the Pacific Coast Highway, we turn off at the Rollerville Cafe on the Point Arena Lighthouse Road. Parking on the dirt shoulder of this rural road a little after 11A, we learn that locals think of this as the best bluff hike in the area.

Tree, Scott, and Bob crossing the ravine along the Point Arena Bluff Trail

Tree, Scott, and Bob crossing the ravine along the Point Arena Bluff Trail

With their faithful Irish Setter Bob, Tree and Scott take us along the trail that was once the Stornetta Fields. The Stornetta Public Lands National Monument was just created in March of 2014. Less than a year ago, President Barack Obama designated these 1400 acres as part of the California Coastal National Monument.  Vision.

Point Arena surf

Point Arena surf

This one time cattle farm quickly reveals that the locals were not just blowing smoke about its beauty. With its many rock formations close to shore that produce rocking waves, we see why the trail is numero uno. The trail is not worn but easy to follow. Now part of public lands, the trail, a local hiker tells us, now sanctions bluff hiking when before locals and knowledgeable others just hiked it anyway.

VCU Ram ahiking at Point Arena

VCU Ram ahiking at Point Arena

Since there is no wind, I’m surprised by the high seas and crashing waves. My meteorological training has a few holes. Come on Weather Channel, step up my game. For two years running, California for the Rothermels in January has been sunshine and blue skies.

Taking a break above the cliffs, we lunch on Tree’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; simpatico with Tree and Scott in many ways, having simple meals on the trail is just another one.

PA 3A surf

A mile into our hike we run across a fenced-in, cliffside, abandoned field station once used by Mendocino College. Here we have a little problem. Starting down a faux path that runs near the property line, we find just brambles and tick-living brush. This is not good for Bob or for the four bipeds. Backtracking, we hail fellow bluff hikers who direct us to a more inland trail.

#1 bluff trail

#1 bluff trail

After navigating the road from the school through a coastal pine forest, we are back on the bluff trail again. As we hike, we chat up a woman who used to waitress in Ogunquit, Maine, which is literally the next town north of our home in York. Another hiker clues us into an excellent Mendocino Headlands bluff trail 25 miles to the north and another hike in the nearby Russian Gulch State Park.


Mainers escaping the winter of 2015

Mainers escaping the winter of 2015

This is just a leisurely mellow hike with leisurely mellow Tree and Scott. Near 60F, we pull on our sweatshirts when the clouds roll in. If you are not into the snow machine of the Northeast, the Mendocino coast may be just the place for you. Winter or summer, the temperature is often in the 50s and 60s. It’s Camelot with not a lick of snow.

PA 2A surf below the trailOnce back at the trailhead, Scott and Tree head out to their perch by the lighthouse to count whales while we return to their place and have a cool Dos Equis on their sun-filled deck. It’s January! California has a lot to offer our mellow side.

That evening we get a text from our sister-in-law Becky wondering if we have heard about the upcoming major snow storm in New England for Tuesday.  That would be a no!  Scheduled to fly in to Boston on a Tuesday morning after taking a red eye from San Francisco, we have The Weather Channel confirm something big is acoming to the Northeast.

PA weather map of coming storm useI call Virgin America Airlines and ask if we can move our flight one day later to the Tuesday night red-eye. For no charge, the agent quickly agrees and we have bought ourselves another day in paradise. The snow gods lay a gift at our feet.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Bluff Trail at Sea Ranch, California

Sea map 2Traveling from Santa Rosa, some 50 miles north of San Francisco, we head west to the Pacific Ocean. On this Friday in mid-January, we wake to another, not boring at all, California day on its way to 65 and sunny. At Bodega Bay we head north on the winding Pacific Coast Highway of hairpins that takes us two hours to travel 60 miles.

Something Beach at the start of the bluff trail

Beach at the start of the bluff trail

Our mid-day hiking destination is the exclusive Sea Ranch community, created in the 1960s, along a ten mile stretch of the Sonoma County coast. The first residents of Sea Ranch were not software engineers or trust fund babies, but the Pomos, who gathered kelp and shellfish from the beaches for centuries.  Nowadays, residents gather rays and stock options. In the early 1970s, the California state legislature passed a law that required new coastal communities, like Sea Ranch, to grant the public access to the Pacific Ocean.  They were thinking of the Dan and Hannahs of the world.

Sea Ranch houses in the distance

Sea Ranch houses in the distance

Most houses are designed to fit into the natural setting of coastal plain and inland forests. There are no sidewalks or mailboxes. To promote their “living lightly on the land,” you rarely see manicured lawns, flower gardens, fences along property boundaries, or brightly painted houses.

Common VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owners) rentals are $200 to $500 per night. The community of Sea Ranch straddles the Pacific Coast Highway with an ocean side and a forest mountain side.  This 5,200-acre settlement is dotted with 1,800 houses, perhaps a third of them occupied year-round, and a handful of commercial and community buildings.  The ocean side homes can go for $1 to $2 million on trulia.com

Surf below the Sea Ranch bluff trail

Surf below the Sea Ranch bluff trail

It’s a posh and exclusive and private; and I’m not sure how they feel about the likes of Dan and Hannah hiking their bluff trail. Listening to our instincts, we don’t ask at the Sea Ranch Lodge for directions to the trail, but saddle up in our boots and fanny packs, not hiding our hiking intentions at all. Lunching in the Adirondack chairs at the Lodge looking out to the Pacific, we see a trail to the promontory just out from the lodge.

Northern California coast in Sonoma County

Northern California coast in Sonoma County

With ten miles of sea front, we opt to hike north past the barn on the bluff trails. Soon we chat up two home owners who tell us that, though the trail is private, just plead ignorance if anyone asks.  I have to say there are “private” signs. But this all begs the bigger question – who owns the coast? Is it like Oregon where the entire coastline is open to the public or like Maine where the landed gentry are looking to keep out the riff raff and their ilk?

Sea 2C more shorelineHere’s my reasoning why we hiked on these “private” trails today. Our responsibility while hiking is to respect the trail and the environment by not drawing attention to ourselves, littering, or walking off the trails. If challenged, we will explain what we are doing. We are hardly a detriment to the trail.

Renegade on the trail

Renegade on the trail

As we begin our hike, we see Sea Ranchers sitting on their lawns facing the ocean. We wonder if they are members of the unofficial Sea Ranch police keeping interlopers and intruders away from “their” trail. They say nothing. We stay on the trail. In time, my paranoia abates.  The residents are not the issue.  We owe the earth our respect.

Bluff trail itself at Sea Ranch

Bluff trail itself at Sea Ranch

The majority of the 1800 or so homes at Sea Ranch are smaller second homes (i.e., if your first home is a mansion). Though there are about 300 full-time residents, nearly half the homes are weekend rentals. We catch a sweet hiking rhythm as the terrain is level and easy to hike at 3 mph pace. A few are out on the bluff trail walking dogs (I guess they could be rule breakers like us, but they have $75 haircuts, boat shoes, and the latest styles), and all are friendly.

Sea 1C more surfWe talk about Arthur Aron’s question #25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “we are both in this room feeling…” As reminders of what we have in common, we each find 20 we can say. People say opposites attract. I get that. Do they stay together?  Despite a belief in magnets, I also believe “likes” attract.  I think you need lots in common for a successful marriage. If you marry young, like we did at 24, you also need to grow together as you inevitably develop and change.

We are done with Arthur’s questions and see if we can make up some of our own. And we do.

What adjectives would you like used to describe you?

What five bits of wisdom would you like to leave to your grandchildren?

As you can imagine, the tangents and details add richness to our hiking afternoon along the Pacific. The trail weaves along the coast and then through neighborhoods. Here at Sea Ranch, lighting is baffled to minimize nighttime light pollution; there are no street lights and the night sky is dazzling.

Sea 2F more surfRetracing our steps after 90 minutes, we have “evaded” any Sea Ranch police.  Once back at the lodge and ready to drive north, we are on a mission as we travel the Pacific Coast Highway through Gualala, past Point Arena for our overnight stay with Tree and Scott.

VCU's Treavon Graham and Briante Weber

VCU’s Treavon Graham and Briante Weber

Our mission: Virginia Commonwealth University plays St. Louis University at 4P Pacific Time. Though Tree and Scott are out counting whales at Point Arena, they have set up the TV for the CBS Sports Channel for us. After 11 days on the California road, we’ll have a beer with the game, dinner with old friends, and top it off with a soak in their bubbling Jacuzzi. Life is good – all the time.

The current Saturday Evening Post (March/April 2015) has a featured article on Beach Wars: Who owns America’s coastline?  How much access does the public deserve?  Communities from California to Maine are struggling with these issues, which are rooted in almost 1500 years of legal history.

Repeated cover for the March/April 2015 issue

Repeated cover for the March/April 2015 issue

It seems the law in California is that the public has the right to walk the beaches to the high water mark.  The challenge is how to get to the beaches when land owners restrict access.  Exorbitant and limited “parking” fees can reduce the public’s access to the ocean.


Dan and Hannah Hike the Marin Headlands at Golden Gate Park, California

GG Natl Rec Area mapLet’s begin with a shout out to our friends, Scott and Tree. They turned us on to both the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore as primo northern California hiking destinations. With Muir Woods, these two make a Golden Triumvirate of San Francisco area hiking venues. Muchas gracias.

As country mice we have a well-grounded respect for driving through big cities. Have you been to Maine? Our biggest city Portland has 66,000 people. It’s the Tea Cup ride to Thunder Mountain in Los Angeles. But today we have no way around another of the Big Bad Leroy Brown of cities – San Francisco. So like a big boy and girl, we suck it up and drive in.

Waking to the king of motel breakfasts with mouth-watering biscuits and crispy home fries at the Comfort Inn in Santa Cruz, we wait for the morning rush hour to settle down before we drive the 80 miles to San Francisco. Rated the third worst city for traffic in the United States, San Francisco traffic is not to be messed with. Taking I-280 towards the city, we have Beast Mode traffic as we crawl north. Traffic jams, in fact, make the driving easier as there are no crazed Californians zipping in and out. And then for no discernible reason, things open up and we are doing 65 mph.

GG bridge itselfTo get to the Golden Gate Bridge, we take I-280 which dumps us on 19th Avenue into the city. This Wednesday morning in mid-January we sail through the eight miles of city streets with no problemo. Ahead lays one of the seven man-made wonders of the United States, the Golden Gate Bridge.

The bridge’s two towers rise nearly 200 feet higher than the Washington Monument. Officially an orange vermillion called international orange, the color of the bridge was selected to complement the natural surroundings and enhance the bridge’s visibility in fog.

The Marin Headlands of Golden Gate Park

The Marin Headlands of Golden Gate Park

From the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s a piece of cake as we take the very first exit (Alexander Road) to Sausalito.  At the bottom of the hill, we head straight through the one way tunnel for the Tunnel Road/Bunker Road. It takes us two miles to the Visitor Center where the ranger recommends the Wolf Ridge Trail. Being a Wednesday in mid-January, the parking lot is nearly empty; but soon we will be joined by 65 pint-size hikers.

GG1 H at Lagoon trail signStarting at the Lagoon Loop, we are quickly on the Miwok Trail, which, truth be told, is a gently rising fire road to the Wolf Ridge Trail. With full sun and into our second week of California hiking, we catch a climbing vibe and know again how fortunate we are.   Gaining 900 feet of elevation through this desert landscape, we still have not had a drop of rain or a cloudy sky since we came to the Golden State nine days ago.

Hannah climbing on the Miwok Trail

Hannah climbing on the Miwok Trail

We dive into Arthur Aron’s question #19 – If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why? Nope. I am living now as if I am on a short leash. Though I have some long-living genes from Dad (lived to 94) and Mom (to 92), I try to be a carpe diem kind of guy. I’ll hike, travel, hit the gym, and play ping pong as long as I can because the Universe has made me no promises about tomorrow.

Hannah B on the Wolf Ridge Trail

Hannah B on the Wolf Ridge Trail

Before long we meet some school kids hiking as they good-naturedly plod along. We learn that these Sacramento sixth graders are here for a week in the great outdoors. By law, every California sixth grader must participate in an outdoor experience. Once more, California leads the way again.  Given enough time, some non-educators will come up with a way to standardized test this experience and ruin it for good. Ouch.

Dan ready to descend on the Coastal Trail

Dan ready to descend on the Coastal Trail with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance

Above the Wolf Ridge Trail we see turkey vultures as we break for a lunch of apples and pb& j sandwiches. The kids are clustered, listening to the YMCA leader talk about the Hard core Apple core challenge. Eat the whole apple except the sticker, the seeds, and the stem. The students have no idea that they have a lifetime member in Hannah just 60 feet away.

Hiking above the Pacific Ocean

Hiking above the Pacific Ocean

As we descend the Coastal Trail, we are always in view of the beach below, the onetime barracks of Fort Davis, and the inland lagoon; the majestic Golden Gate Bridge is just beyond. During World War II, Fort Davis was built to protect the Golden Gate Bridge and the entrance to the San Francisco Harbor. The massive cannons could fire a one ton missile 25 miles out to sea, though these 16 inch guns were never used in combat.

With surfers in the background, Hannah chills at Rodeo Beach

With surfers in the background, Hannah chills at Rodeo Beach

Looking from above the cliffs at the Golden Gate Park, we see Rodeo Beach (pronounced Row-day-oh Beech), which is made up of tiny dark grey stones. On this Wednesday, the surfers are out and loving life.   Macho California men and women that they are, they still wear their wet suits in January.

Check the YouTube video on the scene from the Coastal Trail down to Rodeo Beach

Marin Headlands

Marin Headlands

Our hike concludes back along the lagoon. At 330P, we’ve been on the trail for 3+ hours and have shrewdly planned it so we will beat the afternoon rush hour as we head north away from San Francisco, or so we think.  Ah, but the 101 giveth and the 101 taketh away. Initially cruising north at 65mph to our overnight Quality Inn 50 miles away, we are feeling quite smug.

GG trafficThen bam. A dead stop near Petaluma where construction workers are widening the highway. We inch along as four lanes go to three and then two. As country mice, we keep our heads down, remain quiet, and just slip away to our overnight in nearby Santa Rosa.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Ocean View Loop Trail in Muir Woods, California

MW map of area

A mere ten miles and twenty minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the redwoods of Muir Woods await to blow your mind.  Looking skyward at these 250’ towers of beauty, I wonder if anyone but the winter wrens and spotted owls have ever seen the tops of these majestic scrapers of the sky.  Named for the naturalist John Muir who was celebrated by Ken Burns in the PBS series on the National Parks, Muir Woods lies at the base of the winding Panoramic Highway in Mill Valley; an isolated paradise of redwood wonder.

MW map of trails

With the sun settling to the west this late January afternoon, we have an evening deadline to get to the San Francisco International Airport to fly East for Winter’s Revenge.  Seizing one last hike, we choose the Ocean View to Lost Trail to Fern Creek Loop.  The trail guide calls it a moderate hike with steep sections that takes two plus or minus hours; bring it on, for soon enough we’ll be thigh deep in Maine snow.

MW 5 Muir woods sign with D

With the weekend crowds two days away, we and maybe seventy-five others have the park to ourselves on this Thursday in January.  Due to its proximity to San Francisco, Muir Woods attracts one million visitors per year, mostly during the summer and on weekends.  This afternoon local school kids with notebooks and a running start are here to explore nature’s treasure that is Muir Woods.

MW 9 H on trail at MW

As with most trails at Muir Woods, the one mile long meandering boardwalk of the hall of redwoods begins our hike.  Ninety-five percent of all visitors seem to confine themselves to this stretch of majesty with its 1000 year old crimson towers.

MW 6 towering red wood

The entry to the Ocean View Loop is a well-identified right and takes us immediately above the Redwood Creek riverbed.  As we hike the 800 feet of elevation gain past redwoods and Douglas firs, we will soon learn that the Ocean View Trail has in fact no ocean view.  The cool, damp redwood forest belies the reality of a drought ravaged California.  Three years ago when we last hiked Muir Woods, the Redwood Creek was raging.  Today we can’t even see a trickle, a dribble, or a droplet during what is their quote rainy season.

Hugging the canyon-side, we climb a trail just wide enough for one.  Redwoods can only survive in the coastal California because the fog belt here provides the necessary moisture for the grand dames of the arboreal world to flourish during the dry season.

Climbing the Ocean View Trail

Climbing the Ocean View Trail

In the mid-afternoon we step purposely along the switchbacked trail occasionally passing hiking couples.  Breaking my code to converse with one and all on the trail, we pass others by nodding “a see-ya-later” in order to meet our flight departure deadline.  The redwood canopy blocks most of the sun which on this January day near 4P is beginning to set.  Old timers say that at one time the trees did not obscure the ocean view.

Descending the Lost Trail to the Fern Creek Trail

Descending the Lost Trail to the Fern Creek Trail

While the Ocean View Trail goes on further into the Tamalpais Mountains, we turn south on the Lost Trail, steeply pitched with railroad tie stair steps to ease the hilly descent.  A 1930s landslide covered this trail for 30 years and hence the name Lost Trail.  Later we turn back towards the Redwood Creek on the Fern Creek Trail.

MW 9L D between logs with redwoods behind

Focused on our upcoming departure to the Great White Northeast, we have motored through this two hour hike in 75 minutes.  As you can guess we don’t exactly stop to smell the roses or let the tannins from the six inch bark of the redwoods create any olfactory delight.  But we do get the exercise and soak in the redwood experience one last time.

Wrapping up an afternoon at Muir Woods

Wrapping up an afternoon at Muir Woods

Packing away our hiking boots and gear, we fit all our clothes and gear into a carry-on travel bag and a sizable canvas bag each.  Though it’s 5P, the traffic south to the Golden Gate Bridge is manageable and we sail across and then down 19th Avenue through the city.

From our front seat

From our front seat

Arriving at the airport we find our 11P flight to Boston is on schedule.  We crash in quasi-comfortable airport chairs playing with our iPhones as we await our departure.

Our California dream world hiking vacation is ending as we set our sights for home, our New England paradise on the coast of Maine.  It’s just that our East Coast nirvana may not be ready for us until May.






MW york temp