Dan and Hannah Pickle, then Hike to Black Hill at Morro Bay State Park

Mor map 3

Not every day do we hit a home run in California.  Today we doubled off the wall.  Though yesterday, we did hit a three-run homer on Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands off Ventura.  Click here for that blog.  Saturday past, we hit a grand slam at our first of two hikes to the San Ysidro Falls in Montecito.  Click here for that blog.

But back to the baseball analogy, we all know that a double is good hit.  We’re not complaining, but we have been getting used to four baggers here in California.  Let me explain.

Pickling

With the forecast for sun on this mid-February Wednesday, we drive one hundred miles north from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo.  We have a 9A date with pickleballers from the central coast of California.

Mor SLO courts

Pickleball courts at Meadow Park in San Luis Obispo

Arriving at Meadow Park, we are immediately included in a game of doubles.  Here, guests don’t pay (we pay $4 each time we play at our home courts in Saco, Maine).  We notice that we are among family (i.e. seniors), which gives us a break from the high powered juices of the thirty-somethings we play with in Santa Barbara.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.

When in Maine, we play indoors; today in the great outdoors, we have sunshine to deal with when hitting overhead shots.  With only ten players by 910A for the three courts, it looks like we’ll have lots of playing time.

Mor SLO D on court

Not so fast, my friend.  Alas, twenty more soon show up, so we wait and wait some more for our next game.  This is not an uncommon problem with the growth of pickleball over the past few years.

You may not know that most pickleball sites have ambassadors.  These angels have a challenging job as they try to balance the competing interests of the different levels of players.  Understandably and most appropriately, ambassadors want to grow the sport and are excellent in embracing newcomers.  Fact is, most pickleball players welcome new players.   That said, beginners thrive in a setting where they learn with other newbies and are supported by the advanced players.

Mor SLO H on court

Advanced players were once beginners and feel a kinship with those just learning the game.  But advanced players also like the competition of other advanced players.  It’s an extraordinary balancing act for the selfless people who choose to be pickleball ambassadors.

One of our Maine ambassadors has the wisdom of Solomon.  Check his email out.

Recently an advanced player wrote me to ask what my thoughts were regarding “picking on” the weaker player on the court.  The following was my reply to him:

“Identifying and attacking the weaker player is a strategy very often used and should only be used in competitive tournament play.  To apply that same strategy in recreational play is just not the right thing to do. It is demeaning and embarrassing for the weaker player.  Many players feel that winning is everything!  It serves no purpose to “smash” a weaker player.  It makes more sense to try to improve your game by feeding the stronger player and attempting to return his/her shot….in other words, challenge yourself!

A little common sense goes a long way….an attempt should be made to balance returns between both players.  All of us, including myself, at one time or another are probably guilty of consistently taking advantage of the weaker player on the court. Let’s try to remember that Pickleball is about having fun….and that includes all players.

Roger Huppe, USAPA District Ambassador, New England

Today we model Roger’s suggestions with the beginners and intermediate players; we know that in the days ahead back in Santa Barbara, we’ll have the competitive games we seek.

Hiking Black Hill

Mor 1 sign at black hill trail

Let the hiking begin

With still lots of hiking miles left in our legs, we drive to the northwest twelve miles along The 101 highway to Morro Rock State Park.  Morro Rock is a 581-foot volcanic plug  located just offshore from the resort town of Morro Bay.

Mor 1A H on trail

On the trail.  Not Black Hill

But before we head to Morro Rock, we’ll hike to Black Hill in Morro Rock State Park a few miles away.  With a mile or so to the top, we’ll get a fine workout with a decent 535’ of elevation gain.  The trail climbs easily through the sage brush with the mountain top always in view.

Mor 1D H near top

We like to hike trails where others hike.  One, we are less likely to get lost.  Two, we enjoy the connection with others, however briefly.

Mor 2 H at top with MB

Atop Black Hill with the Morro Rock in the background

Though the trail is basically well marked, we find a way to miss a turn and start heading around the mountain rather than up it.  As the path narrows through dense sage brush, we realize the error of our ways, backtrack, and find our way to the top.   The fact is, this is an easy peezy hike, to be enjoyed by hikers of all ages.

Mor 2 D at top with MR behind

Looking out to the Pacific Ocean from Black Hill

Throughout the climb, we have the massive Morro Rock as a backdrop.  Dominating the coastline, it reminds me of Beacon Rock on the Columbia River Gorge in the state of Washington.

Mor 4 MR explan 2

Driving a roundabout four miles to explore the base of the Morro Rock itself, we wonder if there is more hiking for us.  It turns out not.  To the north of the monolith, there is a surfers’ beach with families on this last sunny day before the upcoming weekend of heavy rain.

Mor 2A MR

Morro Rock

Around to the bayside, there is more parking; on this day, we see a class of middle schoolers acting the part, – cool, bored, and disinterested.   That said, three cheers for these public school teachers for their commitment and perseverance to extend the student learning beyond the classroom’s four walls.  Whether they know it or not, they are planting seeds of exploration that will likely grow in the years ahead.  These teachers are among America’s heroes.

Mor 3 H in crook of tree preview

Morro Rock State Park

With non-competitive pickleball and a modest four miles of hiking, we wait on second base with our double.  With no teammates around, we are stranded there and decide to drive ourselves home (you get the pun, don’t you?) to our cottage to the south.  Fact is, a double means we are still batting 1.000 this February in California.

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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 at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California

bb husband day care center

Hannah and I make it six mornings in a row of meditating; then we are off for a forty minute walk through the neighborhoods of Santa Cruz, California before breakfast at our Comfort Inn.  Along Water Street, I snap this picture from Callahan’s Bar.

bb map of bbrsp

Just 23 miles north of Santa Cruz lies the largest stand of redwoods in America at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Boulder Creek.  Who knew?  Taking Route 17 north to Route 9 before turning on the winding Big Basin Way to the park entrance, we arrive ¾ of an hour later.  Redwoods have lined our drive for much of the way so that very little sun gets to the pavement below.  Hannah is leery of ever living in such a setting.   That said, if our grandsons Owen and Max lived here in Boulder Creek, we’d find a way.

bb 2A h by a big redwood

Paying $9 for seniors to enter the park, we gladly pay California State Parks for their stewardship of these hiking redwoods.  We also have learned previously that the fine for not paying for parking at a state park is $71!  Got to get people’s attention with a big number.

Our loop trail

Our loop trail

After telling the ranger we’d like to hike for 2 ½ to 3 hours, she gives us a park trail map and suggests the Skyline to the Sea Trail with its 700’ of elevation gain through some of the largest red groves in the park.  On a Martin Luther King, Jr. Friday, we have larceny in our hearts.  You see, we are stealing a blue sky hiking day, with El Nino just off shore promising an entire washout weekend of rain and high winds.

On the Skline to Sea Trail (check out the "gloves"

On the Skline to the Sea Trail (check out the “gloves”

Having climbed nearly 1000’ from Santa Cruz, we are greeted by 47F here at the park.  Thinking it would be warmer for the hike, Hannah forgets her hiking gloves.   Ever her Lancelot, I offer my wool blend socks (still unused and clean I might add) for her hands.  Look carefully at the pictures in this blog and you will see a fine pair of grey/blue socks on her hands.

bb 1A towering redwood

The Skyline to the Sea Trail goes from the Pacific Ocean well into the mountains.   We pick it up near the Ranger Station heading inland along Opal Creek.  The ranger tells us that this river bed has been dry for the last few years.   Though coast redwoods can be 300’ tall and 50’ around, they have no taproot.  They rely on a network of far reaching roots six feet beneath the surface for nourishment and sustenance.

A bomber among the redwoods

A bomber among the redwoods

Wet and sloppy in places from rain over the last week, the trail is hard packed dirt which makes it easy on our feet for what is scheduled to be a six mile hike.  The redwoods are “stunning” to quote my college roommate, Big Steve.  We can’t see the tops and I find it difficult to capture their majesty on my iPhone.  But I’ll try.

On Meteor Trail

On Meteor Trail

Paralleling the creek we rise and fall along the trail with only a slight rise in elevation.  Soon we leave the Skyline to the Sea Trail for the Meteor Trail heading to the Middle Ridge Fire Road.  With redwoods to our right, left, and center we begin the climb to nearly 1700’ at the Ocean View summit.

Meteor Trail

Meteor Trail

 

Once the Meteor Trail meets the Middle Ridge Road we have a 16′ wide fire road down the mountain.  The summit at Ocean View offers more views of trees and mountains but no ocean today.  Maybe the sea haze keeps us from seeing the Pacific.

bb 4E h on trail

Hannah and I are no fans of fire roads through the forest.  They lack the undulations of terrain and the winding trails of surprise through the forest.   With a mile of blah, we soon turn for the Dool Trail and the trailhead at the Ranger Station, looking for someone to take our picture in front of some sweet redwoods.

bb 4C more redwoods

Given the chance to add another mile to the six we have planned, we take the serpentine Creeping Forest Trail.  For the first 90 minutes today, we have seen no one else on the trail.  Hoping to find someone who will take our picture, we let two college girls pass us by since there isn’t the right redwood for this photo opp.

 

Minutes later we meet up with Christine and her son Jared out for a hike.  Both immediately beam and agree to take our picture.  Just finishing college, Jared says that we’ve got to find the right redwood.  I love his spirit.  And then he and his mom both say there’s a great stand of redwoods that they have just passed.  Immediately we all back track and they lead us maybe 300 yards to get the right picture.

bb 6C d and h redwood 3

Soon we are in a grove of old growth redwoods and Jared jumps into action, suggesting many shots against the redwood, and then fifteen more with the afternoon sun streaming through the trees.

Amazing how energizing it is meeting upbeat and engaging folks.  No longer tired from seven miles of hiking, we smile to each other knowing how lucky we all are to have the redwoods to ourselves when rain and more rain will fall from Big Bad El Nino this weekend.

bb 6E d at redwood on cf trail

Having had six days in a row along the California coast from the Goleta bluffs near Santa Barbara to Big Sur’s mountains, we now cede the weekend to El Hombre and his minions.

Tomorrow, we’ll drive north through San Francisco to Petaluma to spend the afternoon watching Tom Brady and America’s Team, the New England Patriots, rip the heart out of the Kansas City Chiefs from the, what else, Heartland of America.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Pfeiffer Falls in Big Sur, California

PFB big sur map 2

Leaving the bluff trail of William R. Hearst State Park near San Simeon, CA on this Thursday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend, we turn north on the the Pacific Coast Highway (California 1) thrill ride for Big Sur country.  Though Big Sur is also a small hamlet 20 miles south of Carmel, Big Sur typically refers to the area north of Cambria along the coast to Monterrey in all its roller coaster glory.

Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

Taking the wheel to plunge and climb along the Pacific Coast Highway, I appreciate that we are on the inside lane nearest to the mountain itself, farthest from the nearly vertical cliffs to the ocean below.  Normally Hannah sleeps when I drive, but not today.  With stretches of hairpin turns, I putter along at 20 mph as if I’m 68 years old.  To quote Popeye, I yam what I yam.  Driving over the 65 miles to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in the next two hours, three times we will stop dead, waiting for the south bound traffic to pass when only one lane is open.

Coast redwoods

Coast redwoods

Now a veteran of driving this stretch with experiences over the last two years, I no longer find the drive stressful or anxiety producing.  What I would say is that the drive demands my full attention.  On some of the steep slopes to our right, there are heavy metal nets to corral falling rocks.  A few times I pass over a sharply angled rock, something I never would have seen if I were driving at night;  clearly the rock would have blown a tire.

PFB 1 PBS sign

Driving through sloping-to-the-ocean forests and pasture land, we pass the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (see the California category to the left of the blog for hikes there) on our way through the tiny burg of Big Sur.  Pulling into Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, we pony up $9 for senior admission and $2 for a trail map, ready for a hiking adventure at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

From the parking lot to the Valley Vista Trail

From the parking lot to the Valley Vista Trail

Asking the ranger for the signature hike at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, she tells us of Pfeiffer Falls, a popular two mile round trip trail.  After the intense driving of the Pacific Coast Highway for the last two hours, this short, mellow hike sounds perfect.

PFB 1A deer on river path

Taking the river path through the shaded forest, we spot three deer within ten feet, nonchalantly eating their fill of green leaves and grass.  They aren’t bothered by us in the least.

Valley Vista Trail to the Pfeiffer Falls

Valley Vista Trail to the Pfeiffer Falls

The trail gently climbs into the foothills above the Big Sur Lodge.  Hiking on hard packed dirt and inconsequential rocks beneath our feet on the Valley View Trail, we have redwoods to our right and left.   The coast redwoods have survived since the time of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble (i.e., the Mesozoic era of dinosaurs).

PFB 5A redwoods again

Due to climate change, coast redwoods are now only found within thirty miles of the shoreline, from the Oregon border 500 miles south to Big Sur.  Conducive to redwoods flourishing, weather in Big Sur Country is cool and moist year round with an annual rainfall of 30-50,” almost all of it falling from October to April.

Mom takes our picture on the Valley Vista Trail

Mom takes our picture on the Valley Vista Trail

As we approach Pfeiffer Falls we see a young mother and father with their seven month old son pressed against dad’s chest in a Baby Bjorn.  Once we speak up and ask if they would do us a favor to take our picture (and it is clear we are not axe murderers), mom relaxes (possibly a mother bear reflex) and smiles; she goes from leery to attractive.  Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.” Thich Nhat Hanh.

Nearly a mile in, the Valley View Trail veers right and we take the switchbacks down to the base of the Pfeiffer Falls.  Hoping someone is there to take our waterfalls picture, we come upon two guys who we learn are from Denmark.

We find that travelers from other countries often pass us without making eye contact, unsure of their English; or once we do get in conversation, they apologize for their “poor” English.  In this case, the Danes apologize and we respond by noticing that their English is most understandable and note how few of us Americans speak a second language.

PFB 4B H at trail sign

With only 30 minutes of hiking in the books, we opt for a side trail, the Valley View Vista Point, a half mile from the base of the falls.  On the way we meet the Danes again.  One tells us that Americans actively engage them regularly in conversation on the trail, something that is less likely to happen across the Pond.

From the Valley View Vista Point

From the Valley View Vista Point

The view up the Valley to the Ocean shows the green that has come with this year’s El Nino.  A lot more rain needs to fall to end this five year drought.  At some point in the not too distant future, will water replace oil as what wars are fought over?

PFB 5 redwoods

Still a two hours away from our overnight in Santa Cruz beyond Carmel and Monterrey, we drive along the steep ledges of the Pacific Coast Highway amusement park.  Hardly a burden, for my goodness, we are in California!

Dan and Hannah Hike the Bluff Trail at San Simeon Point, California

Central California coast

Central California coast

Waking before dawn at the Mariner’s Inn in Cambria, some 200 miles north of Los Angeles on the California coast, Hannah and I meditate together for 15 minutes. With first light appearing from the mountains to the east, we take our pre-breakfast walk by the Pacific.

Cam Pfe boardwalk at sunrise

Sunrise at Moonstone Beach

It’s not just any walk; we have the serpentine boardwalk along Moonstone Beach here in Cambria.  This mile foot-soothing walkway of planks takes us to the edge of the cliffs with the beach sand below.  The continental breakfast at the Mariner’s Inn with dark roast coffee, pastries, croissants, and bagel rolls comes from the local Acola Bakery.

Morning boardwalk at Moonstone Beach

Morning boardwalk at Moonstone Beach

Packed and ready for a morning of bluff trail hiking, we drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway just eight miles to the William R. Hearst State Park, directly across the highway from the entrance to the Hearst Castle.  William Randolph Hearst was the Donald Trump of his era – rich beyond belief with an ego that demanded he get what he wants.  His life story was the inspiration for the Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane.

Morning Hannah at Moonstone boardwalk

Morning Hannah at Moonstone boardwalk

It is widely believed that his newspapers invented sensational stories, ran phony pictures, and distorted real events.  This chicanery is often referred to as yellow journalism.  Baby boomers may remember his granddaughter Patty Hearst who was kidnapped by the Simbionese Liberation Army and later fell under their spell.

Turning left towards the ocean into the parking lot of the Hearst State Park, we see elementary kids from Paso Robles, CA field-tripping to check out the marine life of the area.  Of late, stray elephant seals have come to the San Simeon Beach, 4 1/2 miles south of the main spawning grounds with hundreds of elephant seals at Ano Neuvo State Park.

Elephant seal

Elephant seal

As we cross the beach, we chat up Cubby, the kayak tour guide and unofficial guardian of these errant elephant seals.  Most willing to fill us in, he tells us that the five behemoths here on the beach today weigh some 1000 t0 1500 pounds less than mature adult males.  Locals call this area “Loser’s Beach,” for these smaller males have not been able to establish their “real estate” at the main beach.

San Simeon Beach

San Simeon Beach

He cautions us to give them a wide berth for they have established their “territory” on this beach.  By law we must be 100 feet away; it turns out that these blobs of nature could out run us over 30 yards.   As we carefully observe from a distance, they don’t even budge .

Trail between the bluff and Hearst Estate protected with barbed wire

Trail between the bluff and Hearst Estate protected with barbed wire

Winding our way by these marine mammals, we soon climb the hill at the end of the beach on to the private land of the William R. Hearst Estate.  Barbed wire sends the message that Billy’s heirs do not want us on their property.  By California state law, the public has a right to walk these bluffs some 30 to 50 feet above the water through pines, cedars, and cypress.

Cam Pfe 3AA H on beach bluff trail

We take a wide farm lane along the peninsula perpendicular to the beach as we are the only ones out today on this mid-January Thursday.  The Day Hikes on the California Central Coast gives us the information that this two and a half mile round-trip hike has but 50’ of elevation gain.

Cam Pfe 4A D at point

As we bluff walk, we talk about why we hike.  One, hiking in January lets us take a bite out of Maine winters.  Two, Hannah learns what traveling teaches her about herself.  Three, I look forward to learning and experiencing things that I have no way of knowing will even happen.  The unexpected  joys of travel.

Cam Pfe 4B H at point

Four, the hiking we do complements our back home walking and exercising at the gym.  It keeps the gym from being tedious.  With balky knees, we do need an alternative exercise after having run the roads in Arizona and Maine for 30 years.  And five, I love having travel adventures to craft into blogs; I love the drafting, the revising; taking pictures to complement the text.  I post my blog to connect with others.

Cam Pfe 4 H climbing down to SS Point

At the San Simeon Point, we descend a sandy path down to the rocks below.  This video gives you an idea what we feel as we touch the ocean and have the waves lap at our feet.

Back on the bluff, the trail gets dicey.  Walking along the cliffs, we see the trail just disappear over the cliff edge in places.  At this point, we head inland through the tunnel of eucalyptus trees.  And then back again once more to the cliff’s edge.

Cam Pfe 6A D on cliffs

As professional athletes say, Father Time is undefeated.  Well, on the coast of California everyone plays second fiddle to Mother Nature.  With the sandy cliffs being eroding by the relentless sea, we wonder how much of this trail our grandsons Owen and Max will have to hike.

Cam Pfe 6B H on cliffs

Eventually the trail runs just out over one more cliff and we double back.  And we are soon back talking to Cubby, who once was a guide for groups to see the elephant seals.  I like him and am impressed that he is making a living outdoors as a small business owner doing what he loves.  He is living the dream.

Rich is next to Hannah in the front and Steve is behind Rich in the red shirt and hat

Rich is next to Hannah in the front and Steve is behind Rich in the red shirt and hat (c 2008)

He reminds me of my entrepreneurial college roommates, Big Steve and Rich Meyer.  While my career was working for local government as a public school teacher and later as a professor at Division 3 universities, Steve and Rich made careers constructing their own business, taking all the risks themselves.  With their wives, Steve as a printer with Amelia and Rich as a photographer with Mary, they only get paid when they deliver the goods.

Cheers to Steve and Rich, True Californians.  We salute them from the bastion of creativity and risk taking – the Golden State!

Dan and Hannah Hike Valencia Peak on the California Coast

Montana de Oro State Park

Montana de Oro State Park

For three years running we have come to Montana de Oro State Park, west of San Luis Obsipo, to hike its bluffs and mountains.  Today we have 1342’ Valencia Peak in our sights.

After a night at the Quality Inn in Pismo Beach we wonder what in the world the United Motel Clerks of America are thinking.  Let me explain.  When we check in yesterday, I ask for a quiet room after our previous night’s experience in Santa Barbara.  She agrees and lets us know that that won’t be a problem since just 20 of the 100 units will be filled this Tuesday night in mid-January.  You think they might spread us out to ensure a quiet night of sleep for one and all.  But nooooooo!  As soon as we get into room 103, we hear loud footsteps above us in 203.  Really?

Quality Inn at Pismo Beach

Quality Inn at Pismo Beach

Being more pro-active than I usually am, I return to the front desk, relate the situation, and ask for a new room.  She smiles, agrees, and gives us room 104.  Would that have been too hard from the beginning?  Settled in, we do have the luxury of an outdoor hot tub and later wine by the expansive pool.

The surf at Montana de Oro

The surf at Montana de Oro

Taking The 101 north from Pismo Beach, we turn west on Los Osos Road which winds its way 40 minutes to Montana de Oro.  There, we pass parking areas packed with the cars of surfers as El Nino churns up the coastal waters.

VP 2A D at VP sign

Passing the nearly empty large family beach, we park by the Spooner Ranch House/Park Headquarters in the shade of some of the few large pines at the park.  The trailhead for the Valencia Peak Trail is 100 yards down the Pecho Valley Road.  In the distance, it is easy to identify Valencia Peak two beautiful hiking miles away.

Mountainside trail of Valencia Peak

Mountainside trail of Valencia Peak

At the trailhead, signs for mountain lions and rattlesnakes warn/scare us all, but it’s a long shot we’ll see a kitty or slithering reptile today.  The positive effects of El Nino are evident as the green leaves on the sage brush-like plants brighten our trail.  With not a tree on this landscape, the green is in stark contrast to the brown on brown of the past years due to the five year drought in California.

VP 2D D on trail above ocean

Winding leisurely into the foothills, the trail of packed dirt is easy on our feet and gently sloping towards the peak.  To our south we see the serpentine Oats Peak Trail (click on California to the left of this blog and scroll down to see the Oats Peak and other Montana de Oro blogs).  The Oats Peak is an eleven-mile roundtrip trail ideal for mountain bike riders.

Nearing the summit

Nearing the summit

Always within view of the turbulent sea to our west, the narrow trail takes us into the interior.  At the one mile mark, the trail sign forbids mountain bikers.  It is soon apparent with the increased elevation and the rock strewn trail that riding would be folly and badly erode the trail further.

VP5A more of trail

The trail steepens and the loose rocks dominate our walking path.  With Valencia Peak always in view, we have the crowning achievement within our reach.  The long sloping switchbacks take the steep out of the trail.  This video is taken within 300 yards of the top.

VP 4 D at top with VP sign

The top is a pile of loose rocks with views to the ocean as well inland toward the rolling mountains beyond.  As promised in Day Hikes on the California Central Coast, we have reached the top in less than an hour.  With 1150’ of elevation gain, the trail is a manageable four miles round-trip for many kinds of hikers.

Top of the world

Top of the world

Though this is an El Nino winter, we have had us a day when tee shirts and shorts in the 60s welcome us to the California coast.  While our VRBO friends Scott and Tree, just 400 miles north on the California coast, are having day after day of rain without end Amen, we are living Albert Hammond’s refrain, It never rains in southern California.

Central California coast

Central California coast

Once done checking out the nearby bluffs above the crashing surf, we drive the Pacific Coast Highway to Cambria less than 60 miles to the north for the night.  Searching the Internet for lodging the night before, I came across the Mariners Inn on Moonstone Beach in Cambria, which offered a room with a king bed for $79, down from $159.  I think, At that original price this must be some sweet room; the come-on price is just because it’s off-season.

On the bluffs of Montana de Oro

On the bluffs of Montana de Oro

Don Miguel Ruiz in his Four Agreements advises me to make no assumptions.  I should have heeded his advice.  The United Motel Clerks of America strike again.  Upon our arrival at the one story Mariner’s Inn, I ask if they’ll be busy tonight.  The clerk says, No; it’s preseason.  Being the Wednesday night prior to Martin Luther King, Jr., Weekend, I then ask for a quiet room with no one on either side.  She willingly agrees, and then goes right ahead and gives us the room next to the overnight manager.  You’re kidding?

White water glory of Montana de Oro

White water glory of Montana de Oro

Ours is a small room with only one chair and a king bed that fills the room.  One might think that this means we’ll be having our evening glass of wine with one of us sitting on the bed.   But that undersells our resourcefulness.  Despite temps near 50F with a biting wind, we notice an outside glass-fronted second floor deck with padded lounge chairs for viewing the Pacific as the sun goes down.

Hannah with Valenica Peak in the distance

Hannah with Valenica Peak in the distance

So, after a 5P sunset walk along the boardwalk at Moonstone Beach directly across the road, in light coats we comfortably settle behind the glass protected deck as we sit with wine and watch the night turn from cobalt blue to black.

And by the way, we have an uninterrupted night of sleep.  We don’t even know the night manager is there.  The dues paying UMCOA clerk knew what she was doing!

Dan and Hannah Get a Workout Hiking to Gaviota Peak on the California Coast

Gav cali post card

Inspired by our California snowbird friends, Tree and Scott, next winter Hannah and I will become winter Californians.  Ever since public school teaching in Anaheim, CA in 1970, I have had California Dreamin’ cursing my veins.  It began with the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and believing that California is Fun, Fun, Fun until Daddy Takes the T-Bird Away.  And…  California was also the perfect escape, emotionally and literally, for an 18 year old from Jersey.

Summerland, California

Summerland, California

Looking for a place to share with our kids and grandsons, we have joined the VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) generation.  Just yesterday, we signed the paperwork to spend a month next winter in a vacation cottage for six in Summerland, CA.  Just four miles south of Santa Barbara, Summerland basks in sunshine between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean on a hillside, something out of the French Riviera.

Gaviotta State Park

Gaviota State Park

With the contract in hand on, we drive north on The 101 heading to Gaviota State Park to hike to its signature mountaintop, 2459’ Gaviota Peak.   The drive north of Santa Barbara is through farmland and pasture still brown from five years of drought.  El Nino rains have tinted the landscape a faint green, but the drought is far from over.

Three miles to the summit

Three miles to the summit

The Day Hikes on the California Central Coast guide has us turn off The 101 at exit 132 at the point the Pacific Coast Highway (Route One) breaks off for the coast while The 101 heads inland to San Luis Obispo (Saint Luis, the Bishop).  Turning right off the exit ramp, we see nothing that suggests there is a park anywhere nearby.  Nothing.  One sign does say that the road dead ends to the right.  Though I immediately jump to the conclusion that we have made the wrong turn, Hannah drives on looking to see what is down that road.

Tree-lined Gaviota Peak Trail at the start

Tree-lined Gaviota Peak Trail at the start

Lo and behold, there is a parking area with two other cars.  Seeing an elderly couple, I ask if this is the trailhead for Gaviota Peak.  With all the snark he can muster, the husband says, We are not from around here, but I can read the sign over there.  Ouch.  Good for him.  Duly admonished, I smile over to the sign and see that we are indeed at the Gaviota Peak trailhead.

With trailhead parking a mere $2, we fill out an envelope, place it in the three foot high metal cylinder, and have a hiking bargain this Tuesday in January.

The fire road through the brown pasture

The fire road through the brown pasture

Robert Stone, the author of the trail guide, warns us that we will be hiking a fire road with 1900’ of elevation gain for three miles to the top.  It is never steep, but it is relentlessly up and up without much of a levelness to be had.

Hannah and I are not fans of fire road hiking.  Though we can walk side by side, we have little of the excitement that we get hiking though the forest with bends here, there, and everywhere – to quote John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Sun-drenched fire road

Sun-drenched fire road

On the plus side, there is little likelihood we will get lost, we think.  The Gaviota Peak trail starts out promisingly through oaks and sycamores.  Within three tenths of a mile we come to the side trail to the Hot Springs.  Wanting to maintain our hiking momentum, we choose to take this side trail to the warming waters upon our return down the mountain.

The still drought-stricken fields of the central California coast

The still drought-stricken fields of the central California coast

Soon we are hiking the sloping, ascending switchbacks through a field of brown grass.  As promised, the trail steadily climbs briefly back into the forest.  At this point, we talk about our future VRBO in Summerland.  Our rental manager is friendly but maintains a professional distance.  From that thought, I leap to wonder about my decision to be called “Dan” by my university students rather than “Dr.  Rothermel.”  Was I muddling things by not maintaining an expected professional distance in the minds of my students?

In addition to the U of New Hampshire and the U of New England in Maine, I was prof at Eastern.

In addition to the U of New Hampshire and the U of New England in Maine, I was a prof at Eastern.

As a professor of preservice teachers, I wanted to live what I believed: that the foundation for successful teaching is building individual relationships with students.  “Dr. Rothermel” can be distancing.  Did the casual use of “Dan” build a connection with my students or did it open the door to be taken advantage of as a “friend?”    We were not peers, but we were partners in their education as future teachers.  I don’t regret being “Dan,” I just wonder what’s the up and downside of being “Dr. Rothermel?”

John's picture with the Pacific Coast Highway in the background

John’s picture with the Pacific Coast Highway in the background

The fire road is relentless heading us north up Gaviota Peak here in the San Ynez Mountains.  Traveling along the side of the mountain with views to the farmland and pasture to the east, we meet John, a trail maintainer, who takes our picture with the Pacific Coast Highway in the distance.

Five minutes away at the "saddle" of the Gaviota Peak Trail with the Pacific Ocean in the background

Five minutes away at the “saddle” of the Gaviota Peak Trail with the Pacific Ocean in the background

As we approach the “saddle” between two mountains, we have a choice.  Though John told us that we were just five minutes from the top, we notice that our fire road continues on into what seems like a higher mountain off to the left.  An eroded gully goes up to the right.  That can’t be the route to the summit, we think, so we continue to follow the fire road.  Fortunately ten minutes later, our nagging doubts have us check the map to learn that the sharp right was our turn to Gaviota Peak.  We reframe the extra mile on the trail as “bonus” hiking.

Gav 3B trail to the top

The hour and 40 minute climb has been a workout without much of the adventure of hiking through the forest.  With nearly an hour of braking ahead on the steep downhill, our toes yowl “No mas.”  But “mas” is what we have to have if we want to get to the trailhead.

Side trail to the hot springs

Side trail to the hot springs

Fortunately after an hour we make the turn to the Hot Springs, which is just what are barking puppies need as we dip our feet into the luke warm spring.

If you are looking for a California workout something akin to being at a gym, then this is the trail for you.  If you want trails in the forest with undulations and variety, find another hike.

Gav 5 H at hot springs

Oh, by the way.  Once back at the trailhead, changing from hiking shoes to sandals, we notice a California State Parks officer checking cars to see if the $2 fee was paid. A recent couple has not and the officer is writing them a ticket for what we later learn is $71!  Ouch.

Karma.

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

mendocino-county-map

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

mendocino-county-map

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 Bike the Wilder Ranch Bluff Trails in Santa Cruz, California

SR1 UCSC signBack in the mid-60s, I first heard of Santa Cruz when Mitch, my high school buddy, applied to go to its brand spanking new school of higher learning – the University of California, Santa Cruz. The Universe had other ideas for Mitch; he wasn’t accepted at UCSC, went to Whittier College in southern California instead, and met the girl of his dreams.

Comfort Inn in Santa Cruz, California

Comfort Inn in Santa Cruz, California (the Jacuzzi is to the far lower left)

Driving 85 miles north on the Pacific Coast Highway from our hike at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, we arrive at our Comfort Inn in Santa Cruz just before dark. Settled into a poolside Jacuzzi, we look up from the swirling, steaming waters and count our lucky stars one by one.

Already fans of good motel breakfasts, we hit the mother lode the following morning. The biscuits are thick and flaky and make the excellent coffee even more excellent. The sausage links for Hannah and the crispy home fries for me are worthy of the Luxury Diner in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I return for another buttered biscuit; the kind of biscuit that makes grown men cry.

The crashing surf of Wilder Ranch State Park

The crashing surf of Wilder Ranch State Park

Returning to Santa Cruz where we hiked the bluff trails just one year ago, we vowed to rent bikes this year and pedal the entire trail and into the foothills of Wilder Ranch State Park.  In the past we rented 7 speed bikes from Billy’s Rentals on Sanibel Island, FL for $12 for four hours. Why the last time we were in Hilton Head, we rented single speed cruisers for $25 for the week from Bicycle Billy’s with 50% off for the second bike!

SR1 Epicenter cyclingThis being California, good deals in bike rental are not so easy to come by. The best we can do is rent mountain bikes for $45 each for 24 hours at Epicenter Cycling. They recommend 21 speed mountain bikes for the rough bluff trails of Wilder Ranch.  Since we are not biking in traffic today, we opt for the free spirit feel of no helmets.  Not so fast suggests the clerk, You’ll be ticketed in the State Park if you don’t have helmets. We grudgingly rent the $5 helmets.

WR1 H by signWhile we ride hybrid bikes at home, we are not used to leaning over the handle bars as we must do with these mountain bikes.  Slowly adjusting to our bikes, we take Mission Street to the bike path along the Pacific Coast Highway and on to the bluffs of Wilder Ranch State Park. Immediately we see that the mountain bikes are made to order for this bumpy trail with ruts and muddy potholes from recent rains.

Migrant workers shacks

Shacks of migrant workers just off the trail

Soon we pass three mothers pushing strollers. Then we see a line of people in brightly colored shirts who I think are here for a park tour by the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. As we approach we see that they are, in fact, a single file of migrant workers heading to pick artichokes and Brussel sprouts this January morning. The contrast between these seasonal workers and these upper middle class women and vacationers like us is unsettling. Why us? Why them?

Dan helmeted above the surf on the Wilder Ranch bluff trail

Dan with his $5 helmet above the surf on the Wilder Ranch bluff trail

Within minutes we stop for pictures of the Pacific coast bluff trail in all its foaming glory.   The mountain bikes navigate the rutted path easily as the trail hugs the coastline and gives us stunning views of the crashing surf.

Bicycling along the  Wilder Ranch bluff trail

Bicycling along the
Wilder Ranch bluff trail

With the trail 50 feet above the incoming tides, we keep back from the unstable cliffs. Hunched over the handle bars of the mountain bikes, every so often we stretch our backs like our cat Sadie to work out our soreness.  Over 60, we find riding a mountain bike is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Hannah gets creative with this shot

Hannah gets creative with this shot at Four Mile Beach

On a week day Tuesday, there are very few others on the bluff trail so we can often ride side by side. As with other bluff trails, there is little shade and no available water. Taking a break from our biking body contortions, we check out the surfers at Four Mile Beach.

SR3A another crashing waveAs a Jersey boy in the Sixties, I thought that nothing was cooler than surfers. The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean spoke to my yearning to be all things California; and, I have to admit, to escape Jersey.  By the way, I followed that itch and took my first teaching job in Anaheim, just 20 miles from Newport Beach in southern California.

Wildflowers along the Pacific Coast Highway

Wildflowers along the Pacific Coast Highway

The two hours on the trail have been more than enough as we never really adjust to the leaning over position necessary to ride these mountain bikes. With no interest in riding into the foothills of Wilder Ranch, we take the direct route back to town on the Pacific Coast Highway.

West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, CA

West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, CA

Back weary from the mountain bikes, we pedal slowly in town above the Pacific on West Cliff Drive.  With other bicyclists and recreational walkers, we bike along the trail that takes us to the Santa Cruz Lighthouse and towards the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz Beach.

Within inches of falling over the cliff

Within inches of falling over the cliff

Wanting no part of the 20 hours left on our rental, we return to Epicenter Cycling and leave the wiser. We are not mountain bikers. Give us smooth country roads with our hybrid bikes with upright handlebars.   Are we soft? I guess that is pretty obvious.

The Comfort Inn Jacuzzi listens to our tale of mountain biking woe and soothes us without comment or advice or judgment. Many of us have a lot to learn from the Jacuzzis in our lives. In the cool California night, we mellow out in hot tub appreciation.