There is so much to love about Santa Barbara, California in January. They wear shorts and bike to school! They have the Pacific for bluff hiking and the Santa Ynez for mountain trails in their backyard. It never snows!
For a second day before first light, Hannah and I meditate together for 15 minutes in our room at the Quality Inn Santa Barbara. Ever since being inspired by our sister-in-law Becky Kraai last spring, I meditate each morning as soon as I get up. Though I was a 1970s practitioner of Transcendental Meditation by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with its technique of repeating a mantra, I now focus on my breath. Of course, my mind wanders, but I return to my center by focusing on my breath. Hannah dabbles at meditating, but here on our “take a bite out of winter” trip to the coast of California, she is the one suggesting we meditate each morning. Ommmmm!
After a cool light rain yesterday in Santa Barbara where we needed sweatshirts and zip-off pants, today it’s shorts and tee-shirts for hiking in the Santa Ynez Mountains. With close to a million hikes in Santa Barbara County, today we opt for hiking in Montecito, perhaps the wealthiest little town in America. It seems every house is an estate and the residents have Oprah and Ellen as neighbors when they are in town.
Selecting a six mile hike loop on the McMenemy Trail to Saddlerock and then back via the Girard Trail, we have California sunshine as our partner. The internet provides us with simple and precise directions to the trailhead that ends at East Mountain Drive in the foothills. The below link also provides reliable directions for the actual hike itself. McMenemy Saddlerock Girard Loop.
Briefly, from our Quality Inn in town, we take the 101 south to the San Ysidro Road exit in Montecito. Turning on East Valley Road, we soon turn left towards the mountains on to tree-lined Park Lane. From there it is at most a half a mile to the left to the trailhead with ample road side parking.
Immediately we take to a narrow rocky, rutted trail under a canopy of towering cottonwood-type trees that parallel the private road past houses that must be north of $5 million. Though lacking that kind of coin, we are rich beyond belief this January as morning hikers on the coast of southern California.
Within a half mile, we turn into the forest and rock step over the San Ysidro Creek. Surprisingly we are not alone on this workday Monday morning for it appears many locals, mostly women, are hiking in pairs with their dogs. Always agreeable to our questions, they confirm the excellent directions we copied from the above website.
Passing just above the estates of the landed gentry, the trail is amazingly well-marked with “Trail” signs conveniently placed. In conversation with Hannah, I bring up one thing I took away from yesterday’s talk at Unity of Santa Barbara. That is, to feel a part of any organization, it’s important to get involved, be engaged with others so to build a real sense of community.
It holds special relevance for Hannah and me, who after two years as regulars at Unity of the Seacoast in Dover, NH, now attend Unity of the River in Amesbury, MA. We’ve only been going to services for two months, but I still feel the outsider. We do fellowship after the service, which is invariably pleasant, but we don’t have a common experience to bond us with others. Upon returning to New England, it’s time to make that happen.
The trail remains well-marked though still rocky and rutted; the hiking gets our hearts pumping with a steady rise in elevation into the coastal mountains. Traveling up the mountain on McMenemy Trail, we see a plaque celebrating Logan McMenemy, an influential and generous member of the Montecito Trails Foundation who made sure these trails would remain open to the public.
After the McMenemy Bench, we head downhill through the foothills and then climb again on our way to the summit at Saddlerock. The trail steepens and we have the workout we crave. At the top we see Catalina and Ollie, students from northern California, atop a large boulder 25’ above us. Looking up at them, I comment how challenging it must have been to get up there. Immediately helpful, Catalina shows us the back way up the stone monolith.
But there is a numbers things going on here. They are in their early 20s and we late 60s. As we start, we wonder what in the world we are doing. Even though there are very slight indentations in the rocks for footholds, we don’t feel nimble enough to take the first step. But the bigger issue is that we have no exit strategy coming down this stone facade. Without comment, we back down the sandstone climb and head on to the summit further to the east.
Later we again meet up with Catalina and Ollie at the top of Saddlerock for a lunch break. We talk of their post-college dreams, invite them to Maine, share email addresses, and take each other’s pictures by the peace sign of rocks.
From the top, it’s all downhill, in a good way, from here. A fire road from the peace sign takes to the Girard Trail. Again, the trail is obvious and has us heading for the trailhead after two hours of hiking and hiker talking.
Though rutted and rocky, the sandstone trail is easy on our feet. In 15 minutes we are back at the McMenemy Stone Bench and then head for the trailhead in Montecito. My new Columbia hiking shoes have held up well. In the past, I hiked in high top Timberland boots, but these light Columbias with hiking treads feel good and, in fact, are easier to pack for cross country travel.
Returning to the trailhead two and a half hours later, we have covered the nearly six miles of trail under the blue Montecito sky. We both give this Loop trail our highest endorsement. It is well-marked, challenging but not insanely so, such that moderately in-shape folks can enjoy the trail; and we are back in time for an afternoon nap.
Oh yeah, another advantage of Santa Barbara in January.