Vivian Creek Trail Revisited

I was in my late twenties and my mom was fifty-something when we got the hair-brained idea that we would climb the highest peak in Southern California, Mt. San Gorgonio. Never mind the fact that neither one of us had done any hiking to speak of. So, one fine morning, at the crack of dawn, Mom, Uncle Ted, my cousin Dan, and I, set off equipped with day packs and naiveté.


We opted for the Vivian Creek trail as it was the most direct route to the summit. It didn’t occur to us that the most direct route would also be the steepest. The trail ascends about 5,500′ in less than 8 miles. Within view of the summit, but with 1,000′ of climbing ahead, my body rebelled at the unaccustomed abuse. We were on a steep slope of broken shale, above the tree line, where I laid down in the middle of the trail (the only relatively flat spot) and fell into a deep sleep. My mom stayed with me while the boys continued to the summit. I vaguely remember other hikers stepping over me but it was beyond my power to move.

The hike back down was not noticeably easier than the climb had been, especially for my uncle who had well-worn knees.  It was dark before we reached the parking lot.

With that indelible memory, I loaded the girls into the car for a short day hike. I told myself that I would turn back before I was completely enervated, so that the return would be as enjoyable as the climb. Ha! Have you EVER been able to resist going up just  one last steep pitch, or around one more twist in the trail, just to see what’s ahead? Me neither.

The first half mile was rather too steep for a comfortable warm up and the next mile was was like climbing a relentless staircase. Even the dogs were happy to pause occasionally to catch our breath. Just past the “wilderness” border, our efforts were amply rewarded by the lush riparian canyon of Vivian Creek where the trail leveled out.


This trail is probably the most popular trail in our area, so we were never lonely nor did we need to be wary of wildlife. There were a surprising number of small children on the trail, one whose tiny Asian mother had CARRIED him up. He looked like he weighed at least 45 pounds. Most of the children were cranky and complaining, making me question the wisdom of dragging them on such an adventure. Of course, if the plan was to abandon little Hansel & Grettle in the deep dark woods, I could see the appeal to the strategy.

So, we kept plodding uphill until it wasn’t fun anymore (for me; the dogs saw no reason to reverse course). And then we had to retrace our steps for three miles. My knees creaked, my feet groused, my stomach growled; the cacophony was audible. The good part was, there was no place I would rather be; there was nothing I’d rather be doing; and there was nobody I’d rather be doing it with.


It’s All Good Fun Until Somebody Goes Over the Cliff


One of our favorite trails is a section of single track on the Santa Ana River Trail that runs along the side of the mountain midway between the highway above, and the river below. We like to climb the dirt river road which ascends gently up the canyon, shaded by towering cedars and pines and sprawling oaks. The road crisscrosses the South Fork of the Santa Ana River where fishermen while away hours in pursuit of stocked trout. 

We make the trip back down the canyon on the single track which follows the contours of the mountain, undulating into and out of every drainage, some of which used to be perennial streams but are now dry.

July 27, bike ride 010

A couple of weeks ago, Sally had caught her handlebar on a protruding tree root and had been launched over the side of the cliff in a particularly steep section. She was unhurt but it was quite a struggle to get herself and her bike back up onto the trail.

So, today she wanted to revisit the site and recreate the scene to take some pictures to share with her family, and I eagerly agreed to be her camera man.  We had no sooner reached the treacherous turn in the trail, and were preparing to lower her bike into position for the photo, when several young men came riding up the trail. Two of them rode past us without incident, but the third caught his handlebar on the aforementioned root, and before our horrified eyes, was launched heels over head down the same ravine. Fortunately, his bike was caught by a bush at the side of the trail.

I was deeply disappointed that I had not yet been in position with the camera to record his descent.


Thankfully, the wrecks of others do nothing to dampen my confidence and I continued down the trail feeling strong and extremely lucky that today was not my day to wreck. There was only one “oh shit!” moment when an unexpectedly sandy turn threatened to grab the front wheel and hurl me over the bars. Luck and skill averted a spill as I instinctively released the front brake and shifted my weight back without conscious thought. At the end of the ride Sally described an “OS”moment and I knew exactly which turn she was talking about. We congratulated ourselves for having lived to eat again. And so, we went to our favorite Indian restaurant for vegetable koorma and a mango laasi.


On the Road Again

My old Xanga friends may recall that years ago, I used to regale them with tales of mountain biking adventures in the nether reaches of Utah. I had found a clever little pop-up trailer, after years of sleeping on the ground in a tent, and felt that life was as good as it could get. 16

But, someone needed it worse than I did and ran off with it, leaving me bereft. It wasn’t only that I’d shopped for it for two years, or that I’d spent far more than was justified for the little time I had to use it; it was mostly that I grieved for the loss of the possibilities it represented.

So, for the past two years, I’ve been casually looking for a replacement. Americans like big and they like to take their entire home with them when they go “camping”. I suppose when you live in a 3,500 square foot house, a trailer seems small. But I live in a small house so a tiny trailer works just fine. However, there are not many tiny trailers on the used trailer market. A few weeks ago, I found another Aliner, several years newer and several thousand dollars more expensive, but commensurately nicer. I vacillated for over a week but finally decided that life is too short to delay this purchase.


I loaded the girls into the car and drove to Arizona to pick it up. This little gem is not only stored inside the garage, but it has three different locks on it. I’m sincerely hoping the garage doesn’t catch fire.

Morton Peak Poop

I spend rather more time than the normal city dweller trekking in the rough. I find it restorative to wander in the relative wild of the wash and mountain trails where evidence of human desecration is minimal. And so when I encounter evidence of the “wrong” kind of human polluting my bit of paradise, I seethe.

Last evening, I walked up the Morton Peak fire road just before sunset. A gentle on-shore breeze blanketed the valley in a cooling marine haze, and the long shadows on the eastern slopes made the steep climb comfortable.


At the gate to the fire lookout tower some Cretin had answered the call of nature, leaving behind an unsavory mess for everyone who came after to suffer.


Disgusted, I figured that I would collect up the dirty tissue on my return. I always carry a zip-lock sandwich bag for just such personal emergencies. I wonder if I should add a pair of gloves to my bag.

The old watch tower is being restored and updated for the comfort of folks who care to shell out $85/night to sleep in a tower with no water, no wi-fi, no electricity, and no cooking facilities. There is a picnic table, a pit toilet, and a splendid view.




To my surprise, I found that someone else had picked up the filthy litter at the gate. So, it was a case of mixed emotions: one inconsiderate slob was balanced by one like-minded nature lover. Interestingly, the person who had done the good deed was probably the shirtless, nicely muscled, young man I’d met who was headed downhill. I had taken a picture of his car when I parked next to it, thinking it looked a bit disreputable because it was dirty and had no wheel covers. Just goes to show, you can’t always judge a man by his car.

The three mile walk back down went by pleasantly as I skipped down the smooth sections. Skipping is about as fast as jogging downhill and spares old knees the jarring of running, though it does look a little silly. Molly openly laughed at me.



And it’s NOT a Dry Heat!

I woke up with the first lightening of the sky, long before the sun crested the mountains that frame our valley to the east. The outside thermometer read around 70 degrees, which felt like dog walking weather to me. At first, the breeze coming up the valley felt cool but soon the humidity of that marine air grew oppressive. When we got to the levy, I could see that the flash floods that had ravaged the mountain canyons had made it down to our part of the watershed, leaving the river bottom begrimed with a layer of fine, gray silt. Wary of quick sand, I avoided damp areas upriver from large rocks, which I’ve learned can leave you wet to the mid-calf and with shoes covered in mud. 20180715_071429 We followed the stream bed upriver enjoying the hard-packed sand. Molly found a spot of shade under a rock and burrowed into the mud.


Since we still had about two miles to go and our water was nearly depleted, we headed cross country back towards the levy and home. Much to Sadie’s delight, there were dozens of young rabbits out that clearly needed chasing. She came back after each futile effort, her ragged panting evidence of having had all the fun a dog could possibly have. Molly watched with interest but couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for running in the dispiriting heat.

This time of year, we can only walk in the early morning or late evening which means our walks are much shorter than in cooler seasons. I was disheartened to find that today’s walk, a scant four miles made my legs feel tired.

On one of our evening walks, I snapped this shot of the last of the fire fighting helicopters returning to base. If you look closely, you can see the chopper and below it a speck that is the basket in which they tote water to the fire. Those pilots are my heroes!



Summertime Blues

It’s definitely summer in Southern California as evidenced by triple digit heat (115 the last two days) and the dreaded forest fires. Heading home from work on Friday, I spotted a pillar of smoke coming from Mill Creek Canyon, just a few miles up the road from home.


I could see that it was in an area I had hiked recently where I’d been alarmed at the number of dead trees, stacked like kindling. Flames were clearly visible at this distance, shooting up the steep canyon wall. A small blessing, at least it wasn’t windy. But of course, by late afternoon the breeze picked up and quickly stoked the fire into 1,000 acres. The next day, the winds were gale force and the fire fighting aircraft were grounded. The fire is in such steep terrain that hand crews are of no use. This morning, there were a few helicopters chopping their way up the valley but by noon they had given up. Our wilderness is being incinerated and we can only stand helplessly by and hope the wind subsides.

In the heat and smoke, Sally’s firstborn held a wedding celebration outdoors. The venue was just a few blocks from my house and within sight of the staging area where the firefighters were organizing their aerial attack on the fire. As luck would have it, the violent wind that churned up thunder clouds at 1:00, cooled the valley down to a comfortable 100 degrees by 4:00 and then kindly blew itself out.


Smoke from the Forest Falls fire looms over the mountains

A man-made oasis

This was one instance where I was grateful to be a woman of a certain age. While the young women tottered around the expansive grounds of the venue in spikey, strappy sandals and layers of lovely dresses, I wore a comfortable sundress with flat sandals and a straw hat, the only concession to decorum was an underwire bra and granny panties and truthfully, I considered skipping the panties. A lovely young girl sitting beside me, sweltering in a full-length velvet dress, described how long it had taken her to apply her flawless make-up. I commiserated with her admitting that it had taken me nearly fifteen minutes to complete my toilette. Actually, I think I said, “…to get this beautiful,” because she looked at me as if she could readily believe it.

Despite the heat, smoke, humidity, and underwire bra, it was a lovely ceremony. The young couple gave me every reason to believe in happily ever after. Both are college graduates from intact families and have known each other for years. The bride’s family was the kind you wished would adopt you when you were a kid. The groom’s family was deserving of such great in-laws.

So, while Rome burns, life goes on with hope for the future…albeit a future without forests.

That Sharp Block

I heard once that your conscience is like a sharp block in your chest. Each time you do something that troubles your sense of decency, or morality, if you will, that block spins around, creating a painful sensation which is impossible to ignore. However, if you can train yourself to ignore the discomfort long enough, you can wear the edges of that block so smooth that it spins like a cue ball, causing little sensation at all. It’s at this point you can pardon yourself.