Eat, Hike, Sleep, Repeat

Sadie was adamant that the front bed of the Aliner was meant for her so, I decided that the dinette was superfluous and dropped it into the bed position. I slept better in the wider bed, Sadie was content to have space to stretch out, and Molly, the red-headed step-child, still slept on the floor. (She did have a rug)

Tara wanted to climb a portion of the the upper section of the Whitney Portal Trail though permits were not being issued to day hikers. Being from a long line of scofflaws, she was not deterred. Babs and I  chose to again hike the lower portion, only this time we started from the top, thinking we would see the part we had missed the day before. What a great idea!

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Molly, the red-headed step child and Sadie the Klingon German Shepherd Dog

The upper portion of the lower part of the Whitney Portal Trail (are you with me so far?) starts a gradual descent along the creek, winding through widely spaced trees and box car-sized boulders. It is absolutely lovely! But the trail quickly grows steeper as it attempts to keep the stream, which is now more of a waterfall, in sight. Babs, having the advantage of nine more years of attaining good sense, said she would turn back, in keeping with her understanding of her limitations. I was enjoying the descent in spite of my aching knees, and the glimpses through the trees of the valley , thousands of feet below,  lured me on. Molly and Sadie forged ahead, stopping at each switchback to wait for me. They know the rule is that they must remain in sight.

After an indeterminate amount of time (time flies when you’re having fun), I felt a pang of guilt at the thought of my sister waiting on the side of the trail above and turned back. I’d gone only about 50 feet up the trail when I realized it was REALLY steep. After a couple of switchbacks it dawned on me that my knees were REALLY sore. And then, gasping like a fish out of water, it became excruciatingly clear that the air was REALLY thin! I attached the leash to Sadie’s collar and encouraged my indefatigable, Klingon dog to pull. After a few yards, she balked. This was not what she had signed up for.

There was naught to be done but put ‘er in low and grind up the trail, gasp, wheeze, cough, pause, and repeat. I was soon distracted from the discomfort by the spectacular scenery and I reminded myself of my mantra: There is no place I would rather be; there is nobody I would rather be with; and there is nothing I would rather be doing.

I found Babs enjoying her own pace and taking photos. Her knees were fine, and she was ready to explore some more. I gamely pretended to be enjoying further hiking.

The drive down the Whitney Portal Road is as exciting at the Horseshoe Meadows Road; so, I pulled out on a turnout to admire the view of the valley. There was a motorcyclist already stopped there, taking a picture of his dog and his motorcycle. I offered to snap one of the two of them and he accepted the offer gratefully. He pulled off his helmet and wondered if his hair looked matted. Who would notice with this handsome companion?

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A matted-haired man and his daring dog

By dinner time, I was ready to kick off the hiking shoes and pour a glass of wine. It seems that alcohol is more effective at elevation because we nursed one bottle over three nights. Either that or we’re cheap dates. I made spaghetti while Babs chopped peppers, onions, cucumbers, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and raisins for a mixed green salad. For dessert, we splurged on a chocolate, almond, butter tart, compliments of Trader Joes. Tara again carried the dirty dishes back to her trailer and returned them clean for the next day’s supper. I LOVE that girl!

As Advertised…The Maiden Voyage

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If you have never experienced the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s hard to visualize the dramatic views they present at every turn. My sister, Babs, niece Tara, Tara’s dog Copper, my girls Molly and Sadie, and I, spent three nights at the Lone Pine campground at the base of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. The campground is nestled in a narrow canyon, next to a clear, trout-stocked stream, just off the Whitney Portal Road. It’s at about 6,000 feet which makes it just a bit cooler than the Owens Valley below and significantly cooler than Death Valley just a short distance away.

The whole idea of going on a trip with my new trailer, without Mike to take care of all the details of hooking up to the car and setting up the trailer was a bit stressful; but Tara was an experienced RVer and her presence gave me confidence. Adding to my anxiety, there were a multitude of “active bear” signs and “caution – rattlesnake” signs that didn’t exactly engender a sense of security. The first night, I put all of my food that wasn’t in the refrigerator in the bear box. Technically, this should be called an anti-bear box but I’ll go with the flow. Then I slept fitfully, imagining I heard bears even though the dogs slept serenely.

In the morning, well almost morning, we walked to the restroom, a clean, fresh, pit toilet, by moonlight. I trusted the girls would alert me to the presence of any wildlife. We saw only bunnies.20180930_065029

One of the joys of being an insomniac is having the world to oneself, still, cool, and full of anticipation as the rising sun inexorably crawls down the crags of the western mountains. I strolled through the slumbering campground, hearing not a sound until I reached the tent section. Then gentle snoring and the occasional fart made the presence of men known.

At the top of the ridge above the campground, I found a strong cell connection where I could call home to check in with Mike to see how Mom was doing in my absence. She had been anxious at the idea of me being away, but I was confident she would soon forget, which was borne out by her question, when I returned three days later. “Are you just home from work?”, she asked.

I volunteered to be the camp cook, knowing that if we left that chore to either Babs or Tara, we would probably starve to death. The little galley in the Aliner proved perfect for our first night’s meal of grilled cheese sandwiches on cracked-wheat sourdough, with sauteed onions and bell peppers tucked in. I suppose a nice bottle of white wine would have been appropriate, but I opened the pinot noir anyway.20180929_180125

In no rush to hit the trail, we completed our morning ablutions and tidied our camp sites before setting off up the lower section of the Whitney Portal Trail. The upper section of this trail is perhaps the most well-known (and consequently heavily trafficked) trail in California. Avid hikers are attracted by it’s breathtaking panoramas and the bragging rights attached to summiting its 14,500′ peak. We had no such ambitions and were content to start from camp where the altitude was less breathtaking. This section of trail immediately left Lone Pine creek and ran parallel to it along the ridge above. Just when it was becoming almost too warm in the sun, a side trail allowed access to the creek just a quarter of a mile below, much to the dogs’ delight. After a refreshing dip in the stream, we were all ready for more climbing and continued up the trail, which quickly entered tall scrub vegetation and then trees, making it far more comfortable. The relative coolness of the forest was offset by the increased steepness of the trail which became a series of switchbacks that tested the limits of our knees. When we ran out of snacks, we retraced our path back to camp, having seen only a handful of other hikers.

With hours of daylight left and spent climbing legs, we turned to auto touring for entertainment. The road to Horseshoe Meadows is carved into the side of a crazy-steep mountain, barely two-cars wide. My passengers experienced the closest thing to flying one could experience in a car, while I focused almost exclusively on the road. The meadows were anti climactic and beastly cold (elevation 10,000″) so we retraced our route which was even more dramatic on the descent.

Back at camp, I re-positioned my trailer to a site closer to Tara’s rig. This site had shade and was half the distance to the restroom. It was also directly across from the camp host who was an affable fellow and a wealth of information. He assured me that the bear boxes were not necessary as long as we kept our food inside our trailers. The only pests we would encounter in camp were squirrels and other rodents. That night I slept peacefully.

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.

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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!