Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Backyard Browsing

My job involves a lot of time staring at a computer screen.  In fact, I probably spend about 95% of my time interacting with my desktop computer while I am clocked in.  As is easily imaginable, this can quickly lead to pasty white skin and a pudgy soft midsection if I’m not careful.  Because of the amount of time required at my desk on my computer, I have made it a practice to get outside and do something active at least once a day, and man has it been fun.

Moving to a new place makes exploration easy.  Every place offers something to discover, and each path winds to a novel place.  While I did live here before, I’ve quickly realized there are so many places I never knew about and didn’t ever think to explore.  Places that are really hard to miss if you’re actually looking.  Such as the multiple hils in the photo below...really, how did I miss those? San Luis Obispo has a series of peaks called the Nine Sisters, arranged in a volcanic chain from west to east.  While a number of the Cerros or Morros (I call them hills) are privately owned, six are accessible to the public.  And I plan to hike each of them.  Two weekends ago, I started with Cerro San Luis, more commonly known as Madonna Mountain (it’s really a hill, says the transplant from the Sierra Nevadas).

This week, I moved on down the chain to Islay Hill (rightfully a hill).  Islay Hill, which is one of the Sisters, is a 5 minute scooter ride from my house and reminds me of a little gremlin.  It is lushly green at the bottom, but as it slopes up towards the peak there is a definite line of shorter, dark green shrubs that from faraway look like a hat sitting atop a hunching little person. Or gremlin, to be exact.  The view from the top, though, is all a brighter green. 

(The narrow but easily followed path to the top of Islay Hill.)

Another of my favorite new spots, which is about a mile from our house, is Terrace Hill. It’s an easy walk and short climb up a rocky slope, and stretches and flattens on top to an open area large enough to throw the ball around with a dog without worrying they'll go wailing off the side.  Sunset is the best time to go (I would assume sunrise is pretty great as well).  


A more difficult hike is up Sydney Street.  This one makes me a little nervous thinking about it.  As you approach the trail head, you come to a gate with a sign that says something along the lines of “No trespassing”.  Just behind that sign is a note about a recent cougar siting.  And behind that sign?  One about rattlesnakes.  Yep, you would think at this point I would chalk it up to a solid effort and ride into the sunset on my waiting scooter.  But mustering my outlaw-ness and googling what to do if I meet a mountain lion on my phone, I headed up the shady, steep trail instead.  I had read online that the sign about no trespassing has been there for years, but that it’s actually a public trail that skirts rather closely to private cattle land.  I still had an excuse in my mind if I did get caught—  I’m sorry officer, I was so focused on the predatory cougars and coiled rattlesnakes I didn’t even see the sign about getting shot if I trespass!

 The views are worth the risk of death though, and the work out is one of the better ones that you can do fairly quickly close to home.  It’s a steep climb up to the summit, and this one I will absolutely call a mountain summit.  It’s over a mile, and it’s pretty much straight up.  I don't even care any more, if I sweat as much as that made me sweat, I'm calling it a mountain.  And I loved it. 

The last hike I did was on Sunday.  Montana de Oro is certainly one of the coolest places in SLO County, with its colorful, often empty beaches, eucalyptus groves, and peaks and ravines to explore.  One that I’ve had my eye on for a while is Valencia Peak.  It’s a little over 2 miles up, and rumor has it the views are pretty great.  I set out with a mild hang over (I went wine tasting on Saturday, which is a different story that also involves peaks and ravines), not enough sunscreen, and probably not enough water (did I mention SLO had a heatwave this weekend?).  But I reached the top along with a slough of other hikers (I’m never really alone, moma dear),  in a little over 40 minutes.  The view stretched with a clear shot to Morro Bar, and was the perfect bird-eye perch to inspect the trails I will tackle on a different date when there is less wine and more water coursing through my system.

Waking up with the goal to go outside and do something active every single day has been one of my favorite New Years goals, and is one that has been fairly easy to keep now that the time change has happened and I can take off after work.  It’s amazing what a little bit of blood flow and a little bit of greenery can do for my mental state… and my hang overs.  Cheers to that my friends, and cheers to more adventures around this beautiful rock.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Moments with Mom

My mom came to visit this weekend!  I had been so looking forward our time together since she decided she could come!  It’s such a treat to have mom in town.  All of those little things I’ve been wanting to do, places I’ve wanted to explore— well, she’s the perfect partner in crime.  We slept in, soaked in the hot tub, visited my favorite spots, drank Prosecco out of Klean Kanteens, and overall had a lovely relaxing weekend.  So perfect.  Oh!  And she won $20 in scratchers.  I'd say it was a successful few days...

We spend Saturday in Avila Beach, and it was one of the clearest days I've seen here.  We could see way out to Oceano Dunes to the south, and the water was turquoise.  We meandered through the shops, had lunch in the sun, and drank Chardonneys in a new little open-air wine bar.  It started sprinkling on us and we moved inside.

(Isn’t she just cute as a button?!??! ?)

As we were relaxing with our wine, we watched a wedding on the beach.  Such a beautiful spot to tie the knot!  Except the rain…but I have heard rain is good luck on your wedding day, right?

After a lovely day in Avila, I took Moma on one of my favorite drives.  It’s on a road that stretches from Avila to San Luis Obispo, and winds through the Irish Hills area, past vineyards with tasting rooms and apple orchards with signs offering cider. After about 15 minutes, you climb and climb until it opens up to this sweeping vista.  On clear days you can see Morro Rock, and it was an especially clear day.

We were on a roll with sweeping vistas, so to keep up the momentum I drove us out to Montana De Oro— one of my favorite places in the world.  We got there just before sunset, so the colors were vivid and the views just wouldn’t quit.

(I told you she’s adorable)

We picked a spot in the sand on one of the dunes, and watched as the sun dipped behind the flat expanse of water.  This was a moment from her visit that I won't soon forget- I was with one of my favorite people in my favorite place.  It’s hard to get much better than that…

The central coast moves at a different pace than most places.  It’s easy to slow down here, with beaches like this that feel deserted, scattered throughout the county.  I feel incredibly lucky to now call this place home and get to share it with the people I love.  Bring on the visitors (and thanks mom for being the first!)

Bagging the Summit

Reaching the top of Cerro San Luis (or Madonna Mountain in local jargon), there is a single boulder that reaches higher than any of the others, and leans back comfortably resembling a chair.  Standing on this raised precipice on a glorified hill, legs burning and eyes wide open, San Luis Obispo stretches out in front of me on a Sunday morning.  Looking north-west from this platform, Los Osos Valley reaches until it meets the hazy coast line, home to the red, green and yellow cliffs of Montana De Oro and the curving estuary of Morro Bay.  Gazing south-west lends views of the black highway meandering through the green slopes, a deep thoroughfare up and over the hills to sleepy Avila or on into Pismo.  Panning east from here, San Luis Obispo city proper speckles the green open land with white houses, red tiled roofs and Cal Poly.  Continuing to scan, Bishops rises to a rocky peak and beyond that, a few more of the Morros rise up to preside over San Luis Valley.  But the man who “bagged the peak” just after me didn’t see any of this.

Taking in the landscape from this rock, where the winds blew cold but slow, I finish the still-steamy coffee I had brewed at home with the sole purpose of drinking it at the top.  With about two sips to go, a young guy who looked in his early twenties with sun-bleached hair and board shorts hops up on the rock closest to me and instructs an older gentleman just behind him- there is a “ledge about a foot in front of you where you can put your foot.”  With dark glasses and white teeth, a hiking stick and a sombrero hat, he places his hand on the rock and asked “Is this a man-made structure or a rock?”  If it weren’t for his younger friend (son, nephew, brother?) he wouldn’t have known. 
“You guys are welcome to take my spot.  This little thing here says it’s the actual summit,” I said while pointing down to the round metal placard I had been resting my coffee thermos on.  “Oh, don’t leave the spot with the view for a blind man,” was the reply I got from the man with dark glasses.
I laughed as he flashed his white smile, and said I had taken it in and will see what other vantage points I could find.  As I scrambled down the rocky slope to the flatter part of the summit, I heard the younger man say “Well, what’s your next peak now that you just bagged Madonna?”  I glanced up and saw the two men standing side by side on my rock.   I couldn’t hear the response, but I could clearly see that smile.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Presidential Debachery

Valentine’s Day seems like such a drummed up and covered subject that to bring it up feels a bit like a cop-out.  But any reason to celebrate is enough for me, and if the calendar had more holidays I would be all the happier.  While I agree that every day we should celebrate, having a reason makes it all a little less indulgent feeling—let’s be honest, sometimes a reason is really nice.    And my lovely beau surprised me with this lovely painting…


We took the weekend (to celebrate Presidents Day, of course) and drove to Big Sur with bigger ideas than actual plans.  Our idea was to camp at one of the many walk-up sites, but since everyone in California beat us there (like there was a holiday or two this weekend or something?!), we just enjoyed the winding, cliff crawling drive up Hwy 1, took our time hiking and playing, hung out at waterfalls and appreciated the time together sucking air in a wonderfully green space.


(This drive will never get old)
As dusk fell and the sky turned into a layered strawberry and lemon cake (I have been craving cake all day, sorry for the interjection) we rolled into Cambria, and used the money we would have spent on a camp site for a chimichunga dinner instead. Nothing like fried burritos after an active day.  When we got home, I petitioned to build a fort to make it feel like we were still camping, but we decided on a fire out front instead and toasted a day well spent with Prosecco and a Mickey’s 40.

(Can you see the cake in the background?!?!)

While on that hike in Big Sur, I mentioned that I really wanted to visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo before the season was over and the little orange wonders flew elsewhere for the summer.  To my delight, Huck has always wanted to check it out too (who’d have thought)!  On Sunday we woke up early and drove down to the Grove.  It’s probably a little sad that I am so surprised by this, but visiting the grove is FREE.   Like really free—not like free but with a $10 donation. No, you just walk in, look around, follow the path, gaze in wonder for a time, and then head out at your leisure with no need to ever reach for a bill.  It was refreshing, and the butterflies were so cool! 

We followed up our butterfly gallivant with breakfast out on the Old Port in Avila.  Watching those little wonders flick and fly around (or mate, which is what most of them were doing) worked up quite an appetite in both of us (get your mind out of the gutter, Grams).  There are so many grubbin’ options in Avila, but I think we found our new favorite.  Located in the building attached to the boat lift, right where the SUPs and kayaks are rented, is a bar.  That bar serves the most delicious breakfast burritos, and was completely empty.  Until a nice older couple sat at the bar next to us and talked about the fishing boat they own and keep there in Avila.  But other than them, we had the place to ourselves.  We played checkers and drank mimosas and talked with our new fisher-boat friends.  
(The saying really should go "the birds, and the bees and the butterflies"...)
Never letting a dull moment see the sunlight, as we were on our way home Huck decided a detour was in order, and we left hooked it at See Canyon and climbed in Jupiter (a.k.a Uranus #2 a.k.a. our Saturn, which is a car) to one of my favorite vistas in SLO. Glorious mornings like this make me so grateful to be able to explore our new home.

We capped off the weekend with what we thought would be a nice little BBQ back down at the beach in Avila.  But as the fog rolled in, the people deserted the area, high tide came a callin’, and we realized it was very likely illegal to be BBQin there on the beach, our little dinner spot was quickly broken down (hot briquettes and all) and we made a break for it like Bonnie and Clyde. Without the guns or robbery. That night we dined on lighter fluid flavored Salmon and bursting cheddar stuffed hotdogs.  And we laughed at how things just never seem to go as we plan, which makes for the kind of weekend that has me falling in love over and over again with my partner in crime.  Which has nothing to do with Valentines...really.

(Don't be fooled by the Klean Kanteen, that most definitely isn't water.)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Three Stacks and a Rock

If you’ve never been, Morro Bay should be on whatever list it is you keep that reminds you of important choices.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to tell you what to do like I have some authority over your life and choices, but trust me on this one.  Choose to go to Morro Bay, because it’s an awesome place with some pretty awesome people.  It has the notorious laid back vibes often associated with the Central Coast— people smile at you and say hi when you walk by, people who work in coffee shops or at the market treat you as a friend, surfers drive by with their heads out their blacked out Tacoma’s saying “Yo” to their homies (okay, that may not be exactly what happens, but there are surfers in Morro Bay and the chances are good they’ll drive by in a black Tacoma) and the occasional guy dressed like Jimi Hendricks plays his electric guitar next to the public bathrooms.  I really wish I had snapped a photo of the latter, but you’ll have to make-do with this raft of otters.
There is something about towns where a notable percentage of people wear trucker hats and sunglasses.  I can’t nail it down for you, but maybe you know what I mean.  Is it the stereotypical embodiment of that before-mentioned laid back vibe?  I can’t tell you for sure, but I sure do love what Morro Bay is putting down.  And then there are views like this:
(That would be the iconic Morro Rock)

Or like this:

Similar to back up in the Foothills, the hills here turn a neon green after it rains (that should be a big IF it rains, but I’ll be hopeful) and the landscapes are vivid no matter which way you point the car.  There also happened to be a storm brewing somewhere in California, which I am going to credit with my very non-scientific insight with stirring up waves worthy of as many surfers were in the water on Sunday. 

Anyways, if you can’t tell, the move has been a good one.  I have beautiful places to explore, enough space to spread out and not think for a while, or think a ton for a while—whatever is needed.  I also spent some time with my roommates this weekend, going to coffee, meeting the whole town, drinking an Old Fashion in a bar I’d never been to (but always wanted to go to). Our roommates are incredibly connected and sitting out in front of a coffee shop for two hours yielded introductions to more people than I kept track of.  I’ve landed in a cool spot, and I’m grateful for the opportunity of newness.  So cheers to Mondays…and here's to looking toward a bright week

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Witness to the Waves

I am currently posted up in a coffee shop with a beach front view, and it's drizzling outside.  It's cozy in here, and the coffee smells rich and mixes with the salted fish smell of the kelp 100 yards away. This coffee shop doesn't have wifi and I think it's probably one of the few left that hasn't opted in. This makes it the perfect place to come and write because it takes the need for self disciple out of the equation.  No wifi means few distractions, and with the sea in front of me and a large cup of coffee to my right, nothing could be better in this moment.

I think the choice to not offer wifi is an interesting one, and I think it's even more interesting that I kind of think it as novel.  When I asked (already semi-knowing the answer but still feeling the need to ask) if they have wifi, the barista (is it baristo if it's man? I can't GTS!*) kind of laughed and said "we havent for a few years. We'd be packed if we did, can you imagine this place?"  What an amusing thought. A coffee shop refuses the pull of wifi to keep people out. I guess for a small shop 10 steps from the beach in picture perfect, tourist-centric Avila, it's a choice that's easy because it involves no compromise.  The crowds come no matter what.  It's rainy and I couldn't even find a table- who goes to a beach town in the rain.  Oh, me I guess. And anyone who knows they won't melt, apparently. So, the cafe with no wifi by the beach in the rain is still packed.  Other humans realize that it's a day to be out. 

Part of the reason I came to Avila was a need to get out of the house.  Working at home makes it very easy to spend all my waking time at home, and one thing I am not is a home body.  But now I guess I kind of am situationally, and apparently that makes me also a rambler... Despite the fact that I don't have wifi to distract me, the people here are equally as distracting.  A friendly, bearded gentleman who smells like butterscotch and wears a twine and metal wedding ring just sat next to me and commented on how beautiful the scene is. And it really is.  I knew I would miss the mountains, the rolling green and brown hills between Angels Camp and Murphys, the local coffee shops (okay, the local Starbucks, which was the only place that didn't give you dirt looks for taking up a table for an hour), the treacherous but beautifully chaotic drive from Main St. to OARS, which involved a series of turns that always astounded me a logging truck was able to make.  The tightness to openness of the area.  Everyone knew everyone but you could drive for five minutes and be so far away. 

But here I am staring out at the ocean amidst a storm, and I don't really miss those things. I find myself imagining what's ten feet below the surface out there, where it must be untouched by the chaos of the rain and wind and waves. Here we are on the surface exposed to the blowing cold- the changes that come with the days and the seasons passing. And maybe that's the thing about moving away with someone I love.  On the surface changes can be hard, things need adjustment and "getting used to," people's routines and moods and needs have to be taken with grace and understanding and patience.  Living with someone again isn't easy, but it's the surface kind of chaos that doesn't reach too deep. Waves crash and then dissipate on the sand, retreat and then grow again with new water.  But the ocean is wide, and in its immensity it always has a way of leveling out. 

*GTS means Google that shit, mom :)

About Me

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I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, ventured south along the California coast for a while, sailed through San Francisco Bay, and have landed back on the Central Coast.  This time I'm a little closer to our rivers and our summits, and a little farther from where I started.