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.

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.