Desert Storm

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Soundless lightning flashed unseen in the distance while stars blinked placidly directly overhead. Andromeda floated overhead off the foot of Pegasus in her wispy dress. I looked for the galaxy of the same name but did not see it.

The desert had heated up to a hundred degrees in the afternoon and the hot air hung over the evening. I wanted to cowboy camp but heeded warnings that there was a chance for thunderstorms late at night by setting up my bivy to sleep on with the idea that should rain come to pass, I could jump inside for shelter. In case you’ve never seen one, a bivy is more body bag than tent.

Listening to an audiobook to pass the time in the early evening, I watched the stars disappear behind unseen clouds. The sky continued to flash with increasing brightness and regularity to the west of us, up Palm Canyon and into the mountains. It was only nine in the evening when the winds first gusted while raindrops pelted the ground. Brooke and Arturo scrambled to put the rain fly on their tent. I tucked myself into the bivy but the rain barely lasted more than a minute.

The rain stopped but the wind didn’t. The wind rippled over the tent and the bivy in gusting waves. I went back to cowboy camping because the body bag was too hot. The wind continued to intensify. Arturo and Brooke’s tent trapezoided into a nearly flat position. Brooke and Arturo moved the tent inside the Ramada, the stone wall structure with a slotted board roof that enclosed picnic tables and a stone fireplace. I quickly followed their lead placing the bivy and my body just inside the wall next to the entrance.

Lightning flashed growing brighter and close enough to echo in the canyon. Sprinkles of rain came and went. I retreated inside the bivy occasionally resurfacing to cool off. Blowing sand attempted to use my head as the foundation for a new sand dune. The lightning-thunder gap closed from ten seconds to five seconds to three seconds to two seconds. I wondered if I should be in the car riding out the storm awake but alive. I pictured Brooke’s and Arturo’s faces flashing in the lightning while pounding on the windshield to let them in but me shaking my head no because there wasn’t enough room for them and all the gear. (That’s a haha).

The gusting storm cooled off the air enough to seal the bivy without breaking into a sweat. The lightning passed and the sprinkles went their way. For the rest of the night, wind ripped at the bivy flapping the material like you might see on a tent during a blizzard on an Everest expedition. Somehow, during all of that, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, the air was calm. The remnants of a storm cloud made for dramatic horizon fronting the morning sun. You could be none the wiser for the night of terror. Later reports informed me that this was one of the worst lightning storms ever experienced in San Diego county at some 4000 strikes during the night. I for one was glad to not make the bivy body bag my final resting place.

A Ride on the Road

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Covid Compromises

The original plan, the dream, was to motorcycle all the way to Prudhoe Bay and back, a ten thousand mile, six week, round trip to the top of the world highlighted by travel on the infamously dangerous Dalton Highway of ice road truckers. Of course, the elephant in the room, or maybe the bull in the china shop, is Covid, which is still a long way from releasing its grasp on the course of events of the world. Covid washed out efforts to ride last year but this year we remained hopeful all the way up until June 21st waiting for and expecting Canada to open its borders. But Canada faltered, I think perhaps their low-budget wall to keep us lower 48 Americans out. You are dead to me Canada! Until our trip to Jaspar and Banff anyway.

Some trip had to be made and it had to be made this year because I am no spring chicken and because I had the housesitter arranged and the vacation time approved. So after flailing around with alternate trip ideas, Hetal convinced us (and rightly so) that the heart of the original trip was to stand at the top of the world and travel the Dalton Highway to get there. We met some people that made the trip through Canada on the Alaskan Highway. It required either a work permit or a house in Alaska, a rigid itinerary that didn’t even allow for a visit to Whitehorse just a few miles off the main highway, and typically an interrogation by Canadien border personnel.

So the compromise trip was to ride motorcycles to Seattle, fly to Alaska, and drive a ruggedized rental car to Prudhoe from Fairbanks, then sightsee in the rest of Alaska for a bit, fly back to Seattle, and then finish the trip with a ride inland hopefully to Jaspar and Banff to visit the Canadian highlights of the originally planned trip. Of course, the Jaspar and Banff piece didn’t pan out either as Canada still hasn’t opened its borders as of this writing. Oh, Canada. You are nothing but an ocean to fly over to me.

Another casualty of Covid is car rentals, the agencies having sold off most of their covid-idled stock. But Hetal made it happen and we planned our trip around rental car availability. Of the few motorcyclists we met, one rider made his trip by shipping his bike to Anchorage, a five thousand dollar proposition at best. It would have almost made sense to buy one for those costs.

Masks are still required in airports and on planes. Mask requirements were lifted in Oregon and Washington only a few days before we arrived. Many people still wear them now out of habit, something unimaginable just a year and a half ago although some Americans are kicking and screaming the whole way down. As one woman who refuses to give in to the demands of Covid with either mask or vaccination put it, I hope I don’t get Covid but if I do get it, I hope it is mild, and if it kills me, then it is just my time. Maybe she could just substitute the idea of not getting a vaccine with the idea of standing on the traffic lane of an expressway. Maybe she should think about the people she might give it to.

And so on July 1, 2021, some three years after conception and significantly compromised due to world events, three travelers left San Diego in a caravan of two motorcycles and an SUV.

The Caravan

The caravan has a daily rhythm. Ride the ride. Find a place to stay. Set up camp. Do whatever the place affords. Sleep. Morning coffee. Tear down. And on your way. Never a night in the same place. (On only two occasions did we stay in the same place, Denali and Oakland.) Each day has a different feel and each night is a new setting and a new cast of characters.

  • A trafficked ride through LA and a meandering ride through Ojai with hints of the heat and cold to come. Pizza and wine on the square at Paso Robles.
  • The winding roads of the PCH1 stopping to see elephant seals. An austere house in Hayward and brutal Covid stories of a respiratory therapist.
  • A time costly trip to Pt. Reyes National Seashore to see a lighthouse and fortuitously, a pod of humpback whales. A walk-in campground at the mouth of the Russian River.
  • More time on the PCH1 through red wood forests not stopping to see them to make up lost time. Fourth of July in a Crescent City in a warm Air BnB after searching for a camping spot on a crowded holiday and a cold, cold shore.
  • Slow travel up the crowded roads of Oregon. A night in a hotel under the impressive bridge at Astoria.
  • Weaving through the tree farms and clear cuts of Washington and hiking to a waterfall in Olympic National Park. A night staring at the forbidden shores of Canada across the Staits of Juan de Fuca.
  • Ride to the airport with a backdrop of Mt Ranier and flight to Fairbanks. A night at Salty’s talking about the challenges of travel through Canada.
  • Ride to Coldfoot in the spotty rain through spartan spruce forests each tree ever diminishing in size as we travel north. Dinner on a pull out just outside of town in a barracks hotel.
  • Ride over the Atigun Pass in the Brooke’s range and through the tundra. A trip to the Arctic ocean and through the oil works at Prudhoe.
  • Return to Coldfoot on a much drier day driving over the Atigun Pass. A night in the farthest North bar in Alaska drinking canned beer with the locals.
  • Return to Fairbanks stopping at the Yukon river for a roadside lunch and a hike to the scrotal finger. A night in the Musk Ox house finding Musk Ox in the morning.
  • A short drive south to Denali for two nights of camping at Savage River campground hiking Mountain View and the Savage River loop. Attacked by an Alfred Hitchcock gull and sleeping in the rain.
  • Ride down to Knik stopping for a plane ride over the Anchorage glaciers. A night with an overly friendly dog on a horse farm in Knik.
  • A day in Anchorage hiking the Knik arm from Earthquake park to downtown for beer and reindeer sausage pizza. Drive back to Fairbanks for a quick night in a small apartment with an all-night TV.
  • Transfer to the Bridgewater. Walk ten miles covering the entirety of Fairbanks including an Indian lunch and a flock of sandhill cranes. Lousy company at an overcrowded bar.
  • Fly back to Seattle to recover bicycles and a night in a crappy basement Air BnB for Chris’s birthday.
  • A morning brunch in East Lake with Chris’s people and a ride through the cascades stopping for a river float. A night in Pateros sleeping on the road next to the bike.
  • A smokey ride to Sandpoint, Idaho stopping at the Coulee Dam. Dominoes pizza and craft beer at a pub.
  • A smokey ride to Westchester, Idaho through the unbelievable scenic Hell’s Canyon National Park. A night fishing and sleeping on a dock holding a woman’s hand while she unloads and cries about all her family issues.
  • A smokey ride through the unbelievably scenic stretch of the Snake River with the road just feet above the dam lake and a night ride with a near death experience. Night camping at a BLM site in the middle of no where.
  • Another amazing stretch of scenic highway with a not so dry lake of water and salt and various shades of algae. A night in the pine forest of Lassen national forest.
  • Various stops in a very smokey Lassen national park followed by a fifty degree temperature change from the mountains to the valleys. A pizza party at Brooke’s new house.
  • A long ride home more cold than hot.

Each moment is structured to be free within the matrix of destination, camaraderie, and equipment. The reward is the experience of ups, downs, and in-betweens while the regret is the unchosen and the left behind.

Here it is in pictures: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1t1iTJmhaAUycbphfRdvGRz2NCZO0pNQd&usp=sharing

Highlights

In general, the highlights are the unexpected moments of turning a corner and running into stunning scenery.

  • Turning onto the PCH1 to see a white wave washing over a black rock in a green ocean. (Actually, pretty much everything on the PCH1 if it weren’t so damn cold.)
  • Seeing the sixteen percent grade of the Dalton Highway ascend up the side of a mountain into a cloud bank.
  • The entire valley of the Atigun pass surrounded by snow-patched black mountains with green bases and interesting rock formations overlooking a river road, the pipeline, and the soon to be ubiquituos tundra of the North slopes.
  • Big sky country stretching to the horizon under puffy cloud shadows throughout central Alaska.
  • Driving through Hell’s Canyon, a river gorge in Idaho deeper than the Grand Canyon.
  • Driving along the Snake River at near surface level for twenty or thirty miles on a road selected off a map for its gray line and off-the-beaten-path route.
  • A near dry lake stretching for miles in Northern CA on the 395.
  • Glaciers on the small plane ride over the Knik glaciers outside of Anchorage. You can’t ask for a better view though we were somewhat worried about that co-pilot.
  • The view from the mountain view trail in Denali.

Traveling within the Arctic Circle was certainly interesting. The midnight sun messes with your head as much as your circadian rhythms. Time has no meaning during the two-month day at the 70th parallel. The sun never sets playing havoc with your sense of time and normalcy. Every day has a second noon: a high noon and a low noon and what business does the sun have being to the North of you in the northern hemisphere anyway? Why do stores close? What do owls do? Would you dare to pull an all-nighter in the winter? It broke my weather app which showed a 3 PM sunrise at Prudhoe. We started a three-hour hike at seven in the evening and never worried about hiking in the dark. We came out of the farthest North bar in Alaska in Coldfoot at midnight in the middle of the day. Or maybe it was towards the end of the day, the day not ready to end until sometime at the end of July.

Wildlife viewing is always a highlight for me. A day of travel in Alaska is measured by the number of moose seen. Our best day was a four-moose day. In total, we saw one bear from the safety of a plane, more than a half dozen moose, deer, elk, a lynx, an angry fox chasing after shorebirds, a golden eagle taking a crap at the top of a pine tree, a flock of sandhill cranes, caribou, a pod of humpback whales off the point at the lighthouse at Pt. Reyes, and myriads of small critters. As side notes: Caribou and muskox live off lichen and moss under the snow during the dark winter of the tundra, my definition of heroic. In the western hemisphere, reindeer are simply seasonally employed caribou.

Flower-blooming flora, though generally more overlooked than fauna, was on full display. Large patches of fireweed added reddish-pink hues to the landscape. Alternating yellow, violet, white, green, and purples lined the roads.

Of course, it was great to see and even stay with the relations. We thank them for their support.

Lowlights

In general, the lowlights were the temperature extremes and swings. Ironically, I nearly froze my ass off riding on the trip North where we hugged the coast in the perpetual fifty-degree chill with Mark Twain’s astute observation gliding across the ice in my hypothermic head, “The coldest winter I’ve ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco.” But on the inland trip ride home, we fought the heat much of the way experiencing the remnant of the heat dome over the Pacific Northwest. Forced out of the mountains by a fire in Lassen National Forest on the stretch of highway from Chico to Fairfield, we rode in a dehydrating 105 to 110-degree heat. On that particular day, the temperature swing went from 50 in the pines of a Lassen campground to 110 on the I-5 heading south and then back into the low 60s as we headed into Oakland. Note to self, need to lobby for flexible roads in that narrow band of about five miles between the freezing coast and the burning inland empire. Maybe put Elon Musk on the job.

It’s hard not to mention another elephant in the room, or on the ride… Global Warming was in our faces during much of the trip. Alaska has interior warming of 7 degrees. The spruce beetle population is exploding resulting in the devastation of spruce forests around Anchorage and beyond. As one Alaskan put it, “You don’t have to prove global warming to an Alaskan. All an Alaskan has to do is look out the window.” There is nothing subtle about the direct cause or the results. The spruce forests are patchworks of green and dead trees. Back in the mainland, we dodged forest fires in Washington, Idaho, and California. In California near Lassen, we had to double back due to road closures or drive all the way to Reno to go around. The re-route briefly took us back into an ominous, sun-obscuring, red-orange smoke cloud on a road lined with green fire trucks and firefighters in their yellow suits.

Mosquitos were inevitable and anticipated. In fact, they were not nearly as bad as I anticipated. In Denali, I spent two nights under the stars (ok, under the twilight) without once fainting from blood loss.

An Alfred Hitchcock moment when I was forced to wave off an angry seagull with a stick because I had inadvertently entered a nesting area. Warnings were posted at the side near the road but we came in from the opposite side. Birds make people happy, particularly if those people are the ones watching you get accosted by an irate nesting bird.

And one near-death experience, when a jackass decided to pass the SUV and me on a blind curve and had to cut me off to narrowly avoid a head-on collision with a car coming at it from the other direction. If I wasn’t on the right side of the lane or if the oncoming car was going just a couple of miles an hour faster, it would have been ugly for a lot of people. F**king jackass.

Midlights

Driving over the Atigun Pass was actually a highlight tempered only by the confabulation of what it would have been like if we had attempted the thirty or so miles of slippery road on a motorcycle on the trip up. Slippery mud from light rains looked manageable on the mostly hard-packed road but slippery mud is a tricky thing on a steep grade. On the much dryer return trip, it looked easy, at least in my confabulation of the ride. But we will never know.

Standing in the Arctic Ocean was an emotional highlight. it represented the pinnacle of the trip and the purpose of the mission but it’s not a particularly pretty sight, rocky and barren with a backdrop of oil-pumping plants in the background. You have to pay for a tour for the few miles across the privately held oil lands to actually get from Deadhorse to the Arctic Ocean. I always have mixed feelings about the canned patter and the false camaraderie of people working the trade. But in this case, it was useful learning about all the inner workings of the oil pumping process at Prudhoe and tires that under a million pounds of drilling equipment burst into flames from overheating if they move too fast.

My favorite met person was a bi-polar, elderly lady working an information kiosk in Fairbanks. She is bi-polar only in the sense that she has been both to the Arctic and the Antarctic. She worked out of Point Barrow providing medical care to nearby villages for many years and then participated in expeditions to the Antarctic to teach high school children about the environment depriving them of their electronic connections during the journey. We should all be bi-polar! After our conversation, I drifted over to the exhibits. The bi-polar woman shamed me as I walked past her again asking me in a good-natured spirit, “What did I learn?” I muttered something about the Ididerot race but I hadn’t really read anything, just looked at a relief map of Alaska. So she called me out on a wasted opportunity.

The weirdest encounter was with a forty-six-year-old, single woman proprietor of a flower shop on a yearly gathering with her family. She poured out all of her family issues and tragedies on a dock in a state park to three complete strangers. At one point when she was crying, I offered my hand for her to hold. I felt kind of awkward because I didn’t know how long she needed it for but I didn’t have any immediate use for it, anyway.

Other interesting encounters included a dance in Sandpoint saloon with a decent band, an itinerant worker in Coldfoot who skied tree-barren mountains in Alaska by driving up in a snowmobile then letting it self-drive to the bottom while he skied down to meet it, and all the people Hetal introduced herself to, particularly in bars. The names and stories of the others have already faded. But that is the way of the caravan.

There is a certain glamor in motorcycle riding but the reality is isolation in a space capsule helmet with earplugs and the discomfort of riding in more or less the same position for hours on end despite alleviation from bike yoga stretching routines. Of course, hiking is pretty much the same way in the sense of isolation and discomfort. Both are long periods of repetition punctuated by a few moments of interest justified by the sense of accomplishment at the completion.

Pulling off-road to cook a meal is a great alternative to paying for every meal at a restaurant, especially if you are on a road like the Dalton Highway that doesn’t have them for stretches of a couple of hundred miles at a time. On more than one occasion, we cooked with the stove in the car on account of inclement weather. Sitting down at a restaurant on occasion is nice too; different food to try and different folk to interact with. We never succumbed to convenience food at the many gas stations we frequented though I did pick up a couple of bottles of convenience wine as gifts for Brooke so we didn’t come in empty-handed.

I spent five nights sleeping under the stars without using a tent, once under a shrubby tree in Woodland Hills, twice in Denali, once in a parking lot in Pateros, and once on a dock in Westchester State park. Actually, it’s pretty comfortable but for some reason, haha, I tend to awaken at sunrise. In Denali, on the second night, I retreated into the bivy for an hour or two when it started raining at 7:30 in the morning. Not all city folk need a roof over the head, Mr. Muir.

Rant all you want about being online and connected, we relied heavily on the devices to navigate and find places at night. On every day during the trip, we were connected at some point. And I still took satisfaction in providing my trophy pictures to the world through Instagram completing my mission of a daily post for one year.

All of our equipment never gave us any serious trouble. The motorcycles and the truck fired up each morning and started promptly after sitting for ten days at a Seattle motel doubling as an airport parking lot. Given how rarely equipment actually does what it is supposed to do, I might consider this a highlight, too.

Postpartem

So now it is over and while I am quite happy that my motorcycle performed and I performed on the motorcycle, its future is definitely uncertain even though I am much more confident of my riding ability. I am staring at four walls and have a ceiling permanently over my head. I don’t think I will miss sleeping literally on the road but, damn, a couple of weeks ago I was standing knee-deep in the Arctic Ocean at the top of the world having traversed the Dalton Highway. Even though I conceived of the idea, I would have certainly failed to execute without the determination and persistence of Hetal and Chris. A proverb echoes in my head, “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” I might change that a little, “If you want to back out, tell no one, if you want to go far, go together.” Damn it, motorcycle or not, we did the Dalton Highway. We went far. To the ends of the Earth far.

Muskoxen

Reading Time: 2 minutes

From my youth, I remember the photos of snow-bearded muskox huddled together in an outward-facing circle to protect one another from the arctic blizzards. They are to the cow as the wooly mammoth is to the elephant, a stringy-haired relic of the ice age that didn’t get the memo to go extinct. They only live in the tundra of the far north latitudes surviving on lichen and moss during the harsh long winters.  

One of my ambitions was to watch and photograph these beasts in their native habitat on our trip to Deadhorse, Alaska.  From our ship container(-ish) hotel room, the hotel manager told me that they were on the river’s edge earlier in the day before we arrived. He peered out the window across the road and toward the river but didn’t see any. He said they might come back later in the day, although that might have been a trick answer because the day in the Arctic summer is two months long. So I checked every couple of hours through the course of the nightless day during our twelve-hour stay and on the trip in and out, but the ice age creatures failed to reveal themselves.

Two days later, back at Fairbanks, we overnighted in an Air BNB place that was interestingly called the Musk Ox house. In the morning, looking out the back window onto a field behind the house, I saw a large black mass of fur which I guessed to be a grizzly bear. So I bravely or foolishly grabbed my camera and ran out to capture a photo trophy. You have probably guessed already that the grizzly bear was in fact a muskox. It turns out one of the few herds of captive muskox live at the U of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station which just happened to be in the backyard of the overnight rental.

So I saw muskoxen although not really on my terms. Which now that I think about it, might actually be the underlying theme of our trip. Hashtag on #prudhoe for more on the trip, if you are interested.

Author’s note: subsequent research tells me that muskoxen are more closely related to goats and sheep than cows. (https://uaf.edu/lars/animals/muskox.php)

Photo Finish

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The two racing rocks rush towards the finish, nose-to-nose, bump-to-bump, head-to-head, toe-to-toe, or whatever feature one ascribes to bowling ball size rocks engaged in a heated race over a temporarily undry, ice-glazed lake. All that we spectators get to see is the final moment frozen in time in the wind-eroded tracks in the rehardened and now dried mud, stretching back to the starting point seemingly out of nowhere. Not every rock at the race track is hell-bent on winning. Some have an artistic bent painting lazy loops or perhaps engaging in the calligraphy of secret rock words.

The excitement of the events takes place largely in my mind, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the sights of Death Valley. The ruggedness of the mountains expresses itself in folded contours of chocolate brown, rust red, sandy tans, lava blacks, and bruised purples. The ruggedness of the valley expresses itself in a snowfield of salt flats, a lone creosote bush defying every effort to squelch its life, a naked caldera reminding us that Death Valley can add injury to insult at its whim and ever-shifting sand dunes that quickly erase all traces of its visitors.

A man tells me the racetrack is the most overrated attraction in the park, hardly worth the sixty-mile off-road trip (on motorcycles battling loose scree and dehydrating ninety-degree temps. I added that last part.) Barely visible rock tracks might not have the glamor of the artist palette, or the excitement of finding pupfish in a spring-fed stream, or the challenge of summitting a dune, or the admiration for carpets of defiant flowers, but the racetrack has the challenge of the trip, the rocks have the mystery of their movement even knowing the explanation, and it doesn’t hurt to indulge your imagination in a place that absolutely inspires it.

Cedar Creek Falls

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cedar Creek Falls is a well-known hike in San Diego, having one of the few waterfalls in the county. I’ve made several visits over the years and decided, with a permit as now required, to visit. It was hard to see nature through all the distant memories, distant memories over three decades old. My memories include people I don’t see anymore, from days when my hiking was a social activity as much as an experience of nature. About two decades ago, the social aspect of hiking mostly ceased. Maybe somebody was trying to tell me something, but whatever that message might have been, I missed it, and I replaced my missing hiking buddies with a Nikon camera. On this latest visit, I approached the falls from the Ramona access to the west of the falls. On either approach, you drop about a thousand feet to the San Diego River valley to reach the falls before turning around and having to climb a thousand feet to escape.

On all our previous approaches, we came in via the Eagle Creek Road access from the North. Eagle Creek Road was never much of a road from what I remember. On one of those previous hikes, I recall seeing a caterpillar on every plant that had a flower on it so it must have been late spring. Breezely, a college friend, was on that hike but I don’t remember who else, probably because he was the fastest walker and always in front of me while everyone else was behind.

The Ramona access today is the preferred entrance. There is a parking lot, a gate, and a Ranger checking permits. The trail itself is marked every quarter of a mile, has a few benches, and wooden structures for shade. It wasn’t blazing hot today but it was much warmer than the prolonged winter of the past few weeks.

On a mountain bike camping trip with a number of memorable moments, we ended up riding in from the Eagle Creek access and unintentionally out on the Ramona access. Bill, the lead on this particular adventure, recruited a couple of newbies for the ride. As we were riding toward the falls, we kept hearing buzzing noises and couldn’t figure out what it was. At a stop, we realized it was coming from a pannier on one of the bikes and investigated. The guy had brought his electric razor on the trip and it had somehow managed to turn itself on.
Our game plan was to ride down a trail to the south and exit at the San Vincente Reservoir. As it turns out, the path cuts across an Indian Reservation. When we reached a fence that blocked the trail, a man whose sole purpose was to keep people like us off the reservation came out to stop us from going further. He spoke the immortal words, “Turn around and go back past those 17 no trespassing signs you just rode by and find another way out.”
“Oh, we must have missed those.”
Having delivered the bad news, he was a little bit chummier. I remember him telling us that he had lost a couple of his Dobermans to a mountain lion hanging out in the area.
So we headed back and ended up camping out in the bushes near the falls where we had just come from. Sitting around a campfire at night, (recall this predates CA burning down every other summer or so by at least a decade), we teased the inexperienced campers about mountain lions and wolves and grizzlies. When a bat flew overhead, we added that to the list but one, not seeing the bat flitting about our heads in the darkness, rejected the possibility of our only true sighting saying, “Now I know you are teasing me,” and seemed to relax.
In the morning, one of Bill’s friends who carried a sheathed 13-inch knife found a thick rattlesnake on the trail and gave it a tug on the tail. I thought he was an idiot, but then again, the Alligator Hunter and Bear Grylls were still years in the future, so maybe he was just ahead of his time.

On the present-day hike, I was about five feet from a rattlesnake before it came into my awareness, which I announced to the world with an “Oh, Sh*t!” The rattlesnake took offense and coiled up into an attack pose, but I wasn’t within striking distance. Hissing and rattling, he backed slowly off still facing me and when he felt safe enough, he made a run for it diving into the safety of a bush. So now I know how fast a motivated rattlesnake can slither.

One of my favorite memories was a February hike. Bill jumped into that frigid pool of water while I hedged. As I contemplated whether I wanted to jump in, I asked him as he swam toward the other side, “Is it cold?” He turned back and the lie spewed out of his mouth along with a fog of breath you see coming from people’s mouths on a cold day in winter, “Not at all.” For the record, I jumped in anyway and the water was as cold as his lie. No visit was complete without jumping or diving into the bowl of water from one of the rocks to the side of the pool. On one trip when we had the pool to ourselves, I remember jumping in, in my most natural state.

Today, no diving signs and no access signs are posted all over the rocks and the trail. The permit threatens a heavy fine and jail time should you think yourself better. Somebody got tired of extracting injured and dead bodies from diving accidents and exhaustion, and from cleaning up after drunken parties.

The management of the trail has changed and I have changed (unwillingly) over the years, but the one constant is the waterfall. It still looks as amazing and inviting as the first time I saw it. It’s nice to have at least one constant in the universe or at least one little corner of it.

Snow still visible on Cuayamaca Peak

Foul Fowl

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Should I write about the ordinary ones? The lousy ones? Like a good picture of a bad thing? Is my job to filter out the dismal or only filter out the low quality? You’ve been warned.

What I wanted was pics of exotic shorebirds and ducks at the National Wildlife Refuge. What I got was a weed-lined tractor trail with two and a half miles worth of an endless pickle weed patch on one side and nothing but overturned dirt on the other, set to a backdrop of an endless parade of truck traffic on the 37, in a bowl of distant mountains and urban skylines.

I followed the tractor trail two-and-half miles to the water of the North Bay. The bushes at the trailhead were littered with tp, looking mostly like a place to pull off the highway and to take an emergency crap. I was hoping that eventually, I would come upon tidal, bird-infested waters. Instead, I side-stepped spent shotgun shells with the remains of a metal carcass, passed by an abandoned structure of some kind, pondered a very lost and large cement block, and covered my nose with my face mask hoping to block out the odors of a foul-smelling ditch. When I arrived at the most northerly point of the North Bay at low tide, I witnessed nothing more than mudflats and vanishingly small birds in the tidal distance.

Trying to make lemonade out of lemons, the temperature was perfect and there was barely a cloud in the sky. Even weeds can be colorful with interesting shapes. The junk piles make for semi-interesting compositions embedded in the pickleweed and a horizon of hills. A kite stopped on a stump protruding ever-so-slightly above the terrain. Two deer ventured out onto the barren fields from a small weed patch. I wondered if deer have ankles to twist as they retreated back at the sight of me over the clumpy dirt to their weedy home, probably confused as to why a person was on the trail at all. As I walked, I drove flocks of songbirds in front of me from one weedy perch to another, apparently not sharing my dim view of the seed-sated weeds.

I often wonder when I hike alone what would happen if I keel over. On this one, I don’t think anyone would chance upon me until the next planting season when some hapless farmer would wonder what that crunching noise was under his big fat tractor tires. I would have expired within sight of the highway with the indifference of nothing more than roadkill. I’ve hiked in remote places with more people than this trail (none). I was close enough to see yet far enough never to be seen.

I felt dirty when I was done, like negotiating with a used-car salesman. It was an ugly hike. As you may suspect, I don’t recommend it. But keeping people away may be just what the birds need.

Gitten’ Any?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In my head, I planned on a challenging hike but as the day wore thin, I settled on the familiar territory of the North Shore of Lake Hodges choosing to focus more on exercise than on photography. Nevertheless, I follow the first rule of photography, always have your camera ready, even though your expectations are low.

As I start the hike, a man passes by asking me if I am “Gitten any?” My camera is strapped over my shoulder, and I know what he means, but the immediate in-my-head response is, “not in a long time.” I actually respond with the truth from all perspectives. “Trying.”

I have a couple of hours before sunset, so I decide to walk the upper rim of the Lake Hodges Canyon to see if it meets up with the trail to the summit of Bernardo Mountain, which I know would take me back to the main trail, preferring a loop trail to an out-n-back anytime. I tried once before but ran out of daylight and had to head back the same way I came.

The problem with the overlook trail is that it is marked obsessively with “No Trespassing” signs. According to the signs, the truck trail is for access to sewage lines by the water authority people only. The tire tracks of a hundred mountain bikes say otherwise. So do other signs that say we grant you passage as long as you don’t sue the pants off us for your issues. So I pin my water authority badge to my chest and march on.

A turkey vulture circles overhead playing tag with the sun, at least from my ground perspective, as he rides the thermals. A small two-foot gopher snake, with its spotted backside, almost matching the dimpled patterns of the bike tread stretches across the truck trail. It doesn’t seem too perturbed by my presence, which is a little bit worrisome, because if it stays stretched across the road for any length of time, the patterns on its back will become an exact match to the treads of an unwary mountain bike. I try to get a picture of it forking its tongue at me but the critter is uncooperative. I held the camera in place for a hundred count a couple of times. Of course, as soon as I gave in, the uncooperative creature forked its tongue at me. I finally gave up and moved on, the day not growing any longer on my account.

A little way down the trail, the sparkling sunlight off the lake catches my eye, inspiring me to try to capture a blurred bokeh with the glint of the snaking lake in the background. Lake Hodges is a dam lake that follows the curvature of the San Dieguito River canyon.

On a previous outing, near this spot, I came upon a roadrunner being harassed by a mocking bird. Instead, I find a tree full of lesser golden finches. Lesser than what and by whose standards, I don’t know and they are not telling.

I push on. As I round a corner, I see a mule deer on the road. It surprises me to see one so out in the open. His antlers are just starting to come in. This is the second sighting of mule deer I’ve seen in two weeks. I’ve been hiking in San Diego County for forty years and I’ve seen at most twenty-five in all that time. I’ve never seen any in this area before. He lets me get a little closer before diving into the bush. He gives me one last look over the shoulder to see what my intentions are. My intentions are to take advantage of the photo op.

The sewage access road turns into a driveway but a single track trail dives into the riparian woods surrounding a small creek that feeds into the lake. I take the trail and I’m pleasantly surprised when I end up on the flank of Bernardo Mountain, not quite as far into the mountain access as I envisioned but happy when the trail emerges onto the Bernardo Mountain trail. I don’t have to do an out-and-back. I snap a few thistle remains, still photogenic in my mind, even without their brilliant neon blue day-glow flowers.

I rejoin the main trail that traverses the length of the North Shore interrupted only by a couple of crayfish, or do you say crawdaddies, at the creek re-crossing on the main trail. I didn’t expect much on the way back other than a lot of bike traffic. I stopped to take a failed photo of a very Suessian orange and white buckwheat flower shaped like a soccer ball or a flavorful dangling lollipop.

As I walked under the I-15 expressway, I checked under the bridge to see if any swifts were out and about from their mud nests that hang under the eaves. Instead, I had an encounter with a praying mantis hanging out on the top of a post of a chain-link fence. He thrust and parried a few times to chase me off but then went back to his praying.

With a snake, a deer, a praying mantis, some landscape, and some previously undiscovered trail, I remembered the guy I met when I started the hike. Yeah, I got me some!

The Road to Hell

Reading Time: 16 minutes

A Road Trip with Stephen King in Southern CA

As if an unwanted birthday wasn’t enough, my twenty-seven year old, freon compressed, central A/C decided to die of bad capacitance and a burnt-out motor a day before the two weeks of 100+ and 110+ degree weather. A subject matter expert came out to give me an estimate on a replacement unit. As he inspected the bowels of my house and noted problem points, he doubted the efficacy of my A/C efficiency to the tune of about 10K.

With the demise of the A/C, my living space was reduced to the inner sanctum of a single 10x10x8 room that contains all my connections to the outside world: the temporary room AC, the TV, the work laptop, the personal laptop, and the iPhone. I once read that the entire biomass of humanity individually put in 9x9x9 cubic foot containers could be stored inside the Grand Canyon. I don’t know if that is still true or not because the population has expanded by a few billion people since I was informed of that fact. I don’t think the Grand Canyon people-fill generated a lot of enthusiasm in the real estate market.

At work, dumped from two projects this year and waiting four months and counting to start a new one while COVID drove everyone from their offices to their homes, my living space also turned into my workspace. With time on my hand and inspired by the insane politics of the time, I read Hannah Arendt’s book “A Report on the Banality of Evil.” In the evilest empire of modern times, people hid behind platitudes. State a positive to overlook a negative. The road to hell is paved with platitudes. That is the banality of evil. I’ve had months to contemplate the platitude that made my pending work assignment once palatable, “Peace through Strength.” My workspace feels really small.

COVID had me in storage. Work had me in storage. An oppressive heatwave had me in storage. Regardless of the venue and with a milestone birthday imminent, I for one wanted out of storage. I decided to take the week off from work to get my head around my descent into decrepitude and to evaluate the efficacy of my own efficiency. Somebody called it a symbolic milestone, but the symbolism escapes me. It feels pretty real to me.

So what do you do for your symbolic milestone birthday in the age of COVID to get out of storage? Road trip! Particularly when you have Hetal and Chris for friends. Separate cars! Separate rooms! Stay outdoors wherever possible. Masks and hand sanitizer. We were going. As Hetal said, birthdays are a big deal.

We went!

The general plan was to head to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. The reason for this particular destination was my desire to visit Kings Canyon. I’ve seen Kings Canyon from a distant overlook and technically, I’ve been in the park before because of the small isolated piece of it on the road to Sequoia that contains General Grant. I’ve never made it into the canyon proper mostly because I have visited the area in the offseason on late-year holiday trips when the only drivable entrance to Kings Canyon is closed off. Not at all complaining about the beautiful overlook into the canyon but just seeing it from the rim is a teaser, like flying over in an airplane. If you go to one park, it is a wasted opportunity not to visit the other if you can, so Sequoia is in the mix even if it is a several time repeat.

I was strongly advised to get reservations for a campground because of COVID constraints and crowds. Indeed, my search through the campgrounds proved them all to be full and the first-come, first-serve campgrounds closed on account of COVID. So I made reservations at Eshom Campground in Sequoia National Forest, which looked pretty close to the parks on a small map. This was the part of the trip I did plan in advance.

During an unrelated astronomical conversation concerning the identification and alignment of planets, the topic of the trip came up with Phil, a lifelong friend I met at the age of 9. A potential hike I was considering to Mist Falls was also on Phil’s to-do list. So he would be joining us for a night of camping and a day of hiking in Kings.

I packed my car full of camping equipment, coolers, and clothes. I chose Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft” on audio for company. Listening to King on the way to Kings seemed fitting. The reservations were for Sunday and Monday. We left on a Saturday. We had an unplanned night before the visit to the National Parks. When Chris and Hetal showed up at the house, I still wasn’t sure where we were going first.

I offered up the idea of the Kern River but the final decision was Ojai with the possibility of continuing onto Paso Robles. It wasn’t a completely random destination, we had discussed it at the beginning of the summer for a possible motorcycle trip but the stars and planets didn’t quite align. In a previous motorcycle trip through Ojai with a different crowd, I did little more than take a quick lunch break before cruising through the picturesque Los Padres National Forest on CA-33 on our way to Paso Robles and beyond.

While Stephen King struggled through his childhood for the next couple of hours and without any hint of what his rambling had to do with the craft, I began a text-while-driving negotiation to meet Ann who lives in Ojai, a friend I haven’t seen in the six months since we collectively went into storage back in March, to give her fair warning of our impending arrival instead of just showing up at her house and telling her “Surprise, we are here!” Not so much because I’m courteous but only because I don’t know with any precision exactly where she lives. Even in COVID, LA traffic accommodates my texting session with stopped traffic in the middle of the freeway for no other apparent reason than to allow me to continue my conversation without the risk of driving. Over the course of the four-hour trip, I learned that Ann will meet us somewhere for dinner after she finishes painting houses in Ventura.

After nearly four hours of talking, Stephen King is still only five years old in his memoir. I suppose five was a watershed moment in my life too, but all I have to say about that is you can’t trust old people. I think I could make a case for that lack of trust setting me off on a youth filled with long hair and informality and iconoclasm and introversion. With any luck, in five or ten years, I can inflict you with my own memoir on the craft so you can judge for yourself if my case has any merit.

Ojai is a tourist town and a gateway to the wilderness recreation in the coastal mountains outside of Ventura and Santa Barbara. The downtown has an adobe feel to it. Outdoor seating and drinking beckoned but our first stop was to Bart’s, the world’s greatest outdoor bookstore. Bookstores aren’t dead yet although it doesn’t hurt to have a quaint outdoor setting and a great reputation. I asked the kid at the register how they choose their books and he told me the books choose them. Fair enough. So I asked the books how they choose the store and each had its own story to tell. Haha. I couldn’t resist. Sorry.

We started our night on the town at the Ojai Pub. At Ann’s recommendation, we redirect to Topa Topa Brewing company where we finally meet up, and then from there to Ojai Beverage Co, all with outdoor seating and plenty of beer and food, a great way to spend a Saturday night. As much fun as I have in the inner sanctum of my personal storage drinking my homemade wine telling my dogs the errors of their ways, it just doesn’t compare to a warm night on an outdoor patio, eating someone else’s cooking for a change, and telling my interactive and three-dimensional and charming friends the errors of their ways. Ann is a gracious host.

Cachuma Lake

After an overnight in Carpenteria and a coffee at a coffee shop to which people coagulate on a Sunday morning on a downtown artery of Santa Barbara, we headed out the scenic 154 for a panoramic view of Cachuma Lake and an involuntarily slow drive-by of a smoldering blackened car. We crossed over from the coast to Visalia through the golden hills inside the coastal range outside of San Luis Obispo. The yellow, gold, and tans with just an occasional splotch of tree were painting and picture waiting to happen.

Hills of Yellow, Gold, and Tan


Stephen King has been chatting me up as we cut across the state still talking more memoir than craft. He finally gets around to the topic of writing. He hates adverbs, I recall ruefully. He vigilantly culls his drafts for adverbs, but even he cannot purge his work of them all successfully. The road to hell is paved with adverbs, he says angrily and bitterly and ardently and abjectly. Abjectly sounded good when I wrote it but I actually had to look up its definition. Stephen hates pretense. Don’t fluff up your sentences with pompous and pretentious and supercilious and resplendent words that you don’t know the meaning of just to sound more erudite and educated.

He tells me half of writing is vulnerability. Stick your jaw out there, it will most certainly get punched. So far, when I’ve put my jaw out there for the punch, I’ve been hit hard by the harsh hands of irrelevance and invisibility and a complete lack of marketing skills. Needless to say, the other half of writing is about paying the hospital bill.

It pains me to no end that my fifty IG posts average about five hits compared to tens of thousands of hits in a single post of a hot babe in a pretend bikini telling me that life is an adventure. On second thought, maybe the other half of writing is about paying the shrink. In either case, my book sales to date won’t cover the cost for the phone call to set up the appointment.

Stephen ignores my pathos and moves on. It’s all about him. He lets situation drive his writing rather than plot. Plot is unnatural and forced and for him, at least, arises naturally from situation. Plot is emergent. Situation seems like an appropriate metaphor for a trip that was at least in part unplanned until its start day. Write this situation: what if we go to Ojai without a plan or a place to stay in the middle of a pandemic while the state is burning down?

In Exeter, we provisioned up at a little mom and pop grocery store that has only a mom and serves mostly the same fare as a gas station. The dairy section of the store is a single rack behind a glass cooler and there is no bread. But the lady is nice and sacrifices two sandwich bread loaves from her deli for our campout meals. In another encounter a day later, my vegetarian friend Phil stopped at a sandwich shop in Exeter and they gave him the Philly cheesesteak despite repeatedly clarify his order for something else. He’s pretty sure he could have ordered anything from the guy and he would still have ended up with a Philly cheese steak. So there you have it, the good and bad of Exeter. How many people even have the experience of being there?

From Exeter, we drove to our desolate campground in the Sequoia National Forest. We veered off to scenic back roads that narrowed into one car lanes and roughed ever bumpier and wound into ever tighter curves and bends. As the road turned to dirt, Google Maps told me, “Arrived.” I looked around. The only thing I saw was trees. In yet another unimpressive performance of the app, it had dumped me about a half a mile from the entrance to the campground. Google Maps once rerouted me in LA in the middle of the night down a freeway that ended, sent me into some dubious neighborhood, then cut out and dropped the image of the map while looking for its connection. I had no idea where the f**k I was. I once followed it in Idaho and it took me down a road that disappeared from the map while my impatient guide suggested over and over that I, “Return to the route. Return to the route. Return to the route,” as if it were my fault. They tell me AI is going to take over the world. Ha. Really? Wait. Now that I think about it, maybe that is one small step in its master plan.

Don’t fall for this cute face!

It didn’t take long to set up camp, then play catch with Chris and a real baseball, sneak glances at the two pretty lesbian (that’s how my mind processed it) girls in the campsite next to ours, and snap a picture of a gopher that looks like he is up for a game of whack-a-mole. Gophers at home have eaten far more from my attempts at agriculture than I have. Don’t let those cute buck teeth and that cute furry muzzle fool you for even a second. The road to agricultural hell is paved with gophers. And rabbits. And squirrels. And seed-eating birds. And snails. And insects. There is a lot of traffic on that particular road. It might work out for me if I trick the gophers into eating adverbs instead of corn and cucumbers.

Of course, I find my way into the alcohol and have a beer or four with my teetotaling vodka-drinking friend Hetal, commiserating over the last few minutes of my now spent middle age.

I awoke in the morning from my bivy sarcophagus to a new decade. In my head, I heard the voice from Google Apps say, “Arrived,” having dumped me in the middle of existential nowhere. A big part of the trip is over. It was what it was, it is what it is, and it will be what it will be. That’s the wisdom I’ve accrued over the years. Not having much shit on my shelf, I figure it best to go talk to the 3000-year-old Sequoia trees to find out what their wisdom is. After all, they’ve survived millennia of fires and fungi (but they do seem to be at the mercy of men and climate).

The campground is only fifteen miles from Sequoia National Park as the crow flies but an hour-and-a-half to get to as the car drives down circuitous and curvy roads. With another half-hour delay added to the ride for road maintenance, I gave up on my ambitions to hike deeper into the backcountry. There are always plenty of trees on the Big Trees trail to visit. General Sherman was way too busy showing off his massive girth to the hordes to have much of a conversation. Hordes was his word. He pointed out to me that its the same word I use for mosquitos.

I found an ancient that wasn’t so preoccupied. This is what it said to me, “I put out hundreds of seeds per cone and thousands of cones per year. Conservatively, over the course of my two thousand years of life, I might produce 200*5000*2000 or more than two billion seeds. I only need one success in two billion to be successful.”

F**king optimist. If I were 3000 years old, I’d be an optimist too. But they are resplendent and grandiose and flamboyant and Stephen King is turned off for a couple of days until I get back on the highway. So thinking with my cup half full, I agreed with his Majestic-ness. But then re-thinking with my cup half empty, it means there are two billion less one failures. So big trees suffer from confirmation bias even after all these years they have had to get their shit together. When I confronted them, they ignored my protestations and insights. The big trees spoke of resilience and perseverance as they looked down on me. I didn’t hear what the two billion less one missing trees had to say. Probably, the same thing I had to say. “Humph.”

Enough talking to the trees, I had to race back to the campground to greet Phil. Fortuitously, I saw him on the Big Trees trail hiding under an Illini baseball cap and behind a bandit’s mask. I was within two feet of him before I recognized that twinkle in his eye that makes him him. Two life long friends of over fifty years could have sailed past each other on the trail without a glimmer of recognition just like that. Easy come, easy go? It was a fortunate encounter. I didn’t have to rush back and he didn’t have to get lost in the middle of the night trying to locate the campsite. Well, maybe he has better luck with his maps.

Phil and I headed to Moro rock. Despite the haziness of the smoke-filled air and the ominous presence of ravens, the steep climb thinly protected by a knee-high rock wall from a drop of hundreds of feet and a view of distant mountains across a deep valley was thrilling and awe-inspiring. A thick haze obscured our view to the west. After our summit and viewing, we trekked back to the campsite under a pink and red and purple sunset stopping briefly to watch a flock of turkeys crossing the road before rejoining Chris and Hetal for a birthday celebration. Celebration is kind of a strong word for a gathering of four and an event that I would have strongly preferred to keep as a target in the sight rather than a fading memory in the rearview mirror. On the other hand, there are two billion less one seeds telling me to f**k off. They never made it this far, relatively speaking.

Back at the campsite, we all enjoyed Phil’s beers, checked out the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, talked about COVID and politics and retirement and travel and a few other things I probably needed to shut up about already. I scored three sci-fis from Neal Stephenson from Hetal and Chris and a six-pack of Stone from Phil. I never got around to playing “Time Waits for No One” on the guitar. That is how you turn sixty. It was what it was, it is what it is, and it will be what it will be. I heard a bunch of trees groan in the darkness at the thought.

Enough of the moroseness of a happy birthday. Nothing to lift your spirits like the resplendence of a spectacular canyon. Parting ways with Hetal and Chris, Phil and I packed and hit the road for the Mist Falls hike. Kings didn’t disappoint. It was very Grand Canyonish, in fact, even deeper at its deepest point, with the advantage that you can drive down into it. It’s a long slow ride that makes a lot more sense if you camp down there over nights to spend more time participating in the wilderness than viewing it from behind a wheel. The campgrounds we drove past were closed and the road was empty.

At the end-of-the-road trailhead to Mist Falls, we caught up to other cars and hikers but nothing even remotely overwhelming for a national park on a perfect summer day. The first two miles of the Mist trail was flat following the South Fork of the Kings River. The walls and peaks towered overhead in the haze from far-off fires in the Valley. A mule train led by two park rangers passed us on a hot and dusty section of the trail loaded with metallic canisters of unknown cargo. After a mile or so, the open trail ducked under a riparian forest to a prehistoric undergrowth of horsetails and ferns. At the two-mile marker, the trail veered north turning into a gentle climb as it followed the contour of the canyon alongside the river.

We stopped so I could take pictures of the stream. I managed to forget my poles, walking for about a tenth of a mile before realizing my mistake. After I retrieved the damn poles, I contemplated the efficacy of my brain efficiency. It’s just a matter of time before I forget something critical like turning off a stove burner for a night or forgetting to zip up my fly after a bathroom break during an important meeting at work. But instead of getting angry at frustrating times like this, I remembered an extremely useful piece of advice, “ask yourself if what you are doing is helping the situation or not.” I heard it on a TED talk on resilience. Anger and or self-pity don’t help the situation. I know, I’ve tried. That one phrase has so far kept me out of any up and coming Stephen King novels.

Mist Falls


A few stretches of the trail are steep enough to warrant a granite staircase. We passed cascades we thought might be the falls. A catch-and-release fisherman regaled us of his multi-species trout catches of the day and told us the falls were just up the trail about a half-mile. A sign marked the spot of the actual falls but once you see the falls, you won’t mistake them for anything else.

The falls were extremely photogenic with a peak off to one side, trees on the rim near the top, and a rock protruding from the bottom pool that allows people to stand right in front of the falls almost as if in them. I usually try to take pics without people but I think, in this case, the people add a sense of scale and contrast. Phil took full advantage of the pool at the base of the falls with a swim in the cool waters. We found Phil’s wheelhouse.


After a hundred photos, a quick jump in the pool, and a modest lunch, we headed back. Most of my hikes these days are solo filled with finding interesting things and composing pics in my mind but this one breezes by with Phil’s company.

On the way out of Kings, we made a quick stop at the Roaring River Waterfalls. It is just off the road on a paved trail and another photo op. A little further down the road, we stopped in Visalia for dinner. Surprisingly, Visalia had a pleasant restaurant row with outdoor seating. We ate at Corby’s Rock N Roll Heroes. Don’t be fooled, it isn’t it a record store, it’s actually a restaurant that plays great classic rock’n’roll with a very pleasant young server who surprisingly does a lot of day hiking on her own in Kings.

Stephen King rejoined me for the ride home to San Diego but he’s not such pleasant company on this leg of the trip. In 1999, he ended up getting run over by a callous man trying to stop his Rottweiler from digging into his beer supply instead of paying attention to the road. If not for the quick response and impeccable treatment by the first-responder, Stephen assured me that he would have died. As it was, he had a crushed leg that looked more a bag of marbles than a bone, a punctured lung, broken ribs, and bent frames on his eyeglasses.

Stephen told me that the inspiration credited to drugs and alcohol is a myth. He should know, he was an addict. I read somewhere that after decades of abstinence, he fell off the wagon again. I don’t know if he has once again kicked the habit. I do know he has published over 60 books. Two roads to hell and one to redemption.

He tells me I have to write, write, and write, and then write some more. He also tells me I have to read, read, and read, and then read some more. Damn it. I have a job.

Stephen finally shut up and I finally made it home. I watched the grittiness of the backcountry wash off me in black streaks swirling down the shower drain.

So one symbolic milestone came and went. I continued to doubt the efficacy of my efficiency and I learned that the road to hell is paved with platitudes, adverbs, and gophers.

I imagined myself plotting out the road to hell in Google maps. Same road as Stephen King’s and Hannah Arendt’s. And herds of gophers. I followed its direction. I got stuck in purgatory. I paved the road with colorful phrases like, “Where in the hell are you taking me?” No adverbs were necessary. With any luck, I permanently lose myself at the end-of-the-road on the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

I heard my internal map app voice speaking in my head, “Return to the route. Return to the route. Return to the route.” I’m sixty years old and I dumped me in the middle of nowhere. What route? What map?

I look at my older self in the mirror and say, “Now what?” He snarls his lips in disgust and disdain, stares back from inside the mirror, and says, “You live with it.”

Here’s Mikey!

View from Moro Rock

More pics here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/19U6xFP1BXhVX7onzwpCyEn2AWDA7aZcx?usp=sharing

Bobcat!

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Someone asked me how my day was and I said “Bobcat!” Okay, I admit I’ve totally lost my ability to interact in any ordinary way. I blame COVID. I’ve been in isolation for the last six months.

I’ve been hiking in this area for the last 36 years and this is my first bobcat siting. It darted across my path in Kit Carson Park in the middle of the day. Unmistakable. Too big to be a cat. Too fleeting to snap a picture. I know bobcats aren’t rare in these parts, but that’s not the point. The point is that it was a cool moment for me in a time when cool moments are hard to come by.

Wading for Sunset

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s still summer and it’s still hot. The best place to be is on the beach and the closest, wildest (for wildlife, not parties) beach for me is Torrey Pines. On this particular hike from street parking in Del Mar south to the north end of Black’s beach, the tide is rather low. I can see the crescent moon in the sky so I know it is not quite the lowest tide but pretty low given the expanse of beach to walk on. I do most of the hike shoeless and in ankle-deep water. I read the water temperature is up from the low 60’s of my foggy trip to the upper 70’s of this heatwave. Wading and swimming, I don’t have any trouble believing the report.

I bring my camera because the ocean and sunset never get old, at least in my humble opinion. With the tide low and golden hour light, I get some lovely shots of the cliffs with their reflection in the surf. The golden glow of the sun brings out the pinks, reds, yellows, browns, and oranges of the cliffs and in the reflections. I tried catching mirror images of the cliffs and shooting straight into the sand for more abstract shots. The play of light and water and color is fantastic facing back towards the cliff in the shallow surf, but I think I need to improve my camera work as the photos are little on the dark side. I think I will make a point of getting on the beach at Torrey Pine’s when the low tide is at sunset on a perfect day until I perfect my craft.

It is not too often I can walk on the ocean side of flat rock without fear of water-damaging camera equipment or getting smashed up against the rocks. The last hike, I couldn’t even get on top of Flat Rock from the beachside approach because of the high tide. This time, I casually walked around flat rock no problem. I took pictures of the matted anemones on its top side and barnacles on its underside. I can see fish working the surf and lots of fishermen trying to work the fish. A little boy charged with filling the bait well with sand crabs feels compelled to give me a close up of one.

Airborne Dolphin

Given the heat and the perfect weather, the beach seems relatively empty. Maybe its because the low tide has people spread out so much but the leg from the south parking lot to Flat Rock is sparse enough that I take plenty of people-less shots. Zoom in on the pan and look for people if you don’t believe me. The stretch from Flat Rock to North Black’s Beach is even more deserted. Black’s Beach itself looks as popular as ever but that is a story for a different venue.

I time the hike just about perfect to end up back at river’s mouth at sunset. A paddleboarder helped my cause by surfing back and forth in front of the setting sun making for some nice silhouettes in the orange glow. And while I was doing that, I saw dolphins skying out of the water in the distance. My perspective may be off because of the distance but those dolphins looked like they were getting serious hang time. Enough for me to look out, find them, and snap. It looked surreal to see these creatures leaping out of the ocean into the sky. If they had been in the line of sight of the sunset for a dolphin silhouette against a deep orange sun, I might have ** with excitement. Insert your own inappropriate metaphor there.

More pics here https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1IQXDOQHtwk8VR1Fwz9RFtD_QNUubx_MH?usp=sharing