Friday, August 31, 2007

Book: Bill Bryson's A Walk In The Woods

My latest read was recommended to me by the wife: Bill Bryson’s “A Walk In The Woods”. This is the second book by Bryson that I’ve read (the other being “A Short History About Nearly Everything”). I wasn’t too impressed with that one mainly based on the subject matter (a rehash of stuff I already knew) and not the writing. I like Bryson’s writing style. At times it reads as if you were sitting across a table at a restaurant listening to him tell stories – a friendly, easy style.

“A Walk In The Woods” tells of Bryson’s hike up the Appalachian Trail. In the first third of the book he is hiking with an old acquaintance named Katz. The second third is more of a solo hike on pieces of the Appalachian trail in the northeast. He doesn’t hike the entire trail but hops around skipping some less interesting parts of the trail. In the last third (the last three chapters) Katz rejoins Bryson for the last section of the trail. The first and third parts are much more interesting than the second third. The writing sounds and feels more anecdotal. The interactions between Katz and Bryson are full of humor and really held my interest. The second third just didn't have the witty character interaction the first third had. To compensate, Bryson sprinkles the book with tangential, but related, stories concerning the Appalachian Trail, its’ founders and hikers, and bear attacks. The second third of the book is almost too full of these tangential stories and less about Bryson’s hiking. It’s like his adventures weren’t enough to fill the pages so he threw in these extra stories as filler.

In the end, Bryson hikes less then 40% of the Appalachian Trail. That is still a lot considering the 2,200 mile length of the trail. It sounded, from his narrative, that it was grueling but worth every ounce of sweat.


What keeps the book interesting is Bryson’s humor. The humor in the narrative keeps you hooked and makes the pages whiz by. You can sense his smile as you read the book - especially when he is talking about his adventures with Katz. A recommended read especially for anyone who likes to hike and read (but not necessarily at the same time).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Roadtrip 1995 - Part 2: Yosemite And Lake Tahoe

I got up early – well I think it was around 7:00, not too early – and drove north to Yosemite stopping on the way for some breakfast. I was entering Yosemite on Labor Day so I figured it would be too crowded to do much of anything. My plan was just to drive through and to see as much as I could before heading to Lake Tahoe.

I entered through the south entrance and took the road to
Glacier Point. From this vantage point you can see the entire Yosemite Valley. I took some pictures of the incredible views of El Capitan and Half Dome. Several spectacular waterfalls could also be seen from up there.

I got back in my car and made my way down into the valley. As expected it was bumper to bumper all the way around the valley loop. I did try to find a parking spot in one area without any luck so I said to heck with it and left the valley as fast as I could … in other words at a snails pace.


Once I got out of the valley, traffic thinned. I was going to drive Tioga Road and leave the park on the east side. The drive through the park is remarkable. I stopped a few times to stretch my legs and take pictures. It turns out I would do the exact same route through the park with the wife 10 years later.

I reached the park exit and headed north to
Lake Tahoe. I had made reservations in a hotel figuring that it would be packed. When I arrived I was surprised to find the place relatively empty. My hotel was too far from the casinos. I walked to the Nevada side and looked around the casinos. Most of the shows were dark which probably explained the lack of people. I found a hotel closer to the action and made a reservation for the next night.

The next morning I checked out of one hotel, checked in the other hotel, and went for a drive around the lake. I didn’t really plan this part of my trip well. There are a lot of hiking trails that I probably would have enjoyed but I didn’t even look for any while I was there. I stopped at Emerald Bay and took a picture of
Fanette Island, the only island in the lake. From there I walked the mile down to Vikingsholm Castle but I didn’t tour it – I think it was closed at the time. The owner of Vikingsholm also had a tea house on Fannette Island.

After scooping the loop around the lake and seeing all the houses that I’ll never be able to afford to buy, I went to the casinos and threw money away … I mean I gambled. I’m not much of a gambler – I’m not good at it and I don’t have the self control to stop when I’m ahead. I think I blew $60.00 which isn’t that bad. That evening I went to a couple of mediocre shows (Escapades and High Voltage) at Harrah's.


Lake Tahoe was nice and pretty and all, but I really should have hiked. Since I didn't, it was a little dull. Because of that I decided to leave a day earlier than my original plan and head to my next destination, Crater Lake. Pictures are here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

No Hobbling Heat Stroke For Me ... No Sir

I know a lot of you visit Homer's Travels religiously just to read the scintillating descriptions of my weekly hikes in the Ventura and Santa Barbara wild country. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to doing those hikes. The long Labor Day weekend seemed like the perfect time to do the short but strenuous hike up Cathedral Peak. Unfortunately, as you all know from my last entertaining hiking post, I am suffering from tendonitis in my left foot. The fun loving hiker in me wants to climb the peak but the rational (i.e. boring) side of me has decided that another week of rest is needed to let the foot heal up completely. As added disincentive the National Weather Service has issued a Special Weather Statement that, in part, says:

“...VERY HOT TEMPERATURES EXPECTED ACROSS SOUTHWEST CALIFORNIA FOR THE REST OF THE WEEK...”

“IF YOU PLAN TO ENJOY OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES THIS WEEK...BE PREPARED FOR VERY HOT WEATHER...EVEN IN THE MOUNTAINS. TAKE PRECAUTIONS TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE HEAT. REDUCE OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IF POSSIBLE...AT LEAST FROM LATE MORNING THROUGH EARLY EVENING. WEAR LOOSE FITTING LIGHT WEIGHT CLOTHING AND DRINK PLENTY OF WATER. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SHADE AND AIR CONDITIONING IF AVAILABLE.”

With this hot weather forecast and the bout of tendonitis that I'm wrestling with, I have decided to postpone the hike up to Cathedral Peak. The hike up is a steep rock hopping trail with little, if any, shade. I am really looking forward to this hike but I'm not keen on hobbling around on a sore foot while suffering from heat stroke.

Now don't worry. I hope to be hiking again after another week of foot recuperation. We are planning to go to Soledad and Carmel Missions on Sunday. I am also thinking about doing a walk on the beach sometime this weekend – not sure if that is good for the foot or not. We’ll see how it feels.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #30: Inspiration Point

Saturday's hike took me to a place I had been to before. The trail I was taking this time was different though. I would take the Jesusita (little female Jesus??) trail starting on San Roque Road. The hike was supposed to be 8 miles with a 1,700 feet vertical. It, of course, wasn't. The description said that the sign at the trailhead, which said 3 miles, was incorrect and should actually say 4 miles. My GPS says the sign is right (6.15 miles round trip) with 1,435 feet vertical. I have heard second hand that some people are making fun of my precision when giving the length and climb of a hike. The fact is knowing the length and potential difficulty of a hike is important for planning an outing and some of the errors I have identified could make the difference between having enough water and supplies and not. So there :-p

I started this hike with little expectations but I was pleasantly surprised. The hike starts of as a wooded path with lots of shade. The trail crosses a creek several times. At this time of year there was no running water, only stagnant pools. One of the larger pools was filled with tadpoles foreshadowing a good crop of frogs/toads. There are funnel spider webs everywhere. You can see flecks of ash from the Zaca fire caught in the webs. There is also ash resting on most of the rocks. One positive thing is that I could not see the plume of smoke from the fire today.

The trail passes through part of the Moreno Ranch. The owners were even nice enough to put up a picnic table and a water fountain on part of the trail. It's nice to see someone supporting the hikers. As I passed the ranch I could hear someone working some metal, what sounded like a generator, and a crowing rooster.

After the last creek crossing the trail heads steeply up the hill. At first I was a little worried about how steep it was but it soon leveled out into a more gentle shaded switchback up the hill. The path eventually reaches a dirt Edison road (Edison is the local electric company and the road services the nearby power lines). You aren't on the road very long before the trail diverges from the road and you soon find yourself at Inspiration Point. I was a little surprised when I reached the point - I thought it was still further ahead. It was only quarter to 10:00.

I took a small path to some rocks where I had found a geocache last time, climbed up on a large rock and snacked while admiring the views of Santa Barbara and the surrounding mountains. I ate an orange and a sandwich. Not as good as this one GeekHiker made but good enough. I won't post a picture of the sandwich as it's pretty pathetic.

From my vantage point I could see the path for next week's hike to Cathedral Peak. It looks pretty hard. The trail is around 5 miles round trip with over 2,300 feet vertical. The way up looks steep, rugged, and exposed to the sun - in other words, a challenge. Cool. I will post a picture of my path next week after I do the hike.

On the way back I chatted up a lady and her dog. She recognized the geocaching logo on my hat. She wasn't a geocacher but she knew people who were. After our nice little chat I headed down to the car.

Something happened on this hike that I was hoping would never happen. From 1992 through 2001 I have had bouts of tendonitis in my feet. Every year I would have one or two serious flare-ups. In 2001 after ACL reconstruction surgery I had a particularly bad flare-up. My orthopedic surgeon confirmed that I had tendonitis, bone spurs, and pre-arthritis. My Mom suggested that I try Glucosomine and Chondroitin. It had helped some of her friends. I thought what the heck. I started on it back in May 2001 and I have not had a flare-up since ... until today. I guess all the pounding my feet have taken since February is finally catching up with me. One thing I may try is taking ibuprofen before I go hiking. Now I take ibuprofen after I hike. Maybe a preemptive attack will help. We'll see.

This was a quick and easy hike. I was up and back in under four hours. It helped that most of the hike is shaded and the temperature was 20 °F cooler today than last week's hike at Simi Peak. I kind of wish it had been a couple miles longer though. I picked up a geocache near the trailhead before heading back home. Pictures are here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Roadtrip 1995 - Part 1: Sequoia And Kings Canyon

First leg of my 1995 Roadtrip was Sequoia and Kings Canyon. I left early in the morning and drove up highway 33 which takes you through Ojai and through the Los Padres National Forest. The drive is very beautiful with tree lined mountains and valley views. At Maricopa I headed over to Highway 99 and made my way to Visalia. Since it was Labor Day weekend I had made hotel reservations in Visalia. I ate some lunch at Arby’s before making the hour long drive to south side of Sequoia NP.

The south entrance of the park is a twisty turny road up the mountains with spectacular views of sequoia and pine trees and mountain vistas. The road reaches the Giant Forest Museum which, when I was there, was more of a visitor’s center with a gift shop and a restaurant. After a brief stop here I headed to Moro Rock. Along the way there is a fallen tree that you can drive your car on to have a picture taken and another tree that you can drive your car through.


Moro rock is cool. The rock is surrounded on three sides by shear drops into the valley below. The trail climbs up the side of the rock. Paths and rock stairs take you to the rounded top of the rock. The views from up there are awesome. Air pollution from Los Angeles has been getting worse up there and the visibility is slowly diminishing. One thing that stuck me is there is very little preventing you from falling over the side. The wall along the trail, if it exists, reaches to mid-shin. At the top there is a single chain supported by waist high metal rods. One slip and zip down you would go several hundred feet. Then again, I have never heard of anyone falling. Still, not a good place for people afraid of heights.



After Moro rock I drove to Crescent Meadow. Here I did a short two mile loop around the meadow. The trail passes Tharp Log, a cabin made from a hollowed out sequoia. Tharp is credited for discovering the Giant Forest. Thinking back, this would have been my first official hike. I was pretty wiped after this short hike so I drove back to Visalia, had some dinner, and went to bed early. The next morning I went back and headed for General Sherman.

General Sherman is considered the largest living tree by volume. Very impressive. There is a short trail called the Presidential Loop trail which goes by several sequoias named after presidents (Duh). I started walking this trail when I saw a spur that went up the ridge. I decided to follow this trail up. The trail climbed higher and higher until you reached the top of the ridge. The trail intersects the High Sierra Trail. The trail then drops down to the Crescent Meadow area that I had visited the day before. From there a caught a less defined trail back up and over the ridge back to the President Loop trail. On this part of the trail I saw a deer. The deer wasn’t afraid of me at all. It just stood there while I took its picture. It also sprinkled a little before I made it back to the car.

On to Lodgepole Visitor Center. I bought some lunch and rested from my hike. I began feeling better so I started hiking up to Tocopah Falls. I made it to the falls and stopped, snacked, and rested. Someone pointed across to the other side of the river. Up the hill from the river, coming out of the brush, was a bear. This was my first bear sighting ever. It was quite a distance away but it was still cool.

I started heading back and another first happened – I heard my first California thunder. Thunder is rare in the Oxnard plain where I live. The thunder in the valley was loud and was soon followed by rain – hard rain – a downpour. By the time I reached the car I was completely soaked.


I drove back to Visalia. I was getting tired of the drive. I decided that, instead of coming back to Visalia the next night, I would find someplace in the park. After a few phone calls I found that everything in the park was booked solid till the next summer. I went to plan B - I would leave the park by the west exit and stay in Fresno. I went to bed at 8:00 – I was zonked.

Next morning … ow … every muscle in my legs was screaming. I figure I hiked a total of 10.1 miles the day before. Mind you, this was the first time I had ever hiked. I could hardly bend my knees. I checked out of my hotel early and drove up to Giant Forest Museum and had some breakfast. The breakfast there was delicious. It tasted soooo good. The best I had had in a long time.
I left Giant Forest and drove to Kings Canyon. The road goes through seemingly unending forest past Hume Lake to the top of the canyon. The vistas there as you drove into the canyon are amazing. The river was roaring and occasionally you would see white water rafters going by. Really cool. I would have liked to hike there but I was way too sore.

I drove toward the west exit stopping at Grant Grover Visitor Center.
At Grant Grove I tried to do a one mile loop that nearly killed me. I then drove out of the park and ended up in a hotel in Fresno where I went to see Mortal Combat (A very bad movie) and watched the street walkers strut their stuff in front of the hotel (classy joint).
Here are some pictures. I will be adding new pictures as I go along. Next stop, Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

1000 Days At Sea

I came across an interesting blog about a couple sailing the oceans for 1,000 days non-stop - no port calls, out of sight of all land. They have a website about their adventure here. They are on day 122. Looks like fascinating reading.

Monday, August 20, 2007

One Year Anniversary

Wow, the one year anniversary of Homer’s Travels came so fast that I missed it. Homer’s Travels is now 1 year and 2 days old. I started this blog to let our family and friends know what we are up to and it is serving that purpose well. Over the last year a general theme has emerged. One that actually jives with the name – Travel, Hiking, and Geocaching. A few observations:
  • My writing hasn't changed much. I wish I could say that my writing has improved. I was hoping that after 226 posts my writing would have improved. When I am writing I always feel that my writing sucks but over the past few weeks I have been re-reading my old posts and some of them aren't half bad if you ignore the spelling and grammar errors. The wife says that my writing has a voice and that it sounds like me. I guess it does. I tend to write as I think which is often how I speak – though I often speak without thinking, something I am trying to improve upon. I have found that leaving a little time between the event and writing about it improves the writing but not the recollection – a trade off.

  • My posts are longer then I expected. I figured my post would all be short but I always seem to have stuff to write. I guess there's nothing wrong with this.

  • It is getting harder to come up with things to post about. I try not to make posting a chore and it usually isn’t but there are times I feel pressure to post something and nothing comes to mind. This can be a frustrating. I have averaged about 17 posts per month based mostly on my hikes which guarantees at least one post per week, and our weekend outings which come in fits and spurts. I have posted about all our past vacations and our next vacation is several months away. My 1995 roadtrip will take about 14 or 15 posts to complete. We have a few more California Missions to visit. We have at least one concert in October. I'm sure something will come along to post about.

  • Some of my best posts are not about Travel, Hiking, or Geocaching. Some of my best posts, in my opinion, are shorter then my average post and rarely have anything to do with travel, hiking, or geocaching. They are also some of the harder posts to write.

I shouldn’t feel bad I guess since most blogs don’t survive a month. I've done a lot better then I expected to do.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Zaca Fire

The Zaca fire north of Santa Barbara has been burning since July 4th. It has now burned over 188,000 acres and is 75% contained. Several of the trailheads for hikes I have done in the area are closed. Paradise Road is closed to non-residents. Part of highway 33 is closed which may prevent me from going to the Chief Peak trailhead on 7 September. The Matilija Falls trail which I am scheduled to do on 20 October is also closed. They are predicting to have it 100% contained on 7 September - more then two months of destruction. I hope they get this thing under control. So much beauty being erased - all because of some careless ranch hands using a grinder on a pipe.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #29: Simi Peak

Do you know what stupid is? Do You? I'll tell you what it is. It's hiking 8.55 miles with a vertical climb of 1,225 feet on a trail with very little shade and little breeze on a 94 °F day. That is what I did on Friday.

I got up early and drove out to the trailhead. I parked near Eagle View park and started by looking for a couple geocaches. It's a nice little park full of trees and a little creek. I found "Kaitlin's first cache" where I dropped of the Mini Photo Album TB. I left a picture of Homer in the TB. I was unable to locate another cache in the park so I continued on the trail. The trail crosses a street where the China Flat Trailhead begins.

The trail starts to climb at this point. It winds its way up the side of the ridge. As I climb I saw trouble coming. There was a little shade going up because the sun was still low but I saw that when the sun got up higher there would be absolutely no shade. It would not be nice on the return. I reached the top where the trail headed back down a little into China Flat. There are trees and welcome shade here. There is evidence of past fires as well.

I crossed the flat and started back up. I was following my GPS to another cache and missed the turn-off to the peak. That was fine as I would find it on the way back from the cache. "prospector's hide" is a multi-cache. The first step is to find a park boundary marker (BM) using the clue and then navigating from there to the location of the cache. From there you use a picture to find the actual location of the cache. I found the BM with no problem but I miscalculated as I navigated to the cache location. I also forgot to print out the picture so I was in the wrong location without the final clue. I realized my navigation error and got to the right location. From there I looked in a couple more incorrect locations before I finally found it. It would have been a lot easier if I hadn't miscalculated and I had the picture with me. Oh well, I found it anyway.

I made my way back down the trail and found the trail up to the peak. It was hot and I was running out of steam. I had to fight the urge to sit down and rest every time I saw some shade or a comfortable looking rock. I was a little dizzy so I finally stopped and sat down under a tree, ate a protein bar, and rested a bit. I got back up and finished the climb up to Simi Peak.

At the peak there are 360° views of Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, and Simi Valley. Simi Valley had a layer of gray haze - smoke from the distant Zaca Fire that has burned over 171,000 acres over the last month and a half. You could see the large plume of smoke from the fire poking above the haze in the distance. I sat down and ate my sandwich and orange. The food hit the spot. There was no shade at the peak except for a small bush. I laid down with my head in the shade. I tried to rest but it was just too hot. My GPS has a thermometer and it was reading 120 °F - I think that was the temp in the sun. I decided to head back down.

The hike down was not as easy as I expected. Down is almost always better than Up but the heat was sapping the little strength my legs had. I stopped to rest several times until I got on the steep trail down the ridge. There was no shade at all and I emptied my camelbak before I got back to Eagle View park. I cracked open my spare water bottle and found the water to be warm like bathwater - hard to drink. I sipped at it as I finished the trek back to the car. At the car I had more water in the trunk but to my surprise the water was even hotter then my spare bottle. It was hot. I ended up sipping from the bottles all the way back home finishing both bottles.

This is a nice trail but a hot summer day is not the best time to do it. Pictures are here. Next week I will be switching to my three liter camelbak.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Walking Sister

I sent out a new geocaching travel bug (TB) this week. This is one I put together for the wife. The wife collects, among other things, nun paraphernalia – mostly toys and figurines. In her collection were nun finger puppets which she received from Archie McPhee (a Christmas present I believe). I took one of the finger puppets, put a loop of the chain into the hole at the base of the nun and filled it up with epoxy. We christened the nun The Walking Sister.

The wife used to teach at Mercy High School run by The Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters of Mercy were once known as the walking sisters because they were one of the few orders that worked outside their convent. They run schools and hospitals all over the US, Australia, New Zealand, The Philippines, Ireland, and other places worldwide. The also run Mercy Corp, a humanitarian organization that helps disaster victims and other people in need.

The mission of The Walking Sister is to visit institutions run by the Sisters of Mercy. The TB is small enough to fit in small caches so it should be easy for her to move around. She started her journey on Monday when I dropped her off in the first cache that we ever found: “Bayside Cross”. This cache overlooks an old cross in Ventura’s Grant Park – a suitably religious starting point.

My other TB, Polar Explorer, originally dropped off in Minnesota, traveled to Mississippi and has been picked up and is heading for Guam (!) and should be dropped sometime near the end of this month.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Roadtrip 1995: My First Real Adult Vacation

Before I met the wife, my job involved quite a bit of travel. When I would get home from a business trip I never felt like going anywhere on vacation. In early 1995 I was in front of my apartment waiting for a Taxi to take me to the rental car place – I was getting ready to go on travel again – when I sat down on the grass. I felt the grass on my hands and realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I had touched grass. My apartment was on the second floor and had no yard and my work involved riding navy ships made of haze gray painted steel. I needed to get out of town and give myself time to consider where I was in life and what I wanted to do next. I had this hankering for change. At that point I decided that I needed to take my first real vacation of my adult life.

A few years earlier I had thought about taking a couple weeks off to take a random drive through California and the west. My plan was to look at the map, pick a place that was within driving distance, and go there the next day and explore. Each day I would drive to another random place. I even set aside two weeks and took the leave but I ended up staying home. In 1995 I made the decision to try again.

I decided that I would take a whole month off instead of two weeks. My boss was pretty cool and I was able to take leave for the entire month of September 1995. As I thought of my plan I decided that a random drive was not the way to do it. I went to AAA and got all the maps and books for the western states all the way east to the Rockies. I sat down and started planning. I soon realized that a theme was emerging - National Parks. My initial itinerary, which would change as the vacation progressed, was the following:
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP
  • Yosemite NP - Lake Tahoe
  • Crater Lake NP

  • Portland

  • Mount St. Helen / Mount Rainier NP

  • Seattle – Vancouver

  • Banff

  • Glacier NP

  • Yellowstone NP

  • Rocky Mountain NP

  • Grand Canyon NP

  • Las Vegas

  • Death Valley NP

During this trip I decided to make a clean break. I swore off all television (O.J. trial was going on – no loss there), radio (I packed a bunch of mix tapes), and newspapers. I would cut myself off from the outside world for the entire month. I did send news out - I wrote postcards to my mom.

In the coming weeks I will be posting about the different legs of this trip. I took a lot of pictures (No digital cameras then - 31 rolls of film!). I will scan some pictures to go along with the posts.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Half Way To Topatopa

My next hike will be the halfway point on my hiking list. My hiking list was based on the Ventura County Star list of hikes. I have skipped a couple of hikes that I had already done and I combined a few short easy ones to make longer, more moderate, hikes.

I have been pleasantly surprised that I have been able to keep up the one hike per week pace. I wasn’t sure I could do it when I started. It turns out I only missed one weekend due to the Altar Boy’s wedding but that was made up for by the two hikes I did one long weekend back in February.

Thinking back, the hikes that I have done all have been interesting and challenging. I can’t really rate them since my opinion of them is affected by my mood on the day of the hike and on some days a great hike can be made crappy by my mood. The few that stand out in my memory are Potrero John, Sandstone Peak, and the Grotto.

The remaining 29 hikes will be getting longer and more difficult. The vertical climbs will get tougher. The series of hikes culminates in my goal – Topatopa Bluff. This hike will be 15.6 miles round trip from Sisar Canyon up to the bluff. Elevation gain is 4,487 feet which will be a personal best once I complete it. I am looking forward to the challenge. I expect to be doing it at the end of February 2008.

There are a few things that may get in the way of my plans over the next six months. One is the need to coordinate with the wife’s schedule. Some of the longer hikes are one way hikes so you have to drop you car at one end and take another car to the trailhead. For these hikes I will have to coordinate with the wife as she will be driving me to the trailheads. Most of these one way hikes are in the 10 to 12 mile range and include Sulfur Mountain Road and the Backbone Trail (divided into five sections). I doubt this will be a big obstacle. We have discussed it an she is willing to help.

Another issue, one that is really beyond my control, is the weather. The last year has been really dry. If this winter is dry as well then I should have no problem keeping the weekly hiking schedule. If the rain returns then I expect to miss weekends due to rain. Another thing is that it snows on Topatopa Bluff. If the rains return then there may be snow in February when I do the hike. This is both fascinating and worrisome. The snow will add to the beauty of the hike but will surely add to the difficulty as well.

The last issue I foresee is health. Can I maintain the pace? I seem to be doing it with the hikes in the 8 mile range but can I maintain it when the hikes are in the 12 mile range with 1,000 – 3,000 feet vertical? This is the real challenge. How far can you push your body before you have to wave the white flag? I guess I’ll find out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #28: La Jolla Canyon - Ray Miller Trails

On Sunday I got up early to do the La Jolla Canyon and Ray Miller trails. I wasn't sure about getting up early since we didn't get back from the concert until 1:00 AM. My alarm went off, I fed the Homer, ate some breakfast, and headed out to the trailhead. I was worried that it was going to be socked in with marine layer but I had nothing to worry about. The skies were unexpectedly clear. Perfect day for the hike. There were quite a few hikers, runners, and bikers on the trail.

I had twenty-two geocaches printed out. Unfortunately I only loaded twenty into my GPS (oops). Didn't realize my error until it was too late.

Off I went up La Jolla Canyon trail. As I was walking along I heard a first for me - the yipping howl of a coyote. It was probably up on the ridge line and I didn't get a chance to see it. The trail follows a creek bed that was dry this time of year. The trail crosses the creak at a waterfall that would have been impressive if there had been water. There were some stagnant pools but they were only good for mosquito breeding. The mosquitoes were having me for brunch as I walked the canyon. The trail was shaded and totally enclosed on some parts. In this canyon I looked for five caches but only found two. My geocaching instincts were a little spotty this morning.

The trail climbs out of the canyon and enters a meadow. The mosquitoes were replaced by flies which was fine as the flies didn't try to suck my blood. Swallows were flying low over the grass. They looked like they were chasing each other and racing. I tried to take some pictures but they were too fast. Across the valley you could see communication and radar antenna that service Point Mugu Naval Air Station. The trail then connects up with the La Jolla Fire Road climbing up a hill until it intersects the Overlook Fire Road. I found my third geocache near the intersection.

As I followed the Overlook Fire Road I got a great view of Boney Mountain and Sycamore Canyon. I rounded a curve and I saw a beautiful sight - the Pacific Ocean. A cool breeze was coming in off the ocean which kept me cool even with in the strong noon sun. I snacked and grabbed three more geocaches along this road.

I left the Overlook Fire Road and started down the Ray Miller trail. From this trail you have great views of the Pacific coast from the great sand dune to Mugu Rock. The section of Pacific Coast Highway that goes past Mugu Rock is often used as a backdrop for car commercials. People were camping on the beach trying to get away from civilization only to be targeted by advertising.

I took a short spur to catch two more caches and picked up the chaosmanor's Mt. Rainier Red Cross - gold geocoin. I made it back to the Ray Miller Trail and headed down finding four more geocaches. After one, a couple approached me and the man introduced himself as Darb. I have read many of Darb's geocaching logs and I have done a few of his caches. It was like meeting a geocaching celebrity. I'm sure the geocaching ball cap gave me away. Further down the trail a couple on horseback asked me what I was doing in the bushes. I said "I'm just looking around." LAME. How do you explain why you are squatting in the bushes? They probably think I was taking a dump or something.

I made it back to the car and I was feeling great. What a difference from last week when I thought I was going to pass out. I still felt fresh. I think the temperature difference and the cool breeze helped a lot. The slow elevation increase also contributed. I ended up doing fifteen geocaches on this hike. There were four caches that I looked for but could not find. Even with these misses, this is a personal daily geocaching record.


The total hike was 8.94 miles with an elevation gain of about 1,090 feet. 

Pictures are here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

40 Year Old Pepper

Time to catch up on what we did on the weekend. On Saturday we went to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, our second in three months. This was a little quirky and slightly difficult to explain. The concert was Sgt Pepper's at 40 and it was the music of the Beatles, especially the songs from the Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, played by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Cheap Trick, Aimee Mann, Joan Osborne, Ian Ball (lead singer for Gomez), Rob Laufer (was George Harrison in Beatlemania), and Al Jourgensen (lead singer for Ministries). What a mix.

What attracted me to the concert was Aimee Mann and Joan Osborne, two of our favorite performers. It turns out everyone was great. The first half of the show was the special guest vocalists singing their favorite Beatles songs and the second half was all the performers singing all the songs from Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. We learned a lot about Cheap Trick. Their first album was produced by the same guy who did Sgt. Pepper and the sound guy, Geoffrey Emerick, also did both albums. He also helped with the sound at the Hollywood Bowl for the concert. Cool! Some people have compared Cheap Trick with the Beatles and I have to say they sounded great on Saturday night.

Overall, it was a great time. I was more impressed with Joan Osborne and Cheep Trick then with Aimee Mann. Aimee did some pretty obscure stuff that I had never heard of before which made it harder to get into. Joan Osborn, in my opinion, was amazing. Her slightly bluesy rendition of Lady Madonna was great. The weird one was Al Jourgensen doing an Industrial Metal version of I Want You (She's So Heavy) - at least that's what I think he was singing. We were laughing as he belted out the lyrics - more like yelled and screamed the lyrics - HA!

The night ended with one encore with everyone sing All You Need Is Love.

We were in the nose bleed seats and most of the performers were little dots in the distance but the tickets were cheap ($45 for both our tickets) and you could see them on the big screen so we didn't miss much. I had my doubts going in but I came out entertained and happy. Sorry, no cameras were allowed so no pictures.

Our next concert is coming up in October - The Eagles with the Dixie Chicks! Cool Beans!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Grilling Of "McM"

Last night we had a delightful evening with the "J" and her bo "McM". We invited them over for dinner so that the wife could grill ... I mean meet "McM". We introduced ourselves over Tri-Tip, German Potato Salad, Green Beans, and Homemade Dinner Rolls. For dessert we lit a fire in our firepit and roasted marshmallows and made S'mores. The "J" and I were fairly quiet letting the wife and "McM" chat it up.

"McM" passed the Homer test - Homer likes him and he likes Homer. He has passed the wife test - She likes him. I agree with both of them. "McM" seems like a really nice guy. Good going "J"!

Hopefully we will have another chance to chat next week when we may go out to eat with "J" and "McM".

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Pageant Of The Masters 2007

On Sunday night we headed down to Laguna Beach to see the Pageant of the Masters at the Festival of the Arts. The drive to Laguna Beach took about two hours and the show started at 8:30 PM. Before the show you could peruse the art, photography, jewelry, and more done by local artists.

The show started and it was fascinating but hard to describe. Performers re-enact famous paintings and statues. The detail is so exquisite – it looks like you are looking at the real painting. The performers are shown for about a minute or so while a narrator explains the history of the painting, illustration, or statue.

When the first painting came up, “Country School, 1871” by Winslow Homer, the wife’s favorite painting, the audience gasped when they realized they weren’t looking at an actual painting. It looked like a painting but it was a group of performers posed as the painting. It was totally awesome. One of the little girls in the painting couldn’t quite keep still.

Early in the performance the lights are brought up and the audience is shown how it is done. A frame is brought into place. The foreground stage is lined up with the frame and performers in costume and makeup mount the stage. Props are given to the performers – in this case one prop was a fake dress skirt that billowed out as it does in the painting. The background is then brought in behind the foreground and performers. Once everything is lined up, the lights are dimmed and then, when they come back up, you have the finished painting. It is truly remarkable. The lighting plays an important role. Before the lights dimmed it didn’t quite look like a painting but after the lights are brought back up the effect is astonishing.

As each new scene was brought into view in the dim light you could see the figures move before they froze in the bright lights to form the finished picture. The effect of seeing the movement and then seeing the painting was really cool.

During one recreation of several winter Saturday Evening Post Covers simulated snow (actually soap bubbles) were showered of the audience.

In another recreation of a bronze statue of peter pan, a light suspended from a line played the role of Tinkerbell with lighting and special effects simulating pixie dust.

After an intermission there were Chinese lion dancers and a Chinese dragon. I found it strange that all the Chinese performers were played by Caucasians. I would have hired professional dancers from Chinatown.

Unfortunately photography was prohibited so I have no pictures. That’s too bad as there would have been many opportunities for great pictures. They do have pictures on their website here (click on Pageant Of The Masters in the upper right hand corner to see the slide show).

This was the second activity suggested to us by the “J” – the first being the Sound of Music Sing-Along. So far I would say she’s two for two. The Pageant of the Master was cool and I am glad to have seen it.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #27: Sandstone Peak, Mishe Mokwa, and Tri-Peaks Trail

I wasn't sure what this hike was going to be like. It didn't have that great of a vertical change and the length was not too long. I expected some interesting scenery but I expected it to be just an OK hike. It turned out to be a hike of the extremes.

The drive up was typically dreary but as I drove up Yerba Buena road the clouds thinned and I drove up through the top of the marine layer. This changed my mood quite a bit. Clear skies always brighten my mood even if it means that I would be hot on this hike.

The hike starts off at the Sandstone Peak trailhead. At about the 0.3 mile point I took a connector trail to the Mishe Mokwa trail. I then took a left and followed the Mishe Mokwa trail. The trail is shaded by trees and tall brush. The trail follows the wall of a canyon. Across the canyon you can see Echo Cliffs. On one rock along the trail someone had painted the word "ECHO." I fought the urge to yell echo. The cliffs are often frequented by rock climbers and Saturday was no different. There were five or six climbers preparing for the climb while one was about two thirds of the way up.

The trail continues down the canyon wall until you bottom out at the Split Rock Picnic area. It is, of course, named after the large split rock in the area. After a brief rest in the the shade and walking through the split in the split rock I continued on the trail. Not too far away is a sign for the Balance Rock spur. I thought - what the heck - and headed up the trail. After only about a tenth of a mile or so I lost the trail. Stumbling around the brush took its toll - I was all scratched up and I was covered in chaff and seed pods from the dry brush I was walking through. Enough was enough. I turned around and headed back to the Mishe Mokwa losing my way once more on the way down. Now I know what it means for a trail to not be maintained.

The Mishe Mokwa starts going up at this point. The trail is shaded most of the way and it was easy going. I had four geocaches in my GPS and they were all located on various peaks in the Boney Mountain area. I left the trail at coordinates listed in the "East Peak Cache" and climbed up a hill just east of the East Peak. There really wasn't much of a trail and I eventually hit an impassable row of trees. I walked along the edge of the trees a couple times until I found an overlooked clear path through the brush to the rocky hilltop. I then headed for the saddle that connected the hill I was on to the East Peak. On the way I was attached by a rabid yucca plant - Man are they sharp! I looked down and I had four red blood spots on my right pant leg. The yucca had bloodied my shin.

I made it up to the East Peak (Altitude 2,924 feet) where I sat and rested a bit. I then looked for the cache. After several unsuccessful attempts I re-read the description - twice - before I realized that the actual cache was hidden about 110 feet away from the coordinates. Sigh. I need to read those descriptions more closely.

At this point I had a couple of choices. I could head back to the Mishe Mokwa trail to the Tri-Peak Trail or I could find an alternate path. I chose the alternate path. I would head down the north side of the East Peak and head over to the next peak - I don't know the name so I will call it the Middle Peak - before crossing a saddle to the West Peak. I headed down the side of the peak with only a little difficulty. There wasn't much of a trail but the brush was sparse on the rocky terrain. I eventually followed a game trail up the hill to a better trail that took me up to the summit. I passed a couple on the way down and we exchanged pleasantries. For once my alternate path was panning out.

At the Middle Peak summit (Altitude 2,978 feet) I rested again and had my lunch - Turkey Sandwich and an Orange. Best tasting orange I've had in a long time - really juicy. Looking around the peak I found a container where people left log pages. It wasn't a geocache - just a log. Many of the log entries seem to be from cancer survivors. Ironically the container was surrounded by cigarette butts. I never could understand smoking hikers. It just doesn't make sense to me.

I left the Middle Peak and headed across the saddle to the West Peak. Once again I ran into an impenetrable wall of brush but, after a false start, I found the trail going up. The trail was hidden by a canopy of trees and shrubs so that it could not be seen from the Middle Peak. The trail took you up and around the peak. This peak is fascinating. The summit is a jumble of huge boulders that form a maze of narrows, caves and rooms. I am sure I could have explored this place for hours. There are four caches up here. The first is located in a large stone room called "Nice Room". The room is pretty cool. I had no GPS reception in the room but the cache was pretty obvious. Not sure about the swag though - someone had left a tampon as swag.

I left the room and started towards the next cache. The rocks were like an intricate maze and finding a path to where I wanted to go was interrupted by several false starts. It sucks when you clamber up a large boulder just to run into a 15 foot deep crevasse too wide to be jumped ... well jumped by someone like me anyway. I eventually went through some narrows that got me to the entrance of "The Cave". OK, this cache is suppose to be located in a cave that extends down 150 feet. The coordinates take you to the mouth. I started in and got about 15 - 20 feet in when my limitations tapped me on the shoulder and introduced themselves - A man's got to know his limitation. I was carrying a small LED flashlight that lit up nothing. The cave became a small four foot opening and that was enough for me. I guess I'm not much of a spelunker.

I left the mouth of the cave and made my way around to the other side of the peak where I located a couple more caches: "WEST-PEAK CACHE" and "Tri-Peak Cache". I swapped the chaosmanor's Torn Yellow Mailer #3 geocoin for the Mini Photo Album TB at the Tri-Peak Cache.

I found the Tri-Peak trail back down to the Mishe Mokwa/Sandstone Peak trail and started up the trail. At this point I was exhausted. I guess the rock hopping just sapped my strength. I was hot and thirsty and I was trying to conserve water since I still had a couple of miles left. I made a brief stop at Inspiration Point - one of the most over used place names. The views were muted by the marine layer. On a clear day you can see the islands and the TopaTopa mountains. Today I saw only the nearby mountains and a lot of white haze. Never the less the views were still satisfying. There is a plaque pointing out the nearby peaks and islands.

As I followed the trail further up toward the ultimate goal of Sandstone Peak (Also known as Mt. Allen - I read that it is made of igneous rock, not sandstone, but I am not a geologist) I began to doubt that I would make it. I was stopping every 20-30 feet to rest. At one point I just laid down on the side of the trail with my head in what little shade I could find and let my heart slow down from 'Go Speed Racer, Go' down to a more normal 'Machine Gun' rate. If someone had come upon me on that trail ... I am sure I looked like a dead man. Hiking this trail during the summer is probably not the best thing to do.

I eventually made it to the spur that took you up to the peak of Mt. Allen. The sign said that Mt. Allen was the tallest peak in the Santa Monica mountains. How could I get this close and not go to the top of the tallest mountain in the Santa Monica Mountains? Sure I felt like death. Yes I was close to heat stroke. What the heck, up I went. I made to the top where there is a plaque commemorating Mr. Allen. There were four other hikers resting at the top. One was smoking and another was drinking a beer - I just don't get it - have I said that before? I still don't get it. I signed the register at the top before heading down.

The rest of the hike was down hill. My legs were cramping a little on the way down. I emptied my two liter camelbak and the extra half liter bottle of water I was carrying about 0.2 miles from the car. Actually I downed the last when the car was in sight. I may have to start using the three liter camelbak that I have to make sure I don't run out of water.

The total length of this hike was 8.14 miles with a vertical climb of about 1,050 feet. My GPS reception was a little sketchy in parts so the length may not be accurate but it should be close. Pictures and be found here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Adamson House

We have a busy few days this weekend. We started with a visit to the Adamson House in Malibu. We had driven by the house several times before we finally looked it up to see what it was. The house was owned by a wealthy family who owned all the Malibu coastal land back in the 1890s through the 1930s. The Adamson House was built in 1930. You can read more about it here.

We drove down early on Friday so that we could do the garden tour which is given only on Friday mornings at 10:00 AM. Our docent was a Homeopathic Doctor. She was a little out there. Actually, we was way out there. One of the guys in our tour described the garden tour as the surreal tour before the real tour of the house. I can relate. The docent, Jesse, would thank the "Goddess" and she talked of the medicinal value of some of the plants in the garden. She did know the name of the plants but it was hard to listen to her without laughing. To top it off, the garden wasn't that impressive. The flowers were typical California plants that most people have in their yards at home. I guess if you were visiting from outside of California it might be interesting. The only tree that I had not seen before was the so-called Cow Itch Tree (Primrose Tree). The Australian tree has seed pods that cause skin irritation.

After our strange garden tour we went into the house. The house was originally a beach house and is relatively small. They did not permit photography in the house so I don't have pictures. The house is famous because of the Malibu Tiles. The Rindge family built the tile factory and manufacture exquisite colored tiles. When the factory was destroyed in a fire only six years after it was founded, the great depression prevented it from being rebuilt. The tile can still be bought today but it is extremely expensive. The tile also utilized chemicals that are not allowed today like Cadmium and Cobalt. Cobalt can be radioactive and the State Park service has gone through the house with a Geiger counter to make sure it is safe. The tiles on the floor, walls, and ceiling are beautiful. One cool set of tile was a Persian Rug pattern on the floor complete with fringe tiles. The wife thought she could live in the house today.

The house is on the beach and adjacent to the Malibu Lagoon. Sadly the lagoon is polluted and the water is unsafe to swim in. Outside the house the views of the popular surfer's beach were awesome.
Surfers, and one golfer, were enjoying the sand and ocean. The haze diminished the views a bit today. Pictures are permitted outside. Here are some pictures.

After the tour we returned to Oxnard, had some lunch at In and Out and some ice cream at the Marble Slab. Even though the gardens were underwhelming, the house was cool and worth the short trip down the coast.

On Saturday I'll be doing my weekly hike - this one to Sandstone Peak - and on Sunday we go see the Pageant of the Masters.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Past Vacations #19: Peru 2006 - The Last Day And Epilog

Our last day in Peru started with an early rise and a bus ride to the airport to catch a flight to Lima. We arrived late morning and we had the rest of the afternoon free. The wife and I wondered through the shops and made some last minute purchases including a couple of wraps endorsed by a couple of nuns in the shop.

That evening we went to a restaurant to have our last meal together as a tour group. A few of the group had already left as their tour was continuing in other parts of Peru. The restaurant was next to an archaeological excavation. The food was good.

We had to leave early as we had to catch our flight home. We said our goodbyes and got in a van with another couple that would take us to the airport. I was concerned that we weren’t going to make our flight but we made it. After a long delay in Miami, we finally made it home by noon on Saturday.

This trip was a big eye opener for me. The closest thing to an epiphany that I can say I’ve ever had. Here are a few random things that I learned on this vacation:
  • This was the first guided tour that I’ve taken and it was wonderful. I kind of dreaded having to travel in a group on someone else’s itinerary. The actuality is that I saw things that I never would have seen if I’d planned the trip myself and the group added new perspectives and insight. I think the secret is picking a tour company that keeps the groups small. Our group was 20. Our tour guide said that this was considered a large group.
  • You get what you pay for. This vacation was expensive but it was worth every Peruvian Nuevo Sol. The hotels were top notch. The transportation was comfortable and convenient. The tour guides were locals who knew their subjects intimately.
  • Since I’ve been back I have not been able to just hang around the house. I feel like I need to do new stuff and experience more. This trip resulted in the many Mission trips, road trips, and hikes that I have posted about.
  • There is internet access almost everywhere. I thought we would not have communication with home while we were on this vacation but every hotel we stayed at had internet access. Small villages out in the middle of the Andes Mountains had internet cafes. Peddlers walked around markets selling Compact Flash and Secure Digital cards for cameras. We were able to e-mail our friends and family every night.
  • I found out that I like to take pictures. I took over 550 pictures on this vacation. I was concerned that I would fill my memory card. My new camera card will hold close to 1,100 pictures so it shouldn’t be a problem anymore. I am not the best photographer but every now and then I take a good picture. The pictures were very helpful in remembering what we did when - a good record of our vacation.
  • Peru is eco-conscious. There are recycle bins all over, even in remote villages. They are planting trees both for firewood and to replenish what has been cut. They have reason to be conscious of the environment. Cities, towns, and farming are all dependent on the 10 rivers that flow from the Andes. These rivers are glacier fed and the glaciers are shrinking. Once the glaciers are gone and the river’s dry up Peru will be a desert. Lake Titicaca is also glacier fed and it will be impacted by the loss as well.
  • Peru is adapting to the world economy by adopting new export crops. Peru came off as a modern country engaged in the global economy. This does not mean that there are no poor. The rich-poor divide is wider then ever.
  • I started eating yogurt a year before going on this vacation in the hope that the good bacteria in the yogurt would strengthen my digestive system. It may have worked as I did not get sick on this trip and I am grateful. Other tour group members were not so lucky. It also helped that the hotels we ate at prepared their food well with tourists in mind.
This was the best vacation I have ever taken. There was good and there was bad but even the bad has a healthy glow looking back. It's been a year since we went and the memories, while still vivid, are starting to fade. The bad seems to be fading faster than the good which suits me fine. I am sure that I left out a ton of detail from this nine part series of posts. I tried to hit all the high points and I think I succeeded.

On our itinerary for the next 12 months we have a week in San Francisco (including several Missions in the area). Our next international trip will probably be Thailand … we’ll see. I can't wait to venture out again.