Monday, September 3, 2012

Park and Ridge

After walking our dogs twice a day for the year we were in an apartment, we have walked them a handful of times in the eight months we have lived in a house with a backyard.  They get plenty of exercise going up and down the stairs and running around in the yard, right?  Feeling a skosh guilty about their lack exercise/playtime, we decided to remedy that this weekend.

We met up with some dog-havin' friends at our old dog park in Fremont on Saturday.  They have two Basenjis, and meeting up on neutral territory seemed to be the best approach for introducing the dogs to one another.  They got along just fine.  Since we had been there last, the dog park installed some agilty-type equipment.  Most dogs, including ours, decided those were fun things to run around and pee on.  The dogs had a blast and were completely wiped out by the time we got home.

Since I left the car setup for traveling with two dogs, we decided to go to Milagra Ridge County Park near our house for a morning stroll with the dogs.  It was totally sunny at our house in San Bruno, but within a mile of a park, we hit the fog line.  We had hoped it would be clear so that we could see the ocean, but the fog had not burned off yet.

The park was occupied by the Ohlone Indians and the military before becoming a park in the 80s.  The concrete Nike Missile Station and the gun battery are the only evidence of the military past of the area.

Nike Missile Station

Every missile station needs a watchdog, right?

Creepy Doors

Creepy Close-up

On a clear day, you would be able to see ocean

We will definitely be going back to Milagra as it is so close to our house.  Figuring out the best time will be the challenge.  The park has signs in a few places alerting you to the fact that there are coyotes and mountain lions in the area, so that puts dusk out as an option.  Early morning is when it is most likely to be foggy, so the sweet spot seems to be between 10 and 4.  Next time, Milagra, next time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Don't Point

As a kid, you learn about the famous historical figures who played a part in your state's history.  In Florida, it's Ponce de Leon, Seminole Indians, and Henry Flagler.  There are lots of counties, cities, roads, and schools labeled with these famous names.  

California has its own set of names which pop-up all over the place.  There is a city, high school, and numerous streets named after John Charles Fremont, former US Senator from California.  Another name that crops up a lot is Junipero Serra.  Serra was a Roman Catholic Father who founded many of the missions throughout California.  In addition to high schools, highways, and parks, there is a 26' concrete statue of Junipero Serra pointing West overlooking highway 280 between San Francisco and San Jose.  Serra is on one knee in an Elvis-like stance.  You can get up to the statue if you stop at the rest area adjacent to the statue.  

Usually when I'm driving by it, I'm on the way to or from work or don't have time to stop.  On the way back from San Jose yesterday, Conery and I stopped to check out Junipero.  We got to the rest area and found that there was a locked gate at the entrance to the path leading up to the statue.  That simply would not do.  Conery walked around one side and found another locked gate.  We went around to the other side and spotted a path up behind one of the rest area buildings.  Knowing that I was going to go up and get a close-up picture of the statue whether he came or not, Conery came with me. :)

Here is Junipero up close and personal.

There is some speculation that he's just pointing West toward the ocean.  Others speculate that he is pointing down at the Mission Trail.

Or he's pointing at you?
The base of the statue has nine sides.  Each side faces a prominent mission whose name is carved into that side.

The view of the Santa Cruz mountains from the statue is pretty remarkable.  We'll have to go back when we can stay longer.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The First of Many Hikes

Our first backpacking trip was to be a litmus test for determining if we will be making future treks.  It was totally the way to go our first time out.  You definitely learn a lot going with experienced people, and if you pay attention and ask questions, you can get a lot of it.

Having a good base of information about the plants and animals in this part of the country as well as good rules of thumb will make us more comfortable as we visit the State and National Parks in the area.  When we went to Muir Woods last year, I decided that I would collect patches from each of the parks and roadside attractions that we visit.  My backpack needed a face lift, so that where they'd go.  Conery liked that idea, so he started collecting them too.  

We put in place some parameters to keep this from getting out of control.The place had to be a State or National Park, a landmark, or a roadside attraction. You have to visit the place to "earn" the patch.  (No, I was never a Girl Scout, but I think the whole badge thing is rad.  I also like the cartoon "The Mighty Bee" about a girl who lives in SF and is part of a Girl Scout-like troupe called the Honey Bees.  She imagines that she'll be a super hero called The Mighty Bee someday when she collects all the Honey Bee badges.)  So if one of us didn't go to the place, the other won't get a badge for them.

Conery's backpack and mine

Aside from patches and information, the big draw for us is doing things outside without real heat and humidity.  And if you can do this activity under the cover of trees, it's totally SUMMER (gasp)!  Lugging a 30 pound pack as you hop from stone to stone across streams and traverse over and under downed trees, you'll break a sweat, but it doesn't hold a candle to the torrential sweatpour you have during Summer in the South. There were so many beautiful vistas and magnificent lighting that you could spend your whole time taking pictures.  Well, the whole time you weren't navigating a narrow path or scrambling over rocks.  I found myself thinking about where my camera was, and I had to bring it back to living in the moment not documenting it. There were a few times when we were stopped and exploring that I made time to take some pictures.  The termite trails on some of the trees were systematic and beautiful, especially because that pattern was made from the path an insect ate out of the wood.

Nearer to our camp were other trees whose outer bark was charred by a fire in 2008.  Spiders decided that these trees were more hospitable to their homes than others, I guess.  With the light in just the right pace, the webs covering these trees were a luminous network of armor.  The camera did not do the visual justice, but here is what I captured.

Not sure how this happened, but it's my new desktop image.

And I cannot get enough of this kind of stuff.

The trip was a great experience.  Now I just have to find a Big Sur patch to add to my backpack.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hiking Trip? Yes Sur!

Traci and I have been enjoying the varied options for outdoor fun afforded us by our new locale, but haven't really seen the true outdoors.  This weekend we rectified that with a little help from Groupon and Bay Area Expeditions.

BAE was founded and is run by the young guy in the foreground, Chris.  In the background is our other guide, Dan.

The Groupon was for a discounted overnight backpacking trip in Big Sur, which is HUGE.

More specifically we were in Los Padres National Forest on the Mill Creek Trail.

We started out traveling the two hours to the meeting place, a Subway sandwich shop in King City. They chose that as our meeting place as it gives everyone easy access to gas, food, restrooms etc. before we hit the trail (literally).  Once you leave that parking lot, cell service ends making it impossible to call for directions.

When we got there, we were informed that while BAE can't officially condone alcohol use, human nature dictates that once we have hiked all morning and made it to camp, people will want something to do and drinking is a highly social event that often happens.  So off we went to the AM PM store to get a couple of bottles of wine to share at camp that night.  We didn't have a wine key and AM PM was sold out, but we figured it would work itself out.  We were traveling with eighteen other people plus the two guides so one of them was bound to have a way to open it (or a clever, MacGyvery way to open it).

Once we were all stocked up and ready to go, we got into caravan formation and hit the road for the last hour of our journey to the trailhead.  The road to get up and over the mountain was incredibly twisty with portions of it being precariously perched on a precipice (don't you just love alliteration?).

Once we reached the parking area at the trailhead, we set about learning how to pack our backpacks.  BAE provided each of us with a top of the line Kifaru internal-frame backpack, a headlamp, a blow up sleeping pad and titanium bowl and spork.  We also had the option of renting a sleeping bag from them which we did rather than buying one.  Since BAE provides dinner and breakfast, we all had to split up the community items and carry them in our packs.  The real lesson (besides PACK LIGHT!) was in learning how to adjust the backpacks.  There is a belt that buckles and tightens with d-rings as well as two "delta straps" on either side of the belt that allow you to fine tune the fit.  Once you have it strapped and tightened properly, 99% of the weight of your pack is taken by your hips with almost no pull on your shoulders.  Pretty amazing.  Not that it wasn't still heavy, but the balance makes it feel like much less than the thirty or so pounds that it was.

At this point, Chris asked the group if anyone required the false sense of security offered by sleeping in a tent.  There was no rain in the forecast and it was predicted to be a warm night, so the tipi was really not required.  Not to mention that Chris informed us that we would have to shoulder the additional weight of the tipi (and also that it is a bit of a pain to setup).  We all agreed that sleeping under the stars sounded great so we did not lug the tipi into the forest.

The hardest part of the trail we took, according to Chris, is the very beginning.  We rounded the corner from the parking lot and were met with an uphill path with dry dirt and loose gravel making it a little tricky.  Once we were past that, we started hiking.  Our path followed Mill Creek (the trail's namesake) but at the start, all we could see was the dry ravine to the right which was far enough down to cause serious injury or death should one fall.  The trail at this point was wide enough for both my feet side by side plus maybe one more of my feet.  That sounds like a lot of feet.  Anyway, my point is that we were about 12 inches from doom for the first ten minutes of our trip.  It definitely solidified for us that this was not a simple walk in the woods and put us on alert that we'd need to be careful and pay attention.

Along this first part of the journey, Chris began pointing out plants of note.  First he pointed out poison oak which was prolific in the woods.  Along the path for the rest of the journey, we passed down the information whenever a patch cropped up.  Likewise, we notified each other of poison hemlock which we saw frequently.  Chris shared a story with us about an herbalist friend of his who was on a hike and pointing out hemlock and other plants to her hikers.  She forgot to wash her hands after handling it and apparently poisoned herself by eating skittles with her hemlocked hand.  She began hallucinating and knew what had happened.  She made it to the hospital in time to have her stomach pumped and she survived.  That story and others that were shared with us along the trip made us very wary and aware of our surroundings.  On the happier side of plant life, Chris also pointed out edible wild strawberries (his last trip about wiped out almost all of the ones along the trail, but there were still a few to be seen), and redwood sorrel which looks like clover only bigger, and tastes like green apple skin.  Surprisingly tasty!

We hiked for about twenty-five minutes - the sunniest, hottest portion of the trip - until we reached a clearing by the stream with room for us to take off our packs and take a break in the shade.  I stepped down to the creek's edge and rinsed my hands.  The water was cold and refreshing.  Chris took this opportunity to discuss wilderness preparedness and emergency survival.  He showed us his satellite phone and his emergency beacon, something he recommends everyone invest in prior to backpacking or hiking on their own.  We split into groups and discussed in what order we would do things to ensure our survival.  We went with assessing our supplies, finding water, shelter, and then some method of signaling for help.  We were close.  We assumed no one was injured, but the first step in survival training is treating injuries, then shelter, then water.  After a bathroom break, we got our packs back on and adjusted and were off again.

Since this is a natural trail, there were areas where trees had fallen and other obstacles blocked the path. Often we had to climb over fallen trees, cross the creek on rocks or logs, slide down and over boulders, etc.  All while carrying 30 pounds on our backs.  It was tricky and just challenging enough to make us work and keep us interested, but not cocky.  We traveled at a leisurely pace with Chris leading the way and Dan bringing up the rear.  Both of them were armed with cameras and took candid shots all along the way.  You can see them on their Facebook page.

We traveled along the creek until we reached a large clearing in the redwoods which is where we made camp.  Since BAE does this trip every weekend, they already had it scoped out with a nice flat area for the camp stoves.  The area was boxed in by logs, making an impromptu kitchen.  We all unloaded our community items (we had all the couscous, bowls, oatmeal, and our two bottles of wine).  Shortly after they had the kitchen setup, we were all trained on using the platypus water filtration system they brought along.  They hung the clean water receptacle on a tree near the creek.  It's a big black bladder with tubing leading to the filter with tubing leading from the filter to another bladder on the ground.  Using that setup, we could scoop water right out of the cold creek, put it in the top, and in a few minutes have safe, filtered drinking water.  We used that water for filling up our personal water bladders for the next day.

We uncorked our wine using someone else's swiss army knife (see, I told you it would work itself out) and then set about the task of locating our sleeping spot.  We chose a very nice area right next to the creek where it flowed over some boulders making a lovely babbling brook sound.  We didn't even need our white noise machine!  We inflated our mattresses and inserted them into the sleeves on our sleeping bags which are made for that purpose (camping is like being James Bond, tons of cool gadgets).  In retrospect, our campsite was on a slight incline and could have been flatter, but it was the perfect location other than that.  There were trees to dry our socks on, rocks to lean our packs on, gurgling water to sleep by - perfect.  Others scoped out their sleeping spots and then went exploring the surrounding hills.  One of the guys, Anton, found the skull of an animal that we all agreed was likely a bobcat or other small cat.

Back at the kitchen, the drinking had begun.  Some of the girls had purchased wine drink boxes.  Genius.  We didn't see those in the store which is why we opted for bottles.  When I asked for cups for wine, I found out that they are not always considered a necessary item in backpacking.  Multi-use items are far more efficient.  Instead of cups we used plastic bowls (not the metal ones as they cause the flavor to be off).  I just pretended that it was a big goblet missing its stem.

The big bowl provided plenty of aeration and the wine was actually not bad at all (considering it came from a convenience store).  We shared our wine and others shared their hard liquor (someone had a flask of whisky about which I was very happy) while we waited for the camp stoves to heat up and dinner to be cooked.  Dan was in charge of cooking and whipped up a surprisingly tasty one dish meal consisting of couscous, broccoli, chicken-apple sausage, and cheese.  It was hardy and topped with a little Tapatio, just about the best meal you can get out of a backpack.  We all sat around eating and drinking and talking until Traci and I just couldn't keep our eyes open any longer.  We said goodnight and stumbled over to our campsite.

It was at this point we recognized that drinking and camping might not be the best combination.  For one thing, the woods we were in were slightly treacherous in full daylight with loose rock and tree-detritus, so in the pitch black it was even more so.  Secondly, drinking = peeing... in the dark... far enough away from sleeping bags so we don't have to smell it.  Lastly, we were tipsy and slightly off-balance as we climbed over rocks and trees to get to our bags.  Luckily we were both able to traverse our obstacles without injury and were out like a light in no time.  I crashed almost immediately, but Traci took a little longer to find sleep (her mind was racing and going over the day's events).  It was a beautiful scene being out in the woods with trees as your only overhead covering.

The next morning we had coffee (out of bowls) and oatmeal (my least favorite food ever) out of other bowls as we packed up and got ready for the return hike.  While we took our time on the way in allowing for breaks, we hiked pretty much non-stop on the way out.  By the time we reached the narrow trail that started our journey, we were ready to be free of our extra weight and ready for some food!  We were treated to one last amazing vista before taking the final downhill walk to the parking lot.

We had an amazing time learning the basics of hiking and are excited to try it again soon.  We will stick to day hikes for the time being but would definitely consider another overnight trip with BAE as our guides.  There are tons of places out here for this sort of activity, and BAE plans trips to many of them. If any of you are interested in a trip like this, we'd welcome the company.  Come to SF and see the great American West with us!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Smell Pies in My Future

Northern California is fully in the throes of Spring.  The weather is getting warmer, which means you don't have to always carry a jacket with you.  I happened to catch a glimpse of some fruit on the trees in the backyard and took some pictures.  We know there are two apple trees and pear tree, but we're not sure what the fruit of the fourth tree is.



Funny Third Fruit - Peaches?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Looking for a Yoga Home

I checked out the other yoga studio near our house last night.  It is about a 15 minute drive.  Having driven about 10 minutes to the closer studio, I wasn't sure if this new place would be worth adding another 10 minutes to the process.  Time is a little tight between work and yoga.  I Caltrain home and let the dogs out before heading to yoga.  After changing and jumping in the car, I headed north on 280.  As I entered the interstate, I saw a lot of cars; it was 6pm after all.  Luckily, the traffic was heavy, but it was moving.  I was starting to doubt my choice to go to the further studio; that is until I took Hwy 1 South toward Pacifica.  Wow...what a scenic drive.

This is what I saw as I rounded a corner.  No, I didn't take this picture as I was driving; someone else captured this slice of beauty.

As you round the bend heading toward the town of Pacifica, you get a nice view of it from above.

So the scenery on the way to the Pacifica studio is waaaaaaaaaaaaay better than the shorter drive down a six lane road with lots of businesses and frequent pedestrian crosswalks.  I parked on the street in front of the Pacifica studio unlike circling in the strip mall parking lot of the closer studio.  The closer studio is also next to a Starbucks, so there are usually a lot of people sitting out front of Starbucks watching the parade of people going into the yoga studio.

The Pacifica studio doesn't have all the higher tech online purchasing features of the closer studio, or bamboo flooring, or a locker room with showers, but it does have room to stretch your arms out without hitting another person, and teachers who learn your name, and students who are kind and don't get all agitated.

The Pacifica studio has the same vibe as Skip's studio in Longwood, so I feel like I'm returning home versus being bombarded by unnecessary noise and mania.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pear Tree Update

The pear tree has really taken off.  What a difference two weeks make!