Well here we are, creeping further into the year. Summer burns on but suddenly I can see Autumn on the horizon. I’m not quite ready to to give up the excitement of weekend adventures playing outdoors but I’m starting to look forward to the cooler months. Luckily, with California’s varied climate zones we’ll be able to keep exploring into the winter. I am looking forward to visiting the deserts that are too warm for the summer months. But I’m getting ahead of myself here; it is still August and there are many sweltering days ahead.
There have been a few, brief, glorious rainy and overcast days here in Los Angeles. Having spent most of my summers on the East Coast, it’s something I miss greatly. I remember one year, leaving the Newark airport on a bus, the grey skies unleashed a wondrous downpour and I thought to myself I am home. I remember lightning storms and fat rain drops falling on me. These are some of my favorite summer memories. Yet here, the drought continues, forests turning into wildfire tinder and lakes drying up completely.
It was always so hard to return home at the end of summer, sometime in August, when the valley would still be devastatingly hot and all my friends still in the East. I have so many memories of plane rides where I couldn’t breath, the air just evaporating from lungs as I held back sobs. The loneliness would form a pit in my stomach that I would carry for weeks. I would try to make grand plans to keep myself occupied: this year I would pour myself into school work or another I might try to see every movie possible. Mostly I would just end up listening to sad songs on repeat until I felt nothing as teenagers are wont to do.
We visited New York this weekend for what felt like only a moment, spending time with family and not having time for too much exploring. While we were there, time moved slowly, as it can when away from every day realities. We walked the streets of the bustling city, celebrated the love between two people and got to meet our new nephew and it was so nice. My heart was full and upon leaving I felt that small pebble in my stomach, the sadness of going home, back to real life. I wish I could have stayed, seen the friends I missed and spent more time with those close to my heart.
I’m not so great with long term plans. I have no idea what my life will look like at the end of the year (probably much the same as it does now) let alone five years from now. It seems so silly to make plans when things are always changing regardless of my intentions. This post from Liz, posted the day I started writing this, coincidentally touches on exactly this. I do believe in goals though and deadlines.
Today the kids in Los Angeles went back to school, earlier than I ever did as a child. There was always so much hope a the beginning of a school year, excitement mixed with dread. Adulthood rarely has these sort of reoccurring punctuation marks. A chance to start fresh or be let down again. Now we just trudge forward waiting for a break in the clouds.
I listened to a report on the radio about the death of Lauren Bacall and though she lived a long life, full of success, I couldn’t escape that feeling that everything comes to an end. Death is inescapable. I couldn’t help but think of her later years when she was no longer acting and imagine what it must have felt like to look back and see that her achievements were all in her past. Perhaps it was a comfort, to know you could just drift forward. Perhaps it was like a dull aching loss with no grand schemes in front of you.
In theory my accomplishments are still in my future. It’s best I get started making them happen. I was going to make a list here for some sort of accountability purposes but I’ve gone over it so many times in my head it’s burned there like a mantra. Summer may be coming to a close but creative times are ahead.
Being the cool older brother that he is, Shawn wanted to plan something fun for Kyle’s birthday. Unlike many of the Batman themed events we’ve done in the past, we settled on a little backpacking trip in Big Sur, specifically a spot called Vicente Flats. We drove up early on Saturday morning and made it to Big Sur around noon.
On the way, we stopped to check out the Elephant Seals on the beach. I honestly had no idea how awesome these animals were until we arrived on the beach to see them laying about and fighting in the water. All their blubber would ripple as they glided across the sand. And the noises! The beach was filled with mostly males and they sounded like crazy garbage disposals. In short, they were amazing. Summer is when there are the least seals on the beach, so now I’m really looking forward to coming back during pup season.
We had tofu salad sandwiches on a rocky beach before heading up the trail. There was still a little bit of cloud cover as we started hiking up, giving us a little relief from the blazing summer sun. The trail made its way up along the hillside, giving us a spectacular view of the coast. It was nice to have a cool sea breeze since there was about 1800′ elevation gain. I loved seeing how the terrain changed as we moved through the hills, starting out with dense, varied bushes and flowers (and poison oak) to a field of dried grasses. The path was clear the whole time though and we passed a handful of day hikers on the way up.
We reached a view point and stopped to take a look at ocean expanse in front of us. In the distance we saw something in the water and realized it was a whale. From so high up, it was hard to comprehend the scale of the tiny tail fin in the water. Up and up we went on the trail until finally the trail turned away from the water and we started heading into the valley. We passed the Espinosa Camp and the tiny spring right after it but kept on going. Soon we were surrounded by coastal redwoods and heading steadily down. Finally we found ourselves in a clearing at the Vicente Flat camp.
The first campsite is quite large with room enough for all three of our tents and even featured a picnic table. The river by the site was dry but there was water running about a quarter mile beyond. There were several other people camping in the area but far enough away that we didn’t hear them or really see them beyond passing by when collecting water or hiking out in the morning.
For dinner we grilled some veggie cheese burgers and baked beans. Daiya cheese is not my favorite but it is the absolute best on a veggie burger or breakfast sandwich. I was excited that the burgers fit perfectly in the fry lid of my snow peak trek 900.
Shawn thought it would be awesome to bring a cake for Kyle so I cooked one up the day before we left and froze it along with a bag of frosting. We divided the elements between us in our backpacks so the cakes weren’t terribly crushed and the frosting was still cold when we arrived. Shawn did the honors of frosting the cake when we arrived and we ate almost all of it (some nearby campers took the last pieces off our hands). It was super tasty and we were all pretty stuffed.
We just relaxed for the rest of the evening and goofed off with some glow sticks. I watched some bats circle one of the nearby redwoods as the light faded. We had picked up a new light weight tent before this trip and it was awesome. Super cozy but not claustrophobic. I was pretty sure I heard some animals in the night and in the morning we saw a baby skunk running down the riverbed. So adorable! In the morning we had breakfast, packed up and headed back. The hike out was just as stunningly beautiful as in the way in.
photos by Shawn Bannon
We had big ideas about going on a longer trip over the 4th of July weekend but delayed planning until the last minute. Amazingly, we found an opening at housekeeping camp in Yosemite. Though we’ve visited the park several times this year, we have yet to stay in the valley together. After our recent Ojai bike ride we really wanted to bring our bikes to Yosemite. There are about 12 miles of bike trails around the valley which means you get to explore more without getting in a car. This was amazing on a crowded weekend like the one we visited where the notorious traffic jams clogged up the loop around the valley floor. While visitors in cars sat waiting, we were able to fly by.
On previous visits we sought to avoid crowded spaces in search of more secluded trails. Summer is different though. There is a distinctly camp vibe around the whole place: families gathered around campfires, everyone playing in the rivers. It didn’t feel as touristy, I’m sure in part because we were edging around particular view points on our bikes, but also because people were really enjoying the nature around them. Visitors seemed settled, rather than just stopping in. In housekeeping camp, large groups set up compounds at their rental sites, stringing lights together and setting up rings of chairs around fire pits. I imagine it must be great to spend a whole week with friends, biking around, grilling and swimming.
The following day we drove over Tioga Pass, the road to the Eastern Sierras. This road is closed for a good portion of the year due to snow, so it was exciting to finally get to drive across. We passed through Tuolumne Meadows and enjoyed the beautiful mountain scenery.
Once on the other side, we made a stop at Mono Lake. I had wanted to go swimming because it had been so warm out and Mono Lake seemed like an ideal spot with its high salinity. I dreamed of floating in the lake until we arrived. Unfortunately I forgot to bring sandals and the floor of the lake was too rough to walk on without them. I’ll know for next time. It’s a beautiful and surreal place. The tufa towers you see were only exposed in the 80′s when the water level dropped due to tributary water being redirected to Los Angeles. The lake only became protected in 1992 and it has been rising since, though not to previous levels entirely.
We also made a stop at Devil’s Postpile near Mammoth Lakes. I wish we had more time to explore, but it was still cool to see. I personally enjoyed the bus ride to the site, where I got to listen to various backpackers talk about their travels.
As the sun set and we made our way back home, I asked Shawn to pull over so I could try to take a photo of Mt. Whitney. Though my photo was questionable, we decided that there was no time like the present to make some dinner. We dug out our stoves and made some ramen on the side of the road. It was perfect, particularly since there wasn’t anywhere else for us to stop to get food. Some cows came to see what we were up to, then just went about their business.
most photos by Shawn Bannon, except the oddly shaped ones
A few weeks ago we headed up to Farm Sanctuary Animal Acres to hang out with some of the rescued farm animals there. It was cool to give belly rubs to some enormous pigs and pet some massive cows. All the animals were super friendly. One of the goats just wanted to follow me around. I seriously love goats. There was baby lamb that had just come to the rescue who was just getting used to people and the other animals. She was very curious and bahhed at all the visitors. I could probably spend all day with these animals given the chance. I was glad to hear many of the animals stories of how they came to the rescue even though they were often sad. It’s crazy to think that the animals they have are only just a tiny fraction of the animals that are tortured and slaughtered every day in factory farms. I’m glad there are organizations like Farm Sanctuary that are doing something to help these animals that are thought of merely commodities rather than living beings.
Summer Solstice! Shawn has been asking me to go on this particular bike ride from Ventura to Ojai for ages. We have done it a few times in the past but, as I haven’t been riding my bike nearly as much as I used to, the mileage has scared me off from going again. We’ve been having tons of fun going on our backpacking adventures recently but I wanted to give my knee a break since it’s been bothering me on most of our hikes. I thought the bike ride would be a good alternative, even if it might be a stretch to do the 30 miles. It’s not crazy far, I’ve done it before, I thought I could do it again.
We set off late in the day on Saturday, picked up some vegan pork banh mi sandwiches from Vinh Loi Tofu and headed towards Ventura. The ride itself is a nice separated bike path with a gentle incline all the way to Ojai. It was warm out but not unbearably hot. There were lots of flowers blooming on the side of the path which was a nice treat. About ten miles in I really started to feel the miles and all I could think about was getting a cool drink when we stopped. It probably would have been better to do some shorter trips before embarking on this one but sometimes you just have to go or you’ll never go.
There was one section that had been reconstructed from our last visit, adding a nice bridge over a creek. From what I gather, this addition removed a fish barrier so that trout can now breed upstream again. Below the bridge is a nice little watering hole, where some families were swimming. It was a nice spot to rest and get out of the sun for a bit.
When we made it to Ojai, I picked up some ginger lemonades from a market and we ate our sandwiches in the park. While I relaxed for a bit, Shawn popped into the natural food market to pick up some more treats. I had declined any desserts but when he came back with Sweet and Saras I had to steal some. We got back on the road, which was thankfully down hill the whole way back. My muscles were tired and my shoulders achy. Every time we passed a mile marker for the last 4 miles, I would sing a little song of joy. Despite our late start, we made it back before the sun set.
I like this ride because it’s not hilly and you don’t have to deal with cars much so it’s pretty stress free. It’s not terribly far but long enough to make a day trip out of it for someone who isn’t a well trained cyclist like myself at the moment. If you ride more frequently, it’s a fun, easy ride.
I realized that I could have just kept saying no to this ride, that I could let worrying about whether I could do it comfortably get in the way of just actually doing it. So I decided to just say yes and we spent a lovely day outdoors on the summer solstice, enjoying each others company and the California landscape.