OptOutside Hike: Skeleton Canyon

The day after Thanksgiving, my friends and I drove out to Mecca Hills, CA to participate in REI’s OptOutside campaign. Since it was such a far drive, we decided to make a weekend out of it. Our first hike of the weekend was suggested by my dear friend Ava and took us through the narrow walls of Skeleton Canyon. We didn’t find any skeletons out there, but had a spook of a time!

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Off to Great Places!

I dropped Mr. Frodo off at the pet hotel Friday morning shortly after 8am and went home to finish my last bit of packing. The driver showed up promptly at 11:15 as promised. I got a nicer Mercedes than I had requested. The driver, Arman, was very nice and professional and we had a good conversation on the hour-long drive to the airport. I wasn’t trying to be all high society or anything. I had a voucher for this great car company and decided that my first trip to Europe was the best opportunity to use it.

Mr. Frodo and I

My airport shuttle

When I arrived at the Tom Brady International Terminal at LAX, I realized I had never been to that part of the airport before. When I went to Israel two years ago, I flew on an American airline, so I was in a different wing. As I entered the terminal, it felt like I was in another country already. I heard so many different languages being spoken and so many dialects that I was in awe of all the diversity around me. The terminal was really amazing and had a nice shopping mall inside. I noticed lots of people walking around carrying neck pillows and thought it would be a good idea for me as well, so I bought one on the way to the gate.

I hadn’t had a chance to eat breakfast so I braved the long line at Panda Express and ordered a chicken entree. Since I was already in vacation mode, it didn’t bother me that this wasn’t part of the vegan diet I was supposed to be on. I didn’t even eat all of it, just enough to get rid of the hunger. I knew dinner would be served on the plane.

I had to make this leg of the journey alone and face my fears only with God’s help. I was already heartbroken from having to leave Mr. Frodo at the pet hotel. Of course, he didn’t take it well, as usual. I just showed him as much love as possible and prayed over him before I left, but I had little time to be sentimental. I was also worried about my own health and wondered how I would hold up on such a long flight after the DVT I had two years ago.

The plane, an Airbus 380, was the biggest plane I had ever seen. When I stepped on board, the fears I had became less relevant. As the plane backed out of the gate, I knew I was past the point of no return. I said my prayers and left everything in God’s hands. I followed my doctor’s orders and took one full-strength aspirin per day for three days prior to the flight and wore my compression socks to prevent my calves from swelling. I sat in an aisle seat rather than my preferred window seat so that I could get up and walk around as much as possible. The stairwell in the back of the plane was great to use as a stair-master to keep my blood flowing.

The stairs in back of the Airbus 380

I was a little scared initially because it felt like the blood wasn’t circulating well in my right leg. It started shortly before I boarded the plane and lasted quite a while. About halfway through the long flight, the blood felt like it was flowing normally again. The flight went very well otherwise and I arrived in Paris Friday morning on time. Paris’ airport didn’t seem much different than LAX, except maybe a little more chi-chi.

Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France

Stephanie with a huge lollipop.

The arrival in Paris marked the end of my solo part of the journey as I met up with my friend Stephanie who had arrived a few days early to tour Paris. We were flying into Geneva, Switzerland on the same flight and would meet up with the rest of our friends there. I was thankful to not have to go into Geneva and have to figure out currency conversion and the airport transfers alone.

We were on AF 1442 to Geneve

The flight from Paris to Geneva was only an hour and fifteen minutes. I was randomly assigned a window seat with extra legroom at no additional charge. I didn’t mind since the flight was so short. They served a snack and I must have dozed off shortly after that. I was awakened by a bump and realized the plane had just landed.

View from the window seat on the short flight to Geneva, Switzerland

When we went to collect our luggage, Stephanie told me she got a text from our friends that they left Amsterdam late and we would most likely get to meet up and share the airport transfer with them after all. They were scheduled to arrive in Geneva well before us and probably weren’t going to wait if our flight was delayed. After we all met up at baggage claim, we stopped at the ATM and withdrew some Swiss Francs (because the machines didn’t give us the option to select Euros) and headed over to the Mountain Drop-offs station to meet our driver who was already there waiting for us.

It was raining when we left the airport. And I don’t mean the LA kind of rain where it’s barely misting. It was really raining. The air was so moist and cool. It was great that the van was large enough to hold all twelve of us and that our other friends we had yet to meet up with had made other arrangements since they were arriving much later.

On the way to Les Houches

We passed a Mont Blanc sign on the way to Les Houches

The drive to Les Houches, France from Geneva took about an hour. Our driver, Johnny, was very friendly and talkative. He taught us the correct pronunciation of some of the French names we saw and recommended some clubs in Chamonix since my friend Tina and I wanted to check them out. We’re not typically party people in the clubbing sense. We just wanted to do something out of the ordinary in a new place.

The Hotel Campanules in Les Houches, France

View of the snow-covered Alps from the Hotel Campanules

When we arrived in Les Houches, I wasn’t really prepared for the cold temperatures we were met with. It had stopped raining but the ground was still wet and there was a lot of moisture in the air, so it felt good to get inside the cozy hotel. For some reason, my room wasn’t ready, so I had to wait a few minutes. I wasn’t happy about that because I was so exhausted and just wanted to rest, but I had to be patient. Finally, the clerk came and brought my room key so I was able to go put my heavy stuff down and relax a bit before meeting up with the group to discuss the next day’s itinerary.

They used keys instead of room cards here

Inside the hotel lobby

A place to relax in the lobby

Fireplace in one of the common areas

The hotel was rustic yet charming. It was more like a chalet. I had a single room that I loved. Although it didn’t have a spectacular view of the mountains as I was placed facing the back of the property, I had a peaceful view of the woods. I loved how everything was so green there. There was fresh snow on the mountains, but the clouds covered them providing us with only a partial view.

My room with a view of the woods

After discussing our plans for the next day, some of us walked the grounds checking out the scenery and taking pictures. I was in awe of that beautiful place, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. I so looked forward to hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc and seeing more of what that part of Europe had to offer. Our first dinner in France was excellent.

Hanging out in one of the common areas with friends

The first course, a shrimp appetizer

Pork loin for the main entree

Pear and ice cream dessert

Afterwards, we were fueled up and ready for the next day’s adventures!

~J

A Visit to Carrizo Plain National Monument

I was originally set to camp at Carrizo Plain National Monument this past weekend with friends, but due to the rainy weather on Friday, coupled with a series of other events, the plan fell through. After hearing all the talk of Carrizo and seeing the breathtaking pictures, I knew I needed to get up there and soon. The wildflowers won’t be there forever.

I thought about maybe driving up there for a day trip on Sunday or Monday and decided I’d sleep on it Saturday night. When I woke up Sunday morning, I knew I was supposed to go, so I checked out the BLM website to see the recommended route on getting there and what to see, saved it, got in my car and hit the road.

The route that I followed took me to the north entrance of the monument and BLM recommended driving down Soda Lake Rd. to explore the length of the plain and exit on Highway 166 at the south end. It sounded like a great plan to me since I wanted to see as much as possible in the time that I had.

Somehow, I ended up taking a left turn too soon and thought I was on Soda Lake Rd., but it turned out to be Elkhorn Rd. There was a sign pointing to Soda Lake, so I thought I was going the right way. It wasn’t necessarily the wrong way, just not what BLM specified in their directions.

I was looking for an attraction called “Overlook Hill” and the Soda Lake Boardwalk. Well, I saw a big hill on the left with tons of people ascending, so I thought that was the overlook. The trail took me to some stunning views and I got to see lots of pretty flowers, mostly of the yellow variety. However, the trail just went on and on and kept ascending further into the mountains. No one seemed to know where it ended, so I stopped about two miles in and turned back. I didn’t want to spend too much time in one place. Plus, the trail was very steep in spots and I didn’t want to burn myself out too soon.

I followed the road further down and ended up on a dirt road which I later discovered was 7-Mile Rd. It brought me close to the shores of Soda Lake and I was expecting to see the boardwalk soon, but I never saw it. There were plenty of opportunities to pull off to the side of the road and take pictures of the flowers and I later walked down to the shore of Soda Lake for an up close and personal view.

The next stop was the visitor center where I was surprised to find a line waiting to get in. It was such a small building that they could only allow so many people in at a time, which turned out to be a good thing. Once inside, I asked the rangers where the boardwalk was. They took out a map and showed me and that’s when I realized why I hadn’t seen it. I turned off too soon and missed it. But it wasn’t a big deal. The overlook and the boardwalk were only about two miles the other way on Soda Lake Rd. so I went there to check it out. I didn’t want to miss anything.

After visiting the Soda Lake Overlook and Boardwalk, I headed back south down Soda Lake Rd. as the ranger suggested and encountered a long stretch of dirt road that did eventually take me to Hwy 166 to go home, but it was a bumpy ride. At times, I was afraid and thought that I should turn back and leave the way that I came in, but I stuck with it and was treated to some more amazing views, pronghorn sightings and a beautiful sunset.

Miracle on the Mountain

Mt. Baldy PlaqueI set my alarm to wake me up early because I knew it was a long drive. I also planned to stop at the nearest Starbucks to fuel up before I hit the road, so I was going to need extra time. Waking up so early to a screaming alarm on a Saturday is hard, but for Mt. Baldy, it’s always worth the sacrifice of a few winks.

The alarm went off as scheduled and after hitting the snooze button a time or two, I sat up on the bed. Instinctively, I opened Facebook to see what kind of news had occurred during my slumber and the first thing that popped up was and engagement announcement. My friend Chelsea was getting married. My heart sank and all of a sudden, I didn’t want to go to Baldy anymore. I was hurt and I was angry.

Why would such happy news cause me so much heartache? Well, I wasn’t angry at Chelsea. Deep down, I was truly happy for her and wanted the best. My anger was directed at God. It was God who offended me so unbearably and in that moment, I didn’t want to do anything. The one thing I did do was cry. Then a scene played out in my mind.

Just less than ten years before the engagement announcement, Chelsea and I had become acquainted in Oklahoma when I was a student at Oral Roberts University. While she wasn’t a student there, we met at a church some of my friends and I attended across the street from campus.

One Sunday, Chelsea and I met up at church and sat together in our usual spot. We were minus our other friends that day because they had school projects to work on. After the service, I suggested that we go up and meet the pastor since we had never met him before. As people milled about in the sanctuary, we walked down to the front where Pastor Billy Joe was talking and praying with people.

Pastor Billy Joe was just as down to earth, kind and friendly as he seemed from the pulpit. He greeted us both with a smile and got to know us. We enjoyed speaking with him. I can’t remember all the details of our conversation with him, but one thing will always be engraved in my heart and mind. As we wrapped up our visit with Pastor Billy Joe, he offered to pray for Chelsea and me.

He prayed a general prayer for our well-being and success and then his prayer took an interesting turn. He laid a hand on both of us and then prayed for each of us to be blessed with a good man who will cherish us and love us. It was interesting because neither of us mentioned anything about our love lives. That didn’t even come up at all. I thought that he must have heard specifically from God to pray that over us. I felt peace and assurance that the prayer was going to come to pass.

So when I woke up to that engagement announcement, I was overcome with many emotions. Sadness, anger, bitterness, resentment, you name it. I’m sure it all boiled down to plain jealousy. I have to be real here. I was jealous of my friend. She’s a few years younger than me. I had been praying that prayer for marriage and a family since I was a little girl. How could God give it to her and not me? We were standing side by side and had the same prayer prayed over us by the same pastor at the same time.

I thought about the biblical scripture I had always heard about God not being a respecter of persons; what He does for one person, He is obligated to do for another. Those words were shattered in my heart because I had clung to them for so long and now felt betrayed by those very words. Maybe I didn’t get it right or something. It was obvious to me that something was way off and it left me feeling beside myself.

As I sat on the bed that morning, I felt this deep inner nudge to get up and get moving. I knew God wanted me to move forward with my plans to climb Mt. Baldy that day and that’s why I no longer wanted to get up. I didn’t want to do anything God wanted of me that day. I just wanted to stay home and sulk about the great and holy injustice I was experiencing.

My bed was a great comforter and I just wanted to sink deeper into it’s loving embrace. I felt the nudge again, this time stronger than before. The more I felt it, the more I resisted. Whenever I get into a struggle like that with God, He always wins, so needless to say, I ended up going to Baldy that day. There are times when God wants me to hike and there are times He wants me to do something else, or just stay home and be still. I was supposed to hike that day.

SONY DSC

Before I knew it, I was on the Ski Hut Trail, boots grinding gravel, with a serious grudge. I wasn’t there because it pleased God. I was there because I was angry. I had purposed in my heart to not smile or greet anyone on the trail. I didn’t even make eye contact with anyone, a departure from my usual good trail cheer. I just wanted to hike and be left alone. At times, I found myself fighting back the sting of tears. It was fairly warm and I was sweating with exertion, so I felt it blended in and no one would notice.

No one did. For the first two miles, I hiked with my head down looking at the dirt and avoiding eye contact with everyone I passed. Some may have said “Hi”, but if they did, I didn’t notice. I looked up only occasionally to see how close I was getting to Baldy Bowl. On one of those occasions, I saw a familiar face coming toward me. It was a friend from one of my hiking circles, someone I admire and have great respect for. I felt busted. There was no way I could get past him without exchanging pleasantries, no matter how painful.

Baldy Bowl

At our intersection on the trail, he came toward me with a big smile, arms wide open for an embrace. He told me I looked like I could use a hug. I couldn’t help but smile and allow myself to be swept into the embrace. We talked for a bit and then he mentioned that a group of consisting of him and some other friends were getting together that evening for a Dodgers game and he extended an invitation for me to join them.

I said I wasn’t sure if I’d be off the mountain in time to go home, get cleaned up and get to the game on time. He said for me to send him a message when I was finished hiking and let him know if I could make it. Then we parted ways. He had already been up to the top of Baldy and was on his way down as I was on my way up.

I didn’t really think I would make it off the mountain in time and I didn’t try to. The last thing I wanted to be that day was social. I continued climbing and when I reached the summit for the umpteenth time, I began to feel a release. I hung out on the summit for a bit and had a snack, then descended the very scenic Devil’s Backbone Trail. About halfway across the Devil’s Backbone, I stopped to hug a tree. Yes, I hug trees. Don’t judge me.

Approaching the Devil's Backbone Trail

As I wrapped my arms around the tree and let my head rest gently against its maple-scented bark, the rain of saltwater came and there was no stopping it this time. I didn’t want to stop it. I just let the tears flow for as long as they needed to until there were no tears left. After I had that cry, I finished the hike and realized I had just enough time to go home, shower and make it to the game, although I would be a few minutes or so late.

My friend held a ticket for me and I went to enjoy the game. The Dodgers won! But not only that, I also came out victorious. I realized that had I stayed home that day, I would have allowed negative feelings to fester inside me and they would have eventually destroyed me. Maybe not completely, but bit by bit anger, bitterness and resentment would have chipped away at my joy, my character, my hope.

Nothing has changed for me, at least externally. I’m still on this journey, still questioning things, still wondering if I’ve gotten it all wrong, still wondering if something is ghastly wrong with me. My friend Chelsea is now expecting her first child with her amazing husband and I am thrilled for her. I don’t have all the answers to my heart’s deepest questions or the remedy for its deepest of wounds. Yet I will still trust hope in the One who met me on the mountain that day and comforted me in my time of sorrow.

Hike on!

~J

Hiking Modjeska Peak

After going on two 12-mile back to back hikes in the Redwoods last week, I hadn’t planned on hiking over the weekend. But when my friend Danielle suggested I check out the group hike posted for Saturday and mentioned that my other mountain sisters, Aida and Ava were going, I decided that maybe another hike would be in order. That is, until I saw that it was listed as 17 miles. I immediately thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I can do that!’ I hadn’t done an 17-miler since last year before my calf injury.

Silverado CanyonI looked up Modjeska Peak in Orange County and tried to acquire all the details I could find on the hike. I hated to miss an opportunity to hike with my “tribe.” (For more on finding your hiking tribe, see my article for Oboz Footwear coming soon.) Since Danielle mentioned that the hike was all on a fire road, I figured it was doable, and that it was worth it to hike as far in as I could and then I could easily turn around if I didn’t feel up to hiking the entire distance. Plus, Danielle said that she and the others would probably not go all the way to the peak anyway.

Hiking into the ForestThe group met at the trailhead to start the hike at 7:30am. I didn’t arrive until 8:00 and my boots didn’t hit the pavement until 8:15. My bed was so comfortable and I thought of a million other things I could do that day, but I pushed myself and dragged my body to the car to hit the road. I texted Danielle to let her know I’d be late and told her not to wait for me. She said she would start hiking, but go slow and wait at the major junction so I’d know which way to go.

Out of the CanyonI hiked most of the way alone, except for all the vehicles on the road. Oh yes, this fire road is open to jeeps and other off-road vehicles which I wasn’t aware of before the hike. It was like walking on a busy country road. At times, I didn’t even feel safe and contemplated turning around early on. The road ascended gradually up the canyon for about three miles on pavement before it turned into a dirt road and started climbing out of the canyon to some nicer views.

Climbing HigherOnce I began the climb out of the canyon, I felt like I was making progress and was motivated to continue. I gave up on hiking with my tribe and figured they wouldn’t wait for too long before heading up the mountain, so I took my time and focused on taking pictures, experimenting with a real camera. This was my first big hike in Orange County and I wanted to take it all in, fully immersing myself in the experience. I only saw a couple of other hikers on the trail. Everyone else was either in a jeep, truck, or riding a dirt bike. There were also only a couple of mountain bikers on the trail.

My TribeWhen I finally reached the Main Divide, I was surprised to see three familiar faces hanging out there. I was greeted and met with open arms by Aida, Danielle and Ava, who had waited for me like they said. They hadn’t planned to hike any further and decided to wait for the rest of the group to return from the peak, which was in plain sight at this point and only about 1.5 miles away. I was feeling great and ready to take on the peak, so I talked them into it and we got back on the trail.

View from the Top

Modjeska Peak

Another View from the TopAbout halfway to the peak, we met the group on their way down and Ava and Aida decided to turn around and go with them, leaving just me and Danielle going for that final push to the summit. We had the mountain all to ourselves for a while, until a few bikers rode up on their “street legal” dirt bikes. It was a nice time up there with our new adventurous friends who were astounded that we walked all the way up to the top. We finished the hike just before dark. If Danielle’s GPS was accurate, the hike ended up being more like 18 miles. What a day!

Hike on!

~J

Sensational Santa Barbara Series: Gaviota Wind Caves

In Part 2 of our Sensational Santa Barbara Series, we once again went to Gaviota State Park just north of Santa Barbara, CA to explore the Gaviota Wind Caves. The caves are located on the western half of the park and we did our hike as a one-way car shuttle to shave off some mileage and elevation gain. To reach our destination, we hiked on a variety of trails including the Yucca Trail, Hollister Trail, Beach to Backcountry Trail, Woodland Trail, Trespass Trail and Tunnel View Trail. At just over 7 miles and a mere 1,000 feet of elevation gain, we had ourselves quite an adventure and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.