Cruising around Lake Hodges, Escondido, CA

My back was a little tweaked from last week’s roller blade when I used my butt as a brake so I was looking for something mellow to do this weekend. That’s when I thought of mt.biking around Lake Hodges on the flat section of the San Dieguito River Park Coast to Crest Trail.  This multi-use trail is open to hikers/runners, mountain bikers and equestrians. The main trail (a planned 70 miles – 45 miles of which currently exists ) extends from Del Mar to Volcan mountain in Julian. And there are over 20 miles of auxiliary trails within the River Park to play on.

I chose an easy cruise on a friendly wide dirt trail through the North side of the park. If you add on some single track on the flip side, you can make it around to the dam.)

(Option to stop in for some refreshments at Herandez Hidaway on Lake Drive.) We passed it up because my back was acting up (could have been the three falls). There are only about 3 spots where a mtb novice or clutz like me needs to walk (should have walked) hence the falls. Otherwise, super pleasant, beginner mtb trail. Managed to get about 16 miles in on the out and back.

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Lake Hodges Dam in the Distance
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San Dieguito River Park Lake Hodges Bike & Pedestrian Bridge with Bernardo Mountain to the left.

I’ve ridden and run the South side too – not as much mileage there and much better views on the North side, in my opinion. If you’re tough and technical, you can go for the Bernardo Mountain Summit trail – looks fun. You can also find more trails under the pedestrian bridge, but you may encounter some challenging single track there. (I might hike a couple of these to scout them first and report back. I suspect they won’t be as scenic since they ride away from the lake.)

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Other options to explore if you’re not afraid of some rugged single track

Getting there:

There are a number of ways to access the trails. The pedestrian / bike bridge is a good a starting point for explorations North or South.

I-15 freeway to West Bernardo/Pomerado Road, go west and park in the Bernardo Bay parking lot on the right just before Rancho Bernardo Community Park,

Or perhaps consider parking your car at Hernadez Hideaway on the other side of the lake so you can look forward to lunch and libations after your ride.

Hernadez Hideaway, 19320 Lake Drive Escondido, California 92029

Cheers!

 

Discovering Torrey Pines State Park’s Lovely Little Sista: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension

In many ways, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension, the quiet younger park outshines her excessively popular, bigger sister. Especially if you like your nature served up with a bit of solitude as I do mine.  This area was acquired in 1970, 11 years after Torrey Pines itself became an official State Park thanks to the work of local conservation groups.

The pros: You still get stellar (though more distant) views of the glimmering Pacific and bedazzling Penasquitos Lagoon (if it’s a clear day) and close-ups of the dramatic red, other-worldy, sculpted, sandstones cliffs and Torrey Pines. Some of the trails are boarding rows of McMansions so you don’t quite escape from suburbia unless you put your blinders on.

 

The cons: There trails are really short and easy on sandstone or sandy terrain. (Could be considered a pro for some, I know.) Apparently there’s some way to eek out 4 miles, not sure how. You’ll be hard-pressed to get in a workout here – unless you run them quickly. Also, there is no beach access.

When I went there were no trail maps in the box so I just meandered through the network of short trails. You can’t really get lost. If you’re going, you may want to check out the online map first.

To share a “secret” locale or not, that is the question.

I’ve lived in the Sand Diego area for about a decade and had never heard of this area. This spot is relatively quiet and underutilized. Yes, it’s nice to keep it that way so am I betraying it by writing this post? Well, this is part of a State Park, which means it is open to the public and shouldn’t be a secret. So on one hand, I believe it’s appropriate to share the information. And I believe, perhaps naively, that people who love this sort of place will respect it and tread lightly. On the other hand, I’d hate to see it get overrun. (Much controversy surrounds the instagram and  social sharing phenomenon.) Then again, since this place is part of a State Park, I imagine that park officials would intervene as necessary should the area become compromised due to excessive use. Tell me, what’s your opinion of sharing vs. keeping your favorite spots secret?

Warning soapbox

It seems strange that the signs and literature at Torrey Pines State Park don’t make any reference to this area. It almost feels like the Del Mar locals (who may include some of the original conservationists) have played a role in keeping this on down low. Ok, am I approaching conspiracy theory level yet? (I’m just saying it seems awfully convenient that they have managed to keep the trail and the views all to themselves and their dogs.) Dogs, you say? Are they allowed? No, they aren’t and there are “No Dogs” signs posted everywhere. Yet, of the half dozen or so people we ran into, most had their 4-legged companions with them. Not only that, when we started out on the trail a Golden Retriever bounded down from the one of the homes and raced in front of us, eager to guide  us through “his park”. Hey, I’m a dog lover, but there’s a reason they’ve posted no dog signs everywhere, right? Fragile ecosystem, etc…I guess if you live in Del Mar, the rules don’t apply to you. Ok, maybe not all the hikers with dogs were from Del Mar, but chances are…

Getting there: From I-5, take the Del Mar Heights Road exit. Head west on Del Mar Heights Road for approximately half a mile. Turn left onto Mercado Drive, then left onto Cordero Road. Make a right onto Mira Montana Drive and follow it to the end where you’ll find a couple parking spots and a trail head next to Del Mar Heights Elementary School. Parking and entry is free. There are other access points in the neighborhood with ample parking along the street.

Notes

No Dogs (Even though plenty of entitled peeps and pooches were violating this rule.)

No Bikes

Take a Walk on The Wild Side. Getaway Tips: Catalina’s West End

A few people have asked me what I’d recommend for a couples’ 2 to 3 night camping trip in Catalina. For nature lover’s with limited time, I suggest you skip touristy (though charming) Avalon and head straight for Catalina’s “Wildland” gems.  Most Catalina aficionados concur that the 2 most beautiful spots on the island (not that you can really go wrong anywhere) are Little Harbor Campground and Parson’s Landing Campground. I’ll focus this post on them.

If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love those 2 spots.

 

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Heading down to picturesque Parson’s Landing

MAP 

How you plan your getaway comes down to your preferred balance of activity to relaxation.

If you want to see both Little Harbor and Parson’s Landing, the easiest way to do it is to take the San Pedro ferry direct to Two Harbors. Once there, you are equidistant to Parson’s Landing and Little Harbor – this gives you the most flexibility and the most relaxation and recreation options. You can grab a bite and set out for either destination as a day hike / bike or an overnight at one or both of them. You can also catch a shuttle one or both ways.

When you visit Two Harbors,  enjoy a meal at Doug’s Harbor Sands – the only restaurant / bar in town. I recommend the Mahe and a Buffalo Milk or two for dessert. Buffalo Milk is a delicious libation named after the island’s iconic buffalo (think alcoholic chocolate milkshake). I’d post a picture of one, but I drank them so fast I forgot to take one.

Otherwise, you could stay over in Little Harbor night 1 and then work your way West to Two Harbors and Parson’s Landing. On a quick boondoggle, perhaps you take the Safari Bus back to Two Harbors or Avalon. (Arrange in advance.)

Staying Overnight in Two Harbors

Two Harbors Campground (42 tent sites & 3 Group sites) about a 1/4 from “town” on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Outdoor cold water showers & portapotties.

In “town”, the Camping Cabins  offer simple comforts on a budget ($50-70 a night) They are available November through March only.

Note: There are coin operated hot water showers in Two Harbors.

After roughing it for a day or two, I always like to throw in a little luxury. See why the rustic Banning House Lodge in Two Harbors is my Top Pick .

Two Harbors Things to Do:  Diving, snorkeling, swimming, stand-up-paddling, kayaking, fishing, exploring and relaxing. So yes, you can have tons of fun just hanging in gorgeous Two Harbors. Did I mention the Buffalo Milk? (Yeah, I did.)

Two Harbors Visitors Services 310-510-4205

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Parson’s Landing 

 Head from Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing (via West End Road – easy fire road ~7 miles & or the Trans Catalina Trail – hard single track ~11 miles) and camp out there. Note there is no running water at this campsite.  You can hike from here to Starlight Beach (the Western most point of the island), but be prepared for 20 miles round trip as Starlight Beach is day use only.

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DISTANCES

Avalon to the airport ~10 miles

Avalon to Little Harbor ~15 miles

Avalon to Two Harbors ~23 miles (MTB route – ~3,284 elevation gain)

Little Harbor to Two Harbors ~7 miles by fire road or shorter by single track

Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing ~7 easy miles West End Road or ~11 via a challenging portion of the Trans Catalina Trail (hikers only) Note: Parson’s Landing Campgraound has no running water.

Two Harbors to Starlight Beach  ~17 to ~21 miles depending on your route (see above)

Two Harbors to the airport ~13 Miles

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Logistics – Getting to Two Harbors

Catch the Catalina Express from San Pedro to go direct to Two Harbors ~$75 ea round trip.

Or treat yourself to a Helicopter ride, starting at ~$135 one way depending upon your departure point. It’s a quick way to spend $135, but it is a dazzling ~15+ minutes. (One way is enough, unless you’re in a hurry and have $ to burn.)

If you have a boat, you’ve got it made to explore your way.

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Hiking permits are free and you can get them online.

Mountain biking? Get the scoop on the $35 pass and bike rentals.

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Long Haul Options From Avalon

If you start in Avalon, you can take the island’s Safari Bus to Little Harbor,  Two Harbors, or Parson’s Landing,  but you are limited by their schedule. Mountain biking or hiking is possible too, but only if you’re up for ~23 somewhat tortuous miles (especially if you’re going to be carrying a pack) see my Catalina mtb. adventure post 1 & 3). There is a new Catalina Back Country Concierge that offers gear haul and other services, but they may not be open on weekdays in the off season – – at least they weren’t when we called them.

Another option is to stay in Little Harbor the first night and save the final 7 miles to Two Harbors for Day 2…

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Caution

So many fantastic options, so little time. Be safe and have a blast!

I’ve been all over the island, the terrain can be challenging and most of it is completely exposed. (Carry plenty of water and sunscreen.) Keep ~150 yards from Buffalo. (They don’t like bikers.) Stay on designated trails and fire roads. Taking that short cut through brush may be tempting, but my brother will tell you it’s not worth it. He got bitten by a rattlesnake there doing just that and had to be airlifted off the island. He;s fine now, but it was a bit sketchy during his two weeks in ICU…And no, I wasn’t on that trip.

Let me know if you have questions and do tell me what you did on your Catalina getaway!

Top Pick: Fukuzumiro Ryokan Traditional Culture & Zen Views

When in Japan, I suggest that you “go traditional” and stay in a Ryokan (traditional inn)  for at least 1 night or more.  Featuring tatami-matted rooms, futons for beds, ofuro (communal baths), usually fed by onsens (hot springs), and large entrance halls where guests can relax and socialize, these traditional inns have existed since the 8th century AD. It’s a memorable cultural experience you won’t want to miss.

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Gorgeous and immaculate entrance. The floor glimmers like gold. First order of business was swapping out my hiking shoes for a pair of slippers at the front door.
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An active koi pond in the downstairs hallway of the inn.
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Sleeping on the futon and tatami mats was quite comfortable. They are laid out for you in the evening.
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Traditional breakfast impeccably served in the comfort of your room – definitely worth trying.

If you have an upstairs room like mine, you will be navigating a short staircase to reach a downstairs shared bathroom…(Not sure if they have rooms with private baths – this is a historic building and it remains in its original form.)

Ask for a room with a view. Re-posting this pic as it  gets cut off in the feature area above.

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The splendid view from my room. The sound of the rushing water below. Ahh, the beauty framed in these 3 windows.

The communal bath has specific hours split between male & female visitors (not the most convenient aspect). It’s pleasant, but indoors. Note: Be sure to follow proper Japanese etiquette when visiting an communal bath house. Wash yourself thoroughly first, using the bucket and the ladle or cup. Once clean, you may proceed to immerse yourself. (Also, it’s not for the shy – it’s nude soaking. No cameras  or cell phones allowed. And, as with all of Japan, be mindful that this is a quiet and respectful culture.)

(Visited an outdoor onsen later in my trip and enjoyed a hot soak surrounded by green vegetation with the refreshing rain drizzle cooling my face and shoulders.) And no, I don’t have pictures of that – see the no cameras rule above.)

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I highly recommend when in Japan do as the Japanese have done for centuries and go to a Ryokan and Onsen. Immerse yourself in the cultural experience.

Suffice to say that I enjoyed my total immersion at the Fukuzumiro – Ryokan. It’s conveniently close-by (scenic train ride you catch in walking distance from the inn) to the Hakone Open Air Museum – an absolute “must do” if you’re in the area.

 

 

 

A Catalina Fox Tale: Overcoming Near Extinction

The Catalina Island Fox is found on Catalina Island and nowhere else in the world. Thanks to the work of the Catalina Island Conservancy and the Institute for Wildlife Studies, the Catalina Fox is making a comeback after a devasting outbreak of the distemper virus in 1999. The fox population plummeted from ~1,300 to a mere 100. (The cause of this outbreak was traced to a stowaway racoon.)

The Catalina Island Fox Recovery Plan involved relocation, vaccinations (including distemper), captive breeding and release, and population monitoring. And it was a total success. By 2004, the same year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Catalina Island Fox as a federally endangered species, the population had increased to 300 so captive breeding was discontinued.

Monitoring continues today with ~ 60 foxes equipped with telemetry collars and regular air tracking. Once a year, foxes are trapped,  counted and given a physical.

The Catalina Island Foxes, especially the older ones ,are prone to ear cancer. The number one cause of fox mortality on the island, surprisingly since there aren’t that many vehicles there, is being hit by cars and trucks. As of 2016,  there are ~1,400 foxes on Catalina. Now that’s a happy ending to a fox tale.

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This gorgeous collared fox was a bit too friendly, clearly looking for handouts at the Harbor Sands Restaurant and Bar.

On my Catalina MTB adventure (Part I, II, III), I was lucky enough to see 3 foxes (one on the way in the middle of Catalina’s “wildlands”, one while sitting on the patio enjoying happy hour, and one hanging out in the Harbor Sands Bar.  Unluckily, I was not able to capture the picture myself for various reasons. Fortunately, my new friend, Julie Harland, was much luckier than I was so the 2 fox photos I’m sharing are hers.) Note: The last 2 fox sightings are not good signs – most likely an indication that people are feeding them. They’re irresistible, but you have to remember that a habituated fox that depends on human food is a unhealthy, at-risk animal.

Vixen FAQs

How did the foxes arrive at Catalina Island? The theories are that the foxes either hitched a ride on floating debris or were brought there by the island’s first inhabitants.

How long have the foxes been residents of Catalina? ~5,400 years. Genetically speaking, they are descendants of the gray fox.

What do the foxes eat? Mice, lizards, birds, berries, insects and cactus fruit.

How big are they? Adults weigh 4-6 lbs, which makes them smaller than your average house cat.

What are their habits? Foxes are diurnal, active during the day, foraging primarily at dawn or dusk. They are monogamous and are seen in pairs during the breeding season of January through March.

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How can you help?

If you visit Catalina:

  1. Keep dogs on leashes at all times.
  2. Pick up and dispose of your pets waste.
  3. Keep your pets vaccination up to date.
  4. NEVER feed wildlife. A healthy fox is a one that is on a wild diet.
  5. Don’t leave your or your pet’s food and water outside. Feed pets indoors.
  6. Drive slowly and be alert – especially at dawn & dusk (maximum speed 25 mph).
  7. Donate to the Catalina Island Fox Program.

Two Harbors to Avalon: Catalina MTB Adventure Part 3

Even after a day of relative relaxation, I wasn’t sure that my knees were ready for the counter attack mountain bike ride back to Avalon…And there were options, we could take a shuttle up to the airport and then just cruise downhill the rest of the way…Or since, we had already set aside the day for the adventure back, we could just go ahead and do it…Yup, that’s what we did.

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The roller coaster fire road, Little Harbor is in the distance.

 

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And you’ll never guess who we ran into in the middle of the island – none other than Hans No Way Rey and Missy, the Missle, Giove. They blasted by us boisterously, which was just a tad demoralizing, until we discovered that they were on e-bikes – No fair! I was going to suggest a bike trade, but I don’t think they would have gone for it.

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Hans No Way Rey, Ken Stud Wells, & Lydia, onthelooselive

Missy was the first female downhill mountain bike superstar. She’s got two World Cup overall victories and a World Championship under her belt. Meeting  these two legends was definitely a highlight of my Catalina MTB adventure!

Below, I’m celebrating the final climb and Missy is giving me some downhill tips- not.

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Enjoying one last vista of Avalon before final descent

 

 

Stay tuned for my Catalina Wildlife post!

Avalon to Two Harbors: Catalina MTB Adventure, Part 2

After mt. biking to Two Harbors from Avalon, enjoying sunset wine and cheese at the Banning House Lodge followed by a mahe fish dinner at the Harbor Sands Restaurant, we slept like hibernating bears.

And nothing better than relaxing into the morning like this, eh?

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Enjoying the view of Catalina Harbor from the back patio of the Banning House Lodge

Two Harbors is so named for its topographic features (you guessed it) 2 harbors – the Isthmus Cove on the leeward side and Catalina Harbor on windward side, separated by a half mile of land or isthmus. What’s an Isthmus, you might ask? It’s a narrow sliver of land that connects two larger areas across an expanse of water which they are otherwise separated.

Bike logistics

You might also be wondering about mt. bike logistics on Catalina Island. There are a couple spots to rent bikes in Avalon or you can bring your own on the ferry, but you must purchase a Freewheeler Bike Pass from the Island Conservancy to ride the interior “wildlands” where the buffalo and Catalina fox roam and eagles fly overhead. The bike pass is only $35 for the year and goes towards the Conservancy’s efforts to protect this natural gem and its wildlife so it’s well worth it for an unforgettable experience and a worthy cause.

Parson’s Landing

So the plan for Day 2 was to take it easy, recover from yesterday’s cross-island mt. bike slog with heavy packs, and explore the West End. So we set out on the lovely, coastal mt. bike ride out to Parson’s Landing (~14 mile round trip on mostly flat fire road). Great vistas along the way and the reward of Parson’s Landing’s pristine, rugged beauty all made for a wonderful day.

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Just one of the many splendid vistas out to sea and the mainland
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Rugged cliffs and turquoise, translucent seas
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Quick, brisk dip at Parson’s landing before heading back

 

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Looking back at Parson’s Landing below so there was a little incline involved…
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Heading back to Two Harbors. If you look closely you can see the birds and dolphins having a fish feeding frenzy. Hard to capture this awesome sight.

We met a great couple from our home town who were also staying at the Banning House Lodge. They had the grand idea of biking out to the tip of Catalina Harbor for sunset. What a superb way to close out a perfect day exploring Catalina.

Check out the views!

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Oh, and we had a couple of Catalina Island Fox sightings today too, one at happy hour and one at dinner. See my Catalina Island Fox post. Stay tuned for our return bike ride to Avalon and to find out who we ran into in the middle of the island.