Avalon to Two Harbors: Catalina MTB Adventure, Part 1

So I asked my athletic beau, Ken, “What do you think? How about we take our mountain bikes to Catalina and ride from Avalon to Two Harbors, hang out and ride around there for a day, and then ride back?”

“Sure, sounds good,” he replied without blinking an eye…This is where I should have pulled out the disclaimers about the ~1700 foot climbs (that’s plural) that we’d be doing from sea level over the course of ~21 mile traverse across steep, unforgiving fire roads, and the fact that he’d be carrying a heavier pack than I…

I did dig out my old map of the marathon route with it’s epic elevation gains and losses, but he didn’t give it a glance. I declared with my usual exuberance, “It’s going to be a tough one, but it will be a great adventure!” You see, back in 2000, (yes, nearly two decades ago), I ran the Catalina Marathon, which takes you across some of the same routes so I had a distant, but visceral memory of how “challenging” the climbs on the island can be.  (Decades of trail running has also taught me that’s it far easier to run up hills than it is to bike up them, especially if you are on heavy, beater bikes lugging packs on your back.) Of course, I’m nearly 2 decades older now and should also mention that we don’t mountain bike much (last MTB adventure was Noble Canyon and we all know how that went. My bruises have finally faded,)

Bottom line, we both try to maintain a moderately high level fitness set point for our weekend warrior and extended escapades and active adventures…(I’ve been focusing on yoga, swimming, hiking and a weekly road bike and he’s been running, and joining me for swims and road bikes as his schedule allows.) Unfortunately, I can’t run any more due to literally running out of cartilage in both my knees. Ugh, I know!) For some reason, I thought I would be ok on the mountain bike with the hills…

 

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View point just after the initial climb out of Avalon on Stage Road – that’s the “What did I get us into this time? look. Notice the over-packed backpack.

 

So I was wrong about that. Not long after the picture above was taken, 3/4 through the first climb from sea level up the airport road, I thought my knees were going to explode. No way I can make this, I thought. That’s when Ken pulled over and ordered me to empty everything heavy out of my pack and put it into his. I didn’t argue, toughing it out wasn’t an option if we were going to make it across. Yes, Ken is a stud and my hero! Wouldn’t have been able to make it without him taking on the extra poundage.

 

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My hero, Ken, aka Superman, all smiles despite the extra weight in his pack. This is at the top of the first climb, he’s thinking the worst is over…I know we’ve only just begun.
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But views like these of the remote backside of Catalina can turn even my worst grimace into a smile…

We left Avalon after 1PM  and we didn’t pass the halfway mark until 3PM with all my knee breaks so we were getting a little worried that we might not make it by dark. There were no hikers or bikers out except for us and only a few cars and Island Conservancy trucks passed us. We had decided not to camp as we’d be carrying the weight of sleeping bags and Thermarests and possibly a tent too. Instead, we decided to treat ourselves to a stay at the Banning House Lodge for both our recent birthdays. So instead of stopping and relaxing at one of these gorgeous deserted beaches we pushed on and on…

We came around a corner and a gorgeous Catalina Fox crossed in front of Ken. Unfortunately, my camera was in my backpack and getting it out would have scared it away so we both just sat still and watched in quiet wonder as the beautiful creature took 5 steps looked back at us, took five more, looked back again, and once more before disappearing into the roadside brush. As if to say, “Hey, I’m giving you guys plenty of photo ops, what’s you’re problem?” This would be the first of several fox sightings in which I would be camera cursed each time. (Luckily, we met a great couple from Carlsbad (John & Julie) who caught some great pics while we were having dinner together at Harbor Sands. See Part II.)

We would have one more notably larger critter encounter on our final climb  out of Little Harbor, a brute of a buffalo was snorting and drooling his way up the hill. he was on the far right. We stayed as far left as we could.

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Buffalo can charge at 35mph, and we were told later, not unlike other aggressors, they have a thing for bikers. Yes, yikes. That’s my “Forget the picture and let’s keep moving.” look.

 

The weather was perfect and the visibility out to the mainland was the best I’ve ever seen it. Unfortunately, camera didn’t quite capture it. (Wasn’t going to bring my heavy Nikon.)

We made it just in time for sunset and the splendid wine and cheese welcome at the Banning House Lodge (another 150ft climb) just to add insult to injury. I’ll be writing about our stay  – it’s definitely a top pick.

Big sigh of relief after our full, half-day adventure – brutal workout, spectacular views, a studly boyfriend who’s a great sport, a hot shower and a comfy bed – now that’s a birthday to remember. Stay tuned for Part II…

Blue Sky Ecological Reserve Hike to Lake Ramona, Poway, CA

Peaceful Blue Sky Ecological Reserve, a 700 acre canyon, is a welcome reprieve from the over-populated Mt. Woodson trail. I’d had enough of the crowds, but not enough of nature and workout so after lunch at a nearby Mexican cantina,  I followed up the Mt. Woodson hike with this one.

Distance: 4.8 RT Difficulty: Moderate ++ It’s all mild and friendly until you get the last half mile’s fierce grade, which is paved. Overall, the terrain itself is easy (fire road primarily) so it’s a great spot for trail running.

Trail advisory: It’s exposed so equip yourself with sunscreen and water rations. Also, you could be sharing the trail with bees, mountain lions, mosquitoes, poison oak, rattlesnakes & ticks (Friendlier potential trail mates include: deer, bobcats, quail, raptors, roadrunners, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits, and bats.)

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And yes, you can fish at Lake Ramona Reservoir. While bite-friendly, the huge bass population here is comprised of small largemouth because few fisherpeople want to hike up that great big hill. (Did I get enough size comparison in there to make your head spin?) Unfortunately, the bass overpopulation results in their stunted growth. Come on fisher peeps, work for it! You’re missing a beautiful opportunity. Besides, where’s the fun in driving up and parking at Lake Poway?

Lake Ramona was lovely and the reserve was pleasant enough though small. Personally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to get here, but if you’re in the neighborhood – do it.

Mt. Woodson / Potato Chip Rock Hike, Poway, CA

Distance: 7.5             Elevation: 2070 feet

Difficulty: Moderate + (Depends on your fitness level and the weather (heat/sun factor)

No, the featured image is not Potato Chip Rock. It’s some cool unnamed split rock along the top of the  trail with a great view out to the rocky playground below and Lake Romona.

If you’re looking for solitude, you won’t find it here. This is one of the most popular hikes in San Diego because of the iconic Potato Chip Rock and obligatory photo op at the top.

Spoiler alert.

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The trail starts at Lake Poway and leads you up a fire road for a mile or so before it narrows and steepens.

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And the answer is yes, you can fish in Lake Poway. Sadly, swimming is not allowed.

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Here’s the scoop

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The view of the lake is lovely from the trail above. You can see how clean and clear the water is.

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The view from the top depends on  how clear of a day it is. Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy, In the picture below, you can make out Point Loma and the Pacific in the distant horizon on the right and the high rises of San Diego to the left of it.

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Another cool spot along the trail – my rock throne

So yes, lots of highlights and a great workout. (I hike fast and made it up in an hour  and 15min – down in 1hour 5.min.) The downhill gets my knees. There were a number of  people using poles. The downside of this hike is way too many humans, but what do you expect from a cool hike near a city? If I ever do it again, I’m going for dawn patrol. The parking lot opens at 6AM for early birds who enjoy more solitude and sunrises.

Because this hike didn’t quite sate my appetite for nature and solitude, after lunch I went up the road to the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve and hiked up to Lake Romona. Post to come.

 

 

Palomar Mountain Field Trip: Fun for everyone – hike, fish, astronerd or simply enjoy epic views.

Headed to Palomar Mountain with hiking in mind and got much more out of the excursion than expected.

The drive up the South Grade (S6) mountain road is winding and scenic. You’ll want to keep your eyes on the road if you’re driving. Apparently this road has been compared to the L’Alpe d’Huez on the Tour de France Route so it’s popular with road cyclists, motorcyclists and sports car drivers too… Beware of those dare devil motocyclists crossing the center line as they race down the mountain

The clouds and fog made for some dramatic vistas on the way up.

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The small park headquarters has a mini natural history exhibit. I didn’t know we had gray fox around here. Signs were up about a recent mountain lion sighting in the park.

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Hiking Scoop

As far as the hiking here goes, most trails are short and dogs aren’t allowed on them. We did the longest loop we could find, starting at the Doane Pond, which is open for fishing year round and stocked with trout. It’s a  great spot for a picnic too.

Overall, the terrain is easy on the feet – mostly dirt, not too many rocks or roots. It’s ideal for a quick trail run. (Note the seasonal tick and rattle snake warnings.)

We went up the Thunder Springs and the Silver Crest Trails and down Scott’s Cabin Trail and Chimney Flats. (Spoiler alert  – the trails name is a misnomer as there is no standing cabin, just a placard at the site with no historic details on it or in the park’s brochure). The hike is interrupted by the road a couple times and the road is always within a stones throw. The good news – you won’t get lost. The bad news, if you’re a hiking snob like me, it’s a bit anticlimactic, but that’s ok – the views along the ridge, at the Boucher Hill Fire Tower, and by the Observatory are quite epic. And the road and the drive by locations make it accessible for all.

Here’s a video clip of a particularly lovely section of trail.

 

 

Tree lovers will delight in the variety that this section of the Cleveland National Forest yields:  Douglass fir, white fir, incense cedar, live oak, black oak, coulter pine and yellow pine. Approximately 40 inches of annual rainfall keeps them thriving. Of course all these trees make it a haven for birds and bird lovers as well.

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We saw all but the quail today.

Camping Scoop

The Doane valley Campground has 31 campsites, each outfitted  with a table, fire ring, BBQ and food locker. Nearby restrooms have flush toilets and coin-operated hot showers. Many comforts of home in a forest setting – great for an introduction to camping. The Cedar Grove Campground has 3 areas for group camping.  For more info and to reserve a spot up to 7 months in advance call 1-800-444-7275.

Enjoy Epic Views from the Boucher Hill Historic Fire Tower

The Boucher Hill Historic Fire Tower is definitely worth a stop too – whether you drive by or hike the 1.2 miles up from the visitor center. This is one of only 2 fire towers left  in California. From the observation deck, you don’t even have to use the provided binocular gizmo to see the glimmering Pacific ~50 miles away.

 

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Even with my bad eyes, I could make out Tamarack Tower / Smoke Stack that marks my home beach. You have to know what to look for to make it out in the video, but you can definitely tell that you’re looking out to sea.

 

 

Visit the Impressive Palomar Observatory & Museum

And no, the field trip’s not over yet. Next, we headed over to the Palomar Observatory.  The structure itself is quite impressive (see feature photo), but it’s definitely worth looking inside. (Hours are 9-4 daily.) The Hale Telescope is considered one of most important scientific innovations of the last century and was the most productive and prominent telescope in the world from 1948 to 1993.

 

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Don’t miss the Museum either. It’s got great displays, info and videos. The small gift shop was closed as we got there late, but I’m sure there’s some cool stuff and souvenirs for the kids in there too.

 

If you aren’t an astronomy or science buff going in, you might be when you leave. ..

So many fun things to do, see and learn here. Highly recommend Palomar Mountain as a field trip for the whole family. Great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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Almost forgot to mention, be sure to bring a water bottle and get your fill of refreshing fresh (and free) spring water on the way up or down at the Palomar Artesian Springs.

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Cheers and happy trails!

 

Top Pick: Hakone Open Air Museum – art and natural beauty in harmony

The town of Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than 60 miles from Tokyo and one of the most popular destinations for Japanese and international tourists. Famous for its natural beauty, many hotsprings (onsen), traditional inns ( ryokan), and the view of Mount Fuji across Lake Ashinoko (didn’t get to see that), Hakone is also renowned for its open air museum.

The Hakone Open Air Museum (Hakone Chōkoku No Mori Bijutsukan), has to be one of the most spectacular outdoor museums in the world. Surrounded by mountains and overlooking a valley, ~100 diverse sculptures (modern and contemporary, including works of Rodin, Milo and Moore) from around the world grace the expansive (~17 acres), rolling gardens. There’s also several indoor exhibits as well, including One of the world’s best collections of Picasso’s work, the 2 story Picasso Exhibition Hall displays a total of 300 pieces, including paintings, sculptures and ceramics. The exhibit also features photos chronicling of the artist’s life is one of world’s best collections.

 

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In addition there are shops, café’s, multiple kids spaces with art installations that they can climb on and a mini garden maze. And because the Japanese think of everything, there’s even an 65 foot heated foot bath to refresh your weary feet while enjoying the view.

You can easily spend hours here taking in all the beauty and the art.

Take the Hakone Tozan train there – it’s an incredible experience in itself

The Hakone Open Air Museum is just a few steps from Chokoku No Mori Station on the Hakone Tozan (30 minutes, $3.55 from Hakone-Yumoto). It’s the last station before the terminal station of Gora. Taking the train is an experience in itself as it chugs slowly up and back switchbacks up the steepest slope of all railways in Japan through green forests above the splendidly scenic Haya-kawa River Valley.

 

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From the train station, you’ll walk by Woody’s Café Bar first. I stopped in on my way to the museum. The hot artisan coffee was a cool wet morning so it was a perfect prelude to walking around outside. It’s quite a unique spot with a Toy Story theme, hence the name. It serves coffee, lunch, dinner and is a bar at night.

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Tokyo Photo Post and Top Picks Prince Hotel & Hamashiba Sushi, Minato

Had the good fortune to travel to Japan on business and to stay in the luxurious Prince Hotel, Minato, Tokyo. My bathroom and room had tremendous view of Tokyo tower (aka Eiffel Tower knock off). I have never been in such a large or luxurious bathroom – huge walk in shower, deep jacuzzi bathtub and enough room left over for a small dance party. Seriously, the bathroom seemed more spacious and outfitted than the room itself. In case you haven’t heard, the Japanese have a thing for outfitted toilets (heated seats, warm water spritz wash (biddett & hot air dry, etc…) and deep soaking tubs. We Westerners could certainly learn a thing or two from Japan and improve our WC experience…

 

While I was in town for business meetings, I still managed to sneak in a couple strolls and a quick run around the area to take in a few of the nearby scenic highlights.

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As my Japanese grand finale, I indulged in a sushi dinner at Hamashiba restaurant in the hotel. Forget everything you’ve heard about hotel restaurants – this one is superb. The sushi is outstanding, by far the best I’ve had and no doubt, will ever have. The maguro / tuna was absolutely exquisite and it was a treat and once in a lifetime experience to watch the master sushi chefs at work. Was it expensive? Duh. Was it worth it? Absolutely! (The company didn’t pick up this one.)

 

 

 

Sayonara!

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Garden and City views from my room at The Prince

 

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Oh, and it looks like the sole homeless person in all of Japan was sleeping under my window at The Prince.

Stay tuned for adventures in Kyoto and Hakone…Arigato.

Photo Post: Super Bloom 2017, Anza Borrego, CA

Just realized that I never posted my still photos from this year’s Super Bloom in Anza Borrego. In case you’re wondering, a Super Bloom is the term used to described an exceptionally abundant wildflower bloom that exceeds the usual seasonal Spring bloom.  When heavy rains and consistent wet weather come to the deserts of the southwest during late fall through winter as they did this year after a 5 year drought, the ideal condition for a Super Bloom is created. So ideal, in fact that this colossal colorful and fragrant explosion only occurs about once a decade. Seeds that lie dormant under rocks and sand for untold years, finally sprout when water washes away their protective coating…

 

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In our deserts, we typically see a sprinkling of purple sand verbena, white dune evening primroses, orange poppies (California’s state flower) and an occasional red-tipped ocotillo. This year, it was a breathtaking, surreal display with carpets of wildflowers, blooming cactus and red-tipped ocotillo forests. Be sure to check out my videos (1, 2, 3) for more of an immersion experience.