Back in the saddle: Celebrating the New Year on the trails @ Calavera Nature Preserve, N.County SD

If I can’t be on the loose in the wild somewhere, I usually commemorate New Year’s Day by giving myself at least a half day of vigorous nature time. (It could be trail running, surfing, hiking, biking, rollerblading, swimming, or any combination.) With “base camp” in Southern California, it usually means I get a crisp, bright, sun-shiny day in which to play. This year, I had some physical downtime that interfered so my celebration was delayed until yesterday. It was one of those splendid, crystal clear, high- resolution,  after the rain kind of days that puts a smile on your face. The air smells so fresh and sweet, you can’t get enough. Precisely what I needed after 17 days of relative inactivity and indoor imprisonment.


It’s amazing how good it is to move freely outdoors after any amount of downtime – no matter the length or reason. This is what I am most grateful for and what I live for – the simple, primal pleasure of my body in motion out in nature.

While my body is still telling me to “take it easy”, I wanted to get my heart rate up just a bit so I pulled my mountain bike out for a short spin on the trails in the Calavera Nature Preserve. (And yes, I am spoiled to have this little gem in my backyard.) Not by accident mind you – it was one of the top 3 reasons I chose to live in this area.) Granted, the trails here can be a bit gritty, and there’s some rocky, rutted single-track and even nasty wide-track stuff that I can’t make on a mt. bike. Nevertheless, it’s a slice of nature in N.County , San Diego, a small habitat for many critters (49 bird, 10 mammal and 7 amphibian/reptile species) and a haven to two-legged critters like me who need a quick nature fix close to home.

A little about Calavera Hills.

it's a volcano.jpg
The word calavera, skull in Spanish, speaks to the preserve’s centerpiece, the ~500 ft mount, the remnant of a 22 million-year-old volcano.


According to some sources, this is one of only three volcanic plugs in Southern California. From the early 1900’s until ~1930, the area was mined for gravel, leaving a pocked and scarred West face.

Don’t expect well-marked trails, but you can easily navigate by the 3 landmarks – the lake, the top of the Mount, and the Water Tank with the new high school below it.

Water tank top right. (The “Mount” is to the left.)

If you’re hiking, biking, or running and want a good workout with some great views, go for both “heights”. If you’re a masochist for hills, there’s a brutal fire road that runs around the back rim. It’s punctuated by a half dozen or so steep rocky downs that flip in a matter of feet to fierce climbs. Guaranteed to get your heart rate up, up and over your comfort zone. Otherwise, there’s plenty of trails you can link together for some mileage that are flat or just a little rolly with a mix of easy to slightly technical. There’s fun discoveries for kids, including a cave,  the lake itself, cairns, a stone labyrinth, a funky memorial, (so much for leave no trace), a hidden wooden bridge, and more.

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How did you commemorate the New Year?





Xmas 2016: Honoring the Gift of Health

The fortunate majority of us are born able-bodied and healthy. And then there are those who are not born able-bodied and / or those who must fight and overcome grave illnesses and disabilities every hour of every day.  There are also those who squander their health and quality of life on alcohol or drug abuse, sedentary lifestyles, and sheer gluttony. And those who abuse their bodies in other ways…

Me? I’m guilty of taking the gift of health for granted, for pushing my body beyond its physical limits, feeding it crap (ridiculous amounts of sugar, chocolate, and junk food), and exposing it deliberately and excessively to the elements (sun).

And I’ve suffered the consequences. People are surprised by how many operations I’ve had. My list is getting so long that I can barely keep track anymore. The irony of course, is that I believe I live a relatively healthy lifestyle. Yet, I know plenty of couch potatoes who have never had 1 physical affliction or surgery.

Here’s a glimpse at my surgery dance card:

  1.  Skin cancer surgeries (2) and ongoing freezing pre-cancerous spots (nearly monthly now). (I knew better – no excuses, except my stupidity. 100% Irish, I am the poster child for skin cancer. Ignored my mother and other’s warnings and enjoyed the sun too much without protection.)
  2.  Greater saphenous vein ablation surgery right leg, literally blew this vein out pushing too hard on the bike/racing triathlon.
  3. Kidney stones (6 in ea side): 2 lithotripsy procedures, 1 ureterscopic laser surgery (so much more painful than any stone I have passed) – all due to chronic dehydration,  my self-inflicted pattern of under-hydrating and over exercise. Oh, and I have gallstones too – no surgeries for that yet.
  4. Severe osteoarthrtitis and chrondomalacia in both knees – ongoing knee injections. This was brought on by flat feet and decades of running 5-7 days a week. I literally ran out of cartilage in my knees.
  5. c6 / c7 Neck Fusion (plates & screws) – no single catalyst, just a lifetime of living rough & tumble – probably a childhood pool slide incident combined with a more recent surfing injury.
  6. Cycling accident: Collarbone repair surgery(plate and 8 pins), 2x foot surgery – pins and plates, and a broken 5th metacarpal (pinkie).

EGAD, I know! Clearly I’m not honoring the gift I’ve been given by being a good care taker. I am a huge proponent of living vigorously, but many would argue that I take it to a frenetic level. Of course, it’s all relative. I pale in comparison to others who are far more extreme / intense about their physical activities than I am…Granted, just because there are plenty of people out there who abuse their bodies more than I do, it doesn’t negate the fact that it’s still abuse.

My x-mas holiday was consumed with getting through kidney stone surgery, which of all the surgeries I’ve had, was by far the most painful. It felt like a severe and brutal punishment. Ultimately, I have to face that nearly all my injuries are self-inflicted to some degree. (The picture above is from my first walk outside in 5 days – don’t worry, I didn’t overdo it this time.) So how do I reconcile my passion for activity with my tendency to go overboard and be neglectful? This has been a long, hard lesson and I’m finally getting the message loud and clear. It’s way past time for me to balance living vigorously with nurturing the amazing, strong and vital body that I’ve been given. The joy I get from my outdoor activities is one of my life’s greatest pleasures.Yet I’m driven to push my body to its limits and then neglect it – a mystery for another blog post. Perhaps for tonight,  it’s enough to recognize and begin to correct this tendency – to commit to being a better steward of my health – to balance my rigorous activities with the nurturing and nourishing my body needs – to be a kinder, gentler person to my body, myself and others.

Tell me, how do you honor and nurture your body?

My wish this holiday season is that we see each day as a gift to live our best life – one that honors our bodies, our spirits and those we share the journey with. I’m going to work on it and maybe you guys can help keep me on the path.

Perhaps one word sums it up? Nameste


Alfie, the cat, performs rollovers to inspire us

Most people wouldn’t believe that it’s possible to teach a cat to roll over upon polite request, but it is. And it’s easier than you might think though it does take some patience and persistence. Isn’t that true of most of the goals and dreams that elude us? We get so intimidated by them sometimes, we can’t even visualize them – imagine they are possible. But they are possible, we just have to start rolling over in the right direction and keep the momentum going.

Ok, I know this post is a bit off topic, but Alfie keeps bugging me to get into my blog, chanting about how everyone knows people love cat videos and how he’ll go viral. I’m humoring him so hopefully you’ll humor me too.

 How are you rolling toward your dreams? (And Alfie wants to know if you like his video.)

If you dream it, live it.

Senior year of high school, we got to design our own yearbook page. On mine, my motto was “If you dream it, live it.” An audacious declaration for an 18-year-old, eh?


And now, too many decades later, I’m finally walking my talk. Sure, I’ve had a more adventurous, traveled, ( and privileged) life than many, but have I lived as boldly and true to my nature as that youthful proclamation? No, not even close. It’s taken me this long to stare mortality in the eye and defiantly extend my middle finger, flipping off self-imposed  barriers, which have always loomed far larger than those external, practical ones.

I have no idea who A. Kern is, but I like the way she thinks. Found the quote on the wall of an old ski touring hut while hiking the Pioneer Range near Sun Valley.

Why, is it that the best life for us to live is so often the hardest for us to actualize? What’s really keeping you from living the life of your dreams?  Let’s give each other the inspiration and the courage to face our internal obstacles and live the dream.

Day 2 No guts, no glory.

I resigned my corporate position last Friday. Today is Tuesday, Day 2 of not “working for the man” as they say. I’m taking the plunge, much as I did into a couple of refreshing alpine lakes last month on a hiking trip in Mammoth.

Day 1 was quiet, I spent hours on internet researching various destinations, following my mind’s whims across the globe and closer to home. Montana has always called to me and I’ve heard great things about Idaho so perhaps I’ll start with a trip there before the weather changes too drastically…

Today, I had the luxury of swimming with the Master’s group during the lunch hour and enjoyed a post workout Jacuzzi. (Normally, I would be with the morning crew at 5:45 AM,  forgoing the Jacuzzi, and with the masses on the freeway fighting traffic by 7:20.) Enjoying my improved quality of life already. I spent the afternoon getting this site up and running. Definitely a work in progress, but I’ve made progress and hey, it’s only Day 2.

Do you have a day 2 in your future? Share it with us.