Touring Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Hubby and I enjoy hiking in the great outdoors, provided there are bathrooms and snacks, and as you are aware of my self-discipline methods, you know it’s not about my physique so much as it’s about fun.

Last weekend, the Hubbs and I thought it would be fun to do an early morning beach hike, so off we went to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Grab your sunglasses and enjoy the gorgeous views with us.

When you walk up to it, you can see that the Torrey Pines loop goes up one side and down the other side of a large sandstone bluff. The loop is technically more of a tipped oval with some squiggles at the bottom and a couple of ampersands curling off the top, so you can decide up front what kind of hike you want.

Whether you go clockwise or not depends entirely on whether you brought small whiny children.

If you did, begin by walking up the paved road on your left. Get the uphill out of the way immediately, while you still have your strength. Bribe them up the hill with a trail of gummy bears. Once you make the top they will be too tired to run off cliffs but not too tired to make it downstairs to the beach on the other side.

The rest of us begin with a long, luxurious walk on the beach, sauntering south along the cliff base and dodging waves and romantically holding hands until it dawns on you that you forgot your snacks in the car and wait, is the tide is coming in? And how far down there is the staircase anyway and whoops you just got a shoe soaked and maybe you’d better hustle up because what if there’s an earthquake right here under this crumbling catacomb and then a tidal wave hits?

Already, your hike is exhilarating.

You know you’ve reached the stairway to heaven when you face Bird Rock, which is occasionally covered in birds. Unless the tide is incoming and they sense danger.

Go 300 feet briskly uphill, attempting to join the birds.

The view gets very distracting after ten minutes.

You can walk out onto different loops over the bluffs and take in La Jolla to the south, Del Mar to the north, and surfers directly below.

Against the sapphire backdrop, rose, gold, cinnamon and ginger sandstone ribbons host yucca, cactus, beach grasses. California coastal sage scrub tries to hold the sand together, but it feels like only a matter of time before the Pacific will rub it down. Everything is polished by the salty kisses of wind and sea, even the famous Torrey pine trees that crown the bluff with twisting trunks and fanning fingers.

Traveling up and over the ridge, you pass tourists speaking in Japanese, families whose kids are hopping one. slow. step. at. a. time. along the twisting pathway, collegiate first dates discussing Disney cruises and church youth planning trips to Tanzania. Three girls in flowing hair and yoga pants pose for selfies on the summit.

You stand in the middle, Kara, you’re so cut!”

My eyes roll hard to leeward as I stride past muttering, “Good luck in therapy, Barbie.”

Coming down the backside of the Reserve on the paved road, I get the feeling we’ve done the loop backwards. Everyone is coming towards us and they all have gummy bears.

But we are not here to play casual Sunday driver, no. We are here for buns of brass. Stairmasters of steel. Quads of…um…quality. Yeah!

Are we there yet?

After hiking the Torrey Pines loop, we still had another mile or so to walk to our parking spot: back along N. Torrey Pines Rd, between the Pacific and Los Penasquitos Lagoon, under the bridge, through the North Beach parking lot, and back down Carmel Valley Rd, where we paused in front of Roberto’s and looking deeply into each others’ eyes, had the same thought.

Burritos for breakfast. Now.

Let’s all take a knee for a moment and recognize the authentic burrito for what it is: revival. I had a massive bean and cheese wrapped in a freshly made tortilla, warm and slightly crisped, salty queso melting into plump juicy pintos. How you can make beans into art is beyond me.

I ate it much too fast to show you a picture of it.

Kara and Barbie need to get their priorities straight.

Summer Son #2

Eureka, California, July 2011.

Our two hitch-hikers rolled into town, still following – more or less – the historic and breath-taking 101 freeway north.

North of San Francisco, the landscape pulls you along as the mountain ranges of our pacific northwest creep ever closer to the ocean. You have a foretaste of glories to come in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park that ushers you into Eureka.

The coastline now is nothing like the tame, surfing, comfortable beaches of San Diego. They go wild and wonton, foggy and foamy. Waves batter into cliffs and carve out coves and fling polished driftwood and stones onto the sand.

The boys began investigating this city, having no preconceived ideas other than wondering what the next part of the day might bring.

What with one thing and another, they found themselves on the outskirts of town, preparing to make their next move north.

Under a large tree in a clearing, they saw an athletic young lady. She had her effects and stood next to a bicycle that meant business.

Curious, they approached the dirty blonde to see what her story was.

It turned out that she had been part of a biking tour that had just left without her. They had been heading north on a summer expedition and as she had completely underestimated her own stamina, she had left the group just that day and was reevaluating her options.

My son remembers staring at giant wild blackberry bushes while she told her story. He was thinking, “Wow, we don’t have anything like that at home.”

They shared their own information, and once they realized they all shared a common destination – north – decided to try something radical: hitch hike together, three people, three packs, a guitar, and a bike.

Now really.

Who’s going to stop for that circus?

“Why not?” they said, “Let’s give it a try.”

“Well,” she replied, “I don’t mind joining the party. I have to get home eventually.”

She looked at her bike.

“This could be tricky.”

Stopping for these wanderers in the little red rental car was a decidedly optimistic maneuver.

And at the wheel, grinning ear to ear, was Ronan O’Sullivan, his very self.

Sturdy he was, with the clean-shaven baby face of an angel, though he was thirty years old if he was a day. When the travelers peered into his car and met his blue eyes, twinkling like all of Father Christmas below his ginger hair, there was a collective and spontaneous YES.

“What’s all this?” cried Ronan in the thickest accent an Irishman could have and still be intelligible, “Who are you and where are you going?”

But the kids were busy trying to figure out how to fit into the car.

“We don’t know where we’re going,” they replied, “just north to explore!”

Mr. O’Sullivan could not believe his luck.

That was his exact agenda.

Mr. O’Sullivan was on holiday.

He had flown into America, rented a car, and with no idea where to begin, his goal was to experience and explore as much as he could before his time was up.

“Why, that’s just the thing!” he said, as they piled in, “Americans do this? Stand by the road and travel like this? Do you know where we should stay? Can you tell me what’s good to eat over here?”

His questions went on and on as they began the long and winding road up the coastline. He was so happy to have his own personal, thoroughly American tour guides, that the four of them travelled together for a solid week.

The kids thought his accent was wildly and wonderfully entertaining. Just listening to him talk was captivating.

Every turn in the road brought an exclamation of wonder from their generous driver. He stopped constantly to investigate a beach cove, massive canyon, torrid river, or massive trees.

Every couple of miles seemed to increase his happiness.

He cracked jokes, he told them about his home back in Ireland.

“San Diego, you said?” came his predictable question, “So how far from your house is Hollywood?”

My son has done a bit of traveling and without fail, people take one look at his blond surfer cliche self and ask about Hollywood. It seems to be the benchmark for all of Southern California.

Maybe all of California.

People from Ireland don’t know about Mt Shasta, but they’ve heard of Hollywood.

He stopped to explore a lot of bars, and my son is quick to point out that cliches are also foolish going the other direction. The bars were for nursing a pint of local brew while applying his same thorough investigation to the local people. That’s what pubs are for.

Ronan wasn’t there to party.

Ronan was there to assimilate and enjoy every atom of the culture and atmosphere.

Which meant that everywhere Ronan went, he brought the party with him, through pure happiness to be there.

The kids weren’t old enough to join him in the bars; although they were carded for alcohol, pot was beginning to be as circulated as loose change.

Perhaps Ronan would bring them back a bottle or two when he joined them later in the evening around the pool of a cheap hotel, but he was never interested in the rest. He stayed as clean cut as the landscape that was calling them.

They stopped in Klamath and ate at Paul Bunyun’s Diner. They made it to Crescent City.

From there, they detoured northeast, driving through Grant’s Pass and up into the forested gorges and coves to Crater Lake National Park.

This is a place that remains in my son’s artistic memory as one of prehistoric and pristine beauty.

“It’s the weirdest kind of beautiful,” he said, “The massive lake sits in a giant bowl and messes with your depth perception. The water is a deep turquoise, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I remember massive trees. And massive ants,” he says with a frown, “and for some reason, I remember snow on the ground in places when we were hiking there. But that can’t be right. It was July.”

That, my son, is because you can still find snow there, even in July. Crater Lake is mostly pure snowmelt. Your memory is better than mine, well done.

Like the volcano that collapsed and left Crater Lake, their adventures eventually came to a close with Mr O’Sullivan, leaving a crisp memory, many shades of blue.

They all stayed in touch after that summer, through Facebook.

Ronan flew back to Ireland and has a wife and kids now.

The young biker lives in Portland, and the boys visited when they eventually arrived there.

Her bike had a great many miles put on it, but not because she had pedaled all the way home.

Sometimes on their road-trip, half the bike sat in the back, and half the bike sat in their laps.

But sometimes, they held it, arms out the side window, rolling along parallel with the rental car.


Summer Son #1

Two big guys, two big packs, and two big smiles sat on the side of the road.

One with a beat-up guitar.

One with a sign.

Would you stop for them?

When you’re trying to get from one place to another with only your charm for cab fare, how do you go about it?

The boys began their journey on the San Diego coast, at the famous 101.

They ended up as far north as Seattle, Washington before the summer closed out.

There were some things, says my son, that he learned the hard way, and some things that he was born already knowing.

This hitch-hiking adventure was a hodgepodge of both, and everything in-between and they never knew what was coming down the road next.

The first mistake that became obvious long before he wanted to admit it, was his choice of shoes.

He figured if the army could march through deserts and over mountains in boots, so could he.

They ended up doing a lot of walking. And a lot of waiting. But those big army boots were the wrong shape for either. Closed and hot, his feet blistered up early on.

By the time they reached Santa Barbara, the ten pound a-piece footwear made a cross-fit workout seem tame.

It took a while to find a spot for the night. They settled on a cozy place behind a dumpster that sat behind a church.

When two police officers woke them with a firm kick at three in the morning, they were off and marching again, brushing the roaches from their faces.

Slowly, they walked the length of the town without stopping.

When dawn broke, it occurred to them that they had completely circled Santa Barbara, and were back at the street where they had begun the evening before.

They almost cried.

Legs aching, and dizzy from lack of sleep, they sat on the beach all morning. At some point they realized a soup kitchen was open nearby and joined the local bums for brunch.

Once Santa Barbara was finally behind them, the boots were traded out for cheap, light, flexible skate shoes.

My kid is an artist in general and a doodler in particular, so he was in charge of the cardboard roadside signs.

One side had crazy art, the type that catches your attention.

On the other, in big bold lettering, he put the name of the next town north.

Sometimes, his cardboard art caught the attention of passers-by, who stopped to observe his freehand and stayed to chat them up about their travels. It was obvious from the sign that they weren’t your ordinary, every day bums, but kids on a wild adventure.

It was a great conversation starter.

A couple of times, people insisted on buying the art piece on the spot, and he pocketed $20 or $30 with it.

But most of the time, the sign served it’s purpose and stopped a vehicle heading north.

Then the sign got tossed.

His buddy played an acoustic guitar, and although it wasn’t in a case, it doubled as a wallet a lot of the time, a handy place to stash small valuables.

They made up songs as they walked down the road, picking out melody lines and making up lyrics about the cars that weren’t stopping for them.

Some days, they never got a lift.

And some days, they turned them down.

A lady pulled over and offered them a ride. Peering into her car, the boys saw at least eight large dogs milling around in the seats.

“They’re really sweet dogs, fellas!” she insisted.

They waved her on, sure that they didn’t want to join the circus.

An older man pulled over and offered them a ride. Peering into his car, there were a couple of red flags to consider. First, he wore nothing but a pair of tighty-whities. Second, there was a ten-inch bowie knife lying on the console.

“I’ll take ya where ever you want to go, guys!” he insisted.

“Nah,” said my son, “we’re good. Thanks!”

The elderly gentleman couldn’t hide his disappointment, but moved on.

They were already in the car with a young woman when their radar detected an unidentified flying freak-show vibe. And not just because she was tweaky. Upon further conversation, the woman confessed that she may or may not have killed someone and she may or may not be pursued by police and she may or may not be driving directly through the next couple of states, but they were sure welcome to ride along.

The boys insisted they were just fine being dropped off in the next convenient town or clump of trees, whichever came first.

A lot of the time, however, they were picked up by more or less regular folks. Sometimes it was other kids, wandering for the summer, or on their way to festivals. Sometimes it was people flat out curious, wondering what these two nomads were doing out in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes it was mom-types who had sons of her own their age, and she insisted on taking them home for dinner.

The songwriters turned storytellers once the ride began.

It was only fair to give your benefactors something in return for the favor, and as they introduced themselves, names, histories, and ancestries were made up at random by the boys. Everyone in the vehicle would exchange life information, driving down the highway and telling stories, some true, some false, and no one caring either way.

Enjoying the company, most drivers were just happy to hang out until the next town loomed on the horizon. It was live entertainment, a happy change from the radio.

Only once did a semi-truck pull off the road and offer them a ride.

It took forever for it to come to a stop, and the boys weren’t sure if it was for them, but they ran towards it, determined to convince the driver anyway.

Hopping from the cab was one of two Armenian brothers who, with the aid of very broken english and a smart phone, invited them into a cab containing a full kitchen and a set of bunk beds.

The boys went as far as Portland with them, learning Armenian folksongs from one excellent guitar-playing brother while the other put the hammer down, singing at the top of their lungs and higher than kites from a cab full of pot.

Before that, there was Ronan, the happy Irishman.

But we’ll leave him for another story.

Stop, Drop…And Roll ‘Em

I may have mentioned the fact that I am a weather wimp. I live in the only place I would ever live by choice. We don’t have blizzards, hail the size of tennis balls, lightning storms that knock out the electricity, tsunamis, flooding rivers, raging tornados, or black holes.

But we live within driving distance, in case we ever want to be entertained by these ‘natural disasters’.

What we do here in So Cal is wildfires and the occasional earthquake. Let me show you the difference and why this is so much more manageable. You can build your home earthquake resistant. You cannot build it tornado resistant. You can put a fire break around your property. You cannot put a flood break around it. You can put out a wildfire. You cannot put out a blizzard. An earthquake lasts a minute or so; step outside and wait. The earth will roll and then stop; the tsunami, not so much.

We tend to feel jilted if it stays overcast all day. Watch the weather report when we get a light rain. Suddenly the world stops turning because the roads are wet and we have no idea what to do about it. So we keep driving 80mph and spin out on the shoulder and make the 6 o’clock news.

We’re that boring.

And I love it.

Nevertheless, I still hold conversations with otherwise perfectly intelligent people from across America who refuse to come out for a visit.  They harbor a vision in their heads of California having “the BIG ONE” and then falling off in one long slab into the Pacific Ocean.

Perhaps they have never heard of plate tectonics, or maybe they’ve seen too many movies, but I for one find the idea intriguing.

I don’t see any reason why cracking off from the mainland means we will necessarily be underwater.

I’m seeing us as an island. We already have the palm trees. The tourist industry will skyrocket.

Everyone should snap up some inland real estate, preferably hilltop, and wait for it to become our new beaches. It’s already barren and sandy from previous wildfires, right? Just add ocean and your seedy little investment mobile home on two acres of scrub oak will be worth countless millions.

Unfortunately, according to Hollywood experts, if the BIG ONE also triggers a volcano or tsunami or possibly Godzilla emerging from the ocean depths, safe to say they will commandeer your new little tropical paradise to set up their cameras.

They need to get this in the 6 o’clock news.