It’s beginning to feel a lot like fall around here. Our Indian summer is fading, and there’s a crisp breeze blowing in from the ocean. I enjoy this time of year, this narrow slice of time (usually in mid to late October) when the weather noticeably changes to cooler temps. When it’s time to take stock of the sweaters in my closet and maybe add one to the collection. When the chance of a real rainstorm becomes a part of the forecast. When apple cider shows up prominently in the front-of-store-displays. When glasses of red wine replace bottles of cold beer. When there’s pumpkin pie to be made!
I LOVE pumpkin pie!
My homemade pumpkin pie (with roasted tamari-coated seeds as an appetizer!):
I enjoy this time before the holiday craziness of November and December hit. I’m not gonna lie, those two months of the year are my least favorite. Maybe because the days are at their shortest, maybe because I’m annoyed by the bombardment of holiday consumerism while I try to live a simple life, maybe because I’m an introvert that is socially awkward at holiday gatherings… no matter the reason, I eagerly await January when the party is over and life seems to calm down again. Then the spring months are truly my favorite time of year.
But I’m getting way way ahead of myself here because what I really wanted to write about was my reflection on what I’ve done this past summer.
Without even thinking about too much, I managed to check off quite a few fun destinations on my California wanderlist over the past several months. Having these local trips to plan and look forward to throughout the summer was such a boost to my overall morale.
I have a few tricks up my sleeve to keep myself sane and to decrease my chances of falling into a negative funk once I’ve been stuck in any one routine for too long… trip planning and travel is one of them. To know I’ve got somewhere new to explore and new experiences awaiting, that’s a huge motivator for me to keep on keeping on!
My first wanderlist destination to check off was Mt. Diablo in late May. I’ve been in the Bay for 8 years, but that was my first visit to the mountain named the “devil” that towers over the East Bay at 3,850 feet.
I went on a day hike with a good friend who suggested we do a nice long satisfying loop around the summit, but not actually kill ourselves by climbing to the top. That’s definitely my kind of hiking style. Pushing myself for the long haul on a gradual up and down route with some mellow sections rather than a steep huff ‘n puff straight up and straight back down route.
Our timing was perfect… the weather was absolutely gorgeous, before the inferno of an inland summer, and right at the tail-end of wildflower season.
Next up in mid-June was a weekend backpacking trip in Point Reyes that I found through the Bay Area Women’s Backpacking Meetup group. Point Reyes is one of my favorite places on earth. I’ve been on countless day hikes and even had my first ever solo backpacking trip through this magical National Seashore.
But this time, I got to hike in on my favorite section of the Coast trail (Palomarin trailhead to Alamere Falls) and instead of having to hoof it back to the trailhead in one long day, I got to camp at Wildcat camp (about 8 miles from the trailhead) with an awesome group of women.
It had been on my wanderlist for quite some time to camp at Wildcat (imagine a grassy campsite on a cliff just mere steps from the beach), but every time I tried to get a permit on my own, it was booked up. I was grateful to have the camaraderie of these women while hiking on the trail and at camp that night. We all told some embarrassing stories about ourselves as a get-to-know-you kind of thing, and I don’t remember laughing that hard in quite some time. I laughed so hard that I cried…
Overlooking the Pt Reyes coastline:
There was one downside to the Pt Reyes trip. Completely preventable too and I don’t know where my head was, but in the interest of having just a bit less weight in my pack, I opted not to take my tent’s rainfly with me. Big mistake. Think heavy summer fog enveloping the Northern California coastline. It was practically raining on me all night, and I ended up with puddles in my tent. No bueno. Luckily, it wasn’t too cold so I didn’t freeze at night, and my expensive quick-dry hiking clothes were indeed worth the investment so I wasn’t hiking in wet clothes the next day. Lesson learned!
Guess which tent is mine as the fog rolls in…
It was on this Pt Reyes trip that I got invited to join two other backpacking trips taking place later in the summer. And the rest of my summer travel was set into motion…
No sooner had I dried out my gear and de-mildew’ed my 10 year old tent (I highly recommend using MiraZyme, worked like a charm!), and it was time to hit the road again, this time, eastward towards the Sierras!
The Sierra Nevada mountains are indeed something special. In fact, I named my car after them. It’s true. My car’s name is Sierra because I was living in the southern Sierras when I bought her (over 10 years ago!), and she’s blue. Reason enough for me.
Anyway, so this was a 3 day, 2 night out and back on the famed Pacific Crest Trail to Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness. My previous experience in Desolation Wilderness a year ago wasn’t ideal… in fact, it was rough. I was with a much more hard-core group of backpackers than I was, and we had taken a very difficult steep route in, and I was suffering from some altitude sickness. While it was beautiful, I really struggled on that trip and it left me with a desire to return to Desolation (specifically Lake Aloha) under different circumstances.
Picture from the 2012 trip: a stunning view from top of the ridge, but a miserably hard climb to get there!
And return I did, quite triumphantly this summer! With a group of women that were much more on my level! It made all the difference in the world, and boy was it a much-needed walk in the woods at the time. I wrote more about this trip in a previous post which you can read here.
About a month later in late August, I was back on the road heading towards the grand finale of my summer, King’s Canyon National Park! I had heard that King’s Canyon was similar to Yosemite (and much less crowded) and it was definitely a destination that had been on my wanderlist for a while. So when the same organizer of the previous two trips with the women’s backpacking group sent out the invite for a 3 day backpacking trip in King’s Canyon, I jumped on it!
So happy I did!
There is something pretty damn liberating about walking into the wilderness and having all you need to survive on your back. It’s just you and nature. There’s no convenience store around the corner to satisfy a late night craving, there’s no cab service to call in case you get tired of walking, in fact, there’s no cell phone service at all… it’s really just you and nature.
It’s raw, primitive, and and sometimes uncomfortable (much like how international travel can be at times; my memories of the Bolivian jungle come to mind here), but it’s also beautiful and real and thought-provoking. Basic necessity supercedes frivolity.
Being surrounded by the towering trees, giant boulders, rushing rivers, and granite walls of King’s Canyon, I felt small and insignificant to the mighty power of nature. My thoughts were swinging from simply focusing on my breathing to making lightening quick decisions about where to place my feet next to wondering about my place and purpose in this life to the most primal fear of coming around a corner to find a bear in my path. Luckily, my bear sightings were from a comfortable distance :)
No bear surprises as I walked solo through this pretty meadow!
This trip was another perfect balance between having my own space on the trail without feeling rushed in any way and a wonderful camaraderie with some pretty cool women in camp during the two nights we were camped at Paradise Valley. Backpacking tales were told, freeze-dried dinner comparisons were discussed (the veggie chili from Mary Jane’s Organics is super tasty!), and one assertive bear provided the evening entertainment on the second night.
This bear was obviously not afraid and apparently recommends the freeze-dried mac ‘n cheese for dinner. After the bear finally wandered off away from camp and our food was safely stashed in our bear canisters, everyone moved their tents closer into a tight circle; more for emotional security than anything. I slept quite soundly with no crazy bear nightmares.
The next day, I hiked out by myself (I ended up in the middle between a faster group and a slower group), and it was super nice to go my own pace knowing I didn’t have anyone waiting on me or vice versa. I chose to drive myself for that very reason of being able to go my own pace back to the trailhead. It was an excellent decision on my part. I’m getting to know thy self well :)
Heading back down towards the trailhead:
Part two of the King’s Canyon trip was my scenic detour back to the Bay by driving on the backroads of the Central Valley to Mercey Hot Springs for the night. I thoroughly enjoyed the backroads drive through the Panoche Hills and then staring up at the stars from my own private hot tub, well, that was just icing on the cake of a fabulous weekend.
Heading into the Panoche Hills with the road all to myself:
So that’s been my summer. I’m gonna enjoy this slice of fall while I can and then I’ve got a few bigger trips coming up this winter which I’m incredibly excited about! I’ll be heading to the East Coast very soon for a week-long family visit, and then drumroll, please… I’m off to southern Mexico for a few weeks in January!