Desolation Field Trip

You have to believe me, I’m really not an active person.  However, I just went on another field trip. This time we went on a hike, up in Desolation Wilderness, at Echo Lakes.  You know, I always think that “hike” sounds a bit over the top.  Usually a “hike” is just a walk on unpaved surfaces, which is pretty much what happened.  That is, until we got to The Bad Part.  Then it really was a hike.  Not a “hike.”

Echo Lakes is a popular place to backpack.  The trailhead consists of a small store, some rawther dicey bathrooms, a boat launch, and some docks.  You have to get a trail pass (so they know who is on the mountain, I guess), but it’s free.  The parking is minimal at the trailhead, but there is plenty on the road. It was very busy when we got there, really not desolate at all! (You know I’m going to work the desolation angle in every chance I get, right?)

Really, it is beautiful up there.  The trail is easily traversed, although quite rocky.  One must keep one’s wits about oneself or else one will face plant on said trail. So I watched carefully as I walked.  The scenery is gorgeous.  This is the vista you see right as you begin the hike, not even breathing heavily yet.

When I hike, it turns out I have a tendency to bustle along.  I feel like I am trying to accomplish something, and when you accomplish things, you do them quickly and efficiently.  This is not, apparently, the correct way to approach hiking, and may well have contributed to experiences in The Bad Part.  Slow and steady is a far more appropriate tack, which I will certainly remember next time. I mean, the trail starts at about 8,000 feet, so I was already out of my depth with regard to the altitude, since  I struggle once I’m above about 5,000 feet.  (I know that sounds like I am constantly tromping through forests at high elevation, but really, nothing could be further from the truth.  I think this was the first time I’d actually hiked since 5th grade camp.)

Everything was going really well.  We were on a trail, moving through the forest, feeling the breeze off Echo Lake cool us.  I did find that I was getting a bit winded, but it’s not surprising, since we were at about 8,000 feet.  We’d stop, have some water and a snack, and keep pushing on.  It wasn’t super easy (remember, I’m not exactly Grizzly Adams), but it was very enjoyable.  Just enough of a challenge.

We saw many lovely cabins around the lake, and look–here’s the one I will buy as a vacation home when I am wondering what to spend that extra million on. It was perfect–unobstructed lake view, big deck, tons of firewood piled outside (I could have a fire in the fireplace probably almost year ’round!), and boat-only access, which I think would certainly keep the riffraff out.  Except, of course, for riffraff like me who stand outside and take pictures.

Okay, about The Bad Part.  Now, I don’t want you to think something horrible happened.  It didn’t!  It’s just that I am something of a tenderfoot, and I pushed too hard.  So we got to a place where two trails diverge, and we took the trail that led to Echo Peak, which is at about 8,900 feet. I was tired and I was huffing and puffing, since it was not only over 8,000 feet at that point, but it was also a very warm day.  The trail had been gradually becoming more and more rocky as we’d progressed, but at this point, all bets were off.  I swear, it looked like the Khumbu Icefall.  You know, on EverestOkay, that may be a teensy bit of an exaggeration.  But it was very steep, with big, loose, shardy cobbles that shifted and slid with every step.  I was struggling so much I forgot to take a picture! So we went about two hundred feet, and I had to stop.  Another hundred feet, stop.  And so it went, for about 300 yards, but I never really fully rested–I wanted to get The Bad Part over with!  Needless to say, I was not having fun.  We finally got to the end of the Khumbu Icefall, and I was kind of in a bad way.  I couldn’t catch my breath, which was scary.  And then I got a little weepy (dare I say desolate?),  which made it even harder to breathe and…and….  Yes, I am a big baby.  I know.  But we asked someone coming down from the peak how much longer, and she said about 45 minutes, and that this trail was a butt kicker.  So that made me feel almost cheerful, that it wasn’t me being completely a wimp. Maybe just partially a wimp.

We kept going for about another 15 minutes, and then we got scared about what would happen if I had a heart attack.  I mean, how embarrassing would it be to have a helicopter airlift me out!  No thank you. So, discretion being the better part of valor, we turned around and began our descent back through The Bad Part, down to lake level.

At the far end of the two Echo Lakes, there is a place to catch a water taxi that takes you back to the trailhead. It didn’t take us too long to get back to the water taxi, and by then I was much calmer and enjoying my hike again. Here is the view of the lake from the taxi stand.  It was shady and cool, and there was a bench.  Phew!  Taking the water taxi was fun.  Speeding along the upper lake was just the right way to cool down, and we got a good view of all the cabins.  The upper and lower lakes are connected by a narrow strait, so the boat slows way down to maneuver through, and then we were back up to speed. The trip took about 10 minutes, and we disembarked at the trailhead.

So tired!  I dragged my sorry behind to the little store, and lo and behold they sold individual beers!  So we sat on the seawall (lakewall?), enjoyed this view, and we each drank a Heineken.  It was delightful, and a perfect way to end the day.

I thought I was getting in a little bit better shape, due to my exercising, but we completely overestimated my fitness.  Or underestimated my lack of fitness.  So next time, I want to go in the fall, when it’s cooler, first of all.  Secondly, I will have been exercising a bit longer so I may be more able to climb to Echo Peak. But I’d like to take the water taxi to the far end of the lake, so that the peak is climbed while my legs and lungs are still fresh. Alternatively, we forget about Echo Peak and just hike around the entire upper and lower lakes. Although, if we did that, we’d miss out on the water taxi ride, which was awfully pleasant. Not sure how to play it next time, but there will definitely be a next time. I’m looking forward to it.


Dog Days of Summer

Stinkin’ hot (technical term)

The dog days of summer last from July 3 through August 11, which coincides with the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star (I didn’t just happen to know that–I read it on The Old Farmer’s Almanac).  The dog days also tend to be very, very hot.  As I write this, it is about 104 degrees out on my porch here in Vacaville.  The air conditioning kicked on at 7:00 this morning, which is never a good sign.  When it’s this hot in Vacaville, I always think it’s kind of the equivalent of getting snowed in, since you pretty much have to stay indoors.  For me, personally, having to stay inside is not a terrible hardship. Staying in the air conditioning, reading, sounds like a pretty good day to me.  The rest of my family, however, begs to differ.  So we went on a field trip.

First order of business was finding somewhere cool to go.  Thus, off to the beach.  Almost two hours from Vacaville, you will find Bodega Bay.  And if you stay on Highway 1 just past Bodega Bay, you come to Sonoma Coast State Park.  The park  consists of a series of beaches.   The

This would be the wine country…

drive is a nice one, not too windy (car sickness always an issue), through California wine country and California milk country. Rolling hills and eucalyptus groves, abandoned barns, tiny towns, and swanky wineries all nestle together in this part of California.

…and this would be the milk country

Before we went, we checked the Weather Channel, and they claimed it would be 80 degrees. We were suspicious, but since it was so hot here, okay, it sounded plausible that it could be that warm over there.  Usually when we go to the beach I pack just short of what I’d need for an arctic expedition, but this time I didn’t.  Well, long story short, I should have.  It was freezing!  And me only in a light little cardi!  But really, we didn’t mind.  It felt good to be cold!  We had long pants on, and when we were sitting we draped ourselves with the towels I’d brought to dry off after wading in the water.

Pebbly beach (different from Pebble Beach)

The beach we go to, and that my family has been going to for more than 40 years, is Wright’s Beach.  It’s got some sand, but most of the beach is pebbly, which I like. It’s got picnic tables out on the beach, as well as up by the parking lot (where it only costs $8 to park all day), and it even has bathrooms that, while not glamorous, are certainly better than, uh,  finding a big rock. You can camp there, too, but we’ve never done that.  Part of the charm of the Sonoma Coast is that it is easy to get to for a day trip, which certainly keeps the cost down.  And I think we all know how much I need to sleep in my own bed.  And not in a sleeping bag.  Ever.

We brought a picnic, which consisted of Ginger-Soy Marinated Spicy Steak Sandwiches, Confetti Orzo Salad, potato chips (you just have to have potato chips on a picnic, in my book), grapes (same), and molasses cookies for dessert.  It was all quite tasty.  After lunch there were strolls on the beach and a rousing game of paddle tennis. And then, just when the fog

Shortly after I took this photo, this rock completely disappeared in the fog!

usually starts to lift, around 3:00, it started to roll in!  About half an hour later, though, it rolled back out, and we could even feel a little warmth from the sun peeking though here and there. It’s a beautiful part of the

Look! Wildlife! A pelican!

state, and certainly

More wildlife! Seals!

worth the outing.  Driving back along the coast, the fog had completely lifted, and you could see the beautiful scenery.  And once we got back home, the heat didn’t feel quite so horrible.  I mean, you know what they say, “For sleep, riches, and health to be truly enjoyed, they must be interrupted.”  I guess that goes for weather, too.  Even the dog days.


Maybe someday this will be heaven.

Now brace yourselves: I’ve been doing a little exercise.  I go out early in the morning, when it’s a bit cool still.  There is a faint breeze.  I feel the warm sunshine on my face, and I listen to the beautiful songs of the birds.  And it is, honestly, sheer h…HELL.  No, it’s not heaven!  It hurts! I gasp for air like some kind of dehydrated fish, and I feel like I am staggering along, raising up clouds of dust, barely able to put one foot in front of the other.  But today, instead of my exercise mantra being “thissucksthissucksthissucksthissucks” I started thinking about other things. I started pondering all the things that make me happy.

No one else can make you happy.  It’s a job for you and you alone.  When I thought about pleasant things this morning, the exercise period went by much faster, and I didn’t notice the pain so much.  And so it is with life–make choices to notice the pleasant things, rather than all the things that suck, and your time here on earth will be so much more enjoyable.

Look, I have almost no disposable income. Any entertainment I have is on a rather frayed shoestring.  Are my relationships blissful and trouble-free?  Not exactly.  But I can make the choice to find enjoyment in certain things.

Heaven is a baseball field in a converted cornfield in Iowa? I don’t think so. This, my friends, is heaven.
A little gin, a little tonic…ahhh.

Or maybe this is heaven, just back from the library.

My friends, my books,

Ohhh, the smell, the taste of fresh pizelle cookies…heaven, of course.

my cooking, my adult beverages, my cozy

No, wait. THIS is heaven. For sure.

Heavenly sunset? A cliche, but true nonetheless.

home–they all make me happy.

Heavenly–a stack of magazines, all waiting for me to read (I may have a bit of an addiction, but it’s just that it’s so cheap to subscribe through Amazon…).

And this is heaven if you are a dog who isn’t allowed up on the couch.

So here’s a little gallery of some things that make it a heaven on earth for me. Now you find some things that make YOU happy.  You’ll feel so much better.

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