Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. It lies on the eastern edge of San Diego County, with parts of it extending into Riverside and Imperial Counties. The park is well known for its wild flowers in the spring, hiking trails, camping, diverse animal population, and unique beauty. For now, the park is closed, like so many others across the country, due to CONVID-19.
It has only been in the past couple years that I discovered the beauty of the desert. I was born a mountain lover and used to turn my nose up at the seemingly barren, uninteresting landscape of the desert. A couple recent desert visits changed my view forever. The desert—Anza-Borrego, specifically—is anything but barren and uninteresting.
From a distance, the desert looks drab. From the inside, it is a colorful place. Flowering desert plants, patches of flowering ground cover, reddish sand, striated cliffs and boulders, and minerals of red, white, and black are just some of nature’s swatches this desert hides from those who don’t venture in. In the spring, Anza-Borrego explodes in color in the form of wildflowers, giving even the most desert-averse the gift of its underappreciated beauty.
This is a gorgeous example of spring in Anza-Borrego. This is not my photo. Attribution is given in the caption below.
If I had to choose between the mountains and the desert, I would still choose the mountains, for that is where my soul is bonded. Without the mountains, the Anza-Borrego Desert might be very different from the one I’ve learned to love. In this way, they are tied together, an attachment only nature can form.
Below are some photos I took during a couple winter excursions to Anza-Borrego this year. I had hoped to get photos of the wildflowers this spring, but social distancing happened. Hopefully next year.
It’s been a long time since my last post. Why? Read on.
Just over seven weeks ago, I was celebrating my first overnight backpacking trip. I spent a Saturday hiking a local state park with twenty-five pounds on my back. It was a short hike—about six miles—but it wasn’t about the miles; it was about the experience. What does it feel like to carry a fully loaded pack? How would I manage, setting up my own campsite? Is being solo something I can handle?
It was the first of many planned training hikes to prepare for my July 10th backpacking trip—Section K of the PCT (California), to be exact. This is an area near Lake Tahoe and goes through the Desolation Wilderness. I had my permits, my maps, and my gear. All I needed to do was continue my training.
I came home from my experimental trip with some new-found knowledge. First, my secondhand tent leaks in the rain. Second, carrying a twenty-five-pound pack isn’t easy, but it’s do-able. Lastly, and most importantly, I discovered a sense of confidence I wasn’t sure I had.
I could do this trip! I will do this trip.
But all plans are vulnerable, fragile. Mine were taken away from me in a matter of seconds when a truck coming the opposite direction swerved into my lane to avoid rearending the car in front of him. This happened on our way to school/work the Monday after my short solo backpacking trip. One day I was feeling accomplished and excited for the summer, the next, I was just thankful to be alive and that, other than a few bruises from his seatbelt and a yanked back, my son was uninjured.
Me? I ended up with a broken right ankle and a fractured left wrist. I took my first-ever ambulance ride to the hospital, where the doctors reset my ankle and told me I would be having surgery on it the next day. I ended up spending three nights there.
When I left the hospital, it was with a monster-sized leg cast and a walker I could barely use because of my broken wrist. The only mobility I was allowed for two weeks was to hop my way to the bathroom, using my clunky walker to keep me from falling on my face.
Two weeks after the accident, the orthopedic surgeon switched out my post-surgery monster cast for a normal-sized fiberglass cast. I chose a beautiful purple-colored cast, in case you’re wondering. I also switched to a wheelchair to get around. Turns out I’m pretty good on wheels.
Four weeks after the accident, the surgeon removed my staples and I got to choose a new cast color. This time, I picked red in honor of the upcoming 4th of July and Canada Day holidays. I was still wheelchair bound and would be for the next two weeks.
Now, seven weeks post accident, I am about a week into wearing a “walking boot.” My doctor wanted me to switch back to the walker, but since my wrist is still healing, that proved to be as awkward as it was the first time I tried. Instead, I decided to try using crutches with the reasoning that either way, my wrist was going to suffer. It actually feels better with the crutches than using the special “platform” attachment on my walker meant to keep my weight on my forearm instead of my wrist.
I’m getting around pretty well with the crutches and putting weight on my ankle. My doctor likes the way I’m healing and is impressed with the relatively little swelling my ankle has. His outlook is positive. My son’s bruises have disappeared, although he is visiting the chiropractor twice a week to ensure his back, which got a bit tweaked in the accident, goes back to its pre-accident level of untweakedness.
Truly, I have a lot to be thankful for. I tell myself everyday it could have been worse, that because of the nature of the accident, it could have been fatal… but it wasn’t. I could have lost my son… but I didn’t. My children could be motherless… but they aren’t. These reminders are a life preserver in a sea of disappointment. I cling to them when the negative thoughts crash into me and threaten to pull me under.
I’ll save the non-physical impact—both good and bad—the accident has had for another post. There are always lessons to learn and new ways to grow in every circumstance, and this has been no exception.
Meanwhile, here are some photos of my car, my cast changes, and my Frankensteinish post-surgery ankle. And, in case you’re wondering, the driver of the truck, who was at fault and had obviously been distracted at the time of the accident, is fine.
This next photo is the final one, and if you’re squeamish, I’d skip it. Just a warning.
On Sunday, May 5th, I really didn’t feel like hiking. I just wasn’t feeling very motivated. I’ve been working on a difficult book edit, the 5th anniversary of my dad’s death is looming in the immediate future, and I just felt blah.
I had originally planned to hike in the Laguna Mountain area, but thanks to my blahtitude, I was slow to get moving in the morning, and the later it got, the less I felt like driving three hours, round-trip, to do the hike.
It wasn’t until 11:00 a.m. that I finally kicked myself hard enough in the butt to decide on a hike closer to home… preferably an easy one so I could try out my backpacking backpack for the first time. I figured I would fill my pack up with all the gear I’ve accumulated so far to see how it felt to hike with the weight.
The area that seemed to meet the criteria best was the Santa Ysabel Upper Creek Preserve, just outside of Julian, California. The Kanaka Loop Trail is rated as “moderate” on AllTrails, but based on a previous hike in the preserve, I had it in my head that it would be flat. It turned out to be more hilly than I thought, and with my backpack on, it was pretty challenging.
I was doing great until about mile six. That is when I really felt the weight of my pack (I didn’t think to weigh it until it was too late). I can definitely see why backpackers talk about reducing weight wherever they can. My knees and feet felt the difference, but two days later—as I write this—they are fine, and that’s what matters to me.
The final two miles of the hike were tough. I took a lot of breaks and questioned my sanity, but I survived. Best of all, it got me out of the funk I was in. The exercise, fresh air, and beautiful scenery were just what I needed.
No new mileage to report in this post; however, I will be hiking this weekend, so I’ll update in a couple days. Aside from trying to reach my 500-mile goal by my birthday in about 11 months, I’ve got a new incentive to get out and hike.
In July, I will be section hiking the Pacific Crest Trail!
California’s Section K is where I will begin my quest to hike the PCT a section at a time. I chose Section K because its trailhead is about a nine-hour drive from my house, it doesn’t require that I trek through desert during the summer, and its 60-mile length seems doable for a someone new to backpacking.
This section of the PCT requires a permit, which I reserved last week. It also has quotas set for the trailheads because the trail passes through the Desolation Wilderness. It was a bit confusing trying to figure out how to plan around the permit and quotas, but I feel 99% confident that I did everything correctly.
Now, I need to prepare my body and my gear. I’ve been adding to my pile of things I need for backpacking, but I have a lot of work to do when it comes to being physically and mentally ready. Each of these topics deserve their own posts, so I won’t get into this now.
Instead, I’ll end this post with an image of Lake of the Woods, one of the many beautiful places I will see during my trip.
I haven’t posted anything on my blog for the past couple weeks. I didn’t bring my laptop when I went to Edmonton, and I am terrible trying to write anything using my phone. Then last week, I was simply exhausted.
But, I’m back now, and hopefully rested up after my trip.
I have a lot to write about, but this post is short and sweet. I need to update my mileage since my last post.
While in Canada, my sister and I hiked seven miles along the extensive river trails that run along the Saskatchewan River. It was a good stretch but mostly flat.
Today, I hiked six miles of the Pacific Crest trail near Warner Springs. The sun and heat made the hike a bit more challenging for me than usual. I also had to be home by a certain time, so I cut my hike short by about a mile.
Anyway, I get to add thirteen miles to my grand total, bringing me up to 51 miles. Yay!
Over the weekend, I decided to hike a trail that I’ve been on countless times over the past three years. This was my first time hiking it, though.
The trail is a rutted, partially graded truck trail that leads to Highpoint Fire Tower, which stands at the highest point on Palomar Mountain (elevation 6,140 feet). Most of the trail is located on property owned by the California Institute of Technology and travels east, past the Palomar Observatory. It’s accessible to fire agencies, the US Forest Service, and fire tower lookouts. I fall into the last category of people as a fire lookout volunteer.
The fire tower is currently closed up since fire season won’t start until May, but I figured I would hike to the tower since I’ve only ever gone up in a vehicle. I’ve always been told the trail is about nine miles, round trip, which is also what I calculated with my mapping app. It turned out to be about 6.5 miles.
Since the trail isn’t open to the public, I had it all to myself until I got to the top. Not long after I made it to the tower, two hikers who used the much longer, public trail, appeared. We chatted about gear while I ate my lunch. Nice people.
A closer look at Highpoint Fire Tower. In 1964, this tower replaced the original, which was built in 1935. It is about 70 feet high, and there are 92 steps to the cab (the box-like structure on top). I love this tower! Working in it is one of my favorite ways to spend my time.
The breeze at Highpoint was refreshing after my warm trek up, and the view was amazing, as always, so I stayed for about a half hour before heading back down the trail. Getting back to the fire station, where I parked my car, was much faster than going up. This had a lot to do with gravity, of course, but I also felt highly motivated after determining the animal tracks I had been seeing on my way up looked like they were left by a mountain lion.
It’s difficult to tell, though… maybe they were canine prints. Sometimes the people who work and live onsite at CalTech use the trail for hiking, so I’m hoping someone went for a walk with their friendly, smiling, tail-wagging Golden Retriever earlier that morning.
The “TrailBuddy” logo on my trekking pole is about 2.5 inches, making the print in the photo about 3.5 inches long.
Despite the missing miles and mysterious animal tracks, the hike was good. It was interesting to see the trail from a different perspective. It also gave me a chance to check on the state of the road after all the rain we had, giving me a duty-related reason to use the trail.
Here are some more photos from my hike.
This is what the residence looked like in the 1930s. So bare! We have a photo that was taken later… the trees are there, but they are still small.
This past weekend, I took a 6.5-mile hike. I thought the trail was more like nine miles, but I must have calculated incorrectly. Regardless, it was a nice hike with plenty of altitude and some challenging hills. I’ll write about my hike in my next post (for the letter H).
Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary’s first listed definition of the word FREEDOM is: the quality or state of being free… the quality or state of not being coerced or constrained by fate, necessity, or circumstances in one’s choices or actions
Freedom. Wars have been, and still are, waged to gain it. People have, and still do, sacrifice everything to keep it… to give their children and grandchildren the gift of it. Freedom means different things to different people. It can be as huge as a country and as tiny as a baby’s first step. For some, freedom lies on the other side a distant border, while others find it behind the wheel of a car. It can be as meaningful as worshiping without fear of violence or loving someone without suffering the sting of hate and prejudice. It can also be as petty as a teenager’s argument to stay out until two in the morning.
What does all of this have to do with hiking? Everything.
I hike because I am free to do so. I am blessed to reap the benefits of living where I do, and I thank God every day for this privilege. But I also hike to be free. Not everyone understands this, but those who hike probably do. There is a freedom on the trail… a moving forward, propelled by the power of my own two legs. Hiking offers an escape from the demands of life. Instead, there is peace and contentment in nature. To me, hiking and surrounding myself with nature is like coming home, going back to the person I was created to be.
I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.
Henry David Thoreau
One morning, not too long ago, I opened CalTopo on my phone. This is an app that allows its users to view and map trails. I found the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail, which is about 50 miles south of where I live and watched the entire trail slowly load as I scrolled out.
It was fascinating to see the red line that represents the PCT spread further and further north. When it finally stopped at the Canadian border, I took it all in and my heart leapt as one word flashed in my mind—a single word that sums up how I view the PCT.
The PCT represents freedom to me. For more than a year, I’ve dreamed of hiking the length of this trail, but until that moment, I didn’t know why. Then I thought about my ancestors, and how I come from a long line of people who traveled the world. My earliest ancestors I can trace were Vikings. Later, they were Pilgrims who came to the New World for religious freedom and/or financial gain. After that, they were homesteaders who braved the unknown of the territories.
This is the DNA that built me. I don’t feel the urge to conquer and pillage. I also don’t need to find a new home halfway across the world… or across the country. But maybe I’m drawn, in part, to the freedom of the trail because of all those who came before me.
“Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation of his ancestors.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Someday, I will hike the PCT, though it will likely be in sections. Maybe I’ll even take on the Appalachian Trail when I retire. In the meantime and in between, there are a lot of trails I am free to travel, and there is a lot of freedom to find on each trail I traverse.
I’ll take small bites of freedom wherever I can find it.
One week from today, I will be boarding a plane in San Diego and stepping off in Edmonton, Alberta, to spend my spring break visiting my mom and sister. I’ll be in Alberta a little over a week, and I can’t wait!
One thing I’m going to have to figure out is how to get my hiking in while I’m there. I’m not going to be close enough to the AMAZING Canadian Rockies to hit the trails there. I’m guessing they’ll still be covered in snow, anyway.
Edmonton has a lot of trails along the North Saskatchewan River, so there are options within the city. If we get out of the city, however, there will be more options. We have family we plan to visit about an hour south of Edmonton, so I might be able to convince my sister to swing by Miquelon Lake Provincial Park on the way. There is a six-mile loop trail there that looks promising.
Elk Island National Park isn’t too far out of Edmonton for that to be an option, either. There is a wide range of trail distances and difficulty levels here, and it’s not uncommon to see bison, elk, and beavers. Sounds fun to me!
I’ll be hashtagging the places mentioned above, so if you come across my blog before I leave and are familiar with the area, please let me know of any recommendations.
When I began training for the San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon, years ago, I had nothing a runner needs to train for a long-distance race. So even before the ink was dry on my entry form, my friend and I went to the nearest Road Runner Sports. I remember being overwhelmed by the massive store and all the options in front of me.
This venture into serious hiking and backpacking feels the same way. But the financial stakes are higher. I thought running was expensive—and it was. That was due, in part, to making decisions without doing my research first. I purchased things I didn’t need, and I want to be careful this time.
There are a lot of items a backpacker needs to purchase before heading out on the trail for the first overnight trip. At the bare minimum, I will need to purchase some kind of shelter, a backpack, sleeping bag, and food. Of course, I’ll need water, but water is free, which is why it’s not included in my list of items to purchase.
But if I want to have water, I’ll need a way to transport it. I already have a decent CamelBak bladder, but I really don’t like drinking out of those tubes. Blech. Maybe I’ll see what my options are. In case I need to scavenge water along the trail, I’ll some kind of filtration system, so there’s another water-related purchase I’ll need to decide on.
I know there are a lot of other things I’ll need. Off the top of my head, those items include a first aid kit, boots that don’t hurt my feet after eight miles of hiking, proper clothing, a sleeping pad, a way to heat food (and make coffee), and good socks.
I’m focusing on the big things first.
For my birthday, I ordered a used Osprey Viva 50 from Amazon. I decided to return it, though, when I saw a brand-new Viva 65 on the Osprey website for the same price as the smaller, used one. Buying a pack without trying it on first might not be the best way to go about it, but I’m willing to take the chance… especially knowing I can return it. It comes today, so I’m anxious to get home and try it on. I love the green color.
I’ve heard great things about Altra trail running shoes, and at under $60, these will likely be my second “big” purchase. The 3.5 is last year’s style, which is why they’re about half of what they were selling for at REI before the 4.0 style came out.
My feet are happiest in light, bendy shoes, and based on reviews, these seem like a good option. I’ll be getting them from Amazon, so I won’t know until I buy them and try them on.
Soon, I will have to decide on a tent, but first I want to sell a road bike I haven’t used in a few years. I also have an exercise bike I bought off a friend. Like a lot of the world’s exercise bike population, it spends its time gathering dust. I’m hoping that between the two, I’ll make enough to purchase an inexpensive one-person tent. I’m looking at these:
This doesn’t come with a footprint, and it’s not as pretty, but it’s less expensive and about a pound lighter than the Kelty. Most importantly, it has a lot of reviews, and the majority of them speak highly of the tent. This is probably the one I’ll decide to get.
At this point, I’m not concerned about getting the best and the latest backpacking equipment. Keeping this new obsession budget-friendly is a priority. My objective is to get out there, enjoy nature, be healthy, and have fun. If backpacking becomes a regular part of my life, I will be able to upgrade and decide on equipment as I learn what works for me.