Monday, July 16, 2012

Southern California Must-See Number Three (Channel Islands National Park)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Seven, Saturday June 9

Today’s travel involves not a motorcycle so much as a boat.  Because that’s the only way to get to Channel Islands National Park.  The gray misty morning sea departure brings back childhood memories of ocean fishing, and, although I’m not sure why I didn’t see it coming, standing at the bow of the boat, feeling the wind and the spray, smelling the clean brisk salty air, and hearing all the sounds of the sea is turning out to be an unexpectedly powerful experience.  How happy I am!  And now – look! - here’s something new to add to my experience, even before we land.  A pod of dolphins, perhaps 50 or more,  has decided to accompany us on our way, leaping about, playing in the wake, and doing all those things I’ve only read about. I look down and there is one, practically at my feet.  It’s barely a foot under water, and at most, a foot away from the starboard side at the bow. I watch him rolling and flying along at high speed, keeping in perfect formation with the boat, not for a fleeting second, but for minutes upon minutes.  I can imagine the turbulence he must feel as I see him roll this way and that, pointed snout piercing through the transparent forces of streaming water, and it recalls my feeling of riding in a strong headwind.  But somehow this seems a joyous and playful battle, and I can do nothing other than hold my breath and watch in wonder at the strength, grace and spirit of the spectacular animals surrounding me.

So, no.  No dolphin photographs for you.  But here’s one of the ocean spray.

Island Packers boat trip to Santa Cruz Island (1)

Channel Islands National Park is comprised of five of the eight California Channel Islands, and I’m headed to Santa Cruz Island for a few reasons.  Boat trips to each island do not happen every day, and this one fits my schedule.  And as intriguing as kayaking around Anacapa Island sounds (already added it to the never ending “to do” list), I’m not equipped or skilled in this department.  I really want to hike, and all research tells me the hike to do is on Santa Cruz Island.  This particular island is interesting since part of it is owned by the National Park Service and the other, larger part by The Nature Conservancy.   The islands were decimated by sheep – by that I mean grazed completely bald right down to the dirt - and The Nature Conservancy portion of the island is considered the most beautiful, since it has had 10 more years to recover from the ovine assault than any other part of the park.

The fog graciously lifts as we approach the island.

Island Packers boat trip to Santa Cruz Island

Access to The Nature Conservancy portion of the island is highly restricted, and those of us hiking to Pelican Bay must be accompanied by a guide.  I much prefer to hike on my own, but Joel is friendly and informative and doesn’t keep our leash too short.  Right off the bat, he points out that the bird that has landed in a small tree just out of our reach is an Island Scrub Jay, found nowhere in the world but on this very island. In fact, some in our guided group have made the trip solely to see this bird. He points out “roadside produce,” as I call it:  wild fennel (not native to the island) and Lemonade Berries (yes, the sticky coating around them tastes just like it) and has a stash of hidden artifacts of the Chumash people who inhabited the islands long ago.  And the hike is definitely, definitely worth it.

We hike down and up several small canyons, and under twisty gnarled trees that only partially conceal the marine paradise below…

Channel Island NP Santa Cruz Island Pelican Bay Hike (2)

…and over grassy hills where where we catch our first glimpse of our destination…

Channel Island NP Santa Cruz Island Pelican Bay Hike (29) 

…along with a sparkling view of where we began.
Channel Island NP Santa Cruz Island Pelican Bay Hike (3)

We have some time to explore Pelican Bay on our own.  The water really is this tropical aquamarine color!

Channel Island NP Santa Cruz Island Pelican Bay Hike (1)

And the childhood memories resurface as I poke about the tide pools.

Channel Island NP Santa Cruz Island Pelican Bay Hike (6)

As I return to the mainland, and later, my campground, I think that the bar has been set very, very high indeed.  And despite there being very few miles added to the Ducati's odometer, nor anything decent at all to eat, I wonder, can the rest of my trip possibly live up to this day?

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Please excuse the interruption while I enjoy "Sort-of-Sabbatical Phase Two." Our story will resume shortly. I doubt the following photo will upload from my phone. I can try, though, can't I? IMG_0524.JPG

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Campground Full (Base Camp at Lake Casitas Recreation Area)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Six, Friday, June 8

I’m quickly learning that camping in California presents special challenges.  As I’m making my plan for the next few days, “No Vacancy” seems to be the norm rather than the exception.  No matter what day of the week, no matter what campground.  When a space IS available, it comes at a price.  I’ll soon find that the standard fee seems to be $35 night, with a few - very few - exceptions. Tack on an extra $8 if you reserve in advance and that makes $43.  In Arizona, $15/night seems pricey!  But because of my ever present worry of finding a space before the sun hits the horizon, I’m entering my credit card number to book sites for the next few nights.  My immediate need is for a base camp near Ventura Harbor.  The only spot to be had anywhere, at any price, is the very last one at Lake Casitas Recreation Area.  Over 400 sites at this campground alone (already, I know it isn’t quite my ideal) and I seem to have gotten the last one.  The last one for miles, actually.  But when I look at the map, I do, indeed, see a benefit. Lake Casitas sits at the base of the fun looking part CA-33.  And I really should ride CA-33.

Campsite secure, thanks and farewell bid to my Pasadena host, rush hour over (as much as it ever is, anyway), and I’m launching for my final battle with the hyper-tangled web of asphalt that is SoCal.  I enjoyed my visit, but it feels good - so good! - to escape.  Soon, the olfactory landscape shifts. I'm riding through Oxnard and the sweet floral scent of berries is positively jolting. Next, I’m spying wine grapes growing on hillsides here and there.  Excellent.

My journey to Lake Casitas is a short one, leaving me the rest of the day to explore.   CA-33 is not a bad way to kill a few hours, as you can see.

CA 33

Not just a fun ride, but a fragrant one, too! These flowering shrubs line the road more often than not, and fill my helmet with their scent.  It's "Spanish Broom," or so I'm told.

CA 33 (2)

I seem to be the only one on the road, until I come a cross a little fleet of cars pulled off the road.  Why?  Because there’s a swimming hole down below!

CA 33 Swiming Hole

I had envisioned pictures of the Ducati with glorious backdrops across the west.  Here’s one photo, anyway.   It’s hard to focus on all the hobbies at once, and for this trip I heeded the call of the road, not the shutter button.

CA 33 (1)

Playtime over and stomach rumbling, I wander into Ojai.  It’s a charming little village, filled with art galleries, cafes, and wine tasting rooms, but… it’s a madhouse.  Turns out there’s a music festival this weekend (which I’d love to attend, but can’t since I’d have to ride back to camp after dark to do so), and the difficulty I have in parking and pulling back out onto the street is bringing back memories of the freeway traffic I thought I had left behind.  Once parked, though, I enjoy a stroll, an enormous slice of apple cake, and take special pleasure in meeting American Impressionist Dan Schultz at his gallery.  I absolutely adore his dreamy, gentle works.

The Grebe Loop of the Lake Casitas campground is a cross between a Motel 6 and a block party.  The individual sites are tightly spaced, and every square inch is filled with pickup trucks, portable shade canopies, and loud music. Not exact a Dan Schultz oil on canvas, if you know what I mean.  Ironically, just a few steps away… the Elysian Fields! I find uninhabited picnic areas with grassy hills, wise old trees, and peaceful lake views.  Where would you eat your cheese sandwich?

Lake Casitas Recreation Area

Oh, and let’s not forget this guy:

Gopher Snake
The photo angle doesn't make it obvious that this guy was a good three feet long.  Gopher snake, I think.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

As It Should Be (Southern California Must-See Number Two: Angeles Crest Highway

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Five, Thursday June 7

Left... right... left.... right... leftrightleftright... (Survey Run)
Salami Grinder.  Turn Around.
Left... right... left.... right... (Faster)
Wave to sport bikers taking a break on the porch of Newcomb's Ranch
Left... right... left.... right... (Faster still)
Turn Around.
Left... right... left.... right... (Again, faster - I don't have to keep saying that part, do I?)
Ride right on by Newcomb's Ranch without noticing.  Oops!
Left... right... left.... right...
Turn Around.
Left... right... left.... right...
Lemonade at Newcomb's Ranch.
Left... right... left.... right...
Head back to port.

No long haul freeway riding through the desert.
No high winds that blow me across not one but two lanes of I-10, despite my conservative speed.
No SoCal gridlock.
No camera.
Just 175 miles of doing what the Ducati was born to do.
Good Stuff.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Southern California Must-See Number One (Santa Monica Farmers Market)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Four, Wednesday June 6

Touring in a urban area is a first for me.  I won’t plan anything too challenging for today, because I need to work on developing completely new skills, such as juggling various vehicles in small spaces to free my motorcycle from the carport, and managing a gate remote with gloves on, getting it stuffed back into my tank bag, and riding out before the gate closes again.  Plus there’s that pesky phenomenon of southern California traffic.  I lingered longer than I would have liked over my coffee waiting and waiting some more for all the red lines indicating stopped traffic on Google Maps to abate.  I’m not quite ready to lane split yet.  But I eventually do reach Santa Monica, and I feel like a pro when I score free parking - on market day, no less!

Santa Monica Farmer's Market (1)

Santa Monica Farmers' Market

 Santa Monica Farmer's Market (3)

I’m walking and tasting, walking and tasting.  The stone fruits – so tempting, but they’re just not at their prime.  The strawberries, they’re all over the map, although the Chandler variety (one of my favorites) is holding its own.  But it’s the “Eran G” cherries that stop me in my tracks, with their perfect balance of sweet, tart, and full cherry flavor.  I really don’t think I’ve ever had a cherry this good before, and there’s no question what I’m having for my ocean side snack.  

Santa Monica Farmers' Market (2)

But I want more than just cherries, so I question a baker sternly as to the ingredients in his croissants.  Butter?  Gluten?  There had better be, or I’m not interested.  He assures me, but it’s really not even close, and shouldn’t even be referred to as a croissant at all.  You win some, you lose some, I guess.

After my snack, it’s time for a walk on the pier.  It’s got everything – a roller coaster, boa constrictors, musicians, a Ferris wheel, and if I want, I can even take a trapeze lesson!

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier Trapeze School

I am actually quite tempted, but at look at my watch tells me I don’t have time if I want to get back to Pasadena before the real traffic storm hits.  Even so, no matter what time of day, it seems inevitable that traffic will be at a standstill at some point, and – oh, how quickly caution gives way to impatience! – I dive between the lanes just a moment here, a moment there because, well, I can!

Though I have successfully demonstrated my new skills, even a bit more smoothly this time (back through the traffic, back through the gate, vehicles re-juggled like a logic puzzle), my day is not over.
First a hike…

Echo Mountain Hike Pasadena
Yep, you yell into this thing and get a spectacular echo.

… then a well deserved dinner!  Polish food is delicious, but not particularly pretty on the plate.  But Polish Polka Restaurant is simply charming, and the proprietors hail from the same town as my Pasadena host.

Polka Polish Restaurant
Not shown: sorrel soup, a little salad, potato dumplings, beef gulasz, kielbasa, pierogi, veggies (actually we couldn't figure THOSE out - corn is definitely not Polish, but no matter) and nice cold beer (Zywiec) to wash it down.  All just fabulously delicious, but the sorrel soup took the prize.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Turns, Trout, and Transects

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Three, Tuesday June 5

My  bag of granola hits the picnic table with a solid and satisfying “thud.”  A month’s worth of granola weighs quite a bit, doesn’t it?  I jettisoned a number of other food items when packing so I could ensure I’d be eating my own granola for breakfast.  This  batch doesn’t have anything particularly special in it, and I can’t quite put my finger on why homemade* is so much better, but like many things, it doesn’t matter.  It just is.  And I won’t survive this trip if I have to eat store bought granola, or, even worse, what-have-you-bars for breakfast.  This, and those little cups of unsweetened applesauce are two of my most essential camping staples.**

Before I leave Joshua Tree National Park, I take a ride over to Keys View to have a birds eye look-see of the San Andreas Fault in the distance.  Funny, I never would have identified it as such on my own, but there it is, seen from here as a line of low mountains -  mounds, really - on the Coachella Valley floor.

Joshua Tree National Monument Keys View
Difficult to see in this photo:  look at the right side of the mountains furthest back on the horizon. Follow the valley floor from their base towards you and you'll see a tiny row of mounds.  Yup, that's it.  Not exactly, uh, earth-shattering.  Until it is.

It feels good to have the most desolate areas of desert behind me as I make my way to the home of a friend in Pasadena.  But Mother Nature sends a little message to keep me humble.  While I’m no stranger to being blown off course by strong winds, this breeze is unlike any I’ve ever dealt with before.  No wonder there are so many windmills here.  Wham!  I am blown clear across two entire lanes of I-10, and after taking the Lord’s name in vain in my helmet, I give thanks that no one else was occupying the space I so unexpectedly entered.

Every good motorcyclist knows that detours are always in order, so it seems perfectly reasonable to ride south to go west.   The persistent wind hampers my performance on the Banning-Idyllwild Panoramic Highway, but even so, it’s beautiful, and it feels fantastic to dispense with the never-ending straight line of freeway riding.

I’ll be saying this all month, it turns out, but this is a special trip, so I decide not to overly economize on my first touring restaurant stop.

Trout and Eggs at Gastrognome Idyllwild, CA
I am quite pleased with my trout and egg brunch at Restaurant Gastrognome.

Either the wind has abated, or the mountain is protecting me, because after lunch, I have no trouble enjoying the lefts and rights as I drop down the other side of the mountain.  When I reach CA 74, the road’s camber tilts this way and that, and I find the non-sensical angles tricky to read.  I’m riding on a giant asphalt fun house mirror, and it keeps me laughing.

The fun ends all too soon, and it’s time to get serious again.  I take a deep breath before doing battle with a good 80 miles of the southern California freeway system.  I don’t want to take my eyes off the road to consult my map, so I’m barking the directions in my helmet like an air force pilot in combat.  215 North! 60 West! 71 North! 57 North! 210 West!  I rehearse the plan over and over in my head, as I would a challenging flute solo, lest I forget my next move.

Doesn’t everyone pack solar viewing glasses when motorcycle touring?  I’ve got mine, and they are handy at the Venus Transect Viewing event at Cal Tech.  Between last month’s solar eclipse, last night’s lunar eclipse, and today’s transect, astronomers (and astrologers, I suppose) must not be getting much sleep. The transect, clearly visible as a black speck on the sun, is rather less dramatic than a solar eclipse, so I don’t bother photographing it.  But it’s a fine enough excuse to drink and dine outdoors in the perfect weather, and the Cal Tech campus is beautiful with happy flowers and turtles, so I snap a picture of those, instead.

Cal Tech Campus (1)

Cal Tech Campus

*Rolled oats (and whatever other rolled grains you might choose), plus your choice of simple to exotic extras: nuts, dried fruits, dried coconut, etc.  Toss the grains, nuts, and coconut with warmed mix of peanut oil, maple syrup and vanilla, and toast low and slow in the oven (225), stirring frequently for an hour to an hour and a half.  You know, ‘til it looks like granola.  Mix in the fruits after.

** At this point, I don’t own a camp stove, although this may change. I’ve started experimenting making my own dried soup mixes, and if that goes well, I’ll make the investment.  ‘Til then, I also carry little cans of V8, summer sausage, Triscuits, some dried fruit and nuts (NOT mixed together!) among other things.  Every few days, I’ll buy a couple rolls from the grocery, along with just enough cheese to make a cheese sandwich, along with a durable piece of fresh fruit.  That’s enough for me to feel like I’m eating a meal, rather than snacking, which gets old after a few days.  I also go out to eat once a day, and will either stuff myself silly, order something whose leftovers pack well in a bit of foil, or both.