California Reunion

Hey, if you don’t mind I’m going to take a break from talking about living with a chronic illness for a post or two. I have to tell you about my reunion with California!

This joyous reconnection with the Golden State was extra special because it came so frighteningly close to not happening. In fact, as I said in my last post, which I wrote while I was on the road, the trip got cancelled twice, the first time because of cancer, the second time because of COVID19. For weeks I was sure that once again something would stop me from going, that it wasn’t meant to be. It was so nice to be wrong! And the trip could not have been more perfect.

If you said that I’m kind of “prone” to hiking trips, you would not be mistaken. However, this wasn’t a hiking trip. Which is not to say that I didn’t do any trekking. Of course I did! But the entire plan was based around seeking out graffiti in Southern California and born from seeing the works of a professional photographer on Instagram who travels the U.S. taking pictures of really cool stuff. I did my research and strung several sights together, then figured that while I was there I may as well just take another week to see some old favorites, and there was my California reunion!

I lived in Los Angeles for five years from 1995 through 2000, and traveled extensively in and around the state. I guess I didn’t really realize until now how blessed I was and am to have been able to do that. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived other than Massachusetts, where I was born and currently reside, and I have to say that for me, a lover of the American West, there could not have been a better place to be. Mother Nature took one of everything amazing and tossed it into California. Sometimes, more that one of everything amazing. Though I’ve been a million other places around the world, I’ve never quite fallen in love with anywhere like I have the American West. I used to crucify myself for never having lived in a foreign country. How silly that all seems now.

Unlike most people, who think the desert is “too hot” and “boring”, I absolutely love it there. Deserts have ghost towns, tumbleweeds, and cactus. What’s not to love about that? I spent several days driving around the Salton Sea, an imposing but fascinating (and smelly) remnant of a failed experiment to lure vacationers and home buyers seeking the good life. If you’re like me and looking for graffiti, sand, and desolation, wow do you ever have to see the Sea! In addition to all that there’s Bombay Beach, an almost ghost that was revived as a quirky artist’s town, and Slab City, an “off the grid” settlement where people live for free. There’s lots of additional interesting art in Slab City as well as East Jesus, the eastern corner of the “squatters paradise.” I even did some research into one of the towns near the Salton Sea because I was inspired to use it for a locale in the book I’m writing. Such excitement from a place most people pass by without giving it a second thought! Is it any wonder why I choose to travel alone so often?

Didn’t I tell you that California has one of everything? Or, let’s make that more accurate: California has EVERYTHING!! Let me expand on that.

The post-graffiti part of my trip brought me to the Sierras, where the best ghost town in America nestles. No, Bodie isn’t in the desert, but it is at the end of a wild dirt road about twelve miles east of Bridgeport, California, and it is a state park, so there is a small fee (I paid $8) that goes to Bodie’s upkeep, which is impeccable. On the way I drove a few hundred miles of US 395, which I have to proclaim one of the country’s great highways. I stopped off in Lone Pine, which is still very much like the desert, and did a short and stunning hike to Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills, where I also got a pretty special view of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the “lower 48” at 14, 505 feet. Did I mention that you can see Whitney through the arch, too? No, the thrills just never end.

Mono Lake and the Mono Basin are right outside Yosemite National Park. To me, Mono is so good it’s okay to skip Yosemite to see it. Don’t miss the short hike through the odd fantasy of the South Tufa Trail. You can bet that I didn’t!

Girl, take a breath…

The June Lake Loop is a sixteen mile drive around four lovely lakes at an elevation of 7,600 feet. Of course I had to get some hiking in here, and I encountered some bristlecone pines, that are said to be the oldest living things on Earth, even older than sequoias and redwoods. Even older than me! The loop was my last stop in the mountains before I headed back to the desert. I had to have one final jaunt in the hot sand before I came back to reality.

Death Valley Junction is the gateway to the park of the same name and a charming little desert hamlet with a hotel and opera house, much of which are beautifully hand painted by its former owner. Read her incredible backstory here. I’ve loved this town since I first saw it on a map as a dreamy-eyed teen, and it was so special to see it again before I moved on to Death Valley. Yes, I intended to hit the trails, but at 100 degrees at seven in the morning, I had to rethink my plans. Hiking had to be done in short bursts with plenty of time in the air conditioned SUV in between! Death Valley has been getting a lot of attention lately for record breaking temperatures, but the mercury varies greatly depending on what part of the park you’re in. I headed to Dante’s View to marvel at the salty Badwater Basin far below. It was twenty degrees cooler and with a hair-mussing wind. Lastly, no temperature was hot enough to make me miss wandering through the pastel hills of the Artist Palette. I felt like I’d fallen into a giant vat of ice cream!

Two weeks, a two thousand mile loop, and I just barely scratched the surface of the greatness of California. Oh well, looks like I’m just going to have to go back!

Be A Weekend Warrior!

As I head back to my teaching duties after another summer of total freedom, I’m faced with the prospect of not being able to leave town for three whole months. It’s the longest stretch of time of the year for me that I have to be home, playing it cool. Most people have twelve-month jobs with even longer periods between time off. If you’re in a new job, it could take a year or more before you have a paid vacation. Maybe you don’t even get a paid vacation. Does that mean you have to be miserable until you’re cut free for more than a few days in a row? Absolutely not! The answer is to become a Weekend Warrior!

Yeah, we all have to clean our homes, take care of the yard, and pay the bills. But, we have to be careful that those things don’t encroach on our down time. What you NEED to do doesn’t have to always eat up the time that you could be doing what you WANT to do with. Make this your mantra: DO MORE OF WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AND LESS OF WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO. That’s the first step in being a Weekend Warrior. Don’t let what you have to do overwhelm you to the point that you can’t find time for fun!

Truth is, I used to be an obsessive cleaner. Cleaning was my thing. Couldn’t see a spot anywhere. Well, not anymore! I still must live in a clean and tidy home. But you won’t catch me pushing a mop any more frequently than every other week.  I’d much rather be hiking. So, that’s what I’m doing instead of cleaning. The real trick is getting your surroundings just the way you want them, so that when things get a little out of sync it’s quick and easy to get them back that way. If you let things go for too long it’s too difficult to remedy them quickly. That’s when we get bogged down, and soon we’re working instead of having fun. Who wants to spend every hour of free time dusting shelves or cutting the grass?

Once you get things behind the scenes the way you want them, you’re ready to be a Weekend Warrior.

The Great Outdoors

My first choice for the weekend is being outdoors. And you can be sure I won’t be sitting still. Do you know how great it is to love doing something that also keeps you healthy? I read a great article years ago about things that are a waste of money. Joining a gym was included on the list. Can’t help but agree with this. Mother Nature has the world’s biggest gym. And it’s free! “The outdoors” can be just about anywhere. That doesn’t necessarily mean being in the woods. I’m lucky enough to be able to take day trips to New York City or Boston. The next day I can be in the mountains or hiking around a peaceful lake. Maybe you live close to a different city. Take a bus or train and walk the streets for a day. If you’re a foodie, (I’m not!) sample the street cuisine. If you aren’t, pack a couple of meals in a backpack and find the best view possible when it’s time to eat lunch. Are you fortunate enough to live near a National Park? Well first, I’m jealous! Second, how good of a day or overnight trip is that? Unless you live on the moon, I’ll just bet that you live somewhere near a state park or forest. It takes three hours to hike six miles at a normal pace. In the same three hours you can walk nine miles at a normal pace. Maybe you love being on the water instead of walking around it. Renting a boat for a day doesn’t cost much. I know a lot of people, and not just men, who find fishing totally relaxing. You don’t even need a boat to do that. You can do it from the shore and bring a nice picnic lunch for those moments when the fish aren’t biting. Doesn’t that sound better than cleaning?

The Great Indoors

I personally think that eating out a lot is a waste of money, but if it’s your thing and it relaxes you and allows you to escape thoughts of work, then do it! Maybe a morning walk, lunch at your favorite place, then a movie.  You’ll still have time to relax on the couch at home and have a glass of wine after several hours on the town. How about reading? Does anyone besides me take the time to read as a hobby? This is one that I wish I had more time to do. I’d love to just sit around for hours a day and read. But that doesn’t put steps on the pedometer, and there’s no view! Still, having a book on the kitchen table to read while you have coffee or a snack, or in between Weekend Warrior activities can make those pages go by pretty fast and allows you to keep your brain active and entertained.

Sporting Events

I have to give this its own category, since sports are both inside and outside. If spectating is your thing, there are plenty of opportunities to support local or national teams in every sport under the rainbow. Being there is a lot more interesting than watching it on TV!

Craft Shows and Fairs

It’s staggering how many specialty shows and fairs are out there now to enjoy. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a show for you. You just have to find it. Your local AAA chapter can likely help!

And last, but not least…

Meetup

Don’t have anyone to Warrior with? Need some new and fresh ideas? I highly recommend Meetup. Let’s face it: It’s hard to meet people, what with everyone hiding behind a computer or cell phone. Meetup gives you the chance to come face to face with men and women that have the same interests you do. There are groups for just about everything, and the ones I’ve checked out have made me feel very welcome from the first get-together. It’s 100% free to join, create a profile, and search for events, and a lot of the groups strive to schedule low-cost meetups so members can attend frequently.

Listen…no excuses now! Put down that cleaning rag and have fun during your time off instead!