empty armchair 3

Give It A Rest

Sometimes it dawns on me that I’m probably an armchair adventurer.  You want the best trip into the wild?  Read someone else’s account, complete with beauty, hardship, awe, and maybe a little disaster thrown into the mix. 

Early on in this particular hike the heat and sun were getting to me.  Why had I left cooler Hollywood to head inland to the higher, and in the summer, hotter mountains? I was lucky I brought my hat and yet the sun was still making me squint and I was feeling the precursor to a headache.  I finally relented to using my sunglasses, but I always find they make my world feel completely different.  I like the idea of them, but I always feel a bit out of it when I wear them, and I don’t think they help with the headache.

As I’m walking I wonder what brought me out here.  What made me leave my apartment on one of my few days off to hike alone into the mountains during the heat of the day?  Then the summit feels closer, I can see the radio towers up top and they are closer than I would have expected.  I also notice a single track trail heading off into the woods.  I take the detour and relish the change in direction.

I am starting to enjoy myself until the bugs reach me.  My head is swarmed by small flies and gnats that are infatuated with my eyes and ears.  I had had a massage the day before and realized how tense I had been.  On the walk I am trying to relax however, the bugs make me crouch forward, ready to flinch.  Still somehow, I feel I should keep going, that I’ll enjoy the experience more in retrospect than if I simply turn around.  At least there’s some shade and I’m pretty sure I pass both bear and mountain lion scat. 

I haven’t seen any hikers in at least an hour and so am surprised when I come across a few older women.  They warn me of a rattlesnake and lots of poison oak ahead.  This only makes me more committed to going further.  I’m careful to avoid any plants and am on the look out for the snake that I assume will not be an issue.  I pick up a few dry pieces of grass to wave around my head to keep the bugs away. 

Finally, more of a rhythm.  I hear water and know there must be a creek ahead.  When I arrive I am surprised to find a pristine camp site, but as I near the creek the water seems shallow and the bugs make me think twice of going in.  Still I realize it’s early, I have plenty of water, and it doesn’t feel like time to turn back.  The trail is less defined and I’m hoping it will lead to the steep ridge I spotted earlier that looks like it might be passable with a little scrambling.  The terrain is dense with chaparral though and I can never tell if the trail is going forward or about to switch back again to climb higher away from the creek. 

Reaching the top of a different and much lower ridge, I’m blasted again with heat.  I try to figure out whether there are more bugs in the shade or heat.  I don’t think it matters. It seems impossible to escape them either way, and yet, I can’t seem to ever get used to them.  I’m always tense.  The sound of one buzzing toward my ear instinctually feels awful. 

The trail begins to descend again and I hear the familiar sound of water- now this will be a good place to take a dip and call it a day before turning around.  However, as I approach the creek I see it is barely a trickle.  It is less than three feet wide and no more than 8 inches deep.  Furthermore, it looks oddly yellow.  I wonder if the color is somehow related to the regions up stream that were burned during the great forest fire last year.  Still, I sit down to get the rocks out of my shoes and decide at the very least to put my feet in.  I move into the sun and realize after a few minutes, the bugs don’t seem to be around as much.  Could something so simple as stopping for a rest have allowed them to become bored with me?

I’m always amazed at how water that can feel so cold when you first put your feet in can start to feel fine and I’m convinced that I should attempt to sit in the creek.  I take off my shirt, face the sun and slowly lower myself in.  The water is so low it doesn’t even cover my legs, but it feels good.  I take another look at the creek and decide I should lie down. Now getting my back and chest wet sounds like torture, but I know that as soon as I turn around I’ll be as hot as can be once out of the trees.  So slowly I lower myself into the water.  I cringe at the cold, but try to relax telling myself soon it won’t be so bad. I lower more and more until all but my head is in the water.  Finally I put my hands behind my head and fully lay down.

 And there I am, six miles from the trailhead, in the middle of the national forest, lying down in a tiny creek. I feel like a reptile, a cold blooded animal whose top half is baking in the sun while my back is cooled by the water.  I have a Zen moment.  The intense cold, the insects, the comfort, the ability to relax are all one.  The absurdity makes it all worthwhile.  It also somehow makes it feel real.

As I get up to leave I’m in a remarkably more upbeat mood.  I know soon I’ll be hot again, and I’m willing to bet the bugs will feel unbearable once more, but in the moment and on into the future I know it’ll have been worthwhile to give the old armchair a rest.


The Polo Fields in Cleveland's Metroparks

Sunny Spot: Cleveland, Ohio


The Polo Fields in Cleveland's Metroparks

SHOUT OUT to our fans in CLEVELAND, OHIO.  This week you have the highest number of hits on the website.  We LOVE it and we wanted to find out what’s happening in your town so we did a little digging.  First – your weather for Wednesday, 12/22/10 – 32 degrees & partly SUNNY, partly cloudy, with a chance of snow flurries!  OK – so a little chillier than our usual Sunny Spots, but great for outdoor activities OR last minute Christmas shopping.  Fun Fact – You are surrounded by the Emerald Necklace, a ring of 16 parks circling this major US city, which span across 22,000 acres.  The parks include hundreds of miles of walking, bicycle, and horse trails, woods, picnic areas, beaches, five nature education centers, seven golf courses, rivers & lakes for fishing and the Cleveland Metropark Zoo. And, if that is not enough, you are right next to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Lake Erie – one of the USA’s 5 Great Lakes (the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth).  You also boast an amazing array of museums, including the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.  One other little fact, you are home to the Great Lakes Brewing Company, Ohio’s first microbrewery, famous for their Burning River and Christmas Ale.   Thanks for stopping by our site.  We look forward to hearing more about how you are Entertaining Yourselves in Cleveland!

view from cliff dwellings

The View From The Top

Sometimes the magic in the view from the top is even more spectacular when you’ve pushed yourself to find it!  

We started out in a small village on top of the ridge, after hiding most of our luggage in the back of the 4-wheel drive Jeep.  

We then started our trek through the upper Dogon Village before heading off on a long dirt road into the desert heat of Mali.   As we hit the edge of the cliff, we began hiking down into the desert plain.  Following two grueling days of hiking through the lower elevation Dogon Villages in 100°F heat, we finally began our ascent back to the top of the cliffs. 

We asked our guide “Where do we go up?” and he replied “there” pointing to the rock face of the cliff.    After several more miles of desert trekking to get to the cliff, we climbed through a narrow crevasse that led to the top.  

Though we had to stop several times and my friend had to hold the guide’s hand for fear of heights, the view from the top was worth the trek!  We felt like two powerful women who had conquered the world!


Sometimes the view from the top is worth the trek. At first the challenge was daunting, but the high from finishing was unbeatable!


Cabot Walking Path

Sunny Spot: Cabot, Arkansas


Cabot Walking Path

SHOUT OUT to our fans in CABOT, ARKANSAS This week you have the second highest number of hits on the website following Mountain View, California.   We LOVE it and we wanted to find out what you’re up to there! Looks like GOLF is a favorite way of Entertaining Yourself! And you have the perfect weather for it today – Saturday, 11/20/10 – High of 63 degrees & partly SUNNY! Other Fun Facts –Arkansas is home to 6 National Parks, 52 State Parks and over 100 Municipal or private parks, including the 3 Golf Courses and Community Park in CABOT! Awesome! For other Fans thinking of traveling to Arkansas – listen to this: Their Adventure Parks include: Backpacking, Hang Gliding, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Kayaking & Canoeing, Cycling, River Running, Rock Climbing, Motorcycling and Snorkeling & Scuba Diving! That’s right – Arkansas’s crystal lakes are perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. And we think that an adventure in Arkansas sounds like a perfect way of Entertaining Yourself! We’re glad you stopped by our site.

Shoreline Lake

Sunny Spot: Mountain View, CA


Shoreline Lake


SHOUT OUT to our fans in MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA.  This week you have the highest number of hits on the website.  We LOVE it and we wanted to find out what’s happening in your town so we did a little digging.  First – your weather for Thursday, 11/18/10 – 65 degrees & partly SUNNY & partly cloudy!  Pretty Great for November! A Sunny Spot FOR SURE!!!  Fun Fact – You have a place called Shoreline Park which includes 750 acres (wow) set aside for wildlife and recreation (hiking, biking, climbing, running – all favorite pastimes)!  Not too shabby!  You also have sister cities:  Iwata, Japan and Hasselt, Belgium!  We can’t wait to learn more about you!  Please let us know how you are Entertaining Yourselves in Mountain View!


Hawk Camp: The Worst and Best of Times

I love camping – despite the fact it almost always involves some measure of discomfort, misery and danger, either real or imagined.  And if you survive, those are all good things because camping pushes you out of your comfort zone, shows what you’re capable of and, hear me out…provided you keep your sense of humor and an eye on the BIG picture, it’s one of life’s greatest opportunities for Entertaining Yourself –and others too –with the stories you bring back.

When things do go wrong, (as they inevitably do when nature’s in charge), sometimes the situations get so ridiculous you begin to wonder if you actually lived through them, saw them on TV or just remembered them from a dream.

I discovered this for myself at the ripe old age of 18 when my girlfriend, Bijani—a name with Persian origins meaning hero— suggested we have one final romantic getaway before leaving for college.  Hey, it was the summer before freshman year – a time full of promise and new experiences – so without hesitating (or truly thinking about what we were getting ourselves into) I said “Absolutely!”

Our destination:  The remote Hawk Camp, which overlooks Gerbode Valley in the Golden Gate National Recreation area.  Bijani knew enough about the Parks to call ahead for a reservation, and I knew that camping would give me the opportunity to impress her with my handiness at directions – especially since the Park is just a short distance from my house.

Full of enthusiasm, we planned a dawn start, hoping to arrive at the campsite with plenty of time to scope out the area.  In fact, it was 10:00 a.m. when two sleepy teens backed out of my girlfriend’s driveway, which probably explains why, somewhere between her house and the park, we got lost. Not badly exactly, we just couldn’t for the life of us find the trailhead.

“What were you telling me about a natural sense of direction?” Bijani chuckled.

Oops…this was not going quite the way I planned…but I thought it best to be a good sport. “Ok”, I smiled, “we can ask for directions.”

Three parking lots, a couple of off ramps and onramps, and one visit to a ranger station later and we had a map, (as well as a clue) about where to go.  It was 90 degrees, Bijani’s car had no air conditioning, but hey…we were young and our readiness to laugh at anything, plus a sing along session to “Tainted Love” and other 80s classics, saw us up to the point where we unpacked the car in high spirits.

Yes, it was already 1 p.m., still, we had the whole bright afternoon before us and the prospect of a leisurely, satisfying hike. What did a dusty, steep fire road matter? We had glorious sunshine and coastal shrubbery surrounding us, as we passed the time doing what a pair of kinda nerdy high-schoolers like to do: discussing our friend’s lives and Star Wars trivia, and arguing about whether Hobbe’s description of man’s condition as “nasty, brutish, and short” was right (at the time I argued it wasn’t, but after our trip was over, I wasn’t so certain anymore).

We continued climbing, but the higher we ascended the foggier it became and the less helpful our map seemed; it dawned on us that we hadn’t seen a sign for Hawk Camp since we first started. Now a cascade of fog greeted us as we crested a hill, only able to see the fuzzy outlines of nearby brush and what looked like lunar landing equipment.

“Where are we?” Bijani said.

“A weather station?”

“What’s there?”

From the haze a shape approached us rapidly, and a biker gradually materialized before us.   “Thank heaven,” we thought, “someone who can help us!”

“Excuse me.” Bijani said after he stopped for a drink of water, “do you know where Hawk Camp is?”

He wasn’t from the area, he told us, remounting his bike and slowly riding off. “Sometimes what you seek is right before you,” he said over his shoulder.

“Thanks… I think,” Bijani said, and we laughed.   A real life brush with a Philosopher…or a jerk…I wasn’t entirely sure, but at least we knew there was human life out there so we couldn’t be too far off the mark… could we?

We decided not to “look ahead” but to follow our own inclination to turn around, descending back into the sunshine where we found a sign for Hawk Camp, hidden behind some chaparral (which for those of you who haven’t spent much time in the woods of the Southwest, are thorny bushes not really fun to be close to.)  Back on track, and with only a few burrs in our clothing, it was now 4:00 p.m. and, starving, we stopped at a small rock outcrop for a well deserved snack.

I got out our olive bread and cheese (real campers have to think healthy, so we didn’t bust out the Twinkies, even though you always see those wrappers in parts of the park you wouldn’t expect).   Mmmmm…I could all but taste the delicious combo, warm from being in our back packs…but just as I ripped off a piece, ready to take that big first bite, a sharp, slobbery something chomped my hand. I heard a yelp in the distance: “No Bobo, No Bobo!”

I found myself wrestling with Bobo, a generously proportioned yellow lab, who was alternately tearing bread from my hand and biting it. Victorious, the dog scampered off with the entire loaf still partially inside it’s now ragged bag.  A jogger in full spandex ran past. “Sorry—he doesn’t usually do that. Come back Bobo, Come back.”

Bijani and I looked at each other in stunned silence for a second. “Who is this person???” we thought.

“Don’t come back,” I yelled, and we sat down laughing again. We only had one loaf of bread left for tonight and tomorrow morning, but we had some other provisions and good company goes a long way.

An hour later, we spotted the last sign for Hawk Camp, following the arrow along a narrow trail to a somewhat dejected gathering of cedars. Not quite the setting we were expecting, but hey…we were on our own and so far, our adventure had been <mostly> fun.   It was nearly 6:00 when we finally unloaded on a bench near our allotted campsite. It’d been a long day and both of us just wanted to set up and eat an unobstructed meal.

Already the coastal fog was rolling in and the sun grew weaker and weaker. This was the real test of the positivity we’d maintained all day. As we struggled to erect the tent, a strong wind picked up, snapping one of the supports and threatening to blow the whole shelter away. After a pitched battle lasting nearly two hours, we stepped back to admire our handiwork, which would have passed for the Hunchback of Notre Dame’s less attractive cousin. It was almost completely dark.

We gave up on exploring, settling into our sleeping bags to realize that not only was the ground slanted,  but moisture was condensing on the campsite’s trees, falling in large drops exclusively on our slouched tent, and filling it with water to kiddy pool levels.

“We could move,” I whispered.

“Too tired,” Bijani replied, turning away.

I’ve heard adversity brings people together, and at that moment, I felt like I could read Bijani’s thoughts. She was thinking: I hate you for bringing me here.  And then I thought…hey, this was your big idea…and then I thought…well, actually, I was too exhausted to think anymore and I fell into a deep sleep, the kind that is easiest when you are young and you are trying to escape life’s pressures!)

We woke up wet, exhausted and hungry, and silently, we drained our tent. I figured we’d return home, Bijani would break up with me and I’d probably catch pneumonia.  But then something amazing began to happen, even as we were hauling our waterlogged clothes and supplies, our spirits rose with the sun, and increased the further we got away from Hawk Camp.

“Well,” Bijani said as we retraced our steps on the fire road, “at least we have a good story.” I realized she was right!  I already couldn’t wait to call up our friends and tell them about everything that had happened; we’d be the life of the next party.  Or not… it didn’t really matter because at least  Bijani and I were laughing about it. And in the end, I guess, that’s the best thing you can hope for from a camping or any other experience.   Of course, one good tale per adventure is more than enough and for this excursion, we were both happy to have an uneventful trip back to the car and home. But the next time a friend called to ask me to go camping…you know what I said… “Absolutely!”   Hey..sometimes you’ve just got to go ahead and jump-in!