Monday, September 03, 2007

Ultimate stupidity (mine)

To enjoy the Labour Day weekend, a couple friends (Dave and April) and I decided to go hiking. It's been a heat wave in the Los Angeles basin lately and Sunday, Sept. 2 wasn't any different, so we chose a coastal hike—The Gaviota Wind Caves, north of Santa Barbara.

We head out of L.A. by 8:30ish a.m. to beat the wicked heat, so we figure that should have us at the trailhead around 10:30. The directions from are hit and miss for precision, but these seem really simple.

"From the 101 exit at Gaviota Campground, just before the entrance to the campground,veer to the right and up the hill. Park in parking area and follow the road beyond the gate and mountain lion danger sign."

We follow the directions perfectly and park in the parking area. As we get out of the car we see large group of a few adults and half -a-dozen plus small children walking toward the parking area from the north. They're wearing hats, backpacks and appear to be finishing a hike. Dave, April and I start heading north on the paved road assuming that the group is coming from the trail, despite the absence of any trail signs. [Note: California is not good about marking trails, at least not compared to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation]

It's already WARM, but with a pristine view of the Pacific Ocean to our left who cares. We walk about a half mile north on the paved road and notice a gate on the right with a mountain lion warning on it. I hadn't told anyone about this. More importantly, even though the directions said to follow the road behind the gate and mountain lion sign, nothing about this scene says "trail starts here" to any of us. There's a very short road and no apparent trail at the end of it. We press on.

There are several cars and trucks that pass us, also headed north up the road. There are ZERO other hikers. This seems a bit odd to me, given that reviewers raved about this hike and noted that it's kid-friendly. Shoudln't there be some people out on a holiday weekend?

After another quarter mile we come to a gate that warns against trespassers. So no trail yet, and a warning about trespassing. But the gate is open so we continue to head up the road. I tell Dave, who is videotaping our excursion, that I think the "No trespassing" applies to the fenced in land to the side of the road, not the road.

After about another half mile we're hot, there's no trail in sight but there's a guard shack and gate leading onto the Hollister Ranch property. And um, no wind-eroded sandstone wind caves. We approach the guard who kindly tells us that we need to head back to the mountain lion sign, walk through the opening in the gate, follow the road and the trail will be "right there."

We walk back steeled against the overhead sun by our vigor to attack the trail and be awed by millenia of erosion. BRING ON THE WIND CAVES!!

Upon returning to the moutainlion-signed gate, it's obvious where the road is and we follow it. But getting to the end of the road, it's not so obvious where the trail is. We head out along a sem-cleared path. We're all wearing shorts and getting scraped shins, but this merely confirms a note on our directions that says "litttle ones" should wear long pants and sleeves. However, after about 50 feet there's no trail. There are other sorta clearedish spots, but there's no trail. And as we crawl through uncleared low brush (more scrapes and soon blood) Dave looks to the right. It's about 60-70 feet down a pretty steep slope covered in sharp grassy terrain and shrubs.

"That's not anywhere I'd bring kids."


We pass the directions among ourselves half a dozen times trying to figure out what we're misinterpreting. "
Park in parking area and follow the road beyond the gate and mountain lion danger sign."

What the fuck, right? We followed the road, but there's just no trail. After another 15 minutes of aimless wandering through shin-scraping low grasses and plants we give up. Of course we've wandered so much that when we get back to the road we're at a point that requies basically sliding on our butts down a dusty hill. I've also managed to ruin my Skechers by ripping part of the sole off my left shoe.

As we walk back toward the car, I am pissed. Dave and April are trying to assuage my anger by telling me that we've still had a fun day and have a great lunch coming up in Santa Barbara. We examine the directions again and can't see how any of us missed a thing. We pass a woman walking a dog and Dave starts to ask her about the wind caves, but she ignores him. Not really, she just never heard him because she was listening to her iPod.

We get back to the car and are starting to put our stuff away and I change into the shoes I had brought to change into after the hike. Dave and April ask two more people, including headphone woman, about the wind caves. Snake eyes. Eventually someone notices that there's a gate about 20 feet south of the car. Beyond the gate lies a paved road. "
Park in parking area and follow the road beyond the gate and mountain lion danger sign."

We slowly walk over to the gate, knowing that we'll see a Mountain Lion sign. We do. Well, the good news is that the hike is back on, even if this is perhaps literally the supidest-feeling moment I've ever had.

So long story, long ... we do the hike. It's awesome. It's short (about 2.5 miles in and out) but it's up and down. So up on the way in and down on the way out. The caves are really cool. Big enough to walk around in and with beach-sandy bottoms. Mrs. Yunke, my third grade teacher, said that "erosion" was her favorite word. After checking out what wind had wrought over the millenia, I was forced to see her perpective.

As for the mountain lions ... No sightings, but ...

As we left the second wind cave Dave and I considered trying to enter a third, which was higher up and would require scrambling up about 20 feet of rock face. As I'm paused looking for good hand and footholds, Dave points out that a lion could be in that cave. It's high up and shadey, which would be very nice in the heat. Usually I blow off warnings like this, but honestly, I acknowledge that Dave has a good point. As I start my descent I notice sets of four vertical lines scratched into the rocks.

"Look at those. Those are claw marks." I jump down the final foot.

We leave.

Upon returning home I realize that I left my cell phone in Dave's car. Since we don't have a landline at our apartment (which many months later I still love), I immediately e-mail Dave and April to let them know that I'm headed over to get my phone (after showering and changing). I get the phone no problem and am ready to leave. I stick my key in the ignition, turn it and NOTHING HAPPENS. Literally nothing. No evidence of any sign of life from the engine. I'm not bothered by a dead battery, b/c I have AAA, but at 5:35 p.m. on a Sunday of a holiday weekend I'm a bit concerned about when this can get fixed.

I call AAA and they say that they'll send somebody out by 6:05 p.m. They tell me that the service guy will bring a battery testing kit and can even sell me a battery if needed. As I wait for AAA I call Dave to report the bad luck and recall a recent car story of relevance.

A couple weeks ago I was getting out of my car upon showing up at work and heard the dingdingding of "you left your lights on." Weird! I hadn't heard it when I got in that morning. And I hadn't heard it when I got out the night before ... but I had been talking on my phone. And maybe I did leave my car lights on over night? But I don't remember seeing them on? But I didn't walk in front of my car when I got out. Since a week went by with nothing happening I had just started to convince myself that I had instead inexplicably turned them on that morning on the drive in.

As I was re-telling this story to Dave I amended it to note that I obviously had left them on. This battery wasn't that old.

Jimmy the AAA guy shows up. He's awesome. Runs the test, which confirms the battery needs replacing and at least lets me know that I don't need a new alternator. While he's installing the new battery a couple stops. The 50-something guy asks me what happened. I tell him that AAA is doing a battery replacement. After a few seconds though he has suddenly commandeered Jimmy and is asking him about what types of cars are most reliable, what Jimmy would recommend as a minivan, etc. I would have tried to help, but dude's female companion button-holed me about politics, slavery, Korea, Vicente Fox, Geroge W., McDonald's, you name it. And the best thing about 12 minutes with her, after about 1 minute she decided that personal space didn't need to be a consideration among strangers talking in the presence of a AAA guy named Jimmy on a really hot day. She stood directly next to me for the rest of the conversation despite me standing with crossed arms and leaning away.

Oh well, at least she said that she liked South Koreans after I shot through her expectations. She assumed I was born in the States because I don't have an accent. I corrected her immediately that I was born in Seoul, not telling her that I was adopted as a baby and raised in the states.

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