Backpacking the Marin Headlands

Recently, I realized just how long it had been since I had been out backpacking. I was craving the feel of a trail underneath my feet and the weight of a full backpack on my back. I longed to sleep underneath the stars, listening to the sounds of the wind and animals dancing across the landscape. With exactly 1.5 free days, the husband and I packed our bags, threw together a couple of quick meals, and headed south to the Marin Headlands. Although the weather forecast called for rain and temps in the 20s, I was beyond stoked to be heading out. And anyway, as the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather; only bad gear.

The Headlands are a hilly peninsula, immediately north of the Golden Gate Bridge, in Marin County. Once home to several military sites, the now National Recreation Area is one of my favorite local areas to explore. The Headlands are famous for its many miles of trails, enjoyed by runners, hikers, and cyclists, as well as the amazing views of San Francisco, the many beaches within the area, and awesome raptor birding.

Camping at the Marin Headlands is free. There are 3 campgrounds within the Recreation Area, though each has just a few sites. Reservations are suggested, as the campgrounds are popular and fill quickly. On the weekend that I was there, all 4 sites where I camped were reserved.

Our destination for the night was Hawk Camp, the most remote of the 3 Headlands campgrounds. The network of trails within the Recreation Area allows for hikes of varying difficulty. Though it’s possible to hike just under 4 miles to reach Hawk Camp (which makes it a great trip for beginner backpackers), I wanted to create a longer route as a training hike for the JMT. I plotted a route of about 10 miles linking the Coastal, Coyote Ridge, Miwok, Marincello, and Bobcat Trails.

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Up, up, up through coastal scrub.

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Cruising along the Coastal Trail with the Pacific in the background.

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Miles of hills.

A few miles into our hike, the fog suddenly blew in. It started out thin and wispy but soon it was a thick wall of white. Visibility was greatly reduced, and we found ourselves on top of a ridge, unable to see much of anything. It was almost like being in white-out conditions. We continued walking along the trail but soon realized that, in the foggy conditions, we had missed the junction that we were looking for- we had passed the turn that would have added about 3 miles to our hike and instead continued on the Tennessee Valley Trail. Though I was a bit bummed about the inadvertent shortening of our hike, I was glad we didn’t get too off track in the fog!

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As we approached our camp for the night, we were getting rained on, intermittently, and decided that it would be best to set-up our camp for the night and then take advantage of the amount of daylight we had left, to explore the area around the campground.

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Approaching camp. The Golden Gate Bridge is barely visible through the fog, in between the two hills.

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Speaking of camp, I realized that I didn’t snap any pictures of the campsite (something I almost always forget to do). The campsites at Hawk Camp are pretty luxurious. Each site includes a picnic table, large bear box, and tent pad. The campground also has a relatively clean port-o-potty, though it is a bit away from camp, down a short, steep hill. Though not bad during the day, navigating down the hill at night can be a bit tricky. The only drawback to the campground is that there is no potable water available. You must carry in all of the water you will need. In the few times I’ve camped here, this has never been a problem.

After setting up camp, we hiked for a couple of miles, exploring the hills and valleys surrounding Hawk Camp. On our way back to camp we caught sight of a bobcat – too speedy for us to snap a picture. We got back to our site as the sun was setting and enjoyed dinner as night was beginning to fall. Having forgotten to pack a deck of cards, we entertained ourselves after dinner with whiskey spiked hot cider, conversation, and views of a twinkling San Francisco & Peninsula.

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Though the temperatures dropped into the mid-20s, we stayed warm in our tent. The night was quiet, until about 1 a.m. when we were awoken out of a dead sleep by loud noises. It sounded like something BIG was barreling through the brush on the surrounding hillside! I’m not going to lie, I was pretty freaked out! Soon we started to see lights bobbing through the brush next to our camp and we finally peaked out of the tent – – it was bikepackers! A group of three had ridden out to Hawk Camp and were setting up camp. Relieved that it wasn’t a monster of some kind, but too awake from the experience to go back to bed, I wandered down the hill to the bathroom. Chilled by the cold morning, I quickly retreated back to the warmth of my sleeping bag and slept in fits until daybreak.

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Morning view from the tent – the fog was back and clinging to and creeping around the hills.

In the morning, we packed up camp and headed out, thoughts of a delicious diner breakfast rocketing us down the trail. The morning was cold and foggy but only briefly – after a half hour of walking, the sun was beating down on us, forcing us to shed all of our layers.

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All too quickly, were were back at the trailhead. Though I wish we had been able to spend more time out there, I am glad that this amazing place is just a short hour drive away from my home. It makes for a really accessible place to getaway to when time is limited.

Scratching the surface of Death Valley

A few months back I signed up for a 10k race in Death Valley. I’ve always been fascinated by desert landscapes, but I haven’t had the opportunity to spend much time in them. The run was a great excuse to take a few days to explore California’s most famous desert. After making the long drive down on a Wednesday, we arrived in the desert on Thursday. We had planned to stay at an off-the-beaten-path campground, Wildrose Campground, but driving into the park, we found that the road to the campground off of Hwy 178 was closed! After a consult with the map (because, no cell service!) we found that we could likely take in another road off of Hwy 190. Whew! Crisis averted! After a quick side trip to hike out to Darwin Falls, we made it to Wildrose Campground in the late afternoon. The husband and I instantly fell in love with the secluded campground, tucked in a canyon on the west side of the Panamint Mountains. We had the campground almost completely to ourselves and had a great time exploring the area. Sometime in the middle of the night, we heard wild horses come through our campsite! The husband didn’t initially believe that I had heard the neighing of horses, but in the morning, the two other people in the campground both confirmed hearing neighing and hooves during the night. Vindication! Darwin Falls Scrambling up the side of Darwin Falls. wpid-wp-1423602296632.jpeg wpid-wp-1423598899252.jpeg wpid-0129151544.jpg The race we were running early on Saturday morning was taking place on the east side of the Panamints, in order to not have to wake up super early that morning, we ended up staying at Wildrose for only one night. On Friday morning, we drove east toward the Furnace Creek area, checking out the sights and stopping for hikes along Hwy 190. wpid-wp-1423602321390.jpeg wpid-wp-1423602450154.jpeg wpid-wp-1423602303738.jpeg wpid-0130151211b2.jpg.jpeg wpid-wp-1423602309901.jpeg The Furnace Creek Campground, sadly, was nothing like Wildrose. It was packed with both people and RVs, and is right off the highway. Thankfully, I had reserved a spot in the tent-only loop that is in the back of the campground, and we were mostly spared from having to listen to the noises from the RVs and traffic. The one great thing about the site we stayed in was that it backed up to an open area and we had a nice view of the east side of the Panamints. wpid-wp-1423602314710.jpeg We quickly set-up camp, and after a full day of hiking and sightseeing, we were looking forward to a relaxing time around the campfire that night. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans and around 6pm, the skies opened up and a steady rain fell for the remainder of the night. Thankfully we had a small tree next to our tent that provided enough protection from the rain so that we could cook dinner. On Saturday, we woke up to overcast skies but no rain. Unfortunately, we also woke up to the quicksand-like pit that our campsite had become. The rain had turned the sandy ground into a wet, sticky, muddy mess of soft ground. Our shoes were caked in mud, and it was almost impossible to move around without sinking into ankle deep mud. Ugh! We did the best we could to get ready for the race without getting mud all over ourselves, but it was definitely a challenge. The race was an out-an-back running along the shoulder of Hwy 190 to just past the Harmony Borax Works. The course was not overly challenging, and the scenery was absolutely beautiful. The husband and I had a blast running the 10k course. Afterward, we spend the remainder of the day hiking and sightseeing on the east side of the Panamints, hitting all of the usual spots, Badwater Basin, Golden Canyon, etc. Later that night, after returning to our now dried out campsite; we were visited by a pack of coyotes within a few feet of where we were sitting! Later, we enjoyed their boisterous calls as the sunset over our campsite. It was a great end to our trip to the desert. wpid-0131151306a.jpg wpid-0130151628.jpg wpid-0131151206.jpg wpid-0131151156c.jpg

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wpid-20150131_111911.jpg Though we were able to see a lot in our short visit, I know that we only scratched the surface of what Death Valley has to offer. I really want to go back and explore the non-touristy areas of the park. The husband and I are now talking about making this a yearly trip! How about you? Have you visited or ever wanted to visit Death Valley?

Weekly Workout Re-cap

From Monday-Wednesday last week, I didn’t get any workouts done. I spent all of my after work hours preparing for our trip to Death Valley (more on that later this week), and making the 9 hour drive to the Valley. I spent the next couple of days hiking and running in the desert, and then, made the long drive home on Sunday.

Here’s my workout re-cap for last week

Monday: rest

Tuesday: rest

Wednesday: rest

Thursday: ~3 mile hike, 45 minute walk

Friday: ~7 miles of hiking

Saturday: 6 mile run, ~4 miles hiking

Sunday: rest

I ended up getting home around 6pm on Sunday evening. After picking up my dog from my friend’s place and then getting dinner, I was beyond tired. Who knew that driving so far was so exhausting? Suffice to say, when my 5 am alarm went off this morning, I did NOT want to get out of bed, let alone, get on my bike and pedal to work. I caught the bus from my house instead. Lame but necessary.

2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge Wrap-Up

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Seven weeks, cycling to seven different coffee spots…

When I first set out to take on the Coffeeneuring Challenge, I didn’t really know what to expect. Would it be difficult? Fun? A chore? I’m happy to report, that though I wasn’t always able to bike under the best circumstances, every ride was enjoyable and something I looked forward to completing every week.

The majority of the places I visited were both interesting and delicious, though there was one spot did leave something to be desired (I’m looking at you Starbucks). All in all, this was a wonderful series of little bike adventures. Though I bike often, almost every day in fact, I’m often in a hurry (commuting to work) or on a long training ride, and this leaves little time to enjoy things like stopping for coffee. Coffeeneuring allowed me to take slower, more relaxed rides than I normally would, and I can say that my life is all the more better for it!

What I rode

More often than not, I rode my Trek 7.2 hybrid bike on the Coffeeneuring rides. This is my everyday, commuting bike, and it’s set up with a rack and a set of panniers which makes transporting things very easy. I prefer not to bike while wearing a backpack, so I tend to ride my Trek whenever I have to carry anything.

There were a few rides, though, where I left the Trek in the garage and instead rode my Fuji Sportiff. This is a new bike for me, having acquired it just a few months ago. I’m still getting the hang of riding a road bike (so different than my Trek!), but it’s super zippy and fun to cruise on.

Where I rode

Coffeeneuring #1: Atlas Coffee Co.
Date: 10/5/14
Distance: 11.2 miles

Coffeeneuring #2: Tin Roof Bakery
Date: 10/11/14
Distance: 4.9 miles

Coffeeneuring #3: Spring Lake Regional Park
Date: 10/18/14
Distance: 25 miles

Coffeeneuring #4: Holy Roast Cafe
Date: 10/24/14
Distance: 5.2 miles

Coffeeneuring #5: Empire Coffee
Date: 11/1/14
Distance: 2.2 miles

Coffeeneuring #6: Peet’s Coffee
Date: 11/9/14
Distance: 8 miles

Coffeeneuring #7: Starbucks Coffee
Date: 11/16/14
Distance: 2 miles

What was my favorite ride? Definitely the Coffeeshop without Walls at Spring Lake Regional Park. You really can’t beat making coffee while sitting on the edge of a lake!

Coffeeneuring in a train car and the return of weekly workout recaps

Many apologies for the lateness of this post! Between dealing with my TMJ symptoms, fighting off a cold and dealing with my dog contracting Kennel Cough (after the first and last time we ever board him, ugh!) I haven’t had the energy to sit down and write. Since it’s now Wednesday, I figured I should get to it. Better late than never, right?

Coffeeneuring #5: Saturday, November 1, Empire Coffee, 434 Orange St., Chico, CA

Last weekend I was in Chico, yet again, for the last run in the Chico Running Club’s 2014 Race Series. On Saturday morning, I made the 25 minute drive into town from my in-law’s place up in the foothills above Chico and had my husband drop me, and my trusty Trek, off in downtown. I’m suffering from a TMJ flare-up and having had not much relief for the previous 5 days, I decided acupuncture might help. I visited my old acupuncturist for a treatment (thanks to Michelle @ Pinwheel Acupuncture) that was incredibly helpful and provided relief almost immediately. After my appointment, I cycled slowly down the tree-lined and fallen leaf littered streets of downtown for a few blocks to the Chico Fleet Feet store to pick-up my race packet for Sunday’s 5k run. After a bit of confusion and going over records, the race folks realized that I had double registered. Doh! I guess I’ve registered for so many races this year that I don’t even remember signing-up for this race back in late summer. After sorting out the double-registration and picking up my bib and t-shirt, I headed out for a much needed caffeinated beverage.

Leaving Fleet Feet, I cycled down W. 3rd St. and through Chico State University’s frat and sorority row. Since the previous day had been Halloween, it was particularly entertaining to ride through this neighborhood. In my short ride, I spotted passed out revelers on the front lawn of a frat house, many smashed pumpkins, young ladies carrying trash bags full of cans and bottles, and more than a few folks still in costume, heading home on foot. Leaving frat row, I noticed that none of the cross streets were signed and I ended up over-shooting my destination by one street. I turned around and cycled one block over to arrive at an old train car, turned coffee shop, located, fittingly, in front of the Amtrak station.

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Empire Coffee is housed in a 1947 empire builder train car, just West of downtown Chico. There were bike racks at both ends of the train car, and when I arrived, several were already taken up by other patrons.

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As I walked into Empire Coffee, I couldn’t help but smile. What’s not to love about a coffee shop inside a train car? The inside of the shop was eclectic and funky with a laid-back vibe. Seating was a bit limited, but not sparse, and there was plenty of room to move around.

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I ordered an Aztec Mocha and sat down in one of the original train seats to wait for my drink. I sat back, enjoying the post-acupuncture relaxation I was still experiencing and soon, my drink was up. The Aztec Mocha was a delicious, spicy concoction of chocolate, cayenne pepper, espresso, and milk. Not too sweet, just a little bit spicy, and absolutely delicious!

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I enjoyed my drink but being a bit pressed for time, I didn’t have much time to hang-out and enjoy the funky train car atmosphere for too long. I exited the old train car and emerged into the sunny, but still crisp morning, and cycled a few blocks down the road to meet up with my husband.

I just barely squeaked by the distance requirement for this coffeeneuring ride. Total mileage: 2.2 miles. Here’s my Strava for this ride.

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Just a quick recap of last week’s workouts:

Monday: none – this was a traveling day for me and I didn’t get home until late that evening.

Tuesday: 21 Day Fix – Total Cardio Fix, 6 mile bike ride

Wednesday: 10 mile bike ride

Thursday: 1 hour yoga

Friday: 6 mile bike ride

Saturday: rest

Sunday: 5k Race (PR’d my time again!)

Coffeeneuring #4 – Holy Roast Cafe

Friday, October 24 (employing vacation rule!): Holy Roast Cafe, 490 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, CA

Ride #4 already! This challenge is going by so quickly!

Earlier in the week, I had planned to cycle to a cafe near the university where I work. Unfortunately between working late, watching the Giants smash game 1 and then crash and burn in game 2 of the World Series, and packing to go out of town this weekend, time got away from me and by Thursday night I realized that I still needed to complete my 4th coffeeneuring ride before I leave for vacation.

Friday morning I left the house around 6am and headed south toward downtown. The morning was dark and the fog became heavy about a mile and a half from the house. A couple of miles later, my trusty NiteRider headlight died. Crap! It was still dark outside and I still had a couple of miles until I reached my destination. I got off the main road and cycled the rest of the way on much less busy residential streets. I was worried that a) cars would not see me and I would get into an accident or b) because my night vision is pretty crappy, I would hit some sort of object in the road and be flung off my bike. Thankfully, I made it to Holy Roast Cafe unscathed. Whew!

The Cafe is in downtown Santa Rosa directly across from the Trek store and in the same building as the county health department offices. There was a bike rack located on the opposite side of the building from the cafe and I locked up my bike, hoping that it wouldn’t get stolen. Downtown Santa Rosa has a bad bike theft problem and the bike rack was in a location where I couldn’t keep an eye on my bike while in the cafe. I kept my fingers crossed that my trusty stead would still be there when I was ready to leave.

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I walked into the warmly lit cafe and found a lovely, relaxed space with ample seating (both tables/chairs and comfy looking couches). The staff was incredibly friendly, and it seems that there are many regulars at this cafe, which the staff all seemed to know by name.

I enjoyed a really solid black bean breakfast burrito and a giant cup of drip coffee.

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The cafe has free wifi and prices were very reasonable.

As I exited, I was relieved to see that my bike was still securely locked up.

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Good start to the day and another nice coffeeneuring adventure.

Total mileage for the day: 5.2 miles. My Strava for this ride is here.