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.

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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.

Succeeding and failing(?) at reaching my 2014 goals

Back in December 2013, I came up with a list of things I wanted to accomplish in 2014. Here is the original post with the list of 8 goals, but essentially I resolved to: reach my goal weight, run 14 races (including 4 half-marathons), ride a metric-century bike ride, bike commute 3x/week for part of the year, complete 30 days of biking, hike to the top of Half-Dome, backpack in Yosemite, and hike once a week.

When I set this list of goals, I never imagined that I would face the biggest health issue of my life so far, and how much this would impact my ability to accomplish those goals. So, how did I do? Pretty good considering everything that life threw at me this year. Though I had to modify some of my goals, and let others fall away, I’m still pretty proud of the things that I did manage to accomplish. After having surgery and recovering for so long, I could have easily quit. I re-assessed my list based on my physical limitations after I had surgery, and I modified what I could. Here’s the final breakdown:

  1. Reach my goal weight: My goal weight is 165 lbs. In the month leading up to my surgery I managed to gain back some of the weight I had lost (thanks stress!) and after basically sitting on my butt for two-weeks after surgery and then not being able to do much more than slowly walk, I gained even more weight back. After I was recovered I tried Weight Watchers again, without much success, then tried the 21 Day Fix plan, with much better success. Since Thanksgiving, though, I haven’t done much in terms of being mindful of my diet or regularly exercising. I’m down to about 175 lbs.
  2. Run 14 races: I completed 13 races and was derailed only by the wrath of Mother Nature. I didn’t run any half-marathons due to my lack of time for training after recovering from surgery.
  3. Ride a metric century bike ride: I rode the metric-century route of the Chico Wildflower Century Ride 4 weeks after having surgery. One of the most physically difficult things I’ve ever done! I also rode the half-metric century route of the Sonoma County Backroads Challenge later in the year.
  4. Bike commute 3x/week for part of the year: I managed to bike commute at least 3x/week (sometimes more) during the nice months of the year. As the days got shorter and the weather got colder, my bike commuting decreased, but I still managed to ride at least once a week.
  5. Complete 30 Days of Biking: Since 30 Days of Biking officially runs from April 1-30, it was too soon after I had surgery to be able to participate in this. Bummer.
  6. Hike to the top of Half-Dome: I was unlucky in the Half-Dome lottery and failed to score a permit to hike this trail in 2014.
  7. Backpack in Yosemite: I finally backpacked in Yosemite! The husband and I completed a 25 mile loop from Sunrise Lakes to Cathedral Lake in August.
  8. Hike once a week: I started the year off on track, but with the stress of my diagnosis and then having surgery, this was the one goal that fell completely to the wayside. With running so many races on the weekends, too, this became a really unrealistic goal to accomplish.

Although I didn’t succeed in reaching my goals the way that I had initially set them, I definetely don’t feel like I failed either. Having lost 2 months out of my year to surgery and the subsequent recovery, I could’ve easily given up. Instead, I made some tweaks and made my goals fit within my modified time-frame. I think that’s a definite success! I’m working on my goals for 2015, and no matter what life throws at me in the new year, I know that whatever I set out to do, I will learn, grow, succeed, and fail in my attempts to accomplish new things. This is, after all, what life is all about!

Backpacking Bucks Lake Wilderness

Man, this post is SO overdue! Earlier this summer the husband and I were looking for a new place to explore over the 4th of July weekend. Wanting to find a place that wasn’t going to be overly crowded over the holiday weekend, we settled on a portion of the far-northern Sierra; Bucks Lake Wilderness. A part of the Plumas National Forest, the Wilderness sits about 2 hours north-east of Chico, CA.

We set out late in the morning on July 4 (after I ran the annual Independence Day 5K). Driving south of Chico and north-east of Oroville on the Oro-Quincy Highway, we quickly climbed into the mountains and arrived at the Bucks Summit Trailhead, where we found ample parking.

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Contemplating the trail ahead.

We began the climb up the Bucks Summit Trail (also a part of the Pacific Crest Trail) at about noon. Our plan was to hike up to Spanish Peak, about 4 miles up the trail and stop for lunch. The trail was beautiful with tons of wildflowers (surprising, being that it was already so late in the season) lining both sides and big views of the surrounding mountains.

up, up, up, we go.

up, up, up, we go.

The majority of the portion of the trail was pretty exposed, and the mid-day sun relentlessly beat down on us for the majority of the first 4 miles. Even though we were up at about 5,500 ft. of elevation, it was in the high 80s or low 90s that day. We slowly made our way up the almost 1,500 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead to Spanish Peak, hiking slowly and stopping often to catch our breath, drink water, and eat snacks. At about 3:00pm we made it up to a spur trail that leads to Spanish Peak. We took the short detour and emerged on the site of an old fire lookout. We stopped to have a leisurely lunch, sign the peak register, and take in the views.

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Frolicking on top of Spanish Peak.

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Signing the Spanish Peak registry.

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The views from atop Spanish Peak.

After about an hour, and realizing we still had a few miles to go until we got to our planned campsite for the night, we reluctantly headed back to the Bucks Summit Trail.

From the junction with the spur trail to Spanish Peak, Bucks Summit Trail continues through a shaded forest. After about 1 mile on Bucks Summit Trail, we hit the spur trail for Granite Gap. Oh, and granite it was! We emerged from the forested trail to an area that resembled the High Sierra. We descended a couple of hundred feet down granite slabs to our destination for the night, Rock Lake. The picturesque granite lake made a great base for the night and we were delighted to see that we had the entire lake to ourselves. After setting up camp in an already established site (leave no trace ethics!) we spent the rest of the day fishing, lounging near the lake, and scrambling up and exploring the granite slabs above the lake.

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rock lake

The next morning, we got up early and watched the alpenglow on the mountains while we made breakfast. We considered staying at Rock Lake for another night, but decided we should stick to our planned itinerary and head down to Bucks Lake. After packing up our camp we headed back up the Granite Gap trail to the PCT. We had to backtrack a bit to reach the Right Hand Branch Trail that heads down to Bucks Lake. A few minutes before we reached this junction, the husband stopped in his tracks and called me over to where he was standing. Right next to his foot was a very clear set of bear paw tracks! They were clearly fresh as no foot prints had covered or disturbed them yet. Very cool!

Bearprints!

Look closely…

Soon, we reached the junction to the Right Hand Branch Trail, and almost missed it as it wasn’t well signed! We hiked downhill along the mostly forested trail, passing through small meadows here and there.

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Trail skiing for entertainment.

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The trail follows a branch of Mill Creek and though we didn’t see the creek for several miles, we heard it the majority of the time. After almost 5 miles, we hit the junction to the Bucks Creek Trail, crossed over Mill Creek, and emerged onto Bucks Lake.

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The wilderness boundary ends right above the lakeshore of Bucks Lake, and dispersed camping is not allowed along the lakeshore. There are, however, established campsites available along the shore on a first-come, first-served basis. Several of the sites were already occupied by boaters but we didn’t have any problem finding a suitable site for the night. We ended up arriving at Bucks Lake at mid-day and spent the rest of the day lounging, fishing, reading, and watching the sunset over the lake. Two perfect lakeside camps can’t be beat!

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The next morning, knowing that we had a long drive back to Sonoma County, we packed up camp before 6am and headed out on Bucks Creek Trail. The trail intermittently followed the lakeshore and while passing next to a nice rocky portion of the lakeshore, the husband announced that he wanted to take a short break to get in some last minute fishing. Needing my caffeine fix, I happily obliged and took the opportunity to brew up some coffee, lakeside.

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Early morning fishing on Bucks Lake.

About an hour later, and having had no success fishing, we threw our packs back on and continued on the trail. In no time, we were at the Bucks Creek Trailhead. We crossed the main road and found the continuation of the trail. We continued on, passing through Whitehorse Campground and emerged back onto the main road and down a little ways from where we had parked our car. We road walked the last few minutes and made it back to the car by 10 am.

All in all, this was the perfect holiday weekend getaway. During our whole time on the trail we saw very few people (the majority were at Bucks Lake itself, a popular recreational lake) and were able to enjoy many of the sights and sounds of Bucks Lake Wilderness in solitude.

Sucking at Weekly Recaps and Upcoming Adventure

Last week, when I posted my microadventure write-up, I realized it had been FOREVER since I did a weekly recap of my workouts. Geez.

Last week’s workouts weren’t much to write about. I bike commuted to and from work 4 days. On Wednesday, the husband and I headed up to Healdsburg on our bikes to have dinner. We ended up riding about 22 miles round-trip. I also managed to run a couple of days in preparation for running the Independence Day 5k . I’m hoping I can beat my time from last month’s Sacramento Women’s Fitness Festival 5k. This is a fun event that I’ve done in the past. The course is flat and winds through Chico’s Bidwell Park. This is the 2nd run in the 4-part race series that is put on by the Chico Running Club. I’m planning to run all 4 races and get a sweet CRC jacket in the process.

So, yeah. That’s a pretty sucky weekly recap. I promise, I’m going to get back on the recap train next Monday!

My other big news this week is that I am headed up to the mountains after the Independence Day 5k to backpack, fish (for the 1st time!), and explore a new-to-me area of the northern Sierra. I won’t say exactly where I’m going yet, but I’m planning to do about 22 miles over 3 days; not a big mileage trip, so it’ll be nice to take the time to enjoy and explore the area. I’ll definitely have a write-up about the trip next week, sometime.

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2014 Solstice Microadventure

Sometime last year I read about Alastair Humphreys and his year of Microadventure. I instantly fell in love with the idea of, in the words of Alastair, “an adventure that is close to home, cheap, simple, short, and yet very effective.” Rather than some great big, globe-trotting trip, the Microadventure is a way of challenging yourself to be creative and do something you’ve never done in your own backyard. I’ve been following Alastair’s blog and Facebook page for a while now, and when he issued the Summer Solstice Microadventure Challenge on his Facebook page earlier this month, I knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to create an adventure near me. The only “rule” for the adventure? It had to include sleeping out in the wild for at least one night, without a tent! Challenge accepted!

Thinking about potential adventures, my first thought was to take off on my bike and find a nice hill to sleep on. Thinking about this further, though, I realized that I tend to see a lot of the world around me from atop two wheels, and I wanted a little change of pace. Instead, I wanted to craft an adventure that required me to walk to my destination. As luck would have I live just below the foothills of Sonoma County. Perfect!

On the evening of Summer Solstice, the husband and I packed up our gear and headed out the front door. We left the house at around 7:45 p.m. With pack strapped on, we walked through our residential neighborhood toward our destination.

Even though I have walked through my neighborhood countless times, having a big pack on my back definitely made for a different type of walking experience! I received a number of quizzical looks from people who were out watering their plants, walking their dogs, or playing with their kids. I even got one “looks like you missed the trail” greeting from an older dude. I smiled and laughed a bit, too excited to be on this adventure to feel self conscious.

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with packs strapped tight, we made our way through our residential neighborhood.

Turning out of our neighborhood, we were suddenly on one of those quintessential Sonoma County backroads; twisting, narrow, and lined on either side by vineyards. “We really do live in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” exclaimed my husband. As I watched the vineyards bathed in golden sunlight, I couldn’t help but agree with his assessment.

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Vineyards, oaks, and narrow country roads. This is most definitely Sonoma County. We are headed up to the ridge toward the transmission tower in the far back.

A short while later we reached the edge of the foothills and began our climb up to the ridge where we planned to spend the night. The sun was just beginning to set and the light playing off of the golden hills and oaks made for a rather spectacular hike.

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After some steep climbing we reached an overlook area that I thought would make for a nice spot to spend the night. Upon closer inspection, though, we noticed several large ant nests and, not wanting to wake up to searing ant bites, we decided it would be best to climb further up to find a better, less ant-infested spot. After another 15 minutes of climbing, we reached a scenic overlook area with a bench. Perfect! After checking for ants, I dropped my pack and stood at the edge of the ridge to take in the view. Wow! Below us, the cities and towns that dot the valley were busy with traffic and activity. Up here on the ridge, though, there was nothing but the sounds of the oaks and grasses swaying in the breeze, the deer and other animals making their way through the forest, and the birds calling to one another.

It always amazes me how quickly the sounds and sights of the city disappear when you move into a more wild space. Down there, life passes quickly by. In wild spaces, time does funny things. It slows down, expands, becomes meaningless. Moments seem to linger on, become deeper and longer. It really is true, what people say…that nature is sacred; an almost spiritual or religious experience. Whatever it is, it definitely helps to reset my mind and soften my heart.

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Happiness is sitting on a ridge surrounded by oak trees.

I watch the sun set a little bit longer, but realize that it would probably be a good idea to set up camp for the night. Luckily having no tent makes for a really quick camp set-up!

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In no time, the husband and I are sitting, watching the fog roll out from the coast, cans of Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA in hand. We talk and laugh and gaze out onto the fog covered valley. Soon, night falls but the lights of the towns below light up the valley just enough to see the fog stretching out over the vineyards and towns.

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We munch on the random snacks we threw into our packs and suddenly hear something large move through the brush just below us. “What are we supposed to do if we see a mountain lion,” I ask, slight panic rising in my voice. Although this is mountain lion country and sightings are pretty frequent, I’ve never heard of someone being attacked by one in Sonoma County. Although my rational brain knows this, I get a little nervous about the fact that we are cowboy camping. Even though a tent wouldn’t protect you from a large predator like a mountain lion, there’s still something comforting about not being face to face with whatever is outside. My husband says reassuring things and and I pretend to believe him.

I finally get sleepy and cold enough and we turn in for the night. I’ve slept outside many times, but this was my first time sleeping without a tent. It was a little bit scary and exhilarating. Sleep didn’t come very easily, but after what seemed like hours of listening to critters rustling through the brush, I finally passed out and slept soundly until the sun was already up.

In the morning we lazily packed up camp while I made coffee with our trusty pocket rocket stove.

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the husband, enjoying coffee and the crisp morning air.

After packing up the remaining gear, we set off down the trail. As we descended the ridge we passed two early morning hikers who offered shy smiles when they saw our packs. It was still early when we reached the main road, and there was hardly any traffic on the road.

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Making our way back home.

As we wound through our neighborhood, there were few signs of life. It looked like most people were still in bed on this Sunday morning. Soon, we rounded the corner of our street and just like that, we were back at our house. I looked at the clock; just a little bit before 7:30.

I set out to have a new adventure and along the way I was able to  experience my neighborhood in a completely new way, enjoy great views of the Wine Country valley that I call home, and have amazingly funny, deep, meaningful conversations with the husband. All in a span of about 12 hours. I call that a successful microadventure for sure!