The Reluctant Scoutmaster Goes Backpacking

I think some of you may know that I’m Scoutmaster to a troop of girls participating in Boy Scouts.  I am, however, a rather reluctant Scoutmaster as I have very few outdoor skills and truly don’t like to camp.

So, what am I doing this weekend?  Going backpacking.  For me, this is a very unfortunate turn of events.

I tolerate car camping only because I can bring a ton of stuff with me, like my own pillow, my giant stadium chair, my insulated coffee mug, and lots of snacks, specifically those pink and white frosted animal cookies.

Let me be clear about this next statement:  I HATE backpacking.

I have gone backpacking once before.  My son had just joined his Boy Scout troop and a few of us new moms went along on the backpacking trip, which I believe was over Mother’s Day for some unknown reason.  To this day, I refer to the trip as “The Death March to the Snakes.”

We hiked Mt. Wittenburg.  I neglected to realize that the “Mt.” before “Wittenburg” meant “mountain”, as in, all uphill.  I was miserable.  I could barely keep up with the troop.  It might have occurred to me to not throw “Gone With the Wind” in my pack, but, well, it didn’t.

If you’ve ever hiked Wittenburg, you’ll know that there’s no view from the top.  Actually, the only way you know you’re at the top is if you happen to notice the geological marker thing in the ground.  The lack of a view made all that uphill hiking super disappointing.

When we finally got to camp and set up, I crashed inside my tent, cozied up with Gone With the Wind.  Then, I heard one of the other moms scream.  And I thought, “That’s a snake.”  I know a snake scream when I hear one.

Yep, there were snakes.  IN CAMP.  I am terrified of snakes.  When I finally came out of my tent, I ran to the nearest picnic table, sat on top of it and wouldn’t come off.  Snakes can’t climb up picnic tables, right?

Eventually, we had to make dinner, which meant boiling water for our dehydrated backpacking food.  I had borrowed a backpacking stove from a friend but was a little fuzzy on its use.

I managed to light the picnic table on fire.  Apparently, I didn’t need quite that much fuel.

O.k., o.k., in my defense, it wasn’t a big fire.  The Scoutmaster ran over and put it out.  (I won’t lie, in the back of my mind, there might have been some master plan to get banned from the next backpacking trip.)

Finally, I managed to boil water.  The next morning, the nice Senior Patrol Leader (kid in charge) came over and sweetly asked if I’d like him to make breakfast for me.  “That would be fantastic,” I said.

So, here I am, faced with going backpacking again in nine hours.  Why??  (I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately.)

Because I made a commitment to my group of girls.  I desperately tried to find another mom to go instead of me.  When the girls go anywhere, Boy Scout rules say they have to have a registered (with the troop) adult female along.  Everyone had some reason they couldn’t go.  So what was I going to do?  Tell my girls they can’t go just because their reluctant, wimpy Scoutmaster doesn’t backpack?

When I agreed to be Scoutmaster, I made it clear that I do not backpack and do not camp in the snow.  (The troop does an annual snow camping trip.)  But . . . here I am, going backpacking.

I should clarify how my girl troop “works”.  We’re a separate troop on paper, as required by the Boy Scouts.  But, we’ve “partnered” with a troop of boys and basically run a co-ed troop.  So, the girls do everything the boys do.  There are several requirements that must be done on a backpacking trip so its not like we can just opt out of backpacking.

My distress grew at troop meeting on Wednesday night when I learned that this is “real” backpacking.  As in, no toilets.  Not even a pit toilet!  What??  We were advised “bring your own toilet paper!”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

This led to my googling yesterday, “How to pee in the woods if you’re a girl.”  In my opinion, no one should ever have to google that.  But, apparently a lot of people do because there were several articles on the subject.  Thanks to REI, Self Magazine and a few blogs, I now know that if I can see my shoelaces, I’ve achieved a perfect squat.  And, that its helpful to find a tree to hold onto.

Armed with that knowledge, I’d better get back to packing.  I’ve already determined that I should leave my string of cute little miniature Coleman lantern lights at home.  Normally, I put them on my tent so I can find it in the dark.  And, this time, I’ll find a smaller book to bring.


Wish me luck and no snakes!


San Francisco’s 49 Mile Drive (sort of)

We’ve been to San Francisco multiple times.  And we’ve always noticed these little signs here and there around the city.

49 mile drive sign

Last Sunday, we thought we would head to “the city” and take the 49 Mile Scenic Drive.  In looking for a map of the route before we left home, I found this great article:

It has a lot of great tips, such as, the cute seagull route markers are only printed on one side, so if you’re hoping to follow the signs, you can only drive the route counter-clockwise.  Good to know!!!

The article also points out that the seagull signs are so cute, they are frequently stolen.  So, really, you can’t depend on the signs at all.  Also good to know!  And, that makes it that much more important that you have an idea of the route before you set off.

We didn’t do the entire 49 miles . . . that’s simply too much to do in one day if you’re going to actually stop and look around at all.  We had a fantastic day, following the route mentioned in the article.  Our dog, Sam, served as our landmark model.

First stop:  The Palace of Fine Arts


That’s Sam, watching the duck.  It was built for the Panama-Pacific International Expo on 1915 (and later rebuilt – it wasn’t originally built to last this long).  There’s not much to actually do here but stop, stroll around the lovely lake and marvel at the whole thing.

Stop 2:  The Presidio

The Presidio is a sprawling old military area that has been lovingly re-purposed into museums, businesses, and many other things.  There are huge green lawns with lovely views.  The Walt Disney Family Museum is there.  We haven’t visited the museum but plan to on another day.

Lucas Film is also headquartered in the Presidio.  Just tell the super nice security guard that you want to see the Yoda fountain.

IMG_20200129_182932_308  The reception area for Lucas Film is just behind Sam and the Yoda fountain.  Its closed on the weekends but we peered through the window – it looks cool!!  There’s R2D2, a life-size Darth Vader and all the Oscar awards.  We might have to go back on a weekday.

We wandered through the Presidio but did not stop at the Pet Cemetery.  My daughter said it would be weird to take Sam to a pet cemetery.  Plus, there’s really no where to park right near it.  But, the husband and I did stop there years ago and its worth a quick wander.

We also skipped Fort Point (an old Army fort right under the Golden Gate Bridge) and the Bridge itself.  We’ve been to Fort Point and have walked across the Golden Gate.  However, if you haven’t done those things, you really should!  (It takes longer to walk across the bridge than you would think!  And, its always chilly.  Wear a jacket!!!)

Stop 3:  The Legion of Honor

Basically, its an art museum located in Golden Gate Park.  If you like art museums, then its great.  We don’t.  But, we have been here on school field trips.  Admittedly, the mummy room with actual Egyptian mummies is pretty cool.  We stopped to take Sam’s picture in front of “The Thinker”.


Stop 4:  Cliff House and Ocean Beach

The Cliff House has a really good Sunday brunch buffet.  We’ve been there numerous times.  The room can get a little crowded but the setting makes it one of my favorite places for brunch.

The ruins of the Sutro Baths are nearby and also worth a stop.  The setting is gorgeous, right on the edge of land.  There’s a good visitor center.

From the Sutro Baths area, there’s a nice walking / hiking trail that goes along the coast.  It offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge and, along the way, you’ll find some old military batteries to explore.  (Look out for glass – unfortunately, the batteries are littered with glass, trash and graffiti.)  Here’s Sam on the trail, on top of one of the batteries.IMG_20200129_182932_333

Stop 5:  Golden Gate Park

There’s a lot to do and see in the Park.  Its home to everything from the California Academy of Sciences (go see the albino alligator!), a Japanese Tea Garden (super cool bonsai), a herd of buffalo, to a Dutch Windmill.  My favorite is the Conservatory of Flowers.


We’ve been to the park numerous times and have seen all of the above so we skipped over the Park for the most part, besides just driving through.  If you’ve never been to Golden Gate Park, you could easily spend a day just exploring the park and all it has to offer.

Stop 5:  Haight-Ashbury

What can I say?  The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was the center of the hippie culture in the 1960’s.  Think Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, etc.  Today, its quite the eclectic mix of people and places.  There’s high end sneaker stores – the sneakers were individually shrink-wrapped!!!  My kids knew the brand; I didn’t have a clue.  There are hookah shops, lingerie shops (some “nice”, some “naughty”), thrift stores offering velour jumpsuits, and stores packed to the rafters with things I couldn’t even begin to identify.  The sidewalks are filled with everyday folks, homeless folks, people who are clearly high, people who are talking to invisible people and everyone in between.  Taking a few photos just seemed weird, maybe rude and, either way, too touristy.  So just go and experience it for yourself!

Stop 6:  Twin Peaks

O.k., in all our times in San Francisco, we had never even heard of Twin Peaks.  So we went and oh my gosh, was it worth it!!!!  Twin Peaks offers a spectacular view of the entire city!!!  Its truly stunning (and windy and cold but that’s ok).  IMG_20200129_182932_328

That being said, don’t bother going if its foggy, which San Francisco often is.  You won’t see a thing!  This was one of our last stops so it was late in the day and the fog was rolling in quickly.   There is a viewing area and, despite the tour buses, we didn’t have a problem parking.  This will definitely go on our “place to bring out of town visitors” list.  My daughter noted that, from up there, the city looked “kind of flat”, which it definitely isn’t.

Stop 7:  The Castro

Our first sight in the Castro neighborhood was two older gentlemen, holding hands, dressed in matching jeans, red plaid flannel shirts, and suspenders.  They matched right down to their watches and were, honestly, adorable.   The main street of the area, which is home to the historic Castro Theater, is adorned with rainbow flags and rainbow crosswalks.  Its clean and friendly, but still has the people who are muttering to themselves or talking to invisible others.  (And that, kids, is why you don’t do drugs.)

The day was getting late and we had horses to feed at home so our stop here was fairly short.  But, of course, we took Sam’s picture!


Oh, if you’re looking for an all-you-can-eat sushi spot for lunch, we recommend Sakana Bune at 5701 Geary Street.  Its one of those places where the little plates of sushi comes around on the boats.

l  For non-sushi eaters (that would be me), they have teriyaki, tempura, etc.

That’s as far as we made it on the 49 Mile Drive.  We’ll have to do the rest another day!



A Day in Bryce Canyon National Park

I’ve always wanted to be a travel writer.  I love to travel and I really like to write so . . . travel writer seems like a perfect combo for me.  For years, I’ve emailed “daily reports” while on our trips to a very small group of family and friends (very small – like, 5 people.)  I thought I would finally throw one out to a wider audience for some more feedback, even though feedback terrifies me.  (Maybe just no one will read it.)

This is from the 10 day road trip I just took with my Mom.  Fergie is my beloved 2011 Toyota Highlander.  O.k., here goes (I know a few pictures would add a lot):

August 30, 2018    Bryce National Park


Today we spent the day exploring Bryce National Park.  Here, unlike Zion, the shuttle is not mandatory.  We considered taking it because it worked so well in Zion but, here in Bryce the shuttle only goes to 4 stops.  So, we decided to take Fergie so we could drive to the end of the road and see everything.

Bryce Canyon is way, way cooler than I thought it would be . . ..  not that I really had any expectations.  I had absolutely no idea what there was to see here.  Well, there’s hoo-doos, that’s what there is.  Hoo-doos and sunset striped mesas and cliffs.  And trees and sweeping vistas where you can look out onto forever.  It’s pretty amazing.

Hoo-doos are spires of rock that once were connected to each other.  Over time (eons) the cliffs eroded.  Softer rock, of course, eroded first.  Water caused vertical cracks.  In the winter, water froze in the cracks and the ice caused the cracks to expand.  Eventually, the cracks enlarged enough to separate the spire from the rest of the cliff.  Then, again, over eons, wind and water continued to sculpt the hoo-doos into fantastic spires.  Sometimes the spires get super skinny with huge tops seemingly precariously balanced on top of them.  One area that is a good example of this is called “Hat Shop” because the spires are skinny like a hat rack with a big floppy hat on top of them.  They’re super, super cool and they’re literally everywhere.

“Quick” eroding hoo-doos erode at the rate of about 1 centimeter per year.  Those are somewhere else in the world – I can’t remember.  It was in the Visitor Center display about “Hoo-Doos Around the World”.  Here, in Bryce, the Fairyland Canyon cliffs are eroding at about the rate of one foot every sixty years.  Not too quick.  But really, its kind of odd to think that, when you stand on the edge of the cliff, the solid rock you’re standing on won’t be there in the span of a lifetime.  Now that’s something to stop and ponder.

Bryce seems to encourage stopping and pondering.  I found myself doing it a lot.  When you’re standing at a viewpoint and looking out over the hoo-doos and deep canyon, if you just turn around (so your back is now to the hoo-doos and deep canyon), you’re looking at a forest.  Look one way – hoo-doos reaching down into a deep canyon; look the other way – forest.  Forest . . . Hoo-doos and canyon.  Hoo-doos and canyon . . .. Forest.  Do that a couple of times and really think about it.  Its like you’re standing in the middle of a geological process that you can really envision happening.  You can see it in the trees that are precariously hanging onto the edge of the current cliff face.

Another place to stop and ponder things is on the Bristlecone Trail.  Bristlecone is an easy-ish, one mile trail from Rainbow Point, which is the end of the road.  The trail takes you through a forest of Douglas fir and White fir.  It then opens out onto a sweeping vista with bristlecone pines.  The oldest bristlecone in the park is here.  Its been standing for about 1,500 years.  Right near by are little bristlecones that are just starting out.  There are also a lot of dead, weathered white, sculpted trees.  They’re very, very pretty, still standing tall against the blue sky.  The view here really is stunning.  You can look back and clearly see where the trees go right up to the edge of the cliff.  Better yet, you can look out and know that somewhere, not too far in the distance, is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  There are mesas, deep canyons that look like snakes running across the land and even a volcanic cone formation in the distance.  Its easy to see and understand how everything works together.  It was super windy and a bit chilly, but I stood there for a long time.  If you ever get to Bryce, take this trail.  But make sure you have time to stop and think about things.

The landscape is truly sunset colored.  The tops of many of the mesas and hoo-doos are a grey-ish white.  They’re horizontally striped – grey-ish white to chocolate to orange.  The orange ranges from a deep orange-red in some areas to a light pink in other areas.  All of this is punctuated by deep green trees, some of which grow right down in and amongst the hoo-doos.  Stunning.

So, we basically spent the day driving to all of the viewpoints, ending at Rainbow Point.  There’s a lot of hiking to do here.  I would love to come back and hike down in the canyon to look up at the hoo-doos.  We talked to a ranger at one of the first look-outs who was watching a bit of trail down in the canyon because they were already looking for a lost hiker.  He told us that they have so many people get lost, dehydrated, twist an ankle, etc. every single day that they actually send out park rangers super early in the morning so they’re already on the trails when people start having trouble.  So, if you like to hike, are in excellent shape and are into emergency / park ranger type stuff, you can actually get a job that pays you to just hike around in the national park (at least here in Bryce).

After our driving tour, we hung out here on our porch for awhile and then meandered to the lodge for dinner.  I had a spectacular dinner . . . it started with a serving of warm, garlic sourdough (with big cloves of garlic in it!).  Then I had the seared salmon with a cilantro-mango-lime sauce, accompanied by roasted root vegetables and rice pilaf.  My glass of cabernet from 14 Hands Winery was very good.  To finish it off, there was a slice of caramel apple pie that was amazing!  Wow.  I’d eat that whole meal again!

Come to Bryce Canyon!!!  Walk the Bristlecone Trail and have apple pie at the lodge!  And do the hoo-doo/deep canyon . . . (turn around) . . . forest . . . . forest . . . (turn around) . . . hoo-doo/deep canyon thing.  And ponder.  And wonder.







Travel Planning Fatigue

I’m the family travel planner.  For the  past few years, we’ve taken a month long, summer, road trip every other year.  They take a lot of planning.  I also plan all our weekend trips and shorter getaways.

I completely re-planned the 10 day trip my Mom and I just took in 3 days.  We were supposed to go to Glacier National Park but a fire closed most of the sights, including the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  That, coupled with her bad asthma, made that trip impossible.  I gave her the options of rescheduling a trip to Glacier or planning a whole new trip.  “New trip!!!”  she said.  Sigh . . . o.k.  But, in three days, that was accomplished; hotel reservations, major sites, side trips, and all.

I’m good at trip planning.  Typically, I enjoy it.

But I am absolutely stumped for where to go on next summer’s family vacation.  We’ve driven across the country twice – so we’ve been to at least half, if not more, of the states.  We’ve been to a lot of national parks, a lot of museums, and a lot of other quirky stops.  We’ve been on cruises.  We’ve been to Hawaii (and are going there again in February).

I’m having a super hard time coming up with a trip that will make everyone happy.  And that we can afford.  Believe me, I’ve found lots of amazing things to do but they’re a bit out of our price range.

My 15 year old son is happy doing just about anything.  My 13 year old daughter . . . not so much.  She’s declared herself done with national parks and museums.  She likes “activities” – horseback riding, swimming, but not hiking.  She likes to sit on the porch of a nice lodge and have us all play a board game.  We all like excellent food.

I think I have trip planning fatigue.  With the whole world calling and my family saying, “Where to next??” I don’t know why I can’t come up with something!


“Its a Bit of a Hike”

I texted our friend to see if he wanted to get together for dinner.  “Yes, or, do you want to go fishing with us on Saturday?” came the reply.  “O.k., where, etc.?”  The plan was to go “poke poling” out at Dillon Beach.  “Its a bit of a hike out to the fishing spot.” our friend warned.  No problem!  We’re usually up for a hike.  And, a quick online check confirmed that we could take the dog.  Perfect!

The drive out to Dillon Beach is beautiful.  From our house, its just under an hour through the best of what (in my opinion) Sonoma County has to offer – long, 2 lane, slightly winding roads through green, green pastures of cows and sheep, over gently rolling hills until you get to the coast.

We parked alongside the road in the little coastal community of Dillon Beach.  First up, was about a quarter-mile walk to the beach.  As we were gathering up our stuff, our friend reminded us, “Its a bit of a hike to the fishing spot.”  Ummm . . . o.k..  I had woken up a little bit crabby and his reminder wasn’t improving my mood.

The beach was accessed by traipsing along the side of a property, across squishy ice plant, that allegedly is a public access.  Thankfully, the homeowner wasn’t home because apparently she takes issue with whether or not there’s actually an easement for public access across her property.  So, at least we didn’t get yelled at.

Next up was a fairly step, slightly slippery, trail down to the beach.  Again, not making me very happy.  I made it down without falling on my butt and was relieved once we got down to the sand.  I was almost happy until our friend pointed to some rocks very, very far off in the distance and announced that’s where the fishing spot was.  “What???  Why??!!!!”  I was seriously beginning to regret not having brought a book to read, which would have allowed me to plop down and spend the day right there.

Ugh.  We set off.  The hike was a torturous combination of walking across sand, scrambling over boulders, scaling some large rocks, more boulders, squeezing through a little rock tunnel, more boulders and more boulders.  To increase the fun, some boulders were wet, slippery, and covered in spots in mussels.

Normally the beach is my happy place.  I should have been delighted.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day – sunny with no wind.  But did I mention all those boulders?  Finally, finally, we got to the fishing spot.  Yep, that was a bit of a hike.  Once I had a snack and settled in, I began to notice what a beautiful spot it was.20180127_152453.jpg

I chose not to fish.  Everyone else went poke poling with these super long bamboo poles.  20180127_135705

Needless to say, they got rather wet.  But, they also caught a bunch of fish!  I was perfectly content to watch the ocean, take pictures, peer into tide pools and hang out with my dog.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen tide pools with huge starfish.  They came in a couple of different colors!  There were these dark red ones . . .


And orange!


And, of course, there were tons of shells and mussels and other stuff that I don’t know the names for.

20180127_141516 (1)

It turned out to be a lovely day.  But at the end of it, there was that “bit of a hike” back.  And all those boulders . . .

The Road Frequently Taken

We drive Highway 5 between Northern and Southern California several times a year.  Its straight and there’s not a whole lot to see.  So, after you’ve driven it umpteen times it is, to put it mildly, boring.


However, I am of the opinion that there’s something interesting to be found no matter where you are.  So, on this trip, I was determined to find something interesting along the road we have frequently taken.

First we pondered over a truck with “KSi” and “Rescue” on the back.  A quick Google search told us that the truck was a “confined space rescue” team.  O.k., well!  That’s something I never knew existed!  But, I suppose if you’re building things like underground pipelines or doing some sort of mining a confined space rescue team would be a great thing to have on standby.  And that’s exactly what the folks in the truck do.

A little further down the highway, a crop-duster was working.  Crop-dusting is always fun to watch!  Of course how low they fly is exciting but I also love the tight turns they make at the end of each row.

It apparently is harvest time for cotton and pomegranate.  Often when we drive Highway 5 its tomato and garlic harvesting time so cotton and pomegranates were different and, therefore . . . interesting!  The cotton trucks have some sort of conveyor system in them to load and unload the giant bales of cotton.  I suppose that’s super convenient because giant bales of cotton look really heavy.

There’s always semis to look at.  Its fun to try to guess what are under some of the tarps.  And, I always wonder, if I was starting out in the trucking industry, how exactly would I find stuff to transport?

Spotting out of state license plates is always a good way to pass the time.  On this trip we spotted Hawaii, Texas, and British Columbia.  Texas is pretty common; British Columbia is more common than I would think, but Hawaii is pretty rare!  Love the rainbow license plates!

We’ve seen some beautiful weather driving through Tejon Pass, over the Grapevine.  No interesting weather this time but that’s o.k.

We dropped down into the Los Angeles basin and I felt extremely satisfied to have found some interesting things on the our frequently driven road!  It helped to prove my theory that, if you look hard enough, there’s something interesting to be found no matter where you are!