Yosemite
Summer in Yosemite National Park is full of tourists and RVs and screaming children and “CAMPGROUND FULL” signs, but there are ways to avoid the teeming masses. Generally, just stay out of the Valley.  Read more…

Sometimes life happens to you all at once. Things are fine, or at least as fine as they ever are, and then life throws you a crisis. And crises, like hyenas, travel in packs.

In the midst of such crises, it’s normal to think, “Man, I could really use a vacation.” But this time, that was exactly my problem. I did have a vacation planned. A four-day vacation with my partner’s entire family in sunny Palm Springs, California, the Florida of the West. And I was completely unraveling. I wailed in self-pity. There wasn’t time for a vacation, with everything crumbling around me! I began to tumble freely within a vortex of psychotic, rueful laughter.

But fortunately, I hunkered down. I faced the hyena pack of absurd deadlines and other threats and tragedies, hoping to beast it all by the time vacation time rolled around. Or at least, enough of it. I also whined incessantly. My partner, Sam, bore the brunt of this. I flopped despondently on the couch, buried in a sea of papers. I asked him repeatedly to remind me what wonders lay ahead of us. Just humor me like you’re George and I’m Lennie, I whimpered, morosely. Tell me about Palm Springs. Tell me again.

Palm Springs, he told me, is a beautiful desert oasis, a magical place where you can lounge poolside with a margarita, or go for a hike surrounded by mountains and palm trees, or go on a thrifting binge. As it turns out, Palm Springs is a haven for gays and the elderly, and as such, it boasts incredible thrift store pickings. And while I did lounge like a lizard, and I did leave with a stuffed suitcase full of what looked like prime picks from Rue McClanahan’s estate sale, what I found most wonderful was the nature. Nature, of course, was the only thing that could save me from myself.  Read more…

I hung a right at the Stinson Beach fire station, and the trailhead appeared. My friend Tami and I had tried to hike this trail in February, somehow missing the trailhead and hiking the Cataract Trial farther up Mount Tamalpais instead. But because no fewer than three people told me the Matt Davis Trail was their favorite, I decided to give it another shot. And now here I was.

I followed the trail into the forest.

The Persephone of myth was radiant, referred to as “Kore” or simply, “the maiden.” She was gathering flowers with Artemis and Athena—what need the huntress and wise woman of war had for flowers isn’t clear. Perhaps they simply liked them. The three of them, along with some nymphs, were gathering flowers when the earth opened up. Read more…

It’s possible that the marketing lingo on the arm of my wetsuit is a touch aspirational, as I haven’t been in the water before lunch since this whole thing began, almost nine months ago. I know it’s been that long because I have the note that I scribbled to myself, right here: “June 21st, the longest day of the year. Not a snowflake in sight.”

It was the middle of summer, and I was anxious to get to the mountain and resume the success of last year’s snow season. I began snowboarding in 2008, when the economy tanked and I couldn’t afford my city apartment anymore. I moved to the mountain for the cheap rent, for the solitude. I found a season pass abandoned in one of the rooms of the ski lease, my snowboard was a generous gift from an old boyfriend. But 2013 was the year commitment bit hard. The year I didn’t go to the resort anymore but headed into the backcountry. The year I sat through all the avalanche seminars, the year I learned to dig and dig and dig and dig. The year I could run on ice and coil rope and build emergency snow anchors with nothing but chapstick. The year I spent actual, real life money on a book on how to tie knots.

But that snow season was several months gone and I still hadn’t recovered. Never re-oriented back to my day job, secure and well-paying, which I had to quit because after all the adventure in the snow the world had grown bigger and my mind collapsed under the routine. Never adjusted to summer weather that I found mild and uninspiring. I really needed something to do, and eventually it occurred to me … the ocean was right there. Surfing and snowboarding, the fundamentals couldn’t possibly be that different. Stand on board. Aside from the fact that I’m not a very good swimmer, that I had no board, no wetsuit, any idea how to surf, and that the coast of Northern California is the third-largest Great White Shark breeding ground in the whole world, I considered it a flawless plan.  Read more…

There is no snow in Hollywood. There is no rain in California. There are seasons: fog season and fire season are the two big ones. I have heard tell of a rainy season, but I have yet to see it.

Right now it is wildflower season, and so I went to Mount Diablo, hard-hit by last year’s fire season, to see what I could see.  Read more…

“LA has grown into a car-dominated maze. But if you think it’s not good for bikes, you’d be wrong. The weather is perfect for all-year riding, but its a battle out here. A battle for bikes to be seen as a great way to commute without spending your life stuck in a metal box.”
—Steve Isaacs, Sweet Ride USA

A lot of my old music buddies have gone on to do some pretty interesting things with their lives, but only one of them recently traded his car for a bicycle to promote a more sustainable future for metropolitan cities like Los Angeles.

“I never expected to lean into the bicycle advocacy world as much as I have, but it really is a natural progression. It started out as a solo thing on the weekend, where I just waited for the work week to end so I could show up in Santa Monica, spend the whole day in the sun, see hundreds of people on the beach, and zip by listening to music. It became my happy place,” said Steve Isaacs.

I first saw Isaacs when he was performing the lead in a touring production of The Who’s Tommy in the mid-90s, and then got to know his band Skycycle through the Los Angeles music scene a few years later. He’s also a one-time MTV VJ and former lead singer for the alternative rock group The Panic Channel. But these days Isaacs is a Webby Award-winning digital marketer and co-founder of Sweet Ride USA, a web series and blog built around urban bicycle culture and fueling up on desserts along the way. Read more…

If someone told me a year ago that I’d voluntarily go hiking in January, I’d have laughed. I grew up on the East Coast, where Girl Scout Camp in the Shenandoah Valley meant mosquito bites, cold mornings, latrines, and every obnoxious camp song there is. I spent seven years in Brooklyn and can’t recall anyone there telling me they enjoyed camping, or anything outdoors. I moved to Portland, Oregon, in August 2012, where my first attempts to find housing were foiled by building managers going on kayaking trips, and I saw the town empty every weekend as my new friends headed to the coast, the desert, and Mount Hood. I was still too busy exploring my new, very welcoming city, marveling at the idea that I could swim in the Willamette. When summer 2013 started, I’d already been talking to my friends about getting outdoors. My housemate Tonya, also a recent transplant, had just been introduced to day hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, and that sounded like a great place to start. Over the summer and fall, we started to work our way through the Portland Hiker’s Field Guide. In 2014, she and I resolved to Get Better at Going Outside. We chose a short hike for January, very close to Portland.


Cape Horn is just past Vancouver (the Vancouver in Washington state), on the other side of Washougal, right up Highway 14. We usually take Interstate 84, but our trailhead was closer in than the next bridge. The road isn’t straight and tidy. It winds, it flexes, you lean into the edges, it leans up the hills. Some of the hills are mountains.

We park where there are other cars, other people. These people take the same trail. The lot was full in January. It was unseasonably warm, and unseasonably sunny. I’d thrown my larger jacket in the car, just in case. We parked and opened the doors to wind blowing across the river, cold and whip-y. We piled on all the contingency clothes we’d brought—extra layers and hats and gloves. The thermostat sat in the low forties, but that wind. Hiking in January! Read more…

I’ve got corn nuts and a soda pop in my hand, and I’m being rung up at the gas station just outside Hollister, California, right off Highway 101. The clerk asks me where I’m going, which seems kind of weird, but gas stations are probably boring places to work, and so I tell him I’m going back home to Oakland. I had just finished hiking around the Pinnacles.

Oh yeah, he’s been there one time. Very pretty, the rocks. And was I hiking with my friends?

I was not. I was hiking alone. Read more…

It’s not easy being a rock drummer around a campfire.

This wonderful song book appeared a couple of years ago, handed down from a friend of a friend at a three-day motel party in Palm Desert. The chords-and-lyrics book had been printed, photocopied, and tabbed—pure magic in a three-ring binder from Staples.

It has just about every grand, beloved and ridiculous song you could ever want to sing around a campfire, from “King of the Road” to “Don’t Stop Believing.”  You haven’t truly lived until you’ve seen a drunken mom belting out Pat Benatar in the orange-yellow glow of a campfire, while her filthy children dance in the shadows.  Read more…

The National Park Service will turn 100 years old in 2016, and that’s one of the reasons why the parks finally got a little budget boost this year. But you don’t need a centennial celebration to appreciate America’s greatest legacy. You can go now, or over spring break, or this summer, or maybe even this weekend.

In the course of my work-related travels, whether I’m reporting on fracking in North Dakota or a “Ron Paul blimp” in North Carolina, I make sure to go to the nearest big chunk of green on the map. I’m not picky—state parks, national forests, national monuments, wildlife reserves, land conservancies, the Great Dismal Swamp, anything with nature and critters is fine.  (A bar with good beer on tap and a local trout on the menu reaches a level that ancient philosophers describe as “transcendence.”)  Read more…