Cayucos Pier and David’s Memorial

The day
Week 28. September 22. My friends’ father died. He led a very full life accomplishing many things and touching many lives. That’s the type of life to have. His memorial was at the Cayucos Vets Hall which is at the base of the Cayucos Pier. Fitting, I think, because he was a man of the ocean: an avid surfer through his 70s and he even went to college in Hawaii.

View after, looking south
The memorial was very heartwarming: a real celebration of his life. And seeing his kids there — I grew up with most of them, best friends with his youngest daughter in my late teens and early 20s — my heart grew four sizes. There is something that hits me seeing all of us growing older. Maybe it’s a feeling of connection? I can’t quite tell you, but truly it moves me. We are all in the same boat.

The beach looking south, afterwards
After the memorial I walked out on the Cayucos pier and took in the just-happened sunset.

tree on the pier
And I thought about all the people in the world, just being people with their struggles and their joys and their experiences.

sunset, looking north
I do wish there was a way for us to understand when we are young just how fleeting it all is.

family on the beach, sunset style
Life goes by in a split second. Love the ones around you. Breathe in the salty sea air.

Me, Beach Week #28

An Amazing Dinner at the Big Sur Bakery

agave reaching
Just a week and a half after falling and breaking my arm I went back to Big Sur. My mom and I have a tradition: Big Sur on our Birthdays. Hers is in May, mine’s in September. These trips tend to be great anchors to the beginning and end of summer. We’ve been doing this since I was in my late teens or early twenties. And every trip (every. trip.) includes a stop at Nepenthe.

over the nepenthe patio
We are fans of both Nepenthe and its prodigy. We find the Fassett family fascinating. We each have the Nepenthe cookbook written by one of the Fassett granddaughters (it’s awesome; you should get it.). I gave my mom one of Kaffe Fassett’s knitting books as a gift. And for my birthday, my mom made me a lap quilt from Kaffe Fassett fabric.

The Fassett’s still own and operate Nepenthe. Decades before, this spot was owned by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. It’s been visited by dignitaries, luminaries, celebrities, artists, vagabonds, and hustlers. It’s a jewel, I’m sure, to Big Sur locals. The food is pretty good and pretty pricy and the view and surroundings make it worth every penny.

Fassets sign
But on this trip we simply stopped to browse and shop at The Phoenix Bookstore (always great things there) and perhaps have a piece of (birthday commemorating) pie at Cafe Kevah. (Note to those who’ve never visited: the umbrella photos are of the Nepenthe patio, not of Cafe Kevah.)

Umbrellas of Nepenthe
Alas, there was no pie at Cafe Kevah. We considered having a scone and a cup of coffee, but for whatever reason, I think we both felt compelled to keep traveling north, though we had no destination in mind.

the foggy sunny day
Mom suggested eating in Carmel and we both thought this was a great idea. However, we didn’t find the right place there either. We took in the beach, got our feet sandy and wet, and wound up back in the car driving south, still hungry and seeking that perfect place to eat.

And I’m so happy to tell you that we found it: the Big Sur Bakery.

reflection of the santa lucias
I’ve been circling this place for the last year, mostly trying to get a loaf of bread. But they sell out. Often. Or every time I tried. In June Steve and I had lovely pastries and tea. A step in the right direction for sure. But this — on my birthday trip — proved to be the day when it would all come together: bread! dinner! cake! and an amazing waiter who made us feel special and well taken care of. Seriously, it was perfect.

Loma Vista sign
But first I will show you around the place circa magic hour. The sign that welcomes you from parking lot to garden.

Garden Shed
The gift shop that has artsy-farsty touristy things you should buy.

The view of the hills from the garden (and gas station).

Flower and vine and grasses and shrubbery, setting the tone.

garden shed
A look back on the garden shed. (Seriously, I think I’m in love with this place.)

view from our table
The view from our table.

We chose to eat outside on the patio even tho it was quite chilly (this is where the lap quilt my mom had just given me came in handy. I wrapped around my legs and lap.). But the light was pretty and the setting so nice; how could we not?

the amazing bread
The Big Sur Bakery doesn’t serve tapas, but we took a tapas route in our ordering, sharing everything. First up: the bread board. I’m sorry. I mis-wrote. Ahem: THE PERFECT MOST AWESOME DELICIOUS BREAD BOARD IN THE HISTORY OF BREAD BOARDS.

Then there was the dinner and I did take photos, but none of them turned out (the light was getting lower). We chose sides: a side of carrot sauce + heavenly vegetables + quinoa and mashed potatoes a la St. Peter’s Gate (okay, I’m paraphrasing). My mistake was not writing the names of the dishes down. Instead, this is what I will tell you: healthy ingredients bathed in mouthwatering delight. Our dinner was all oohs, ahhs and mmmms.

the cake
To top it off, we had an amazing waiter. You know the kind: charming but not cloy. Attentive, but not hovering. Sweet, professional, witty: all three. He really took care of us. When I asked if they had dessert he kind of had to muffle a chuckle. “We are a bakery,” he said with a sly smile and then brought out a piece of chocolate cake I will talk about for years.

post cake
My friend Rob made an off-hand remark online the other day about always showing his and his wife’s before-dinner photos — when the tables are pretty and the food untouched. He balanced things out by showing a true after photo: everyone satiated and the table a mini-shambles. This prompted me to get an after-the-cake photo. Still looking good, though, right? No shame in polishing off that one. (Okay, truth: mom and I split the cake, too.).

All this to say: go to the Big Sur Bakery for your Big Sur meal. Go go go. Make a reservation or wait in line. Do it. It’s delicious, it’s worth every penny, and the people that work there are nice. The view is nice, too.

Thanks to my mom for being my partner in Big Sur Birthday traveling. I love this tradition.

Me, Month 7

Carmel Beach

Monterey Cyprus, large
Week 27. Visiting Carmel was a spur-of-the-moment decision while my mom and I were driving up the coast. We were in Big Sur… driving along, admiring scenery, having great talks. It’s like we didn’t want the drive to end, so we kept driving. Past this beach, past that, over the Bixby Bridge. I think it was her idea to stop in Carmel to get a bite to eat.

Monterey Cyprus, smaller
We didn’t find the right place to eat. Everything seemed either too touristy or too spendy; we went to the beach instead and were immediately charmed by the iconic Monterey Cyprus trees that have charmed thousands before us.

warning signs
I have an old friend whose parents own a house on 17 Mile Drive, so there was a short time in my life where I visited Carmel semi-frequently. Yet — I had never been to this beach which seems odd in hindsight. This is such a famous destination.

tons of people on the beach
The beach itself was packed despite the fog and chill.

a very busy beach (to me anyway)
The white, fine sand; the gorgeous view: the whole thing does live up to its reputation.

I wondered if there was one local on the beach or if it was strictly a tourist spot.

looking east
I wondered who lives in these houses and if they get annoyed by the traffic and constant commotion? Obviously, I would not be the right person to live in one of them. (And now, weeks later, writing this post I wonder if they are vacation rentals for wealthy foreign tourists.)

beach people
We walked the length of the beach, chatting and taking photos.

the colorful (coordinated?) women
These two women were my favorites that day. Maybe they purposefully dressed alike. Maybe it was happy coincidence? Even their dogs matched. Where did they come from?

Mom and I left Carmel still hungry. We got back on the 1, heading south, looking for the perfect place to eat. And we found it: Big Sur Bakery. Couldn’t have been better and I all-caps HIGHLY recommend it. That post is to come.

Beach #27

Whale Watching in Morro Bay

Where the tour starts

Week 26. September 5. My birthday. I took the day off and Steve and I went to Morro Bay to do some whale watching via the Dos Osos whale watching tour boat. The tour takes a couple hours and you go a couple miles outside the Morro Bay harbor mouth. I’d been hearing great reports all summer including blue whales and breaching humpback whales. It was late in the season, so I wasn’t sure we would see any, but I had my fingers crossed.

from the bay, looking at the stacks and a raft of sea lions

I’d been spending a lot of time in Morro Bay, especially at the embarcadero and noticed it had been filled with the sound of constant seal barking. Sea Lion barking, to be more precise. The Sea Lions had claimed squatter rights on a boat landing in the middle of the harbor as well as docks along the embarcadero itself. It was great to cruise right up next to them. Sea lions? They’re big. And loud.

sea lions, closer

And they like to sun themselves.

Morro Rock and the harbor mouth

It was a beautiful day. Not too hot, slight breeze. And the bay/ocean was mostly calm. This harbor mouth can be a doozy during bad weather. It has capsized boats (and killed some people). During the winter time waves sometimes break here and surfer will paddle out. But today was calm and nice and perfect.

dolphins in the bay

We even saw dolphins inside the harbor.

out at sea, looking back at the shore

I was determined to have a great time whether or not we saw any whales. The ocean and scenery were quite lovely.

otter out to sea

I’m used to seeing sea otters in the bay…. To be honest, I think I just considered them bay-type of creatures. I never pictured them out in the open waters. Yet, we saw several otters (mostly loner types) way out in the ocean. The skipper said that they tracked an otter once who swam all the way from Morro Bay to Cambria in one day. Who knew?

otter even farther out to sea

So it was a lovely day of sea lions, dolphins and wayward otters.

And then….



We saw several whales traveling south together. Here’s a tip: once you see them, count down about five minutes and you will probably see them again (that’s how long they go before needing another breath). Where you will see them will be a mystery, but more likely than not, you will see them surface again in five minutes time.

More whales

It was pretty exciting. We didn’t see them breach, but we saw flukes, we saw spouts, we saw backs. We were happy.

even more whales

If we had just gone a week before we probably would have seen more activity. A month or so before and we would have seen even more than that. So, calendars are marked for next year. Maybe we’ll see a blue whale, too.

cute otter family with kayaker in the background

In the meantime we will placate ourselves with adorable otter families and beautiful scenery.

coming back in to morro bay

dos osos taken a couple days before

me, beach a week #26

Big Sur in August, Part Two

View from the Tanbark Trail
Month 6. August 28, 2013. I think there are three reasons why it has taken me so long to write this post. One, I broke my arm on this trip; two, there were a ton of smaller posts posted; and three I broke my arm on this trip. The arm breaking (though a very small break and almost entirely healed now) kind of messed with my head. I found I didn’t want to take photos (anywhere of anything) and I really resisted hiking. And I resisted blogging. Funny how the subconscious mind works.

coast view
But this day in Big Sur was beautiful. In full summer fashion, it varied between quite foggy and partly foggy with a chance of meatballs. You know what I mean. It was foggy and then the sun would peak out and then the fog would say “oh no you didn’t.” Back and forth and back and forth and on this day I think the sun mostly won.

the fog wall, coming in
The highlight was definitely hiking the Tanbark Trail and there are blog posts up about that. See the hike post, the tin house post, the burned trees post and the bear sighting post. The hike was perfect and my favorite hike of the season.

Learning more about the Basin Complex Fire was chilling, both on the reach and magnitude of the fire as well as the turn of events at Tassajara where the monks were left to defend themselves on their own. It could have turned out a terrible tragedy, but the monks fought a good fight and saved (most of) their land. There is a book about it.

three whale spouts
And finally the whales. It seems as if it’s been whale season since I started my monthly Sur Sojourns last March, but it isn’t true. No whale sightings at all in April. But come June, July, and August? Whale mania! What’s not to love?

flipper slap
It was the whales that coaxed me out of the car that last time and prompted me to stand on that shaky berm just north of the rock shed. My own fault. I just wanted one last glimpse of them and a glimpse I got.

And then I fell. And I broke my arm.

A few days later, while at home and still pumped up with painkillers, I felt like I needed to get back to Big Sur immediately to prove that it did not get the best of me.

And so I did return just a week and a half later (sans pain killers; no longer needed). That post is coming soon.

out there are whales

Me, Big Sur month 6

Tanbark Trail

Steve walking the tanbark trail
Week 24. Wednesday, August 28, 2013. The Tanbark Trail is a canyon hike, starting squarely in a redwood forest. It begins along a river (creek, really) and coaxes you up a hillside via redwood bordered switchbacks.

the forest at the tanbark trail
The forest is thick and the trees are tall here, keeping it cool. Also, everything smells delicious — fresh and clean.

beautiful forest of coast redwoods
While we know Big Sur is populated with many different animals and birds, this may have been Woodpecker Wednesday. They were everywhere: in the trees, in the sky, making calls, and hammering on tree trunks. A woodpecker’s paradise.

what the trail was like
The first half of the hike is dominated by the redwoods, but the trail itself is named after the tanbark oak tree. Not “really” an oak, at the turn of the 19th century the bark was used to tan animal hides and this canyon was harvested for it.

These days the tanbark oaks are ailing. A disease called Sudden Oak Death has ravaged this canyon (and long stretches of California). While the trail is (mostly) well maintained, downed oak after downed oak create an obstacle course of sorts.

Downed tanbark oak
We went under fallen oaks and we went over them. Most of the time I tried to not think of the very real problem facing the trees and forest. Here’s hoping the scientists find a cure soon.

tanbark oak covering the trail, steve ducking and going under
We stopped many times along the trail, both to catch our breath and take in the environment, which requires looking up as much as looking out.

beautiful hike

looking up to the tree canopy

Blackened trees, blackened tree bears and the blackened Tin House
blackened tree

burned trees and left stump

the view from the tan bark trail (near the tin house)
The hike was long and rich. I found myself with a ton of photos. I knew I couldn’t fit everything into one blog post so I created a few special blog posts (which I call “asides and besides”):

The walk down
Where most of the walk up is under a lush canopy of redwoods, the walk down is along an exposed dusty fire road. When you read that word dusty I want you to read it as DUSTY because I have never been so filthy dirty after a hike in my life and it was mostly due to this part of the road. While the remnants of the 2008 fire are easy to see in the forest, they are harder to determine on this part of the trail, but it’s all there in the form of ash. The ash is part of the soil, part of the path and the path is thick with dust.

coast view on the walk down
The positive side is that it also offers rich views of the pacific coast, including the McWay Falls cove.

steve walking down with the view of the McWays fall beach in the distance
The ocean here spans many shades of blue. Luscious, gorgeous, beautiful.

The beautiful coves along the coast
A fantasy scene. We also could see the whales way off in the distance: water spouts and at times a fluke. All worth the hot blazing sun and deep, penetrating dust.

Walking back to the car on Highway 1
The last mile of the hike is on Highway 1 itself. This is dangerous. Here is my advice: walk against traffic and stay off the road as much as possible. Common sense I know, but at times there is barely a shoulder — there’s barely a neck. It’s better to walk in the weeds than on the road, so just get yourself over and make it quick. You will experience at least one blind curve. Be careful.

On Highway 1, walking back to our car
And talk to strangers. We met David on the side of the road where he had been painting all day.

Spiritual, singing, painting David
He reminded me of Greg Junell, an old friend who passed away from lymphoma just a year before. David greeted us with a big smile and showed us his paintings and gave us each an orange for our walk back to the car.

me, road sign, and the orange (note the very dirty blue jeans; that hike was DUSTY!)
When we finally did make it back to the car we were glad for some provisions on hand. We knew we might meet poison oak, so we wore pants for the hike but brought shorts to change into afterwards (and this is where we saw, despite wearing heavy jeans, we had dust and dirt up past our knees). We had soap and water to wash away the dirt, lotion to make us feel fresh, and snacks and a gallon of water to refuel and replenish. Bonus points: I brought an extra hat and a pair of sandals. It’s the little things.

So far the Tanbark Trail is my favorite hike of the year. I would do it again in a heart beat. What would I do differently? It would be nice to avoid hiking Highway 1, but I can’t really see a way around that. Other than that, the hike was perfect.

Peak a Week - Week #24

The Tin House

tin house on the hill
The Tin House was built by the same couple that lived at McWay Falls, the Brown family. Rumor has it that Mr. Brown built this house for his best friend and best man at his wedding, Teddy Roosevelt. Brown’s daughter refutes this rumor, robbing us of a fun story to tell. No matter, I’m sure there are other stories. I just don’t know them.

from the inside
Unfortunately, the 2008 Great Basin Fire roared through here, demolishing the whole house, leaving it in ruins and rubble. The roof has caved in and all that really remains are its metal walls, broken cement, and a front porch.

view of the fireplace

dante graffiti
It has also become a canvas for decent hiker graffiti.


I do know one story about it. My friend Tom proposed to his wife Cami here. I have it on excellent authority (Tom told me) that this is true. Yea!

ocean view

Burned-bark trees

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
In 2009 the Basin Complex fire ravaged Big Sur. At over 244,000 acres burned, it is the third-largest fire in recorded California history and the second costliest for the United States (disclaimer: I don’t know the figures for the 2013 fire in Yosemite.)

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
The fire was fueled by dying/dead Tanbark Oaks (killed by Sudden Oak Death, aka SOD). The fire was especially hot here and it burned houses and outbuildings. And trees. And trees. And trees.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
But Coast Redwoods (the tallest trees on the planet) can both survive and (maybe) benefit from terrible wild fires. The outside of the bark will burn, but the important inner layers (often) will not. The burned ground of the forest floor (temporarily free of leaves and needles and other plants) may allow shoots to take root and sprout and grow.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
I can’t tell you why being surrounded by all of these burned trees made me feel emotional, but I did. I do, just thinking about it.

The picture below gives you a little reference in the size and height of these trees. Steve (on the trail) is 5’10”. Note how enormous the big, blackened tree to his left is. Now note all of those bright green saplings growing next to him. Look at how skinny their trunks are and how tall they are. They are babies. Tall, tall babies.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
In the photo below you can see how green shoots are coming out of the trunk of this burned tree.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
And below, a closer view. Also note how the underlayers of the bark are not burned. Amazing to me.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
Whoever maintains this trail (I believe it is part of the Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park) is allowing the saplings to take root and grow wherever they come up — even if it’s right in the middle of the trail. I love that. We had to walk around several new stands of saplings.

coastal redwoods new growth
Below, another example of old and new trees. The bright green whippersnapper in the front is easily 10 feet tall. That puts into perspective the size of the blackened tree behind it.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
I am going to do a post on the Tanbark Trail in general, but there was so much to this trail, I had to do a couple of extra posts to show the details (last night I posted about my bear sightings; still coming up: the Tin House.).

The Basin Complex Fire ravaged this part of the coast. I am so happy that some of it can come back.

Bear Sightings?

it looked like a bear
The 2008 Basin Complex fire that ravaged this canyon and forest blackened many coastal redwood trees, but most seemed to be surviving. Most. Not all. Those that didn’t survive took on shapes of their own. This gnarled half-trunk caught my eye, giving me a start. My brain gasped BEAR! several times.

it looked like a bear (circled)
The illusion held up as we got closer…

another view of the bear

the tree that looked like a bear