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Coastal La Jolla was buried in dense fog yesterday.

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Everything felt quiet, blanketed, damp.

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But the sun shone in a clear sky just a quarter-mile inland.

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Such a striking lunchtime walk!

Our west coast Thanksgiving

It was a bittersweet holiday weekend: For the first time in our lives, Dan and I spent Thanksgiving away from our immediate families. Instead we traveled to Northern California to visit Dan’s aunt and uncle J&J in Mendocino County — and it was wonderful!! J&J are in the hospitality industry and they pulled out all the stops to make our stay comfortable and delicious. Plus, of all our relatives, their outlook on life seems the most similar to ours, which makes for great conversation.

On Wednesday we headed to the airport before dawn. The buffer time wasn’t necessary though — despite all the hubbub about nightmarish Thanksgiving travel, there was no line at security and even a live trombone quartet!

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When we landed at SFO it was a beautiful sunny day. The rental car ended up being a Mustang. Felt a bit ridiculous in it once we reached hippie country, but it was fun to drive on the curvy coastal roads.

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First stop was the park right before the Golden Gate Bridge.

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It was 10am and we didn’t have to be in Mendocino until dinner, so we took our time winding our way up Coastal Highway 1. Every vista is more impressive than the last. The northern coast is so much rougher and wilder than our smooth SoCal beaches. In the afternoon we stopped at Sea Ranch to walk along the cliff trails.

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After sunset we arrived at the inn managed by Aunt J in time for the wine hour. Then they took us to their home, where we stayed in their shed-turned-awesome-guest-cottage. Here it is in the morning light.

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On Thanksgiving morning, Uncle J treated us to the loveliest breakfast I’ve ever had at someone’s house: eggs benedict with fresh-caught dungeness crab, homemade hollandaise, and garnishes of fruit and chive flowers.

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Then J&J shooed us out the door, insisting we should take a hike while they prepped Thanksgiving dinner. We explored MacKerricher State Park, which proudly offers beach, bluff, headland, dune, tidepool, forest, and wetland all in one place. It was incredible! Here’s part of the beach which runs alongside an old logging road.

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In the afternoon we called my parents and Skyped with Dan’s family. And then we settled in for the feast. J&J kept it traditional, but made everything from scratch — turkey and stuffing, fresh green bean and bacon casserole, fresh cranberry sauce, homemade mashed potatoes, and finally an apple tart with fruit from their own trees.

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Friday we went exploring with J&J. We browsed the Mendocino artists’ fair and checked out the Point Cabrillo Light Station.

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We saw whales spouting as they swam past on their long trek from the Arctic to Baja.

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And we hiked through more amazing scenery.

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At 4:30 (p.s., dear winter, this is a ridiculous time for sunset) we took camp chairs out on a remote bluff, poured champagne, and watched the sun set over the ocean.

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The evening was full of wine, conversation, and leftovers. And then the next morning, it was time to say goodbye.

Dan and I drove inland through the Anderson Valley, Sonoma Valley, and into Napa Valley. We’d intended to visit a few wineries, but the first was even more expensive than expected — $20 for a four-pour tasting, and the pours were not generous at all! So we wandered through the vineyards for a while instead.

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Then we drove into the city of Napa to explore. The big deal of the day was a Christmas parade. My favorites were the decorated horses and the marching bands, of course.

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We had planned ahead to try one fancy restaurant before flying home. At the recommendation of Dan’s foodie friend, we made reservations at Bottega in Yountville. The polenta under glass (mmm crispy bits!) and zeppole dessert (mmm hazelnut cream!) were amazing.

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There was just enough time for a leisurely dinner before driving into San Francisco, dropping off the car, and catching a late flight home to San Diego.

We both really missed having traditional Thanksgivings with our families. But this was a fantastic vacation — probably the most relaxing and refreshing trip we’ve ever taken. Normally we tend to crowd our travel with fast-paced urban sightseeing. This time the holiday and the rural destination helped us keep our schedule in check so we could truly enjoy our time together in one of the most beautiful places in the country.

Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve

It had been way too long since we went hiking. So this Saturday, four of us headed out around 9am.

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[source]

The forecast called for 93-degree heat so we knew we should bring extra water. Dan recently bought a hydration system and I picked up a pack to carry it. We’re real hikers now!

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Volcan Mountain is just a few miles outside of Julian, a mountain town known for its seasonal weather (all four seasons, and sometimes snow!) and apple pie. So just over an hour after leaving San Diego, we were at the trailhead.

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It’s about a five-mile round trip, starting up the summit trail and taking a nice alternate route called Five Oaks Trail on the way down. The ascent was steep and unrelenting. It wasn’t technically challenging in the rock-climbing kind of way, but I was not in good enough shape to power straight through — despite the trident.

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That was okay though, because I enjoyed the amazing view each time I stopped to catch my breath. There were oak groves and apple orchards and mountains reaching as far as the eye could see.

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Great bushes of white sage lined the path — the air was scented with it!

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At the summit, we had views all the way to the desert and the ocean (though it was clear inland, the marine layer kept us from seeing the water).

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There were lots of shaded parts too, though I didn’t get any good photos of them. Overall we wished it was 10 degrees cooler, but it was one of the more beautifully vegetated hikes in San Diego County.

On the way back, we ate at the Bailey Wood Pit Barbeque. Other than the enormous stuffed cow’s head mounted on the wall atop a giant circular saw blade (wish I’d gotten a photo), it wasn’t remarkable.

Can’t wait for our next hike!

North Fortuna Mountain

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On Saturday four of us tackled the north approach to Fortuna Mountain in Mission Trails Regional Park. It’s amazing that such an extensive set of trails is available only 15 minutes from home! We felt like we were way out in the desert, but could see subdivisions and the downtown skyline from the summit. We’d all hiked the popular Cowles Mountain, which is in the opposite corner of this park, but this was a totally different feel — much more natural, and far fewer people. It was hot and dry and sunny, a nice change from the June Gloom that’s been pervasive downtown the past couple weeks.

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We parked on the west side at the end of Clairemont Mesa Blvd and chose a loop that took us about 6 miles around the park, through various slopes and valleys. There was a lot of elevation change so we agreed with the Afoot and Afield evaluation of “moderately strenuous.” I would definitely recommend printing and bringing the trail map, because the signage wasn’t very consistent or helpful. We stayed on track by using the giant power lines (dashed gray line) and SR-52 as landmarks.

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More people joined us in the afternoon/evening for games, and we all enjoyed some veggie sweet potato chili. Hooray for Saturdays!

North Bluff Preserve

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Saturday we spent the afternoon on the beach in Del Mar. While Dan ran south to Torrey Pines training for an upcoming half marathon, I took a nice long walk.2013-04-06-b
After climbing up the bluff, I sat on a bench in the sunshine and enjoyed an amazing southward view. The beach was crowded with dog owners playing fetch. 2013-04-06-c
It’s still flower season and the top of the bluff was covered in gorgeous bright colors. 2013-04-06-d
I didn’t want to come back down.

Gearing Up

By nature I’m not a big spender, especially on clothes. I don’t enjoy shopping. I hold onto clothes as long as possible, like that t-shirt from preschool that was originally my dad’s, or the shirt from horse camp the summer I was eight. (To be fair, I only wore them to sleep… they’re super soft… and they’re now retired so they don’t disintegrate in the wash.)

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But recently I’ve been spending tons of time outdoors (thanks, San Diego!) and my gear just hasn’t been cutting it. My feet hurt after hiking 12 miles in my six-year-old bargain store cross-trainers. I rotate my only two workout outfits every other Zumba class. Even though I love cycling, I left my WalMart bike in Cleveland (it really wasn’t worth moving).

Eventually I came to a breaking point. It’s time to invest in the active lifestyle I already have! Don’t I deserve to have functional gear that helps me get outside and move? So a few weeks ago, armed with some Christmas money I’d been hoarding, I made my first visit to REI to buy some real hiking shoes.

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The store was overwhelming and inspiring all at once. Just the shoe section alone made my head spin with decisions. Fortunately I’d done some research beforehand, and the salespeople were helpful. There was even a fake stone slope where you can try out how the shoes feel during a climbing hike.

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I ended up with these badass Keen Alamosa hiking shoes in the coolest color name ever: “Gargoyle/Allure.” The staff told me I didn’t need ankle-high boots unless I planned to carry a 25+ lb pack. Yeah… not anytime soon. After deliberating about breathability I opted for waterproof shoes so I can hike in any terrain and weather, not just the nearby deserts.

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These socks came home with me too. Apparently you’re not supposed to hike in standard cotton socks because they retain moisture and cause blisters. Wool or a wool/synthetic blend is recommended because it wicks the moisture away and allows sweat to dry quickly. Like the inside says — feels good!

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The shoes were an instant success on our hike to Cedar Creek Falls. My feet felt fully supported, protected, and comfortable. Oh and look — new clothes, too! I went shopping on my lunch break one day and bought my first workout clothes in a few years. Real athletic fabric is way more comfortable to sweat in than free t-shirts from college.

As if all this wasn’t enough, I was so pleased with the success of those shoes that I decided to replace my old cross-trainers entirely.

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Have you ever heard of barefoot shoes? Apparently barefoot running is a thing right now, mainly because of how your running posture improves without the interference of shoes. Now companies are making shoes that approximate the benefits while not making you look/feel so weird. I wasn’t looking for this style but after trying on these Merrell Bare Access shoes I was totally sold because they were so lightweight and fit so well. Don’t get ahead of yourself though, I still won’t be running! They work great for dance exercise classes and vigorous walks by the bay.

I’ve already got my sights set on my next purchase: a hydration pack with extra room for a lunch and lots of sunscreen. We’ve got various backpacks around the house but nothing lightweight and functional for hiking and biking. Right now for our desert hikes we fill four random water bottles, nestle them in a lunchbox with an ice pack, and stuff all that into the bag I used to backpack Italy after college. No bueno.

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How to choose??

Turns out I’ve acquired so much gear recently that nearly 600 words later, I haven’t even told you about the bike yet. So stay tuned for next time…

Weekend update

Due to recent inquiries from my adoring public (haha) I realized that it’s been 12 days since I posted anything. When life gets busy I start ignoring things — first laundry, of course, and then this blog. But this afternoon I finally have some quiet time to throw in a load of darks and publish a few updates.

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It was a nuts two weeks at work. I don’t like to talk much about work online because I prefer to keep separate my private and professional worlds. But to summarize, I had two major deadlines that required a lot of focus and some overtime. Both turned out well but came down to the wire and left me super drained. I’m really good at working quickly and efficiently to meet deadlines but I am NOT good at working long hours. With no sunshine or exercise, and no time to cook or get enough sleep, I turn into a cranky zombie.

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Did I mention not eating well? In the middle of all this overtime, our apartment sink backed up and started leaking. I sent this photo and explanations to our landlord and he came right over the next day, but our building water was shut off for a separate maintenance issue so he wasn’t able to fully fix it until the following day. And the dishes just piled up and up and up.

But don’t worry, lots of good things have happened too! Like Friday, when I got off work early, got the whole apartment clean, read a book on the balcony in the sunshine, and met friends for pizza and wine at 4:30pm. A great start to the weekend.

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Last Saturday I made fluffy blueberry muffins. The ratio of fresh blueberries to batter was awesome, but they were much more biscuity than cakey and not very sweet. We decided they were almost like blueberry shortcake. Would’ve been great with sweet cream.

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Dan and I took a beautiful sunset walk around Lake Miramar. The east part of the five-mile path is full of nature sounds and lush vegetation that’s rare in San Diego, while the west part crosses a tall dam with sweeping views of Mira Mesa.

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And yesterday we visited another local reservoir, Lake Ramona in Poway, with two new friends J & A. We were introduced by one of Dan’s coworkers, joined them at their place last Sunday to watch the Oscars, and met up again yesterday for a hike and lunch at the Mission. The hike wasn’t too challenging but with 90 degree temps and very little shade, we were wiped out afterward. K – sorry you couldn’t come… we didn’t end up doing the one I told you about… but even though we had fun this wasn’t one of my favorite hikes!

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I’ve saved the best for last. We got bikes! Real, nice-looking, well-made bikes that should last us for thousands of miles. And we found them in our perfect sizes for a good price on Craigslist. I think I’ll write a separate post about them soon, so for now you can just enjoy this blurry photo of them in their new home in one of our building’s overcrowded basement bike racks. They’re the two blue ones closest to the camera.

That’s all for now, folks. This week I hope for a more sane schedule and a return to good cooking, good sleep, and good friends.