Friday, May 20, 2011

Backpacking trip in Los Padres National Forest

"Sore shoulders ... stiff back ... Endless switchbacks w/brush that seemed to get thicker and spikier as we climbed."

"Worried about cold tonight. (Have) some Beam (whiskey)."

Those are a few of the notes I scrawled last month during my backpacking trip in the Los Padres National Forest, an ambitious trek I made with three college buddies: Will, Alex and Jeff.

While many of my thoughts during the three-day hike focused on home (where our newborn Michael, Jen and her mom remained), I tried my best to keep up on the trail ---- which was no easy task.

In all, we hiked nearly 26 miles through the Sespe Wilderness, a picturesque swath of forest in the Ventura County mountains north of the city of Ojai.

We forded countless streams, shoes in hand, packs lugging on our shoulders. At one point, we descended into a set of steep canyons (a grueling shortcut that saved us half a mile but probably not much time). And, on the second day, we climbed 2,600 vertical feet, much of it through thick arm-and-leg-slicing chaparral.

The trip was a physical and mental challenge for me: Three continuous days of hiking was more than I'm used to ---- most of my past hikes have been one-day or half-day affairs.

At one particularly fatigued point in the Sespe (on the second day's vertical climb) I repeated to myself over and over to 'Stay strong, smart and focused' ---- all to keep from tumbling off the trail and down the canyon to my side.

I'm happy to report that worked out.

Of course, there were moments of levity and relaxation on the trip, too. On the first day, we put our packs down for a while to swim in the Sespe River. A set of boulders along the bank made for a great place to jump into the chilly, refreshing water.

There was time to rest and share tales around the campfire at night, as well. We ate mac and cheese one night, and some ready-to-eat pasta meals the next. The stories, as they tend to with a group of college buddies, focused on some of our more juvenile exploits from the past.

We're all married now, and mature, of course. Some evidence of that, you ask? We returned with all our gear, no broken bones ---- and three-quarters of a bottle of Jim Beam remaining.

That whiskey would never have lasted, in the past.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Traversing the coast, without responsibility

Jen and I took a quick trip to Torrey Pines on Monday. She suggested we spend my last Christmas vacation day off together, and plan a mini-adventure. Apparently those spontaneous days spent traversing the coast, without responsibility, are few in number once the baby arrives!

We hiked the gentle and relatively short Beach Trail, passing the wind-swept pines and sandstone outcroppings. The deep blue sea and pristine beach below provided a scenic backdrop.

After a nice, quiet rest on a bench overlooking the endless waves approaching the shoreline, we walked back to the visitor's center, and then took off up Highway 101, sun roof open, 80s songs blaring. Lunch was at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, one of our favorite escapes.

I'll let the photos do the rest of the talking:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Our adventure in Peru!

Jen and I ventured to Peru this summer, to visit my father's old Lima stomping grounds. He lived there in the 1950s while his father was stationed at the U.S. Embassy. We also trekked to the Andean highlands and, of course, the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. It was an awe-inspiring adventure.

The picture here is Jen and me on a ledge at Machu Picchu.

My story about the trip was published in the North County Times. Check it out!

Friday, July 16, 2010

checking back in

... and so I'm back after a few months break. Been a busy winter/spring/summer getting my garden in shape (Roses are on their third round of vibrant blooms; squash, sunflowers, carrots and corn are all just starting to flourish. It'll be a few months before harvest).

Then there's the summer vacation planning. Jen and I will tour Peru at the end of the month, with stops in Lima, Cuszco and Machu Picchu. It will be the first big trip since our honeymoon in the Pacific Northwest, and should make for some great photos and tales to share.

Finally, work has kept me on my toes. A recent industry award for an investigative piece was a nice boost. But next week, I jump into the complex and often contentious world of county government reporting, after roughly a year covering a local transit district, one rich with stories about how and where to provide the limited funds for bus and train service across a sprawling and mostly suburban and rural North San Diego County.

That reporting was sandwiched around my coverage this spring of the Amber Dubois and Chelsea King cases -- the North County teens were abducted, raped and murdered by registered sex offender John Gardner. The crimes, which took place one year apart, shocked the region and gripped many in our newsroom, including myself. Gardner is now in prison for life without the possibility of parole or appeal. The girls' families have led legal campaigns to keep children safer. Questions remain in the community about how these tragedies could have happened.

I hope to write again soon, and update the progress of my garden!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

First of many trips to Home Depot

Jen and I are officially in escrow on our first home! We found out late last week and our heads have been swimming ever since with floor plans, paint colors and loan paperwork.

Should be a great adventure, though I sense we will have to pace ourselves -- so much to do, so many HGTV shows Jen wants to watch!

While Jen is especially happy we found a place with a large, bright kitchen and open floor plan, I'm pretty taken with the location. We've got a true oak forest just yards from our back door. It stretches several hundred yards over a creek at the base of boulder filled mountains. Looks as if there was a ranch or roadway running through at one time, as several stone walls are visible through the undergrowth.

This must be the open space preserved by our subdivision, Woods Valley, which includes an 18-hole golf course and about 270 homes. The development is in Valley Center, a small, country town about 10 minutes from Escondido.

The home was a short sale Jen and I waited on for more than two months. Its spacious and checked out well during its inspection Saturday. Just one drain to work on, an AC to have serviced, and some sealant to apply outside.

And, yes, we made our first trip to Home Depot today to pick up paint chips and a book on interior design -- I imagine we'll be back there again soon.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Racing to hear "death"

I didn't need any more caffeine after the call.

It was 9:30 a.m., I had just parked my car at work when my boss called my cell phone:

"I need you to go to the Vista courthouse -- the verdict in the Threats case is about to be read," she said, leaving me with less than 30 minutes to grab a notebook, race down Highway 78 and immerse myself in the gruesome murder case involving a former Marine Corps sergeant and a young Vista mother.

Derlyn Ray Threats, 28, had already been convicted last month of murdering and torturing Carolyn Neville, the popular 24-year-old country club employee.

Neville's body was found with upwards of 70 stab wounds. Authorities believe she interrupted a would-be burglary at her home.

My job was to record whether the jury recommended Threats be executed, or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Eyeing my rear view mirror for cops, and the needle on my odometer as it flirted with trouble, I hustled west under a sunny December sky.

I knew the 13-mile route well having covered the crime beat the past year for the paper. I just hadn't expected this date with the justice system given that I now write about buses, roads and bridges as the paper's transportation reporter. One of our two court reporters was sick Friday, it was the day off for the other.

At a stoplight two blocks from the court complex, I lucked out finding a newspaper hawker just yards from my car. I paid $0.50 for a copy of today's paper -- I'd forgotten to take one from the office. It had a short blurb on the case -- all I needed to decipher which family had already lost a loved one and which one might lose one next.

Moments later, I had a front row seat to the verdict: It was "death."

Aside from the desperate look Threats gave his family as he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, there weren't many outward signs of emotion Friday.

This case had dragged on more than four years. Isabel Threats, the convicted man's wife, told me matter-of-factly she knew he'd be recommended for death, citing what she called an unfair trial.

The victim's husband told me in a near-monotone that his family was extremely happy with the verdict.

A judge is expected to make the death recommendation official next month.

Next Monday, it's back to buses, roads and bridges, for me.

Here's the story:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My part in tearing down Tiger Woods

"Zoology major catches a Tiger," I joked.

The quip popped out of my mouth as quickly as it had entered my mind. It bounced out seconds after a coworker found Tiger Woods' latest apparent mistress was from right here in Escondido, our paper's headquarters -- and had hoped to study animals in college.

I had no idea my words would spread across the newsroom like wildfire -- and end up as the lead of my coworker's story. But now, just a few hours later and the story already on our Web site, I fear I've unwittingly slung one more arrow in Tiger Woods wounded image.

The image of the world's greatest golfer has been torn to pieces since the day after Thanksgiving, when he crashed his car outside his Florida mansion. Subsequent rumors say he was speeding away after a fight with his wife over his infidelity.

Now, granted, if the rumors are true, I won't worry so much about Woods' wounded image -- he'll deserve at least some wounds.

But no one, no matter how unfaithful they might have been, deserves the frenetic feeding the media and its consumers have unleashed on Tiger Woods.

I admit I'm fascinated by it all. In a very sick way. I had been trying to avoid the story, but I found myself this afternoon Googling away about it -- even ventured to the website to find out about our local angle.

But where should all this curiosity end? Will it end?

There was even a media stakeout today at the childhood home of this second alleged mistress, Jaime Grubbs, an Escondido High School graduate.

I feel conflicted in that my industry is leading the charge on destroying Woods. And while that pains me, I'm as guilty as anyone now with my quip and my fascination for the story.

I'm not sure how I'll respond should my editor ask that I follow up on this supposed local mistress. I do think reporters can covers these high-profile stories with class -- just reporting the facts, and acknowledging that there are rumors but not repeating them in detail or giving them inflated significance.

I guess I'll have to cross that Tiger when it comes.

Here's our story, notice the first sentence.