Monday, December 11, 2017

Big Santa Anita Canyon Thanksgiving


Got leftovers?  We did, and we had some big plans for them.  We decided to go backpacking after Thanksgiving to burn off the feast and just to ditch the Black Friday madness and get some much-needed time to ourselves.   Just the week prior, we were hiking in the Big Santa Anita Canyon (Chantry Flat) area and came upon the Spruce Grove Campground.  It was so perfect-looking, with a leafy orange carpet and a canopy of evergreen spruce branches, a creek running to the left and hiking trail to the right.  Apparently, you don't need a permit to camp here at all.  Since we had everything that we needed for backpacking already (thanks to Wes's research and deal-hunting skills), we immediately planned to head over here ASAP.   It was very exciting for us because not only was this going to be our first extended backpacking trip, but also a good opportunity to enter in this Outdoor Research contest that I found out about...






For the contest, all you had to do was take a picture of your leftovers in an outdoorsy situation and post it on Instagram with the hashtags: #leftovers, and #optoutside.  They pick twenty winners to receive a free Outdoor Research active hoodie.  I really didn't need another hoodie, but the contest sounded easy enough - we always take photos of our food during our hikes anyway, so I made Wes get on board with this (it took a little convincing).  Yeah, I felt like a bit of a sellout entering a contest, but why not give it a try if it's something that is up my alley already?  So the night before, we had vacuum sealed and frozen our Thanksgiving leftovers and even some pumpkin pie (which didn't collapse because it was already frozen).  Wes stuck a water bottle into the freezer to use as a small ice pack, which was smart because it also served as yet another water resource after it melted. 



The best part of this trip into the Big Santa Anita Canyon was stumbling upon a group of people who not only shared their leftovers with us, but also their perspectives on our many common interests.  Quickly after we all sat down together and introduced ourselves, there was much name-calling, finger-pointing, and table-slapping good humor.  We talked about lots of things, but they told us so much about their adventures as experienced backpackers who have been doing it long "before it was cool," and it was great to have some stories from our own encounters around the world to share too.  It was great to meet likeminded people who are from the generation before our own - truly serendipitous and not taken for granted.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Thankful



I just wanted to take a moment to sit here and be truly thankful.  I take pictures almost every day, so I am incredibly, if not overly, accustomed to casually exercising gratitude.  But pictures make everything look so perfect, when in fact it's no secret that married life is far from "perfect."  As time goes on in our still-young relationship, it gets unfortunately easier to point out each other's flaws and to blame one another for things that don't go right.  We've both got headstrong, stubborn personalities, so of course it's never been easy to meet in the middle when we disagree.  And the vicious cycle goes like this: the more time you spend coexisting with someone, the more stubborn and unforgiving you become around him or her...because naturally, you've begun to take each other for granted.  We've been there already--it happens between family members, roommates, best friends, coworkers.  We easily take another person's love and loyalty for granted, and nitpick our way through our days.  So, Thanksgiving comes around every year to remind us of the grand scheme of things.  There's really so much to be thankful for.



I might not show it enough as we go about our days in a blur, but I have so much warm-fuzzy-teary-eyed gratitude for our life together and how it has shaped me.  I am thankful for the opportunity to be with each other and to serve one another endlessly.  I am thankful for the opportunity to bicker and to fight (endlessly too), because it shows that we don't fear each other's judgment and it gives us a chance to try to be better versions of ourselves.  I am thankful for having a partner who is willing to drive anywhere, learn anything, and cook anytime for our family and friends.  Wes inspires me to be more generous, more informed, and more reasonable; less guilty, less rigid, and less worried.


While I do have mixed feelings about blogging a bunch of standout good times, I am thankful for the ability and opportunity to blog at all.  I get stuck on how blogging can be seen as annoyingly flaunting or unnecessarily putting my wonderful life on display, but when it comes down to it, blogging is a healthy practice.  It's not every day that we stop to reminisce about those good times and to make an effort to record what we can while we still remember.  With only gratitude on my mind and nothing else, I share a random collection of recent photos from this summer that resonated with me.  For this post, I picked only photos of places close to home / at home rather than the ones from our travels or major culinary undertakings.  Due to lack of time to keep updating, I've only chosen to blog the big events mostly, but the small triumphs of each passing day deserve recognition as well.  So that's what this post is for.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Camping and Hiking in Big Pine: Our First Summer Trip up the 395



Camping was always sort of an afterthought for us, but when we finally camped for the first time in Big Pine in September, we fell in love with it right away.  We've gone a handful of times since, and within a few weeks of this first camping trip, we've already taken it to the next level by getting into backpacking.  Why haven't we done this sooner?!  Taking the time to camp out has been a really nice way to unplug for the weekend and relax while still learning and experimenting all of the time.  It's great having no screen in sight to keep us up and no alarms to set for the morning.   Wes loves building fires, new contraptions, and sleeping in the cold...I also found out that he loves foraging for sticks even more than any other human being I know.  I am the opposite, but somehow it still works: I love putting out the fires, getting back to the basics (cooking and passing the time simply), and snuggling up in our double-person sleeping bag...and letting Wes gather the sticks.


We had just gotten back from doing the Salkantay Trek in Peru, where we hiked with a group from camp site to camp site for four days.  It was a great introduction to spending time off the grid, and we both wanted to do more of that.  So as we planned our visit to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in Big Pine, we decided to book a cheap campsite rather than a hotel room.  Might have been a little bit rash at the time, since all we owned was a basic Coleman tent lying around and two camping chairs...we didn't really own anything else related to camping.  But Wes said that he'd gladly figure out all of those logistics - the techy stuff and brand research that I can't bear to bother with.  All I had to do was to plan our excursions and hikes, which was more than fine with me.  Things felt super last-minute, but aside from a few broken eggs and forgetting to bring a bottle opener, we survived in the end!




Baker Creek Campground in Big Pine was where we ended up.  This was a good choice for us first-timers, since it was just a little bit off the main road with convenience stores right there.  Despite this, Big Pine is an extremely small town, so camping here still felt really quaint and secluded.  Our campsite was tucked into the trees against some rocks, right next to a running creek.  There were only two other groups camping there.  It was also nice that there was a picnic table, a fire pit, and a bathroom.




Baker Creek Campground was literally five minutes away from Coppertop Barbecue, our favorite BBQ pitstop on the familiar route to Mammoth (rated #1 on Yelp two years ago!).  We were pretty set on going there for our meals, but on the night before the trip, we decided: f*ck it, we're cooking.  So after work, we hit up an REI to buy a pocket rocket, fuel, and a compact cook-set designed for camping.  Then, we stopped into Walmart (conveniently located in the same plaza), where we ended up buying a knockoff Yeti ice chest and loading up a shopping cart with tons of food to cook.  Probably too much.  We weren't even sure if we were going to make a campfire, but then we saw that Walmart had firewood, so...there was the answer to that question.  We were on a total shopping spree, buying everything from ice packs to deli meat to bananas.  It was sort of exhilarating.  I felt like a chicken with its head cut off, bouncing around from aisle to aisle and wondering if we were going to forget anything.



By the time we were ready to leave, Wes had obtained sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camping pillows, a camping stove, fire starter supplies, and a camping lamp.  I'm glad that one of us had the patience to do the research and the initiative to not only purchase what we needed, but also to find these things for good prices.  Plus, he purposefully got stuff that was potentially good for backpacking too - so everything was ultra light-weight and cold-weather-proof.  I guess Wes always knew that we'd take this camping thing a bit further.


Also, we were total camp-cooking noobies, but we realized that it's pretty much exactly the same as cooking at home, with the exception of throwing foil parcels of food into the fire.  It was really the clean-up that's more difficult, especially after dark.


Wes was a total natural with getting the fire going, filtering water, and doing all of that survival business.  We were obviously having way too much fun with the novelty of it all, seeing that I have a ton of photos (of the most normal camping objects) to commemorate our first camping trip together!




The hike that we did on Saturday was also sooo awesome--probably my favorite hike to date.  We went to the Big Pine Lakes on Saturday and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest on Sunday.  It was like 100 degrees at Baker Creek during the day, but we were able to escape to higher elevations.  We have a billion photos from both Big Pine Lakes and the Ancient Bristlecones, but pictures don't even do these places justice.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Walking in the World's Oldest Known Living Forest



We had never known that literally the world's oldest creatures were waiting for us just over the rather bleak mountains to the East along the familiar route to Mammoth on Highway 395.  It's easy to overlook these mountains - usually, all eyes are on the grand, snow-capped Sierra Nevada, rising majestically to the West.  We would always catch a glimpse of the modest wooden sign for the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest out of the corners of our eyes, but it's not one of those places that is talked about much, and no one ever seemed to be driving in the direction away from the Sierra Nevada anyhow.  We didn't really make it a point to figure out what was there until more recently.  I don't think that either of us were expecting to be so blown away when we finally visited the bristlecone forest this past Labor Day weekend.  We ended up returning a second time a few weeks later, in November, with my parents.



Looking like they came straight out of a Tim Burton movie, the dramatic ancient bristlecone pines high in the mountains of eastern California capture in their twisted, knotted, striated appearance what it's like to be alive for thousands of years on Planet Earth.  They have struggled through ice, wind, and who knows what else, and continue to live and breathe even now.  These trees are the oldest known living organisms in the world -- some of them are over 4,000 years old, and the oldest one is measured to be nearly 5,000 years old (date seeded = 2833 BC!).  It would have been awesome to know which one it was...but its identity is kept a secret for its protection.  To say the least, it was an incredibly humbling experience to walk amongst all of these powerful trees, and crazy to think about what the world might have been like at the time of their birth.






The bristlecone pine trees grow in a very windy and harsh climate up in the White Mountains, a desert mountain range across from the Sierra Nevada.  Given a choice between the two mountain ranges, I'd be hard pressed to find someone who would choose to live in the White Mountains over the Sierra Nevada.  While the Sierra Nevada mountains are characterized by lakes, cascades, granite cliffs, and leafy aspen trees, the White Mountains are a rocky, shrubby, and barren land.  It is hard to believe that things could manage to survive up there, but that is exactly why the Ancient Bristlecones are so amazing.  When we got up close to them, we were astounded to see that every tree is a unique work of art, gradually carved and painted by the forces of nature.  You can imagine how long it took for us to walk through these groves with our cameras.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Peruvian Pachamanca Feast: Farm To Earth To Table


Imagine knobby Peruvian potatoes and slabs of bone-in meat tossed in Andean herbs, thrown directly between scalding granite stones to cook underground.  Pachamanca (rough translation: "Earth oven") is a traditional style of cooking mainly done as a backyard-barbecue-type format in Peru where the only "kitchen" tools involved are shovels and maybe an occasion pair of tongs.  It is not commonly seen outside of people's homes, and it isn't really something that can be fully experienced at a restaurant or anywhere too urban.  Whenever we mentioned the word pachamanca to any of our local guides, they would get this dreamy look on their faces and tell us that if there was a way we could eat this, we must.



Luckily, I found out about El Albergue ("the refuge"), where pachamanca feasts plus a tour of their farm occur a few times a day and can be booked in advance.  El Albergue was built back in 1925 as a small lodge and restaurant connected to the Ollantaytambo train station.  Ollantaytambo (what a mouthful of a name!) is a village in the Sacred Valley of south Peru, set on the Urubamba River, about two hours outside the city of Cusco.  We already had plans to stay in the Sacred Valley after our trek to Machu Picchu, so it worked out well with our travel plans.  Anyway, we were looking forward to learning about this unique way of preparing food and to partake in a legit farm-to-table meal, but we had no idea of what an intimate and soul-enriching experience it was going to be.






Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Machu Picchu and Our Hike Up Huayna Picchu


Excuse the random doodle, I got carried away at the last minute!  
1 million people per year, up to 5,000 people per day.  That's how powerful the draw is to visit Machu Picchu, the speculated 550-year-old ruins from the ancient Inca civilization.  The crazier reality of this is that Machu Picchu is sinking, slowly but surely.  So, they told us not to carry heavy packs and not to take "jumping pictures" here.  Also, no strollers, no leaning, no climbing, no lying down, no trekking poles, no heels, no tripods, no loud noises/singing/applauding, no music.  It's all too easy to be oblivious when you're touring around in there, but these rules remind us that even a mighty Wonder of the World can deteriorate if we aren't careful.  We definitely cannot take our presence here for granted and should do what we can to protect it.








Also, out of the thousands of people who actually get in each day, only 400 are granted access to Huayna Picchu and another 400 for Machu Picchu Mountain, the two iconic peaks towering over the citadel.  We were two of those lucky visitors.  Not once did we ever regret doing that hike up those ridiculous stone stairs to get to the top, where so few people in the world have been!

Back view of the citadel from Huayna Picchu - 8,924 feet up!