Daily hiking can be addictive.
I believed, before beginning the trip, that I was in fairly good shape. Err, this turned out to be not so true. There’s always a better shape you can be in. So two things happened to my body over the course of a week. I grew in a kind of deep exhaustion all the while getting stronger and stronger physically with increased endurance and stamina. Though tired, I began to eagerly look forward to the day’s hike. Being early risers, Naomi and I would usually be one of the first hikers on the trail, and would be finished before the day got too hot.
But even before we started hiking, the feeling on the first day was one of a kind of relief.
This wasn’t a trip that I really felt I absolutely needed, as in “I really need a vacation”. I don’t presently have a job I have to go to every morning, and I don’t experience much stress on a day-to-day basis. Still, looking at new sights and being in a new place, one feels an elevation of mood. Wow, I thought, waking up the first morning, this feels really good. Naomi felt it too. It feels really good, sometimes, to get away, just as it feels good to come home. We all need a change of place from time to time.
And what could be a bigger change of scenery than to hike in the desert?
Naomi and I had hiked in a different kind of desert on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, on the tail end of that trip to California six years ago. There we enjoyed walking among the Saguaro cacti. At Joshua Tree, considered the “high desert”, there is more rainfall than in the Saguaro desert and a very diverse and lively ecosystem. In a forest hike there doesn’t seem to be much diversity and often you are more concerned with you next step, particularly if you’re climbing, than with views.
In the desert, you can relax a lot more when it comes to watching your step and begin enjoying the sights, smells and sounds a lot more.
And the vistas. Our hikes provided a lot of those: Vistas of far-off mountains, the distant and majestic San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak, for example, which followed us on many a walk, or the smaller, closer rock-strewn mountains of intriguing and beguiling shapes and forms.
The only downer was a couple of days of very strong and unexpected winds. I soon realized that I came a bit under dressed and would have been better off with my warm autumn windbreaker to protect me on a couple of occasions. In fact, early on in the trip there was a warning of winds so strong that our host emailed us concerned for our safety.
As time wore on, we never tired of the limitless horizon filled with yellow, red and blue flowers sprouting everywhere. The cacti were filled with buds waiting to flower. Oases awaited at the end of hikes with giant palm trees mysteriously filling a dimple in the land. Birds, mostly unseen, sang cheerfully around us. Hares, called jackrabbits, gamboled around us. Lizards slunk under bushes. The wind blew. The breeze brought scents and coolness. We stopped. We listened. We observed.
Compared to Joshua Tree, Laguna Beach is a different world. Strolling the sidewalk on the first day, I was surrounded by Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes, Land Rovers and Jaguars. Also: “beautiful people”, mostly women (usually blond or streaked blond) wearing expensive clothes.
Coming out of a boutique Naomi said, “Everything in that store costs over $400.”
I had always believed that I was a “beach person” but in four days I only visited the beach twice and the first time only long enough to body surf once (and lose my sunglasses in the process — don’t ask). I think I would have been more drawn to going to the ocean more often had the air temperature been a bit warmer. (You know that great feeling when you come out of a cool ocean and get dried by the warm air and hot sand?
Naomi and I also spent a morning hiking in a State Park through a canyon and ridge full of mustard plants and their aromatic flowers in full bloom.
We expected fantastic cuisine in Laguna Beach but were mostly disappointed except for one local Mexican eatery.
On the day we spent the most time on the beach, I immensely enjoyed watching the surfers, all dressed in wet suits, attempt to “catch a wave”. Watching surfers do their thing is very entertaining. The unlucky few, beginners probably (there was one girl in particular) cannot seem to get a single break. Others who do often wipe out at the tail end of their ride. Very few finish a surf in a peaceful manner. They flip, they fall, they crash headlong into the angry surf. But they get right back on their boards and are eager to try again. Sitting on the boards in the sun, in their black suits, they look like little water bugs moving about.
The waves at Laguna Beach, while not enormous, were also not small. After riding a wave, I came out with a bulge in my lip and am still walking around with a purple bruise.
People we spoke to on the first evening walkabout warned that the water was freezing but it wasn’t, for me. It came in at 61 degrees Fahrenheit and was much warmer than the Pacific Ocean I dunked in last summer on the southeastern coast of Vancouver Island. Sissies!