Archive for the ‘Deep Thoughts’ Category

Distance 8.2 Miles out and back
Elevation Change 1762′ gain/loss
Difficulty Moderately Strenuous
Rating (on the day we went) 4.5+ Stars (out of 5) – Had the day been clearer this could have easily been a 5 star hike.
Trail Conditions and Route From the parking lot on CA 79, walk west on the unpaved fire road, Milk Ranch Road for 1.7 miles. Turn left (south) on the unpaved road Azalea Fire Road and follow it for .2 miles to Conejos Trail on the right. Conejos Trail is a clear trail with varying conditions. About half of the trail is relatively smooth, but the other half is small to large loose rocks. Turn right on the fairly steep paved Lookout Road to finish the climb to the top of Cuyamaca peak.
Comments Although the area surrounding Cuyamaca peak was hit hard by the 2003 Cedar fire, this route is a great way to see nature as it recovers from fire. There are fewer “tree skeletons” than on the route up the paved Lookout Road, and most of the route shows strong signs of recovery.
Latitude/Longitude 32.976615, -116.581393
Directions Take Interstate 8 East to CA 79 North, follow CA 79 North for 13.5 miles to the junction of Milk Ranch Fire Road. You’ll see a parking area on the north side of the road. This area also is the trail head for Middle Peak, and for trails toward Cuyamaca Lake. After parking carefully cross CA 79 and head straight west along Milk Ranch road. There will be a road that branches off to the left for horse trailers, stay right.

Cuyamaca Peak is the second highest peak in San Diego county, but only by less than 30 feet. Also the hike to the summit of the highest peak, Hot Springs Mountain is 500 feet less climb than Cuayama Peak’s 1700 feet plus climb. The one disappointment I had while planning this hike was that the route described in the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego is up a completely paved route. So I decided to look at other options. I decided to try the route that included Conejos Trail. Although the climb is slightly more and the distance about 2.6 miles more, I was glad to not be pounding the pavement up and especially down the hill! In order to get to Conejos Trail we started at the same parking area as for the Middle Peak trail head as described in the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego. For this route we followed Milk Ranch Road, instead of taking Minshall Trail north. We also continue past Middle Peak Fire road at .2 miles our destination was to the south, not the north.

I had been expecting to see a lot of dead trees on this hike as we had on our hike up nearby Stonewall Peak earlier this year. There were dead and burnt trees along the route…

Large burnt tree trunk along Milk Ranch Road with Stonewall Peak in the distance

but there were also areas of mature trees as well as areas that were starting to recover. Milk Ranch Road actually passed through a few areas with the shade of large groves of mature trees.

Milk Ranch Road passing through a grove of mature trees

The healthiest of these trees were the Arizona Ash trees. Here is a closeup of the leaves on this tree. Not sure if these trees just mature quickly or if they were unaffected by the fires.

Closeup on the leaves of a mature Arizona Ash along Milk Ranch Road

Although this area used to be known for old growth sugar pines, I only saw one mature, but very scorched looking sugar pine along Milk Ranch Road.

One lone mature Sugar Pine along Milk Ranch Road

I really wish I had been here before the Cedar Fire.

There were also plenty of blooms along the road, the most spectacular were the clumps of Purple Lupine.

Purple Lupines along Milk Ranch Road

We’ve had a pretty wet spring, but I was surprised to see actual mud puddles in the road by the middle of May. I doubt these will be around much longer.

Mud puddles in mid May along Milk Ranch Road

At 1.7 miles in there is a low wooden rail on the left side of the road with a dual track road, Azalea Fire Road, beyond the rail. This intersection is well-marked with sign posts. Turn south to follow Azalea Fire Road for just .2 miles to the start of Conejos Trail. As the fire road approaches an area of fire devastation….

Fire devastated are ahead on Azalea Fire Road

take note of the trail that branches off to the right. This is the beginning of the Conejos Trail. This trail is also well-marked with a sign post, although the post is off the road quite a ways.

Beginning of Conejos Trail off Azalea Fire Road

This area of “tree skeletons” was what I had been expecting for the entire hike. When you look at Cuyamaca Peak from the road or other peaks in the area, it looks like this stuff covers the whole mountain. I really had thought that this hike would be kind of depressing because of this. However, Conejos Trail skirts around this area and/or, they have clear a lot of dead trees in the are Conejos Trail goes through. What we expected and what we hiked through were not at all the same. It was a very pleasant surprise. We loved the area Conejos Trail passed through. Although the beginning of the trail is surrounded by dead trees and the faintness of the trail through the grass makes you question how established the trail really is…

Faint trail passing through area of fire devastation at the beginning of Conejos Trail

The trail soon becomes more established and the signs of recovery overwhelm the few dead trees left standing.

Lone tree skeleton in area of recovery along Conejos Trail

However, there are plenty of reminders of the mature forest that used to cover this slope.

Conejos Trail passes through remanants of a large dead tree

There are areas with smooth trail and high bushes…

Large bushes surround the smooth surface of Conejos Trail

and areas that are steeper and rockier…

Rocky part of Conejos Trail begins

and areas with less growth are better views especially as you get further up the mountain.

The views from Conejos Trail improve as you climb

There is a ton of new growth pine trees along the trail. It is encouraging to see such strong signs of recovery especially after a few years of drought.

Unexpected fern along Conejos Trail to Cuyamaca Peak May 2016

One thing I didn’t expect to see along the trail in mid-May was ferns. One area along the trail had several very healthy looking ferns.

Unexpected fern along Conejos Trail to Cuyamaca Peak May 2016

As you approach the top of the Conejos Trail you can see a fairly large grove of mature pines that are near the summit of Cuyamaca Peak.

View of mature pine trees ahead near the summit of Cuyamaca Peak

By this point we were pretty hungry, so we were glad to be getting to the top. We wanted to eat lunch at the summit to enjoy the views. Our normal day hike lunch is a very easy and convenient sub from Subway. It makes getting out the door so much easier than preparing sandwiches for the hike. It always hits the spot.

Before getting to the mature grove of trees we passed through one more reminder of the devastation of the 2003 Cedar fire.

Crossing an area of fire devastation on Conejos Trail before Cuyamaca Peak

Then a brief stroll through the tall pines to the junction with Lookout Road.

Mature pines ahead

At the intersection we looked down the road a little, the pine forest in that direction looked very healthy. Only hunger kept us from walking back down the road a ways to enjoy this area.

Looking down Lookout Road from junction with Conejos trail

We headed up the road, but a trail about 75 meters up the road caught our attention and curiosity enough to push the hunger back down briefly. We walked out along the slightly descending trail and discovered a bench overlooking an amazing view to the west. Bench with a view below the summit of Cuyamaca Peak

El Cajon Mountain (or El Capitan Open Space Preserve) in the middle of the view seemed much smaller and less significant that it does as you drive by it on the 8 freeway. Having hiked it a couple years ago, I know that it only looked small from here. It is a very challenging day hike and fun, if you like going up, the back down, then up further, then back down, the up even higher. Although it is only around 1900 feet above the trail head to the peak the hike has 4000 feet of gain/loss during the 14 mile out and back hike. We did this hike as one of our last hikes while training for our 2014 Grand Canyon rim to rim hike.

We briefly considered eating lunch here, but wanted to give the summit a look before lunch, so we headed up the rest of Lookout Road.

Heading back down from Cuyamaca Peak

Although there were some surviving mature pines along this stretch of Lookout Road they were out numbered by the dead hulks of large trees. We did come across one more lone surviving Sugar Pine.

Lone Sugar Pine near the top of Cuyamaca Peak

Although we did enjoy the views at the top of Cuyamaca Peak…

View toward the North east from Cuyamaca Peak

and checked out at least one potential lunch spot…

Potential lunch spot on Cuyamaca Peak

the hum from the ventilation system on the nearby buildings…

One of two areas with structures and antenna on Cuyamaca Peak

and an unbelievable number of pesky flying insects (never good at lunch time) made heading back down Lookout Road a half mile through the trees…

Heading back down from Cuyamaca Peak

and past the California Lilac…

California Lilac near the top of Lookout Road on Cuyamaca Peak

to the peaceful bench with a view for lunch. During lunch I scanned the landscape to west below us to see if I could see any other familiar spots.

View of the vally to the west below Cuyamaca Peak

I thought I might be seeing an area near one of my favorite trails, Three Sisters Falls. I was pretty sure the road down there was Boulder Creek Road that we took to the trail head. However looking at the map and a little scrolling around on Google Earth and I could tell that I was seeing Boulder Creek Road, but that 3 Sisters Falls and the trail head were not visible they were behind some of the mountains below us.

After lunch we headed back down the way we came. Parts of the trail seemed steeper and rockier than on the way up. If you go this way you may want hiking poles and you’ll want to take your time going down. I let Sean go first and we definitely did not go down slow. I think he may be part mountain goat! I managed to keep up with him, but my right knee paid a bit of a price. I’m hoping it will heal up quickly so we can get back out there soon! I think I’ll be bringing hiking poles next time. Near the bottom of the trail we saw a couple of wild turkeys in the small grassy area just off the road. They were huge! I got my camera out, but they were headed away from us pretty quickly I only managed to get one good picture of a single turkey crouching at the far side of the meadow. We looked around a little and saw a total of 3 turkeys, but they were elusive… moving away as quickly as we walked toward them.

Wild turkey crouching near the edge of a meadow near Milk Ranch Road

Although I have not hiked up the route in the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego, which is the wholly paved route up Lookup Road, I think this route is a good alternative if you dislike hiking on steep paved roads. If we decide to try hiking to Cuyamaca Peak on a clearer day in the future, I might also try some of the other trails that start further south, or we could decide to just head straight up the paved Lookout Road to try it out.

None of the Above!

Posted: March 29, 2016 in Deep Thoughts
Tags: ,

I loved the movie Brewster’s Millions (Richard Pryor -1985).  The premise was he could take an inheritance of 10 million dollars or he could take a challenge to spend the $10 million dollars in a month with no remaining money or assets at the end to get a much larger sum of money.  He had a few hair-brained ideas like investing in an iceberg moving scheme for water thirsty desert countries (actually made money), and he also decided to fund his own campaign for office.  Unfortunately, he realized if he won, he would have an elected office which would be an asset.  His solution was to change the campaign to one supporting a vote for the write in candidate:  “None of the Above”.  If my memory serves me right, he changed again before the election to supporting one of the other candidates.

I always thought that the concept of a ballet option or write in vote for None of the Above was silly.  I’ve changed my opinion this year.  The current presidential nominating process appears to be headed down a path of extremes.  At this point the current candidates seem to have less than majority support and the front-runners have more people who dislike them than like them for the office they seek.

If I were given a real choice of “None of the Above” this year.  A choice with real meaning, a choice that meant I wanted none of the candidates to have the office and a new election in which none of the current field could be on the ballot, I’m pretty sure that would get my vote in 2016.  I’m not sure if “None of the Above” could ever get a majority vote, but I do think it should be an option.

Our current system gives us two choices.  In the current polarized environment that means we get to choose between a liberal and a conservative.  No real centrist can get through the presidential nominating process.  I want a true choice not the choice between two candidates that I don’t believe in. So here’s to giving us a real a choice even if it has to be “None of the Above”.

We decided to take the road less traveled on our last full day in Yosemite.  One of our group, Charles,  had explored outside the north exit to Yosemite a few time during the week.  We decided to try something new and head that way, toward Hetch Hetchy, but not quite that far.  I would love to check out Hetch Hetchy one of these days, but that will be another trip.

Not far outside of the Big Oak Flats exit to Yosemite Park, just before highway 120 turns west, we turned onto Evergreen Road so we could continue north.  Our first stop was at a small roadside park (Lower Carlon) on Evergreen Road as the road crosses the South Fork of the Tuolumne River.  There are a few parking spots, and a sandy entrance to the river.  We set up some chairs, had some snacks, and got into the water.  It was a little cold, sometimes I’m OK with cold water, sometimes I go in the hard way – slow!  On this day I was taking my time, but got some help from grand niece Hayley.  Getting splashed is the worst way to get in!

Hayley helps me get used to the cold water of the Tuolumne River

It didn’t take long before she won and I gave up and just sat down in the water!  Much less painful than getting splashed!  Charles is getting off easy here just hanging out in the water behind us…

Hayley wins I take a dip to avoid her spashing

As usual once I got in I was ready to enjoy the water.  We stayed cool and had a little fun.  A couple of folks jumped off a nearby log into a deeper pool, but I just relaxed in the water.

Next we decided to heard to our planned lunch spot, Evergreen Lodge.  We got there in the early afternoon but as we looked around the place we missed our chance to have lunch in the pool area.  Our plans beyond this point were a little shaky so we weren’t sure what to do.  We were hungry but didn’t want to go anywhere else.  Someone asked a few questions and found out there as a BBQ planned that evening and a live band.  It also started to rain a little, so we decided to stick around for the BBQ.  We found some seating on a nice patio outside the restaurant/tavern, and had a couple of drinks and relaxed.

Escaping the rain at the Evergreen Lodge Tavern and Restaurant

We also explored some more.  The lodge appears to have expanded recently as there are lots of cabins in the area around the lodge.  They have several lodging options, and we agreed that we might want to check out staying here for part of our next trip to Yosemite.  It would be a great place to stay to check out the Hetch Hetchy area.

The BBQ was in a really nice area behind the Tavern/Restaurant.  A well landscaped, open grassy area with plenty of seating and a couple sturdy ping-pong tables.  The area is a nice gathering place as it is surrounded by a few cabin like structures.  Unfortunately my camera failed to get any good pictures of this area.  I’ll put one of the bad ones here as none of the words I just wrote really do the place justice.

Terrible blurry picture of the BBQ area at Evergreen Lodge

I had over 500 pictures in Yosemite and every one of them had this blurry area on the left side of the picture. My eyes are not what they used to be so I didn’t notice it until I copied them to my computer when I got home. I thought at that time that it must have been a smudge on the left side of the lens. I was able to rescue enough of the pictures by cropping out the blurry area to put some nice pictures in my blog posts, but it was pretty disappointing. Yosemite is a beautiful place and many of my best shots were ruined. As I write this post 5 months later I know that the issue was not a smudge on the lens. I just got back from Maui a couple of weekends ago and I had the same issue with every picture I took over there with the same camera. Luckily I realized that the camera had a focusing issue while I was there so I took more pictures with my phone camera. I love the camera, a Nikon S9700, but this is the second Nikon S9xxx I’ve had issues with the zoom lens with. This series of camera, fits in my pocket, has a great optical zoom length, and takes great pictures, but the lens system is not very durable. The last one got dirt/dust in the mechanism (I took it on a lot of hikes). This one has a design issue that caused it to open in the soft case and in my pocket. I think this damaged the lens mechanism. Luckily this time the warranty was still good and I have sent the camera in to be fixed. Hopefully the issue will be covered by the warranty. I’ll likely look for a different type of camera next time.

One of the reasons I love this camera is its 30X zoom. While eating I noticed the moon in the still light sky above use. I took several zoomed in pictures and got a few nice ones. Not too many pocket cameras can get a picture of the moon like this!

Moon over Evergreen Lodge

The band started up after we ate. A few of us got up and danced. We had a great time. My nephew Brian, also known as Hayley’s dad made a comment that captured the feeling of the day and place. He said that it felt like we had crashed a wedding.

BBQ and live music at Evergreen Lodge June 2015

It was a beautiful place, good food, fun music and great atmosphere. I would definitely recommend checking out Evergreen Lodge on your next trip to Yosemite.

I got one more reasonable picture on the way to the car. The Evergreen Lodge sign.

Evergreen Lodge Sign

We got back to Hodgdon Meadows campground late. Although we were all fed we had one more night of camp fire, s’mores, and a few adult beverages. In the morning we packed up the Jeep said our goodbyes, and headed home. On the way home we had one more unfortunate equipment malfunction. Just north of Merced our car started to lose its cool feeling inside. The A/C went out and it was 106 outside! We called the Jeep dealer in Fresno and Bakersfield, but no luck. We decided to go for it. After all We had hike the Grand Canyon in this kind of heat! We got lots of cold drinks and we were very glad when the sun went down!

This was my third visit to Yosemite in the last 5 years. Each of the trips was unique and terrific in its own way. This is truly one of the best places on Earth. If you have not been to Yosemite, go!

There are some people who blame many of the “special” days in the year on the card manufacturers. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and of course Father’s Day. I’ve never believed this theory or that these days are “just another day”. We mark these days and others as times to make sure that our family, friends, and loved ones know that they are special to us. Yes, Hallmark, FTD, and 1-800-Flowers love these days for other reasons, but that is no reason to dismiss their importance or miss an opportunity to let some one that matters to you know just how much.

This year I’ve been thinking a lot about my Father, Joseph Francis Rial. I spent much of my life living far away from him and the rest of my family. I moved away from Iowa in 1981 when I joined the Marine Corps. I lived in Minnesota from 1986-1989 while recruiting, but most of the time I’ve been much further away. When you live so far away from family you miss out on a lot of things that others take for granted. My relationship with my Dad was not a bad relationship but we rarely talked when I wasn’t visiting him. I hate to admit it, but I’m not sure if I have been home on Father’s Day since I moved away. I’m sure I called a few times, but my Dad and I rarely talked on the phone. Unfortunately I won’t be able to call him or visit this year, he passed away last Christmas Eve.

My Dad lived a full 81 years. He enjoyed his life, but had an unhealthy lifestyle. His health declined fairly rapidly over the last couple years, but regardless of his lifestyle, he had been very healthy for much of his life. I give credit to the fact that he worked hard most of his life.  He didn’t have to worry about going to the gym or going on walks, he worked hard instead of working out hard.  So many of us these days sit at desks all day and have to simulate hard work in the evenings.

We celebrated his 80th birthday with him in September 2013. By then his age and life style (heavy drinking) had taken a toll on him. He spent most of his time on a scooter. Although his body was weak at that time, his mind was clear. Clear at least in some ways. At times he was an irrational and exceptionally grumpy old man, but that was not due to a lack of clarity, it was just part of who he was. Thankfully at his birthday party he just relaxed and enjoyed the day with his family.

Joe Rial and kids on his 80th Birthday

I spent some “alone” time with him in his apartment, the week we were in Iowa for his Birthday. Although he spent most of his time in a chair or on his scooter, he did get up and walk a couple times while I was there. He was very shaky, but I thought it was good that he was not sitting all the time. Unfortunately, a few months later he fell, likely during one of these “up and about” moments. When they found him a day or two later he was still on the floor. He was confused and unsure of where he was. He never recovered from that fall. I visited the next September, while I was home to celebrate my Mom’s 75th birthday, and he didn’t recognize me. He did still speak, some of it was English but some wasn’t, some of it made sense and not all of it.   Although it would have been easy to say things like, “he’s already gone”, in fact I did say that more than once, I could still see parts of my Dad when I was with him. His smile, his personality… the good and the bad, and the intensity of his gaze. It was very difficult seeing him, recognizing some of him, but realizing he was not all there.

We buried Dad on a very cold December day in the Catholic Cemetery near his parents graves. The funeral was difficult, but upbeat. For me the remembrances we shared had been events that had all passed much too quickly. When you live so far from those you love, looking back can be tough. Nearly every time you see them they are a year older or more. If I add it up I probably only spent a few months of time with my Dad the last 25 years of his life.

Although it we had not spent much time together in the last couple decades, I have a very vivid and long memory. I remember things my Dad said and did from about the age of three. He was a husband…

Young Mom and Dad

a father…

Mom Dad and Erin

of five eventually, but just me and my older sister Erin to begin with. Mom and Dad look great in this one, but I obviously liked to eat!

Mom Dad Me and Erin

I remember the family times when I was young. Watching Lawrence Welk, or Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

Dad with me and Erin

and road trips: Colorado, Texas, Fort Wayne Indiana, and South Dakota.

Dad Kathleen Erin and Me at Custers Grave

Unfortunately, many of my memories of my Dad, especially in my early teens, are not good. His drinking took over his life, and set him on a course that would lead to a lot of terrible things and eventually my parent’s divorce. For much of that time he was not a nice guy, not a responsible person, and not a good Dad. Those experiences would strain our relationship for the rest of his life. He never remarried, lived most of the rest of his life alone, but he did stay connected to us. If I had lived nearby we may have had a closer, more connected relationship as I got older. We definitely had some good conversations over the years. Most of those were sitting on a bar stool next to him at his favorite drinking hole, but that was just the way it was with my Dad. Although he was able to quit smoking cold turkey in his 60’s, he never was able to shake the hold alcohol had on him.

Regardless of his faults I loved my Dad.  He worked hard physical jobs all his life. He helped others without a second thought about it. He as a mechanic, machinist, electrician, welder, plant maintenance man, and good at all those things! He was very smart, but left school in the 8th grade. Although he struggled with reading/writing, he read the things he needed to for work and read about the things he enjoyed. Popular Science and Popular Mechanics were a couple of his favorite things to read. There was always a warm hand written note in cards he would send for the holidays.

I wish I could have a long talk with him this weekend on Father’s Day. It wouldn’t bother me at all to sit on a bar stool in his current favorite place if that’s what it took! So remember this Father’s Day – it’s not just another day!

Here are a few more pictures of my Dad…

Dad and me 1964

Dad and me 1964

Dad and Kirsten on a recliner mid 1990s

Dad and Kirsten on a recliner mid 1990s

Dad and Sean playing

Dad playing with my youngest son Sean in the mid nineties.

Last year, 2014, was not quite “to plan”. It was a very busy year, we had a lot of fun, made some progress on goals, but at the end… it also brought a lot of heartache and sadness. I covered most of the fun parts of the year in my recent End of Summer 2014 post. Before the summer started there was also a work trip to Canada, a getaway to Las Vegas with Jenny’s kids, and a lot of local hiking.

To keep myself honest I should probably review the 2014 top 10 countdown from my post Happy New Year – 2014!

10. Weekend project – install surround sound speakers! (Done)

9. Develop an Android App and publish it to Google Play. (Nope – I’m slacking…)

8. Weekend Project – Improve the storage in our garage so we can park 2 cars in the garage at once (novel idea)! (I say no, but my wife gives me partial credit for some of the things I did to make it a little better, but the big improvements will have to come in 2015.)

7. Our 4th consecutive season of Green Flash Concerts at the Birch Aquarium. (YES – we had lots of fun!)

6. Bucket List (progress) – Complete at least 35 new (never been on hikes) in San Diego County. (Sort of a yes – cumulative, but I think I really missed the spirit of this one. we did not hike at the end of 2014. It was very dry until near the end of the year and then we were booked.)

5. Bucket List – Walk across the Grand Canyon not once but twice on a rim to rim to rim hike! (Not quite… we hiked from the North to the South rim, but the a rim to rim to rim will have to wait until next time.)

4. Check at least one item off my Bucket List in the travel section. Need to coordinate this with a few people so I’m not picking one now… (Not from the travel section “per say”, it ended up being from the California section – see the first post for this trip – A Few Days in San Francisco (Day 1 – 26 July 2014 – Cable Car Museum and Dinner on Nob Hill).)

3. Visit family and friends in Iowa, Nebraska, Idaho, and even here in California! (Yes!)

2. One of my daughters will get engaged! (OK cheating on the prediction side of things as it happened on January 2nd.) (Yep! Not one but two engagements in 2014!)

1. Bucket List – rock a grandchild to sleep in my arms! (Over and over again!)

However, 2014 was not all “fun and games”. Throughout the year there was an underlying theme of significant illness, and uncertainty. Some of this turned out well and some did not. There were also some terrible surprises at the end of the year. In November and December we lost several members of our immediate and extended family. Regardless of all the fun we had throughout the year I will always remember the end of 2014 as a time spent reflecting on past joys, feeling lucky to have known these people, and feeling the full brunt of their loss. One of my key philosophies on life is that joy and happiness would not be as sweet if grief and sadness did not exist. I will carry that as hope into the new year along with the wonderful memories I have of those we lost.

Now to continue the tradition I started last year… here is my Top 10 Countdown for 2015.

10. See at least one singer/act that I’ve never seen before from my Bucket List.

9. Do at least one item from the Adventure, Travel, or California sections of my Bucket List.

8. Eliminate my electric bill! (This one is already planned – so it’s an easy “done” for next year’s review.)

7. Leave room in our schedule for opportunistic travel and adventure and take advantage of at least one of these opportunities.

6. Complete at least one of the following home projects:
– Expand the storage area of my garage by at least 50% to give us more room for fun and games – ping-pong and darts anyone!
– Finish painting the remaining “contractor white” walls and woodwork in our home.

5. Plan and complete a family camping trip to Yosemite. This may be challenging with all our kid’s busy schedules this year.

4. Complete at least 20 new hikes in San Diego County to check off a few more trails on my page tracking the progress on my bucket list goal to hike all the trails in the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego County.

3. Focus on healthy living. I will lose the weight I’ve gained over the past couple years by eating better and exercising more.

2. Spend lots of time with friends and family.

1. Walk my oldest daughter down the aisle!

I hope your 2014 was everything you hoped for and then some, and that your 2015 exceeds all reasonable expectations! Happy New Year!

My blog is now four years old. I have posted 194 posts over the past 208 weeks, so I’ve fallen behind my goal of 1 post a week, this year for the first time. I thought about doing a little “catching up” over the past few months, but we had 3 vacations in the last 3 months and I also had a couple of business trips. I posted 38 posts in the last year. Rather than beating myself up about it I plan to lower my goal this year to 3 posts a month. When I look at my “Honey Do” list for the house, and my “better do” list at work – not to mention plenty of grandson time, I’m sure I won’t be sitting on the couch a lot!

Although the blog has changed over the last 4 years, its main purpose has been constant – to celebrate living a full life. With four years of posts on the blog some of the standard widgets and tools for giving access to these posts are starting to fall short. Some of the things I did in the last year have helped in some ways. I’ve kept my sidebar tool for my “Favorite Posts – So Far” up to date. This has made it easier for people to find many of my favorite posts (usually vacations and adventures). However, the list has gotten long and unwieldy, so I plan to do some consolidating. I’ll create a summary page for places I’ve been multiple times and have many posts for (such as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, San Francisco).  These summary pages with have a table of posts and include a thumbnail picture from the post. I can put this same table at the end of each of these posts to make it easier to find the information a person may be interested in.

On my homepage I’ve added some links using the built-in post categories on my homepage using my most common categories for posts that don’t fit into my favorites so far list. But this just brings people to a long continuous string of posts. I would rather have it bring them to a list of posts with descriptions. I have a couple of choices to make this happen.
1. Change my theme to one with more tools. (This would be quite a bit of work to reformat many of the posts – especially the pictures.)
2. Brush off my HTML skills and do it myself. I’m leaning toward doing this, but with 194 posts and growing, this could be a bit of a chore to maintain.

Year four of the blog had a couple major events planned. I ran the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon. I didn’t achieve my time goal due to a late training injury, so I plan to do another at some point. However, I need my Achilles tendon to heal first. I see some physical therapy in my future! We also did a Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike. It was terrific despite the heat and a lingering cold.

I don’t have firm plans for any big adventures in 2015 yet. There’s at least one wedding to plan for, and maybe more! If we can find a date I would love to have a family camping trip to Yosemite or Sequoia. But we’ll have to see where that might fit in. I will continue with my goal of doing all 250 hikes in San Diego County. This will likely take 5-6 years even if we stay on it! As soon as my Achilles is healed I will start training for more runs. I love the half marathon length, but I know I can get a much better time on the marathon than I did at last years Marine Corps Marathon.

It’s hard to believe another year has past. Life is definitely not slowing down. I have absolutely lived a full life for the last four years. The blog has helped me stay focused on planning and living life whether that revolved around a milestone adventure, or just enjoying the local area more. I don’t plan to give up living this way or blogging about it any time soon.

Now it’s time to blow out the candles and have some cake… Happy Birthday Blog!

Sunset over San Diego

The cliché quote is to “Live everyday as if it is your last”. That is good advice, but as with most clichés it loses it’s oomph after a while. I stay very busy, and love my life, but I’m not perfect. I’m not good with the routine things that are necessary if you want to have a full life. I also am easily distracted and end up doing things that are “not according to plan”, unnecessary, and unfulfilling. On a recent drive home from work I was thinking about this propensity for wasting valuable time. I have dozens of unstarted projects, a blog that I’ve been ignoring too much of late, and friends and family that I don’t spend enough time with. I want to be more focused.

My son and I started watching the HBO show “True Detectives” at the beginning of last week. We don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do enjoy watching a few good shows with him. He suggested this one, which is rare, so we gave it a try. It is a very, very good show. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson both deliver great performances. Matthew McConaughey’s character is “a bit off” to put it mildly. At one point in the show he’s explaining his philosophy on life. He believes in no heaven or hell, only that we will all live our lives over again and again. We will live everyday over again. Experience every experience again, exactly as it happened the first time. This got me thinking! To some degree I was doing that already. Not reliving my life, but on a shorter cycle reliving the same experiences over and over again. Not every day, but on those routine, go to work, come home, eat dinner, etc., etc. days. Work is necessary (I owe, I owe, so off to work I go), eating is necessary, but there are so many bad habits that I had fallen into over time. So many good habits that I had let drift away recently.

So I’ve decided to live those routine days with a new philosophy. To paraphrase the cliché quote… I plan to “Live everyday as if I will live it over and over for the rest of my life”.

I am not good at routines. I’m forgetful, easily distracted, and I would rather do something new or entertaining than follow a routine. However, I know that I owe a lot of my happiness and good fortune over the past several years to well established beneficial routines. When you have physical goals like a marathon or long hike routine training schedules are what make it possible. I’m not a neat freak, but I like to stay on top of thing around the house. And I have a lot of projects around the house that I want to do, and I really dislike leaving anything half-finished. A solid daily and weekly routine helps me keep these things on track. If these things are taken care of, it’s much easier to focus on planning fun things and doing them!

Over the past 8 years I’ve been pretty good at keeping up with my daily and weekly routines. However, after I completed the Marine Corps Marathon last October, I fell off on many of my routines. It started as a conscious effort to let my body heal, my hip and both Achilles tendons were very sore and the constant training was not letting them heal. So letting up on the work outs is explainable, but a lot of my other daily and weekly routines suffered too. My blog posting dropped off and I wasn’t as much on top of chores around the house. We’ve been busy, but I have the time I need to do these things.

In addition to slacking off on good habits, some bad ones have gained ground. Too much TV, too much couch time, and my diet has taken a turn for the worse. So far there has been no big difference in my life due to these changes, but over time, if I let this trend continue, my life would change and not for the better.

There is a well-known saying that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. I would like to paraphrase this proverb to state one of my strongest held beliefs, “all play and no work makes Jack a bad playmate”. In addition to the preparation required so that you can truly “enjoy play”, you have to do “the work” on yourself and your situation before you can be a good play partner. You need to be financially prepared, you have to be physically prepared, you have to be well rested, and you need a stable orderly living situation before you are really ready to put all that aside for some worry free and well deserved fun. You have to do be prepared before you can be a good playmate.

Establishing beneficial routines and sticking to them is an essential part of living a full life. Do the work to prepare yourself for life and you’ll never regret it! If you don’t have good routines life will eventually overwhelm you and then start to pass you by.

View from Tecate Peak in Southern San Diego County

One of the most satisfying feelings in life is feeling the sense of being grounded. The dictionary definition of the word asks more questions about a person than it answers.

I’ve heard other phrases in my life that I also equate with a person who is grounded such as “knows who they are and they’re happy with it”, “comfortable in their own skin”, and “right where they want to be in life”.   The classic view of a person who is “grounded” is of a person who is that way because that is who they are and nothing can shake them. People like that might exist, but I think anyone is capable of being shaken loose from their roots occasionally. Sometimes it is better to let yourself drift for a while than to hold on to a self-image that no longer works. I believe you won’t be able to hold on to that “grounded” feeling for long if your self-image doesn’t match your situation!  Although I haven’t always felt that I was “grounded”, I can definitely think of four times in my life I felt that way.

When I was young and we lived just outside of my hometown, even though I spent a lot of time alone, I remember being very happy. I had a close family, felt I knew who I was, and where I fit in the world. Of course things have a way of changing, in fact they never stop changing. I hit puberty (never a likely time to feel grounded), my parents divorced, and we moved in to town. It is hard to feel grounded when the “ground” is shifting underneath you.

But I found my way and even though I was a rebellious teen, I felt grounded. I’m sure my Mom would feel differently about that time in my life, but I was happy with much of my life. I started working, had a more social life, a terrific best friend (who is still my best friend today), and I learned a lot about myself. But high school doesn’t last forever! After high school the ground shifted yet again. Behavior that worked when I had fewer responsibilities became a huge problem. I didn’t know where I was headed and no longer felt even a little bit grounded.

Eventually, I decided that a major change was necessary. I decided to join the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is a terrific organization and I loved every minute of my 21 years of service, but I can’t say that I felt particularly grounded during my first four years in the Marine Corps. I was constantly moving around, meeting new people, and learning even more about myself. I wasn’t particularly happy with some of the things I learned, so I decided to make some changes. At the end of my first enlistment I met a woman, got married and started a family. Responsibility and family allowed me to finally feel grounded again.

The years I spent married and raising young children was a defining time in my life. I was absolutely exactly where I wanted to be. I never wanted it to end! We were married 20 years. We were happy at least 80% of the time for the first 17. Unfortunately we were only happy about 20 percent of the time the last three years. This was different for me than after high school. After high school I didn’t really know who I was.  Now I did! I was settled in my career, I was a father, and I wanted to be a family man. That included coming home from work to my family. My self-image no longer completely fit my situation. I saw my children several hours a week, not every night. I came home to an empty apartment, and I didn’t have a long list of interests to fill my life with. The interests of my youth – going to the bar, playing pool, and the rest of the things young men do, felt like a pretty hollow existence compared to what my life had been.

I didn’t all at once decide to “find myself” or to live a fuller life. In fact I did what a lot of people in my situation do, I jumped back into a relationship very quickly. I thought I could rebuild what I had lost. I thought all I needed was someone to come home to and then everything would be “good” again. It didn’t work out quite that way. I ended up married and divorced again very quickly. Although it was a 3 year relationship I was not able to regain that feeling of being grounded. After that experience I was even more “out of sorts”. I really was adrift except for one thing, my youngest son moved in with me.

I wish I could say that with my son there I had decided to just enjoy having my son there, not worry about dating, and take some time to build a life, but I didn’t know I needed to do that.  I was a single parent, dating, and dealing with the challenges that all of those things together bring. It didn’t leave a lot of time in my life for self discovery. It didn’t take long for me to see that this wasn’t the way to happiness. I pulled away from online dating, focused on doing my own thing, not for years, but for enough time to find something that I could build on.  I also started blogging. My first blog is no longer around. It was a 60 post in 60 days nonstop rant. I wasn’t ranting at the world for “what they were doing to me”. I was ranting at myself! I needed to change some things. It was too late to “Join the Marine Corps” again, and that is not the kind of change I needed anyway. I needed to accept that I wouldn’t go back to where I had been before. Besides, my kids were mostly grown and the nest was emptying out. I started to hike, and run, and sail more. I started going to plays and more concerts than I had ever gone to before. I also accepted the friendship offered by a terrific woman I was dating before my “60 posts in 60 days” rant/melt down. Again I wish I could say that I let this go slowly, that is absolutely what I needed, but I didn’t. After a few months I asked her to date again. At least it wasn’t because I needed to date, it was because I thought she was terrific and I didn’t want to lose her.  However, I did commit myself to taking the dating slowly, and to continuing to find myself. I knew I needed to fill my life with not just the company of another person, but with my own interests if I was going to ever be happy again.

Much of the rest of the story is already told in the posts I’ve written for this blog over the last 3+ years, so I’ll skip to the good part.  Last week I was rocking my grandson to sleep and my beautiful, tenacious, adventurous, wonderful wife bent over to give me a kiss and one word came to my mind – grounded!  I was grounded well before this, but I felt it more strongly than ever before at that moment.  I could not be in a better place. I cannot imagine a different life. I know exactly who I am and I’m happy with that person (well mostly). I know that there is change out there somewhere in the future. I don’t dwell on it… but it will come. Until then I will live every day to the fullest and continue to feel grounded!

Recently, Tom Perkins, a very rich venture capitalist suggested that everyone should get 1 vote for every dollar they pay in taxes, giving them influence equal to their contribution to society (or at least their tax contribution). If we were to take his suggestion and only took income tax into account, we would be turning more than 70% of the voting influence over to the top 10% of wage earners. Does this make sense? Will America be better or worse off if we do this? Are these the people we want to shape our country’s political policies? What do we know about these people except they make a lot of money? Rather than trying to look at the whole group, let’s just take a look at one of these people, Tom Perkins.

I assume Tom Perkins pays a lot of taxes and that his influence would increase if we put this plan in place. I’m not going to question his business smarts, he makes a lot of money so he must know what he’s doing. So let’s just take a look at his public policy opinions, or at least the one he just stated so publicly. He claims that taxes will lead to the economic extinction of the 1%. He can’t mean that there won’t be a top 1% of wage earner, because there will be, no matter what else happens the ability to calculate the top 1% won’t disappear. Since they won’t “disappear” his claim that they will suffer economic extinction must have some other meaning? Does he mean the current group of high wage earners will earn a lower percentage of the total income earned? Does he mean that they will be replaced by a different group of high wage earners? Does he mean they will accumulate less wealth? Does he mean they will yield less economic influence? Does he mean their life style will be impacted? Does he mean that the poor will vote to take all their money from them? I’m just not sure what he means here. What is the “economic extinction of the 1%”? I am pretty sure that I don’t want to give more votes to someone who speaks nonsense!

Let’s take this concept and look at the other end of the spectrum. Maybe from that angle he is really on to something. Under his plan who would not get to vote at all. Is America better off or worse off letting someone who pays no taxes exercise a vote? There are different ways to look at Federal Taxes and different percentages of people who pay them depending on what taxes you count. If you only consider income taxes, then it is estimated that about 43% of people don’t pay Federal income taxes. But most of these people still pay federal taxes when you include payroll taxes like social security and medicare tax. Only about 14% of people don’t pay any Federal Taxes. Don’t assume that these people are lazy, homeless people, or that they are people who chose not to contribute to society. Many of these people are disabled, senior citizens, and students. I would suggest that if you look at who actually votes in this group, that a vast majority of the group would be disabled, senior citizens, and students. I’ll ask my question again. Is America better off or worse off if we take the right to vote away from a group of disabled people, senior citizens, and students. I don’t think that would be good public policy and I don’t think I want to give more votes to someone who thinks it is.

Tom Perkins suggestion that his influence should be greater because he pays more taxes is very offensive to me. As a venture capitalist he should realize that the money he brings to the table is not the only contribution required to make capitalism work and to what makes America great. He is a venture capitalist because he has no good ideas of his own – except the idea to give money to people who have good ideas. Is his contribution really that much greater than the person who has the idea worthy of an investment? Most good ideas require the hard work of a lot of the 99% to come to fruition. Is his contribution even greater than theirs?

The offensiveness of his suggestion stirred another thought for me. Is his suggestion that money should equal votes that much different than the current Supreme Court rulings against limiting the influence of money due to the right of free speech. Does the right to free speech mean that we have to allow people with money the right to amplify their influence? The idea that he should be able to pay others as much as he wants to increase the reach and frequency of his personal right to free speech is no more just than allowing him more votes because he pays more taxes. If he wants to exercise his right to free speech he should speak! If he is too busy his right should allow him to hire one guy to speak for him! If he wants that one guy’s speech on every TV and Radio in the country all day every day that goes beyond free speech. That is buying influence in the same way a bribe is influence or paying others to vote in a particular way is influence. Using money to gain political influence can and should be regulated!

I’m glad that Mr. Perkins exercised his right to free speech. I’m thankful he said what he did. I hope that this will open a discussion about the connection between money and influence in this country. I hope others see that political influence should not be based on money in the area of voting or in the area of free speech.