After losing most of the summer to a mysterious illness, I jump at the chance to hike in Ventana Wilderness with B this weekend.
A 5:00 a.m. departure is unappealing; we compromise on 6:00. Santa Maria, 5 Cities, San Luis Obispo - the miles fly by as we chat - catching up on the events of the past several months.
An opalescent dawn has given way to a cool, misty morning as we head up the first steep switchbacks of the Cruikshank Trail.
Climbing rapidly away from the nearly shoreless sea, we move through fields of golden grass and ruddy buckwheat - a few lone pine trees etched against the pewter sky.
Buckeye Camp is deserted, almost desolate. We eat lunch quickly, a chill wind making us disinclined to linger. A spur of the moment decision is made to return to the car via Soda Springs Trail - B's motto being "There are no wrong trails......"
The fog lifts, a vivid blue sea stretches endlessly to the horizon and beyond. Soda Springs trail winds down, down through stands of scrub oak and Pampas Grass, the trail slippery with fallen leaves.
Then south along Highway 1 to San Carpoforo Beach. It is unbelievably beautiful in the pale, wintery sunlight and the ceaseless roar and hiss of the surf is hypnotic, soporific. B naps in the sand - but I cannot help myself and begin picking up rocks, each more beautiful than the last. Pockets soon stuffed, I pull off my fleece and use it as a kind of collector's sack.
Finally, reluctantly, we head south to a much appreciated coffee in Cambria, dinner at the Firestone Grill and then home in the gathering dusk.