Camping along the Sespe

Camping along the Sespe

June 11-16, 2010. A solid 6-day, 5-night camping trip into the Los Padres National Forest, the longest time thus far I’d consecutively spent camping. Time to go spend some time in nature, more than the 3 days at most I’d done previously.

An intuitive spiritual teacher/friend/guide of mine, Matt Kahn, suggested that I spend about a week out in nature camping. His guidance has consistently been fantastic and so I was happy to oblige, especially since I had just purchased a Subaru Outback (been wanting once since I was in Colorado), and I was eager to take it out for a spin.

So anyways, after a little research on a suitable location to go camp for about a week, I discovered a national forest where you could purchase a $30 annual pass and you’d be set. Definitely beats the $35/night car camping places you find at the state parks along the coast here. This is certainly less accessible, more rugged, and less developed, and I’m looking for something that’s more outdoorsy and less civilized.

The Drive to the Forest

Driving in to the Los Padres National Forest

Driving in to the Los Padres National Forest

Having recently traded my 1997 Toyota Camry (a great highway/city car) for a new-to-me 1996 Subaru Outback, I opted to put it through its paces.

The drive up to the forest took a very scenic road through the mountains.

Driving up through the mountains

Driving up through the mountains

Higher and higher you go, until you realize you’re up above the clouds… 🙂

Driving above the clouds

Driving above the clouds

Now as you can see I’d been driving on a dirt road. I was actually taking a road that you needed to get a special permit to ride on, a 4×4 only road.

There’s a little detour/pull-out you can take along this road and go to Nordhoff Tower which sits atop Nordhoff Peak (4485′). Might as well do that since we’re all the way out here!

View from the Nordhoff Tower:

After checking out this area, time to hit the road again!

Driving along the 4x4 road

Driving along the 4x4 road

After a little while of driving the 4s4 road, at a relatively slow pace actually because if you hit an unexpected rut at even 20 mph, it’s pretty intense. Your shocks take the hammer of an impact and your front bumper gets scraped on the ground as the car lurches forward. Gotta slow down… It was fun for a little while, but given the slow speed I had to drive, I actually started to lose the excitement. However, since the road was only a few miles long, I decided to trudge on a little longer and go to the end. Turns out that was a mistake. Shoulda turned back. (This was a good lesson in following my excitement, even if my mind wants to do something else.)

You see, there was a dense collection of fallen rock amidst the thick brush a little farther up. Having a raised suspension like you see on some trucks woulda been handy, but instead, it turns out that I wound up not only bottoming out quite a bit in that area, but actually driving over a big heavy rock that tore the back of my bumper.

Torn rear bumper

Torn rear bumper

Whoops… (The rectangular area to the right of the rip was from a bumper sticker that used to cover a hole that someone who previously owned the car made and had attempted to cover up. The vertical rip is the one I created. If you scroll up to the previous picture, you’ll notice the left side of the bumper is still intact.)

Like my camera gear which has been sent for repairs many a time since I push it so hard, my car is already having its share of battle scars as well. Maybe I should get a friggin’ tank…

In any event, after making a somewhat challenging turn-around on a tight road that’s basically a vertical mountain wall on one side and a sheer drop of a cliff on the other, I started heading back.

Still up above the clouds

Still up above the clouds

Along the way, I found this one little turn out with a somewhat steep drop down and back up. When I first started this road trip, Glenn and I had camped overnight along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The campsite we found was off to the side of the paved road, in a little viewing area. It also had a somewhat steep drop-off road that you could drive and be out of sight from the road. I liked the idea of taking that little road down because it would mean our car would be out of sight overnight. However, I wasn’t sure my front wheel drive Camry could make it back up and I didn’t want to have to call a tow truck to get it out. So instead, I wound up parking it up at the higher parking lot that was right off the side of the road.

I mention that because a similar situation presented itself here and I was eager to see what an outdoorsy all wheel drive vehicle could do. (There was also a ramp you could take back up and down, sort of like taking the wheelchair ramp in case you couldn’t take the stairs.)

After driving down the dirt ramp, I set up my iPhone as a video camera and proceeded to drive up and down the hill, seeing what the experience was like.

It was a lot of fun! (The road was a bit steeper than pictured in the video. I think I had the camera slanted a bit so it looks less steep than it really was but anyways…)

Anyways, after coming back down from the 4×4 road, I made my way over to the trailhead parking lot, grabbed my camping gear, and started hiking in, ready to get on with the real point of this trip, extended meditation time in nature.

The First Campground

Not wanting to make this trip about the hike the way I normally do and instead preferring to go ahead and find a spot to camp and set up, I wound up choosing a site only 0.6 miles from the car. Turns out this was very handy because I could easily go back to the car and grab more food, take back what I didn’t need, and so on. I picked a rocky area that technically wasn’t even a real developed campsite, but was still close to the car and had easy access to water.

First night's campsite

First night's campsite

Having water nearby was necessary since I’d need it for both eating and drinking. (I used dehydrated backpacker meals on this trip.) Being close to the car meant I could make things a bit more luxurious and pack in heavier cans of chili (at $1-2 a piece) rather than use the backpacking meals (at $6-8 a piece). Plus I could easily bring the discarded cans back to the car.

Now I wanted to be pretty alone here, to just meditate in peace and silence. However, this was a pretty well-known area and you’d have a group of dayhikers and overnight hikers coming through several times a day, as well as people on horses. In fact, there was even this pair of kids hauling in a fricken’ cooler of food and beer!

Some kids carrying a cooler into the forest

Some kids carrying a cooler into the forest

I offered to help them get across and once they made it, they both sat down exhausted and needing a break. Even though they had only carried the thing but a half mile in, it had already taken their toll on them and they still had farther to go.

Since I had already set up camp and all, I decided to stay here. This was nice because it was convenient to run back to the car and grab things I needed or take back things I didn’t. However, after the first night, I decided to keep going and find a place more secluded and out of the way, somewhere only people camping would go so that there’d be less traffic.

On to the Next Campsite

Packing my gear back up the following morning, I got everything together and continued hiking in the nicely maintained trail.

Following the trail in

Following the trail in

The campsite I wound up choosing was about ~10 miles in according to the map. As you get farther in to the wilderness, the trail gets a bit more rugged, but really nothing bad.

Trail into the Mountains

Trail into the Mountains

There were some really beautiful campsites I considered setting up in, but given that they had people already, I opted to keep going.

A tent off in the distance

A tent off in the distance

This trail allowed equestrian riders to come through. Some had come through while I was still at my first camp and the tent actually spooked the horses. It took them a while to cross the river (the one where the kids with the cooler had crossed) and make it past my tent. Horses are pretty spookable outdoors.

As an aside, there’s certain right-of-way rules on the trail such as sticking to the right side of the trail when passing people going the opposite direction, the same way as when driving, but this rule is overlooked when passing horses on a hill. The rule of thumb there is, if you’re hiking on foot, you not only give the horses right of way, but you move to the downhill side of the trail. The reasoning here being if the horses get spooked and take off running, they’ll run uphill away from you instead of downhill. It’s much easier for the riders to regain control when the horse is running uphill than when it’s dashing downhill. So yeah, horses spook…

Horses on the Trail

Horses on the Trail

After finally hiking the 10 miles in, I arrived at the campsite I wanted.

Ariel along the Sespe

Ariel along the Sespe

This area had many of the things I was looking for: An area to set up camp near the water, places to hang a bear bag and to go meditate, and just a beautiful location in general. Here I was surrounded by mountains in every direction. T’was quite nice.

Time to set up camp!

Camping along the Sespe

Camping along the Sespe

Ah what a beautiful place to spend time… 🙂

Spending Time at Camp

The sandy beachy area is where I cooked and slept. The bouldery area off in the distance where those big trees were was where I went to go meditate. Bringing an inflatable sit pad to sit on, a sweater to cushion the boulder or tree I was leaning back against and the sleeves of which I’d use to tie back branches, a camp towel to cover my head and protect myself from the bugs and heat, sunscreen, and bugspray, I was set to meditate. And meditate I did. For hours and hours and hours every day.

Now for some odd reason, although I was being very conservative with my phone’s battery life and even turned it off at night, I awoke the next morning to find my phone dead. Since it was the only camera I had and the point of this trip was more about the meditation than photography so I wasn’t about to make the 20 mile round-trip just to get another camera, that meant the end of my photo’ing and video’ing for the duration of this excursion. As such, the rest of this post’ll have to be texty.

Now one thing I really enjoyed out there was the ability to spend time naked. Whether you’re skinny dipping in the river, laying down to get some sun where the sun don’t (normally) shine, or just walking around in the buff and feeling the breeze lovingly brush against your skin, it really is an amazing feeling to be naked outdoors. Feels good. Feels right… Nevertheless, I would try to maintain my privacy though and was constantly vigilant of hikers or horse riders coming in from either side. Either way, you definitely find that places that don’t normally get sun, the pasty white areas of your body like your inner thighs that us non-speedo wearing guys don’t usually expose to the light of the sun, well, they burn quite easily when given the chance… heh. Gotta take it easy and not try to even out your tan lines all in one day. 😉

While I was there I saw a few harmless watersnakes go by. Fortunately no rattlesnakes which are supposed to frequent the area. I tried my hand at capturing the snakes, learning how they behave, how they slither against the end of my stick, and so on. It crossed my mind… what about capturing it and eating it?

Towards the end of the trip, a couple came by to camp for a night and we had a chance to talk. It turns out that the wife had done this outdoor survival thing when she was younger and then became a counselor taking others into the woods, teaching them survival skills, how to keep warm, make fire, eat, clean water, build shelters, and so on. This idea excited me to no end and she shared with me a number of possibilities of how I could look into doing something like this myself. For example, she told me about Anasazi in Arizona, the program for troubled teens where you can take them out into the wilderness, the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) in Utah Colorado, a survival course which offers 7-day, 14-day, and 28-day trips where you go out into the woods with little more than a blanket, poncho, and a knife and learn to survive. Way cool! There’s also the Rabbitstick Rendezvous in Idaho and Winter Count in Arizona, basically a meeting of all sorts of people who live outdoors or spend a lot of time outdoors and come together to share different ideas on everything from shelter construction to trapping and skinning different types of animals to clothing creation and so on. Basically all about primitive technology. It was quite a treat to meet this couple and have my eyes opened to the possibility of doing something similar, of learning way more about outdoor survival and later becoming a guide. Whether we cover hiking gear, outdoor survival skills, nature photography, or timelapse cinematography, it’d be fun to do it all!

Now I mentioned that I was there to spend a bunch of time meditating and that I did. There were some really profound experiences that occurred, the details of which I don’t really feel like going into right now, but it felt like I couldn’t go all the way through, I wasn’t willing to fully surrender and let go. As such, some things that happened weren’t able to fully complete and fall away. Oh well, maybe next time… 🙂

Keys!

The very end of this trip was not without its own little surprises. You see, at the beginning of the trip, I had made a lot of trips back and forth to the car. I must have misplaced my keys or something because it wasn’t until I had hiked the 10 miles in and then the 10 miles back out and arrived back at the car that I realized I didn’t have my car keys. Yikes… Stuck at a trailhead (fortunately a relatively popular one so there were other people around) with no car keys. Fortunately my new car had one weird issue with the door locks.. if you lock the doors from the inside and the close either of the two front doors, it pops open the lock when the door closes. I didn’t realize this and it had turned out that one of my doors had unlocked itself when I closed it. This turned out to be quite fortunate because I was able to put my gear inside the car and grab more food.

I had met a park ranger doing trail maintenance on the hike back to the trailhead and talked to her about it. She offered to give me a ride back to town if I needed one to get a hotel, call AAA, or whatever else. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do without a car key. How do I start it up? Can they make a new car key? How does it work?

Oh well, I figured that there was something cool to come of this situation and so I ran through a few mental plays in my head about finding people to stay with, making new friends, and so on. I decided to drop my camping gear off in my car (again, thank goodness the door was unlocked) and grab my daypack and a bit of food and water and jog back down the trail, checking a few spots where the keys might have been, side detours where I had stopped to take a break and enjoy the scenery. Long story short, after running back to a campsite a few miles in where I was quite certain they might be and not being able to find my keys, I felt a bit lost. My intuition pointed me back to going to the car rather than go all the way back to the campsite I had stayed in the majority of the time in, and so on blistered feet by this point, I headed back to my car. What was supposed to be just a 10 mile hike back wound up being more like a 20 mile trek. It turns out that by the time I got back, someone had kindly found my keys and placed them under the wiper of my car. Woohoo!! Thank goodness! I have no idea who they were, where they found the keys, or how the timing worked out that they found them and returned them on the day I came back to my car, but either way I was incredible grateful to have my car starting up again!

You better believe that when I got out, I made a stop by Home Depot and made a bunch of spare car keys. Every pack I have now has a spare car key permanently inside it, just in case, for example… 🙂

But yeah.. time to return to the civilized world and do some looking into these outdoor survival courses! It’d be pretty cool to basically go out into the woods, have other people come join you, share ideas with others, and get paid for it! Getting paid to do what you love… gotta love it! 🙂

3 Comments

  1. Ian
    on July 26th, 2010
    1

    Hi Ariel
    I’ve never commented on one of these sites before. I just read your “last” blog post at YATL and wanted to thank you for all you shared over the last few years. Your writing really struck a cord with me and helped to guide me to an occasional moment of peace:)
    Take Care
    Ian

  2. Kikue Mugen
    on August 2nd, 2010
    2

    Wow, wow and more wows! Great story this time. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this adventure. Especially the part about losing your car keys! I bet you learned a ton of little lessons through the whole experience! I so enjoy the read! Keep on the path! 😉

  3. charles
    on December 28th, 2011
    3

    i grew up in Ojai in the 60s-70s and hiked all over including Nordhoff Ridge. once, while driving near Sespe Hot Springs (back when the Seabees kept the road maintained and you could still drive in)I broke a fan belt, 20 miles from anywhere. momentary panic till i recalled i had a spare. losing keys has to be so much more daunting. anyway, loved the pictures. if you get a chance, hike Sisar Canyon. well worth the effort. peace, Charles

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