Guest Blogger: Ian McGregor – Cela’s Trek
Hiking and Biking in the OC by Ian McGregor – 11 August 2014
Apologies for the length of time since the last post. I hope to have a new post out every week, but things have been really busy on this end – moving out by the end of next week, then after five days I plunge headfirst into my last year at Berkeley. So soon!
Anyways, for this post I thought I’d give you guys some tips about a couple places I went to in the last week in Orange County, specifically, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Yesterday we had to take a trip down to the Upper Newport Bay Nature Reserve for some irrigation inspiration, and our contact was happy to show us around in the meantime. The Reserve center is much bigger than the conservancy at which I’m interning, and part of that is because the area it oversees is scores of acres larger – it stretches from the ocean all the way to where the 73 freeway meets Jamboree. Growing up with the tradition of going to Fashion Island (think American consumerism at its finest) during the holidays, I’ve always gazed out over the marsh, wishing there was some way I could get in there and explore. Turns out there definitely is! Other than the canoeing and SUP (stand-up paddleboard) opportunities right across the water from the reserve, there’s actually a “Mountains to Sea Trailhead” that’s open for bikes. I asked our guide if by “mountains” the sign meant Saddleback. “Kind of,” he replied, looking out over the marsh. He raised his arm and pointed toward the east, while his other hand shielded the sun. “It starts over in Santiago Canyon, joins some roads, goes on its own…but eventually it winds its way down here to the Reserve.” I, of course, was astonished at hearing this. This is something I would expect to find in a bike-friendly place like Copenhagen, which recently has been looking to expand its 22 km (13.67 mile) superhighway for commuters. But nope! Irvine Ranch has its own 35.4 km (22 mile) path for bikers (albeit recreational), and it looks to be a really fun ride. You can see a map of the route here.
View of Newport Back Bay as seen from the trailhead (looking east)
In terms of hiking, let’s move a little further south to Laguna Beach. Since I’ve been involved with Pageant of the Masters for the summer (great show, see my friend Tamara’s take on it here), I’ve gotten the opportunity to explore the Laguna area a bit more, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. Sure it’s just down the coast from Huntington and Newport, but the lifestyle, mindset, and overall culture is just a bit different once you get past Crystal Cove State Park on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). One of the highlights from my time exploring was the discovery of Top of the World. I have some friends from elementary school I still hang out with, and we were wondering what we could do to show my German exchange student – it would have to be something unique and something he couldn’t really get in the Huntington area, hence for it to be special. We asked my friend’s sister and she immediately suggested this Top of the World place. I’m so glad she did. Although the highest point in the Laguna hills area is really where the 73 freeway reaches its zenith, this is the next highest point that people can access. If you don’t have the time to bike or hike the 1036 ft (316 m) to the top, you can drive practically the whole way and reach the top via a 5 min walk. Whichever way you want to tackle it, the views are spectacular. To the north you can see Mt. Baldy (a spiraling 10,000 ft [3048 m] high peak), to the east you see the two top reaches of Saddleback (both averaging about 5500 ft [1676 m]), to the south-east you can see the hills of San Clemente, and to the west, you have the Pacific Ocean sprawling out toward Catalina and San Clemente islands. From this height, the water is so close that you can almost imagine going down an immense water slide right into the ocean. I personally have gone up there twice now, both times in the late afternoon and the views were good (even with clouds). If you are able to take the time to plan your trip there, though, I suggest going on a cloudless day soon after a rainstorm or Santa Ana wind event (generally very clear days) and going in early morning/midday, because this way the north will be cleared up as well. During the summer in the late afternoon, the setting sun from Top of the World vantage point is NNE, and while sunsets up there are both fantastic and romantic, it can obscure some views. Either way, the drive and the scenery is in my opinion a great find. And if while you’re on the top of the world you get antsy, not to worry! There are trails over the tops of the hills for people to hike or bike on both sides of the CA 133 highway, with a chance to get an in-depth and intimate look at the majesty of this oceanside contour.
Pro-Tip: If you really want that view looking north from Irvine/Laguna, I would suggest taking the 73 highway on a Sunday morning or sometime when there isn’t much traffic in the morning hours (caution; 73 freeway is a no-cash toll road). When traveling north and you crest the hill on a clear day, you can see the whole LA Basin spread out like an interactive map before you. In fact, you can see all the way to Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu hills! If there is a place to stop off and take a picture, I highly suggest it. I personally haven’t discovered anything yet, but I think it’s there.
Two other exciting things about the top of the world. Right by the parking lot (next to the entrance to the tennis courts) is an amazing tree, Arbutus unedo, in the Ericaceae family to be exact. In english, it is known as a Strawberry Tree: it has a reddish, flaky bark and is kind of small for a tree, but the main draw about it is the fruit. Its leaves are littered with orange, yellow, and red lizard-skin berries that taste so good. Think of it like candy hidden in plain sight that no one knows about. While they’re pretty to view, only the red ones are ripe enough to eat, and it turns out you can make the berries into jam and other things! All I know about it is how I discovered it. I had a plant identification course last year and we were wandering around campus identifying the nonnative species that had been planted there. I had kept seeing the Arbutus trees around, so I asked my professor about them and if the berries were edible. He paused, and grabbed a fruit from the tree. “You know, I’m not really sure,” he said with a quirky smile, then promptly tossed the fruit into his mouth and smiled broadly. Since then I’ve taste-tested all the strawberry trees on campus…definitely no obsession there!
Anyways, the other exciting thing: when coming up to top of the world (driving), I suggest coming up the fun way. If you’re coming from the 133, you want to turn left on Forest. If you’re coming from PCH, you’re going to want to turn onto Broadway and eventually make a right on Forest. The reason for this is you get to go up this awesome hill. I’d put it at a 50-60 degree grade – it’s so much fun. Coming down is also fantastic; it looks like you’re about to fall off the edge of the continent itself, and during the summer it’s not surprising to hear screams coming from new drivers tackling the hill. To get to top of the world from there, just turn left at the stop sign once you climb the hill, and just follow the road to the top.
Well, that’s about from this end. It may be a little bit until I do my next post since I’m moving into a new apartment and getting things underway for my semester, but rest assured I have some really great ideas for future posts. Thanks for reading!
P.S. After reading more National Geographic Traveler, I think I’m going to try writing these posts in more of a travel writing style, similar to what you’d find in those articles. The passage below is my own exercise into this domain. There’s no new information pertinent to this post, and it’s purely a creative writing jaunt, if you will. If you do want to read it, just know that this is probably much more in depth than I’ll go into every single topic. The goal here is to make you interested, not bored! :]
On top of the world, there was a tree. But it wasn’t a normal tree. Its bark looked familiar, as though coming from a cherished, far-off memory. As I approached the tree I saw it first as a stranger, second as an acquaintance, and third as a long-lost friend. When it was a stranger, I noticed a simple standing statue in the passage of time, dedicated by others in its round home. When it became the acquaintance, I found it to be vaguely recognizable – more than a statue but not quite a monument. As I drew closer it broke from its fog and revealed itself to me as a forgotten friend, one whom I haven’t seen in ages. My smile grew, unbidden, and my hand immediately reached for my friend’s, just to feel the warmth of her touch after so many years. To feel that familiarity, that compassion – it’s what I’ve missed. I ran my hand over the contours of the bark and laughed out loud, for I instantly knew the significance of this find. My companions who ventured with me to the top of the world stood perplexed behind me; I couldn’t tell if they were curious or just couldn’t bring themselves to enter into this moment of joy with me. But it didn’t matter. I took no notice of them as I continued to reminisce with my friend. I was about to rejoin my companions in reality when I turned my gaze upward, and suddenly…reality did not want to return just yet. My joy expanded ten-fold as I discovered the trifecta that lay before me: starburst, sun rays, and oranges. The forbidden fruit that manifested itself above me brought to mind a feast I had only experienced once before, a lifetime ago. Keeping one hand on the aged bark, I stretched the other to find the perfect one, my hand moving as though in a trance until, at last! I found a bright sun ray just within reach. Unable to contain my excitement I settled the sun between my teeth and bit down. OH! The disgust! I quickly expunged the sun from my body – in my excitement I had forgotten the important lesson of preparation. I could just hear my friend laughing at me. Her eyes dancing in the fading light, “Have you really forgotten?” I didn’t answer; the bitterness was too much to take in. After ridding myself of the taste, I quickly remedied my error. I traded my thirst for the sun with a new quest for the starburst. After a quick search I found it: just within arm’s reach and absolutely perfect.
I gingerly put the fruit in my mouth for fear of making the same mistake again, but when I bit down, the world exploded. It was as if the ecstasy of all food consolidated itself in this one small starburst berry. I could hear my friend laughing with pure radiant joy, and her exultation was as much a reflection of my own state as it was her relief that I remembered. By this point, my companions were as lost to me as though I had never known them, and I reveled in it. I reveled in the mutual reconciliation that was taking place, for to me it was a rebirth of that which I had lost. All too soon the berry was gone and I was left standing in front of her. Though she tood still, her hair glowed and her eyes continously danced while a shy smile lingered on her face. I don’t know how long we stood there, catching up on lost years, but I do know what broke it: a gust of wind reminding me about reality. My friend’s smile faltered for she realized what was happening. I motioned to her and turned to my waiting companions, to give them a chance to experience this kind of joy. Hesitantly they came, but they knew not what to expect. I eagerly gave them a starburst and awaited their reactions. Yet I was soon disappointed. Their collective mistrust of my excitement developed into a disgust of the fruit – from which solicited lackluster expressions. I didn’t dare turn toward my friend with the sadness in my eyes, and one by one my companions began walking down. I finally returned my gaze back to her, only to see she already knew. Her radiant joy had retreated to a melancholy presence, and I was the only one left to receive her, here in this isolated place. She understood what I was saying and I understood her response, though we spoke not a word. I gently reached for her hand one more time. As I lay mine upon hers, I was struck by how despite her fragility, I could sense the strength of life running though her, and God knows this dichotomy explained as much her physical appearance as her spirit. Finally, all was understood; I bowed my head and said goodbye. Her eyes held mine until she relented with a somber smile, “Don’t forget me.” I responded, “Never.” With that I broke the connection and sadness overwhelmed me. I began to rejoin my companions but I couldn’t keep myself from her. I stopped and turned back to see her once more but by then, the fog had already shrouded my memory and my friend was no more.
On top of the world there is a tree. And that tree, is my friend.
Ian McGregor is a guest blogger from Cela’s Trek where he is the Owner and Creator. Visit his blog here!