Gourmet Backpacking in Big Sur

big sur coast
Looking South from Big Sur

We just got back from a gourmet backpacking trip in the Big Sur Wilderness  which was, in my expert opinion, the perfect spa vacation. It is low stress, great exercise and the solitude of the trail offers many opportunities for reflection. Why gourmet? You are rewarded for your exertion with two hot springs, delicious food, restorative yoga, 5-star views and excellent company!

The Pine Ridge Trail begins at the Big Sur Station just past the popular River Inn on Highway One. The destination is Tassajara, a Buddhist monastery deep in the Ventana Wilderness which offers lodging and sulphur hot springs. I recommend planning on taking four days, for although only 23 miles, the trail travels from river valleys to mountain peaks three times and can be very challenging depending on the weather and the conditions. Neck high brush and extreme temperatures are not uncommon on the eastern half the mountains. Also, it is nice to  relax in the afternoons and enjoy Sykes Hot Springs on the Big Sur River or have time to recover at Pine Ridge from what we laughingly call Agony Trail.

Tubs at Sykes Hot Springs

 

On day three we get up at  dawn in order to beat the heat as we climb a steep rocky faced path to Pine Ridge. Done in the early morning it is an easy three mile climb. If done in the afternoon, the brush, combined with the sun reflecting off the shale, can be agonizing. Hence the name, Agony Trail. This is when you begin to regret the extra granola you packed. Minimal is best when hiking this kind of terrain.

Wild flowers along the trail.
Wild flowers along the trail.
Pine Valley Overlook

There are rewards for at the end of this challenging hike however. The views and the wild flowers are spectacular from Pine Ridge and you can see vistas all the way to the Monterey. There is also a beautiful spring that comes right out of the mountain and is the sweetest water I have ever tasted. Restorative yoga, coffee and sweets are traditionally on the afternoon agenda.

Cave hands
Ancient Esalen Indian pictograhs

The next day is the trek to Pine Valley. An easy four miles that drops you into a low hanging valley covered in a field of lupine and poppies. Oak, Lucia Pines and Sugar Pines dominate the landscape and the sandstone cliffs harbor Indian caves where one can find mortars and ancient pictographs left by the Esalen indians.

The last day is a five mile run in order to make Tassajara by lunch. By day four a fresh salad and steamy bread are strong motivations to hike out early. Church Creek trail offers beautiful vistas of sandstone rock formations but is often poorly marked and brushy. No obstacles are great enough to slow down the pace as we imagine showers, hot springs and fresh food.

Monk crossing bridge.
Monk crossing bridge.

When entering Tassajara there is always a hush that comes over me. The monastery has a sacred energy due to the monks strong meditation practice. The lack of electricity and the constant gurgle of the river immediately soothes one’s soul. In the Japanese tradition the baths separate the sexes which leads to complete ease and fun conversations. The steam room is a testimony to the Zen aesthetic which combines beauty and simplicity. Lined in colorful river stones with solid redwood benches and a small window looking towards the river. It is by far the nicest sauna I have ever frequented.

I wanted to share this trip not only because it was so much fun but to remind people that a “spa vacation” can be inexpensive and free of the hassles of traveling in airports. We live in such an amazing state and have wilderness within short distances. The hiking equipment is lighter weight these days and the hike not only feels good at the end of the day but affords you privacy, a continual change of spectacular scenery and possible adventure!

 

Remembering a Dream

photo(1)As a young girl I was a voracious reader of historical novels. Gone with the WInd, Michener’s Hawaii,  I could  devour one a week. What came out of this love for epic historical novels was a secret desire to write. In college, after reading and loving Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I shared my dream with Brandon, my best friend and an aspiring writer. As if ashamed by my boldness, I tentatively told him “that someday I would like to write an historical novel but I would wait, until I was older, when I would actually have something to say.” Well, that dream like several others, was pushed aside in the dustbin of forgotten memories. I got on with my life, my career, marriage and motherhood.

Always surround yourself with people who believe in you. I have such an angel in my office at the spa. Alma, my CFO, and brain child read my last blog and told me I should write a book about my life. “No no, I said, I don’t want to write about myself but about one of Mother Jonesthe most fascinating women in history, Mother Jones.” Alma is from Romania and had never heard of Mother Jones and so I began an impassioned monologue of this great woman’s life. How she lived in the first Gilded Age, this being the second, and how she championed against child labor and for fair labor laws. I spoke of her wit, her charm and her tragic life. “Write the book, Alma exclaimed, it is a great gift if you do. You have the time now.” And she is right; I do!

I feel a renewal and a quickening in my soul as I write her story. A part of me that lie dormant begins to stir and I am excited by the vastness of life’s possibilities. It is never to late to dust off an old dream.

 

Dancing in a Field of Flowers

Dancing in flowersHaving a twenty year marriage to a wonderful man healed a sense of isolation rooted deep in my childhood experiences. The incredible nurturing of family strengthened me, making me more self-confident and emotionally flexible. Together we had a beautiful daughter named Mira, a home, a successful business and a remarkable community of friends. How then can anyone begin to understand why such a bond is broken?

There is such a strong cultural belief that if a marriage ends it is somehow a failure. Not at all, just the closure in a chapter of a life. Just an about face and a rebirth. I am testimony that divorce can be a liberating phenomena. As a mother, wife and business owner, time alone was rare and I craved it for twenty long years. Suddenly set free as an empty nester and a single woman I have a yawning space of time in which to renew myself.

My marriage had so much good that I wouldn’t change any of my choices. The memories we created and the lessons learned have made me who I am today and I am grateful to all those who played part in this wonderful drama called life. I give particular thanks to Roy, my soon to be ex-husband who stood by his family sometimes like a soldier whose sole purpose was to protect the homeland. Running a small business in a roller coaster economy is not easy.

I still cry sometimes and miss the intimacy found with family but I also know this too will pass and someday I will find myself again in a tight bond of community. But in the mean time I feel like I am god’s child dancing in a field of wildflowers.

It’s Not How Much You Eat. It’s What You Eat.

 

Fighting the bulge.
Fighting the bulge.

I love to eat and I love a trim, healthy body. I always thought my regular daily exercise program would keep my weight in check but one day I woke to the hard truth when I saw a photo of me from the back. I was was in a swimsuit and I hardly recognized myself.

I realized that my youthful metabolism was gone and if I wanted to be my ideal weight I’d have to change what I eat.  I started by eliminating all white flour and sugar but the big shift happened when I started to eat more green food.2_dark-green-vegetables Our energy ultimately comes from the sun. The green in vegetables comes from chlorophyll which absorbs the sunlight that creates energy. The cow eats the grass and when we eat the cow we are two steps from the sun’s energy. When we eat green vegetables we are much closer to the essence of all life. Make this shift  in your diet and you will notice an immediate change in how you feel and what you crave. One day before dinner you’ll find yourself craving a salty carrot instead of crackers and cheese. It’s a food revolution. Join us and feel good!

I am the Master

It is time to own my mastery and shed the persona of a young women and step into my power. Goddess-Dancing

Recently, while studying a form of dance called “Soul Motion” at Esalen, our revered dance teacher Vinn Marti alias “Arjuna”gathered us in a circle. He began the exercise by stating ” I am known by many as Vinni, but now I am Arjuna.” We were all asked to step forward with a form of self identification. In this group there were many name changes and unique expressions of self were offered.

I nervously waited my turn, doubting my creativity and my ability to speak coherently. I had some vague idea of what I was going to say but I was mostly mesmerized by the statements of those who came before me.

My turn came and with courage I stepped into the circle.  “As a child I was called Cammy, as a woman I became Camille and as an elder I am (here I raised my arms high and spoke with authority) the goddess.” Whew where did that come from and wow that felt great!

Stepping into our mastery as elders is the natural transition in our spiritual evolution. Do we have the confidence and the wisdom to own that role? This is a new journey for me and I plan to meet the challenge with joy and humility.

 

 

 

Guiltless Desserts

080-001The much touted nutritional benefits or raw cacao range from reducing cataracts to improving heart function to alleviating stress. Some claim that raw cacao is a mild, non-addictive stimulant that can treat depression. It may cause the brain to produce more of a neurotransmitter called anandamide which would account for the euphoric sensation some feel when indulging in chocolate. Raw Cacao is high in antioxidant flavanoids, sulfur and magnesium. Also the essential fatty acids found in chocolate may help the body to raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol.

So lets switch to a raw cacao dessert. Anyone up for
Raw Cacao Bliss Balls?

1 1/2  Cups Almond Meal   If you have a food processor you can make your own.

12  Dates Pitted

2 tsp. Vanilla

1/2 Cup Raw Cacao

2 Tbs. Honey

1/2 Avocado

Blend all of the ingredients together and you get a yummy chocolate paste. Roll them in 2 inch balls . They are delicious. Similar to truffles but oh so much better for you. Only 120 calories!

Kauai: A Spiritual Journey

Trail
Our first ascent.

I recently traveled to Kauai to hike the famed Na Pali Coast Trail.  A very challenging 11 mile hike that ends at the spectacular Kalalau Beach. I had dreamed of this trip since my twenties when a young surfer friend  described his recent trip to Kauai and the Na Pali Coast. It was the dreamy, far away look in his eyes that captured my imagination.

Bali Hai
The mountains of Hanalei.
Downtown Hanalei
Downtown Hanalei.

The small town of Hanalei Bay is the gateway to the Na Pali Coast and also evokes fond memories for me.  As a young girl my dad would play the guitar and my sisters and I would gather round him to sing Puff the Magic Dragon. How surprised I was to find out that “Jackie Paper frolicked in the mists of Hanalei” was the same Hanalei Bay I was about to visit! The town held up to my childhood imaginings. The mountain range is very exotic and as it turns out was the back drop for the famous scene in the movie South Pacific when the mysterious and haunting Bali Hai is sung by Juanita Hill. The town itself was sweet and non-commercial , with lots of grassy areas to eat and relax.

IMG_0196
The first night on the trail.

The Napali Trail itself is difficult and treacherous. It begins with a two mile ascent walking on slippery, wet, lava rock that eats shoes. This part of the hike is well traveled and can be almost comic to see how ill prepared many of the tourists are for this type of hiking.  We too were unprepared in that we should have packed much lighter. The trail is an exhausting up and down and the terrain demands a slow and thoughtful hike as the consequences of losing your footing can mean a 2000 foot drop into the Pacific Ocean. We had planned to camp at Honokua Valley but it was so dark and damp we stumbled another 100 yards up to a narrow ridge where we threw down our sleeping bags to watch the sunset. It was spectacular.

the crawl
The crawl is scary.
Kalalau Beach
Kalalau at sunset.
Hippies at kalalau
Music and singing at night.

The next day we planned to hike the remaining five miles with trepidation as we had been told there was a place on the trail so dangerous that it was referred to as “the crawl” because that is literally what you had to do to get safely past this part of the trail. With a forty pound back pack this proved to be more difficult than anticipated. To make matters worse the trail has these little small pebbles of lava rock that roll like marbles under your feet. Once past this part of the trail however it’s a gradual descent into one of the most beautiful and remote beaches I have ever been to. Kalalau can change you.  As evident by the small community of individuals who look like they sprung out of the land. Lean, tanned, and relaxed with a ready smile. Some stay for weeks as the beach has a fresh water stream, fruit trees including Hawaiian Apples, oranges and passion fruit. There is often music at night where strangers gather around a fire to make friends and share hiking horrors.

The trail home was momentous in that we were gifted by the mysterious little people of Hawaii called Menehune. We stopped for water at one of the last fresh water streams before tackling “the crawl.” Hanging on a tree branch we saw a beautifully hand crafted bracelet made from the grasses along the trail. It was so camouflaged that even seeing it, was in itself, miraculous. We were not sure if was ours to take, but when it fit perfectly on my wrist, we decided it was a gift from the Menehune. The Menehune are the people who live in the deep forests and hidden Valleys of the Hawaiian Islands. When I slipped that bracelet on my wrist that is when the magic happened.

To this day we cannot remember when or if we passed the treacherous “crawl.” We were dreading that part of the trail when we found ourselves suddenly transported to the Honokua Valley refreshed, safe and almost home! Really, it was the strangest thing, and so in the spirit of Hawaii we thanked the little people for our easy deliverance back to civilization.

The trip to Kalalua was a spiritual journey beginning with the heart strings that pulled as I dropped into the beautiful town of Hanelei and ending with the mysterious gift from the Menehune. The land, the people, the mountain peaks and the ocean combine to renew the soul and change a person forever. I am so thankful for the opportunity to experience Kauai on foot, in the jungles and on its wild beaches. You must go!

 

Well Being & Health