Nothing like starting out in the early morning for a trail ride. The rising sun blazing on the sea, the anticipation of a journey to see a new trail and ride with interesting people on their odd collection of animals.
We met up with a dozen members of the Los Padres Trail Riders
at the Summerland Greenwell Preserve
. There is a large parking lot that can accommodate numerous rigs, and easy access to many nearby trails.
The route we took was 7.4 miles and took 3 hours. That was actually a little over 2 hours of moving time, at 3.2mph moving speed, and lots of rest breaks for the animals.
The trail system is maintained by the Montecito Trails Foundation
, and connects the sea to the tops of the mountains. We tracked around in the area in the middle, between estates and along the sides of streets, wherever the trail boss decided to lead us to.
Who's the one with the red hair under the sensible helmet? Why, me of course.
Walking through the forests it is easy to see the toll the drought is having, the understory grass is dry tinder and the trees are dropping limbs.
But the shade was most welcome on this Indian Summer day, as we went for our equestrian stroll.
On the high points of hills there are sea views, always a pleasure at the Edge of the Continent.
And in between the massive estates that fill the hilltops there are nice trails, making passage very easy.
The ride was organized by Barbara who rode her new mule Sierra. There were a surprisingly high number of mules on this trip, almost half of the animals. I am used to Tobe being the only mule, so this was a real pleasure. We mule riders can go on and on about The Natural Superiority of Mules
, and tend to bond easily with other long ear enthusiasts.
At one vista we stopped at a picnic table for a break, Tobe was already working up a sweat on the 80 degree day. But he's a noble beast of burden, and never faltered in his assigned task.
Sometimes property owners go the extra effort of adding rail fencing, defining their privacy and giving the trails a nice edge.
Often the trail passes through large stands of trees. These eucalyptus were especially fragrant, and where they lean onto the trail are a lovely opportunity to ask Mr Mule to sidepass away from them lest I smash my knee on a trunk. He knows how wide he is, but it is my job to make sure I don't bang a limb on a trunk.
The story is that every week right now the crews are removing another deadfall tree from the Ennisbrook
trail. They seem to pretty much cut them up and drop them in place, and we are all hoping that the promised El Niño winter storms will come and save the rest of the forest.
This is an example of the good work done by the work crews of the Montecito Trails Foundation. On the left is a steep drop off to a creek bed. A metal reinforcement has been placed into the slope, and boulders added on this side of it to define the edge and stop further erosion.
And a bit further on we passed across this old stone bridge, wishing there was water underneath it.
Sometimes there is a bump in the road, in this case a boulder in the trail. That's OK. Where there's a mule, there's a way.
But then, what is this? In my previous rides I had never seen this before. It is a memorial to someone unknown. But what a gift to come across it here in the depth of the woods, stark and elegant and so very poignant.
The inscription is from Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 5, Scene 2
"And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
A sad epitaph for a sweet prince, one who perhaps loved this forest.
I think this is a California redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. The bark is amazing.
On the way out and on the way back we passed through this horse boarding facility, owned by the trail boss. Gave the animals a chance for a drink and a rest.
Then it was time to climb the Ortega Ridge hill and go back to the starting point.
One last obstacle, down a steep hill. Not too difficult on the way up, when the animals were fresh and excited about a chance to go for a walk, but a bit of a challenge for many of them as they started down after hours of walking. They zig-zagged down it, trying to find purchase in the dusty dirt.
Off to the side in the avocado grove were many bee hives. As long as none of them got too interested in the sweaty animals, we were OK.
Then we were back at the meeting point, and my pal Cowboy Bob shared an apple with his Dutchess, who deserved a treat after this long ride.
And I'm a happy person, having risen to the challenge of this day's trail and eager to see what will be the next adventure.
Back to the real world, where the highway is already in progress, and the sign says we can go either way. Time to choose the next path.
As Theodore Roethke wrote:
"Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley."