Category Archives: PTP Outdoor Adventures

Santa Cruz Island pier

Vacation Memories during Lockdown: The Channel Islands

I’ve lived most of my life in California, but until recently I’d never been to any of California’s Channel Islands. This is a group of islands which extends from Catalina and San Clemente Islands in Southern California, north to the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Map of Channel Islands National Park
Scorpion Ranch Campground, Santa Cruz Island

I’ve enjoyed a number of island vacations, including Sri Lanka, the Caribbean, Greece, and Polynesia. But I hadn’t really thought of an island vacation off the coast of California. After hearing friends talk about how much they enjoyed their day trip to Santa Cruz island and watching “West of the West: Tales from California’s Channel Islands”, I decided it was time to go! I scheduled a 5 day camping trip on Santa Cruz Island.

A good place to stay is Scorpion Ranch Campground, which is one of the few places on the island with easy access to drinking water. Reservations are made through Channel Islands National Park. I also arranged to have access to a kayak, which was easily done through Channel Islands Kayak Center. They also offered kayak tours, so I signed up for their “Island Cave Tour,” since the island is famous for its sea caves. I took my own wet-suit, fins, and goggles, to do a little swimming on my own.

To learn more about the Channel Islands, I started my trip with a visit to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. It’s in a very nice wooded setting near the Old Mission. They have information on local flora and fauna and a very interesting exhibit on Chumash life. Through radio-carbon dating they have shown that the Chumash lived on Santa Rosa Island as long as 13,000 years ago and on San Miguel Island as long as 11,000 years ago.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

I then continued on to Ventura. Getting an early start meant being all packed and ready to go the night before and staying close to the Ventura Harbor. There’s no electricity or cell phone reception at the campsite, or anywhere on the island, as far as I could tell. So I also took a couple of books and a head-lamp for the evenings. One of the books, Island of the Blue Dolphins, is based on the true story of the last surviving member of the people who lived on San Nicolas Island. The main character lived there alone for 18 years during the 19th century. I was happy to find it is still a great read.

Transportation to the islands is arranged through Island Packers, which provides regular service to Scorpion Bay on Santa Cruz Island. The boats are catamarans that ride on the surface of the water and are fast.

Ventura Harbor

The ride to the island takes over an hour. Most of the passengers are day visitors and overnight school group campers. The highlight of the trip was watching as dolphins surfed in the wake of the boat. If it’s windy, the boat does its own surfing over the waves. We made brief stops, usually to let pods of dolphins pass. One of those brief stops was to pick up a Mylar balloon floating in the water; the crew made it a teaching moment to tell us about the hazards of pollution to ocean life. Turtles see the balloons as jellyfish, which are a source of food to them.

Also on view are the numerous off-shore oil derricks which still operate. There’s always been oil seeping from the ocean floor. The Chumash used it to seal their boats. But in 1969 there was a major oil spill due to a blow-out on one of the rigs. That event currently ranks as the third largest oil spill in U.S. waters, and marks a significant milestone in the modern environmental movement.

Scorpion Anchorage is the nearer of the two landing locations on the island. It had been a sheep ranch before becoming part of the National Park system.

Scorpion Anchorage

The day we arrived it was foggy, but comfortable. And it stayed that way for a good part of the time I was there. The photo shows our approach; there’s a small pier visible just right of center in the photo. At the end of the pier is a ladder to the pier walkway.

Once we were docked, the camping gear was unloaded first, handed up the ladder by passengers and crew. I carried up my wet-suit, goggles, and fins. While we took care of that, the crew unloaded the kayaks and paddled them to shore.

It was springtime and the flowers were a treat. I wasn’t quite sure what was native or endemic, but there were knowledgeable people I could ask. Volunteers were working to eliminate invasive species such as black mustard and star-thistle.

North Bluff Wildflowers

Once threatened, but now making a comeback is the Island fox. They had co-existed with Bald eagles, which feed mostly on fish. But when the Bald eagle was eliminated in the mid-1950s, the Golden eagle moved in, and they fed on the foxes. A conservation effort in the early 2000s moved the Golden eagles back to the mainland and re-introduced the Bald eagle, which are territorial and keep out the Golden eagle. As you can see, the Island fox is not afraid of humans.

Island Fox

Prior to becoming part of the National Park Service, Scorpion Ranch was a sheep ranch. The buildings became the visitor center. This is a view from Cavern Point trail.

Scorpion Ranch

The next day I checked out Smugglers Road. You can take this for a 7.5 mile round trip hike from the campground to Smugglers Cove. It was used for smuggling by sea otter traders and others almost 200 years ago. It was also used by rum runners during Prohibition. The following photo is a view from Smugglers Road, almost directly across from where the previous photo was taken. (Cavern Point trail is visible in the upper left corner of the photo.) It shows the pier where we landed. The visitor center is just out of view to the left.

Santa Cruz Scorpion Anchorage Pier

About two miles into the hike you can see the remains of an exploratory well drilled by Atlantic Richfield in 1966. They found water, not oil.

exploratory well

I also spent a couple of days on the water, exploring the coastline by kayak and doing a bit of swimming. There are some nice shallow caves to enter, seals to watch, and tunnels to ride through. This photo shows the volcanic rock that makes up a good part of the island.

sea tunnels

Early morning is the best time for kayaking, as there’s only a very light wind. Later in the afternoon, the wind picks up and the water gets choppier and harder to paddle against. To stop and enjoy the view, we’d grab onto kelp or just paddle in place. Although this area is protected, swells do move through.

One thing I learned about kayaking: adjust the seat back so you sit in a more upright position; I’d been sliding down in the seat which made paddling difficult. And be sure to take plenty of fresh water. It’s easy to get dehydrated, even in overcast weather. Drinking water can reduce motion sickness.

It’s a good idea to have company, especially if you’re planning on going into the caves. I haven’t kayaked a lot, and never into caves, where timing is critical. Having guides allowed me to relax and have fun.

group kayak tour

A good resource for additional information about the Channel Islands is in the National Park Service pamphlet “Channel Islands Interpretive Guide, Eastern Santa Cruz Island,” at:

Boat ride home with oil rig in the distance
Boat ride home with oil rig in the distance

Maria’s Alcatraz Swim, September 2011

Me and Jim, ready to swim. My daughter Nina and husband Andy are behind us.

A few years ago my brother Jim convinced me to sign up for the Alcatraz Invitational Swim. A swim event (it may be a race for some but not for me) which consists of taking a ferry to just off The Rock, jumping off, and swimming as fast as you can back to Aquatic Park. Lest you think my brother was hoping to increase the size of his inheritance, he was actually looking for company. Jim had done the event a couple times with our niece Nina and assured me it was good fun. Continue reading Maria’s Alcatraz Swim, September 2011

Jim’s Alcatraz Swim, September 2011

This was my final event of the year, The Alcatraz Invitational Swim from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park. It’s about 1.25 miles if you swim straight. In the past I haven’t been so lucky, either because of the currents, the fog, my crappy swim technique, or all of the above. This time conditions were ideal: beautiful day, minimal current, slightly improved swim technique. I was hoping to improve on my time of 1:01:57 from last year. I again had the company of my sister, Maria, and my niece, Nina, as well as quite a few friends at San Jose Swim & Racquet Club in my Willow Glen neighborhood. And this time I stopped to take plenty of photos, using a $20 disposable waterproof camera. Continue reading Jim’s Alcatraz Swim, September 2011

Ironman Canada, August 2011

This is the third of my four events this year. I was exhilarated after completing the Boston Marathon and the California Death Ride. I felt comfortable that my training would get me through the event: My speed work was done while training for the Boston Marathon and my endurance training was done while training for the Death Ride. And most important, I’d gotten through all my training without injury. But I must admit that I was feeling the fatigue from training that had started before Christmas last year. When it came time to tapering for this race, I had no problem taking it easy. I was glad to have the training behind me and looking forward to the reward of racing.


Continue reading Ironman Canada, August 2011

Biking to Lunch in Mountain View from Willow Glen, July 2011

Cool pedestrian bridge on Stevens Creek Train

I’m very excited that the Bay Area trails are starting to create pathways to fun places all around the bay, without having to leave protected bike trails. In July I rode from my house in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose to have lunch in Mountain View, taking the Guadalupe River Trail to the San Francisco Bay Trail to Stevens Creek Trail. I only had to use surface streets three times, all for very short distances with little traffic. Continue reading Biking to Lunch in Mountain View from Willow Glen, July 2011

Death Ride, July 2011

Jim signing the board at the top of Carson Pass.

So I completed the second of my 4 events for the year – the California “Death Ride“, so named because it covers 129 miles over 5 mountain passes, totaling 15000 feet of climbing, all at high elevation! It is not a race: there were no timing mats to cross, no split times. In fact, there were numerous rest stations where the riders took the time to get off their bikes to rest and eat and chat with other riders. But with all those miles and all those climbs, finishing before the cut-off would be my challenge. Continue reading Death Ride, July 2011

Hunter-Liggett Under Blue, Blue Skies

Abandoned tank at Fort Hunter Liggett

I had a great bike ride on Friday, June 10, from Mission San Antonio to Highway 1 and back, through Fort Hunter Liggett. I’m training for the Death Ride on July 9, so I needed to get in some long hilly rides. I was on my way to my folks house in San Luis Obispo – recently rated one the happiest places on earth! – so I stopped at Hunter Liggett. Because it’s an army base, you can’t park just anywhere. Mission San Antonio, however, is just across the road. Continue reading Hunter-Liggett Under Blue, Blue Skies

Boston Marathon, 2011

With my finisher’s medal at the end of the race

Prelude to the Race

This was a race I planned long in advance, because I would be entering a new age group. I have great ambitions for this year, not just for the Boston Marathon, but also for the Death Ride, Ironman Canada, and the Alcatraz Invitational Swim. The Boston Marathon required a qualifying time, which I took care of by running a 3:40:04 marathon at Napa in March 2010, where I came in 5th of 79 in my age group (read my blog about it). At the time, I was excited with the results, but that quickly passed when I recalled how humbling it is to run Boston, where the winner in my age group probably would be done with breakfast by the time I finished. Continue reading Boston Marathon, 2011

$10M Views Bicycling from Oakland to Richmond

I had fantastic views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge all day.

My previous trip along the San Francisco Bay Trail ended with a walk up Hegenberger Road with a flat tire to get to the Oakland Coliseum BART. This time, I rode down Hegenberger with a new steel-belted front tire watching out for broken glass and other sharp objects. Between Oakland and Richmond the path is mostly paved and car-free, offering $10 million views of the bay, San Francisco, the Berkeley hills, and eastern Marin. Continue reading $10M Views Bicycling from Oakland to Richmond

Going Further, Faster at 60

At the finish of the Coeur d’Alene Ironman Triathlon 2010

This is a big year for me. I’ve turned 60 years old and I feel great! I’ve got much to look forward to, and much to look back on. Specifically, I’m looking forward to placing high in my new age group in the Boston Marathon in April, the Tour of California Alps Death Ride in July, the Ironman Canada triathlon in August, and the Alcatraz Invitational swim in September. Wow! What a way to celebrate being alive! Continue reading Going Further, Faster at 60