Hanna Flats Camping

Last weekend, thirteen of us went to a campground near Big Bear Lake. We came from various parts of southern California and stayed varying amounts of time. Some spent four days and three nights while others stayed just one day and one night. We had two campsites at Hanna Flats Campground, a place with around 100 plots but no showers. Most of our neighbors had off-road vehicles or mountain bikes, but some were in RVs as well. Of my friends, some of us hike and camp frequently while others were borrowing equipment to car camp for the first time at least in a while. We even had two dogs with us for part of the weekend!


Last Labor Day, a similar group went to Laguna Campground in Cleveland National Forest. We had such a good time that I decided to organize another trip. We learned last time that being in the mountains makes things cooler and increases the chances of lakes having water. So I looked into the San Bernardino Forest this time around. Unfortunately, many campgrounds do not take reservations and we never want to mess with first-come, first-serve. Especially when people are coming at different times from different places. So I picked Hanna Flats because of its proximity to Big Bear Lake and its availability (I booked the last two adjoining sites back in February).


I was part of the first group up, arriving around 5pm. We set up several tents, unpacked our gear, and went into Big Bear City for dinner. The place we chose, Thelma’s Family Restaurant and Bakery, had home-cooked comfort food. It was decent food, but the pastries and pies looked amazing! We resisted, knowing our weekend would be full of food and snacks. Our group had decided to divide up meals, making each person responsible for one and a pair of us coordinating dinners. This kept supplies simple and divided the responsibility of shopping for and preparing the food. It seemed to work well and I enjoyed not knowing what we were having each day. It also saved me the hassle of guessing portions and items for everyone for the whole trip!


Twelve of us trickled into camp that night and quickly put on every layer of clothes we brought. Temperatures dropped into the mid-30s and the firewood we had wasn’t burning very hot. That night was cold and restless for many of us, as our sleeping bags and blankets failed to protect us from the temperatures. But the sun came out Saturday morning and spirits rose with the temperature. A delicious and warm breakfast of eggs and bacon helped too! Our plan was to hike Castle Rock trail, a short but steep two-mile trek near the lake that promised amazing views and a rock scramble. Everyone made it up without a problem and we enjoyed running around on the rocks for a while, talking to fellow hikers and enjoying the scenery.


After wandering back down along several different routes, we went back to camp for an easy lunch of chicken salad croissant sandwiches with sides of chips and fruit. Most of Saturday afternoon was spent relaxing around camp in various forms. Several people napped, a group of us played card and dice games, we gathered firewood for that evening, a group played bocce around the sites, some read books, and we were all serenaded by a guitar. The beauty of a group that large was that there always seemed to be someone else interested in what you wanted to do, and you didn’t have to feel bad for breaking off from the herd. As the sun dropped and the cold rolled in, we cranked up the fire for dinner. In true camping fashion, an assortment of sausages, hot dogs, buns, and beans was on the menu and they hit the spot! We played games and told stories by the campfire until it was time for bed.


Sunday morning started with another big breakfast of pancakes and bacon before a group of us headed into Fawnskin, the town on our side of the lake, to explore their park and quaint shops. Then we broke into several groups, some hanging at camp and some exploring different areas right around camp. I went up into the hills to check out a rock fortress, inhabited by a few rogue middle-school boys. The views were impressive and we had fun climbing and scrambling about. Lunch on Sunday was a gourmet PB&J bar, with more types of jelly, jam, and peanut butter than you can imagine. Bananas, banana chips, regular chips, and honey were also seen making their way onto a variety of breads.


Around 2:30pm, most of us hit the trails again to hike Cougar Crest Trail. Another 750+ feet of elevation gain, but this time spread over a four-mile round-trip trek. The summit of this trail met up with the Pacific Crest Trail and we paused to enjoy the scenery while several of us ate our packed PB&Js. We made it back down without any issues, as all of the trails were well marked and populated. After our hike, there were more games and bocce around camp until it was time for dinner. This time we were treated to beef and chicken kebabs, grilled over the fire. It’s no surprise that we devoured these along with the rest of the leftover food. After night fell and most of the group went to their tents, three of us hiked up to a group of large, flat rocks to watch the stars. The moon was almost too bright, but we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet while searching for constellations.


Our last morning at camp started off like the rest, with pancakes and eggs to warm our bellies. The temperatures had risen throughout the course of the weekend but the highs never got out of the 50s. Several groups headed out to get back to reality while a small group hiked around camp for a bit before leaving. Sean and I decided that we wanted to get out on the lake while we were there, so we drove into Fawnskin and rented a canoe. I love being out on the water and it was good exercise to paddle against the windy and choppy conditions. We didn’t see much wildlife, but we could look up the hills at where we’d been hiking and enjoy the views along the lake. There were a number of pontoon and powerboats out, but the lake wasn’t overly crowded.


Heading back down the mountain, we were fortunate to miss most of the holiday weekend traffic. Overall, it was a wonderful weekend away from the world and I appreciated the time spent “unplugged” with my friends. We are still trying to find the perfect camping spot that isn’t too hot or too cold and has enough water but not too much population. For now, I can just be grateful to have friends that enjoy escaping to nature like I do! Thanks to everyone that came out and for those that feel like they missed out, let’s all plan another trip soon 🙂


Living Life in Leucadia

It has been SO long since I last posted about settling into California, oops? I’m excited to get back to posts about crazy adventures on the “Best Coast”. Jury is still out there, but for right now I’m leaning West. Anyway, so I told you that I bought a new car (SUV) and it’s still amazing. I have not picked out a name yet, but I’m sure that will come. For now, I’m just excited that I’ve driven over 1,000 miles so the engine is broken in and I can use cruise control. Work at Halstrom is going well, my hours are continuing to build and for right now it looks like I’ll be teaching a lot of AP World History and Algebra II, both of which are fine by me! I’m getting to know the new staff members and students and everyone seems really nice so far, so that’s great!


After a lot of searching that really began back in North Carolina, I finally found an apartment and have moved in. I wanted to be in the Encinitas area again, since living this close to the beach is amazing and I like to walk to restaurants and stores when I can. My top priorities were two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dishwasher, and parking of some sort… and obviously proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Several places fell through or changed at the last-minute or I was the second applicant and it was starting to look like April 1st was my new move-in goal. But then I found a posting 23 minutes after it went live that looked great! I called the property manager, went over the next morning at 9am, applied on the spot, and signed the lease the next day. It was a bit crazy but it was the first place I’d seen with everything I wanted. And it was the cheapest place I’d looked at too! It’s a two-story “townhouse-style apartment” with the bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs and the living, dining, and kitchen downstairs. There’s a great under-the-stairs closet for all of my athletic and camping equipment and I have an assigned parking space. There are only ten units in the complex and we have an adorable courtyard with a make-shift fire pit, ping-pong table, and outdoor shower. I’m still getting to know my neighbors but they seem really chill without being obnoxious. Yay!


Enough about the business side of life, now onto the fun side of things. I can’t believe that I haven’t even been back a month because (in true Karen fashion) I’ve hit the ground running! I’ve already taken a weekend trip to La Quinta in the desert with an incredible group of new and old friends (pictured above). Less than 24 hours after landing, kickball started back up for the season and I have a fantastic team this time around! We may not be at the top of the leader board, but I’d argue that we have the most fun. In addition to playing together on Sundays, a bunch of us have fallen into trivia on Tuesday nights. We won the first week, which got us hooked, and were third this week. Our prize for winning was a bar tab and we got an Easter basket of candy this week for third (even better!). Last night nine of us stayed out after midnight to see Furious 7 on opening night. For those of you on the fence, it’s 100% worth going to see. The Paul Walker tribute at the end was a bit drawn out for me, but the movie itself was just what you expect, lots of fast cars and hot girls with some street fighting mixed in.


I’ve also spent a good bit of time reconnecting with my core group of girls out here. I hit up a Dan + Shay concert downtown one night (pictured below), I hiked Cowles Mountain in Mission Valley one day (picture at top of post), I went on a training run along the coast, and I celebrated the first birthday of a very special little girl another night. It’s so good to be back with my support network and catch up on what’s been going on in their lives the last four months. Don’t get me wrong, I love my guys and I miss my East Coast people… but my girlfriends here are pretty incredible. We are starting our book club back up too, so I look forward to reading some new novels and having crazy discussions once a month going forward.


I also like to check in on my fitness/nutrition in these type of posts too. I have been struggling with workouts these last few weeks because I dropped a DVD player on my toe, which prohibited me from wearing shoes for a while. I also cracked a big toe while jumping on a trampoline with my favorite fifth graders. And my left upper-calf/knee are giving me some struggles. But I’ve registered for the La Jolla Half Marathon on April 26th in addition to the Tinkerbell Half in LA on May 10th, so we shall see. I am just excited to get back into racing and finish these two events with my friends that are running with me. Time won’t be so much of a factor this time around, but I do plan to have both of my contacts in for LJ 😉 Oh! And I ran the Wellness 5k with Sean a few weekends ago. It was a smaller race, which was nice for a change. Sean ran his personal best 5k time and I won my age group, so we were both pleased with that! Immediately after the race, SK donated platelets and two days later I donated whole blood. It makes my heart happy to think about the lives we helped to save with those donations and I encourage all of you to sign up to donate blood this month, if you can!


I’ve gotten some new Beachbody DVD’s to mix things up and they seem to be keeping me interested for now, but I’m craving getting back on the bike and in the pool. My road bike is being put back together on Monday and I need to figure out my plan for pool access so I can start triathlon training. Nutrition right now is taking a back burner just with the chaos of life. I’m re-adjusting to packing lunches and getting workouts/smoothies done before work, but it takes time and I’m trying to set realistic goals for myself. Finally, I have gotten actively involved in Girls on the Run again this season. My teaching schedule doesn’t allow me to coach, but I am a shoe fairy and am on the 5k planning committee. As a shoe fairy, I size girls on our scholarship teams for brand new shoes and then get to deliver them the following week. It’s like Christmas in April for these girls! If anyone in SD wants to help me cheer on our amazing girls at the 5k on May 17th, let me know! I’m in charge of coordinating the cheer stations, so any/all help that morning would be amazing… you get to dress up and be as crazy as you want… just saying.

Alright, that’s all for now but I promise not to wait another three weeks to post and happy Easter!!

NE Escapade 2: Zealand Loop in the White Mountains

Picking up where I left off in my last post about New England, Saturday morning X and I woke up early and left Manchester, NH before 8am. We were traveling north again but this time we stayed inland instead of going over to the coast. Our first stop was breakfast and groceries for our projected two days in the woods, but as we merged back on the highway we quickly realized that we would be stopping again. This time at a rest area, home of New Hampshire’s alcohol store and outlet! We grabbed the cheapest bottle of twist-cap wine they had ($7) and off we went. Our goal was to get into the White Mountains by lunchtime so we could hike a while before finding a place to camp for the night. My little bit of research the day before had found a loop hike that was 12 miles long in an area known as Zealand. It boasted a mountain summit, stream crossings, beaver dams, waterfalls, ponds, and plenty of luscious woods… we were in!

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To get to Zealand, we worked our way through numerous small towns which just added to the charm of NH for me. We found an adventure store in Lincoln that had the propane we needed for our camp burner and then enjoyed a simple lunch in Bethlehem after walking through their local farmer’s market. We got to the trailhead about 12:30pm, loaded up for the trek, paid the $6 to leave our car in its spot overnight (see green Start dot on the map above), and headed up the Hale Brook Trail. I say up because it was UP. I knew the first three miles or so of our hike would be the hardest as we climbed to the peak of Hale Mountain. But we didn’t quite realize how steep it would be. The trail was well-marked but not just a simple path and we frequently found ourselves looking up at a slope of damp boulders to scramble over. There was no rush, so we just took breaks when we needed to and enjoyed the scenery as we went.

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The trail wasn’t very crowded, in fact we only passed a handful of other hikers the entire time, which was nice. It wasn’t raining, but the trees were dripping, it was cloudy, and the ground was fairly wet around us. If the sun had been out, we would’ve been uncomfortably hot due to the incline of the slope so it wasn’t all bad. There were not many animals either, just a few birds here and there. Bears and moose are native to the White Mountains, but we never saw any on our trek. The one item we did forget was bug spray, but we’d made the executive decision at the car to push on without it. Turns out that was the right decision as neither one of us got bit on the trail. When we (finally) reached the summit of Mt. Hale we were a bit disappointed with the view, but we had figured it wouldn’t be outstanding due to the tree cover. We never got above the tree line so we could see mountains in the distance, but not any stunning panoramas.

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Crossing over the summit, we followed the Lend-A-Hand Trail back down the other side of the mountain. We were a little concerned that the descent would be just as steep and rocky as the ascent had been, but luckily that was not the case. Our path was frequently packed pine needles and we dropped gradually into the forest below. Our next destination was Zealand Hut, where hikers could reserve bunks and get a hot meal. We didn’t plan to do either, but were going to ask about campsites and planned to use their facilities to refill our water bladders. The closer we got, the more the climate changed and we were soon hiking through a bog of sorts, often on wooden planks. There were less trees and more ferns and underbrush on this section of the trail, but we were still enclosed on the mountain side. We finally arrived at the hut, dropped our packs, and walked out to the nearby waterfall to see if we could see Zeacliff Pond below. We could! After snapping some pictures and chatting with our fellow hikers (several of whom were through-hiking the Appalachian Trail) we learned where we could camp for the night. Our original plan had been to complete the 3.9 mile loop past the Zeacliff Pond and Outlook, but our energy was zapped after 6.0 miles of wet, strenuous hiking for the day. So we walked off toward Ethan Pond Trail, found the side path down to some sites in the woods and called it a day.

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There was only one other tent set up in the campsites and we were far enough from them that we never heard each other. After setting up our tent, we worked on dinner. On the menu for the night was bear-shaped mac ‘n cheese, tuna or salmon provided by Chicken of the Sea, and salt water taffy from Friday’s escapade. All of this was topped off with our bottle of Moscato from the rest area! Neither X or I had any trouble passing out that night, in fact I think we were both asleep by 9pm. We didn’t set an alarm, as we assumed the daylight would wake us. We didn’t think about the rain and the darkness of the forest though, and it was almost 9am before anyone stirred inside the tent (oops?). Luckily, we only had about 2.5 miles to hike out along Zealand Trail that morning so we passed on a hot breakfast and hit the trail after shaking out our belongings.

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Most hikers going to the Zealand Hut just hike in this 2.5 mile trail and then turn around and hike back out it, avoiding Mt. Hale altogether. Because of this, we assumed it would be a less strenuous affair and we were right. This didn’t mean that there were not dozens of stream crossings on wet rocks or that they terrain was completely flat, it wasn’t. But we managed a much faster pace, even with stopping to check out Zealand Pond and the marshes that flanked us on this section of the hike. We did pass a few more day hikers coming in while we were going out, but the trail was certainly not crowded by any standards. Once we got back to the car, we threw out wet packs in the trunk and headed east towards the Kancamagus Highway… But that’s where I’ll pick up next post so stay tuned and thanks for reading!

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