Riding Sweet Lines

Here’s some footie from today’s gorgeous mountain bike ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Its name remains a topic of contention: Sweetness Or Magic Carpet Ride, depending upon whom you ask. Some OG’s insist this trail is called Sweetness; trail maps online indicate Magic. Whatever it’s called, Ron and I are lucky it’s only a few miles from our house. Sweet!

It’s a four-day weekend for President’s Day, and normally we’d be in the mountains snowboarding. This year? It’s basically Summer, and we’re home in Santa Cruz. We can’t control the weather, so might as well enjoy it, right? I think we’re all thirsty for some more Winter, though.

In the meantime, ride on everyone! May you flow with grace where ever you roam.



Don’t Be Too Cool

Cool. California Cool. Just chillin’. I’m cool, thanks.  

Maybe we’re trying just a little too hard to be cool. Perhaps we need to warm up a bit, for that is where real human kindness lives. I invite you to consider what you think is “cool” as you read along, and what you consider “dorky”. Simultaneously, I invite you to consider how bias, upbringing, and circumstances can set the stage for what we learn to be “cool” or not.

I grew up with the classic West Coast “California Cool” vibe. Others may describe it differently, but I see California Cool is that laid back, relaxed, can’t be bothered to put on nice clothes attitude that is synonymous with the Left Coast. It’s the dude you see in your local coffee shop in the morning: hair half combed into a man-bun, worn corduroy pants frayed at the heel, Patagonia puffy down jacket from 1999 with duct tape patches (I love my own Patagonia puffies, thank you very much). It’s the #VanLife crew, traveling around from beach to beach chasing bliss in a $100,000 Sprinter van. It’s the beautiful sun-kissed girl lying on the beach with her friends. It’s a relaxed, fun-centered, carefree approach to life. California Cool is actually pretty cool for the most part, but you can hit a wall when you try to go any deeper than its perfectly messy, laid-back image.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Lafayette, California, was where I first learned what was “cool”, and what would make you look just the opposite. In this tony suburb, material wealth and looks were what were esteemed. There were truly kind, down-to-Earth people (like my family and friends, of course), but in general, having a nice car or fancy house earned one bona fide bragging rights. While my family wasn’t the wealthiest on our block, we had a solid upbringing and never lacked for anything, thanks to the tireless efforts of our loving parents. Though I grew up in a somewhat privileged bubble, I was far enough removed from being “rich” to see that all the fancy possessions and name brands were a facade. They didn’t make the person, nor equate humility or kindness. I think most people have this realization at some point in their lives: money doesn’t guarantee happiness, strong moral character, or being cool.

More than the pervasive materialism of the East Bay, “cool” meant detached, aloof, and unimpressed. Laughing too loudly, getting overly excited, or doing anything “weird” could make you a “dork” or a “spaz”. The more stoic you were, the cooler. Acting with self-righteous aplomb was what was cool. But that wasn’t everyone I knew, for sure.

There’s a reserved nature, an aloofness, that underscores some of our cities and towns, where everyone is quintessentially “too cool”. Too cool to be impressed by anything or anyone. Too cool to even notice. Post a YouTube video of yourself surfing, mountain biking, or snowboarding? No one will care unless you wipe out, or do something insanely gnarly (that’s some California Cool lingo for ‘ya). A roomful of Yerba Matte-drinking outdoor athletes will yawn with condescension, silently and quizzically communicating an irritated “Seriously?”

We’ve become so desensitized to outdoor adventures of all kinds. It is nearly impossible to catch the attention of anyone unless you’re someone like Shaun White or Danny MacAskill. Positive recognition is lost under the guise of being cool. We all won’t be impressed by everything, but would it hurt to acknowledge each other every now and then? It seems we are persistently unimpressed. Just watch a group of surfers commentating on other surfers in the water from West Cliff Drive. Or go to one of my mountain bike races.

It’s in the way we speak to each other, as well. California Cool sounds to me like “California Flat”: a flat tone that tends downward with mild snobbery. It’s a combination of voice-fry (think of how Paris Hilton used to say ‘That’s hot’) and Sean Penn as surfer-dude ‘Spicoli’ in the classic movie ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. Growing up in the eighties, a “Valley Girl” accent was common, but eventually faded flat when people started illogically equating uptone with stupidity. Today, there’s a bit more of an uptone, as if ending each sentence with a question. I suppose it’s a bit more “Valley Girl” than the standard California Flat. But it can register as a flatline on the heart monitor.

Where is the emotion in people’s voices? Where is the inflection, excitement, and enthusiasm? I find it in some people I know and meet, but many sound as if they are on the verge of falling asleep. It’s as if we just rolled out of bed and don’t want to be bothered.

From buzzwords like “Bro”, “Bra”, and “Sick”, you can spot a Californian anywhere by the way that they speak. I was in Italy about fifteen years ago when a local asked me not only was I from California, but was I from Santa Cruz?! He could tell by the way my boyfriend and I spoke. It made me a little bit embarrassed, to be honest. Were we so overtly flat? So nasally, surfer-dude-esque? Apparently so.

It’s not just our tone of speaking. More importantly, it’s the topics we talk, and don’t talk, about. Our close friends and family typically pepper in more emotion when speaking with us, and reciprocate deeper interest in our lives. But casual acquaintances and chance encounters with strangers? Sometimes the experience falls flat. Try going deeper and broaching a big topic like politics, mortality, or the latest natural disaster? Want to tell someone how your week really went? Many people don’t want to talk about that kind of stuff, not that I do all the time either. But it’s part of life, and I think it’s important to accept it. I don’t think everyone is shallow, but I think we’ve become so uncomfortable talking about our emotions, especially about things we care about, that we just avoid talking about them altogether.

You can tell a lot about how happy someone is by their ability to be truly happy for someone else. Some of it is simply a “cool” response to someone else’s warm excitement. Like temperature gradients, a cool response and a hot response are two ends of the spectrum. Intentional or not, think of a time that you shared something you were excited about (“hot”) with someone, and they simply shrugged and said something banal like, “Cool”, or “Um hum…” without further inquiry. It can take the wind out of your sails, if only momentarily. But when someone responds back with equal temperature? With authentic happiness and excitement for you? Fireworks! Relationships are built. Ideas are born. And it sets forth a positive momentum to the rest of both your days.

Sometimes I want to tell tell everyone to wake up! Life is so short, passing by way too fast, and we should be excited about it. There are days when I have to tell myself to wake up, surely. We ought to keep that same childlike curiosity, appreciation, and zest for life as adults. Children and elders seem to have it down, but we “adults”? We aren’t always so consistent, though I’m inspired by those who are. By the time you’re an elder, most people have figured out that you can miss out on human connection, experience, and learning new things by trying to be “too cool”. Many elders I know live with a passion for life; they don’t waste time on small-talk or petty issues. They do the things they want to do without apology or excuse. They love those they love with warm gratitude, recognition, and regular displays of affection; they don’t care so much about what others think of them, or if they look cool or not. I wish we weren’t so held back by our fears of looking “foolish” because no one’s scrutinizing us anyway.

We can be too caught up in how we appear to others, but most of the time no one is noticing us. People are too concerned about how they themselves look that they don’t notice your own flaws. When I worked as a server in a restaurant years ago, my future husband, and then coworker Ron, had a cigarette tucked behind his ear that he’d forgotten about (he no longer smokes, by the way). For the first hour of the night he had to have interacted with at least 50 different people with how busy we were, yet no one had noticed nor even given him a wayward glance. When he asked all of us in the backroom whether we’d noticed, we all couldn’t believe we hadn’t seem something that was so obvious if you just paid some attention. From that day on, that proved how little people were paying attention to the details of each other. So who cared how I looked? I felt liberated. I wish people wouldn’t care so much about what others thought. 

We all learn at some age how relative beauty, popularity, and wealth are. It doesn’t matter where we rank on the scope of those attributes. What matters is how we approach life: our gratitude, love for one another, and positive intent. As I get older, I care less and less about how I compare to others. Everything is fleeting, and at the end of the day, it’s the intangibles that mean the most; that is, the people, animals, and experiences that shape our hearts and souls. We are blessed by every moment we get to share with our loved ones.

I wish we would be happier for each other more often, and appreciate each other’s strengths and unique gifts; that we could all feel genuinely seen for who we are. At the end of the day, when we’re old and gray, we’ll think it was pretty cool that we flowed down mountains, traveled the world, and had a family with love stronger than granite. We’ll think it was pretty cool that we had a friend who could knit a sweater like no other; that we knew a guy who could fix any kind of motorcycle left to right; that we challenged ourselves to try and do new things while we could. No matter the story, we’ll think it was pretty cool that we lived at all! So can’t we be that excited now?

A good friend of mine, Peter Miller, passed away recently, and he was always someone to live for the moment. And he definitely didn’t care what people thought about him. We first met at Berkeley Iron Works Climbing Gym in 1999. I’ll never forget driving up to go snowboarding at SugarBowl with him back in 2003. As we were driving in his Jeep along I-80, I noticed he kept looking at the other drivers alongside us in their cars. Not just looking, but actively engaging with eye contact. 

“People drive along in their cars like zombies – looking straight ahead, blinders on, like they’re the only one on the road.” He straightened his arms and looked on like an uptight, average Bay Area driver. “Everyone drives around in their own little bubble, ignoring each other. We’re just people in steel boxes flying down the freeway. I like to acknowledge and engage with people in their cars. I bet there’s some really cool people on the road with us.”

And he used that logic to justify driving fast and making his way in front of laggers without hesitation. “Except this guy. Get the fuck out of the fast lane, Idiot!” as he weaved in front of him to pass. He always drove like it was Nascar. He wasn’t afraid to drive like he meant it.

“It’s okay to cut someone off just as long as you don’t slow them down. I just left him in the dust. Valley.” Peter had a healthy balance of wit, skepticism, compassion, and ironic sense of humor. For all his love of people, he wasn’t blind to their faults, nor was he reticent to point them out. We enjoyed a glorious powder day at SugarBowl, and when I had sung “I’m Walking On Sunshine” at least a dozen times (by Katrina and the Waves, to my surprise), he didn’t hesitate to ask, “Know any other songs?!” He hated that kind of music, but put up with me singing it while we glided over dry, fluffy snow.

Peter lived without excuses, with an all or nothing approach to life. He did what he loved to do, and it was that simple. He didn’t have patience for those who weren’t doing the same. Why would people waste time? There was no messing about with the common litany of excuses many of us make; no “I have to work”, or “I’m too tired” came out of his mouth.

We remained good friends over the years, sharing rock-climbing, snowboarding, and motorcycle rides over the years. Whether riding his KTM dirtbike offroad or sailing his boat on the San Francisco Bay, where he spent his last day on 2/4/2018, Peter lived for adventure and with passion. He was fiercely dedicated to his two daughters and beautiful partner Jenny. He showed me how I wanted to live in many ways. He was proof that I, too, could live my life pursuing my passions without apology; that I could be a badass bitch and still be a nice person. He embodied the true definition of cool, and inspired so many others with his adventures over land and sea. 

I think he’d agree with me on some of my points here, especially when I say “Don’t be too cool”. He was never afraid to talk about anything – deep, shallow, in between. He was comfortable talking about the dark and the light. He was totally cool, but not in the “California Cool”, aloof sort of way; not with friends, family, loved ones, or strangers. Being from Portland, Maine, he probably would be offended if I told him he spoke that way. He engaged presently with everyone he encountered. He showed up for the moment and gave it his full attention. He was honest and straightforward, a quality I learned to appreciate from him. He lived with love and compassion, and inspired others to do the same. That was one of the many things that made him so cool.  

I think I can be less cool, too. When I speak about people in their tendencies, I know I can fall into that category at times. People are mirrors, right? I would love to be warmer with new people I meet, to not be so inadvertently guarded at times. There is always room for growth within our relationships with loved ones.

Where in your life can you be less cool? How much do you fall into the “California Cool” culture? For how cool California actually is, and for how many truly cool people live here, our stereotype has some catching up to do. Help redefine California Cool in your daily interactions with others. Give directions to a lost tourist instead of barking at them for causing a jam. Give a compliment to a stranger you see doing something cool. Pick up trash while you’re at the beach. Smile when you see an approaching stranger and say “hi”. Laugh loudly with your loved ones no matter who’s around. Life is meant to be celebrated and enjoyed.

Cultivate flow and grace. Express yourself; tell others how you feel. Don’t wait until some future moment without guarantee. Live your passion, and hold onto your love. Don’t be too cool. Live like you’ve got a fire lit under you. Because that, my friends, is hot.  

Fresh Powder, Fresh Perspective

Snow, glorious Snow!


I wanted to shout it from the mountaintops, proclaiming my deep appreciation for the return of my long lost friend Winter. Though not yet in full force, She has blessed us with some more heaven dust to play upon, with forecasts predicting more soon. After last year’s epic El Niño, when we were blessed with 17 good days on mountain, this Winter pales in comparison so far. But it’s relatively early in the season, and I’ll be grateful for whatever falls from the sky!

The Sierra Nevada mountains of California hold a piece of my soul in their weathered but stoic granite crags. In Summer they’re a playground for two wheels and two feet, and in the Winter, a snowboarding heaven. Kirkwood has long been my steady refuge for finding bliss, riding over snow like butter. Snowboarding with my husband Ron is one of my favorite all-time things to do together. It’s not only hella fun, but spiritual. The Sacred Silence of Snow is something I savor. Escaping to the mountains provides a fresh perspective on life, easing concerns about what’s going on down valley.


A bonus this trip was getting to break in my new board, boots, and bindings. I love them!  After riding a dinosaur set-up of a 14-year old Salomon 156cm board, with equally old boots and bindings, I was beyond ready for an upgrade. And so I did, to an all-Burton set up: a Burton Custom Flying V 158 board, with Malavita bindings, and Ion boots. As with any new gear, there is always some time spent adjusting before and while riding the mountain. With only a few changes on the first day riding with my new gear, I found my sweetspot and was confidently riding without a second thought by the end of the day. It is such an upgrade indeed! The pop and responsiveness are so much better than I’ve ever known, and my feet felt good. I’ve still got some breaking in to do, but overall – Success!


With only a couple of days in this season so far, I am really looking forward to some more good days on the mountain this season. Ron and I buy season passes every year at Kirkwood, and since it was bought by Vail a few years ago, the prices have steadily risen, along with the inefficiencies and big corporate attitude that are a stark contrast to the old Kirkwood I knew as a kid. It’s always been sort of funky in its own right; minimalist in amenities and services, with maximum terrain and snow to far make up for it. It’s the best place for snow in California as far as I’m concerned.

Team KatRon
Top of Cornice Express


More concerning are the real and imminent ramifications of climate change, particularly in this holy place I and so many others love and cherish so dearly. It’s not just the recreation that the Sierras provide year-round, of course. The dire issue is the freshwater supply that long established ecosystems, and we 39 million Californians, are existentially dependent upon from that snowfall.  With the hottest years on record occurring within my adult lifetime, I’ve pretty much grown up hearing we may not have our Sierra snowpack by the time I’m old and grown. Though each Winter brings its own anomalies, complexly driven by warming and cooling oscillations in ocean temperatures and other factors, the overall trend is warmer and drier. Check out Protect Our Winters for some more interesting information about snow and climate change.


In the meantime, I try to enjoy what’s here now. Winter is already a third of the way complete. The days are getting longer, and before we know it, Spring blossoms will color the hillsides like fireworks. Enjoy the Winter while it’s here, however you like to. Whether you’re moving over land or water, whether frozen or liquid, have fun. It’s so important to do what you love and makes you happy, whatever it is. Keep on flowing with grace!



Death Valley Camping ’17

It’s the lowest point in North America at -282′ below sea-level. It also holds the record for the hottest place on Earth, with a record high temperature of 134°F. In August of 2017, it also set the record for the hottest month in the US. It’s desert landscape at its purest.

It’s the Land of Extremes: Death Valley, California, and I spent a few wonderful days camping there to wrap up the end of 2017.

The day after Christmas, my husband Ron and I departed home in Ben Lomond for the roughly 8-hour drive South to Death Valley.  We met my sister, along with her husband and three kids, and my mother and stepfather at the Furnace Creek Campground, which would serve as our home for the next three nights. Lows of 32°F at night? No problem – that’s what proper outdoor clothing and a 0° sleeping bag are for. That, and a glorious, roaring campfire to gather around. Daytime highs reached 78°, making for sun drenched, summer-like daytime excursions.

We reached the valley around 9 p.m., driving in on Highway 190 on empty roads. Then the saddest part of the trip happened: a white Jack Rabbit leaped from the roadside in front of our car. In the split-second I had to react and try to swerve (going 70mph, mind you), that poor sweet little rabbit succumbed to my thousand-pound death machine. Immediately, I started crying, feeling absolutely awful and guilty. It was the first time I’d ever (knowingly) hit an animal while driving, and it broke my heart. I pulled over, and Ron drove the rest of the way, going only about 45mph because he was scared to hit one himself; we saw at least a few more race across the road. Every time we go on road trips, Ron and I talk about what can be done to reduce roadkill. Animal underpasses and crossings are definitely needed to make safe travel ways for our animal friends.

By the time we made it to Furnace Creek, it was about 10 p.m., and we set up camp for the night. Firewood smoke filled the air of the campground, as we would find over the next few nights, like an inversion layer. The waxing third-quarter moon lit up the sky like a lantern for us to set up camp. We slept like rocks, tired from the long drive.

On Wednesday morning, we woke up and went for a morning bike ride with the kids, my sweet niece and nephews, around the campground. Then, we went to Badwater, the lowest point in North America at -282′ below sea-level. The vast salt flats spread across the desert like a mirage, resembling the glacial lake that once filled this valley. I watched an awesome History Channel documentary, How the Earth Was Made: Death Valley, before going on this trip, and it explained the historic geology. If you have the time and interest, check it out; it’s an awesome summary in 45 minutes.

Thinking about glaciers and lakes amid the arid landscape feels paradoxical. Then again, everything about Death Valley is paradoxical: it’s the lowest point in North America, juxtaposed with the highest point in North America only a couple of hours drive away at Mt. Whitney, elevation 14,505′. There’s water at Badwater, but it’s alkaline with borax and salt. It’s hot during the day, and cold at night. I love desert landscapes and all of their extremes.


Team KatRon

After Badwater, we drove up the road to Natural Bridge. It was a short hike up an old river gorge until we reached the bridge. It was even more dramatic as you continued past the bridge, where slot canyons of smoothed rock narrowed the path. Thinking about an ancient glacial river rushing through these canyon walls seems like another paradox in the desert, but it’s dramatic proof of Earth’s dynamic and ever-changing geology.

We stopped for a lunch break in the shade of the canyon near the bridge.


The canyon walls grew dramatically higher, and the trail ended at a canyon wall not too much further up the trail.


We left the Natural Bridge canyon and drove North up to Artist’s Drive, a one-way, scenic road paralleling the main highway. This was a roller-coaster like road with many dips and curves; Ron kept commenting that we should bike it, or he skateboard it. It was a gorgeous mishmash of rocks and strata, making for stunning, striking scenery.



Check out my YouTube channel videos of Artist’s Drive, and sunset bike ride.

After passing through Artist’s Drive, we took a quick trip up to Zabriskie’s Point and the Furnace Creek Wash. With the sunset coming soon, we hurried back to campsite for dinner and a short sunset bikeride with the kids.

The sunset was glorious! We even rode into the Furnace Creek Golf Course and found a little pond.


The next day, we headed out to Mesquite Sand Dunes, Stovepipe Wells for a hot lunch, and Ubehebe Crater, the remnants of a volcanic eruption from only about 1,000 years ago. Walking up the sand dunes felt like we were at the beach without the ocean, which makes perfect sense since it used to be a beach.

After exploring the sand dunes, we had lunch at Stovepipe Wells. Then, we drove North to Ubehebe Crater. The loose scree slope of the volcanic rim provided a hearty workout uphill, and a fun slalom-style downhill like skiing. I took a quick jog around the rim of the smaller Little Hebe crater, imagining a giant mountaintop being blown to smithereens around me. As a Science teacher whose main passion is Earth Science, particularly Plate Tectonics, these kinds of first-hand experiences are soulful. I love the geologic perspective of Deep Time, and find it quite comforting.

We had a mellow last night at camp, and on Friday morning, I woke up early for a sunrise hike around Zabriskie’s Point; I also drove through the 20-Mule Team Canyon, where borax is mined.  The morning was beautiful, and a nice finish to our short but full camping trip.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley



Feeling inspired by the beautiful morning, we had a nice drive home back to the Santa Cruz Mountains. We drove by Owen’s Lake on the way out (watch the movie “Chinatown” if you get a chance, as it explains the LADWP history of diverting the Owen’s River); we also flew through Red Rock Canyon before seeing huge solar plants in Mojave.

It was a fantastic trip to the desert. Though I’ve been to Death Valley several times, each time I go I feel as though I’ve just scratched the surface. One of these days I would love to mountain bike down Titus Canyon. And believe it or not, that hotel they’re remodeling looks quite nice. Either way, I know I’ll be back to the valley again. Its millions of years of geologic history will humble me yet again, giving that refreshing, paradoxical, vast desert perspective.

Today’s Ride

I think the third time’s a charm. This is my third edit, and I finally got somewhat decent footage with my new GoPro Hero Session 5 (1080p at 60fps with Superview). This is one of my favorite trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and today was a gorgeous day to enjoy it. With rain (finally!) in the forecast for next week, I’m getting all I can of this trail before it puddles up. As for those gap jumps I’m riding past? I’m working my way up to those, doing smaller jumps in the meantime. You can get as rad as you want (or not) on this trail.

Happy (almost) New Year to all! Here’s to one last ride of 2017 tomorrow.