Never shy about raising my hand to volunteer, this spring I offered to organize an activity for the Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter in our area. While many BBBS sponsored events take place all year long, this would be an additional one. Not for fundraising purposes or to interface with the staff, but one purely to get Bigs and Littles together to have some fun. Though excited, I always get a little apprehensive when I commit to something. I always want to be sure whatever task I take on, I do it right. But in this case, what would be right? What activity would be enjoyable to others and easy to do? What would be no or low cost? And always important to me, what would be educational, as well?
Putting on my thinking cap, I recalled various outings my Little and I have shared for close to five years now. So very many! Everything from cozying up with a book at our local library, picnicking on a blanket in a park, bowling, visiting a hands-on museum, to creating scratch art – all no frills thrills. But the pastime that stood out most was the one in which we lace up our sneakers, don our baseball caps, pack a snack and water, then slather on the sunscreen and head out in search of a trail to traverse. If I had to guess, I’d say we have travelled at least 200 miles on foot in the time we’ve known each other. Wow! Small steps really do add up!
When it comes to pleasurable pursuits, there really is nothing quite like hiking. Walking comes close, but hiking provides a little more. With so much to take in, the outdoor terrain, elevation changes, as well as the plants and animals, hitting the trails gives a unique experience every time out. And then there are all the other great benefits: both physical and mental, and emotional, too! Being a weight bearing exercise, hiking builds stronger muscles and bones. It’s a natural stress reliever. Who could not help but get swept up in the beauty all around when trekking out in nature? And studies have shown that strolling outside can help combat depression, and even boost your happiness quotient. More, please!
But then I thought, just because I love hiking doesn’t mean others would. And knowing not everyone had hiked before, or had had a positive experience doing so, I set out to make this adventure appeal to newbies and avid hikers alike. Enlisting the help of a Park Ranger, set things in motion. Within twenty-four hours of contacting the National Park Service, I had an enthusiastic Park Ranger on the line. Caitlin said that in the location I was interested in, she would guide our group on an easy one-mile loop, while pointing out fauna and flora, and she’d talk about hiking etiquette to boot! A win win in my book.
After we discussed the essentials, all was set to go. The week before however, I began to worry… just a little…bit. A common trait among us planners. How many people would participate? Should we gather afterwards to recap the hike? And even though I had a checklist of what to tell the others to bring, what if they didn’t? And…what if, God forbid…it rained?! Rained! Not likely, as we live in Southern California…but, still.
It was a sunshiny blue-sky morning, temperatures in the low 70s when Robert helped me pack up my car with an ice chest full of mini water bottles. In my trunk, I stowed my backpack (with an emergency whistle and first aid kit because you never know!). And I stored the box of snack sacks I prepared, each filled with homemade chocolate cookies, an orange, and a mini Kind bar (because someone might get hungry!) Eighteen bags in all. Once I had my list of attendees in hand, and I was on my way!
With a quick left turn onto Wendy Drive and right onto Lynn Road, in six minutes I saw the massive wooden sign for Rancho Satwiwa welcoming me in. In another minute I was at the designated meeting place, and twenty minutes later, our group was assembled and ready to head out.
Engaging, humorous, and informative, Caitlin led us on the sandstone terrain while we learned many things. We learned that this Satwiwa area had been the home of the Chumash Indians for a very long time, over 10,000 years! We learned that bobcats, mountain lions, deer, eagles, coyotes, and rabbits inhabit the area. We saw the diverse landscape of rocky canyons, grassy meadows, and undulating hills set against the backdrop of majestic Boney Mountain. We heard the call of a hawk and then, a helicopter, far above our heads. We smelled the aroma of maple syrup emanating from the California Everlasting scrub, and the sage smell from the Cowboy Cologne brush. We felt the relief from the warm sun under the shade of sycamore trees. And we tasted the coolness of water we carried along.
Our two-hour trek ran over, but no one seemed to mind. We ended our hike at the Visitor’s Center resting on picnic tables. The Littles gathered together chit-chatting away, enjoying the goodies in their snack bags, while the Bigs sat together and did the same. Exchanging Thank Yous with Caitlin, we then drifted to the parking lot for our group good-byes. When my Little and I got into my car, she was smiling and said she had a great time and really liked everyone she met. That’s when I recalled the words of Hannibal, not the statesman who led forces against the Roman Empire in the Second Punic War…Hannibal, the leader of the A-Team on the 80s hit TV show by the same name. They were, “I love it when a plan comes together!” That’s exactly how I felt.
From my journal: June 20, 2022 Newbury Park, California
“Fun…all the planning paid off! A few couldn’t make it but there were fourteen of us in all…it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been on those trails – the scenery is always amazing! I think the Bigs enjoyed it as much as the Littles!”
This upcoming week, November 17th to be exact, happens to be National Hiking Day. Created by The American Hiking Society in 1976, its purpose is to encourage people to get outdoors and enjoy the pristine beauty of their natural surroundings. If you happen to get out and take a hike this week, have fun! And…Happy Trails to you!