The ear-splitting roar of a chainsaw throwing showers of splinters and dust up into a cloudless sky penetrates the serene mountain scene. The fresh air’s aroma of sage and wild mint gets overpowered by the reek of grease and oil. The uneven, hardly trampled soil gets unearthed and tamed by a pickax. Gnarled, ancient branches of oak scrub meet their immediate defeat in the jaws of loppers, their shredded remains tossed over steep cliffs. Helmets are worn, sweat pours down faces, hands get cut, eyes fill with dirt, ears ring, muscles grow sore.
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I bet you just did things you never thought you’d be able to do,” Earthworks climbing guide Matthew Fineup called up to me. That was an understatement-I was clinging onto a rock face 40 feet above solid ground, leaning off to the side, staring at tree branches, looking for my next hand-hold, and trying to gauge how long my fingers could maintain their grip. Fortunately, I was equipped with a harness, my rope anchored to the top of the rock and held by Matthew on the ground.
Santa Barbara’s diverse habitats make for some interesting hikes. With the Santa Ynez Mountains virtually descending into the ocean and the Channel Islands National Park an hour’s boat ride away, you can disappear into a wealth of ecosystems teeming with freshwater springs, riparian corridors, and majestic sand dunes. Here are three hikes you’ll never forget. (Be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, lunch, and a camera.)
For the record, though it pains me to admit it, I used to be a boogie boarder. While I have long since evolved beyond the lay-down sponge riding, the fact remains that not only did my love affair with surfing begin years ago in the prone position but also, when the conditions are right, I still occasionally kick my way into a beach break barrel or two, sliding merrily along, belly down and ass up, on what the Australians so affectionately refer to as an elephant’s tampon.