If you only had a short time to live where would you spend your final few days? I might spend my waning moments sipping a glass of 1986 vintage Occhio di Pernice ($1,030 a bottle) while being serenaded by violins on the Piazza San Marko in Venice. Nah, I’d rather be having an ice-cold beer served by a geisha in the elegant lobby bar of the Hotel Okura in Tokyo. Or maybe I’d be sipping a cappuccino in a waterfront café while thumbing through the International Herald Tribune in Portofino on the Italian Riviera. Or I’d more likely be traipsing among the redwoods along some fern-covered trail in the Muir Woods, sipping warm, metallic-tasting water from my canteen. I can’t decide which.
Nobody would spend their last days on earth hiking, you yell. I might. I’ve got wonderful memories of hiking the Rockies, the Sierras, the Cascades, the Juras, the Alps, the Appalachians, the White, and the Blue Mountains. And who could forget all of those backbreaking hills at Camp Pendleton. Hills with names like Old Smokey, Mt. Mutha and my favorite Mt. MF’er.
I’ve even hiked a few holes—Crater Lake, the Columbia River Gorge, and the Grand Canyon, but it was my trek through the Black Forrest in southern Germany that sticks with me. We hiked all day on their very organized and extremely well marked trails, (what else would you expect) greeting everyone we passed with Grüße (greetings) or guten Tag (good day), and had lunch in a small, picturesque inn in the middle of nowhere. I had a slice of Black Forest cake (Schwarzwälderkirschtorte), what else.
I’ve done most of my hiking with family, various friends, or fellow Marines, but two solo hikes made lasting impressions on me. I had a day to kill before catching my flight home from Sydney, Australia, and I had drunk all of the Fosters I could handle, for the moment anyway, so I spent the day hiking the trails of the Royal National Park south of Sydney. The trail over the steep cliffs and the pounding sea is an image I’ll have forever, but it was a four-day solo backpacking trip that cast the longest shadows. I hiked the 42 mile trail through the narrow Paria Canyon from southern Utah into Arizona to where the Paria empties into the Colorado River. The red-rock walls of this narrow canyon extend to over 1500 feet above you. The canyon narrows to 10 or so feet in some places making it the longest continually narrow canyon hike in the world. I learned an important lesson alone in this awe inspiring canyon. An adventure is only an adventure when you share it with someone, alone, its just boring exercise. I took a book, a sketch pad, and my camera and thought I would cherish my time alone—nope, not at all.
I’ll take mountains over beaches anytime, but I’ve had some good times on the beaches of the world. My absolute favorite, only because I sorta grew up there, is the beach at Diver’s Cove in Laguna Beach, California. We were so poor while I was in the Marines that the only thing we could afford was a trip to the beach. We went year round, in our sweats in the winter, and with our Coppertone the rest of the year.
Another favorite is the beach made famous by Brigitte Bardot, Tahiti Beach in San Tropez on the Côte d'Azur. I like it a lot, but not for its sand or surf, but for the beautiful women tanning their boobs in their mono-kinis, or their buns on the nude beach next door.
Most of the beaches in Hawaii are memorable but it’s the black sand at Honokalani Beach on Maui that made a lasting impression. Now, if we could only get those nude, French girls onto the black sand in Hawaii, we’d really have something.