The Spell of El Capitan Canyon
Arriving at El Capitan Canyon at around 3:30 pm on Thursday, I felt a little out of sorts – 7 hours of travel, nonstop work emails and calls and then there I was, on the other coast, in a little-house-on-the-prairie setting complete with cabins and tents covering the grounds, ready for my run/yoga weekend. My cabin seemed cozy enough—it even had its own fire pit and picnic bench out front—and I was thrilled to discover that I had a bathroom! And then Lisa showed up, and the fact that my roomie was from Florida, a fellow flatlander, filled me with joy. I wasn’t going to be alone in my non- mountain running experience. Lisa felt like an old friend from the start – we both had signed up for the run/yoga weekend randomly and had no idea what to expect.
Ted gathered us at 4:45 pm our first day in front of the Mesa Yurt. After traveling all day and the 3-hour time difference, the idea of running seemed surreal at best. I wanted to sit and do nothing, acclimate. Starting to run with a bunch of strangers as our first get together was a bit…unsettling, if not invigorating. We jogged up the winding road and then we hit the trail. “It will be a fast run, a short one,” Ted assured us, until we were a few minutes in and we experienced the straight uphill, climbing and climbing and climbing some more, up towards the sky. Maybe not that high up, but it seemed that way. Ted wasted no time with his camera, taking pictures of us as if we were all old friends. We paused and posed, taking in the breath-taking Santa Barbara hills and ocean views, and then we hit the switchbacks, Matt leading the way, heading down gravely and pebbled trail, not sure if we were going the right way, since Ted had never taken that specific route. 45 minutes to an hour later, we found our way back to our home away from home, the Mesa Yurt. We all had our own fascination with the Yurt – some of us just liked to say the word – yoort; others savored the warmth of the Yurt, and there were even discussions about what we would do with a Yurt in our backyards. Tammy talked about a summer kitchen Yurt and there was some talk of Lauren and Kim sleeping in the Yurt when the cool evening temps set in, making their tent below freezing.
Our first evening yoga class was gentle and relaxing, and then we ventured into the night, headlamps and all, off to Canyon Market for our first meal as a group. Above, the sky was a kaleidoscope of stars, showering down on us so clear and bright, so that it felt as if the multitude above us was within our reach. As tempting as the night sky was, though, the cold got the better of us, and we piled into Ted’s car for the short drive down the road to our dinner.
Back at the cabin that endless first day, I opted to sleep up in the loft; after spying the window up there adjacent to the mattress, I signed up to climb the aluminum ladder and peer out that little glass lens to the stars. Drifting to sleep that first night, I gazed out into the great wide open and even felt a bit like Laura Engels on the prairie.
Ted had this amazing ability to plan our daily activities, take our meal orders with his famous flowered pen, decide on our meal times, determine what time we would run or yoga, teach yoga, play deejay during yoga class, set up tea for the group, lead runs and somewhat map our courses, start camp fires and cook meals on them, call us on our cell phones during group runs to make sure we weren’t being eaten by mountain lions, serve as the group photographer, tell us amusing stories including how he proposed, and the detailed version of when he shit in his pants in India (as did Steve), and get us excited for the next adventure (here we come, Peru!). Ted is the type of guy that one wishes they could clone so that everyone could have their very own Ted organizer/entertainer/yoga teacher extraordinaire, flower pen and all.
We ventured out on a new trail early Friday morning, a few of us completing one hilly (mountainous to me!) 4ish mile loop and then met up with the rest of the group to do it again, for fun. Then it was yoga time, lunch, run, yin/relaxation yoga and then time to eat again. The rest of our weekend went something of the same, although all the runs and yoga classes became somewhat of a blur, as our existence at the canyon consisted of runs, yoga, meal time, and then sleep. Friday evening we sat around a campfire and cooked and ate veggie burgers, devoured the famous Capitan sweet potato fries, and made smores – a perfect ending to a perfect day.
The Capitan crew
The group energy was contagious – to be surrounded by such a fun, exciting, interesting and open-minded group led to the nonstop tone of the weekend. When you are in a cocoon of super people, every minute is an adventure. The stories, the, the camaraderie, the getting to know one another led to continuous conversations. What made this retreat different from most I’ve ever been on was the intimacy amongst the group – there weren’t any cliques, just the bunch of us doing one thing after another together, with almost no downtime, which didn’t seem to be an issue for any of us. It seemed that almost anything anyone said could turn into a stream of laughter, which led to more stories and more laughter.
By day two, we were all ready to move to Sunny Creek, Jeff and Tammy’s 900-acre farm, and get to meet some of their 4000+ pigs, take a ride in their tractors, or just make jewelry with Tammy. Over the course of our never-ending, yet fast moving days, we talked about everything from feet, to food, to sneakers, to yoga poses, to running and we each got to go over our career stories a good 5-8 times. One of the highlights of the weekend for me, was Tammy and Jeff’s sharing with me that my lifetime fear of cracking open an egg and finding a baby chick in it had actually happened to them. Now I had proof that it could actually happen! Another highlight was superstar Brendan Brazier’s nutrition talk, during which he shared his story with us, further explained the benefits of a vegan diet, told us how to eat for peak performance, and we got to ask him our questions, too.
The Saturday morning long run
It’s probably not the best situation when four women who don’t know the Bill Wallace Trail 11 mile loop (versus the other Bill Wallace Trail loops all labeled, Bill Wallace Trail) decide to head out early on the group run with the anticipation of getting a head start. For starters, we opted to go the way we knew, which was logical enough, only every time we hit a fork in the road, we would say, “Oh, this must be the other way Ted was talking about,” only to hit a dead end. Needless to say, we didn’t know where we were going –all the grass, mountains and skyline began to blur and blend—so that when Ted called and said, “where are you guys,” we were directed to make our way down heart rate hill, through the gate, down the road, to a completely different Bill Wallace Trail entrance. We did make it to the right trail in the end, thanks to Ted’s constant calls checking up on us, and his texting us pictures of trail landmarks.
Mixed in between our runs and yoga sessions, was feeding time. I think we all feel the same: our lives will never be the same again without Ted approaching our dining benches with his flowered pen, ready to take our order. And Ted was a good order taker too: very detailed, great with tally marks, and he even handed out mini menus for us to choose from, careful always to collect the mini menus after he had jotted down our food choices.
Our final day
Somehow, our long weekend came to an end. Lisa and I set out early that final morning, opting not to take the steep uphill route per Steve’s forewarning, and chose to run up and down the 4 mile heart rate hill Bill Wallace Trail loop. Coming down, we collided with Kim, and the three of us jogged out to the beach for some non-hilly running. Taking in the overcast skyline beyond the Pacific, running along the beach and then up the beach trail was the perfect end of the running portion of our adventure.
Unlike other retreats that end when it’s checkout time, our retreat kept on going – we ventured onward to the city of Santa Barbara for some group time to walk around the pier, a girls wine tasting event, and then when we left Santa Barbara, we made a pit stop at Starbucks and met up with Ted – poor Ted just could not get rid of us! It was the retreat without an end. Lisa and I had the good fortune to drive with Steve superstar deejay Chevy Vibe driver onward to Santa Monica, taking in the coastal views along the way. His hospitality was second to none, with him letting us camp out in his sustainable home for a bit!
Now we are all home, left alone to reminisce about the trails, the star studded evening skies, our new and improved vegan nutrition plans, our bunks and tents, the sweet potato fries, our roommates, Mesa Yurt, the lamas (which I never did get to see), the flowered pen, and dream about a time when we will show up at Sunny Creek Farm to get our commune organized, choose odd jobs around the farm, and with Ted, plan our next adventure J