Big Bear Lake; Home Sweet Home
By guest writer, Amber Woodyard.
People don't believe me when I tell them Mom threw us outside and told us to play all day. It may not have come from an iPhone but I have proof. I would consider myself a tried and true mountain woman. I spend my days trekking just as many miles of mountain trails as I possibly can. While out on the trails I'm constantly on the lookout for wild edible plants like pungent wild garlic, raspberries growing in a tangle down by the creek beds, or miners lettuce for quick salad break on any given hike. I spend my hikes scouting for the best dead and downed trees to come back later and add to our firewood collection or the best-hidden swimming holes with rainbow trout swimming through the crystal clear waters. I was basically raised outdoors as a mountain child.
I have lived in these mountains practically my whole life. My parents moved our small family from the concrete jungle of the Los Angeles suburbs to the San Bernardino Mountains in 1985. At the time my family lived in Norwalk; which is not as well known for its gangs and crime as nearby Compton but it's a very shady area and not a good place to raise a family. My dad used to volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles when he was in his thirties, raising his young family so close to Los Angeles and after being threatened by a gang member one day he had enough of life in the city and decided to get his family the hell out of there. I'm thankful every day he made that decision as I grew up in a forest full of Jeffrey pine trees with not a gang member or drive-by shooting in site. I'm thankful every day; My life could have been a lot different.
As an adult now, I live fifteen miles as the crow flies from the mountain town I grew up in, a few alpine villages to the east. As an adult about to turn forty this year, I live in Big Bear Lake, which is basically the big city of all the mountain towns. Yes, we have a Kmart and yes we are proud of that fact! Life in Big Bear feels like home to me. This alpine town feels like the town I was meant to spend my life in. I spend every waking hour I'm not at work hiking or mountain biking or just relaxing in our backyard with our plethora of rescue animals.
Hidden away sixty miles up a winding mountain road is Big Bear Lake at nearly seven thousand feet. When most people think of southern California they think of Disneyland, the Santa Monica Pier and celebrities on Rodeo Drive. The rush rush rush world of Hollywood are worlds away from our laid back mountain town. Here in Big Bear Lake, we have miles of lakeshore for fishing and acres of forest trails for hiking and mountain biking. Big Bear Lake is a fantastic place to live or vacation and I feel so thankful to call this wilderness set on the edge of southern California my home. Yes, sometimes I wish we had a Whole Foods down the street and not a two-hour drive to the west, but that is a small price to pay for living in paradise.
I grew up in the eighties in a rural town in southern California, something a lot of Californians who live spitting distance to Los Angeles can not say. Growing up in the forest, we did not have shopping malls, palm trees, the Pacific Ocean, beaches or fancy restaurants. We might be Californians but we did not surf and I can count on one hand how many times I put my toes in the ocean eighty miles away from our mountain range before I turned seventeen and could drive myself. My two brothers and I might not have had surfboards or the latest Nikes from the Galleria but what we did have was miles of hiking trails right outside our front door. We had alpine lakes to swim in the summertime and an icy cold creek to fish out of basically in our neighbourhood. For as long as I can remember my mom insisted that all the kids "Get outside" from sunup to sundown. Thank God my mom was insistent that I get outside because I basically went outside and never stopped.
Now that it is springtime 2020 and most Americans I know are going stir crazy and just dying to get out and do something, why yes I would love to go out for sushi at an actual restaurant. I can almost taste the ahi sashimi and spicy wasabi on my tongue but living amongst the pines in this paradise is well worth it to have the chance to hike every day with the deer and the coyotes. As much as I miss my job, early February with nothing but time on my hands gave me time to snowshoe so many epic miles of snowy alpine trails with my favorite pup at my side.
I'm so thankful that I get to spend my life in Big Bear Lake, a small town in the mountains of California that feels made for me and my outdoor lifestyle. Just like a lot of people in this big wide world, I can not wait to spend time with friends again when this is all over. I can't wait to hug my grandma again sometime before she turns ninety-one. I can't wait to go back to work and spend time with my coworkers but this wilderness town I live in is not a bad place to ride out a pandemic. I feel so blessed that of all the places in the world this forest is the place I get to call my home.
Amber is a hiker, mountain biker, professional handicapper and world traveler. You can usually catch her climbing some of the highest mountain peaks in southern California or at the track betting on the ponies. She blogs her adventures as well as my favorite healthy recipes over at hungrymountaineer.com