Serendipity or How We Survived a Thunderstorm and Ate a Delicious Bear Claw

By Paul Gipe

We’re continuing our Pandemic Peregrinations to explore our region of California. To that end we try head out most Thursdays for day trips in our Chevy Bolt. On this trip we drove to Mount Pinos in the Los Padres National Forest. It’s the closest place you can go to escape the sweltering heat of Bakersfield in August.

We arrived at the Nordic Base at 9.00 with blue skies and sun. Hiked easily to the summit. Fortunately there weren’t too many flowers so Nancy was only ten minutes behind me. It was so refreshingly cool that I spent the morning debating whether to get my jacket out. Nancy found Penstemon labiosus on the way up. It’s bright red and hard to miss. On the summit we found its color twin Epilobium canum or California Fuschia. It can easily fool you but Nancy’s getting good at this flower game and she noticed that it was just like the flowers at our house.

Found a good spot among some rocks, Mount Pinos schist for those who want to know. Sat on some cushion plants, Kennedy buckwheat to be specific, and had a gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Mount Pinos is on the Pacific Plate so we were moving north while we were up there. The view was over the North American Plate that was heading south. In between was the San Andreas Fault. 😉

We took a leisurely hike down. Nancy reached the parking lot just as thunder began to roll and the sky darkens. It’s the monsoon season here and the clouds were building up.

We got out of there and drove down the mountain. We had planned to drive out along the San Andreas Fault to near Carrizo Plain National Monument and back to Bakersfield but as we descended to Pine Mountain Club we could see smoke in the distance.

It wasn’t smoke. It was rain. Then it hit us and did it hit us. The thunderstorm must have been parked over Mount Pinos. It was torrential–monsoonal–and frightening.

I decided to pull over at Pine Mountain Club. There’s a few shops and a parking lot where we would be safe. Just pulling into the lot was a challenge. Water was pouring over the road and as a truck passed it threw a wave over us. Reminded me of the time on the Canso Causeway in Nova Scotia when we thought we were going to get swept off the road into the sea.

We parked. Thanked our lucky stars we were safe. Then I noticed that the bakery had an open sign. In the past it would have been closed by now. Any bakery in a storm, so we ran in.

It is small, so small there’s only room for a few people to stand. The new owners, a Guatemalan and his Mexican partner, were charming and welcoming. It’s famous for its bear claws and as I was looking for them I saw a case of empanadas. I haven’t had a good empanada since Toronto so I exclaimed, “wow empanadas, you’ve added some menu items.” That got the guy going and he began to tell us about all his new offerings, and his new hours. He was quite animated. So we just stood there eating a bear claw, listening to him tell us about his shop, and watching the rain pour down. Nancy got a cup of tea and I got a cappuccino. The place was warm, cozy, the people friendly, and we just pinched ourselves that we discovered this port in the storm.

Meanwhile, the water was pouring off the mountainside in a literal river as we watched.

We left with a bagful of empanadas and a good feeling.

Though the rain had slackened it looked bleak. There was lots of debris on the road. Water was still rushing down–and across the road. We were not sure we could get out and was wondering if the motel was still open there.

We bagged going out across the desert. It would be much too dangerous. As it was trying to get out the way we came was hair raising enough. We had to dodge rocks and boulders on the road, hoping that it wouldn’t get any worse further up near the pass. There were powerful torrents cascading down the side roads, the kind that would push your car off the road and into a roaring arroyo. That gives the heart pause. Fortunately, there were some very big culverts that diverted the flow down San Emigdio Canyon just before it hit the highway.

We finally crossed the pass leading into Cuddy Valley and the route to I-5 and the road was dry. Phew!

I’d like to say the rest of the drive was uneventful, but it is I-5—the route from Los Angeles to San Francisco. There was a wreck somewhere near Bakersfield and traffic was backed up for miles. We got home about 4.00 pm. That was enough for one day.