Huntington Beach (locally initialized “HB”) is a seaside city in Orange County in Southern California, known for its long 9.5-mile (15.3 km) stretch of sandy beach, mild climate, excellent surfing, and beach culture. Our little family, Me+Husband+Two Young Daughters (approx ages 2 and 4) moved to a two story house on the end of an HB cul-de-sac in 1994. We all reluctantly moved away from that home, on a pie shaped lot with a pool + a yard in the back + less than a mile from the beach, about twelve or thirteen years later. Our girls gained some degree of maturity + some other “gifts” they took with them when we moved but I, their mother, believe I took many more. The gifts I received there, that I have carried with me in my heart and in my spirit since we left, fall into two general categories. (1)People and (2)Fitness.
With our girls approaching school age, we made the obvious decision to move from a small house, the first one that Husband and I had purchased together, in a family-friendly neighborhood which was, unfortunately, located too close for comfort to a high crime, gang-infested area. At the time, I was working, on a temporary/contract basis, for McDonnell Douglas in HB. While performing due diligence to locate a place for us to move to that was both geographically desirable and affordable, I came across an article in the L.A. Times touting Huntington Beach as “The Best City for Children.” Decision made.
The house we bought had one of just 19 addresses on Dragon Circle, in one of several La Cuesta housing tracts built in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s in the very desirable neighborhoods of South Huntington Beach. When we moved in we were warmly welcomed by our neighbors next door since, besides theirs, ours was the only home on the street then that had young children living in it. Over the next five or so years, the number of homes where young children lived more than doubled and, since we lived at the closed end of the street, the children congregated on the street in front of our house to play while their parents congregated nearby to watch over them. I wish I could say that all of these similar families, by income, size and just general characteristics, continued to get along with each other over the years, while all the children went to school, played, joined sports teams and Scout troops together. Sadly, I cannot, but that is a tale for a different post. One of those new neighbors who moved in with her family became my best friend and now, even after both of our husbands retired and we are separated by thousands of miles, we still enjoy a weekly scheduled hour long (or more) conversation. Gina and I both look forward to those events, and have visited each others’ new homes, after we both left HB, her for Southern Oregon and me for first Middle and then East Tennessee.
Construction of any kind on the beach is prohibited without a vote of the people, allowing Huntington Beach to retain its natural connection to the ocean rather than having the view obstructed by residential and commercial developments. Swells generated predominantly from the North Pacific in winter and from a combination of Southern Hemisphere storms and hurricanes in the summer focus on Huntington Beach, creating consistent surf all year long, hence the nickname “Surf City”. The city includes just a small industrial district in its northwest corner, while the colorful and active downtown district includes an art center, a beach-centric shopping district, and the International Surfing Museum. The HB Pier, domain of fishermen (also women and kids), strollers and people and surfer-watchers, stretches from Main Street into the Pacific Ocean. BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery is based in Huntington Beach.
The HB tourism website, surfcityusa.com, advises visitors and residents alike to “Mark your calendars for all the fun-filled events Huntington Beach has to offer! Some of the most popular annual events include the Surf City USA Marathon in February, Annual Huntington Beachcruiser Meet in March, National Professional Paintball League’s Surf City USA Open in April, US Open of Surfing in the summer.” It goes on to say “You might notice that people in Huntington Beach don’t stay indoors for very long. That’s because this is a fit, active town where residents and visitors not only spend their days at the beach, but also take advantage of Surf City USA’s other outdoor and natural attractions. We’re home to Orange County’s largest city parks and… (y)ou can bicycle for miles along our coast, go horseback riding, or even try yoga on a paddle board in Huntington Harbour.
Now, contrary to the way the people in HB are described above, I did stay indoors for very long before we moved there. Over time, though, even I came to enjoy and appreciate the variety of more healthful and physical activities that I could try just by stepping out my front door. Actually, I found many new outdoor pursuits to attempt by perusing the free local papers I regularly picked up off my driveway. So, after determining that I needed to do some good and possibly fun things for me and me alone, for both my mental and physical health, I decided to go ahead and try a few. So in 2002, I believe, I started training for the Long Beach Half Marathon using its Official Training Program called, appropriately for me, A Snail’s Pace.
The group I trained with met on Saturday mornings at HB Central Park. The program, at least as currently advertised, offered, besides fun group training, 16 Weeks of Expert Coaching/Training, structured pace groups with safe interval training and an evidence based structured training program to maximize efficiency and minimize risk. All half marathons are 13.1 miles long. I actually completed the Long Beach Half Marathon twice, as well as a couple of Surf City Half Marathons and half of the first Orange County Marathon that ended with me calling home to be picked up out of a pouring rain! The course time limit for those distance races, both Marathon & Half Marathon events, is usually 7.5 hours. I did my first Long Beach Half Marathon, mostly walking with a few very slow jogging splits, in about 3 ½ or 4 hours. I finished those other distance events plus the Music City Half Marathon in Nashville, as well as a 5K or two, since then, but that was the fastest pace I have ever had in any timed event.
I had so much fun in that first training program that I was inspired to keep moving even after I finished that first race. I kept training with that group for a year or two after that but veered off into less formal training with a girlfriend who moved into a La Cuesta neighborhood just a five minute walk away from mine around 2005 or so. Kathy was a friend of a friend and we had only met each other a couple of times before she moved to HB, the first time when we co-hosted a wedding shower for our mutual friend. She and I hit it off from that beginning, and our bond was strengthened by other shared factors besides our close geographical proximity after her move. We both, along with our mutual friend, were purchasing agents working in the local aerospace biz. Kathy also had two daughters who were close in age like mine, though hers were slightly older, as well as a fairly small family of parents and in-laws and a couple of sisters and nieces who lived in Southern California. Her girls were active in school and other extracurricular activities similar to mine, and her husband worked a lot of hours in a stressful job, like my husband.
Just by a happy happenstance, when I found out that Kathy would soon become a neighbor, I asked, I think, if she would be interested in joining me for walks in the area. She was and, looking back and totaling up the time that passed while we took our nearly weekly jaunts, I can hardly believe that they only occurred over a few, possibly three or four years. IDK why, but the time we spent and the distance we covered on those walks, both literally and figuratively, loom monumental in my memory. I guess, though, the time flew by because we spent it in mutually rewarding and invigorating conversation. Even before I moved away from HB, I had begun to miss those talks with Kathy more and more, as she got busier on her job, after being promoted a few times and taking on more responsibility, and as her husband was able to back away from the stress of his job and began biking with her.
As I walked around the HB neighborhoods less and less often, I substituted bike rides along the Santa Ana River Trail, a 12-foot wide path following the Santa Ana River, a waterway that is cement-lined through much of Orange County and begins at a junction with the Huntington Beach Bicycle Trail. The closest access point to this easy-riding trail was about a five minute ride from my backyard. When we moved to Brentwood, Tennessee, I tried to find a similar trail or path so I could continue to exercise in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, no part of this state is flat for any great distance, which easily discouraged me from trying to ride my beach cruiser. On top of that, there are four seasons here, and two of them are either too cold or too hot or too wet, either in the form of snow, frozen puddles or humidity I could cut with a knife, to comfortably continue this exercise on any kind of a regular basis. Riding the recumbent bike in the basement is just not the same!