Self Care, Hiking and Photography in Big Bear


Since this blog has to do with maintaining mental health during the creative process, I am going to walk you through….my mental health during the creative process.

Or, how Amber likes to travel alone to places to take photos and hopefully not completely lose her mind (this will be a recurring theme, by the way).

Last month, I felt like going to a place that introduced me to the nature areas of Southern California as a child that always has a soft place in my heart: Big Bear.

I had been here more than a few times as an adult of course, but unfortunately the last time I was here I had embarked on a nearly 20 mile and 3800 feet elevation hike both to Bertha’s Peak and Delamar Mountain, hungover and in 93 degree heat.

My first, hopefully last and only time I hiked a peak hungover, and it was my third time hiking hungover in general.

So, that was NOT a good mental health day, so say the least.

The times before were a nicer trips in November 2015 just Bertha’s Peak and in October 2016, the Pine Knot Trail where I was also taking on the 52 Hike Challenge two years in a row.

This time around though, very different circumstances.

I am 9.5 months sober, living in my own place again after 1.5 years and recovering from a broken ankle from six months prior, which, of course, happened on a mountain peak.

My injury tested me physically, emotionally and spiritually – I had surgery and spent 10 weeks off work recovering.

Needless to say, I spent a lot of time inside, not hiking and being out in nature as I was for almost every weekend for 3 years…and my ankle is still not 100% yet, but I had been cleared for easy and flat hikes.

I thought I was just going to take photos for the day, but I ended up going on my first hike in six months.

Of course, I was still prepared with all the 10 Essentials which I tend to have with me in my car at all times in some capacity.

Here is how the day went:

The day started off early, driving to the mountain road and greeted by cloud cover.

It had been a while since I had been above clouds, naturally, I had to stop and take a ton of photos.


Apparently, others had the same idea. As I meandered a bit on this viewpoint, I saw cars stop one by one, some were obviously tourists, others were car enthusiasts going for a morning drive and the rest were a few bicyclists in town.

Most of them had camera phones of course, I think there was one guy who had a DSLR and there was at least one guy with either a Pentax or old school 35mm camera.

So I spent a good amount of time here and the results were…okay. I would like to spend more time with color adjustment on this one.


Am I turning into one of THOSE people who just stop and take photos at high elevations that they have not climbed?

…why yes. I have. I must. I felt okay with it, mostly.

I felt the morning passing on, the weather getting slightly warmer so I knew it was time to continue on while the light was still good on the rest of my journey.

So I arrived at the lake…so many memories here.


It was here where my mother decided on a whim she was going to take up fishing which became her passion for quite a few years.

So when I saw the slight cloud cover in the background, I thought to myself “There has to be a nice spot down the road where I can stop to get closer to that.”


…and when I finally got myself over there, the cloud cover was covering me.

Well, I tried.

I felt slightly irked that I didn’t get there in time to capture it, however the REAL cloud cover was my perfectionist mindset holding me back from enjoying the serenity of the moment, the quiet space of lake side in the early morning.

So I took some time to take it in, walk around and enjoy the silence.

As I felt the sun on the back of my neck, I could feel it getting later in the day again…so I went on my way to the Woodland Trail.

I arrived at the trailhead, and laced up my boots for the first time in 6 months.

I still wear an under-the-shoe brace and my flexibility is minimal, but I felt ready to walk the trail as much as I could and turn back if I needed to. I had a full backpack in any case, with plenty of water and snacks.

When I saw an actual printed map at the trail sign, I decided- why the hell not? Let’s do the damn thing.

First hike since injury reacts:


Slightly over dramatic, highly sensitive or just an INFP? I’ll take all 3!


Enjoying a shorter hike allowed me to enjoy the details of nature that can otherwise be missed when peak bagging.

It helped that this was an interpretive trail. I felt I had really taken in the sights that I had neglected in my run around hiking days.


Like this pine cone- THIS pine cone is so beautiful and smelled so divine. I wanted to capture the scent and turn it into an essential oil.


A 1500 year old Western Juniper! – a baby compared to the ones near Ontario Peak- but still, I had time to actually take it in.


Wood rats built this! It’s called a midden. They obsessively build these middens during the course of the year.


Willow bark – Nature’s medicine, used for aspirin.


Basic fall foliage.


…and  inspiration from Gabrielle Bernstein’s The Universe Has Your Back card deck.

After my short hike – which took me three hours because I felt compelled to stop at each of the 16 sights listed on the map- I went to the Big Bear Roasting Company.

I ended up spending an inordinate amount on coffee, the owners were kind enough to grind the beans for me…and then remembered I had thrown out my coffeemaker a year ago (have since ordered a Chemex coffee drip, thank goodness)

Then I went out for lunch and enjoyed delicious BBQ chicken flatbread at The Bone Yard Bar & Grill in Big Bear Village- where the waiter was nice enough to make very sure that the ginger beer I consumed was non-alcoholic.

I felt a slight lethargy after lunch. I had plans to see my grandmother in Orange County right after my day trip. I was feeling some anxiety about driving back and getting to her house on time.

I didn’t want to leave this majestic place as I daydream ALL the time about being around nature, but I wondered, do I have the mental and physical capacity to stay?

I told myself – just a few more hours, let’s just see where I’m called to.

I searched on my phone for good spots to photograph and Boulder Park came up.


Since it was around 2:00pm at this point, it was not the best time for photos. So I felt the need to practice yoga meditation embodiment exercises and stretches for my ankle.

I proceeded with some earthing and listened to music to drown out the folks yelling and climbing the boulders behind me.


The exhale is releasing all the tension I’ve been feeling 
on the surface and beneath me I’m connecting to my spirit 
and I’m here now right before you I am present in this moment 
and my life’s work is to honor the great beauty all around you 

Free from all old stories I’ve been told
I walk through the valley of my own shadow 

Gajumaru, Yaima

After my meditation session, I felt ready to take on the drive back down from the mountains to visit my grandmother.

And of course, I had to stop to get a few more photos – then continued my journey singing along to my driving playlist on Spotify.


And I don’t care if I sing off key
I find myself in my melodies
I sing for love, I sing for me
I shout it out like a bird set free
No, I don’t care if I sing off key
I find myself in my melodies
I sing for love, I sing for me
I’ll shout it out like a bird set free

-Sia, Bird Set Free


Mental health brief:
Took me a lot longer to write this than I thought, also brought me slight anxiety to one, sit down and go back over the day in my head, two, document them weeks later, and three share my inner workings – how much do I share?

Of course this was nothing like the times I would report on protests, riots or trauma.

But the whole process felt more draining than I expected, however I felt the need to express myself in this mode anyway.

I notice when I am focusing intensely on something, noises around me become amplified. This happened to me a few times as I was writing this post in a coffeehouse.

At one point, the talking around me sounded like it was in. my. ear.

My noise cancelling headphones gave out on me a while ago, so there was not much escaping the madness.

While I can point to being a highly sensitive person, I feel there are specific feelings pertaining to the creative process and this condition.

I looked into it briefly and found this could be due to emotional exhaustion or just being a creative person in general.

Emotional Exhaustion Can Lead to Noise Sensitivity 

Being sensitive to sound could be the key to intellectuals’ creativity 

Something worth exploring in a future post.

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