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Happy Trails

Walking on Ojai’s wild side with Stacy and Ian Potter.

By Karen Lindell

Photo by Michael Montano

Rappelling down a rock face is an adventure all its own, but the view of Ojai’s scenic backcountry adds to its appeal.

 

he first thing some people hear in Ojai is the silence.

And that is what heals them.

When Stacy Potter, as a 16-year-old from Beverly Hills, competed in the 1970s at Ojai tennis tournaments, she stayed as a guest in a house with large, open windows and no blinds. “I was used to hearing freeways and airplanes,” she said. “Here there was just silence, and space, and freedom. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to move here someday.’ ”

Potter has now lived in Ojai for more than 20 years. She continues to find solace and strength in Ojai’s silence — and its fitness opportunities.

She and her husband, Ian, run Trails By Potter, a company they founded in 1999 that offers guided hiking and biking tours and rock-climbing and tennis lessons.

When the Potters met in 1993 in L.A.’s South Bay area, they shared a fitness background.

Stacy Potter, as a professional tennis player from 1977 to 1987, competed in 25 Grand Slam championships, including eight Wimbledon and 11 U.S. Open tournaments, reaching a world ranking of No. 18. She also has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and works as a health and nutrition consultant.

Ian Potter, a native of England, is an engineer with more than 35 years of experience hiking, biking, rock climbing and mountaineering.

On their first date they met at a sports bar for a few noncompetitive games of ping-pong and foosball, then followed it up the next day with a hike. They moved to Ojai not long after that. Stacy, who conducted occasional tennis clinics at The Oaks at Ojai, invited Ian to meet her in Ojai one weekend, and they went on a 50-mile bike ride together.

“The mountains reminded me of England,” Ian said. “Everything is a little slowed down, and I felt like I could exhale. So I said, ‘Why don’t we move here?’ ”

When Stacy told her family in Beverly Hills about their plans, she said, “They thought we were moving to Siberia. What was there to do in Ojai? Now they know; what is there not to do in Ojai?”

The Potters married in 1996. Ian came up with the idea for Trails By Potter when he noticed that no business in the Ojai Valley was offering guided bike rides, despite the extension of the Ojai Valley Trail from Foster Park to the Ventura River Trail that ends at the beach in Ventura, creating the Ventura River Parkway Trail.

Stacy, who at the time was doing personal fitness and health counseling on her own and at The Oaks, brought the idea to The Oaks’ owner, who asked her to write a business proposal. The proposal never actually got written, Stacy said, laughing, but she and Ian started leading bike rides, which led to hiking, rock climbing and tennis as well. “We decided to take everything we do well and throw it out to whoever wants to do what,” she said.

Tours and classes, all personally led by the Potters, can be paired with other activities such as wine and beer tasting, a visit to a ranch for olive-oil tasting or artistic time at a local pottery studio.

“We want to use the city to show people a good time,” Stacy said.

The tours, for individuals or groups, are personalized for each person based on fitness level and interests. Most of the Potters’ clients are Ojai Valley tourists, but they welcome local residents as well.

“We communicate one-on-one, find out what people’s expectations are, and cater to their wants and needs,” Stacy said. Those “wants” might include time and the tools (i.e., wine and refreshments) to conduct a marriage proposal.

Stacy said that the Potters have lost count of how many engagements have been forged on Trails By Potter tours. She’s happy to bring along cake and champagne, and step aside for 30 minutes while the proposal takes place.

Sometimes clients invite the Potters for lunch or dinner afterward. “It’s all very relaxed and organic,” Stacy said. “We don’t invade people’s space. It feels like family when we’re finished.”

The Potters said that they also collaborate with nonprofits to offer excursions and training, including the Foundation for the Junior Blind, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy and Adaptive Kids.

Midge Rodier of Indio, a retired teacher, said that she has gone on numerous private and group excursions with the Potters, from bike riding to hiking and rock climbing, for more than five years.

Rodier calls the Potters “a dynamic duo” and said that they are “extremely knowledgeable about the area. On bike rides they stop and point out birds and turtles and plants and interesting places you wouldn’t find on your own. They just make Ojai shine.”

Rodier, who describes herself as an “almost-70-year-old,” said, “Fitness is extremely important” to her, and she appreciates that the Potters “customize everything to your ability, but can push you if you want to be pushed.”

The Potters didn’t want to share too many places where they take guests on hikes and bike rides because they like to keep their “hidden gems” a secret, but did say that the upper east end of Ojai has particularly scenic trails. They also recommend the Black Wall/Sespe Gorge area, about 20 miles north of Ojai on Highway 33, for rock climbing. The hike to Nordhoff Peak, reached via the Gridley Trail, features a lookout tower and offers an “incredible” view of Ojai and the Channel Islands, they said.

The Thomas Fire that began on Dec. 4 and wasn’t contained until January brought much of Ojai, including the Potters’ trail business, to a standstill.

“Many of the trails were burned, and the air quality was so poor,” Stacy said.

After recent spring rains, grass and foliage are growing back, and volunteers have cleared out burned debris and replaced trail signs, but “It’s a new landscape,” Ian said.

At the same time, the fire revealed trails that had been covered with overgrown brush. “It’s like walking around with a new pair of glasses to see these trails you never knew were there,” Ian said.

“We know it was part of the natural process of things,” Stacy said. “We’re hoping that regrowth and restoration will lead to different areas to explore. Some of the trails we relied on are gone, but there will be new ones.”

Despite the changed landscape, “The magic of Ojai is still here,” Stacy said.

She recalled taking a business executive on a hike along the Pratt/Foothill Trail. “She asked if we could stop, and started crying. When I asked what was wrong, she said, ‘I don’t get to hear this where I live.’ That’s what happens in Ojai. You get to hear yourself think, and breathe.”

For more information about Trails By Potter, visit www.hikingojai.com or call 646-0382.

Stacy Potter on the trail.

Sophia Montano “leaping” on her descent.

Pointing out landmarks, birds and plants (such as the leaves and berries from a California pepper tree) is one of the highlights of a Trails By Potter outing.

Stacy and Ian Potter take a breather between climbs.

06-01-2018

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