Memories of 9/11/2001

Twenty years ago today we were poised to go North to Grass Valley on a mini vacation, to visit friends and do some mountain biking around Lake Tahoe. I was loading the ice chest when my mom came from her granny flat in our back yard to tell us that the World Trade Center had been hit by an airliner. Mum lived alone and kept her TV on for company and so learned of the attack as soon as, “We interrupt this program…” grabbed her attention.

The deep, visceral horror of watching the news report footage of the plane smashing into the first tower over and over, and then hearing the shocked confusion in the anchor’s voice as a another plane disappeared into the second tower, left us dazed, terrified, and mentally crippled. There was no way to process the events and the impact they would have on the people at the sites of the attacks, and we couldn’t begin to imagine the changes that would follow for the entire country. We sank into chairs, in front of the TV, immobilized, paralyzed, stunned, stomachs churning, minds trying to find equilibrium.

By the end of the day, it appeared that the mayhem was finished. The authorities quickly determined that it was a terrorist attack, not an act of war by another country, but the President quickly took action (though some found fault with the fact that he finished the story he was reading to some per-preschoolers when he was informed) closing all of the country’s airports and stopping all commercial interstate transportation.

Those who know me at all, know that my life revolves around vacation. And acting with complete and utter self-interest, I determined that we were incapable of doing anything to ameliorate the suffering of the victims. And so, the next morning, I repacked the ice chest and we set off.

We traveled up Highway 395, a normally hair-raising stretch of road that snakes along the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In those days, twenty years ago, it was a two-lane road with a sandy shoulder, few passing lanes, and HEAVY truck traffic. But on this day, with no trucks and few passenger cars on the road (sane people were at home glued to their TV sets, watching the planes smash, and the towers crash over and over and…) the journey was surreal. We were in the sheltering bubble of our car, with nothing to remind us of the crazy world outside, except for the dystopian empty road ahead and behind our cocoon. The road passes through a few small towns, Lee Vining, Bridgeport, Walker, all of which looked like ghost towns. We were yanked back into 2001 when we approached an overpass near a larger town (I can’t remember what it was called) where the locals were gathered on an overpass waving banners and flags, and proclaiming American unity.

Now normally, I am not a fan of nationalism. Don’t take this wrong: I love my country and most of my countrymen. But I fear nationalism, seeing it as an instrument of war and I am vehemently opposed to war. But this spontaneous display of unity, unity against terrorism, unity in support of the people who risked everything to save others, and unity in our grief, moved me. For that moment we were one nation.

So, today, September 11, 2021, looking back on that day and the two decades of war that followed, I took the girls for a walk in the hills. I know, here’s your surprised look, right?

We climbed Flag Hill, one of my favorite mountain bike descents.

My Patriotic dogs, standing at attention.

We descended Fire Bell Hill Trail in memory of those heroic fire fighter who did their job with courage.

We rang the bell. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls…”

And then we headed home for a well-deserved breakfast.

A Walk, a Jog, and a Sprint

At my age, the difference between a jog and a sprint is only discernible by the duration of the activity. I start my morning dog walk at a leisurely walk, gradually building up to a brisker pace. The old lactic transport system is slow to respond which means a gentle warm up is mandatory.

This morning, I just wasn’t feeling it. The particulate air pollution, the noisy traffic, and the pesky flies that came with the truckloads of manure recently spread in the orange grove along my route, all contributed to a sour attitude. After less than a mile, we turned back towards home. I forced myself into a jog that probably looked more like a shuffle to the passing truck drivers. The flies were too lazy to keep pace so it was worth the effort.

The formerly rural town where I live is known by a couple of nicknames, Mentone Beach, a nod to the numerous settling ponds, and Dogtown, because dogs outnumber people here. I think I’ve mentioned before, that it’s a diverse neighborhood, made up of Hispanic, Asian, White, old, poor, young, meth head, alcoholic, blue collar, retired, disabled, low-income, people all of whom love their dogs. From Chihuahuas to Great Danes, and every variety in between, my neighbors keep dogs in various versions of luxury.

Some, like me, pamper and discipline their animals as if they were children. At the other end of the love spectrum are the folks who believe their dogs should live a life of freedom. These dogs are allowed to bark as long as as loud as they see fit; if they jump the fence and accost a passing pedestrian, it barely warrants an apology; and if they are run over by a car or carried off by a coyote, they are quickly replaced.

My neighbors a few houses to the North, have about four dogs and at least as many cats. The population is fluid. They had three smallish dogs that lived outside, but the nephew, who lives in the storage shed in their back yard is too lazy to close the gate when he leaves, so now they’re down to one. He ran over one, the coyotes ate one, and the last one, Bean, is living on borrowed time. Unaware of his diminutive stature, he yells insults at my dogs and me from behind the fence when we walk by and if the gate’s been left open a crack, he comes out and taunts Sadie.

My dogs are pretty well trained to walk at my side without a leash even with distractions. But this morning, Bean must have said something about Sadie’s mama and she decided to make him eat his words. She chased him back into his yard and proceeded to maul him. And that’s when my shuffle became a discernible sprint.

Bean was yipping like he was being killed and I was yelling at Sadie (and this is when I learned that whacking your own dog with a hiking pole is totally ineffective in a dog fight) and Molly thought it looked like fun and piled on. I got a grip on both of my dogs’ collars and strangled them into submission and Bean beat a hasty retreat. I dragged both dogs out of the yard, expecting Bean’s peeps to come out and berate me for my irresponsibility. Molly slipped her collar and I lost my balance and fell in the dirt, still keeping a strangle hold on Sadie. Thankfully, the neighbors never appeared.

Back home, I put the dogs in the back yard and composed myself. Then I traipsed back to Bean’s house to see what the vet bill was going to cost me. The gate was now closed and Bean was nowhere in sight. I let myself in and went to knock on the door and found Bean in a cage with a bowl of ant-infested dog food, big enough to last him a week. I knocked on the door but nobody responded, all the while Bean was casting aspersions on my character at the top of his lungs. He looked none the worse for the wear so I went back home where my own dogs acted like they had no idea they were in the dog house.

And that, my friends, is how we stay in shape in Dogtown.

Bad Dogs

Riding the Flag Trail

I’m reading a book titled Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales which is a study of why some people survive when others perish in extreme situations. The author explains why people do things that make absolutely no sense and even threaten their well being, if not their lives. Interesting to me, he mentions mountain biking as one of those irrational activities.

I’ve long recognized that my chosen sport poses certain risks, and those risks are what make the sport so much fun. Some cyclists prefer the more groomed roads and paths, but for me it’s always been more about the challenge of riding steep and technical terrain that requires a combination of skills and courage. Pushing through the trepidation and allowing the bike to roll off a steep precipice, shifting weight from rear wheel to front to maximize braking power and control the skid, puts me in a state of consciousness unlike anything else I do in life. Implicit memory takes control and dictates to the body in a seamless, almost thoughtless, communication. Safe arrival at the bottom of the hill reinforces the memory of pleasure which encourages the irrational behavior in the future. Of course, failure to navigate the course can undermine one’s confidence for several rides after the mishap.

Last week Mike and I rode what’s called the Flag Trail. It’s a roller coaster of a ride as it descends a long ridge, alternately dropping steeply, then climbing, and descending again. It’s mostly an easy trail, made exciting only by the speed one can carry. There are only a couple of rough, steep sections that require trust in one’s steed. My bike is what’s called an enduro bike, meaning it’s designed for exactly this kind of trail. Left to its own devices, I think this bike could do the trail without the benefit of a rider.

We had ridden the same route just a couple of days ago and I had made several mistakes; but this time I rode more aggressively and managed to ride several sections that I’d had to walk before, including a loose, downhill switchback that I’d never before managed.

Mike follows me with the GoPro camera.

The past week has been mostly too hot to do much of anything outside other than spray the garden down every hour to keep it from withering away. My poor dogs are growing fat and lazy. This morning we went for a short hike in the hills south of town around 8:00 A.M. It was already uncomfortably warm and the girls were happy to head back for the comfort of the air conditioned car after only about a mile or two. Signs along the trail warned of rattlesnakes but we saw only a hawk, circling lazily on the thermals.

I was careful not to say anything that might be disturbing while in earshot of this survey marker.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

A group of Naked Ladies (Amaryllis Belladonna) unabashedly sunbathe in my backyard.

September typically signals the end of enervating summer heat. It will still be hot during the day, but evenings will be cool and by morning, it will be downright nippy. Fire season will continue as autumn winds kick up. There are several fires blazing in our valley now, but thankfully, the smoke is blowing away from us, unlike last year when conditions were absolutely hellish. I feel like the frog in the pot here. It grows a bit hotter and a bit dryer each year, but I still find beauty in this parched landscape.

Life Behind Bars

Falling Victim

Before I admit to falling victim to an internet scam, allow me to lay some groundwork. This scammer found the chink in my armor of skepticism by posing as a representative of Costco.

Now I realize that there are many people who dislike the whole warehouse atmosphere. When I took my niece with me to the Costco in Denver, I was in my element but she felt completely overwhelmed by the chaotic shopper frenzy that she described as “Christmas in July”.

I simply love the concept of having limited choices, utilitarian displays of reasonably priced merchandise, a quality store brand (Kirkland), rotating seasonal items, cheap gas (sometimes 40 cents a gallon cheaper than the neighborhood ARCO), and a staff that’s fairly compensated. Add to that, unparalleled people watching, and it’s my idea of an adventure.

So, when I saw an email offering a gift in return for completing a short survey, on my phone, I proceeded to answer the simple questions. When I reached the end of the survey, my scam radar was aroused by the value of the “prizes” from which I could choose. Rule #1 – if it sounds too good to be true, it is. In retrospect, the second clue should have been that there was a very short time window in which to select your prize. Nonetheless, I eagerly selected a pair of electronic tracking devices. And then came the hook. The lucky recipient had to pay only shipping and handling. Hmm, I thought, let’s see how much they want for shipping and handling. Lo and behold, it was quite reasonable: $6.70. About the time I was debating which credit card to use, the bell that had been stifled by the rosy glow of Costco loyalty, began to penetrate my consciousness.

By this time, I had provided my name (slightly altered), address, phone number (the landline that gets only telemarketing calls anyway), and my email address. (I figured it’s easy enough to block unwanted email.) I went to my PC to look at the email more carefully. Outlook shows the sender’s email address and scams are easy to identify. No doubt about it, it was a scam and I had almost sent my credit card information.

When I read about people who actually fall victim to these scams, I can’t help but think that I’m too smart, too skeptical, to wary, to fall for one. But this made me realize that I’m just as clueless as the next person if you manage to find my blind spot.

Mostly Good

Summer heat and Sally’s numerous absences have put a bit of a damper on my cycling. Given the choice of sleeping in or getting up before dawn to do a ride is a choice best made the night before. In theory, the lure of the cool, pre-dawn trail is enticing; but the actual doing of the thing takes a bit of discipline if you don’t have a riding companion to shame you into it.

So, last night I determined that I would catch the group ride from Mountain Home Creek. With the best of intentions, I got up at 5ish but dawdled until it was too late to join the 7:00 ride. It was below 70 here in the valley so I decided to do a quick ride in the local hills and turn back when it grew too warm to climb. Mike went with me for the first few miles but turned back, saving his strength for his race tomorrow.

I continued alone, climbing the familiar trail at my own uncomfortable pace. I’ve always hated to climb and it’s probably because I’m not content to settle into a comfortable pace but instead push myself as hard as my aging lungs and legs can sustain. Truthfully, the difference in speed is negligible, not even noticeable to most, but the post-ride euphoria is appreciably better after a hard ride. I climbed until the heat under my helmet forced me to stop, don my downhill gear, and reap the reward of my efforts.

I overtook a woman who appeared to be my age on a beautiful, expensive bike and stopped to chat her up, thinking she might be a suitable riding companion. She recognized me and said we had ridden together years ago. From her expression, I inferred that I hadn’t been especially nice to her then, and I tried to make it up to her today. She was clearly a timid rider then, and remains so decades later. I admit that I have little interest in riding with women who take classes on how to ride and then fail to apply the skills on the trail due to their fear of losing a bit of skin. In her defense, she had lovely skin!

Parting company, she to ride sedately down the road and me to careen down more canyons, I was treated to the sight of various birds and rodents. The beauty of riding alone is that you sneak up on creatures that normally evade detection.

Beep, beep!

I followed a roadrunner for a ways before slowing down to allow him to slip off into the brush;

The hawk who mocked my puny efforts

a red-tailed hawk circled, low, overhead as I pushed my bike up a hill too steep to ride (I swear I heard him chuckling); an unknown, white, hawk-like bird left his perch in a tree at my approach; and a juvenile Cooper’s hawk surveilled my passage from atop a utility pole. A couple of hoses stretched across the trail in the sanctuary gave me a start, but I quickly realized they were too uniformly black to be rattlesnakes and didn’t bother to bunny hop them.

Later I went to Trader Joe’s, all energized and eager to go provisioning. A ride-inspired appetite will do that. As I approached the entrance, an old, heavy-set man with white hair tumbled from the curb, onto the “you could fry an egg on it” parking lot. Naturally, everyone around him rushed to his assistance, one woman having the presence of mind to provide him with a cart for him to use for stability once he was helped to his feet. I was gobsmacked by a wave of missing my own dad who died almost two years ago. The kindness of strangers and his resemblance to “Old Flip”, my dad’s nickname in the assisted living facility, snatched away my euphoria and in seconds I was weeping. I wallowed in the moment of self-pity behind my N95 mask and sunglasses. Later, I saw him in the store, shopping with dirty knees.

On the way home, I stopped at the local fruit stand to buy avocados and my brand new, California Real ID fell, unnoticed, out of my pocket. I’d lost my drivers license somewhere between Denver and Grand Rapids in May, probably in the same way, and had to go through the rigamarole with DMV of replacing it. I called both the fruit stand and Trader Joe’s but nobody had found it. I was en route to Trader Joe’s to look for it in the parking lot when the fruit stand clerk called to say that they had found it. My sense of well-being was instantly restored.

People are kind and good and they die. It’s mostly good.

Exploring the Eastern Sierra Nevada

Some hikers swear there are no more beautiful trails than in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Others will tell you that you haven’t seen alpine beauty until you have traipsed through the Alps. But I have to side with John Muir. For my taste, the dramatic peaks surrounding jewel-like lakes and the glimpses of Owens Valley shimmering in the desert, thousands of feet below, satisfy my wanderlust like nothing else.

We docked the Wanderlust in a sheltered campsite in the tiny Willows campground, at just over 8,000′ above sea level. The Owens Valley below was a toasty 100 degrees, but here, nestled beside a clear, fast-flowing stream it was comfortable in the seventies or low eighties. After the six-hour ride in the back of the SUV, the dogs were ready for some activity and immediately plunged into the stream, quite unaware of how deep and strong the flow was. Neither of them are aware of the fact that they can swim and were alarmed when they were swept off their feet and carried downstream a bit. Molly quickly found her way to a place where she could haul herself out but Sadie was more panicked and floundered at the steep bank. I quickly called to her from an easier exit and she made her way to the safety of the grassy bank, shaking the cold water from her coat.

Sally and Rhonda had arrived ahead of me, having made better time not being restrained by the 55 mph speed limit imposed on vehicles towing trailers. The campsites in Willows are available on a first-come-first-served basis so, I was relieved to find they had claimed a beautiful, level site for me, directly across from their own. Their campsite was in the trees, near the stream, and was much buggier than mine, which offered a light breeze and a view of the craggy peaks above. Also, being more open, my site afforded a better view of the Milky Way when the moon finally set.

Willows Campground actually is shaded by Aspens.
BFF Sally
…or so we hoped!
It’s a dogs’ life.
After a hike, a swim was in order.
Rhonda resting
Trail side color
Tired dogs and hungry hikers
Incriminating evidence of far too much fun
On the way home we stopped at the Manzanar interment camp
A rather desolate place to imprison Americans of Japanese descent during WWII

We made a pit stop at the Manzanar National Historic Site.

I had visited the site about 35 years ago when there wasn’t much left of the camp; but now, it’s been turned into an historical site complete with visitor center, replica barracks, latrine, and canteen.

Over the Edge

Summer heat has settled over our valley and the mountains’ promise of cool breezes and deep-forest shade enticed Mike and me to load our bikes onto the truck and head for higher elevations. Our favorite local trail, the Santa Ana River Trail, clings to the mountainside a few hundred feet above the river, dipping into quiet, oak-shaded glens that, in normal rain years, have small streams coursing down to feed the south fork of the Santa Ana River, one of the valley’s major water supplies.

South Fork Santa Ana River

As lovely as this trail is, few mountain bikers pause for any length of time to savor the panoramic views and dizzying canyons below, preferring to focus on the two inches of trail ahead of our knobbed tires as we desecrate the trail by turning it into a racecourse. Sally and I combine the exhilaration of flying down rock-cobbled straightaways and carving high speed turns with short rest stops to admire the scenery, though admittedly, the stops are primarily to catch our breath and let our exhausted legs recover.

Riding with Mike allows no such periods of recovery for me because even though I’m pushing myself as hard as my stubby legs will turn the cranks, he’s cruising along without even breaking a sweat.

After climbing the River Road up the canyon, we paused to put our protective downhill gear on before leaving the dirt road to ascend the singletrack . While I was gobbling down a quick breakfast of nuts and a peanut butter cup, a group of about thirty riders, some on E-bikes, jumped onto the trail ahead of us. Being the elitist bike snobs that we are, we quickly surmised by their apparent fitness level (or obvious lack thereof) that they would soon become obstacles to our progress on the mostly downhill trail. We lingered a few minutes, giving them time to put some distance between us and to allow the dust to settle.

It took only a few minutes to catch up to the stragglers at the back of the group and they considerately moved their bikes to the side of the trail to allow us to pass but a few minutes later we came upon the main group of riders who were obliviously blocking the path entirely. I sweetly suggested that they might kindly move to the side to allow us to pass and a few of them did but most of them stood, looking dumbly as if it were inconceivable that we two geriatric riders could possibly pass them, even though they were standing still. I trudged past the group, pushing my bike on the loose, outside edge of the trail. The lead riders, not wanting to be stuck behind slower riders jumped on their bikes ahead of Mike and me, abandoning their group.

Mike, who is probably one of the best singletrack riders in any age group, had been following me with the GoPro camera, filming our ride. I’m no slouch on downhill singletrack, (for my gender) so the lead fellows didn’t put much of a gap on me and the ones following us weren’t being held up.

Highly motivated to maintain my position in the pack, I was riding at the limit of my ability and strength as we approached a series of extremely exposed (as in a steep drop-off) turns, made especially treacherous by the roots of uphill trees protruding into the trail. As we approached the bulge of the first tree, which has been painted red (as if one might not notice a knob the size of a gorilla head at handlebar level) Mike, who was behind me, advised me that I might want to pull off at the next wide spot in the trail as the faster riders had caught up with us. I assessed the loose edge, the sheer drop off, and the tree in a split second and deemed it safe to ride if I pedaled as furiously as possible and closed my eyes.

With eyes wide open, I grazed the tree root with my left pinky finger which was clamped onto my handlebar in a death grip. In a split second my bike was jerked into the tree and I fought vainly to correct my trajectory. The chopped, loose outer edge of the trail gave me no purchase as I tried to regain the two inches of firm soil I needed and in an instant, my bike was toppling over the edge, into the canyon below.

The idea of plunging head first down the vertical chute was unappealing enough to make my body react without thought, though it’s surprising how much crosses your mind as you assess your options at a time like that. I found myself sliding down the loose precipice on my new Troy Lee bike shorts, with my upside down bike preceding me and my thoughts were, not necessarily in this order, “Oh, this is not good for my bike” and, from years of downhill skiing, “Dig your edges into the hill”. The result was that my cleated bike shoes found sufficient purchase to arrest my slide only about 15 feet below the trail and my bike, handlebars dug in, came to rest just below me.

Mike, stopped in mid trail with a half a dozen other riders behind him, was aghast. In dismay, he blurted out, “What the !@#$ are you doing!?” And then, he chivalrously slid down the hill, filling his own shoes with loose gravel, to retrieve my bike. He was able to drag it to where one of the young men waiting above was able to reach down to grab a wheel and hoist my bike back onto the trail while I clawed my way back to the level path.

Shaken but relatively uninjured, I leapt back on the bike and rode the adrenaline rush through the rest of the section that so unnerves the acrophobic.

At home we reviewed the video, laughing more heartily each time we watched me waver, then drop from view of the camera. When the camera panned the faces of the young men watching from the trail above, I was reminded of the saying, “You know you’re old when people gasp rather than laugh when you fall”. Sadly, Mike won’t win any awards for his cinematography because he loses all focus when catastrophe strikes. The GoPro, which was strapped to his chest, got excellent footage of the ground, the sky, his feet, my bike, everything but my spectacular landing. And, if I do say so myself, it was a 10!

To E or Not to E

The hot craze in cycling these days is the E-bike or electric motor assisted pedal bike. Naturally, we purists disdain the newbies who go sailing by us as we struggle up the grade on our “real” bikes, and take particular delight in making a display of our superior bike handling skills as we use them for slalom poles on the technical descents, though most of them stick to the wide open, dirt roads, while we favor the rutted, overgrown road less traveled.

The perils of Covid drove hordes of people from the malls and restaurants, to the great outdoors, where they behaved with city slicker naiveté. Our once pristine trails are now dotted with toilet paper, and energy bar wrappers. The narrow “singletrack” paths, so prized by the mountain bike elitist, have been widened by the clumsy maneuvers of the over-powered beginner.

E-bikes range in ability and price from a few hundred dollars, for a behemoth that weighs in at over 50 pounds, to the nimble, truly mountain-bike like Orbea that I covet, that tips the scale at under 40 pounds, costing upwards of $11,000. For a 120 pound woman, that ten+ pounds difference means I could lift the $11,000 bike onto my bike rack, over un-rideable rock gardens, and I could probably push it up trails too technical for my skill level to ride. I’ve been promising myself an E-bike when I turn 70, which is now only about a year and a half away.

The May-gray spring weather (or June gloom) as the lingering marine layer is called, has allowed us to ride the local trails longer, even though there hasn’t been enough rain to create any real traction this year. So, Sally and I headed up to the Crafton Hills Conservancy last weekend to explore some of the less frequented trails that drop off the ridge into the valley to the South. Less frequented, that is, before E-bikes made it possible for every couch potato in the county to access them.

We encountered several people walking up the fire road (a dirt road used by fire crews to combat wildfires) and a couple of groups of young people on E-bikes who breezed past us, chatting loudly over the music they were broadcasting so that everyone within a quarter of a mile was forced to listen to it. One walking couple commented with some admiration that we were climbing the hill on “real” bikes and the young woman, when learning that I was her grandmother’s age, gushed that we were an inspiration.

Our discomfort at having to ride in proximity to the great un-washed was quickly ameliorated when we began our descent of the legendary Motorcycle Trails. I can only assume that anyone who leaves toilet paper on the trail probably has other reprehensible habits. Not that I find the un-washed body nearly as offensive as the overly perfumed, which the mall crowd is prone to be. But I digress…

A few years ago, Sally and I rode these challenging trails once a week, until we knew every rut, of which there were many, every twist and off camber turn, and every lock-em-up slider descent by heart. We could navigate the nearly over-grown paths with such alacrity that better riders than we were left in the dust. One-trail wonders we were.

So, now we returned to test our aging mettle. Traversing a familiar ridge, we varied the familiar course by taking a track that followed an unfamiliar trail down a different ridge. Off in the distance, we could see that it would drop to the south side of the conservancy which would necessitate a short climb back to the car. The first couple of descents down the ridge were confidence inspiring, allowing us to gather sufficient momentum to pedal furiously up the next hill. The day was cool and we had no need to watch for snakes…or so we assumed. But the third descent proved to be a bit more exciting.

All geared up for some downhill thrills

Cautiously rolling up to the brow of the hill, we scanned the trail below. The path was maybe ten feet wide, widened by many other riders having looked for traction to the side of the original track, but there was no obvious line. Loathe to walk a single foot of hard-won elevation, I steered a course down the middle of the extremely sketchy descent. My bike was built for just such a scramble and my tires were perfectly suited to the conditions. Skidding and sliding both wheels, it was an exhilarating experience to say the least. Sally, on her worn tires, had little choice but to point her bike downhill and hope to find some semblance of traction, or otherwise, be left so far behind that the coyotes would consider her fair game. I love this woman’s courage. This is the thing bonding is made of.

As we carved flawless turns coasting down the last few hills, we marveled at the pure joy of being able to share this experience. And as we climbed the half mile back to the car, still high on the adrenaline of the thrilling descent, we agreed, “We don’t need no stinking E-bike!”

More Wanderlust Adventure

It was a dark and stormy night…well, maybe not. But seriously, the weather forecast for the long-awaited camping trip to Valley of Fire was dire. Wind, gusting wind up to 50 mph, and possible rain showers were predicted for most of the time that we had reserved a camp site. Naturally, the weather was expected to improve on the day we were to leave for home. Considering how uncomfortable camping in the wind is, a few of the less enthusiastic tent campers bowed out. But My Favorite Niece (MFN) Tara, sister Babs, and nine of Tara’s more intrepid hiker friends girded their loins for the epic adventure.

The Wanderlust, being a fold-down trailer, is not affected much by wind and my SUV is stable and aerodynamic, so the six-hour drive across the Mojave Desert was comfortable but I was still concerned about conditions at Valley of Fire. By the time I reached our camp site, the wind had died to a comfortable 7-10 mph and I was able to set up my trailer without assistance.

MFN Tara had invited several members of her hiking group, most of whom I didn’t know, and they began arriving shortly after I had set up. Introductions were made and the revelry began.

Dinner preparations were made more or less independently but the theme was chili. I heated vegetarian chili and green chili/cheese corn bread for Babs, Tara and me. Our diverse group consisted of omnivores, vegetarians, vegans and carnivores all of whom agreed that good food was essential to a successful outdoor experience. Similarly, a respectable amount of socially lubricating libation added to the good vibrations.

If memory serves, there was a bit of gusty wind during the night but nobody complained in the morning. At any rate, we were happy to set out for a day of hiking with a mild breeze and perfect 60 something temperatures.

Description of the Valley of Fire defies my feeble abilities, so I will allow the following images to speak for me.

Gisela with her terrier, Bindi, and me with Molly & Sadie – the intrepid rock climbers.
Scrambling down a small slot.
Browsing Big Horned Sheep obligingly posed for our cameras.

The morning breeze made the confines of my little trailer the perfect place for the tent campers to gather for hot tea and coffee.

Sister Babs joined the morning coffee club.
MFN Tara and Pseudo Sister Kristy studiously ignored my dirty dishes sitting in the sink.
Jamison, Jean Paul, Cindy and Babs enjoying a break from the chilly breeze.

After a day of hiking, we visited the showers. There was no waiting and plenty of hot water, no quarters needed as they were included in the camping fees (which were quite reasonable considering how lovely the campground was).

Gisela, the woman of the lovely skin, kindly posed for this image.

The evening was passed pleasantly around a campfire, nestled against the cliff wall, and sheltered from the breeze. Craig provided music of professional quality with his guitar and beautiful singing, which went almost ignored as the conversation became rapid-fire and ribald and everyone relaxed.

After two days of hiking, it was time to head home. I was loathe to leave and lingered after my fellow campers had gone their separate ways. But the long drive home weighed heavily on my mind, so after double checking the trailer connections, we hit the road. The girls weren’t much for conversation and slept most of the way, waking only to sniff the recent history at the pit stop we made at a remote freeway off-ramp. We were back home long before dark and had time to unload the trailer before dinner.

All tucked away and ready for the next adventure.

Making a List and Checking it Twice

You would think that every camping trip would pretty much entail the same thing and therefore require the same preparation. But you would be wrong. Well, maybe you’re right, but I can still make a four day trip into a week of planning. Believing that anticipation is half the fun, I start making lists of meals to make and the requisite grocery lists (Yvonne at Hello World would love to get her hands on my lists, clothes to pack, electronics to charge, camping trailer to ready (an entire list unto itself), and pre-trip cooking for the husband and mother-in -law, left behind, and the campers, sister Babs and niece Tara.

To say that Babs and Tara are not fond of cooking would be a gross understatement. When Covid restrictions hit, the only thing my sister missed more than her yoga class was eating in restaurants. For me, not much changed other than my grocery shopping attire.

A typical trip to the grocery store before vaccination

So, I’m the designated cook and sommelier, since neither of them are big wine drinkers either. Knowing that after a hard day of hiking and biking, I’m not inclined to bending over a too-low cook stove for anything more than re-heating, I prepare and freeze entrees and pack fresh stuff for salads. If I do say so myself, my salads are a work of art. This trip, my sister volunteered to make her legendary vegetable lasagna. That leaves me with just chili and cornbread, and another meal of grilled cheese and tomato soup.

When my garden is hibernating, I shop three or four different stores to find the ingredients for my “green” salads.

Today’s list, two days before lift off, went as follows:

Wash & vacuum car;
Go to Steve’s house to pick oranges;
Pick grapefruit at Robin’s (next door);
Locate wheel lock (just in case I get a flat tire);
Trader Joes – they have the best heirloom tomatoes and snack foods;
Ranch Market – they have the best and cheapest produce and tortillas made fresh while you watch;
Pick kumquats at Barb’s house;
Transplant tomato seedlings (they may be too big to separate by the time I return);
Make yogurt/peanut butter dip;
Do laundry;
Take a nap.

Tomorrow everything gets loaded into the Wanderlust for an early Tuesday departure. The dogs, seeing the preparations, are following me around like little shadows, either in anticipation or fear of being left behind.