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.