Bad-Ass Women

Another weekend of perfect weather made outdoor adventures mandatory. Sally and I were feeling lazy, so I proposed a route that promised very few steep grades. Starting from my driveway, we pedaled companionably across town (if you can call Mentone a town) on paved streets, until we reached the conservancy in Marlboro Hills. There’s only one steep climb and that’s preceded by a thrilling downhill that allows one to use momentum to ascend at least a quarter of it with no effort.

We paused at the secret spring at the college entrance where a tiny pond collects enough water for small fish to propagate. Though it’s within sight of the road, it feels secluded as it’s surrounded by the natural canyon wall and some strategically planted eucalyptus trees. After a short rest, we continued up through the college, taking the most gradual route to the Crafton Hills Conservancy. Due to our lethargy, we contemplated turning towards home at various points but found ourselves at the Back Breaker intersection and again paused to consider our options.

Intersection of Back Breaker and the fire road

Sally lay in the grass while I reclined on the bench, reveling in the childlike pleasure of having nowhere to be but in the moment. Continuing east meant climbing the fire road, which was mostly not very steep, and turning back involved one hike-a-bike climb (the previously mentioned thrilling downhill), so we opted for the continued gradual ascent. I suppose our old-lady-paced ascent had us feeling appropriately guilty, so I suggested we take the Long Cut which meant a short effort with a meaningful descent back to the fire road. By “meaningful”, of course, I mean exhilarating. We lowered our seats and pointed our bikes downhill, scouting ahead for ruts or other obstacles. The very end of the Long Cut drops off an embankment that’s about 15′ high and you can’t really see the trail until you’re committed, so it lends a bit of excitement.

The confidence-building part of Roller Coaster

Having roused our inner mountain biker instinct with a smidge of adrenaline, I continued down the ridge without consulting Sally. She, naturally, followed me. The next section of confidence-building trail had us at the intersection of three options: climb back up to the Yikes trail (not going to happen); continue down Escalator (not all that interesting); or ROLLER COASTER (shudder!). To my utter amazement, Sally voted for Roller Coaster. We were tired and it offered the shortest (read “steepest”) route home.

I know I’ve described Roller Coaster before, but each time we ride it, it’s a new adventure. The trail changes with every rain storm and the traction varies from non-existent to barely noticeable. What never changes is how sweaty my hands get when I describe it. After an introductory, gentle swoop down and then up, the trail simply disappears. Until, that is, your front wheel is over the edge and the hill falls away into an abyss with a menacing rut meandering along the line you want to ride.

Once you have gathered the courage to slide down the steepest part, navigated the berm that forces you onto the edge of the rut, there’s a lovely rollout to the next ascent. And then the trail rolls benignly through a tunnel of aromatic brush, until….you arrive at the final descent to the highway. Oh, I skipped a couple of interesting sections but they pale by comparison to the FINAL descent.

Honestly, the traction was pretty good and Sally was right on my wheel as I made the turn onto what’s probably, no definitely, the most challenging section of trail. At first it’s steep, but there are no real challenges as you can pretty much either control your slide or not, as long as you regain control by the time you get to the part where the ruts start to vie for your attention. At this point, you had better be looking ahead for a place to bleed off some speed because, if you brake too hard here, you will certainly slip into the rut. Okay, if I’m honest, you can ride the rut because it’s not that deep and it’s fairly straight. But, for the sake of the story, let’s say I skillfully avoided sliding into the treacherous rut. There was a point at which I was thinking of looking for a place to bail out, but short of laying the bike down sideways, there were no options but to focus and ride it.

Arriving at the bottom of the hill, breathless and pumped, I looked back to find Sally coming down, skillfully and in perfect control. She had never managed to ride this entire hill before and was justifiably proud of the accomplishment.

Feeling like champions, we rode the rest of the way down the wash trails, our fatigue completely obliterated by adrenaline. When a couple of manly-man, four-by-four, trucks rolled by with their tattooed drivers piloting them, I said to Sally, “They think they’re bad-ass.”

She replied, “They don’t know what bad-ass is!”

You Can’t Love ’em and You Can’t Kill ’em (warning: nudity and gore ahead)

My sister is scanning and organizing her old photos and journals and frequently sends me the gems from our past. We looked so carefree and untouched by any premonition of what lay ahead in life.

Remembering, my sister and I refer to periods in our life by which man had been our partner for that decade. I was married for ten years to the love of my life. His joie de vivre was unlimited. Wine, women, song, there was never enough. I moved on. I’d had enough women!

I brilliantly chose another alcoholic, thinking I could fix this one because he wasn’t a womanizer. I spent another ten years on that fixer-upper. He was clean and sober when I figured out alcohol wasn’t the problem.

I finally chose a man who had a reasonable relationship with both alcohol and women AND could fix things. Thirty years later, I still love him beyond all reason. I mean that literally. He’s the smartest man in any room, rabidly opinionated, egocentric to the point of narcissism, honest to a fault, genuinely egalitarian, kind to animals, patient with children, profligate, introspective, unsentimental but eternally romantic. There are so many times when I wonder how it came to this…

A Winter? Ride

A regular winter ride in my neck of the woods is normally one of several local trails, either in the wash or the foothills that surround the valley. But February, in Southern California isn’t your typical winter, with warm sunny days and sleep-with-the-windows-open nights. Daytime temperatures in the high 80s, motivated Sally and me to load the bikes onto the bike rack and drive to Mountain Home Village (elevation 3,700′) where the Mountain Home Creek trail begins the ascent to Angelus Oaks (5,800′). Just a few weeks ago this route was impassable with snow, but today the trail was in fine form.

A couple of years ago, a utility company had restored the abandoned road to a navigable two-track in order to bury fiber optic cable. This had destroyed what had become a beautiful single track trail over the years. Fortunately, there had been a bit of a flash flood in the mountains, in November, which all but restored it to its previous condition. Rock slides, fallen trees, deep sand and wash outs all made the trail interesting again.

When we came to The Avalanche, I had some trouble making it up the steep incline because the traction was loose and mostly because I’m a klutz. I made it half way before spinning out, so I turned the bike back downhill to try it again. A couple of hikers were closing in which was incentive to clear it on the second attempt. Nearly to the top, I stalled, this time high centered on my seat and unable to clip out of my pedals as I was momentarily unsure of which way the bike was going to go over. As luck would have it, the bike tipped towards the outside (towards the downhill side) which probably looked pretty exciting from below, but I got my foot on the ground before there was any danger of toppling over the edge. When I turned around for the third try, the old hikers (probably my age) were standing in the trail waiting for me to clear the way. The old gentleman kindly mansplained to me how I needed to put more weight on my back wheel and then stand up to pedal to the top. I showed what I thought was commendable restraint by not saying anything unkind in return. In his defense, I did look like quite the novice. On the third assault, I found the sweet spot, the perfect speed and gear, and sailed up as I’ve done at least a hundred times before and I’m sure the gentleman was left with the belief that his generous coaching had enabled me to succeed.

Cresting the top of The Avalanche

We climbed as far as The Bench and decided that there was no compelling reason to pedal the last two miles to The Oaks restaurant as the food wasn’t that good and we were tired, so tired, in fact, that even the downhill seemed like more effort than we cared to expend. But, of course, as soon as we pointed the bikes down the newly restored trail, we regained our enthusiasm. Riding The Avalanche from the uphill direction is merely a matter of carefully gauging your speed as you come into it. Approach too slowly and you are going to have to pedal to the top, which as described previously, can be problematic. If, on the other hand, you sail up too fast to make the slight turn at the top, you could fly right off the trail. Oh, and one more consideration is that approaching from the uphill side, you can’t see if anyone is ascending from the downhill side. I really didn’t want to mow down the elderly hikers…well at least not his woman companion. As fate would have it, just as I accelerated for the ascent, a guy on a gravel bike crested the top of the berm coming from the opposite direction, oblivious to his peril. I skidded to a stop with room to spare but his eyes were as big as saucers.

The Bad Ass Great Grandma

Seventeen weeks or 119 days, which sounds longer? How about almost four months? If you had told me when I was ten years old, that you were taking me to Disneyland in four months, it would have been excruciating to have to wait so long; but ironically, at this age, when active life ahead looks like a narrow window of time, I will treasure every one of those 119 days of planning and anticipation. Maybe it has to do with how quickly time passes as we age. I read somewhere that there’s a reason time speeds up as we grow older; it’s because our brains form fewer memories which condenses our memories into a fast-motion scene when we review them. Probably pseudo science.

At any rate, my Word Press ramblings serve as a detailed memory that should entertain me when I’m confined to a nursing home but not yet drooling in my laptop.

MFN Tamera expressed an interest in attending her high school reunion, but didn’t want to leave her Mini-Aussie, Lucy behind, which precluded flying from Denver to California. While the idea of leaving my girls behind wasn’t ideal, I offered to fly to Denver and join her for a girl’s auto trip across my beloved desert Southwest. I’ll miss the Wanderlust with it’s cozy bed and efficiency kitchen, but the convenience of popping into a hotel for a hot shower, a clean bed, and mediocre coffee has its appeal too.

I’ve already plotted the itinerary, complete with breaks in the driving (I have very limited tolerance for sitting still), that include hikes, ghost towns, a burned suspension bridge and stops at favorite restaurants. Our first night is four hours from DIA where I land mid-day, so the drive is proportionally long compared to the hike. Rifle Falls State Park should be just perfect for a late afternoon walk.

Our next hotel is in Moab. I’m steeling myself for the changes tourism has brought to this “ugly little town” that Edward Abbey so loved/hated. All of the things that curmudgeon loathed have reproduced themselves exponentially. I usually read parts of Dessert Solitaire before I visit Moab to refresh the sense of loss. I first started going to Moab once a year in the 1980s and each time we turned off the freeway towards this mountain biker’s paradise, my heart would swell as if I were returning to a home I’d known in a previous incarnation. Even then, the scars of human abuse were everywhere, beginning with the uranium tailings that covered many acres at the edge of town, adjacent to the Colorado River (a major source of water for much of Nevada, Arizona, and California). I read recently that there is a clean-up operation in progress. Once it’s completed, a hotel chain will probably build a high-rise on the site. Bring your Geiger counter if you book a room there.

After a hike up Grandstaff Canyon, (formerly known as Nigger Bill Canyon, then renamed Negro Bill Canyon when the trail namers became aware of the offensiveness of the original name, and finally William Grandstaff was appropriately remembered when it was renamed Grandstaff ) we will grab a bite to eat in Moab before checking into our sterile, chain hotel. It’s called something reminiscent of a boutique hotel but is probably owned by Hilton. Energy levels permitting, we will do another short hike or stroll the main street, where my favorite bookstore, Back of Beyond, still lives, or so I’m told.

If we can tear ourselves away from the splendors of this scenic area, we will proceed to Escalante where our “cabin” at Yonder awaits. I’m hoping we have the strength, after an afternoon of hiking along the Escalante River, to wander over to the drive-in movie theater for some popcorn in a vintage car.

Another four hour drive, through Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks, to Overton, will bring us to within striking distance of Valley of Fire. It may be too hot for little Lucy and my heat-sensitive niece to hike in June, but VoF lends itself to auto touring as the Big Horn Sheep graze obligingly close to the road and pose for photos when approached.

I will fill you in on all of the exciting events of the trip as they happen. I hope “exciting” is an exaggeration, but as you well know, I do play fast and loose with the truth.