Let me introduce you to a friend about whom I haven’t written before; Karen is a woman who wasn’t easy to like initially. Dishearteningly attractive in a seemingly careless way, she’s slim, fit, and appealing to the men in our cycling group because she can actually keep up with them on a long climb. She’s a kindergarten teacher and has cultivated a sweet way of talking that men just react to like a bee to a heavily pollen-laden flower. I’m betting that her students of twenty years ago still sigh when they think of Ms. Karen. Her charms were not lost on my partner who glowed when she turned her gaze in his direction. So, obviously, I wasn’t that charmed by her since I couldn’t keep up with her, much less hold a conversation with her when I could. As luck would have it, there was an after-ride party planned and I, having decided that jealousy was coloring my opinion of this woman, decided to put myself in the seat next to her and get acquainted. It took about two minutes to discover that we were both avid readers and had more to talk about than the evening would allow. Subsequent conversations revealed that she was caring for an ageing mom, like I was, and Mike’s girlfriend became mine. When our moms died, the friendship was cemented as we grieved together.
So, back to the walk in the wash. Karen agreed to walk with the girls and me before she had to go to work. We set off towards the wash, on my regular turf, at a more brisk pace than we usually go on our own, so I calculated that we would be able to cover what I call the Seadoo loop in the allotted hour. But, the faint coyote trail that I usually take to the Seadoo trail was obscured by spring grasses and I missed it.
The stimulating conversation had distracted me and I found that we had overshot the trail so I headed cross country, with a stern reminder to be wary of snakes. After a short distance, we came to a sharply cut bank that had been carved by last year’s flash floods. Karen and I each picked a descent that appeared to be navigable but hers proved to be unstable, and she fell on her backside and slid down the embankment with some good-sized rocks following her. Thankfully, she regained her feet with nothing more than a bruised bum and we struck a path towards the southern bank.
Within minutes, we were confronted with an old flood control levy that I didn’t recognize. Thinking that climbing to the top of the embankment would allow us to get a better view of the terrain, and get our bearings, we scrambled to the top. This more level area was dotted with cactus, but spurred on by our time constraints, we pushed on in the direction we knew we had to go to get back to the car. After making very little headway, the cactus growing more dense at every turn, I decided that we were totally !@#$ed. We could neither go forward nor retrace our steps without serious danger of getting punctured by either cactus or snakes or both. I told Karen to take my car key and make her way back to the road without me and get to work as fast as possible. I would wend my way back to the sandy wash bottom with the dogs, at my own pace. The dogs were more vulnerable to the cactus than we were because we could step over some of them and they were forced to jump. Molly isn’t much of a jumper.
We parted ways. I was more worried about Karen than I was about the dogs and me because we were in familiar territory and Karen wasn’t. I encouraged Molly to find a way back to the sandy wash bottom and it took her only a couple of minutes to find a coyote trail that wove through the cactus, back to the embankment we had climbed earlier; but since we were considerably farther upstream than where we had climbed out, there didn’t appear to be any safe way down to the wash. Between the proverbial rock and a hard spot, we chose the precarious and precipitous route the coyotes take. A loose, rocky chute led straight down the twenty-foot embankment. Remembering Karen’s fall earlier, I took the seat-of-the-pants stance and crabbed my way down with the dogs following carefully behind.
Now safely in the sandy, rocky wash bed, I texted Karen to make sure she had found her way back to the road and the car. She had made her way through a quarter of a mile of cactus maze, only to be confronted with a six-foot high, chain link fence barring her way. Undaunted, she found a space where the wildlife had made a narrow space under the fence and proceeded to crawl under it. My car, with it’s antiquated emergency brake pedal, on the floor, stymied her briefly, but after accidentally releasing the hood latch, she managed to find it and drive the mile back to my house to retrieve her own car.
My route up the wash bottom was easier going but with cactus quills stuck in both thighs, walking was an uncomfortable affair. As soon as I reached the road, I called Mike to come to pick us up. Quill removal took up the rest of the morning.
Karen reported nothing worse than a few scratches and bruises and, astoundingly, proposed another hike next week, though she added, “Next week, let’s do a walk with a little less adventure. We can save those for less time constraining days!!” See why I enjoy her friendship?