Nicknames

Have you ever learned that you had a secret nickname, the name people attached to your name when you weren’t there to hear it?

Mike came home today and told me that he had run in to an old mountain bike friend whom we hadn’t seen in years. A couple of decades ago, when the Rut Riders were an active, even somewhat notorious bike club, this guy had ridden with the group off and on and had raced on the same circuits that we had. When Mike said that Topoleski had said to tell me hello, I immediately asked, “Wrong-way Topo?” The unfortunate John Topoleski had taken a wrong turn during a mountain bike race (costing him precious seconds) when he was in his twenties. Some thirty years later, he is still known as Wrong-way Topo in circles he has long since forgotten. He is probably unaware that the moniker is still attached to his name.

When I was a young, nubile thing, I used to ride my horse around the neighborhood in shorts and a bikini top. I was a bit nonplussed to learn that my riding companion’s husband referred to me as Judy Jugs. I’d never considered that my pert, little bosom would be worthy of such a nickname.

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Much later, in my sixties, my neighbor, having had a wee bit too much to drink, blabbed that her husband and his brother called me Butterface. I couldn’t help but feel just a bit smug at the idea that the preamble to that nickname is, “She has a great body”. I guess a less vain woman would have taken umbrage at the idea that they were disparaging her face, but I chose to dwell on the  idea that those beer-bellied, old farts noticed the other well-preserved assets (ie. the still pert jugs).

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I imagine that many nicknames are coined in a spirit of just slightly malicious teasing, and one could have hurt feelings about the deliberately mean ones. But I prefer to think that nicknames are usually given to people who are a little admired, a little envied, and overall, well-liked. Okay, maybe I DO have a vainglorious self-image but you have to admit, there’s something endearing in a nickname.

Oops, I forgot that Wrong-way Topo was later murdered. (This alternative truth is added in response to a suggestion from one of my favorite bloggers who commented that my circulation would be improved by more murders in my blog. Thank you, dimebone.)

Farewell to 2017 Hike

What a way to end the year! We (my dogs, aka “the girls”) explored a new-to-us trail that had been recommended by someone we met on the San Bernardino Peak Trail. This trail didn’t climb much but followed the undulations of the mountain as it circled more or less at the same elevation. The difference between the trail head and the destination, John’s Meadow, was about 300 feet, not much unless you consider that to reach said “meadow” one had traversed up and down, up and down a hundred short dips in the trail.

Despite the flawless weather, there was only one other vehicle parked at the trailhead which served two separate trails, so I wasn’t surprised to have the trail to myself. We passed through stands of venerable sugar pines and cedar, bearing scars of wildfires long forgotten.

 

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This was not one of the survivors but yet it stands.

 

Gradually the trail gained altitude, though the hum of highway traffic below followed us for a couple of miles. The girls were delighted when the trail crossed a trickle that might pass for a stream in wetter years, where they greedily lapped and lounged in the clear water.

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We left the sounds of civilization behind as the trail worked its way into the recesses of hidden canyons where stunted buckthorn and manzanita made feeble attempts to encroach on the trail. The south facing slopes were bathed in lovely winter sunlight.

 

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Molly blazes the trail ahead.

Pausing at the top of a ridge, I heard an unfamiliar, distant noise. It sounded almost like a wind stirring in the treetops, but there was no breeze. As we approached a deep canyon, I realized with some amazement, that what I was hearing was rushing water. We had arrived at Forsee Creek, still flowing after almost a year without rain!

 

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Ice coats the stepping stones across the creek.

We crossed the creek following the trail up the far side of the steep canyon to find that after cresting the hill, it dropped into another canyon with yet another, smaller stream. While stopped to retrieve a jacket from my hydration pack, Sadie uttered a low growl. Ears pricked towards the brush lining the stream, I followed her intense gaze. I could see nothing but I heard a rustling of something larger than a bird but smaller than an elephant. Having no interest in facing a bear, I gathered up my pack and scurried back up the trail. There’s nothing like the thought of danger to lend wings to tired feet.

The adrenaline rush soon subsided and I became increasingly aware of my weariness and sore feet, but the trail remained as lovely and quiet as before. Only the distant growl of a passing jet, hidden by the canopy of trees, reminded me of the miles to go before I sleep.

 

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Twin, dead pines overlook Slide Peak in the distance.

 

 

 

Hiking With My Organic E-Dog

Recently, a few E-bikes (electric power assisted) have appeared on the trail and we mountain bike purists are just a little chagrined to have lesser athletes pedaling effortlessly beside us, chatting while we gasp for breath. Truth be told, we’re probably just a little envious. I’ll probably get one when I turn seventy, or seventy-five. But for now, I’m content with my Intense Carbine that goes only as fast as my sixty-five year-old legs can pedal it.

That said, I’m not ashamed to hike with Sadie, my organic E-dog. Sadie is a German Shepherd mix, about 5 years old, and an incredible athlete. It’s almost impossible to tire her out, so to equalize her energy with mine and Molly’s (a three year-old Border Collie mix), I harness her and allow her to help pull me up the mountain trails.

 

Sadie Service Dog

Today, we hiked Momyer Trail, out of Forest Falls. We were accompanied by about 156,000 gnats who swarmed around our faces and courageously made forays into any unprotected orifices. During a brief rest stop I tried to eat a banana and was forced to reduce their numbers by about a dozen, or fourteen if you count the ones I ate. The survivors continued to support the adage that there’s no rest for the wicked, encouraging us to continue the climb to escape them. Sadie valiantly short-roped me up the steepest sections until I finally took pity on her and set her free. We made it to the San Gorgonio Wilderness border, only about three miles and a bit less than 1,800 feet of elevation gain before my legs suggested it would be wise to turn back. As we descended, a light breeze began gusting up the canyon, reminding me that I was hiking in a virtual tinder box.

The “drought”, which is now considered a permanent condition of climate change, has brought devastation to the pines. Weakened by drought, they’ve been attacked by a spruce beetle and they lie in great piles of dry wood or stand naked against the sky waiting for the next wind storm to take them down.

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The oaks are hanging on but this gnarly old guy is suffering.

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It occurred to me that if a wildfire started in the canyon below, I would be toast. Spurred on by that thought, I quickened my pace, much to the discomfort of my well-worn knees. As luck would have it, we reached the canyon floor without mishap and we all enjoyed a dip in the stream. I dipped my feet into the icy water while the girls plunged in with abandon.

Wet Molly

Keeping It All In Perspective

Michel reminded me that I hadn’t put in an appearance lately and when I tried to think why my normally volubility had withered,  I couldn’t come up with a good reason. True, I’ve written a few drafts, only to delete them because they were just too pessimistic.

While I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly political person, the current president and his cronies scare the peediddling squat out of me. It’s not just the racist rhetoric, or the “America First” crap, or the misogynistic bullying, or the bandying about of inflammatory blustering, or the inarticulate tweets of the so, so great leader. It’s more about seeing mankind procreate himself out of a decent place to live. It’s about seeing people all around me heedlessly squandering their time, energy, money, and health in pursuit of things that they will toss into the trash as soon as the shine has worn off.

Most of the time, I feel like a complete stranger in a strange land, a freak, a dreamer who imagines a world where people use their critical thinking skills to make sound decisions, a world where everyone understands that his actions have an impact on his clan and that his clan is the human race.

So, to keep things in perspective, I make regular forays into the “wilderness”, usually with only my dogs for company. Their world view is so blindly, blissfully happy it’s contagious. Reading their body language, their chatter goes something like this: “Oh, joy! you’ve awakened! I’m so glad you’re up! What? You’re putting our collars on; that means a hike!!! Hiking is my favorite thing. Oh, good, we’re going in the car – that’s my favorite thing. And then we’re having breakfast, no seriously, THAT’S my favorite thing. Ah, now a nap…yeah, that’s my favorite thing too.” How can anyone focus on the terror of North Korea’s missile program with two dogs proclaiming their undying love and devotion at every opportunity?

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Thinking Fast & Slow…or Not at All

I’ve been reading Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project, 30334134

which is about the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, two Israeli psychologists who earned world renown in economics, of all things. I’m also reading Daniel Kahneman’s own book, Thinking Fast & Slow.11468377  I’m not normally inclined to read books that don’t involve history, culture, travel, or dogs, (or best of all, a combination of those things) but surprisingly, psychology allows some greater understanding of all of those things that interest me.

Thinking fast, the decisions we make intuitively, like holding on to the dog leash when thinking slow would allow you to arrive at the better decision (to let go), are explained as two separate functions of the human brain. We all do it and we all make flawed choices based on too little information. Both functions of the brain are essential to our survival. Clearly, some fast thinking results in a good outcome.

The thing that continues to astound me is how many people use the intuitive part of their brain to make decisions when they have plenty of time to gather enough information to make a more reasoned decision. That’s the lazy part of the human brain. It’s just easier to feel that something is true than it is to research and evaluate.  Somehow, it feels good to reaffirm something we want to believe even if there is evidence available to us that contradicts our position.

I’m looking ahead wondering what will be gained, and what will the costs be, of having someone who relies heavily on intuition to make decisions that would benefit from more critical evaluation, in the White House. Only time will tell.

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Coyote Curmudgeon

My “old” friend, Mary, joined the girls and me at a quaint bed & breakfast in the rural community of Rainbow a couple of weeks ago. https://rainbowinn.smugmug.com/ Mary’s not THAT old but our friendship goes back some fifty years. FIFTY YEARS!?! Okay, I guess she IS that old.

Mary and I became friends when we were in seventh grade and we discovered we both had a crush on the same boy. There was no rivalry as he didn’t know either one of us existed. Our friendship was further enhanced because I was horse crazy and she had two horses. We never lost touch over the years even though she moved away at the end of ninth grade. Each of us married young and our husbands joined our friendship. The four of us spent many weekends and vacations together despite the two hour drive between us. Now, entering our retirement years, Mary’s husband is suffering a life-threatening illness, and that weighs heavily on Mary both mentally and physically. An overnight getaway with her old friend was just what the doctor ordered.

I loaded up the girls and all their gear, beds, bowls, homemade dog food, etc. and we were off. 20170515_153114

The girls loved Mary, who is (of course) a dog lover and the B&B hosts were most gracious. The weather was rather cold and breezy but the girls enjoyed the pool nonetheless. A good time was had by all.

Back home we fell into our usual routine of biking and walking. This morning, we were thoroughly dressed down by an irate coyote who told us in no uncertain terms that we were unwelcome trespassers on his turf. When we were about 100 yards away he began his yammering, standing in the middle of the paved road, between us and home. I courteously put the leashes on the dogs, though they showed no interest in mixing it up with him, and stood patiently waiting for him to finish his tirade. After a minute or two, he grudgingly moved a few yards off the pavement, but continued his harangue. We proceeded past the place where we knew him to be by his yapping, even though we couldn’t see him in the brush. The girls showed less interest in him that they do the dogs along the way who are behind fences. I would call him cheeky but, in his defense, we were invading his territory.

The road is closed to vehicles here but motorcycles can get around the gate.DSCN0004

The Joys? of Spring Mountain Biking

After an unusually wet winter, our mountain bike trails are in danger of being obliterated by grass and weeds. There are places where a cyclist can disappear entirely in weeds five feet tall. By this time of year, everything is going to seed and every kind of fox-tail, corkscrew seed, and thistle, claws at your legs as you pedal through on trails you have to simply believe are there when you can’t really see them. To add an element of suspense to the ordeal, snakes are active and invisible in the brush.

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Weedy Wash Trails

Sally and I made our way up the wash trails for several miles before we came to the realization that it really wasn’t any fun and decided to head for the Crafton Hills Conservancy trails which are cleared of brush by energetic, civic-minded folks. We were grinding our way up the trail we call Escalator, when I spotted a nice sized Diamond Back rattle snake, business end in the middle of the trail, about three feet ahead of my front tire.

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Hair Raising Encounter

Luckily, Sally was several feet behind me so I was able to stop abruptly without having her pile into me. Before I could back away, the alert creature spotted me and took a defensive stance (that would be coiled up) and rattled a stern warning. I backed away, still astraddle my bike.

Intellectually, I am not afraid of snakes. Respectful? Absolutely, but not consciously terrified. But evidently, the non-verbal part of my brain operates on a more instinctual level because I became aware of the hair on my arms standing on end like a frightened cat. We waited patiently for the snake to calm down and move on which he did within a minute or two. We watched his progress up the hill until it was safe to proceed and then realized that our trail switch backed directly across the path the snake had taken. The thought did lend wings to our pedals.

We descended the ever-exciting Motorcycle Trail, on which there was plenty of brush (it’s not a sanctioned trail) and a dearth of traction. Thankfully, it’s sufficiently steep to allow enough speed to not see any snakes that we may run over. It’s also deeply rutted which makes it riveting enough to keep one’s eyes engaged on the trail. We debated, at the top of Joint Point North whether or not to attempt the wickedly steep descent in the overgrown weeds. Finally, Sally said she would walk down to the point of no return to assess how treacherous it would be. I said the heck with that, I’m not WALKING down anything. I knew if we rode down the first fifty yards, we would ride the whole thing…and, of course, we did.

Sally led the way, picking up speed uncontrollably on the hard, dry, trail and I attempted to follow her at a more controlled pace. When my back wheel began to pass the front I realized that maybe control was overrated. By this time my bike had left the trail and was headed across country, straight down, through knee high grass, rocks, and hopefully, no snakes. Naught to be done but hang on and try to steer a course back to the trail. A rut appeared between me and my goal, forcing me to continue to boldly go where no bike had gone before. I glimpsed Sally below, off the bike in the tall weeds, before narrowing my focus to the trail which had miraculously rejoined my path.

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Joint Point North

When I joined her at the bottom of the hill, she explained that she had caught her shorts on the back of her seat and couldn’t get back to her center of gravity when the hill leveled out. Note to the uninitiated: When going down something extreme, it’s a good idea to get behind the seat to keep your center of gravity over the cranks rather than over the bars, as nobody likes to actually be thrown over the front of the bike.

Sometimes when we ride this trail, we compliment ourselves on our skill and courage. Today we were grateful for simple luck.