Homeward Bound

Retracing my route through Bryce National Park, I took a little time to walk one of the trails near the highway since the weather had warmed up a bit.

Trails measured in feet appeal to the folks who prefer to see the sights from the comfort of their vehicle.
Sadie was getting bored with posing for pictures.

Rather than going home the way we had come out, I went north on Hwy. 89, then taking route 20 through the mountains which follows the Old Spanish Trail. There were some steep grades, 12% at times, but I took it slow since traffic was light and there were two lanes in each direction should anyone want to pass. This beautiful drive was over all to soon and we were dumped onto the interstate highway which was quite busy and FAST. The speed limit was 80 mph in places and I never saw any restrictions on autos towing trailers, so I kicked my own speed up to 65, just in self-defense. The laws of physics don’t change with posted speed limits, so I remained alert, knowing that any sudden maneuvers would be risky.

Just north of St. George is a little town called Leeds. I had done some Google research thinking it would be a good place to stop for the night and I’d found an RV park and a good restaurant. Pulling into Leed’s RV resort, I felt like I’d just been moved from business class to coach. The park was populated by mostly full-time residents who had personalized their own space. One woman had an expansive outdoor cat run and another had a pet that appeared to have the freedom to roam the park.

Porky was oblivious to Sadie’s interest.

Overall, the park was neat and the residents were quiet. My site was about as far away from the restroom as one could park and still be within the property, but at least it wasn’t cold so the hike was pleasant enough.

The hike of the evening

Once our camp was set up and the trailer disconnected, we set out to explore our neighborhood. The Silver Reef Museum was nearby so we headed up the road that Google said was the way to go. We never spotted the museum but we did find a nicely graded dirt road that led to a lovely little hike. Just what my aching hips needed! The girls enjoyed the freedom of BLM land and my distraction of a phone call from home.

The butte in the distance is Gooseberry Mesa where we used to go mountain biking and Zion National Park is off to the left.

After we had worked up an appetite, we drove to Tequilana where the food was as good as it had been reported on Google. There was a brand new, Covid inspired patio, where the girls could join me. The waiter kindly brought them a to-go container which he tore into two parts to fill with water. Sadie, impatient with his service began to drink out of his pitcher. I don’t think the people at the next table noticed.

At last…some food porn

To say it wasn’t a great day would only indicate my feeling of loss at parting with Tam and leaving the comforts of Yonder. I went straight to bed and actually slept pretty well, despite the drone of the nearby freeway traffic, or maybe because of it. But, of course, I was awake by 4:00 A.M.

Feeling the end-of-vacation blues, I debated whether to just drive the 8 hours home, rather than detour from the freeway through Valley of Fire again. I was on the road by 5 A.M. and thought I’d see how I felt by the time I reached the VoF off ramp. The eastern sky was just starting to lighten when I came to the exit and I was growing very sleepy, having left camp without coffee. Thankfully, Mike called just after I left the freeway and talked to me most of the way to the park.

I walked through the campground looking at tags to see if anyone was vacating that day and found two sites. The couple from Idaho in the site I preferred, was in no hurry to leave so I told them I’d go pay for the site and amuse myself until check-out time. The Atlatl campground has hookups and showers so I went up there to take a shower and then parked in a day-use picnic area and made myself a much-needed cup of coffee and some breakfast.

Restorative breakfast…home-grown egg with my own homemade fruit/nut bread fried in butter.

That was all it took to get my vacation mojo back. Refueled, the ambivalence of the morning evaporated. By the time I headed to my campsite, the Idahoans were leaving the campground and I waived merrily to them. But now I worried because they had said they wouldn’t be leaving for a few hours, and now my campsite was sitting vacant. Would-be campers were circling the campground like vultures, prowling for a site, as I had been earlier. Sure enough, by the time I made my way through the campground someone had parked in my spot. It was a handsome, young man who moved out without argument, saying he didn’t know how the system worked. His girlfriend was walking down to the entrance to pay the fee and I hoped she hadn’t already put her money in the slot. At any rate, I suggested he try the app Campendium.com to locate a place to camp outside the park.

Home for the night

I set up the trailer and considered a hike but somehow the idea of a nap won out. The camp was quiet, the air was warm, and I had several good books. A sunset hike seemed like a more reasonable option. So, just before dusk I loaded the girls into the back of the car and went in search of a cell signal so I could let Mike know that I wasn’t coming home that night.

Some rock pictures, just in case you craved more.
More rock pictures for my sister.

The woman in the campsite next to me turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Almost my age and caring for an aging mother, we had things in common. She had a fascinating history, having traveled extensively and she was an avid bibliophile. We could have talked for days but darkness fell and we both had miles to travel the next day.

And then the adventure was over except for the unpacking, the laundry, washing the trailer and car, and preparing for work on Monday. Reliving it through this blog is almost as fun as planning the trip.

Adios, Escalante

We had hiked about 7 miles the first day, about 8 the second day, and we were pleasantly surprised that we recovered over night. So, on day three, we set off for another exploration of the Escalante River. Thinking we would go upriver from the highway, we headed back towards Boulder; but on the outskirts of town, we noticed a trailhead sign that indicated we could access the river from the east end and skip the drive. Our hiking book said it was 14 miles to where Hwy. 12 crosses the river but we had no intention of going that far. I remembered the sign at the bridge on our previous hike:

Almost as soon as the trail reached the river, the canyon walls rose up and closed in. We traveled slowly down river, crossing the stream many times and had to stop occasionally to rest our cramping necks. Necks are not accustomed to looking up and the towering cliffs demanded that we look at their flamboyant ribbons of color and texture.

The paws that refreshes
The overhang in the background is one of the largest on the river.
Tamera and Lucy are dwarfed by the massive dome.
Hard Hat Recommended

It was hard to make the decision to turn back as each bend in the canyon promised another breathtaking alcove, waterfall, or slot canyon, but common sense prevailed and we retraced our path back to the car after about five miles.

Cottonwoods live a precarious existence in the canyon.
Near the trailhead there is a stock gate. It was unclear on which side of the fence the cows were supposed to stay but we didn’t see any poop on the trail, so presumably, it was designed to keep them out of the canyon.

As usual, we finished the hike with howling stomachs, but thankfully we were only a couple of miles from Escalante Outfitters . With mouths watering we made all haste only to find they were CLOSED! .https://www.escalanteoutfitters.com/restaurant/

With heavy hearts we continued towards home, consoling ourselves with the thought of my homemade, cheese/black bean/corn enchiladas with authentic sauce made from scratch, that were languishing in the camper refrigerator. But we spotted this gem!

Como se dice muy delicioso en engles?
Georgie’s has no web page but Google’s five star rating is an understatement.

The special of the day was pozole, something that no self-respecting vegetarian would eat but…on vacation, I eat as the Romans eat or in this case, the Mexicans. I’m seriously thinking of another trip to Escalante just to sample other menu items. I’m certain this experience has ruined me for any other pozole and so, I vow not to eat it ever again, but the memory of that savory soup will linger always. Tamera’s quesadilla, layered with tender pork and good quality cheese came with salsa and guacamole, obviously made fresh on the premises. Tortilla chips, made from flour tortillas, were also freshly made. There was nothing healthy about this fabulous meal and I’m grateful Georgie’s is 600 miles from home.

So, enough of waxing rhapsodic about the food we have eaten; it’s obvious I’m avoiding the inevitable parting of the ways with MFN. We spent our last evening in paradise appreciating the Yonder Escalante glamcamp.

MFN in her fancy pants.
Tamera has a gift for photography, her choice of subject matter however…

Morning came and neither of us was eager to hit the road for home and say good-bye, so we went into town in search of breakfast that neither of us really wanted. The Outfitter restaurant was still closed but the store offered a nice assortment of prepared food. That uncomfortable space of time, where the imminent parting hung between us like a diaphanous curtain couldn’t be ignored. A lingering hug in the parking lot had me stumbling towards my car with tears welling unbidden. Remembering one of our fireside conversations about break-ups with boyfriends and distracted driving, I paused to text her that I wouldn’t sob and drive.

On the road again, equanimity restored, I was transported by the panorama around me. It was easy to live in the moment and enjoy the drive to Bryce National Park.

Escalante with MFN

The first time I came home from Southern Utah with what I thought were spectacular photos, my sister commented dryly, “Sure are a lot of rock pictures”. The next time, I took her with me and she came home with twice as many rock pictures as I had. My point is, amateur images scarcely hint at the grandeur of the landscape. So with that in mind, kindly view the following with uncritical eyes.

My frosty breath hung in the air INSIDE the trailer and the dogs declined to go outside to do any kind of business. Of course, it was still well before dawn. There was naught to be done but snuggle in bed and write in my journal.

The transcription of this journal will probably follow but only the truly masochistic, and my sister, will want to read it.

When the sun came up I was able to crawl from under my down comforter and heat some tea on the stove, which took the chill off but also caused moisture to condense on the cold ceiling and drip onto my bed. Ah, the joys of camping! Later when the camp host came by, I asked him why I had no electrical power and he diplomatically pointed out that I needed to turn on ALL of the breakers at the post. He was nonplussed that I hadn’t bothered him after hours to help me. I guess the usual guest isn’t that considerate. My trailer has a new battery so I didn’t need electrical power but I did appreciate the WiFi as there was not much cell service.

A text from Tamera said she was about four hours away so I took a hot shower and broke camp. Kodachrome Basin State Park was just a short drive off the highway and looked like a great place to while away a few hours before beating cheeks to Escalante to meet MFN.

Kodachrome Basin State Park, Cannonville,UT

The park looked like I could have spent several days exploring the canyons and dirt roads, but I was too eager to get to Escalante and meet MFN Tamera to do more than snap a few images, cruise through the campgrounds and then turn east to Yonder Escalante.

After setting up our camp in a private-feeling space at the end of a row of RV sites, nestled in a copse of scrub oaks, we set off to explore our new neighborhood. A dirt road, just across the highway, brought us to a short canyon where the dogs could romp off leash and get acquainted. Tamera’s little Mini-Australian Shepard, Lucy, is about a quarter of the size of Sadie so she was cautious about initiating play. Each time she would entice Sadie to chase her, she ran and hid behind her mom.

Our first night in camp was a bit of a trial. I heated the chili relleno caserole with some brown rice and a nice bottle of pinot noir to set the mood. We then set up the larger bed at the back of the trailer for my two big girls and me, and the smaller front bed for Tamera and her little girl. Poor Lucy! She just couldn’t relax with two big dogs just a few feet away and Tamera finally gave up and moved her bed into the back of her car. This also allowed Molly to settle down as she was suspicious of the interloper who had usurped her bed. Neither of my dogs offered to move to the now empty front bed, but I was content to share their body heat.

In the morning I tried the heater again and voila! it fired right up without apology or explanation.

We all piled into Tamera’s new Nissan Pathfinder to hike the three-mile trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls, the iconic Escalante canyon trail. Lower Calf Creek is described as a heavily trafficked, moderate hike, but we didn’t find it to be at all crowded even though the small parking lot was full when we arrived. Though dogs are required to be on leashes, there were long stretches where we could let them loose, only tethering them when we saw other hikers approaching.

The reward at the end of the 3-mile walk up the canyon.
MFN Tamera, aka the girl with the getaway sticks. Notice that her legs reach to my waist?

We retraced our steps and by the time we reached the car, we were ready for breakfast/lunch/dinner as we hadn’t had a meal all day. Even though it was cold and windy, Tamera agreed to drive up the Hogback https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCJB_Xa1nOs to Boulder to eat at Hell’s Backbone Grill. https://hellsbackbonegrill.com/ Thanks to Covid, the restaurant was serving only dinner and that was outside, on the patio. Still, people were lined up for their locavore cuisine. We opted to take ours to go and found a turnout on the Hogback that afforded a 360 degree view, Calf Creek on the right and another stark drainage on the left. We ate our dessert first, using the excuse that we didn’t want Tamera’s autumn fruits cobbler to get cold or her ice cream to melt. My chocolate chili cream pot would have been good at any temperature. Sorry no food pictures; we ate like starving refugees.

Returning to camp, we decided to go to the drive-in movie theater. Top Gun was showing. As Tamera recited the dialog from memory between and through mouthfuls of popcorn, I reviewed the day’s pictures and texted them to Sally to elicit her envy.

Our narrator
We chose the Nash Rambler over the ’64 Corvair because the Corvair has a terrible safety record.
Dig that analog clock! That’s an electric heater on the floor, next to a vintage Victrola radio used as a speaker.
HiFi (that’s pre WiFi for you youngsters)
It began to rain rendering Tom Cruise’s face a little blurry but presently a sweet staff member came by with a squeegee and cleaned our windshield.

Yonder served freshly ground and brewed coffee on the patio, along with hot corn muffins and fruit every morning. Neither Tam nor I are big on food first thing in the morning but we tapped that coffee with enthusiasm. No powdered coffee whitener, but real half and half or oat milk for this classy place. I was quite certain this is what heaven would look like upon arrival.

Hike #2 began where Highway 12 crosses the Escalante River. We started off downstream and almost immediately were forced to cross the shallow but frigid stream. I switched to my already damp water shoes and never bothered to change back.

The trail immediately crosses under Highway 12
The bridge support beams are plastered with modern pictographs.
I think the people behind me were the only two we met on the trail all day.
Recent high water had deposited debris five feet high, reminding us of how quickly these desert streams can turn violent.
A side canyon leading to Phipps Arch proved to be an interesting diversion.
Our progress was temporarily halted by this spill off.
We found a way around the first spill off only to be stopped by another farther up the canyon forcing us to retrace our steps across this fragile bridge. The term, “think light” occurred to me as my dogs and I scampered across. Notice the crack 2/3 of the way across? Yeah, it scared me a little.
It looked more substantial from this direction. This was on the way up canyon.

Once again, we left the trail, having hiked 8 miles without breakfast or lunch, famished. Now you may discount what follows, attributing it to exaggerated appetite induced by physical activity but seriously, the lunch at Escalante Outfitters was world class.

Like castaways, we described to each other the meal we were anticipating when we got back to town. Tamera craved fresh mozzarella with tomato on focaccia while I was more broad-minded in my fantasy, never imagining that Tamera’s dream would be realized in the teeny-tiny, back-road, cowboy town of Escalante.

And so, we again arrived at heaven’s gate. Tamera’s sandwich exceeded all expectation. The requisite buffalo mozzarella was enhanced by tomato, red onion, and pepperoccini, on grilled kalamata olive sourdough bread. I ordered a truly Italian style, thin-crust pizza glazed with olive oil and grilled garlic cloves, topped with grilled tomatoes, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and red onions. World class is no exaggeration and I apologize for failing to photograph the pizza before devouring it.

Returning to camp with full bellies, we showered and joined our fellow campers (not pictured) on the patio to watch the full moon rise. The patio refrigerator was stocked with packages of marshmallows, Reece’s peanut butter cups and graham crackers for making s’mores along with sticks on which to roast the marshmallows. Packaged meals, ready to be grilled on the camp grills were also available for purchase. The heated pool and spa beckoned but we were already too tired for a swim.

After the first night, we agreed that we must extend our stay another day. We were hooked on Glamping.

Escalante 2021 – Home to Cannonville, UT

Several weeks ago, I fantasized aloud about a dream trip to Escalante, Utah. Recently President Biden reinstated the original boundaries of the Staircase/Escalante National Monument, thereby deferring the desecration of the area until the next administration decides that mining is more lucrative than tourism. MFN Tamera, who lives almost as far east of the monument as I am west of it, said, “Let’s go!”

Almost in disbelief that a life-long fantasy was going to come to fruition, I began plotting my course and planning every step. Google Maps and Google Earth facilitated the research (and I must also credit ESRI, my hometown mapping company). Traveling solo is always fraught with some trepidation about unanticipated complicatons, so it calmed my anxiety to be knowledgeable about camping options, hiking opportunities, and expected weather. A week before departure, the preparations began in earnest.

Food prep – Chili Relleno caserole – enough to take and plenty to leave for Mike to eat in my absence

Clothes were packed…and repacked as weather reports were updated
Destination appropriate reading material was packed in the hope that there would be time to read. Ha!

Something young people don’t plan around much is bodily functions. But as a mature traveler, it’s essential to consider the demands of one’s digestive system. It’s a complicated formula, one that can be manipulated with the use of caffeine to influence the timing of ablutions. My first stop was planned for about 2 1/2 hours into the journey, The Mojave National Preserve. The details of this stop will be left to your imagination but suffice it to say, it’s a rather sparsely populated area with only desert scrub for privacy. The girls enjoyed the walk.

Rest stop #2

I had little hope of finding a camp site in Valley of Fire State Park as all of the sites are available on a first-come-first-served basis and this was Friday. But, I was tired of freeway driving and decided to make the side side trip to the park anyway. The campground was full but, remembering that the group camp sites allowed up to 15 vehicles, I had the bright idea that I might be able to inveigle an invitation from a small group to join them. As luck would have it, a couple representing the Henderson Presbyterian Church had reserved the best group site and graciously invited me to join them. They turned out to be ideal companions for the evening.

Evening settles over Valley of Fire

If there is anything more beautiful than dawn over the desert, I can’t imagine it at this time. I was awake long before daylight. I reveled in the absolute silence that can only be found in the desert environment where there are no noisy insects or animals. Tarantulas, unlike crickets, don’t attract mates with sound.

Encroaching dawn

How quickly the stars retreat from the glow on the eastern horizon! Only the planets, Saturn & Jupiter (according to my fellow campers), steadfastly held their positions, glowing companionably but appropriately distanced.

A lone plane droned somewhere in the distance to the south, then faded to silence so profound my own heartbeat sounded loud in my head.

The girls lay contentedly on the hard-packed gravel, Molly shunning the plush, dog-sized rugs I had bought for them, as much for their comfort as to keep them (the dogs; not the rugs) clean. With ears pricked they watched the surrounding brush intently, hoping against my hope that prey would show itself. The mountain sheep here are practically tame, having long grown accustomed to the sound of shutters clicking.

The Watch Dogs
The loo with a view
Fifty Shades of Red

With dawn comes the intrusion of sounds of human presence. From the road, a half mile away, early arrivals can be heard and the first jet of the day growls, unseen, in the cloudless sky. Time to hit the road.

The road back to the interstate highway follows the Muddy River which is lined with immaculate farms and a beautiful Mormon temple. The tiny communities of Overton and Logandale are apparently conservative bastions where every lamppost bristled with an American flag and gated homes were hung with banners proclaiming support for Trump and the police. Said supported police were in evidence: one over-sized, 4WD pick-up truck with more chrome than paint; and another luxury SUV, both emblazoned with their law enforcement status. Another hand-crafted sign advertised, “Pistols & PCs”, an interesting collaboration. Suffice it to say that this female with California license plates was careful not to exceed the posted speed limit.

The drive to my next camp site was as scenic as it was long. The Virgin River Gorge has to be one of the most spectacular sections of highway in the country. Squeezed between towering canyon walls, it snakes along the course of the Virgin River, crossing it and recrossing as often as the engineers chose to show off their road-building genius. The most jaded truck drivers must still feel a thrill as they navigate this four-lane roller coaster.

I-15 construction to slow travel between Utah and Las Vegas - The Salt Lake  Tribune

Extreme Road Building

Zion National Park stood between me and my destination, and I debated whether to drive through the park, braving the bumper-to-bumper traffic, just to experience another feat of extreme road building, this time in the form of tunnels, or detour south of the park. The more expedient route won out since I knew there would be splendid scenery no matter which route I took.

We reached our reserved campsite in the tiny burg of Cannonville shortly before dusk which allowed me to set up the trailer and take the dogs for a short hike.

The hills behind Cannonville, just east of Bryce National Park

The night was freezing cold and the heater in the Wanderlust wouldn’t light. I had only two dogs on a three dog night.

Dogs in Down

Just Stop!

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Warning! This is a rant.

Just home from a week-long vacation, and before I begin to post the details of the trip, I am going to alienate anyone who believes that mankind is mandated to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “cover the earth”. Enough already!

I’ve been wandering the desert Southwest for almost fifty years. The lure of quiet canyons and star-filled skies has brought me back to Utah and Arizona, in particular, year after year. But now the vast open spaces, once unmarked by humans, are crisscrossed with the tracks of all terrain vehicles and littered with the detritus of a careless breed of humans who feel entitled to dominion over the earth. The places where one could pitch a private camp, away from the noise of others, now are crammed with RVs (recreational vehicles) of all sizes and purpose. Their occupants sit inside their “home away from home” and watch their big screen TV, rarely venturing outside to appreciate the surroundings of unsurpassed natural beauty. When they do venture out, it’s to fire up the quad or motorcycle to go tearing around the countryside as fast as the uneven terrain will allow.

It’s easy to understand why the seemingly infinite wilderness would feel like one’s own personal space to use and abuse as carelessly as a child would his pristine diaper. But the difference is that the desert isn’t washed clean every day. The mark made by a single passage remains a scar, sometimes for decades; and the tracks of thousands of powerful ATVs render a wilderness a barren sand trap.

The earth is a closed system, my dear breeders. Already our teeming masses, yearning to breathe free, are breathing each other’s exhalations and it’s nearly impossible to maintain a 6 square foot distance between ourselves and other humans.

So, I beg you, just stop. Stop having so many children. Also, if it’s not too much trouble, raise the ones you have to be respectful of mother nature and each other. Teach them that mechanization increases their potential for destruction of the natural environment exponentially while diminishing their ability to appreciate it commensurately. Trust me on this: traveling under one’s own power reveals priceless secrets about one’s environment and about one’s self.

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.