Looking back at previous posts, I realized that I might need to reconsider my “Mountain Bike Musings” title. I haven’t posted anything about mountain biking since September! That’s not to say that I’m not riding, Sally and I ride almost every weekend; but, as I tap ever so gently at the door to septuagenarianism (yes, I will turn 66 in a few days), I find that the thrilling, rutted, rock-strewn, precipitous descents that once lured me into tongue-numbing fits of euphoria, just don’t. I still like to remember how it felt to defy gravity and harness it to my own need for speed, how absolutely alive I felt, sliding to a reckless sideways stop at the bottom. But now, when I look over the edge, contemplating the coordinated focus of mind and muscle it takes to to navigate such a trail safely, my peripheral mental vision sees the inconvenience of self-induced, paraplegic retirement. My mantra, “Damn the rocks, full speed ahead” has been amended to, “Well, there’s always golf”.
The other factor in the taming of the desire for downhill fun, is the cost of gaining the requisite elevation. My mature legs complain when I try to push the higher gears of my new bike up the steeper grades. By the time I’ve climbed a couple of thousand feet, my legs are too spent to enjoy crouching over my back wheel as I slide down a roller-coaster steep trail.
Yesterday, we ran into a couple of old cycling acquaintances, one of whom had recently purchased an e-bike. An e-bike is a battery powered bicycle that basically turns any rider into Lance Armstrong. This chubby woman boasted that she was the only one in her group who could keep up with the fastest young guy in the pack. She extolled the benefits of this “bicycle” with such enthusiasm that Sally and I could not help but consider it as we pedaled home.
I had to confess that there were two factors preventing me from seriously considering purchasing what I think of as a lightweight motorcycle. The first is the cost: $5,500, which is $2,000 more than the beautiful, motor-less Intense Carbine I purchased just two years ago.
The second, and maybe the more compelling, is that I’m an elitist snob. There is something about self-propulsion that builds self-confidence. When I watch dystopian movies (seldom) and I see people desperately scavenging for gasoline, I think quite smugly, “I don’t need fuel; I have legs”. Also, all of the people I know who have e-bikes are overweight. Mountain biking is inherently a competitive sport, and when an out-of-shape, couch potato cruises next to me, chatting blithely while I gasp for breath like a decked fish, I am not thinking about how much I enjoy her company. I’m thinking how much I’m going to enjoy dropping her like a hot potato on the descent!
But then, I start thinking about the trails I could ride, ones I haven’t been able to climb in years. With a little assistance, I could get to the gonzo-abusive downhill that awaits at the top of those exhausting climbs! Maybe when I turn seventy…
Years ago, I booked a flight on Delta Airlines that took me through Atlanta, the closest I’ve ever gotten to visiting the South. I’ve read enough to have an understanding of the basic tenets of Southern manners, but I was still impressed when I was the brunt of the famous Southern insult.
I’d been on a few European airlines on trips, Paris, Madrid, and Dublin and had appreciated the little amenities provided on these longer flights. And so, when I boarded my Delta flight, I was delighted to find that they had adopted the practice of providing little pillows. Making my way to my coach accommodations at the back of the plane, I spotted an unclaimed pillow on an empty seat and, in an impulsive moment, snatched it up, oblivious to the startled looks of the passengers in the surrounding seats.
I was just nicely settled into my seat when a beautifully coiffed woman, wearing a diamond ring that was visible from space, approached me with a stiff smile. “Did y’all pick up a pilla back thayer?” she asked, which was clearly a rhetorical question, as the purloined pillow was sitting in plain view on my lap. Immediately realizing my mistake, I apologized explaining that I had thought that Delta provided pillows for the comfort of their guests. Smiling disingenuously, she cooed, “Y’all don’t travel very much, do you.”
Now, if I hadn’t been so mortified, and if I had been raised in polite Southern society, I would have responded, “Well, not in coach anyway.” But instead, I sat red-faced and horrified that everyone from my seat forward viewed me as a thief. That incident, when recalled more than twenty years later, still makes me blush.
While I’m sure I’ve made other more serious gaffs in my life, this one remains the most embarrassing. I come from a long and proud line of scofflaws. In my family it’s considered honorable to skirt the onerous scrutiny of the building inspector; I seldom make a complete stop at empty intersections; I THINK about turning left on a red arrow when there is no oncoming traffic in sight; there are even those in my immediate family, who shall remain unnamed, who have admitted to petty theft, but I am NOT one of them. So, to have to sit on a plane for hours, with a dozen or more people who saw me as a thief, well, you can imagine my discomfort!
From the article I read online about Temporary Global Amnesia (TGA) there’s no real explanation for it. Sudden immersion in hot or cold water, vigorous exercise, or robust sexual activity could be triggers. Which leads me to the following hypothesis:
While riding vigorously down Mountain Home Canyon, I caught a flash of sunlight reflecting on something metallic out of the corner of my eye. Pausing to investigate, thinking perhaps one of my companions had overshot the turn and gone over the side, I discovered a poorly camouflaged, disabled alien space craft, probably a ship to surface shuttle by the size of it. My attention was observed by a creature lurking inside, who beckoned me come hither. At first he was strangely put together, a mishmash of recognizable forest animals, bear, deer, woodpecker, squirrel; but as I scrutinized him, trying to make out what I was looking at, he took the identifiable form of an attractive male human.
Exuding old-world charm, and smelling of green copy paper, he extended a hand, offering a tour of his “camper” which now did look like an Aliner.
The touch of his hand made me flush with unaccustomed excitement and I made no protest as he led me through the trees into his “camper”. Without further introduction, he began removing my stinky, sweaty bike clothes and initiated a most languid, unhurried foreplay. I was helpless to resist. Robust sex ensued.
Clearly, I could not be allowed to return to my people in this newly enlightened and totally satiated condition; so my memory was wiped clean and I was sent down the hill with the taste of his Dos Equis kiss still on my lips.
Seems as plausible as a stroke with no symptoms to me.
“You didn’t have a stroke;
you had a CT scan in a tube (you’ve asked me before);
you have an infection (they drew blood);
I called Greg, he said to come here;
we went home and dropped the bikes off;
you said something was wrong, so we came here.
[I] Went home to take care of the dogs – be back shortly.”
This is the note I found beside me in my hospital bed Saturday afternoon. Allegedly, I had read it previously but I still found it fascinating news. The details of Saturday morning remain lost to me but it appears that I began forming new memories again only a few hours after “the event”.
The drawing of the spinal fluid was the first memory that took root in the blank page of Saturday, November 10, 2018 (a date that eluded me at the time), followed by the MRI. Mike had called my sister who dropped her plans for the weekend and remained at my bedside for the entire two days and two nights, suffering the privations of hospital food without complaint.
As the results of the tests came in, the ER doctor would think of new and more creative (spelled “expensive”) ways to exploit my newly acquired health insurance. An ultrasound of the carotid arteries and an abdominal CT scan seemed to satisfy the hospital’s quota of billable procedures, though the ER doctor showed some chagrin when I declined a colonoscopy. Did he suspect I had my head up my ass? Then came the drug peddler: potassium supplements, a pill to ensure I didn’t get heartburn from the IV antibiotic, and an injection in the abdomen of something else prophylactic (I now recall it was a blood thinner). The nurse was gracious at my refusal of a flu shot but the ER doctor harrumphed away when I firmly refused his offer. I think they were scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to find something to prescribe when they could find almost nothing to target.
I must brag just a bit: The Greg mentioned in Mike’s note is one of our mountain biking companions and, more importantly for this telling, he is also my primary care doctor. He had called ahead to his colleague, the ER Doctor inordinately fond of the colonoscopy, and advised him not to treat me like an old lady as I was uncommonly strong and fit. You’re beginning to understand my fondness for the man, aren’t you.
So, where was I? The brain is still having some issues with short term memory. Oh, let’s just go with stream of consciousness for now; it may be amusing someday.
I’m told that we had gone for a ride with our regular group of friends, on a trail we ride frequently; in fact, I’d ridden it the last two Saturdays in a row, making it more difficult to know which memories belonged to which day. According to Mike, we arrived a bit late and I pushed the pace to catch up to the group (here’s the vigorous exercise). Included in the group was Greg, my primary care physician, and an orthopedic surgeon. Comforting, eh? We ate breakfast at the restaurant at the top of the climb; I’m told I ate part of Greg’s pancake, a few bites of Mike’s potatoes, and coffee. Then we donned our downhill gear and raced the seven miles downhill back to the truck. Being a pretty nimble descender, I wasn’t far behind Mike at the usual regrouping places. We always pause at the waterfall, and then again at the place we call the hike-a-bike, which is about a mile from the parking area. Mike tells me I rode down the lower portion of the hike-a-bike normally. When he arrived at the truck, he was concerned when I didn’t slide in sideways behind him. He waited, growing increasingly concerned, as the possibility of a wreck is always the first thing that comes to mind when a normally good rider fails to show up. He was relieved to see me approach the truck sedately with nary a scratch and no visible sign of a fall. His relief evaporated when I told him, “Something is wrong.” His alarm grew when I kept repeating myself and asked the same questions every few minutes as we drove home. Hence the note, written in the ER before he left to feed the animals and Mum.
The subsequent two days in the unfamiliar, sometimes frightening environs of the hospital, were made almost pleasant thanks to the considerate and competent staff and the constant, reassuring company of my big sister. Her unfailing calm, her attention to my every wish (without hovering or hand-wringing), and her ability to feign amusement at my heightened use of humor to keep fear at bay, strengthened the bonds of sisterly love.
At last, having adequately assured themselves that no test had been overlooked in the CYA checklist, I was discharged. I’m home, feeling a little light-headed but essentially normal, albeit five pounds lighter than I was when I left the house Saturday morning. Hospital food is not a diet regimen I would recommend, but nonetheless effective.
Oh, yes, the violent death that lured you in! Once home, (go ahead, settle in, this could take a while) I went back to check on my mom. In my absence, Mike had tended her and when she asked where I was, he had told her I’d gone camping. Her dementia doesn’t allow her to form new memories unless it’s something that scares her. Then she perseverates about it until it’s all she can think about. When I got home, she asked if I’d been gone but she didn’t remember that I’d gone camping (funny, neither did I). On my way back to her granny flat, I noticed an enormous gopher sitting in plain sight above ground, in my garden! Galled by its hubris, I pointed it out to Molly who dispassionately dispatched it with two quick crunches of the skull…culminating in a violent death.
The final day dawned with clouds spilling over the top of the mountains and a chill wind pushing down the canyon.
With sore knees and a reluctant heart, I broke camp to try to make it home before the reported storm settled in. I took the more scenic route, traveling south on Horseshoe Meadows Road for a few miles before turning east down Lubken Canyon Road. Scrub brush stretched for miles across the alluvial fan and it felt like I was alone on the planet until I spotted a large dog on the side of the road. I slowed and he began chasing the car and barking excitedly. Then I spotted his companion, another good sized golden retriever type. I couldn’t help but think of my dogs that someone had dumped on the side of the road two years ago. I stopped the car and got out, not sure of what to do. Could I just leave them out there in the middle of nowhere? They both appeared friendly, though the one kept barking something about Timmy having fallen down the well. Just when I had decided that I would have to turn back to the last human habitation I’d seen to report their whereabouts, a jovial looking man, wearing shorts, and carrying a long stick popped out of the bushes across the road. He launched into an explanation of how he took his wife, who had Parkinson’s, out for a walk every morning, and all I could do was gush about how relieved I was to see him. We each thought the other a bit odd, I’m sure.
I thought that Lubken Canyon Road connected with Highway 395 but as it grew narrower and more deteriorated, I began to worry that it would dead end with no place wide enough to turn around with a trailer. The road was hemmed in on both sides by weedy ditches and a fence. Then I came to a sign saying, “road narrows”. Oh, crap! Now it was one lane wide with no room to meet an oncoming vehicle, much less turn around. Backing in a straight line with a trailer is not my strong suit so I continued down the track, praying I didn’t meet anyone coming up.
As luck would have it, I had this lovely lane to myself. Ahead it looked as if the road either ended or turned and then voila! It turned over a cattle guard and immediately became a perfectly paved, two-lane road heading directly east. My little adventure had been mostly in my head but sometimes one has to find thrills where one can.
Sadie was adamant that the front bed of the Aliner was meant for her so, I decided that the dinette was superfluous and dropped it into the bed position. I slept better in the wider bed, Sadie was content to have space to stretch out, and Molly, the red-headed step-child, still slept on the floor. (She did have a rug)
Tara wanted to climb a portion of the the upper section of the Whitney Portal Trail though permits were not being issued to day hikers. Being from a long line of scofflaws, she was not deterred. Babs and I chose to again hike the lower portion, only this time we started from the top, thinking we would see the part we had missed the day before. What a great idea!
The upper portion of the lower part of the Whitney Portal Trail (are you with me so far?) starts a gradual descent along the creek, winding through widely spaced trees and box car-sized boulders. It is absolutely lovely! But the trail quickly grows steeper as it attempts to keep the stream, which is now more of a waterfall, in sight. Babs, having the advantage of nine more years of attaining good sense, said she would turn back, in keeping with her understanding of her limitations. I was enjoying the descent in spite of my aching knees, and the glimpses through the trees of the valley , thousands of feet below, lured me on. Molly and Sadie forged ahead, stopping at each switchback to wait for me. They know the rule is that they must remain in sight.
After an indeterminate amount of time (time flies when you’re having fun), I felt a pang of guilt at the thought of my sister waiting on the side of the trail above and turned back. I’d gone only about 50 feet up the trail when I realized it was REALLY steep. After a couple of switchbacks it dawned on me that my knees were REALLY sore. And then, gasping like a fish out of water, it became excruciatingly clear that the air was REALLY thin! I attached the leash to Sadie’s collar and encouraged my indefatigable, Klingon dog to pull. After a few yards, she balked. This was not what she had signed up for.
There was naught to be done but put ‘er in low and grind up the trail, gasp, wheeze, cough, pause, and repeat. I was soon distracted from the discomfort by the spectacular scenery and I reminded myself of my mantra: There is no place I would rather be; there is nobody I would rather be with; and there is nothing I would rather be doing.
I found Babs enjoying her own pace and taking photos. Her knees were fine, and she was ready to explore some more. I gamely pretended to be enjoying further hiking.
The drive down the Whitney Portal Road is as exciting at the Horseshoe Meadows Road; so, I pulled out on a turnout to admire the view of the valley. There was a motorcyclist already stopped there, taking a picture of his dog and his motorcycle. I offered to snap one of the two of them and he accepted the offer gratefully. He pulled off his helmet and wondered if his hair looked matted. Who would notice with this handsome companion?
By dinner time, I was ready to kick off the hiking shoes and pour a glass of wine. It seems that alcohol is more effective at elevation because we nursed one bottle over three nights. Either that or we’re cheap dates. I made spaghetti while Babs chopped peppers, onions, cucumbers, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and raisins for a mixed green salad. For dessert, we splurged on a chocolate, almond, butter tart, compliments of Trader Joes. Tara again carried the dirty dishes back to her trailer and returned them clean for the next day’s supper. I LOVE that girl!
If you have never experienced the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s hard to visualize the dramatic views they present at every turn. My sister, Babs, niece Tara, Tara’s dog Copper, my girls Molly and Sadie, and I, spent three nights at the Lone Pine campground at the base of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. The campground is nestled in a narrow canyon, next to a clear, trout-stocked stream, just off the Whitney Portal Road. It’s at about 6,000 feet which makes it just a bit cooler than the Owens Valley below and significantly cooler than Death Valley just a short distance away.
The whole idea of going on a trip with my new trailer, without Mike to take care of all the details of hooking up to the car and setting up the trailer was a bit stressful; but Tara was an experienced RVer and her presence gave me confidence. Adding to my anxiety, there were a multitude of “active bear” signs and “caution – rattlesnake” signs that didn’t exactly engender a sense of security. The first night, I put all of my food that wasn’t in the refrigerator in the bear box. Technically, this should be called an anti-bear box but I’ll go with the flow. Then I slept fitfully, imagining I heard bears even though the dogs slept serenely.
In the morning, well almost morning, we walked to the restroom, a clean, fresh, pit toilet, by moonlight. I trusted the girls would alert me to the presence of any wildlife. We saw only bunnies.
One of the joys of being an insomniac is having the world to oneself, still, cool, and full of anticipation as the rising sun inexorably crawls down the crags of the western mountains. I strolled through the slumbering campground, hearing not a sound until I reached the tent section. Then gentle snoring and the occasional fart made the presence of men known.
At the top of the ridge above the campground, I found a strong cell connection where I could call home to check in with Mike to see how Mom was doing in my absence. She had been anxious at the idea of me being away, but I was confident she would soon forget, which was borne out by her question, when I returned three days later. “Are you just home from work?”, she asked.
I volunteered to be the camp cook, knowing that if we left that chore to either Babs or Tara, we would probably starve to death. The little galley in the Aliner proved perfect for our first night’s meal of grilled cheese sandwiches on cracked-wheat sourdough, with sauteed onions and bell peppers tucked in. I suppose a nice bottle of white wine would have been appropriate, but I opened the pinot noir anyway.
In no rush to hit the trail, we completed our morning ablutions and tidied our camp sites before setting off up the lower section of the Whitney Portal Trail. The upper section of this trail is perhaps the most well-known (and consequently heavily trafficked) trail in California. Avid hikers are attracted by it’s breathtaking panoramas and the bragging rights attached to summiting its 14,500′ peak. We had no such ambitions and were content to start from camp where the altitude was less breathtaking. This section of trail immediately left Lone Pine creek and ran parallel to it along the ridge above. Just when it was becoming almost too warm in the sun, a side trail allowed access to the creek just a quarter of a mile below, much to the dogs’ delight. After a refreshing dip in the stream, we were all ready for more climbing and continued up the trail, which quickly entered tall scrub vegetation and then trees, making it far more comfortable. The relative coolness of the forest was offset by the increased steepness of the trail which became a series of switchbacks that tested the limits of our knees. When we ran out of snacks, we retraced our path back to camp, having seen only a handful of other hikers.
With hours of daylight left and spent climbing legs, we turned to auto touring for entertainment. The road to Horseshoe Meadows is carved into the side of a crazy-steep mountain, barely two-cars wide. My passengers experienced the closest thing to flying one could experience in a car, while I focused almost exclusively on the road. The meadows were anti climactic and beastly cold (elevation 10,000″) so we retraced our route which was even more dramatic on the descent.
Back at camp, I re-positioned my trailer to a site closer to Tara’s rig. This site had shade and was half the distance to the restroom. It was also directly across from the camp host who was an affable fellow and a wealth of information. He assured me that the bear boxes were not necessary as long as we kept our food inside our trailers. The only pests we would encounter in camp were squirrels and other rodents. That night I slept peacefully.