A Girls’ Road Trip

My beautiful cousin, Karen, escaping the discomforts of mid-west winter, spent a couple of weeks with me recently. She’s like a second sister, even though we were parted when my family left Michigan for California when I was ten. Somehow, that similar yet different childhood made us compatible on a very basic level. We were taught the same manners and consideration for others; we share a passion for nutritious food; we love the outdoors and gardening; and we are the same age with the same age-related limitations. Our dissimilarities are profound but because neither of us needs to change the other, we can even discuss our differences without rancor.

Karen invited her friend, Kari, who is thirty years younger than we are, to join us on a four-day auto trip to Zion National Park. I enthusiastically planned the journey, right down to where we would eat breakfast the first morning. I had met Kari a couple of times before and felt confident she would be a welcome addition to our party. Originally, my sister, Babs, had planned to go with us but decided that it wasn’t a good idea to leave Mom home with only Mike to look after her. He’s not much of a cook.

The distance between home and Zion is only about 400 miles and can easily be driven in a day, but I had in mind a shun-piking tour that would take us far from the interstate highway. Our journey began after a scant breakfast, (coffee and freshly picked oranges) with an ascent of our local mountains. Virtually two blocks away from my doorstep, Highway 38 begins a scenic drive through the Angelus National Forest, which is my biking playground. There is no greater joy than sharing one’s pleasure with another as it allows one to see it anew from the perspective of the first-time visitor. We followed the highway to Big Bear Lake where we headed north towards the high desert town of Lucerne Valley.

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The descent from mountain to high desert

Lucerne Valley is a lost-in-time crossroads of a town, a post office, a gas station, a feed store, and a mom & pop, or should I say, a mama y papa restaurant, El Coyote Loco.  I’d  learned that this restaurant was something of a hidden gem in the desert and we were not disappointed. I should have taken pictures for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of this type of dining establishment but I’ll try to briefly give you the flavor of the place.

A once-paved parking area, planters of cactus & succulent plantings around a weathered plywood door, listing on it’s hinges. An ante room to buffer the dining area from the dust and wind, populated with a few picnic tables with plastic table cloths of various patterns. The ubiquitous Mexican oom-pa-pa, ranchero music, a charming, young, Hispanic waitress with a smile so dazzling the desert sun seemed pale by comparison, plastic-sleeved menus. The menu replete with every familiar Southern California dish, burritos, tacos, huevos rancheros, chilis relleno, enchiladas, sopas, and the less familiar with ingredients not normally eaten by us gringos (or guerras in our case) like menudo (tripe soup), lengua (tongue), and other meats of unfamiliar persuasion. An impeccably clean but well-worn dining room, booths bearing the impressions of muchos nalgas (many bottoms), and a restroom where one is encouraged to use water sparingly and not put hygiene products into the plumbing system, equally clean.

My test of every Mexican restaurant is the chili relleno and the salsa fresca. This place nailed both. A freshly-roasted, peeled and seeded, sweet poblano chili, stuffed with cheese, dipped in an egg batter, and fried to a golden brown, then smothered in a slightly spicy ranchero sauce of fresh tomatoes and other savory vegetables. Not exactly health food but no animals died for it and it was muy delicioso.

On the two-lane road again, we intended to jog east a bit and then connect with a road that would take us north to the interstate. But, as luck would have it, we missed the north turn and blithely continued east, then south, then a little east, then more south than east, and finally due south. As the driver, I probably should have either taken a map, or short of that, told my navigator with the cell phone of the intended route, but of course, it was too late for that now. When I saw a sign indicating that Yucca Valley was coming up, my suspicion that we were off course was confirmed. We had essentially traveled north two steps (our destination being north ten steps), and then south three steps. It was a lovely drive with almost no traffic.

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Salt beds being mined on the desert floor

Kari, always the technically agile youngster in the car, quickly found an alternate route on her cell phone that would take us through uncharted territory, northward towards Hoover Dam.

We reached the dam too late in the day to catch a tour but we weren’t too disappointed as the walk across the dam and the view of the canyon were worth the price of admission ($15 for parking).20180309_160622

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A view of the new bridge from the Hoover Dam
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Lake Mead’s bathtub ring behind Hoover Dam
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Cousin Karen and me – Girls gone mild!

With our room awaiting us in Mesquite we joined the evening rush hour traffic through Las Vegas to make our way east, out of Sodom and Gomorrah. None of us looked back. We arrived after dark and ready for dinner. We agreed that Italian sounded like the best bet and drew straws to see who would be the designated driver. Actually, Kari kindly offered to take the wheel which freed me to have a glass of wine with a very nice meal. We were all ready for bed, eager for hiking in Zion the next day.

On the Trail Again

As I’ve said so many times before, every time I throw a leg over my mountain bike I feel like a ten-year old. So, once a week, I shed fifty-five years and act like a kid.

It’s been a lovely cool winter but with very little rain. My riding companion, Sally, has been bringing her little Heeler-mix dog with her, and I take Sadie (Molly can’t go the distance), on our favorite singletrack trails in the Mill Creek wash area. There’s evidently been enough rain in the mountains to fill the local settling ponds (settling ponds are used to trap water that comes down from the local mountains. There the water percolates through the sand to recharge the water table) which provides opportunities for the dogs to swim and play.

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One of many settling ponds in the Mill Creek Wash, also known as Mentone Beach.

The dogs forage afield while we labor slowly up the wash, always keeping track of where we are; and when we approach a road or habitation, they trot obediently beside the bike until the “okay” from me tells Sadie she may go at her own pace. At the top of the climb we stop to put our protective leg and arm armor on. The padded shin/knee guards are invaluable in the event of a crash but more often they provide protection against the brush that encroaches on the trail.

Our downhill speed demands that the dogs stay with us on the trail and they have great fun chasing us through the twists and turns. Towards the end of the twelve mile ride, Sadie is content to trot beside the bike, tongue lolling, and obviously satiated; that is until she spots a rabbit or bird that needs chasing. Then both dogs are off in mad pursuit, leaping over brush and rocks like gazelles. Losing sight of their prey, which they always do, they come back to us begging for more water from our hydration packs.

But now the weather is heating up and the rattlesnakes have come out of hibernation. That means it’s not safe for the dogs to run helter skelter through the brush and rocks, and even more dangerous for them to seek a cool spot to rest under a bush.

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The girls cool off in the stream.

One of the best things about Southern California is that we can ride year around. In the winter we ride here in the valley, and in the summer, we simply drive a few miles into the mountains where it’s almost always cool. But, there are rattlesnakes active in the mountains too so we won’t be taking the dogs again until next winter or at least until later in the summer when the snakes aren’t as active during the day.

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Mt. San Bernardino looms behind our winter playground.

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 normal 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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