An Ironic Cycling Event

I’ve written several times about a trail near my house called Mountain Home Creek Trail. Decades ago it had been the road from the valley floor to Camp Angelus, and Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino National Forest. But it was abandoned when a new road was carved into the side of the precipitous canyon to accommodate modern vehicles. Over time, the old road succumbed to rock slides, winter rains washed out bridges, and now, most of it is little more than a singletrack trail, kept marginally passable by dedicated mountain bikers. (The trail has been unofficially named the John Elliot Trail, a nod to its most dedicated trail maintainer, a retired physics professor.)

Recently, Frontier Communications decided that the 72 1/2 residents of Camp Angelus (now called Angelus Oaks) were in need of fiber optic cable and proceeded to run a bulldozer down the trail to allow the trucks needed for cable installation to access the poles that run the length of the rugged canyon. In doing so, they smashed the manzanita, Scotch Broom, flowering yuccas, and whatever else happened to line the trail. They pushed huge rocks that had provided interest to the mountain bike trail aside, creating a monotonous road where once a trail had been. The blade filled in ruts with loose sand, removed the water bars built to divert water from the trail, and turned one of the stream crossings into a muddy quagmire. We who have been riding, hiking, and maintaining the trail were heartsick at the desecration of one of the most scenic trails in California.

Having heard of the despoliation of our trail, Sally and I decided to see for ourselves, hoping against hope that reports had been exaggerated. The ruin had been halted about two miles from the bottom of the trail by a washed-out bridge, so the first two miles were still pristine. Rounding a turn we found two of our friends standing an appropriate social distance from a third, Greg, who was lying comfortably at the side of the trail. We soon learned that he was not resting comfortably. Descending the trail, Greg, a young sixtyish man, had caught his front wheel in one of the ruts, now invisible because of being filled with loose sand, and was thrown over the bars. He was hurled onto his hip by way of knee and followed by elbow and shoulder, onto a section of remaining asphalt. It soon became evident that the damage was not minor and he would not be able to ride, or even hobble down the trail. Being about three miles from the nearest motorized vehicle access point, we realized that he would have been in a real pickle but for the fact that the trail was now navigable for a rescue vehicle.

So, while we cursed the powers that had sabotaged our trail, we couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit grateful that their wanton destruction had facilitated a rescue.

Greg suffered a fractured hip and other bruises and scrapes. He is expected to be able to walk without the aid of crutches in about a month.

Sally and I rode downhill with all due caution.

Doing My Part For the Cause

Most of my blog friends confess to having lost their mojo during this time of sequestration, as if their inspiration to write comes from the stimulation of interaction with others. Since my life has changed very little, I have no such excuse. I’ve just become a crotchety old lady, bereft of humor.

Like many, I’ve tackled long-procrastinated tasks, like divvying up Mum’s cremains. Each of her nieces have requested a piece of her, so it’s up to me to get a scoop of grandma shipped to them.

This is a selfie of Mum and me. I miss her every day but I’m grateful that she is not here to weather this crisis. She would have not been able to process the information she saw on Fox News (not that I can!) and she would have been in a constant turmoil.

This is her urn, a carved piece of juniper driftwood that I picked up in the San Juan Islands, several years ago. It’s cedar so it smells lovely.

Thankfully, mountain biking and hiking are still permitted in our neck of the woods, though the trails closest to parking lots are more populated than normal. Sadie and I don’t have any trouble escaping the madding crowd.

Sadie catches her breath before we begin the descent of Roller Coaster…
an E-ticket ride, for sure.

My sister Babs has been forced to take up cooking again which gives us something to commiserate about. Menu planning for “mates” who have polar opposite tastes to our own is challenging. I made this gorgeous lentil soup that included coriander seeds and cumin seeds which Mike immediately deemed too exotic for his taste. I ate it for a week and never tired of it.

Chunks of butternut squash, Rotelle tomatoes, and spinach add texture and color to a pot of yellow lentils.

The only excitement (if you can call it that) was a hike my favorite niece (MFN) Tara enticed me into doing one afternoon. She called around 3:00 to tell me she was going to hike up Morton Peak at 4:00, did I want to go? No-brainer! I loaded up my hydration pack, snapped ID on the dogs, and leapt at the chance to spend time with MFN. Morton Peak is a fire road (that’s a dirt road to those of you who live in more humid climates) that ascends about 2,000 feet to a now defunct fire lookout tower in about three miles.

Tara, 13 years my junior with long legs, scampered up the trail at a pace that had me unable to hold up my end of the conversation. Knowing that it was a short hike, I pushed the pace to keep up. At the top, Tara bemoaned the fact that we were too early to observe the sunset that promised to be spectacular in the stormy sky. In a moment of insanity, I suggested that we could descend via the single track that ended six miles below. We had two hours of daylight remaining, so we called my sister to arrange for a shuttle back to my car, and set off down the trail.

The trail had suffered some damage from the heavy rains. It was rutted, rocky, and badly overgrown, all of which slowed our descent. Still a couple of miles from the bottom, the shadows grew long and the light began to fade.

By the time we reached the dirt road at the end of the single track, it was all but dark and we still had a mile to go to reach the paved road where my sister waited. Coyotes began their evening chorus; we were serenaded from several directions so I leashed Sadie just to make sure she wasn’t tempted to go native. Eagerly, she preceded me down the final descent, a steep, gnarly motorcycle track, barely visible in the dark, as Tara called encouragement from below. I had to remind Sadie that her assistance on the downhill was NOT appreciated.

Then the real danger began…we, my sister, my niece and me, failed to practice good social distancing and all rode in the same car back to pick up my car, which, much to our relief had not been vandalized in the dark.

Girls Gone Mild Again

The previous trip only whetted my appetite for another Lone Pine adventure, so two weeks later I persuaded Sally and her daughter Jordan to join me in a four-day Girls Gone Mild adventure. I re-packed the trailer, replenishing my wine supply with TWO bottles this time.

The girls and I hit the road bright and early, feeling rather optimistic as the car was outfitted with new brakes and shocks and the trailer had new tires. Sally and Jordan would follow later in the day when they finished their work day. We encountered a detour, got stuck behind a slow-moving truck, and came upon an accident that required a change of course on a dirt road, but otherwise had clear sailing.

About an hour from our destination I saw a sign saying, “Fossil Falls” which piqued my interest. But being eager to find a good campsite in Lone Pine, I vowed to check it out on the return trip.

The Lone Pine Campground was technically closed for the season but there were a few first-come-first-served sites available and they were free of charge as all of the water faucets were shut off to prevent freezing. Thankfully the pit toilets were open. I selected a site and prepared to back the trailer in when the man camping in the next site walked over to greet me. He kindly offered to guide me into my spot which I gratefully accepted. I’m not exactly proficient at backing and it usually takes me a few tries to get the trailer exactly where I want it. Once I was where I wanted to be, he went back to his own site while I set up the Wanderlust.

Dusk in Lone Pine Campground

Evening falls early in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and by the time I had the trailer level, the refrigerator turned on, and my camp set up, it was growing cool. My new neighbor (Jeff), seeing that I was unaccompanied (other than the dogs) came over and invited me to join him for dinner. He was making pork loin and grilled asparagus. I paused for the briefest moment before accepting his invitation. I offered to contribute salad and wine but he assured me he had it all covered. I had time to take the girls for a short walk before dinner would be served.

Moonrise over the Alabama Hills

By the time we returned, Jeff had his picnic table set for two though I had offered to bring my own plate and flatware. Dishwashing isn’t my favorite task when camping so I didn’t expect him to provide the meal AND do the dishes but he explained that he was a sea kayaking guide by profession and was quite practiced at feeding groups from his camp stove. And sure enough, he effortlessly laid out a four course meal fit for royalty. I offered to do the dishes but he waved me off and by the time I’d gone to my trailer and slipped into something more comfortable (polar fleece pants, a down jacket, and hat), he had everything washed and stowed away in the bear box. He built a fire and offered me dessert, a pudding cup, but I declined.

By 7:30 we were in bed…he in his tent, me and my dogs in my trailer. I couldn’t help but wonder at how different things would have gone forty years ago when we would have lingered around the fire until we had finished a bottle of wine. But now even a man eight years younger than I was no temptation.

Sally and Jordy pulled in around 10:00 by which time the girls and I were ready to make a restroom run. They decided it was too much trouble to set up a tent in the dark, besides it was really COLD; so, they folded the back seat down in the SUV and slept in the car.

Sunrise on Mt. Whitney

For the next two days we explored the area around our campground, beginning with breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe, a favorite with the locals and tourists alike.

Jordy examines a cactus in the Alabama Hills
Sadie the Wonder Dog

We invited Jeff to join us for a dinner of spaghetti and salad which he accepted. We ate inside the trailer because the breeze was cold and the trailer was snug and almost warm.

Tea and Story time

The Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail begins at the campground in scrub brush and ascends through several climate zones in just four miles.

Owens Valley Overlook
Looking up the Whitney Portal
Crossing Meysan Creek

By the end of the day the dogs were ready for bed.

As always, it was time to head home long before we were tired of exploring. It helped that we had one more place to stop on the way home. Fossil Falls is a former river bed that once flowed through the volcanic rock at the southern end of the Owens Valley. The river has long ago changed course but the channel carved by it remains.

I found this in my drafts file and figured I might as well post it as I just received a notice from Valley of Fire that my campsite reservation for next week has been cancelled due to the threat of Covid-19.

Mecca Via Ropes & Ladders

My Favorite Niece (MFN) Tara invited me to join her hiking group on an easy hike out in the low desert near the Salton Sea. I was ambivalent about making the two-hour drive to get there, especially because she warned me that the dogs couldn’t go because the trail included some ladders. But, it was a dreary, overcast day here and I knew the desert would probably be warm and sunny and if I stayed home, I would just waste the day on cleaning the house.

Her hiking buddy, Gilbert, drove and the two-hour journey passed pleasantly with interesting conversation. The other hiker in our vehicle was a Frenchman, Jean Pierre, who went by his initials, J.P. because Americans can’t seem to pronounce his name. We met four other women at the trail head, exchanged introductions, and headed up a broad, gravel wash in search of Ladder Canyon.

Trail Marker for Ladder Canyon

Some reviewers of this hike had complained that the trails were poorly marked. We had no trouble finding this trail marker which pointed to the trail. The trail, however, was a little more obscure.

The entrance to Ladder Canyon

Ladder Canyon quickly slotted up and it became obvious how it got its name.

Jean Pierre showed us how the French descend a ladder
A view of San Jacinto Peak and San Gorgonio Peak in the distance
One of the many dramatically colored rocks
Snow white rocks
The easy walk down canyon

We thought the hike was over when we discovered Rope Canyon just before we reached the parking area. Scrawled on a rock at the entrance was a warning: “Danger!” That was all we needed to entice us to scramble up the canyon which immediately became so narrow that we had to take our packs off to squeeze through. Chock rocks of various sizes blocked our path, forcing us to either crawl under or scramble over. Thinking of Aaron Ralston’s ordeal of getting trapped by a chock rock that shifted under his weight, pinning his arm to the cliff, I was very careful about placing my trust in these unpredictable boulders.

Karen quickly gained confidence as she ascended the rope
My bright orange pack made a nice color splash
Kim scampers up like a spider…
while the rest of us await our turn
Tanya beams back at us
Making our way back down Ladder Canyon

Everyone made it through with nothing more than a little scrape and tired legs and all agreed it was probably the most fun hike we’d ever done.