TALES FROM THE TRAIL (AND SOMETIMES THE ROAD TOO)

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Forcing It

It took a few more days than I thought before I finally grabbed my pack off the kitchen table and put it to my back. You see, among other things (remember, when it rains it pours?)  I ended up on antibiotics due to a tooth infection, and not feeling very invisible lately, I heeded my body’s advice and did a half-assed attempt at taking care of myself for a bit. By Thursday, October 23, I had no more excuses. It was time for some mental health therapy.I had to shove myself out the door.

I was really dreaming of Maple Spring Road in Silverado because its now fall and the Maples are starting to turn yellow. But since July was the last time I hit the trails, it is probably prudent to take it easy. And it was also prudent to not go driving all over the place when the budget is tight. Now is as good a time as any to start acting prudently. So, I decided to explore Wood Canyon (which is pretty easy) and stop by some of my favorite places: Wood Creek, Dripping Cave, Cave Rock, & Coyote Run.

I hiked 8.5 miles in total and took plenty of time sitting in caves and taking in the scenery. It was a beautiful eerie October day. Fall is in the air for sure – the weather is cool, the floor is littered with leaves and I can finally see the crawdads at the bottom of the creek beds – they start coming around in the fall!. I had to force myself out the door to get there -- I'm so glad I went. I know I'm better for it.

It’s been so long, I felt it in my legs on this one. Smile

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Thursday, October 15, 2020

Life is Hard

My parents ingrained many phrases into my head growing up. We were a house of phrases in fact. I could rattle off a dozen probably right now, but I won’t. Wouldn’t you know, these phrases turned out to be true. My dad for example always said, and probably will still testify that  “No Pain, No Gain.” In other words, tough it out because this, whatever this is, will make you stronger. And it takes damn hard work for gain of almost any sort – so expect pain. My mom has her phases that are just as true. One that often comes to mind is: “Haste Makes Waste.”  I heard it enough, you would have thought I’d listened. But I had to learn that haste makes waste for myself over and over again. Now that I know for a fact that haste does in fact make waste, I try to teach my students to take their time and focus, that it will save them later from having to redo whatever it was they messed up because they neglected to take their time and focus. I repeat the phrase my mother taught me to help them remember.

Calico 30k profileIn my  struggles I always look to those old sayings to see which one fits. I’d have to say that for the year 2020, I’m not really feeling the “No Pain, No Gain,” or even the “Haste Makes Waste” vibe. What I’m feeling undoubtedly is “When it Rains It Pours.” Although I started off the year at Calico which was a longtime comeback in need, it was apropos that I was sick for that race and got sicker, missing several classes as a result. (This was before the pandemic.)

BG 13.1 LOGO2I was kind of blindsided after that because things seemed to be going along smoothly by spring 2020. I had no clue that things were about to get a lot tougher. I had a good spread of classes to teach at two schools. It looked like my trails were going to open up in the near future. I had races scheduled and permits filed for Billy Goat 1/2 marathon and the Saddleback Marathon. We were getting lots of rain even in mid spring, so full creeks and green meadows were taunting us all.

I was on campus the day before spring break 2020, the last day I taught a class on campus. It was raining hard. Even with an umbrella, I was drenched by the time I made it to my truck. For some reason that image is ingrained in my mind. That was the last day I stepped onto campus. I have not been there since.

I got a lot done during those next several months working from home. I kept my hiking up, and even did some running. I had to. I had to in order to keep my sanity. Things had changed much too much for me, and slowly life began gnawing away at my courage and I began to feel weak and afraid. I hate fear. It is the worst feeling.

My country had gone crazy, adding to the pandemic, we now had riots and social unrest. I noticed friends around me going through really tough times, truly terrible times for some. Just put one foot in front of the other was my plan. I did that and even though everything seemed like it was crap, I didn’t really brace myself for the fact that it could get crappier. First it was little things (besides the no groceries on the shelves and regular pandemic stuff).  My cell phone was stolen out of my purse while grocery shopping. I drove into the wall in front of my house and destroyed my tire. My second job decided not to continue the courses I teach for the summer and fall. Fires broke out in the state. And all the national forests out here closed down. All the while, we never really opened back up in California due to COVID cases and I had to postpone both trail races.

I continued taking my own medicine by hitting the trails as much as possible during all this, even during some hot summer days. July 30 was my last hike. It was a good time (about 11 miles) and I even made a short video of it here:

My feet haven’t hit dirt since that day because right around that time my youngest son became very ill. I naturally assumed he had come down with a bug, perhaps COVID, who knew. And so, we all braced to catch whatever he had, which by the way was pretty terrible. But none of us got sick. And just when it seemed like my son was improving he would get sick again. We were seeing doctors and specialists because he couldn’t keep down anything and lost 20+ pounds in a month. Nothing else mattered at that point. I had a one-track mind, and that was his health. My shoes and packs and trail gear all got tucked away. 

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I am so grateful that I was able to teach my classes online this fall. My son was eventually hospitalized for 10 days at the end of August. I lived in his hospital room during that time and was able to work remotely. He went through many procedures before doctors finally diagnosed him with two chronic conditions of which there is no cure. There is treatment however, which is what I’ve really been focusing on these past months. All the while, social unrest continues, and the pandemic and it’s closures carry on as well. It’s been a little discouraging, and I have been actively seeking methods to conquer the terrible feeling of fear.

62207536201__CCAFA231-D335-4A24-BB2B-A24384673496When it rains it pours for sure. My computer was hacked on the hospital network and my AppleID was stolen. Back at home, my cat caught an infection as well that landed him in the vet with a handful of drugs to administer back at home. That same day, our dog ran into the prickly pear in the backyard and stabbed a spine through her throat.

I am now on the other side of all that above and it reminds me of another saying my parents used to tell me, and that is: Life is hard. Yep, it sure is. It’s joyful and so many other things, but mostly, life is hard. Oddly, I try and mimic that by climbing hills. But apparently, when life is actually hard, I don’t have the energy to do it for therapy. But it’s time now. It’s time to get back out on the trails again. I have started taking out my out my gear and have begun prepping for a trip back out again for a nice big dose of medicine. Let’s see how long it finally takes me to do it.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Revisiting My Meltdown on The Main Divide

For a long time I have been wanting to revisit my meltdown on The Main Divide back in August 2013. It’s been nearly 7 years since that nearly fateful day. Yet I think about it time and again and use it as a point of reference often. I have known for a long time how wrong I was in explaining what happened to me that day.  In my post written very quickly after the event, I blamed a lack of calories for my demise. I somehow thought that I needed more than the 400 calories that I packed along in the form of mainly gels (100% carbs 1/3 of it sugar!). Problem with the calorie theory is, I have been running and hiking in almost exclusively a  fasted state for a few years now without any problem (even in the heat.) I ran the Calico Trail Race earlier this year in a fasted state and did not suffer for it, and in my opinion was better for it. Also as far as the calories go, I have an image of myself on that hot August day trying to suck down a gel as I struggled up Trabuco Trail toward The Main Divide. I was already sick at that point.

I mistakenly blamed lack of calories because I had plenty of fluids. I had driven out to Trabuco Canyon beforehand and stashed water in a forest area off of Holy Jim parking lot. When I arrived to that location during this run on August 3, I rested and drank up plenty there,  then filled up my pack (adding electrolytes) before beginning my five mile run up Trabuco Trail. Eventually, lack of fluids may have been a problem on that sizzling day, but not because I lacked them – it’s that I just couldn’t drink anymore, I was too nauseated.

From August 3, 2013, in Holy Jim lot refilling before heading off up Trabuco Trail

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So, if it wasn’t fluids and it wasn’t calories, what was it that I fear nearly killed me on that day in the Cleveland National Forest? The answer is easy. I can tell you without hesitation that it was heat. Yes, Heat. I was suffering from heat exhaustion (what I call heat sick). There is no mistaking it. The first time I can remember succumbing to heat sickness was about 1984, 85 while fishing in Utah. My mother-in-law-to-be drenched a towel in the lake water and placed it over my head and then sat me beneath an umbrella. She didn’t pour fluids down my gullet. She instead attempted to cool down my body temperature. Unfortunately, I didn’t put this together and had to learn it all over again and again. The next big time I recall heat sickness striking is during Bulldog 50k in August 2010 with temperatures over 100F. I got so overheated that even fully  submerged in the stream I could not cool down. I could not cool dothermometer-4767443_1920wn because I was already heat sick; I was past the point of no return. When this happens the heat is overbearing, especially in my head, I’m confused and lethargic, so much so that I’ve nearly fallen asleep before sprawled out on the trail with heat sickness. Heat sickness is a brutal hit to my system. I can be sick for days, sometimes with the chills and body aches – at the very least I’m in bed right away at home and out until the next day. Heat Sickness is a terrible thing, which is why I really wanted to revisit that day back in 2013 and set the record straight. I know it was heat exhaustion that prompted me to call for help. There is no mistaking heat exhaustion and it is silly that I did not immediately see this (I was fooled by my abundance of fluids!). My problem on August 3, 2013 was The Heat. (I capitalize it in reverence to The Heat’s mighty force!)

scorching-sunYou can drink all the fluids you want but it will not save you from the heat. Fluids help, and lack of them (and electrolytes) greatly hinder (and also kill you). What you really need, in addition to fluids when you’re out in the heat, is to cool down. Heat raises your body temperature and unless you cool it down you are going to get sick and then eventually, you are going to have heatstroke and die. It’s tough to fight back from heat exhaustion. But here’s the trick: Do Not Ever Get There. Work with the heat -- don’t ever let it overwhelm you. I learned that I need to cool down if I get too hot because once my body temperature gets too high, there’s no recovering: I am heat sick.  A lot of people confuse “cooling down” with hydrating. Yes, hydration can aid in cooling me down, but it’s just not that efficient. What I need is shade. I need to stop and get in the shade. Assuming I haven’t reached the point of no return (for me body temp above 101F) I’ll cool down in just a few minutes and then I’m good to go. The tiniest bit of shade will do, the shade of a small trash can will do. And if there is no shade (shame on me for being out in the heat with no available shade!), but if that happens, merely stopping to rest can help cool me down, sitting helps too (along with drinking fluids of course as well).

So, there you have it. I have set the record straight on my Meltdown on The Main Divide. I do need to add that I didn’t come up with the phrase “Meltdown on The Main Divide.” Some time after my August 2013 heat sickness, I stumbled across a mountain biking website that had a thread going called “Meltdown on The Main Divide.” When I began to read, I realized that the mountain bikers were talking about me and what had happened that day. In preparing to write this post I did an online search and darn it, I wasn’t unable to find the thread.

Keep cool out there! Hot smile

Friday, July 24, 2020

Breakfast in a Cave

IMG_3806Wednesday (July 22), I blocked out time in “The Schedule” to get in a 10+ mile loop, beginning at Moulton Meadows in Laguna Beach. I began at the top of Mentally Sensitive where the weather was quite chilly and I even wondered for a moment if I should have brought something warmer to wear. No need to worry. After gingerly making my way straight down Mentally Sensitive into Aliso Canyon, I had warmed up plenty. (Look at that first drop in the elevation profile!) Actually all of Aliso and Wood Canyon was like an oven this time of afternoon. I was greatly looking forward to the shadiness of Wood Canyon.

At about 4 o’clock I arrived at Cave Rock in Wood Canyon which was the perfect place to cool down and break my fast. I climbed up to the “big” cave on the side of Cave Rock and had a small meal of meat and cheese with a meadow view. I could hear branches breaking across in the trees. When I focused I caught a glimpse of a deer hoping about but lost him pretty quickly. That got me thinking: I really need a small pair of binoculars (another thing to pack!).

Lovely hike, even though it was one of those “climb out” hikes. The climb out was nice and gradual though with mountain and ocean views! Besides that – the climb is always good for the soul (and for that matter, so is breakfast in a cave.)

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Eight Miles In

IMG_3722Monday, June 20, I put myself on a schedule, written out the night before on a steno pad that I always have with me (except when I’m wandering). I really needed to do this – without a schedule I have no structure in my day. I get things done whenever I feel like it, which sometimes means never.  Without structure, I am nowhere near as productive as I desire. In fact, without structure, it seems every aspect of my life (mental health, nutrition, sleep, exercise) suffers. So, from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm yesterday, as per my schedule, I answered students’ emails and troubleshooted a couple student projects, did several household chores, chatted over the phone with my oldest son (not on the schedule) and then shot over to the closest grocery store to pick up vanilla ice cream for the blackberry pie my middle son had baked the night before. (The blackberries were fresh, picked from a bush in my backyard.)

This structure came just in time. I could tell that my mood was declining the longer I held off. After my five hour block of work, I scheduled a hike that was obviously long overdue. The state of everything (and I mean everything, but in particular: COVID19, politics, unrest, etc.) was really weighing on me. And I felt  particularly down after reading details in the news about some recent murders, one in New Jersey, the others in Florida. I should never read the details in cases like these. The details haunt me. Haunt. Me. When I finally set out into Aliso Canyon for the Big Loop a little after 3 pm I was trying to shake the haunting images of what I had read. I guess if I could pick only one word to describe what I was feeling it was this: fearful. I was able to drift in and out of this funk as I strolled through Aliso Canyon and its brown summer glory. But I kept returning to a place where my thoughts were dark.

IMG_3726Hiking, running, wandering always gives me peace. Sometimes that peace is immediate -- I feel it with my first step. Other times, it takes a few more steps, sometimes a mile, sometimes two. This sense of peace that I talk about is not necessarily a feeling of “happiness”. It is more a feeling of weights being lifted off my shoulders, a feeling of acceptance and perhaps hope coupled with a joyful kind of lightheartedness all at once. I feel like I can breathe easier and think clearer with this peace. It’s the whole goal.

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At about three miles in, I sat on The Rock in Wood Canyon, just past Wood Creek Trail to break my fast with some cheese and beef sticks. After another mile of winding trail beneath a shady forest canopy, I took the steep incline up to the ridge chatting with my mother over the phone. And then I hiked much of West Ridge listening to a Youtube interview.  All of this was wonderful for my soul: food then grinding out Cholla Trail  while talking to my mom, which made the difficult work much easier, toping it off with a hopeful interview overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

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I barely saw anyone in the canyons on the way out – one or two cyclists and a couple runners. West Ridge had one or two hikers as well until I neared the Top of the World at Alta Laguna Park. By then we were well into evening with a cool ocean breeze. It was no wonder that the top was crowded with people either taking in the views or heading out for evening hikes. Practically everyone was masked. But as crowded as the place was, we were all easily able to keep our distance.

The playground was taped off in the park, but the restrooms (real restrooms with sinks, soap and running water, a luxury I don’t often have on hikes) were thankfully open. As I hightailed it out of the park into the neighborhoods (finishing up about 7.5 miles), more and more cars pulled into the park emptying people with masked faces headed out on their evening strolls. 

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I left everyone behind and marched across the lovely neighborhood that runs along the ridge so that I could re-enter the park in Aliso Canyon. It was during that portion, right around eight miles in that peace finally arrived with all of its gifts. Eight miles in. And at about 8.5 miles in, I came up on these guys grazing on the hillsides and began my trek down Meadows trail:

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Perfect Timing (nearing end of Meadows Trail, about 2 miles out from my truck):

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Car Wreck Trail

IMG_3601 (2)The last hike I got out on was Friday, July 10.  I decided pretty quickly after arriving back to my regular stomping grounds  to take the most difficult incline in the park, Car Wreck Trail. With rising temperatures in Southern California, I was starting to think that I wouldn’t get in many more hikes over the next several weeks. Anticipating that loss, I was craving something tough. Granted, we are not having anywhere close to record temperatures. It’s just I don’t want to even flirt with heat sickness (Too many close calls!)

It’s debatable I suppose, whether or not Car Wreck Trail is the toughest trail in Aliso and Wood Canyons. Mentally Sensitive would be the only trail close to Car Wreck’s difficulty. Here’s the deal in a nutshell: Car Wreck Trail is steeper but it is shorter than Mentally Sensitive. Yes, Mentally Sensitive has some pretty dang steep portions. But Car Wreck’s steepness is constant from the car wreck onward all the way to nearly the end when it finally reaches Mathis trail close to West Ridge. I, by the way, did not make this trek with the mask as pictured above. I carry a mask with me, but don’t wear it when I hike. Don’t need to. I don’t see others, and when I do, it’s easy to social distance. Thank God this is my hobby, my medicine, the thing I do. I easily gave up the gym when COVID19 came along. I gave up the trails for a short while when the crowds arrived. But they’re back to desolate again, so I am in my happy place!

My route on this lovely summer late afternoon/evening: From Canyon View Park, Wood Cyn/Coyote Run/Mathis/Car Wreck/Mathis/Top of the World/Canyon Acres/West Ridge/Cholla/Wood Cyn. Car Wreck as promised was quite difficult (look @ that profile!). 7.65 mi, Elev Gain 1,305 ft.

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Lovely evening hike during these tense times. Looking forward to getting out again. Really need to see to that quickly. It’s for my own good.  Confused smile