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Be It Ever So Local, There’s No Trails Like These . . .

April 3, 2018

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While I occasionally get a chance to escape crowded-traficky-loud Orange County (where the roar of the freeways will never be mistaken for ocean waves, although I try, and where the night is filled not with the siren call of coyotes but actual sirens, given the fact that we live by a Level III trauma hospital next to the Orange Crush, one of the craziest freeway interchanges in the US), since I’ve been wandering the trails of our local foothills for over 20 years, there’s something comforting about meandering up and down ridges where I know who blooms where and when. (And when I say “meander,” I mean it–see previous sentence for an example of my meanderthol expertise.)

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Our amazing local plants and animals are OK with a lot of variables, including the idea of “rainy season.” We all hold our breath during the (perfectly normal) rainless months of April, May, June, July, August, September and October, but come November, when local shrubs have exhausted most of their many dry-climate adaptations, and us humans are beginning to question our memories regarding this thing called “rain,” sometimes it happens. Or not. This year, not so much until a few inches between January and March.

I love this quote from a page about local climate:  “Rainfall, on average, is frequently below average.”

This little bit of late rain was just enough to coax a few wildflowers into bloom . . . far fewer than a wet winter would conjure up, but . . . enough to bring a sense of hope to the recently scorched hills east of Orange (Santiago Oaks Regional Park/Barham Ridge). Here’s just a few photos from earlier this week:

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Calochortus catalinae: Catalina Mariposa Lily,  a state-listed rare plant with the “threatened species” rank of 4.2.

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Purple-headed dichelostemma capitatum is having a BIG YEAR in the burned areas of Santiago Oaks Regional Park; here it is enjoying life in the company of California poppies, our much-beloved California state flower (which is considered an “invasive weed” in parts of Australia).

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Last month’s Orange County Chapter/California Native Plant Society presentation by local native plant expert Ron Vanderhoff made me really appreciate the fact that we have many tiny & wonderful California native plants; here’s an itty bitty beauty I would never have noticed if I had not heard Ron’s talk and been on the lookout: Southern Gilia (Saltugilia australis).  It’s got BLUE POLLEN! What?!

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While huge swaths of prickly pear habitat were decimated by the recent Canyon Fire 2 (which was allowed to grow into monster size due to multiple human errors, not-one-but-two recent reports have shown, much to the dismay of 9,200 acres of destroyed habitat) some of the less-charred carcasses are managing to sprout new pads. Here’s hoping our local cactus wrens will be able to make do . . .

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Here’s another view of a sprouting cactus patch in the midst of what was once a thriving coastal sage scrub community; now all you see is a sea of green evil: mostly non-native invasive grasses and habitat-destroying plants such as black mustard and tecolote.

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Poppies and dichelostemma amid the burnt skeletons of laurel sumac and/or lemonade berry. Sigh.

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Poppies up here, smog and noise and traffic down there.

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Stinging lupine (Lupinus hirsutissimus): stunning in its beauty and ouch-ful-ness.

 

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And another local path lined with lupine: my back yard, where I can wander a few feet in each direction, surrounded by California native plants and the rush of traffic on nearby freeways. (Yep. Multiple freeways come together near here: the 5 and the 22 and the 57, just like the Californians told you.)

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It may seem odd to treat these lovely lupine like weeds, but they are way too prolific in captivity–the rabbits of the native plant world–and need to be edited out occasionally to keep the air moving around the Dudleya (three species of this favorite native succulent appear here if you know what to look for).

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The subject of a presentation I enjoy giving (complete with slideshow; book now and receive half off the normal price of free!): plant native habitat in your urban yard and the critters–including super-cool birds like this common yellowthroat–will have a home (or, in the case of this bird, an important stop on their migration path). (PS Despite the “common” in its name, it is not at all common to come across this species in such an urban yard setting.)

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Another rare, recent visitor: a Townsend’s warbler, who seems to be having way too much fun in the fountain just outside our dining room window, where we have way too much fun bird watching throughout the day. Season. Year(s).

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Thus ends another hike–and another blog post.  There’s so much beauty & wonder “out there”–and not only far away “out there,” but sometimes right in your back yard . . . or only a short drive away.

Happy wandering your own LOCAL trails!

PS Oops . . . I almost forgot the other half of this blog title . . . not just “wandering” . . . BAREFOOT wandering! Happy barefoot trails!

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Antelope Canyon Ultra 50 Mile Race Report: A Barefoot Story of Success or Failure?

March 23, 2018

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It’s been a month since the 2018 Antelope Canyon Ultra 50-Mile (AC50)–a month of procrastinating, during which my to-do list has included, each day, “write blog post.” Thus far each day has ended with that item still not crossed off.

While my inner mental health inspector would like to unsnarl that delay-behavior necklace for a few thousand words, practical blogger-me says, “Just write something so you can get back to posting those muddy barefoot selfies your Eastern European followers seem to enjoy so much.”

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Peter’s Canyon last week. Hooray for rain in So Cal!

But I wanted to give this race the blog post it deserves, since, for me, the AC50 was a fraught, freighted, far-reaching event, something I’ve aimed at since 2004, those benighted old shod days when I was a 44-year-old innocent with a vision to run “50 miles when I turn 50.”

So just before I turned 45, I tried a 20-mile trail race on for size–part of the Bishop High Sierra Ultra, at one of my favorite high and dry places–the Eastern Sierra Nevada–during which I discovered both the exquisite cuisine of aid stations (blueberry pancakes!) and the excruciation my left knee was/is capable of inflicting on my psyche.

The left-knee healing trajectory since then: more of a meander than any kind of story arc, through all kinds of physical medicine $pecialities/test$/treatment$: orthopedic surgeon (MRI + a few rounds of Synvisc injections); traditional physical therapy (quad-strengthening exercises, etc), non-traditional chiropractic (ART therapy: somewhat helpful, but way pricey); acupuncture (several sessions; not much progress, but super interesting to experience needles stuck all over me); Rolfing (my lower back was giving me fits as well, and Rolfing is a whole-body therapy that satisfied my increasing appetite for any authorized pain that I thought would help me get better); Pilates (which finally started me on the right track: our first session had me in tears as I tried to follow instructions about breathing and realized I had zero connection to my body); and finally (based on referrals from my Pilates instructor) a multidisciplinary physical therapy approach (Knight Physical Therapy ) as well as Feldenkrais sessions, both individual work and group classes that (finally!) have led me to all kinds of neuromuscular-mindbody insight/freedom of movement/joyful running.

Whew.

In the middle of this muddle, I happened upon some barefoot outdoors-people at a 2010, mid-winter, bird behavior workshop. While I don’t remember a whole lot of birdy facts from that day, I do remember being perplexed as to why anyone would be shoeless in January.

As so often it happens in my life, this gift of befuddlement then led me to researching: “barefoot hiking,” “barefoot running” . . . and then . . . doing it!

Voila? Shazaam? Bazinga?

No more knee pain? I lived & ran happily ever after? I reached my 50-mile race goal at the Antelope Canyon Ultra last month? (Imagine all this in the High Rise Terminal accents of a Kardashian).

Craps and tarnation (Cue Yosemite Sam ) : that’s not exactly how these last eight shoeless years have played out.

Yeah, I’ve come a long way since the days I could not even jog three steps without severe left knee pain. (Thanks be to God!)

I did manage to enjoy a 1:04:44 10k last summer, preceded by a 10:41:31 50k at Monument Valley in March 2016.

The 10k was fabulous–I started out really slow (as in, walking fast slow), and just kept gaining momentum, finishing with an Olympic-worthy sprint effort as my face almost split with grinning. Six miles–a distance that seemed absolutely impossible to run for so many knee-painy years–and I was able to enjoy every lovely leapy step.

The 50k distance, though, proved to be a lot more challenging. Something there is that does not love an ultra, and by mile 18 my left knee was complaining loudly. I managed to walk most of the rest of the 16 miles, but it was discouraging. My magic mojo secret barefoot recipe had failed me. WTF and back to researching chronic pain that had NO UNDERLYING PHYSICAL reason .

OK. Got it. Need to get my mind-body groove on. Figure out what my Inner Children are trying to tell me. See what kind of past traumas Dr. Van der Kolk says I need to become aware of.

And neither last nor least, get a grip on how to connect to “the wisdom of the body” 

My last couple of years is littered with way more books than the few mentioned above, but this story arc is clear: an amazing learning curve up from pain and limited movement and on toward the previously mentioned joyful physical inhabitation of my days.

(For brevity’s sake I’ll not mention my osteoporosis–“brittle bone disease”–and the accompanying relational schizzness that this issue continues to require. Forgiveness, anyone?)

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One of my favorite typos ever: “Osteoporosis–bitterness and breaking down of the bones . . . “

So this is now officially the longest ultra race report introduction ever–an ultra, ultra preface, if you will, all to set the stage for a beautiful day in the desert on Navajo land outside of Page, AZ, on a loopy course overlooking Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, two days after a late-winter snow storm frosted the buttes and mesas with a powdering of puffy stuff that immediately melted and melded the otherwise deep sandy race course into a firmly packed surface of damp loveliness–the most barefoot friendly surface in the shoeless universe. (Except for the eight miles of trail-less rock between the Horseshoe Bend and Waterholes aid stations. A big except.)

With 6 am racetime temps in the 20s, my face hurt (Flashback to childhood joke: “Does your face hurt? It’s killing me!”) and my toes would have frozen right off except for the Sockwa X8’s I was wearing into which I stuffed packets of Grabber Hand Warmers . Did I mention I’ve only lived in sunny/warm/mild Orange County my entire life, and thus never ever felt compelled to go running when temps are in a range that MAKES MY FACE HURT?!

Soon after the frigid in-the-dark start, the first of many climbs confronted us 250+ runners. So, like, I thought this was a running race? (back to upspeak mode) And we’d be, like, running on trails that were runnable with our feet? Not climbing up sheer sandstone with our hands?

Sure, they had advertised this as a race through slot canyons, with a ladder figuring prominently in the pre-race publicity photos.

But I’m 58 years old, and my rock-scrambling skills a bit rusty (circa Joshua Tree 1969). So I busted out my inner 10-year-old (the happy outdoorsy one, not the one with parental attention issues), and actually did fine on all the climby sections except one slot canyon ledge, up which I was grateful to “ummph” with the aid of an outstretched racer-friend’s hand.

Those superhero ladies! A group of seven of us somehow glommed together in the back of the pack during the stressful, trail-less 8-mile stretch previously mentioned, and we stuck together for hours, which provided 14 eyeballs to scan the endless rock jumble landscape for scraps of pink or silvery ribbon to lead us up and over the next set of boulder piles. And after that we lent each other a hand or two clambering up Waterholes Canyon’s sketchy ladders and layered red sandstone pour-offs.

To this point I had not said a word about how much MYLEFTKNEEHURTS, and the other ladies were mum regarding anything in their lives that wasn’t hunky-dory as well, but it seems it wasn’t just me that was havin’ issues, and at mile 33.5, the second pass through the Horseshoe Bend aid station, four of us grimly unpinned our race numbers, passed them to the aid station worker in charge of such matters, and waited for a shuttle to take us back to the start/finish line at the Page Amphitheater.

(Truth in storytelling note: OK, I did start verbalizing disappointment in my knee at about mile 30, but only after 27 non-complaining miles of pain At Every Step. And I wasn’t all that sad to quit the race when I did; I’d been out on the trail for 10.5 hours already, dark was approaching, and the cold day was getting colder–I could only imagine what another 16.5 miles in the chillysome dark would be like when my pace was limited to the speed of “ouch” with no way to go fast enough to keep warm. Then there was the minor issue of tasting something odd and bloody in my mouth all day, which turned out to be a major flap I’d bit loose on the surface of my tongue chomping on some of that amazing aid station food, in this case: bacon-avocado roll-ups.)

And that’s a wrap in the latest episode of a drama that has been going on since 2004: me run, me happy, me knee owie, me no run, me sad. (Hmmm . . . my long days of grand-kiddo care this past school year might be rubbing off linguistically.)

Bottom line: yeah, we get it, you didn’t quite run 50 miles last month. Is that it? There’s nothing else at stake in all of this? (For we all know good storytelling requires high stakes .) Sheesh, Thea, it’s not a matter of life or death. Get over it, put on some !#(*#-ed shoes, for cryin’ out loud, ENOUGH of the running already, accept that you’re getting old, and oh yeah make sure you keep yourself plopped in front of an electronic screen more and more each day.

Maybe it is a matter of life or death.

(Cue dramatic music. OK, I just have to say I loved how that ending happened. And now for a boatload of race photos. Happy (barefoot, snowy) Trails!)

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The Page RV Park, the morning before the race. Snow in the desert!

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Frosted prickly pear.

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Tower Butte in Lake Powell, frosting-style.

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OK this is getting ridiculous . . .

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Before the AC50, Husbando and I spent a week at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon; I attended (and presented at) a two-day seminar for hiking guides, after which I spent three days testing/learning for my Wilderness First Responder certification. Finally, I had the privilege of speaking about my poetry and life to a couple of classes at the local school, where elk share the athletic field.

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We had a nice snowstorm at the South Rim, and lots of our practice first-aid scenarios (here I’m getting a fake leg fracture splinted) took place in blowing snow. Or, on the last day, sunny snow.

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Stirrups, J’s, and Figure 8’s: how to stabilize an ankle. Got it.

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Then there was that AC50 to tackle. It was “yikes” from the get-go, with a start in the dark that turned into an immediate bottleneck/climb. Oh well . . . that was the last I got to hang out with all these fast folks for the rest of the day.

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I started the race in my Sockwa X8’s (the ground was frozen solid. Super yikes.) but was able to run most of the miles shoeless–except for sections of the infamous eight-mile scramble between the Horseshoe Bend and Waterholes aid stations. So much beautiful stripey sandstone.

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It’s difficult to describe how delicious this sand is (once it warmed up to 40 degrees).

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Uh, yeah. This is the trail. Yeah.

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Here is my new friend Tricia peering down into Horseshoe Bend–most of the photos of me were taken by her, which was so much easier than setting up my camera, running by, etc. Tricia was amazing . . . besides her love for looking over edges, she also had the guts to finish the 50-mile race, even though she was reduced to a walk as well for much of it. An inspiring person to hang out with!

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Horseshoe Bend: here is probably the crappiest photo on the internet of this spectacular place, but the little person taking a selfie gives a bit of scale anyway.

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See the pink ribbon? Yep. That’s the trail, in this case an interesting bit of icy morning singletrack. It was so cold (“how cold was it?”) that the bite valves froze on my chest-mounted water bottles and I had to crunch and chew them to get the very very very cold water to flow. (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d have the pleasure of writing.)

 

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The Navajo Generating Station looms (dare I write it? “both literally and figuratively”) over the city of Page, the Navajo Nation, and the race course. Here’s Aid Station #1; I had to make it there within certain time frame or the Grim Reaper would catch up to me and make me drop out of the race. Well, I beat the Reaper by a whopping 15 minutes here, and by an hour four hours later at the next (and final) Grim Reaper checkpoint. Yay me.

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Speaking of poor quality images–this one still delights me. It was an amazing day (worthy of my colorful silk scarf) and I tried to smile a lot in appreciation 🙂

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Are we done yet? Although I didn’t finish the 50 miles I’d signed up for, they still let me have a 55k finisher award: 33.5 miles=close enough? (And that’s the sunlit buttes of Lake Powell in the background.)

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Are we there yet? The loong drive home begins with this stunning view of the Big Ditch running almost imperceptibly right to left through the middle of the photo, with House Rock Valley winding its way between the Paria Plateau (right) and the Kaibab Plateau (snow-capped).  See you this summer, favorite places!

 

Time to celebrate 8 years of barefoot running and hiking . . . with a 50-mile race?

January 25, 2018

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Back in January 2010, a chance encounter with some barefoot folks during a cold winter morning birding class led to me being 1) Amused that anyone would be silly enough to go shoeless outdoors and 2) Interested in WHY anyone would want to do this.

As per my entire life, “interest” opened the door to research, which led me down this crazy barefoot path that still stretches out ahead of me . . . I hope until the day my toes go cold for good.

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Long before I had any interest in running barefoot, I was obsessed with just plain running–especially trail running–and in 2004 (at age 44) I set myself a goal of training for and completing a 50-mile trail race by the time I was 50.

Fast-forward through 14 years of chronically intermittent aches and pains (feet, knees, hips, low back, neck, you name it), through 14 years of all kinds of physical therapy and learning about less-obvious causes/cures, to the wonderful-ness of TODAY, when I am only a month away from the starting line of an awesome desert ultra-marathon, and–by the grace of God–feeling more healthy and fit and ready to run 50 miles than I ever have been (ha–or at least the “ever” that I can remember, my memory being a slowly eroding riverbank through the gully of my life).

Even in my 20s, probably my peak fitness years, when I was training in a gym and racing off-road motorcycles, I might have been stronger in terms of lifting power, but I know I could not have busted out the weekly 3-4 hour runs I’ve been doing the last few months with such enjoyment–and very little soreness etc. the next day.

So here’s to 2018, to being 58 years old and able to do my first chin-up on a bar in decades, and having a 50-mile challenge looming to look forward to.

(Truth in training note: it seems I should be up to runs a bit longer than 3-4 hours at this point in the training cycle, but Christmas. Family. Excuses.)

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Here’s me & the granddaughters at the live-cut Christmas tree farm east of town. What’s up with all these boots?!

Below is a run-through of images from the last month-or-more . . . stuff I’ve had good intentions of posting on this-here blog right after each run. Hmmm. My aerobic exhilarations most definitely overshadow my blogging aspirations . . .

. . . Aspirations that have included schemings & ponderings on some-if-not-all of the following topics since the last post:

— Trying to stick to a race training schedule through the December holiday season

— Wildfires and rain and mudslides, oh my

— End-of-2017: musings on the year that was

— Equally deep beginning-of-2018 anticipation/trepidation

— Being the mother of a 42-year-old?! (his January birthday gets me every time)

— Running more than three hours, and the accompanying mind games; my longest run to date (almost two years ago): 34 miles in 10.75 hours. Looking forward? to? 50? miles?

— The idea that our worth as an individual is based on our productivity (this is a deep and wide thought-stream for yours truly, especially as retirement finds me without all the academic objective-outcome falderal)

— How much fun it is to while away an afternoon playing scales on a guitar using a variety of fingerings (see comment immediately above)

— Dealing with obsessive thoughts (watch the news, anyone?) using newly discovered “awareness” techniques. Yay for lifetime learning.

— The Alexander method and its intersection with running

— What constitutes a good list, really? (Knowing when to cut to the photos)

 

 

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In the fire-denuded foothills, living creatures are few, so I appreciated this photo op with a Jerusalem cricket (which is neither a cricket nor from Jerusalem, but a non-venomous nocturnal creature capable of “emitting a foul smell and inflicting a painful bite” . . . sound like anyone you know?).

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No, I was not a victim of a Jerusalem cricket attack, just my own momentary inattention to a submerged rock-iceberg on the trail.

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When my feet are free from open wounds, nothing feels better than a dip.

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This photo is un-retouched in terms of color . . . it’s just an ashy world out there in Weir Canyon where fire burned last fall. But, making its way back into the gray landscape: roadrunner!

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The New Year dawned with this familiar face looking down on all the newly scorched hills, ridges, arroyos.

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Another day, another moonscape. Here is a prickly pear that “survived” total annihilation, but what of its photosynthetic future?

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With most of the vegetation scorched off the face of the hills, these spunky Nolina are a green inspiration.

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And then it rained! Green days are on the way!

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Local rains caused a few minor ash flows like this, but nothing along the lines of the Montecito devastation. Lord have mercy.

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For a four-hour cruise, this has become my new favorite place. (And note the proximity of homes to burn area .)

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Some intricate Weir Canyon geology, sans vegetation.

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I’m not sure what “winter” means any more, there’s been so many warm days lately.

Happy Barefoot Trails in 2018 . . . may it be a year of new growth!

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A round-up of barefoot adventures and thoughts

December 12, 2017
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Hole-in-the-Wall Trail, Mohave National Preserve

For many years, this blog averaged a post a week. For the most recent last long while, it seems like every couple of months is all that has been happening. (And grammar-philes out there: note the use of passive-verb-shenanigans to make it seem like it’s not my own damn fault.)

Just now, even, I was almost paralyzed into not-writing as I tried to decide whether this lack of regularity should be attributed to the Nirvana Fallacy OR Voltaire’s “the better is the enemy of the good.”

Background: last June I did some volunteer work near Paige, AZ, that served as my ticket into a forthcoming 50-mile race there next year.

Let the long-mileage training begin . . . and loads of photos taken along the way, until it just got too overwhelming, with the the backlog of ideas & photos amping up my procrastechniques until this blog-weight was causing me far less fun than a barrel of monkeys (and wasn’t that the best game to play back when you were about six and had just come home from a relaxing day at school getting swatted by your angry German first-grade teacher because you wouldn’t be quiet during the nuclear bomb “duck and cover” drill).

(Imagine “But I Digress” meme here.)

So this blog post will not be the pièce de résistance of my almost-eight-year (?! give or take a few) blog racket; rather, it’s a way to unburden my creative psyche of some of the idea-baggage that’s been circling on the carousel long after all the airport travelers have gone home.

This how it will go down: first a list o’ stuff I’ve been thinking about, then, photos o’ stuff I been doin’. Doing. What-evs. 

(My eventual goal, in a non-Nirvana-fallacy world, would be to develop timely, sensitive, vivid, artful, deeply-thought-provoking essays on each of these topics. (Cue maniacal laughter.)

But for now, in the interests of getting this stuff off my mental plate:

List #1: STUFF I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT (but have not gotten around to writing about except in my admittedly sketchy journal)

Lack of job stress considering it’s the end of the semester. (But wait! I’m retired! Yippee!)

Getting to watch/play with/sing-and-read to two tiny grandkids each week. (Yippee! I’m retired!)

Looking for (and finding/not-finding) things along the trail (both actual and metaphorical).

Worry and dealing with it.

Breathing (see above).

Bible verses for every situation. Or?

When journaling becomes just another way to keep from finishing other projects.

Writer’s block: friend or foe?

Training for a 50-mile race.

How/why my cultural background equates “productivity” and “busy-ness” with Goodness.

When evil people create worthy art

Who knew you could play scales on a guitar in so many different ways? (And are there metaphors lurking there also?) 

Why a 37-minute 5k race felt more rewarding that a 27-minute one a month previous. (Hint: the slower race was run on Thanksgiving Day with my 8-year-old granddaughter at my side.)

What trail running and running shoes and no shoes and music (melody vs. rhythm) have to say to/about each other.

Aging parents. Wildfires without end, amen. Death of relatives when divorce is part of the equation. Babies that sneeze green snot in your face. Short winter days. Supermoon. Amtrak travel. Sleeping on the ground in the Mojave desert. 

Is it admirable or despicable to state you are “too busy”?

Is there such a thing as fear of lists (it does not make this person’s otherwise-comprehensive “phobia list” for some reason, so I can’t pin List-fear down with a clever latinate name).

List #2: A carp-ton (I was recently chastised by a grandson for using the word “crap,” hence the fish mutation) of photos from some of the recent miles logged training for that 50-mile trail race coming my way early next year. Woo hoo!

 

 

Mohave National Preserve’s Hole-in-the-Wall area . . . I almost hate to publicize it (it’s one of So Cal’s last beautiful uncrowded spots), but this desert (like all ecologically intricate dry places) needs people to know and love and take care of it, too.

Mitchell Caverns . . . I highly recommend taking the tour next time you’re cruising from Barstow to Needles on Route 66 (get your kicks!).

The plants of the Providence Mountains are crazy-amazing, as is the complicated geology (the reason these plants are found here in odd juxtaposition).

Santiago Oaks Regional Park (my very closest and therefore favorite-est wild place) is the most recent to re-open of the three OC Parks that burned during October’s Canyon Two fire; in the soil waits all the seed-life necessary to re-vegetate the hills, depending on only one thing: winter rains. Let it rain!

Peters Canyon: some trails have re-opened here post-fire as well, and eager sprouts of encelia and wild cucumber paint green notes of hope in the scorched landscape.

Harding Truck trail (heading up Modjeska Peak, the “left shoulder” of Old Saddleback) = miles of shale shards, big views, interesting native plants: ouch, wow, gorgeous . . .

The trails at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park feature lovely sand and art and are fast-becoming my long-run home-away-from-home.

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Old Saddleback: Orange County’s eastern sentinel.

There you go, Voltaire–my own attempt to get some good stuff going instead of waiting for the ain’t-gonna-happen “perfect” time to compose the blog-post-to-end-all-blog-posts.

(And how I LOVE creating freight-train-style hyphenated words!)

Happy (barefoot, Christmas) Trails!

A Recently Published Grand Canyon (Barefoot!) Poem & Some Whining Upon Returning Home to . . .

October 27, 2017

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Last summer (2016) I did my first night-time rim to rim trek across Grand Canyon; here’s a story (and the usual plethora of pics) about that . . . mmm . . . interesting adventure.

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Me & one of the many bark scorpions sharing a photo-flash moment along the night-time North Kaibab Trail through “The Box” in June 2016.      I’m kinda glad I didn’t know at the time that they are (and here I quote a Real Scientific Web Site)   “the most venomous scorpion in North America.”

 

I also wrote a poem about it, which was recently published online by the excellent environmental literary journal The Hopper. It contains material not as easily dealt with in prose, such as my certitude that the rocks along the trail that night were some kind of sentient beings . . .

And while I was scrounging around for photos from that night, I came across the very fine wooden sign that I cavorted upon during my 6-day rim to rim earlier this month.

What a difference some daylight makes, in terms of cavortitude & signage.

The whole week I was gone from my lifelong home in Orange, CA, the hills just outside town were burning burning burning . . . houses were lost, but no lives such as in the devastation of Nor Cal the same week. 

Nevertheless . . . these are “my” hills where I have been hiking and running for 20-some-odd years, lovingly photo-documenting (and eventually, blogging about) all their natural/tough/fragile beauty.

And now all the trails are closed, off limits to humans so the native chaparral and coastal sage scrub and oak woodland and riparian ecosystems can do their thing and recover recover recover (with the help of winter rains, I pray).

So here’s a poem that attempts to go beyond the above prose and convey other schizz I’m feeling. (And I’m having trouble with the “new” WordPress text editor and can’t get the #$O@(!*ing blog to single-space the poem. Insert other profanities here. )

After Another Wildfire

the fall of 2017

October devil

wind screams

down-canyon,

up any ridge

high & mighty

enough to throw

skeletal chamise

and sage

in harm’s way.

Swirls of ash

reel between

Weir Canyon’s

ghost oaks,

a fine acorn crop

and all my

memories there

in harm’s way.

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The irrigated interior of Irvine Park has reopened, but all the beautiful native plant/wildlife habitat surrounding the park is toast.

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Ten days after the fire started there were still smolder-spots to be found in the 7,500 acres of burned hills and ravines and homes of so many critters/plants.

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A prickly pear that used to be plump & lime green, earlier this month. How weird that the spines are still intact while so much other foliage in the area dissolved into ash.

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The firefighting line is very clear here at the edge of the irrigated park.

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Seems like Irvine Park’s most iridescent inhabitants made it through the blaze.

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Acorns everywhere . . . this river bottom oak grove was a major food gathering spot for the original People, a few fires/years/sufferings ago.

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The road in/out of Irvine Park. On this hill used to grow . . . now everything is . . .

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So I’m reduced to wandering the (irrigated interior) park, and not looking forward to having to fight Orange County traffic to find open trails. (And yes, that is what whining sounds like . . . )

But God is good, life is OK, and so . . . (drum roll) Happy Trails, anywhere you can find them.

Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim: FKT vs SKT

October 20, 2017

 

 

GCAFI R2R 2017, Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim, Plateau Point, Arizona

Photo by Nina Rehfeld at Plateau Point looking back at the South Rim. Thanks, Nina!

A few days before setting off on the long drive east (almost 500 miles) to Grand Canyon for another October rim-to-rim trek (here’s a few accounts of my other R2R adventures: one, two, three , four times before), I read online how yet another runner had set yet another FKT (Fastest Known Time) for crossing the Canyon more licketly-splitly than anyone since stop-watches were thunk up.

That’s right: on Oct. 1, 2017, 26-year-old Jim Freriks of Flagstaff ran 21 miles down the North Kaibab Trail (5,781 feet in elevation loss) and up the South Kaibab Trail (4,800 feet in elevation gain) faster than a desert bighorn sheep being chased by a salivating mountain lion: 2 hours, 39 minutes, and 38 seconds–roughly the same amount of time most other R2R runners and/or hikers spend in the trailhead outhouses dealing with pre-hike nervous stomach issues.

It’s a both a physically and psychologically stressful thing, to travel through so many gazillion years of geological history so stripingly laid out in in bands of chalky white Kaibab limestone, pink Coconino sandstone, multi-hued Muav frozen silt, purple-red Bright Angel shale, and on and on. Being confronted with such a rocky past pretty much necessitates lengthy pauses to consider the mind-numbing numbers of “years” (a helio-centric construct fer sure) that have transpired before one’s own entrance on the scene . . . yep, this is a situation that demands more than a few hours of zooming down and up the main corridor’s dusty, stair-steppy, mule-poopy paths.

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That’s why I was so very happy last week to be tagging along on a Grand Canyon Association Field Institute trip that was dedicated to taking a Very Long Time to travel from the North Rim to the South Rim: seven days! Maybe a SKT! (Slowest Known Time)

We started at the South Rim with an equipment check to encourage hikers to jettison any un-needed gear. Crossing Grand Canyon, as with most backpacking ventures, less weight = more fun. So bye-bye went extra clothes, food, toiletries, electronic devices, dorm refrigerators, hiking boots. (Just kidding about that last one. Most everyone in the group had drunk from the cultural Kool-Aid that hornswaggles folks into thinking ankle-high rigid-soled foot caskets are necessary for backpacking comfortably/safely/stylishly. Sigh. The barefoot crusade continues.)

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My food choices before re-packaging.

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A week’s worth of food: 6.5 pounds all stuffed into packets & pouches.

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A typical mushy one-pot dinner: edamame “pasta” mixed with instant mashed potatoes, freeze-dried mixed veggies, veggie bullion cube, tuna packet, and a single-serving pouch of Italian salad dressing. Amazeballs. (Especially when consumed at the edge of Plateau Point.)

Then, off to the North Rim via four-hour shuttle for a chilly night at 8,297 feet/elevation followed by The Plunge down past screaming-red maple foliage, acrid-mule-piss mud, fossil-embroidered rock, juniper log steps, rocky switchbacks, alleys of fluffy dust, hesitant bird calls . . .  all the sensory overload of another Grand Canyon fall day under a wide sky that was neither fulgent nor lambent but just plain blue & brilliant.

The next six leisurely days allowed for 37 miles of hiking–besides the “required” 14 miles down the North Kaibab Trail and 9 miles up the Bright Angel Trail, our group traipsed through some amazing side canyon, following water to where it dangled and bubbled and dazzled us all into silence . . . and lots of picture making (NOT “picture taking,” according to hike leader and photographer extraordinaire Larry Lindahl; photographers don’t just “take” whatever the pre-programmed camera hands them . . . they MAKE artful images that reflect a thoughtful consideration of “light, composition, depth, focus, vision, intimacy, and passion”).

While my little pocket camera carried major constraints of F-stop and ISO and aperture et al, it did its tiny best to help me create some visual memories: Let the image-making commence!

The North Rim in October: all golden aspen and glowing gambel oaks and my favorite views from the Transept Trail.

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Ambling down the North Kaibab Trail in the morning always allows for fun shadow shots. Does this pack make my butt back look big?

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Hike leader Larry invited us to pause to consider this ancient sentinel so our group could conjure up words and phrases to describe it, all of which were creative, none of which I remember (ahh . . . the importance of note-taking!).

What was up with all the dead mammals last week?! On the left is a face-down ringtail cat; upper right is a bat on a rock; lower right a fawn. All were fully intact and non-smelly (in other words: newly deceased).

The next images show just a few of my attempts (and how impossible to convey the frustration!) to “capture” the extraordinary light at this most light-crazy place. Especially with a little pocket camera. (But did I mention it fits in my pocket?)

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The clouds provided much entertainment our first night at Cottonwood Camp.

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Cottonwood Camp & Clouds, again.

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She who would venture to capture the moon is destined for . . . (crappy shots like this).

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While my camera maxed out at a two-second exposure, those with “real” cameras did some amazing work in the dark with light-painting and star-chasing.

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Dinner with a view from Plateau Point. Shoes optional. Mice mandatory (who else would clean up all the invisible crumbs us clumsy humans left behind?).

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Standing in the Colorado River at Boat Beach . . . an effective instigator of all kinds of goose bumps.

Yeah, I kind of think desert plants are bee-yoo-tiful.

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Water in the desert: where geology makes miracles.

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Ribbon Falls (from behind the curtain).

 

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With so much to love, I guess it’s only natural that immense quantities of humans want to experience Grand Canyon’s main corridor trails . . . so . . . researchers from the University of New Mexico are conducting a years-long study on rim-to-rim hikers/runners; they counted 600  of them between the hours of 4 am and 3 pm on Saturday, Oct. 14. (And an additional 40 or so R2R2R runners.)

Problem: 600 people in one day (?!) have the potential to excrete a lot of waste products (no duh). While there are bathrooms along the trail, some oblivious knuckleheads think it’s OK to leave used toilet paper just . . . wherever. NO IT’S NOT.

And don’t get me started on how/why/WTF someone would leave a syringe along Bright Angel Creek . . .

Where was I? Waxing happy about Grand Canyon. Yeah, that’s right . . .

 

 

 

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Seeing even the tail of a rare Grand Canyon rattlesnake counts as yet another “Transcendent Canyon Moment” (TCM).

 

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And did we (the royal we happens when you’ve crowned yourself queen of the TCM) mention the relentless gold-rose light that reflects off the steep inner canyon walls in a way that threatens to decalibrate even the most durable TCM meter? Does the rattlesnake suck its scale-tint straight out of the air, like in an old “Just So” story?

 

 

 

 

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And . . . more happy stuff, like this crimson monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis), to be stumbled upon near most side canyon waterfalls.

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And the lichen! (Almost enough to make me want to pun about likin’ lichen. But I will refrain.)

This is starting to feel like a crap-ton of photos. Kind of reminds me of Weird Al’s new tour title: The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.  Yep. That is me and barefoot hiking & blogging (and balancing on stuff everywhere).

Thanks to all the adventurers who made this 6-day R2R so fabulous: Larry and Nina–for all your wise guidance — and Jim, Kim, Sophie, Spencer, Tom, Bill (gratitude!), Charlene, and Keith . . . super hikers and photographers all!

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Photo by Larry Lindahl at Plateau Point; filter by Prisma app.

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(Photo by Nina? with my little camera . . . )

Happy Trails! Barefoot or Shod, FKT or SKT, Grand Canyon or ??? . . . just get outside and move and show some love!

“Barefoot? Wow! That’s Awesome” and other comments off the beaten track

September 14, 2017

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The astute observation that titles this blog post was lobbed at me earlier this week by a manly mountain biker sweating his way up the dusty-rocky single-track I was gliding down like a no-longer-constipated cheetah.

If I had a nickel for this and all the other painfully obvious witticisms regarding my shoeless circumstance, I’d have enough money . . .  to make me wish I had more money.

As it was, that day, I made a mental note to remember his comment and write it down when I got home in my forthcoming/imaginary Book O’ Inane Barefoot Running Comments. But, of course, by the time I’d fought road construction and rustled up breakfast and shucked my perma-stink running shorts and read the local news and decided to do a few loads of laundry . . . what was I supposed to be doing again with my retirement?

There have been so many phrases much more memorable than the title of this blog post, phrases reflecting other cultural/gender/species perspectives (the quail have really made some poignant comments which unfortunately I am still working to translate), but alas, most of these other pithy quips have been snatched away by the “I’ll write it down later” goblin.

This evil entity would like to hijack my own–and every other writer in the world’s– creative output by reassuring us that all those intriguing thoughts and original ideas will surely stay in our brains until we “have time” to write them down. Then this “time” gets sucked down the swirling drain of a Busy Day, and when we finally reach the end of our procrastinating rope, we are left dangling out to dry in front of a relentlessly blank screen.

Yeah.

So although I would love to list all the crazy things people have said to me during my barefoot adventures, both locally and whilst wandering below the rim of the Grand Canyon,  I can’t.

 

But . . . running again this morning, a delightful 90 minutes of Thursday-at-seven-empty trails, I did remember the words quoted in the title of this blog piece as I passed the spot where I’d heard them uttered 48 hours previously.

And I had to admit: the spandex-y biker dude was spot-on-the-dot: being able to cruise these lovely trails on a morning when everyone else must be At Work was downright AWESOME! His thigh-hugging shortz had helped squeeze out a Universal Truth, and I needed to heed it:

I am a patched-up (spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally . . . you get the drift) 58-year-old wife of one/grandma of seven with the opportunity and tonicity and trail proximity to fly barefoot pretty much whenever I want to in a landscape that is not war-torn, or hurricane-ravaged, or dangerous in any way other than being dirty and full of sharp things and tripping hazards (is that not the very glorious definition of trail?).

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Awesome!

Last night I heard a missionary speak; she was from Crisis Care Training International, an organization that provides trauma recovery resources for those who work with children, with the goal of “bringing healing and hope globally to children in crisis, and especially to those in refugee situations.”

Dr. Patricia Toland’s stories and photos were both heartbreaking and inspiring, and really helped to bring perspective to the tiny barefoot sphere I spin in: there’s a world of hurt out there, near and far, children and adults in all kinds of need.

What is truly “AWESOME”, then?

The work of people like Dr. Toland and Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, a PTSD researcher whose book The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma really changed my thinking about trauma: we are all products of hurt, we all need healing, and there are resources available!

So this blog post went down a weird path . . . from a light-hearted reaction to (yet another) inane trail comment . . . to . . . appreciation for trauma healing, and the desperate need for workers in this field that stretches from our own homes to all the way around–and around and around–the globe.

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