Writer/artist/teacher/walker Rebecca Fish Ewan just launched a new zine about one of my favorite subjects: walking! I was pleased and honored to have two of my barefootin’ poems–with images–included in issue one: “These Rocks” and “Grand Canyon Hiking Friends.” (And she included an image of a bare hiking foot on the cover! Bravo!)
Issue two is scheduled for this summer . . . there’s still time to submit your walking-related words & images for consideration; here’s some general info below (but please see the web site for more details).
“ISSUE TWO SUBMISSIONS DEADLINE JUNE 15, 2016
“GRAPH(feeties) is a blended/hybrid word/image zine focused on telling true stories of walking. Send in up to two pages (or one 2-page spread) of your black and white nonfiction hybrid comics/poetry/cartoons/essays/memoir/whathaveyou on walking.”
In other news: tonight’s my “Adventure After 50” (barefoot at Grand Canyon) Sierra Club presentation . . . I posted some blurbs on various Facebook hiking groups, and one of my canyon friends posted this lovely photo this morning in reply:
Thanks, Pam L.! We had a fun week down at the bottom of the canyon last month with a group from the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute . . . this photo brought back lots of good memories (and I love the contrast between “crampons recommended” and our footwear of choice on that ice-free day).
I’m looking forward to sharing barefoot stories and Grand Canyon photos in hopes of inspiring more folks to try something/somewhere new. Life is all about learning, and I continue to appreciate that (including learning that it’s pretty easy to crack a rib climbing a wall during parkour class if you’re 56 and have osteoporosis. . . but that’s a story for another day).
Here’s some recent-local-spring-wandering images which bring to mind Oscar Wilde’s famously mundane quote: “The weather still continues charming.”
Uh oh . . . Mr. Gopher Snake was enjoying the warm trail dirt until I came along and asked him to re-consider his position: in harm’s way from wheeled beasts.
Thanks to my barefooting friend Gina B., there are pictures from last night’s parkour class at Firestorm Freerunning! Woo hoo!
Unlike a week ago, when we focused on vaulting over giant foam blocks and which took place mostly on the springy gymnastics floor, last night was wall night, with unyielding obstacles of all shapes and sizes (and colors!) to leap up, on, to, from, and down. (I love how parkour is a discipline of prepositions.)
After warm-ups, the coach took me aside and said he recommended shoes for the rest of the class due to the hard wall surfaces. I am a complete beginner, in no position to make waves and/or argue with someone who can do a flip from 10 feet in the air, so I slipped on my minimalist Sockwas (Socks With Attitude).
It was a super-challenging, super-fun hour of practicing precisions jumps, safety ups, wall pops, half-cats, cranes, and other parkour techniques. As aerobically fit as I like to think I am at age 56, I was huffing and puffing toward the end as we ran loop after loop, jumping from wall to platform to obstacle and around again.
Last night: What I learned . . . about myself:
- I am no longer 12 years old and seem to have misplaced most of my “hops” (fast-twitch muscle fibers that make jumps happen) that allowed me to dream of flying as a middle-school high jump competitor on the Orange County Lutheran elementary school circuit back in the early 1970s.
- I need to stop imagining sideways glances–or, worse, stares of horror and pity–from my fellow parkour-ians at the gym. All of the many non-grandmotherly peeps there, including my three classmates, were either engrossed in their own workout or gave me an encouraging smile if I did happen to look up from my leaping-hopping-sweating. But I tried not to look up and just concentrated on my own jumping bizness. Gina B. said it well in her email today that accompanied these photos: “Had a good time at open gym last night. People are sure great there. I got a lot of free pointers…and a scrape on my elbow. Blood, sweat and tears!”
- I still really really really like jumping. Liked it as a kid (see previous comment about high jumping on my school track team), like it as a middle-age barefoot-running grandma who can’t wait to do some jump conditioning at home to try to revive a few of the remaining fast-twitch muscles left in my varicose-veiny legs–getting old is not always pretty–so I can stick a few more precision jump landings at the next parkour class.
Just now: What I learned . . . about why folks don’t think barefoot parkour is a good idea: (from the website parkourtrain.net)
“It is pretty much the same thing you face when you’re out training and someone yells at you to ‘get off that rail before you hurt yourself’. People tend to overestimate risk. In this particular case, shoe-wearing persons tend to think that the world is composed almost entirely of dog crap, used syringes and broken glass, and walking barefoot is an almost-suicidal undertaking.
“But the risks are small, the consequences reversible and they are outweighed by the benefits. Broken glass is not really a problem. Pieces large enough to be a real threat will be visible instantly. Smaller shards will get into your feet, I’m not denying that, but they pop out as easily as they go in and rarely get infected.
“Furthermore, feet toughen up fast. Bare-feet can seem scary at first, just like Parkour training, but sticking with it will give you a much better idea of what actually poses a risk, and what you can take in your stride.”
I love this quote: “shoe-wearing persons tend to think that the world is composed almost entirely of dog crap, used syringes and broken glass, and walking barefoot is an almost-suicidal undertaking.” It brought to mind Barefoot KenBob’s hilarious YouTube video “The Deadly Broken Glass Dilemma.”
Here’s to a world that is more full of obstacles to play on than littered with “dog crap, used syringes, and broken glass.”
Gina! Thanks again for taking the photos!
Happy (hopping, leaping, jumping, barefoot) trails . . . I can’t wait to put some of these new skills to use outdoors.
(And next time I’m going to ask if I can do the circuit once barefoot, just to compare . . .)
In a couple of weeks I’ll be giving my first “non-poetry-reading” public presentation for the local Sierra Club chapter’s bi-monthly meeting.
I originally contacted the group last spring, when Rick Kempa was planning a So Cal book tour to promote his two stellar recent anthologies of writing about Grand Canyon: On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories and Going Down Grand: Poems from the Canyon. It’s been an honor to see my work published in both of the books, and a pleasure to get to know Rick through the process.
While the book tour last fall was a blast, it did not work out with the Sierra Club’s schedule; I did, however, receive an email a couple of months ago to see if I’d still be willing to present at their May 2016 meeting. Hmmm . . . with no specific book tie-in this time, I decided to put together a new program dedicated to my shoeless adventures at Grand Canyon: “Adventure after 50: How I lost my shoes and found new joy on the trail.”
(Here’s a Google drive flyer for the event: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5nXZHdsRY1pT042ak50ME0ycHc/view?usp=sharing)
So . . . I’ve been working on my slide show for the last couple of days, which has inspired me to (finallah!*) try a new “adventure” to perhaps include in my talk: free-running. (finallah = finally + allelujah)
Over the last couple of years I’ve read a bit about parkour, free-running, and the whole “natural movement” trend. (It’s kind of sad that it qualifies as a “trend” since it is not the norm for society, but that’s how it goes in our hunched-over, screen-focused, chair-bound lives in 2016 . . .wrote the woman hunched over her computer screen . . . )
Here’s a few web sites that have inspired me: Chris McDougal’s work about “Natural Born Heroes” http://www.outsideonline.com/1928051/no-heroes-arent-born-theyre-built-and-how-you-become-one#article-1928051
Erwan LeCorre’s natural movement emphasis with “MoveNat” & “The Workout the World Forgot” https://www.movnat.com/
I even tried focusing on this sort of giddy free-style movement on a few of my visits to Irvine Park this year: https://theagavin.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/another-step-on-the-barefoot-parkour-journey/
Being a teacher, though, gave me hope that maybe some focused “classroom” instruction could shorten my free-running learning curve–maybe even keep my osteoporositized bones from snappity snapping–so I flung myself into the void this week and attended my first class.
Gina B. had joined me for a hop-skip-crawl-and-climb around Irvine Park in January;
she was adventurous enough to meet me at Firestorm Freerunning a couple of nights ago for an hour of intense balance and muscle work: we crawled, konged, scooted, ran, climbed, vaulted and jumped our way up and over and off a variety of obstacles.
Here’s a freeze-frame image from the Firestorm informational video; instead of an agile teen boy, imagine an over-eager, under-qualified gray-haired lady flying through the air. That would be me.
Since I’ve been “meaning” to do this for about a year, but never could quite get up the nerve to go by myself, I owe Gina a big “thank you” for providing the motivation to follow through and show up.
I also blame Gina for how sore I’ve felt since then! Yikes! Even a barefoot rim-to-rim crossing of Grand Canyon didn’t thrash my quadriceps as much as an hour of free-running fun.
I’m about to hobble off to the hills for a run . . . hoping a few miles of barefoot loping will loosen my legs up again . . . ’cause right now just getting up from the couch sets off a bunch of whiny muscle fibers.
There are no photos to show from my free-running class; I was way too busy trying to keep up with the gangly teenage boys who were also learning to vault smoothly and land accurately and remember ALWAYS FLAT HANDS. Because? If you form the habit of sticking your thumbs out/down, you’re setting yourself up for a major injury down the parkour road.
It was pointers like this that made me really appreciate Coach Freelove’s constant emphasis on staying within our own limits as well as using safe technique . . . but right after being reminded yet again about flat hands, I would set off on the obstacle course and my mind would disconnect from my body and I would, uh, stick out my thumbs to help flail my way over a foam block. Lesson learned: the mind/body connection needs work. “Flat hands!”
Thus the “Adventure after 50” continues . . . I can’t wait to go back and shred my palms on the intricate jungle gym/bar set-up at Firestorm. And learn to scale walls. And jump off walls . . . maybe even flip by the time I hit 60? How fun will that be?! (Especially if I don’t end up in the emergency room first . . . )
“Keep moving” is a popular song lyric; a recent search found 4, 369 lyrics, 9 artists, and 100 albums matching “keep moving” on lyrics.net.
For researcher Laura Middleton, “keep moving” needs to be the motto of folks interested in staving off dementia. Her work at the University of Waterloo is examining “the impact of exercise and physical activity on slowing cognitive decline. Her studies have supported the premise that any activity that keeps you moving will reduce your risk of memory loss and potentially lessen the chance that you will suffer from dementia as you age.”
If fun-crazy free-running can help prevent scary-crazy dementia, I’m all in. Adventure after 50! Flat hands!
A few stray showers earlier this month added incrementally to our rainy season total: under 5 inches so far (as posted on a NOAA data page). The paid professionals who talk about “rainfall averages” like to proclaim that my home area in Orange County “averages” 13 inches of rain each year . . . which drives me mildly bonkers.
Am I the only one who thinks there is no such thing as “average” rainfall in this Mediterranean climate of a long dry season (~April through November: no rain) in between cool-but-never-cold rainy seasons (November or December through March or April)?!
What is “normal” or “average” for this climate is . . . a lot of rain one year, not much another, some the next . . . in other words: it’s supposed to be variable! The native plants are OK with this, and have all sorts of strategies to thrive in these conditions (and so what if their thriving includes shriveled or lost leaves in the summer . . . it’s NORMAL for them to do this . . . another kind of spare beauty, if you only know and appreciate what is going on).
Enough ranting for one afternoon.
The bit of rain received this season has produced some exquisite wildflowers blooms in the last few weeks; my runs have been happily interrupted by my trying (and rarely succeeding . . . drat you camera-with-a-lackadaisical-focus) to “capture” (think about that word: totally inappropriate when it comes to landscape photography . . . I am not trying to capture as much as create an image that will speak beauty to me during those times I cannot find the flowers) . . . where was I . . . oh yes . . . trying to capture (or not) some of our local fast-fleeting flowers in bloom.
Let the non-capturing commence:
The Catalina Mariposa lilies shown above have received the California Rare Plant Rank (CRPR) of 4.2 . . . this means they are “moderately threatened in California (20-80% occurrences threatened / moderate degree and immediacy of threat).”
Splendid Mariposa lilies! A perfect name for these stunning pink lovelies that hover like butterflies over the few remaining scraps of native grassland. (Mariposa = Spanish for butterfly). This is Orange County’s most common Mariposa . . .
Another “cup-like” flower not to be confused with the lilies (which have separated petals), our local native morning glory twines along the ground and has a cup-like blossom that is all one piece (if you think of a morning cup of coffee cup . . . it’s one way to remember which is which).
When goldenstars are in full bloom, their inflorescence (fancy word for flower cluster) reminds me of an exploding firework. April! Goldenstar time in the foothills of Orange County!
(And who doesn’t like to create “shadow tattoos” whilst out and about . . .)
Prickly pear have just begun to burst with blooms! If I were friends with this plant on FB, I would “like” everything it posted . . . with lots of smiley faces
Here’s a slick transition . . . from prickly pear to pincushion plant. This white Chaenactis artemisiifolia was all alone along the trail . . . a special find, as these plants are more abundant after fire, according to the beyond-amazing Wildflowers of Orange County by Allen/Roberts; the most recent fire swept through here in March of 2007.
Another fire-follower: chaparral bush mallow. I love the delicate pink flower sprays of this plant so much I bought one at our local native plant nursery; it did really well in my little back yard garden.
Really really really well.
I had to remove it eventually, as its roots had a clever way of creating new plants . . . everywhere. Sigh.
Now I just enjoy it along the trail. (By the way . . . all of these images are from the Barham Ridge trail network between Irvine Park and Santiago Oaks Regional Park.)
Here’s a “common” plant of the coastal sage scrub community: black sage (Salvia mellifera). It adapts to the dry times by shriveling and dropping its leaves, as mentioned above, making some folks think it’s dead and ugly . . .
. . . as dead and ugly as all the trees in New England that drop their leaves for the winter? We don’t expect hardwood forests to look lush and green all year . . . so let’s give black sage a break as well . . . (around these-here parts, we call it “drought-deciduous”).
Fringed spineflower . . . another April-blooming beauty.
One more definite signal it’s April: blooming spires from our impressive local yucca: Hesperoyucca whipplei. Throughout the Southwest, yuccas are important ethnobotanical plants . . . native people have long used pretty much all its parts for soap, food, and fiber (think twine for nets and rope as well as fiber for sandals and skirts).
As an added bonus, I got a serenade from this unusually bold gnatcatcher . . . a bird that more often than not hides as soon as I come around a bend in the trail. It was so focused on making its (scratchy, mewing) voice heard by nearby friends/foes/potential mates that my camera-fumbling presence did not even faze it.
. . . just another April morning floating along through my fantabulously bio-diverse local wildlands, feeling grateful for good health and strong feet to help me enjoy it all.
Happy April trails!
I think my smile says it all:
This is me on April 6, heading up the Bright Angel Trail after five nights at Phantom Ranch.
Since I was working as the WFR (Wilderness First Responder) for a six-day backpacking/natural history class offered by the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute, I figured it might be good idea if I kept up with my fellow (booted) hikers . . . so for the first couple of days I had to hike in my Merrell sandals (the “Pipidae Wrap” model; unfortunately, long discontinued).
Then . . . stuff got real. On the second day, two of the members of our group began to show signs of heat stress while on a particularly challenging section of trail; I was able to use my WFR training to recognize what was going on, and to facilitate a change in plans for the safety of the group.
Long story short: the three of us hiked back to Phantom Ranch, where we spent the rest of the trip doing short day hikes and relaxing in camp along Bright Angel Creek as well as along “Boat Beach” — a historic place where Colorado River runners have stopped for decades to take a break at the historical Phantom Ranch.
Although we ended up hiking about 26 miles over six days (including seven miles in down the S. Kaibab Trail, and nine miles out the last day on the Bright Angel Trail), our group of three did not log the 20+ extra miles our compadres did as they completed the scheduled adventure to Clear Creek.
Was this a good or bad thing?
Maybe these photos will shed some (Canyon-colored!) light on this question:
Happy Trails! I’ll be back at Grand Canyon in June to lead my second Grand Canyon Association Field Institute “Writing on the Edge” workshop at the North Rim . . . all are welcome, no matter what kind of writing (or hiking) experience you’ve had. We’ll do easy day hikes through the forests . . . which will lead us to stunning views of the Canyon, and we’ll stop along the way to pay attention and jot down notes of what we’re observing . . . enjoying the connections as the writing makes them happen! https://www.grandcanyon.org/learn/grand-canyon-field-institute/classes-tours/north-rim-writing-edge
Monument Valley. Never been there; always wanted to visit.
When I found out that Ultra Adventures was putting on a trail race there, I immediately began planning/training/trying not to get injured.
. . . because getting injured seems to be a sad pattern when I sign up for a “big race.” So I really really really tried to under-train and not over-do my mileage leading up to March 19, 2016.
But it’s just so much fun to blast (at my 56-year-old-granny-snail speed) down hills here on my local trails; yep, I stressed my very sensitive (so sensitive I can’t let it watch the nightly news) left knee on a bugs-in-my-teeth-cause-I’m-smiling-so big run in February.
A visit to my personal magician . . . I mean physical therapy doctor . . . confirmed my suspicion. “It’s a little inflamed,” was Dr. Derrick’s calm diagnosis. “Go ahead and run and have fun.”
Now that’s a positive attitude . . . and so for the first 18 miles I aimed for fun, taking it easy in the miles of soft sand, enjoying the company of such fabulous rock formations, mostly walking, jogging level spots, letting it go a bit more on the lovely sandy downhills . . . until that familiar stabbing pain in the middle of my knee-cap returned. Less intense than in the past, but still enough to keep mostly MOSTLY mostly walking the remaining 15 miles (total of 33.75 miles . . . or 55 kilometers).
But I made it up to the top of Mitchell Mesa (where the above photo was taken) and got to soak in the huge views before plunging back down the insanely rocky trail (which my bare feet much preferred to the too-sticky stickers) and the final miles to the finish line . . . in about 10 hours and 42 minutes. My exact time? Unknown, since I lost the timing chip I was supposed to tie onto my shoelaces, only I didn’t have any shoelaces, so that was that.
I’ve been there! I can’t wait to return! (The Navajo people who make their homes there were gracious in allowing the race to venture places where the general public is not usually allowed; many tribal members also assisted in race logistics, patrolling the course on horseback, providing food–traditional fry bread and mutton soup–at the aid station, etc. This made the event even more special, as did the fact that the Vice President of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan M. Nez, gave an interesting and inspiring speech at the race meeting the night before the race . . . and then ran the 50-mile event on Saturday.)
A few more images:
UPDATE: (April 7, 2016) The good folks at Ultra Adventures did add me to the results, even without a shoe chip. They are such an organized and friendly bunch . . . I highly recommend their races! AND . . . I just found out I won “judges choice” in their race photo* contest on Facebook . . . swag is headed my way . . . can’t wait! * The winning photo is the first one on this blog post . . . the view toward “The Mittens” over my toes from the top of Mitchell Mesa . . .
Yikes . . . talk about “wild” flowers . . . the above assault on the optic nerve is a recent result of my never-ending quest for the “ideal” running short.
My chief requirements: so comfortable I don’t have to think about them while running; NOT a solid color (so they don’t show sweat stains); and NOT capable of clinging on to the “eau de locker room” generated by the previously mentioned sweat.
My current store-bought “Moving Comfort” brand shorts are comfortable, but solid gray, and reluctant–even after repeated washings with bleach–to remain smell-less.
While at a local fabric store buying curtain material, I walked by this loud-and-lovely green and yellow print and felt it calling me (the reason why I try to stay out of fabric stores . . . I like to think my fabric-hoarding days are behind me . . . ).
Loosely referring to my Moving Comfort shorts, I made a pattern and then put together a garment that was definitely . . . colorful. But I made them too big, and the swinging of the extra leg fabric was distracting on my one try-out run. They definitely helped me levitate, however:
On my next thrift store visit, I came across a men’s golf shirt with potential in the color (tiny stripes!) and stretchy comfort departments:
Here’s all that was left after making the shorts (using the previous pattern, but doing more adjusting and measuring along the way). I gave them one seam pocket on the right side (for runny nose hanky), and a patch pocket on the left (for bits of trail trash).
I am now happy to have a complete running kit (LOVE this word; thanks UK friends) made out of thrift store finds: a gray wool t-shirt (from EMU Australia) and my gray-and-blue stripey shorts.
This afternoon will be the test drive . . . back to my favorite currently puddley trails at Irvine and Santiago Oaks Regional Parks; the two share a border called “Barham Ranch,” home of some rare native plants as well as the endangered California gnatcatcher.
Below is my first mariposa lily sighting of the season along the Barham Ridge trail this week; we have six species of this delicate bloomer in Orange County . . . this is a Catalina mariposa lily, with a rare plant ranking of 4.2, according to the definitive book Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains.
There’s been a lot of recent damage to the trails in this area by someone intent on creating as many bike jumps as possible, endangering plants such as this mariposa lily and her ephemeral friends.
Read the signs, folks:
Two new jumps that magically appeared after last week’s rain:
Trailside damage to get dirt for the jumps . . .
Grrr . . . .
Time to relax with some aroma-therapy . . . courtesy of the fabulous California everlasting (Gnaphalium californicum) now in bloom along the Mountain Goat Trail. According to “The Book,” this plants smells like “maple syrup, pineapple, citrus, or curry” depending on the person doing the smelling. It reminds me of an exotic citrus.
Mmmm . . . I’m feeling a bit less stressed already. Now for a glimpse of the lovely red paintbrush blooming along the Bumblebee Trail, and my blood pressure might find its way back to normal:
Yep. Happy again (and appropriating a bike jump for my own wild purposes):
One final mud moment to sooth my soles. (Ouch. I really try not to make these kinds of puns, but sometimes it just happens . . . )
Happy (almost-spring!) trails . . .