Darn it, anyway! We’d tried to be nice about all the awful weather this winter in the SW, but the last straw was when we arrived in Joshua Tree National Park, California in March.
When at the Grand Canyon in October, a woman asked if we’d had good weather for our 2 pairs of Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim crossings. I had to pause before answering. I’d tried to forget but finally remembered: we’d walked in rain parts of 3 of those very challenging 4 days.
Barb was minutes away from her successful summiting of San Gorgonio.
The previous winter, we’d made the 15-hour Cactus-to-Clouds hike from Palm Spring’s desert floor to San Jacinto Peak and back down to the upper station of Aerial Tram 3 times, but we were entirely snowed out of the event this winter. In fact, we’d received snow each of the last 5 months on the road.
And then there was the more recent 5.8” of rain in Palm Springs on Valentine’s Day. These historic rains washed out the access road to the Tram, our ride down from the mid-mountain point, so the epic hike became impossible until at least April. The numerous road closures in the desert valley concentrated the hikers so that trails on which we might normally see dozens of people were visited by nearly 300 in a day.
Against this backdrop, being greeted by a late-breaking forecast of 60 mph winds on March 2 for our first full day in Joshua Tree National Park was trying. Originally scheduled for a long overdue bike ride, we flipped the bike ride to the next day, preferring to do our 20-mile hike in the wind. But that was when it was a 20-30 mph wind day, not one with gusts of 60 mph. We finally decided to make our debut day in the Park into a paperwork and laundry day. And it would have been no better had we lingered in Palm Springs--the same storms, the same wind velocities—the only thing that changed was that our wind advisory was coming from Las Vegas and Palm Springs got theirs from San Diego.
BUT that is why we have a rolling calendar on which we are always allowing for a Plan B to make our 40 mile/week hiking goal. And that is why we are constantly grateful for the gift of our lifestyle: we have time. Like in New Zealand years ago, we poised ourselves for almost a week to do the iconic Tongariro Crossing. Foul weather had foiled the plans of many Kiwis with their every attempt to make the epic hike, but we went to the area and waited for days for the fog and rain to clear and made it. Not getting overly attached to expectations, being flexible, and having the ‘luxury of time’ are key to keeping the stress level down in an otherwise low stress lifestyle.
Once on the trail on Day #2 in Joshua Tree for our monthly 20-mile hike, our feathers ruffled by the high winds the day before began to flatten and we walked our way back into gratitude. “Yes, it had been a record-breaking wet and cold winter in the desert, but there had been some new pleasures.”
I had noticed, before the record-breaking rain storm closed both Whitewater Preserve and Indian Canyons, that I enjoyed long hikes at those destinations this season like never before. Temperatures in the low 60’s this winter, instead of the usual mid-70’s, had made those all-day walks delightful, not oppressive. I had thought I didn’t like the trails, but I was wrong, it was being uncomfortably warm that tarnished the venues for me.
Bill inadvertently collecting pollen on his pants in the extravaganza of wildflowers.
And all of that winter rain turned both Palm Springs and Joshua Tree NP green like we’d never seen them before. Each week’s rain made both areas a bit greener. None of us could stop commenting on the unusual look of the light-colored hills when they turned dark, and again when they began turning yellow from of all of the wildflowers.
We made our first bike ride in almost 4 months on our 3rd full day in Joshua Tree NP—it had been too wet, too cold, too windy to ride since leaving the Grand Canyon. The usually terrifying, tedious, 2000’ descent from our picnic spot in Belle Campground was delightful this year. Being on our better (though damaged) touring bikes, we were phenomenally more stable, and didn’t have to defensively brake to ensure we had control over the bikes.
I could let it rip, sparing my hands from the constant braking, and enjoy the scenery that was enhanced by the additional vegetation. It seemed that the biomass was double that of the usual, increasing the contrasts in the afternoon shadows, making the scenery pop. And maybe the additional moisture in the soils was keeping the dust down during the daily winds because the air seemed unusually clear. The basis of all of those Polly Anna clichés seemed evident: indeed, there had been a silver lining in the clouds those many months.
How Many Hikers?
Bill made an interesting observation on a club hike while in Joshua Tree: it required 4 hikers to pack out a helium balloon. Yes, we are talking about a single, deflated helium balloon, like a birthday balloon. All virtuous desert hikers are zealots about retrieving and packing them out, usually attributed to ‘blowing in from LA’. Bad for the wildlife, of course. We pick-up other garbage, but balloons trigger the warrior in us all; they are a trophy find.
Our less-PC RV park neighbors seemed content to let their balloons blow away.
We’ve upped our game with run-away balloons by stowing them in used bags. We’d learned the hard way that not all of the lore is true: some balloons do disintegrate in nature. It’s no fun having one turn to fine, nylon powder in your hands or in your pack, so being experienced east-of-LA hikers, we take precautions these days.
Streaming an annual, 3-day ketogenic diet conference while we were in 29 Palms was stimulating but not as demanding as in 2018. Last year was our first experience with it and so many of the research topics were new to us that we had to view some of the presentations several times. And Bill had found the 2017 conference online shortly before that, so we were catching-up on the best of 2 years of material at that time. We were delightfully on overload in 2018.
One piece of new information for us last year had been the recent availability to all of a research-grade lipid analysis, so we’d gotten those tests run before the conference in both 2018 and 2019. That way when examples were given of optimal ranges or interesting ratios, we could plug our own numbers into the equation. Being able to do our own interpretation of the data during the conference was incredibly satisfying.
Like last year, we both immediately made refinements to our individualized dietary schemes, but at least the conference wasn’t in a storm of new information. It was a more straight-forward process, preserving piles of our time and energy. Not as exciting as before, and yet we were delighted to more quickly integrate the new details. Through a process of round-about-reasoning, I decided to go dairy-free for a few months in hopes that my hypertension would improve; Bill was prompted to further fine-tune his fat to carbs ratio on his plate.
We also vowed to finally indulge in what we hoped would be an empowering little treat for us, kind of ‘nerd candy’, which would be stopping at a Utah hospital for coronary artery calcium (CAC) scans. For $69 each, it was an opportunity would couldn’t pass up. We’d been convinced of the value of them during the keto conference last year and Bill took the initiative to follow-through this spring. Only available with a doctor’s order in California, which is where we were, the 10-minute test was available for the asking in Utah.
Our high fat, and my high saturated fat, keto diets are frowned upon, so we would settle the matter as to whether they were harming our heart health for ourselves. Back in 2012 when Bill was worked up for a heart attack, he had a fancier version of the CAC done (surely for way-more than $69) and received the much-coveted result of “0”. We were both hoping to be zeros, which at our age would all but guarantee that neither of us would have a heart attack and would reassure us that we could keep saying “Pass the butter, please.”
Barb’s first dairy-free breakfast turned out well for a “making-do” meal.
Three months-on with an anti-hypertensive medication that I was sort-of tolerating and with which I was having some hope of finding peace in my 11-month journey with medications and then Wham! I’m struggling to maintain consciousness. Suddenly, the 10-15 mile hikes and 25 mile bike ride on my calendar were non-starters while my systolic blood pressure, the upper number, dropped 75 points in 25 minutes and the lower number dropped by half. When that happens, one’s heart rate is supposed to pop-up to compensate, to keep you alive, but my primary medication does its job by suppressing heart rate, so my heart rate merrily dropped further.
At one point on the second of 3 days, Bill said he had been 10 seconds away from calling 911, which I could feel by the tension and moisture change in his hands, but what would they do? My heart rate wasn’t responding to the adrenaline my body was kicking out in the crisis, so our Epipens in the ready would have done no good either. Fortunately, like the day before, after about 90” of high alert for both of us, the crisis passed. I could bear to open my eyes, then a bit later, to sit up. Frequent monitoring again showed wide blood pressure swings throughout the sick-day.
Presuming that my medication level was too high now that I wasn’t eating dairy, I’d decreased the newest medication the evening after the first episode with little effect. Next up, would be decreasing the first medication, the one that was destroying the “keep her alive’’ back-up heart rate response. All we could do was hope that I would get an improvement overnight, that it wouldn’t take days for the dose adjustment to extract us from this drama.
We could generate enough explanations to connect the dots, the dots of observations we’d made so as to make decisions about what to do next, but none of what was happening really made sense. It seemed pointless to seek professional help: their frustrations at scheduled appointments were vented on me in the form of negative comments, which hadn’t yet had a positive therapeutic effect. And like before, no doubt our feeble interpretations of the unexplainable events would be dispatched with distain. It took another week of feeling weak and tired after 3 days of severe low blood pressure events to feel close to normal again. We had to conclude there was something to my hypothesis that a dairy allergy was causing inflammation, which was in turn, fueling my high blood pressure.
What You Don’t Learn On The Trail!
Who would have guessed that abruptly losing one’s taste for alcohol is an aging thing for some?
Two men volunteered that they suddenly lost much of their pleasure from their favorite alcoholic beverages and a woman chimed-in that her husband too had lost his as well. One was an active wine connoisseur; another enjoyed his beer, wine, and port with his favorite French cheeses. Each lamented the loss, that they still enjoyed a drink, but now only one. However, the 76-year old tigress-hiker hadn’t lost her appetite for pairing a glass of red wine with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Thanks to Margaret for capturing Barb on our first visit to Chuckwalla Bill's cabin ruins in Long Canyon.
The short story to hikers in the California desert: do not call 911 for directions. If you call, they come.
While we were part of a 4-some driving to a trailhead for a shuttle hike in Joshua Tree, it was relevant enough for me to say “In an emergency, call 911 even if you don’t have cell service. If another carrier has coverage, they will pick-up your call.” The woman in the front seat turned with a sly smile on her face and confirmed that it was true. I was pleased to know someone who had first-hand experience, that I wasn’t passing on a myth.
She then commenced to tell her story about hiking alone on a remote trail and getting confused. She didn’t realize she’d overshot her destination, had continued on, and then when stopped, didn’t see cairns to guide her back. We knew the spot where she had been and entirely understood how she became disoriented. There was no cell signal on her phone, but she wondered what would happen if she tapped the “S0S” displayed on the screen. Bingo! A 911 operator was suddenly discussing her physical condition and gear list with her.
Our friend was instructed to call back in 25 minutes for addition help, which she expected to be directions back to her trail. Nope, a rescue helicopter was on its way and, to her absolute horror, there was no un-doing it. Not long after, she was being walked back to the waiting chopper, which then deposited her at her mountain parking lot, and off they went.
We’d heard a similar story once before, an even more embarrassing one, in which the hikers were practically in their own backyard. Again, the moral of the story: a hiker asking 911 for directions is a hiker hailing a chopper without even knowing it!
We'd never seen the Joshua Trees so loaded with flowers.
If you are ever out stalking blooms on Joshua Trees, approach them from the south. The vast majority of the blooms loading the trees this year were facing south. Of course, that is true for many flowers as well, but unlike the Joshua Trees, you’ll still see the blooming flowers from any angle.
Binge Watching TV Shows.
All I could do was listen when 2 experienced binge-watchers excitedly exchanged the names of their favorite series to binge-watch while walking through a Joshua Tree flat. When the frenzied tempo finally slowed, I asked a few questions to educate myself about this part of our culture of which I knew nothing. And of course, since we’d never had an HBO subscription, I knew little more than a handful of the program names.
These women were clearly experienced and knew how to navigate the pitfalls. An important consideration for them was the number of seasons a program had run. For their tastes, 5 to 7 seasons was the limit, otherwise the task was too daunting, the volume too great. Of course, an exception was made for Game of Thrones (which we’d never seen). A great plot was equally as important as the series length. I tried to imagine how I could possibly sleep after binge watching—clearly a novice question. The simplest answer was “Stay up all night watching.”
“Oh My Gosh!”
I felt like a thug when our cars converged at the appointed time off of a major intersection on the edge of Palm Springs. We were making our last weekly trip to town for shopping and acupuncture appointments and she was going hiking from the just re-opened Tram. I handed her the cash; she gave us her 6-month-old, high-end bike saddle and a spiffy, almost new, Specialized tire pump, then we were off.
Our loot from what felt like roadside banditry.
We were stunned and dismayed. It felt like it was about us, but it clearly was not. We lamented that she hadn’t had more suitable biking buddies to support her in becoming a cyclist over the last year, but she’d hadn’t and had had it. Simultaneously, Bill saw his chance to try-out her sleek Infinity saddle slipping away and asked to ride her bike for a few pedal strokes. He loved it, so I tried it as well. And then she was off down the hill.
A quick round of emails exchanged shortly after we finished our ride that had included our planned picnic lunch, she was offering to sell her saddle for half of the purchase price. “Sold” I wrote back, and then it was on to coordinating a drop during our last 72 hours in the region. By 5 am, Bill’s overnight question was answered: she had been able to remove the saddle from the bike. In a separate email with a photo, there was a sales offer for her pump. The transaction for both was completed 24 hours after we headed out to ride with her and our heads were still spinning from the abruptness of it all. We felt like we’d ambushed her and stripped her bike.
Nineteen years of travel 9-10 months a year, and we are still shocked when it is time to wrap-up a season. Of course, the process is getting easier, but there is still a surprising amount of dismay and crankiness. I always respond with “We had these many months; most people only enjoy 2 weeks.” But of course, it is an emotional response, not an intellectual one, so we again plow through the getting-ready-to-be-at home rituals while simultaneously organizing for our next departure with a sense of loss.
Fortunately, this spring, there was less tension in anticipating our homecoming. Our excellent new bodyworker in Palm Springs had worked miracles on our tissues so there was less of a sense of panic about getting problems solved in our 3 weeks at home before heading overseas. Bill had worked on stream-lining his often-circuitous decision-making process over the winter, which of course garnered more time and energy for other things. And he gained new clarity about how much he was hindered by frustration and stress, so we made adjustments to keep those responses to a minimum. Several deaths while we were away would change the landscape of our social time, but we both felt we had enough spacious to be with that.
We felt fit, capable, and well-organized when Bill lifted those stab-jacks under our trailer for the drive home. It would be 100 degrees in Palm Springs in a few days and talk of “the rattlesnakes being out” was in the air, so it was indeed time. Amazingly, a few days later, we’d be navigating around snow storms in Idaho and eastern Oregon to make our way home.
Like every year, our calendar was chocked-full of appointments, and our challenge would be to stay on task with the to-do lists. And we were both hoping that I would finally feel supported in my hypertension control journey by a physician.
Little changes would look big to us when we covered our living room floor with 4 months of gear to stow in 2 suitcases. On the advice of our new Palm Springs bodyworker, Bill had relented and bought boots to support his year-old leg injury at the ankle. Of course, the compromise was selecting a minimalist model that didn’t hinder his feet. But men’s boots are space hogs, and they’d be noticed in the suitcase.
Water where it isn’t usually in Joshua Tree NP at the “Potholes”.
An extra bit of tension on departure day would be the usefulness of our cherished GOES card. The US government shut-down delayed the processing of our expiring traveler’s cards by more days than the shut-down, so it was anybody’s guess if they’d arrive before we left. The story was that since we paid for their renewal before they expired, that they would be honored, but it still registered as an uncertainty for us. And we’d be keeping an eye on the geo-political, epidemic, and currency situations too. Fortunately, the new EU requirement for us to have more formal visas wouldn’t affect us this year, but we’d be listening for other such changes—we’d been caught off-guard before.
And of course, at all times and in all places, for almost everyone, the weather would be the wild card. Would it be so unseasonably hot while at home in our un-airconditioned apartment that we’d struggle to sleep? Would it be too wet and cold to take long urban walks to retard our conditioning losses? If we were lucky, those would be our biggest dramas while at home.