Friday, February 21, 2020

A walk in the (national) park

The large angled rock used to be part of the large upright rock

I usually enter Joshua Tree from the south. I’ve driven past the Cottonwood visitor center and campground several times, never giving them a thought. (And not needing to stop, since I have a lifetime senior pass.) I didn’t know there was also a trailhead there. Until today. Cottonwood Spring, Mastodon Peak Loop and Lost Palms Oasis all start there.

I was up with the sun, had some oatmeal, got my act together and arrived at the trailhead a little after 8:30. There were only three other cars in the lot. Not only had I beaten the weekend crowd by coming on Friday morning, I had also beaten most of the beat-the-weekend-crowd crowd.

The temperature was pleasantly cool with a light breeze. Good walking weather. I was passed by a trio of bros and a family with four young kids. I was in no hurry. I diverged from the trail a few times to see what might be there. I took photos. I sat on rocks and luxuriated in the fresh air and silence. I was feeling good.

I got to the fork for Mastodon Peak Loop. Anything with peak in the name means an uphill climb. How much of a stress would this one put on my post-cancer cardio system? Go or don’t go? What the hell, don’t give up without trying.

Thank you, Park Service, or whomever

And I was fine.

If I’d had some bouldering skills and a climbing partner I could’ve scrambled to the top of Mastodon Peak. I went as far as I could.

Never having been someone who voluntarily pushed himself physically, this hiking stuff is a new experience. For my body and mind. Who is this guy who suddenly thinks, yeah, I wanna go up that mountain? Have the radiation and chemo done a number on me? Or is it the realization I might not have as much life left as I had presumed? I’ll think about it as I walk down the next trail.

Walk on

Most hikes I’ve taken have a section that’s just drudgery. But I’ve needed to keep slogging along in order to get to the cool parts, or to get back home.

This wash, for example. It’s loose sand and grit that sucks energy and a little progress out of each step. At least it’s not mud or snow. Or snow atop mud. Or ice.

Now that I think of it, the sand is just fine, thank you.

Ya go places, ya see things, ya learn stuff

I had never seen a type of cholla like the one a saw on this morning’s hike in Joshua Tree National Park. Short branches all neatly, geometrically, arranged around the main stalk. Other cholla I’ve seen are much more random in shape.

I googled when I got back within signal range and eventually learned these are called Blue Diamond cholla, or Clokey Cholla, Opuntia multigeniculata, Opuntia whipplei var. multigeniculata, Cylindropuntia whipplei var. multigeniculata. So now I know. I just need a chance to casually slip Opuntia whipplei var. multigeniculata into a conversation.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Good ol' sunset photo

From outside Joshua Tree National Park, looking toward Indio and Palm Springs

Another former service station

This building on the fringes of Borrego Springs has been a number of things over the years. Now it’s a target for tagging and vandalism. And the photo subject for at least one passerby.




Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Down in the ground

There’s a slot canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park imaginatively named the Slot. While the famous slot canyons of the Colorado Plateau are usually smooth tan sandstone, the walls of the Slot are gray sediment that tends to erode in lumps and chunks. It doesn’t create juicy yellow-to-pink-to-purple light, but it’s still enjoyable, in a different, slightly spooky way. More like descending through one of the less-awful levels of hell than slipping through a secret passageway to heaven. The oh-ee-yah, ee-oh-uh chant of the Witch of the West’s guards would be an appropriate soundtrack for this hike. Instead there were just the chatter and laughter of kids, and the wheezing and grumbling of old farts wanting to know how much farther it is and if it gets worse.




Monday, February 17, 2020

Hide and seek

I always toss my wallet, key and pocket change on the counter after I’ve parked the Rolling Steel Tent at a camping spot. Almost always. Not yesterday.

I had changed out of jeans and into shorts when the day warmed up. I folded the jeans and put them back in the cupboard with the rest of yesterday’s laundry. So when the key wasn’t on the counter this morning I immediately thought, “Ah, it’s still in the jeans pocket.”

But it turned out yesterday’s jeans weren’t, as I presumed, on the top of the stack. Or the second pair down. Or the third. That’s when I remembered I had put away the laundry after changing into shorts. The correct jeans were next to the bottom.

“Normal” people often wonder how we nomads spend our time. Seems like a lot of mine goes toward trying to find things I’ve misplaced. And shuffling stacks of pants.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

A short winter weather report

It’s 6:30, the sun is about to drop below the horizon, and it’s still shorts temperature. This is why being able to follow the weather is a good thing.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Three-day hold

Maidenhair Falls

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was calling from the other side of the Imperial Valley. “Psst, Al. Al. Come on over. Take a hike to Maidenhair Falls. Visit the Slot. See the Galleta Meadows sculptures again. Free camping, friend.”

Yeah. Good idea.

The Slot

But first I’d need to get my knives back from AZ Sharpening. They’d be done Friday afternoon.

Oh. Friday. The beginning of the weekend. Weekends aren’t the best time to go to Anza-Borrego. All those folks from the San Diego area coming to the desert for R&R. All those ATV people. I’ll wait until Monday.

A typical off-roader invasion

Then, sometime during my pre-relocation errand running I realized it was Presidents Day weekend. Long weekend. Monday would not be good either.

So I wait. And adjust plans. A luxury of retirement.

We discuss the state of the world

Friday, February 14, 2020

Cowboy week is time for a new hat

I went to Los Algodones, Baja California, for shrimp tacos and meds. Decided I needed to add another hat to my collection.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

It’s not an eating disorder

Through most of my middle-aged years my waist size fluctuated between 36 and 40 inches. With my gut hanging over my belt. If I had worn my pants at the proper height, at my navel, I would’ve needed 44-inch pants. Maybe 46. I was not healthy.

But, as I’ve mentioned before, the throat cancer has caused me to shed a lot of weight. Now that I can eat normally again (hallelujah) I no longer look gaunt and I’m gaining back muscle. Nonetheless, my waist keeps shrinking. And shrinking.

Today I tried on some jeans with a 30-inch waist. Perfect. I can not remember the last time I wore that size. Maybe in boys “husky” apparel? Amazing.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Lost in a small space

I have a headlamp. In fact, I briefly had two of them. I didn’t like the first one so much and gave it away shortly after getting one I liked.

I hadn’t used that headlamp in a while. (While meaning years.) So, naturally, when I did want to use it the other night, I couldn’t remember where I’d put it.

This is an all-too-familiar story with me and the Rolling Steel Tent. I put something where it makes perfect sense (at the time), or put it someplace temporary that unintentionally ends up being long-term, and then I can’t find it. I mean, there are only so many places to lose something in a vehicle. Right? Sigh.

I had a couple of vague mental images of the headlamp. It was in a thing with some other things. That made me certain the light was in one of two places.

It was in neither. And it wasn’t in several other places. Okay, systematic search time. Front to back, top to bottom.

The headlamp wasn’t (as the old wisecrack goes) in the last place I looked, it was in the last place it was possible to look. If it hadn’t been there I would have declared it lost and then bought a new one, setting me up to validate another old wisecrack: the surest way to find a lost item is to replace it. Sigh.


And you worry about mice in your engine compartment?

(it’s plastic)

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Lost and found

Sometimes you find trash at a campsite. Sometimes you find treasure. This 4-way screwdriver was just sitting there, wondering when its owner would be back. I gave it a new home, even though I already had one.

Space race

Having scored an inexpensive stockpile of canned and packaged food, I had to make room for it somewhere in the Rolling Steel Tent. My storage system had become jumbled and inconvenient the past few months. Tools, food, clothing, hardware and what-the-hell-is-this-and-why-do-I-have-it just stuffed wherever they fit. It was reorganization time.

I found a lot of badly used space. Hey, how about combining these two half-full boxes into one? How about putting all the pans in one place? Oh look, this fits here much better than there. And so on.

As I worked I remembered some old advice I was given, had passed on to others, then pretty much forgotten: bags pack more efficiently than boxes. Because not only do boxes hold whatever you put in them, they hold unused empty space. Empty space that mocks your desire for compactness. Meanwhile, bags are happy to compress into whatever form you need.

So I transferred things like ibuprofen, gauze pads and nitrile gloves from their partially empty bottles and boxes and into zip lock bags. All those rechargeable AA batteries? Off their blister packs and into zip lock bags. Those three remaining pencils from a box of eight? Bag ‘em. You get the idea.

Not only did I find room for the new supplies, I was able to rid myself of a shoebox-sized container and three foil pans that had held small odds and ends. Anyone want them? Right now they’re just taking up space.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Fly, mi amigos, fly!

Eatin’ cheap

There are a couple of vendors during Quartzsite's high season that sell deeply discounted grocery items. Canned and packaged foods, toiletries and cleaning products, pet foods and such. They buy up excess stock and pass the savings onto you and me.

The catch is that most items aren’t the big brands. And there isn’t any fresh produce or meats. But I stocked up on canned fruit and veggies, soups, condiments and protein bars (six for a dollar). And imitation Oreos.

In a far corner of one vendor’s tent they have big number 10 cans of vegetables and sauces for your next community soiree. Or kinky erotic adventure. Mmmmmm, pudding. Only three bucks a can.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

My favorite British Columbian

I met Atli six years ago. Each winter she takes a break from the dismal weather in Vancouver and hangs out with us dismal nomads in Arizona. Well, except for that winter she went to Hawaii instead. We’ve almost forgiven her for that.

This year she invited select friends to camp with her. I was proud and flattered to be included.

I had my aversions backwards

The forecast was for overnight lows near freezing, and it was certainly feeling like that shortly after sundown. Grumble moan whine. I could use the stove to heat the Rolling Steel Tent while I was awake, turning it on for short periods, but I couldn’t do that while sleeping. Groan mumble whine.

I got under the covers: a medium down quilt with a lightweight blanket on top. Layering, man. I pulled on my ratty old knit cap. Keep the head warm, amigo. And I thought about how miserable I was going to be. Groan mumble whine.

The temperature continued to drop and my bedding was barely adequate. I reached into the cabinet (which is easy when you’re in a tight space like a van) and grabbed my sleeping bag. I added it to the bottom of the pile. That helped. Oh, the joys of retained body heat. The groaning mumbling and whining died down and I slept well, in a semi-conscious, semi-cryogenic state.

It was 34°F/1°C inside the van when I woke in the middle of the night to pee. That’s when I had a mini epiphany: It’s not sleeping in the cold that I hate. It’s being awake in the cold.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Getting in shape for hiking… by hiking

So here I am, five months out of cancer treatment and massive weight loss, and I have the bug for hiking in the canyons of southeast Utah (once it stops freezing at night). It shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Hiking is just glorified walking, and I’ve been doing that my entire post-infant life. One foot in front of the other, repeat as necessary.

But I’m out of shape. And I have old man knees. And peripheral neuropathy in my feet. And part of that weight loss was muscle.

I haven’t hiked more than a couple of miles since I was a Boy Scout, when we did a week-long trek up the C&O Canal from Washington DC to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

The hike up Grand Wash with my sister and brother-in-law back in September revealed I had a lot of recovery and rebuilding ahead of me. Although I feel much stronger now, I still have some work—or working out—to do.

Yesterday morning I left our campsite and strolled up the road to the Palm Canyon trailhead. That was the original goal. Trailhead and back, a couple of miles round trip, a nice and easy restart of my hiking life, pausing along the way to take photos.

The walking felt good. No complaints from my feet, joints, muscles or cardio-vascular system. So I didn’t stop at the trailhead.

Your basic trail

I had been up Palm Canyon once before. I knew the trail changed back and forth between hard dirt, gravel, stones, scree and bare rock. It wouldn’t be a stroll in the park (or, in this case, a wildlife preserve), but it wouldn’t be difficult. The question was whether my body could deal with it.

Watch where you step

I had to watch my foot placement in several sections to avoid slipping, tripping, falling. But my balance was good and my limbs were doing what I asked without trouble.

So I kept going, to the viewpoint for the palms and a little beyond. There the trail got a little more serious. I had left my walking stick behind because it’s awkward when I want to take pictures. Not enough hands to hold things. As they say, discretion is the better part of not falling, hurting oneself and needing to be air-evacced out of there. Besides, I had already surpassed the day’s goal. I turned around.

Walking downhill is less of a cardio workout but more a test of joints. At least it is for me, because I’m not graceful. I land on my heels, with my legs stiff. Thump thud thud thump. Because I don’t trust the muscles in the uphill leg will flex without collapsing. That’s part of getting in shape.

Also, downhill footing is trickier. Or it feels that way. Will the soles grip, or will this grit make them slide and send me sprawling? Is that rock going to tilt and make my ankle buckle?

I made it back to the trailhead without incident. The only challenges from there were washboard, dust and monotony. I might have been only a mile from the Rolling Steel Tent to the trailhead, but it seemed like four coming back. One foot in front of the other, repeat as necessary.

This morning I feel fine. No aches and pains, no blisters, no wounds to heal. A couple of more months of this and I’ll be in decent shape. And southeast Utah won’t be as frigid.

These Keen Gypsum II shoes kept my feet happy