Descent into injury

Every hiker knows one of the easiest paths to injury is on descent from high places.  Ascents usually pose little danger.

Of my three injuries in 2015, all took place while hiking and all occurred on the descent.

Injury #1:  Tweaked my  right knee coming down a paved road from North Mountain in January.  No slip, no tripping on an obstacle.  Just walking.  I suspect the injury was actually the result of a weightlifting session I’d done earlier in the day.  Too much weight on the leg press, perhaps.  The injury proved minor and I soon recovered.

Injury #2: Wrecked my left shoulder in March coming down Daisy Mountain east of Anthem.  Traveling solo in an isolated area, I was lucky this one did not turn out even more severe than it did.  After reaching the top of Daisy, I descended on a rock trail with loose soil.  I made it OK to the saddle but on the descent from there, I slipped on loose rock and fell as if shot by American Sniper.  The elbow caught the brunt of the fall, but the pain shot up into my shoulder.  Think this injury was due to tired legs, Daisy Mountain being a long, arduous trek.  I did not see a doctor and allowed the injury to heal on its own. That took the most of six months.  Think I tore ligaments.  It certainly was more than a strain.  This one injury put a pall on my entire year.

Injury #3:  Sprained my left ankle several days ago coming down the Arrowhead Trail in Thunderbird Park, in darkness.  Only about 25 yards from the flats and safety too.  Stepping off a rock with my right foot, the left struck an angle rock the wrong way and down I went with pain in the ankle, shooting up the outside of the shinbone.  After lying there for a while and seeing if all my other parts were working, I got up and walked to the parking lot.  This injury was utter stupidity on my part.  I was at the end of a 6-mile hike, covering the last 2 miles in darkness.  I’d stopped at sunset to search my pack for the head lantern I usually carry.  Alas, nowhere in sight.  Recovery is still a work in progress here on Day 4.

Resolutions for next year do not include a halt in hiking, however.

One thing I will try to do better is 2016 is this.  Monitor how tired I am of body and mind.  Tired legs, I believe, lead to injury on slippery slopes.  Tired minds lead to bad decisions.



An escape into Arizona’s thin air

The San Franciscos as seen from U.S. 180 that leads to Grand Canyon.

The San Franciscos as seen from U.S. 180 that leads to Grand Canyon.

After a long string of days with triple digit temps in Phoenix, we needed a break.  While many Arizonans flee to San Diego’s Mission Beach and other cool California destinations, just as many or more head for the state’s moderate climes around Flagstaff, along the Mogollon Rim and in the White Mountains.  We chose Flag.  It’s closer and higher with more to do. But, yes, less of a backwoods adventure.

Many believe Arizona is nothing more than a flat desert with cactus.  But they are wrong.  Flagstaff rests at almost 7,000 feet elevation.  The forested San Francisco Peaks on the north side of town offer a beautiful backdrop.  They include Humphreys Peak, at 12,463, the state’s highest point.

Towering aspen offer a foliage treat in October.

Towering aspen offer a foliage treat in October.

Our trip was a bit of an extravagance.  Even the one night was costly.  The city’s lodging places are in high demand year round.  This is particularly true with the nicer motels that have free wi-fi, pools and exercise rooms.  In the summer there is hiking, backpacking and climbing, and in the winter skiing at Snow Bowl and snow-shoeing among the flatlands areas of Ponderosa pine.  We took a room on the third floor of the large Courtyard Marriott near the point where two Interstates, 40 and 17, cross.  Price, $140.  Gulp.

We arrived late on a Sunday evening.  Finding a place to stay on the weekends can be difficult, but for a Sunday to Monday visit, no problem.  Most of the Phoenix visitors had fled back down “the hill” — a two-hour drive and a drop in elevation of almost 6,000 feet.

One of many wildflower varieties in Thorpe Park.

One of many wildflower varieties in Thorpe Park.

On our first evening we looked for something easy to hike.  Nebra has a strained calf and did not want to do elevation.  And I was not up to par either, perhaps feeling the effects of the higher elevation.  We discovered Thorpe Park on Flag’s west side, and set out on our jaunt from a paved parking lot near some busy tennis courts.

The trail was actually a dirt road that sliced into a pine forest between a 18 holes of a disc-golf course, the biggest danger we ran into.  Walking along, suddenly a blue object skittered across the trail in front of us.  No reason for alarm.  Just a frisbee that over-shot a disc-golf basket.  Onward we went.

Mexican Hat also seen in Thorpe Park.

Mexican Hat also seen in Thorpe Park.

It soon became obvious that wildflower season was in full-blown stage.  On our walk of a mile an a half we came by at least 20 different varieties.  Reds, yellows, whites, blues, purples, you name it, all the colors were there.  Very nice visual outing.

The next day we drove into the real mountains and found by accident a trail that was recently mentioned in The Arizona Republic.  The Viet Springs Trail aka the Lamar Haines Loop meanders through a forest of Ponderosa, aspen and a smattering of fir at 8,600 feet el.  It was a flattish trail amid high grass, only 300 feet in elevation gain, with temps in the 70s.  Although the path is said to pass two old cabins, we saw neither, just an old dam at what is known as the Lower Pond and a plaque of Lamar Haines, a local conservationist.  We found the trail busy.  There were a dozen hikers or more, mostly with children, some with dogs.  And again, co-star of the day along with the towering, white barked aspen, the patches of wildflowers.

Wildflower FieldSuch a gorgeous place, although the San Franciscos are dry like the rest of the West.  The Lower Pond had no water at all backed up behind an ancient rock dam.

After a late-lunch on the patio at the humming Lumberyard Brewery on the edge of the large campus of Northern Arizona University, it was downhill again into the hell of Phoenix summer.

But after only a day in the thin air, our return to the lowlands somehow did not seem so bad.

The condom problem with ‘Wild’

I saw the film “Wild” last weekend with the same annoyance I had in reading the wildly popular book by that title almost two and a half years ago.  The condoms.

Here was the author, Cheryl Strayed, setting out on an arduous trek to purify her soul by hiking part of the Pacific Crest Trail in California and Oregon.  Her life up to the point of departure along Highway 58 near Tehachapi Pass was a disaster.  She was, if we are to believe her, a heavy drug abuser with a major in heroin and a propensity for unprotected sex with numerous male partners.  As portrayed, this was a woman who clearly hated herself, although she blames it all on grief.  Her “beloved” mother died of cancer not long before.

Strayed’s idea, it seems to me, should have been to make this spiritual voyage, at least at the start, drug and sex free.

But, no.  As she put together that giant backpack, dubbed Monster, she slipped in some condoms.  Why would she do that? To start out so half-hearted on such an important venture to cleanse herself?  Or, as she said, to become the perfect person she once was, “strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good.”  Right there, it sounds like someone with an idealized and unrealistic view of self.

It was at that point early on, with the condoms, that I began to lose faith in the author and the honesty of the book.  And for that matter, the film too, since she wrote the screenplay.  The film, by the way, larded on Strayed’s grief from the death of her mother to the point you could slit it with a dull knife.  Flashback, flashback, flashback, to good times with mom, times that did not seem good to me.

Problems abound.

Why did she change her married name to the affected “Strayed?”  She did that soon after the divorce from a husband who of course worshipped her and always saw the good Cheryl.  She seems to glorify her life as a bad girl, straying from the straight and narrow.  And if she so loved her mother, why not keep the original surname to honor her?  But again, no.  I suspect the change was made because she planned to write a book all along and thought it would enhance sales.

Why not start with the PCT at its beginning point at the Mexican border?  And after starting, why skip the most dangerous 450 miles, from Lone Pine, near snowbound Mount Whitney, to Sierra City?

At one point, in self-pity, Strayed describes herself as “the woman with a hole in her heart.”  In checking my reading notes, I wrote she had a “callous” for a heart.  Take her pregnancy.

Strayed was not sure who the potential father was and suddenly followed up with this:  “I got an abortion and learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes and turkey jerky and took a refresher course on basic first aid and practiced using my water purifier in my kitchen sink.”

While abortion is more a health issue to me than a moral one, my god, shouldn’t you give a little more time and consideration to it than “tuna flakes?”

In the end I did not like Strayed or her book.  She waited almost 17 years to write it after ending her journey at the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border, a long way from the trail’s end in Canada.  So I believe a lot of what she wrote, because of the way she wrote it, was fiction.

I will give Strayed this.  She made a pile of money from book sales and whatever film deal she made.

The one good thing I see is that “Wild” will encourage a lot of women to set out on spiritual treks alone and find the hikes rewarding — only doing them right.  Though Strayed no doubt suffered physically during her journey, I as a longtime hiker myself, think too often she took the easy way out.


An upcoming trip

Trip materials

Trip materials

We are heading north by east next weekend for a two-week sojourn, half in Chicago, half touring around Lake Michigan.  Airline tickets, rental car and room reservations made, I’m now left with tweaking the itinerary.  Tickets to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field are in hand, so what could change or go wrong?  A little, I hope.  I try to remain flexible on all my trips, allowing for serendipity.

Thanks to our screwed up flight last December to Oahu, our air fare is covered by vouchers from U.S. Airways, to and from O’Hare.  Some may recall our direct flight to Honolulu was cancelled at the last moment.  We lost a day of our Christmas vacation and limped to our destination via San Francisco and Kona on the Big Island.  U.S. was “nice” enough to reimburse us for our troubles.

I usually avoid renting a car from the airport, and I did so this time.  It’s much cheaper to find an agency elsewhere and ditch all the extra fees and taxes.  Particularly at O’Hare.

After a few hours of research, I rented a compact car from Budget in the Chicago Lakeview area north of downtown.  The cost for a 12-day rental was a tad over $450, or about $37.50 a day, unlimited mileage.  That’s without GPS or other extras.   Our insurance covers the rental car so we escaped that cost as well.  If I had rented the same compact at the airport, our bill would have been $1,210.69.  That’s a whopping $760 in savings.  We had saved around $300 in Oahu by renting from an Enterprise agency on Waikiki rather than at the Honolulu Airport.  Renting off-site can be inconvenient but, even with the added cost of a taxi or traveling by bus or light rail, the savings can be phenomenal.  Enterprise, Avis and National also had competitive off-site rates but were less convenient to where we were staying.

Nebra found us a decent hotel in Lakeview, only a short walk to the rental car agency.  Lodging in Chicago is not cheap.  At least $200 a night is normal and we are paying a little over that.  The hotel, by the way, lays within walking distance of Wrigley.

While I am not the fan of baseball I once was, seeing a game in historic Wrigley Field in its centennial season was important enough for me to cough up $128 for two tickets on August 14, Cubs v. Milwaukee.  A day game, which to my mind is the only way to go during this special season because Wrigley had no lights until 1988, the last Major League Baseball team to install them.

If this trip has themes beyond Wrigley, they are Hemingway, hiking and my family history with the late actor James Dean thrown in.  Ernest Hemingway was born and raised in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park.  We hope to visit is old home and museum there, then eventually travel to Petoskey, in northern Michigan where as a boy he spent many a summer with his family.  That Michigan area produced some of his best writing, the short story, “Indian Camp,” coming to mind.  So Petoskey is definitely on the itinerary.

We also hope to hike in the huge Hiawatha National Forest on the peninsula above Petoskey.  After another brutally torrid Arizona summer, a taste of cool air and pines, mixed in with some strange stuff called rain, are more than welcome.

A side trip to the small town of Fairmount, in northeastern Indiana, is on the itinerary for now.  It is there that the idol of my generation, James Dean, is buried.  The actor was killed at a young age, in 1955, due to a car accident in southern California.  A few years ago, Nebra and I had driven to that crash-site near Cholame.  Now we would close the Dean saga by viewing his grave.

Just a thirty-minute drive north of Fairmount is where my maternal great-great grandmother is interred in a Quaker cemetery in Amboy.  I do not know much about her except that she was married three times.  I have seen a photo of her grave online.  So that is in the works too.

I have not mentioned Nebra’s desires for the trip.  She has never been to Chicago or, barring Detroit, never to Michigan.  So there remains much to see, much of the trip yet to map out.  Our passports will come with us, in case we want to cross the Canadian border into Ontario.  Despite all my planning we still have plenty of room for the unexpected.

Down Tucson Way

The following is an account of our trip to Tucson on Easter weekend, April 19-21.

Our goal, Mount Wrightson's summit.

Our goal, Mount Wrightson’s summit.

April 19, Saturday:  Nebra and I decided we’d try to summit Mount Wrightson again during the long Easter weekend. The 9,453-foot peak is located about 40 miles south of Tucson.  We’d last hiked to the top 28 years ago, not long after we met.  So we reserved a room in a north Tucson motel and set out  about 2 o’clock from our home in Phoenix.

Normally it takes about two hours to drive the 110 miles south to The Old Pueblo, as Tucson was once called.  It took four hours today.  That is because we took the so-called backroads, not Interstate 10.   The traffic is much less and the roadsides more interesting this way.  And we did stop twice.  The first time was to hike up a barren basalt pimple of hill to the lonely gravesite of a once-renowned Arizonan, Charles Poston.  The second stop came at the memorial for the old cowboy movie star, Tom Mix, off 79 Highway south of Florence.

South of the Mix memorial, the road gains elevation and the landscape changes from desert drab to lush in comparison.  Lots of chain-fruit cholla and prickly pear cactus, all in bloom.  And the backdrop is the high Catalina Mountains to the south as you approach Oro Valley.  An interesting day again on the backroads.

The Catalinas from HW 79 north of Tucson.

The Catalinas from HW 79 north of Tucson.

April 20, Sunday:  We talked ourselves out of doing Wrightson today.  We’ll do it on Monday.  It’s a daunting hike of nearly 11 miles.  The trail is steep and unrelenting.  An elevation gain of 4,000 feet in 5.5 miles.  Don’t know if I’m ready for it.  Nebra wanted to relax anyway.  So we stayed late in our motel room along North Oracle Road.  The day was warm on the way to a long string of 100-degrees in the coming weeks.

In the afternoon, we visited the site where the Congressman Gabby Giffords was shot in 2011.  Giffords, who suffered a wound to the head, is making a slow recovery.  Six others died in the rampage by a delusional Tucson man, Jared Loughner.  There is a small memorial set aside by the Safeway store where the incident occurred.  A memorial plaque is placed on a large stone at one side. An attractive flower bed  rests on the other.

In late afternoon, we did a 3-mile hike in busy Sabino Canyon.  It’s located in northeast Tucson.  I called it a warm-up for tomorrow’s attempt at the Wrightson summit.  It was a pleasant walk  through saguaro and chaparral.  Cactus flowers bloomed at every turn.  Even the mighty saguaro was showing buds.

April 21, Monday:  Up early and nibbled on trail mix as we drove south of Tucson on I-19  toward Wrightson.  The trailhead is 47.5 miles from our motel.  As we neared the towns of Sahuarita, Green Valley and Continental along the freeway, Wrightson loomed like a monster in front of us.

We hit the trail at 10:30, thinking it would take six hours round-trip to the summit and back.  The trail was steep and I pooped out at Old Baldy Saddle at about 8,800 feet elevation.  Nebra did better but was also ready to turn around.  We were then about 9/10 of a mile of steep and rocky terrain from reaching the top, having completed 4.85 miles of torture.  Another day perhaps.

It was after 6 when we reached the parking lot and our car.  We’d done a total of  9.47 miles on the trail, our bodies exhausted and legs aching.  It was past time to head home.  Had a big supper at the pleasant Arizona Family Restaurant in Green Valley and got back in Phoenix a little before 11 pm.







Looking for turtles at Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay:  No place for turtles apparently.

Turtle Bay: No place for turtles apparently.

You have to assume there are turtles at Turtle Bay on the North Shore of Oahu.  That’s what I did.  Assume.  But what you find at Turtle Bay is an empty dream.  There are no turtles there on the west side of the resort hotel.  Nor, for that matter, are there any  swimmers, surfers or snorkelers.  It is just one big bay with lots of coral reef and too little beach.  If it’s turtles you want, they say, go farther west, to Kawela Bay.

So that’s what we did.

There was jungle . . .

There was jungle . . .

These are not your garden-variety turtles we sought.   The Green Sea turtles of Hawaii are huge.  Some, I read, reach 200 pounds or more.  We saw them several years ago when we visited Kona on the Big Island.  From our condo rental’s lanai at seaside on the south end of Kona, we could look down on a tidal pool and at a certain time of day, the one or two Green Sea turtles would cavort there.  Now, I wanted to see the turtles again.

The hike up to Kawela Bay from our condo rental at Turtle Bay is probably a mile.   Unless you’re into hopping the sharp-edged coral reef,  you take a flat and sandy jeep trail through a jungle that in places is so thick it is impenetrable.  Even with a machete, it would take hours to cut through 50 yards of it.

The state of Hawaii is trying to buy three miles of pristine seashore from resort owners.  The state wants to save the land from development and is now haggling over the price.  One of the tracts is Kahuku Point, the northernmost spot on Oahu.  The other is Kawela Bay.

And there were mysterious pillars.

And there were mysterious pillars.

Kawela is a serene place.  The big waves that blast elsewhere along the North Shore do not come in here.  The bay is as calm as any Minnesota lake on a windless day.  And the beach is used mostly by a handful of locals.  The fussy resort crowd stays closer home.  Kawela in fact is so tame, instructors feel at ease to give surfing lessons here for beginners.

Coming in to Kawela from around the old military bunker at Protection Point, my eyes are trained on the sea.  I am looking for a dark object in the water, one that moves when it ought not —  and hope it does not have a dorsal fin.  And then you wait, I’m told, for the Green Sea turtle to poke up its head for a breath of air.  Maybe there will even be one on shore.

But there is nothing.  Not on land or sea.

Nebra and I eventually work our way down to the best part of the beach where about 20 others are stretched out in the sand.  Some go into the ocean for a dip or to paddle on surfboards.  Nebra dons rented snorkel gear — the mask, breathing tube and flippers — and slips into the water.

But no turtles at peaceful Kawela Bay.

But no turtles at peaceful Kawela Bay.

Within 20 minutes, a disappointed Nebra returns to the sand.  No fish and of course no turtles.   The water is so clouded with sediment, she says, that she could barely see her hands.   The recent high winds have stirred up the North Shore beaches so much that the surf appears brown in places.

A heavy young woman on a towel next to us has had Achilles surgery on both feet.  She is as helpless on land as a sea turtle.  And nearly as large.  Helped from the sea by a woman friend, she begins to sketch the bay with a colored pencil.  No turtle can do that.

As late afternoon approaches, we head back toward the condo.  It is still on our minds to see turtles, and there is one other beach down the highway about 10 miles that supposedly gets the Green Sea turtle.   I can’t remember its official name, but some call it Turtle Beach.

Mostly paddle-boarders at Kawela Bay.

Mostly paddle-boarders at Kawela Bay.

But, again, disappointment.  By the time we reach Turtle Beach it is dark and, like a lot of minor beaches on North Shore, there appears no access from the Kamehameha Highway, the busy, two-lane artery that runs along North Shore.  But we gave it a try.

In the end, we saw only “the little sea turtles,” as I called them.

There were five of them out at the northeast corner of Kawela where modest 5-foot waves occasionally roll in, kids, beginning surfers, that would not dare  stick a toe in the violent thrashings to the west at fabled Waimea Bay.  Many of the North Shore beaches are sealed off this week by yellow crime tape with signs saying the surf is too dangerous.

We layed down on beach towels and watched them for a while, a few adults nearby shouting out encouragement.   Whether you are a world-class surfer that competes for the Triple Crown at Waimea, Banzai and Sunset beaches or an amateur,  the technique is always the same.

You paddle away from shore, the stomach flat on the board, and at a mysterious point,  probably dictated by instinct, you stop and sit up and stare out at the sea, waiting for the next good wave, for not all waves are created equal.  Finding the good one, you push off, quickly rise to your feet and try to ride the wave toward shore.

Our little turtles, though, did not ride far, some of them only a few feet before crashing into the foam beneath their tanned feet.  Some admit failure, and leap into the water, no hesitation.   But they try again.  You have to admire that.

. . . and one of my "little turtles" heading to shore.

. . . and one of my “little turtles” heading to shore.

Sadly, the only big turtle we saw all day was the one painted on the outlooking wing of the Turtle Bay Resort hotel.

So, no turtles at Turtle Bay.  It doesn’t seem right.

For the real thing, I guess, we’ll have to try again on our next visit to Oahu.

All of this has led me to at least one conclusion.  Call something “turtle” up here on North Shore, be it beach or bay, and you will find no real-life turtles at all.

In the President’s footsteps

The first Pillbox on the trail:  A fun hangout for locals.
The first Pillbox on the trail: A fun hangout for locals.

The trail was steep and the Oahu sun beat down on us like oven heat as we approached the first Pillbox.  Wasn’t much to it.  A mass of World War II concrete on a high hill overlooking the Pacific on the south end of Kialua.  The bunker with its long and narrow peep-hole of a lookout is disgraced by neglect and colorful graffiti which adorns every available pore of surface, inside and out.

It was up to this long-abandoned pillbox that the President of the United States, Barack Obama, hiked two years ago to the date, December 27.  I saw the photo.  There was Obama, the cool dude, decked out in tan shorts and a stylish forest-green button-down shirt, hiking along on a flat spot in the trail.  Michelle, the First Lady, is just in front, her head down in black leotards and a blue shirt with eldest daughter, Sasha, in the lead.  Behind this trio is a man in dark sunglasses.  Secret Service, obviously.

As Nebra and I trudged uphill, taking in large gasps of ocean air, you had to wonder:  What is so special about this place?

Apparently the answer for Obama lays in nostalgia.  This trail, officially the Lanakai Pillboxes, was a favorite of Obama’s as a kid growing up in Honolulu.

So we, like many others, hiked this trail, wanting to trace Obama’s footsteps.  History of a faint sort.  The faintest sort, you might say.

Once we reached the first pillbox we found another.  This one even higher up on the trail.  The trail and the pillboxes are inhabited largely by young kids, mostly in their teens.  They lounge around on the pillboxes, boys showing off to their not so easily impressed girlfriends. Just having a good time.

I can’t imagine Michelle or Sasha enjoying this trail for juveniles.   I’m no snob, but this trek seemed two or three levels below a First Family hike.  Views are nice, yet you can find nicer ones elsewhere.  Honestly, it’s not worth the cardio needed to get up there.

The Pillbox Trail was another thing you do in life because you feel you have to do it at least once.

The Obamas are staying on the island again for Christmas.  Right up the road.  Big upscale house overlooking Kane’ohe Bay, I read.  We also read yesterday the President did another hike on the 27th this year, to Manoa Falls.  It’s just north of Kialua and its sister city Kane’ohe.  The Falls trail apparently crosses through the film locations of “Jurassic Park” and “Lost.”  Crap.

Suppose well just have to do that one the next time we visit the island.