Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Revisiting the Three Sisters

This season in Palm Springs started out pretty slow in terms of our old routines. A lot of the old venues were either still closed or operating on a limited time frame. Large gatherings were still suspect and the virus still hadn’t gone away. But most troubling for me was the lack of any forms of real exercise.

It’s not that Sharon and I weren’t busy most of the time. Those first two months were a whirl-wind of house painting (hired out but still!), new carpeting in all the bedrooms, preparing for the kids who were coming for Thanksgiving, etc.

Saguaro still hadn’t opened up their social membership and I wasn’t interested in local gyms. I had been walking the berm five days a week but that hardly qualified as a real workout.

My own writing projects just kept expanding and there was no let-up in sight for me there. Then Better World Books came to the rescue and I found the answer in a new pile of books to read.

It started with ‘On the Loose’ by Jerry and Renny Russell and continued on with Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling book ‘Wild’. While I wasn’t quite up to doing the Pacific Crest Trail, I was motivated to get off my duff and go back to hiking on some mountain trails as I had in the past.

One of the joys of being able to spend time in the desert is the opportunity to get above it all. Palm Springs and its surrounding communities have an abundance of hiking trails for both the casual hiker and serious mountain goat. Trail access is available down the entire length of the Coachella Valley. Trails cover hundreds of miles through a variety of terrain and difficulty. For residents and visitors alike, mountain hiking is one of the perks of being in the desert.

Several years ago, I took some visiting friends up one of those trails. Paul is an old classmate of mine from high school. Both he and his wife, Joyce, are ardent hikers. We stopped frequently for photo ops and to give me a chance to catch my breath. They also taught me the fine art of walking with ‘sticks’. I’ve been a convert and almost a zealot for hiking sticks ever since.

The mother lode of hiking in the Valley is called ‘The Skyline Trail’ or for those in the know ‘C2C’ which translated means Cactus to Clouds.

It’s a ten-hour (minimum) mountain climb that travels ten miles uphill for an elevation gain of over 8000 feet. It traverses three eco-zones and can be a killer for the uninitiated, especially in the summer months.

I’ve always harbored the fantasy of climbing the C2C. But when I mentioned it to my kids several years ago, they just rolled their eyes and laughed at me. Then to add insult to injury they ended up doing it themselves in 2018 much to my sad chagrin and great pride.

Another challenging climb, though not as dangerous, is called Murray Peak. Although it’s called a ‘hill’ at 2200 feet on most maps, Murray Peak is, in fact, the highest peak in the vicinity of Palm Springs. It’s been labeled a moderate to strenuous hike with a total distance of almost seven miles and a vertical gain of over 2200 feet. It takes an average of five hours for completion with only a few rest stops along the way. For the seasoned hiker it’s a refreshing walk up the mountain. For less conditioned souls, it can be a gut-buster and taxiing on the lungs.

When I first started hiking in the Coachella Valley I found a trail closer to home and a fun Saturday morning endeavor. It’s called the South Lykken Trail and is part of the North and South Lykken Trail that stretches for nine miles. It takes about five hours of moderate hiking to traverse the entire trial. The elevation gain is only about 800 feet and it’s considered a moderate hike by local standards.

Then several seasons ago, another trail caught and captured my attention. This one is called the Garstin Trail. That old goat path climbs up over two miles that switch back and forth and practically stumble over themselves in the process. Elevation rises from roughly 700 feet to 1500 feet up Smoke Tree Mountain. The trail rises to a plateau connecting up with the Shannon, Berns, Wild Horse and Eagle Canyon Trails. Even for the most ardent, experienced hiker it can be a gut-sucking, deep breathing endeavor.

Skirting the base of that same mountain is the Henderson trail. It’s a rolling dirt path that dips and pitches with the elevation along the mountain side. Near the back end of the mountain it connects to the Shannon Trail. The Shannon Trail, in turn, winds its way up the backside of the mountain and connects with the Garstin Trail.

From any one of the switch-backs on the Shannon Trail, a hiker can enjoy a panoramic view of my neighborhood, Indian Canyon, the San Jacinto and Little San Bernardino Mountains, the depth of Palm Canyon and the broad expanse of the community of Palm Springs. There’s Bob Hope’s house and other South Ridge celebrity enclaves perched high above the valley floor.

Now a new trail route awaits me sometime this spring, once I’ve prepared for tackling it. I’ve labeled it ‘The Three Sisters’ for no reason in particular. It’s triple crown hiking loop that encompasses the Henderson Trail, the Shannon Trail and the Garstin Trail.  It is a self-anointed, self-appointed trek that I’ve accomplished just once a couple of years ago. The trails are moderately challenging in the loop that gains roughly 760 feet in elevation. The top of the mountain there is at fifteen hundred feet. Your average desert rat can cover that distance at a fairly fast pace. Old goats like me take a little longer.

The ‘Three Sisters’ offer up spectacular views up and down the broad expanse of the entire eastern Coachella Valley. Something magical, almost spiritual, can happen during a mountain hike. It’s a physical as well as a mental challenge. At face value, it can be a day of hiking, climbing or finger-probing the rough crags and fissures of the mountain face. On a more spiritual level, it’s an assent into the vaulted realm of oxygen deprivation, aching muscles, sweat-drenched clothing and overall mental exhilaration…all to put your head in the right place.

Over the years, I’ve tried long distance biking, marathons and long trail runs. Collectively they can punish the body all the while soothing the soul. The Triple Crown is no different. It just takes a little longer to cover the distance and get to that storied place inside my head.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Late to the Dance

I turn 79 in a couple of weeks and for the first time in my life; I think I might be getting older.

It’s no big deal or a kind of denial in its most ardent form or some old guy pretending to be young again. It isn’t some middle-age crisis come late to my life…missed that one totally. And it isn’t my creeping soreness getting out of bed, the inability to run mountain trails long and hard or the challenges of even a slow mountain hike. To be honest, it’s just the realization that I’ve been around the block more than a couple of times and it’s been one heck of a journey…even if it’s been a few steps behind everyone else, most of the time.

As I’ve ruminated about in past blogs, I started out well behind the pack in grade school and didn’t pick up much steam in high school. My background and upbringing and nuclear family probably had a lot to do with it. But the fact is I was never near the head of the pack. It didn’t bother me that I was ‘stuck in the middle’ like a lot of my buddies.

There was a detour in the middle of college for two years of military service. Then an escape to Europe for a fantasy adventure that turn cold far too soon.

By the time I was stumbling through my first series of jobs, my high school classmates were all getting married, having kids and beginning their stellar climb up the corporate ladder.  I was literally a day late and a dollar short but still plowing ahead.

Then slowly I began to gain some traction on the rest of the pack. I found tremendous satisfaction working in television and video production and began my own business in that field in 1980. Real estate came shortly afterwards and only ended recently. Along the way came two kids, five grandkids, a fair amount of traveling and a much better perspective of world affairs.

Then at the ripe age of 65 when I didn’t see a future for me in retirement, I choose to become a writer instead. That gig has lasted almost fourteen years now and it’s been an unmitigated blast. It’s taken me to the jungles of Vietnam, the canyons of the old West, the dark backcountry of Big Sur, the fa├žade that can be Palm Springs and hanging out with a skinny hippo.

Old age means I can read old Playboy magazines and not be embarrassed by it. I can listen to classical music (music from the 50s and 60s) and not have to explain why. I’ve earned the right to do what I damn well feel please; within reason, the law and my wife’s permission. And I can still tease my brain with ‘what if’ and not feel bad about it.

I can still fantasize about hiking the C to C (Cactus to Clouds or Skyline Trail) from the bottom of the Coachella Valley to the top of Mount San Jacinto but understand it’s probably not going to happen. Instead, I get to appreciate the photos that Brian and Melanie took when they accomplished that magnificent feat several years ago.

I can revisit the idea of long distance bike rides and be willing to admit that an electric bike might be the answer for that challenge now. I can still go to LA Fitness and work on this old tired body of mine. I can still search my tablet each morning, coffee and treat in hand, for writing ideas. It’s never too late to begin a new novel, play, screenplay or novella. If ‘Waleed, the skinny hippo’, is successful, I may even have a new series of children’s books to ponder.

It would seem upon honest reflection, that for me, almost every step along the way has been just a couple of steps behind everyone else. Always wondering why others in my class ‘got it’ long before I did. Moving to Europe when I hadn’t toughened my boots on local travel first. Wondering why those heart-throbbing, gut-wrenching romances in high school, college and beyond never quite measured up to the romantic notion that movies and books had painted in my brain. Having young children about the time my buddies were talking high school and college and becoming empty nesters.

But after seventy plus years of playing catch up I’m quite content where I am, still trudging along, catching fragrances along the way, and enjoying the journey.

Still late to the dance and OK with it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

My Secret Garden

OK, it really isn’t a secret garden.  And it certainly has nothing on that wonderful example of early nineteenth century English children’s literature by Frances Hodgsen Burnell. It’s just my little contemplative corner here in the desert.

To be honest, it’s nothing more than a couple of Adirondack chairs (estate sale specials) in one corner of my small orange grove. Nevertheless, it’s a place to go when I want to get lost inside my head and escape my daily routine. The orange trees are neighboring a couple of lemon trees; all of which are going through an off-season this year. So, while the grove isn’t as thick as usual, it still provides enough greenery to close me off from the rest of the world, literally and figurative.

Whereas last year we harvested an abundance of lemons and oranges and limes, this year the output has been relatively sparse. This last summer brought an onslaught of high temperatures and with it a steady growth of the grove. Yet even with trimming this fall; it’s still a secluded corner in our side yard.

It’s a different spot than the rest of our back yard. Unlike our two recliners where Sharon and I can sit back and enjoy a setting sun, a rising sun and the occasional cloud on the horizon, my plum-colored chairs block out all of that scenery. If I want to see our mountains constantly changing color, tone, depth and character, I wouldn’t go hide in the orange grove.

We also have three stone benches that are surprisingly comfortable for a slab of stone. But in truth, they are more for decoration or stone art than a comfortable resting place. That leaves our two (depending on sunlight and the time of day) orange/pink/salmon-colored chairs purchased at an estate sale for ten dollars each as a quiet third alternative.

I started retreating to my orange grove almost by accident. I had just gotten my first stack of old Playboy magazine’s online and wanted a comfortable place to get lost in my past; real and imagined. I found the Adirondack two chairs and surrounding orange grove so relaxing and away from anyone and everything that I began to sit there whenever I was in the mood. My surroundings are nothing special.

To my left

Straight ahead

Or to my right

Then again, it’s not the view I come for. Instead it’s the quiet that surrounds me, an occasional bee or hummingbird out snacking or tiny lizards scampering about my feet. It’s another world where I’m cut off from the real world, at least in my mind. It’s a wonderful place to reflect and refresh my perspective on life.

And how fortunate I am.