The Joys? of Spring Mountain Biking

After an unusually wet winter, our mountain bike trails are in danger of being obliterated by grass and weeds. There are places where a cyclist can disappear entirely in weeds five feet tall. By this time of year, everything is going to seed and every kind of fox-tail, corkscrew seed, and thistle, claws at your legs as you pedal through on trails you have to simply believe are there when you can’t really see them. To add an element of suspense to the ordeal, snakes are active and invisible in the brush.

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Weedy Wash Trails

Sally and I made our way up the wash trails for several miles before we came to the realization that it really wasn’t any fun and decided to head for the Crafton Hills Conservancy trails which are cleared of brush by energetic, civic-minded folks. We were grinding our way up the trail we call Escalator, when I spotted a nice sized Diamond Back rattle snake, business end in the middle of the trail, about three feet ahead of my front tire.

Snake on Escalator
Hair Raising Encounter

Luckily, Sally was several feet behind me so I was able to stop abruptly without having her pile into me. Before I could back away, the alert creature spotted me and took a defensive stance (that would be coiled up) and rattled a stern warning. I backed away, still astraddle my bike.

Intellectually, I am not afraid of snakes. Respectful? Absolutely, but not consciously terrified. But evidently, the non-verbal part of my brain operates on a more instinctual level because I became aware of the hair on my arms standing on end like a frightened cat. We waited patiently for the snake to calm down and move on which he did within a minute or two. We watched his progress up the hill until it was safe to proceed and then realized that our trail switch backed directly across the path the snake had taken. The thought did lend wings to our pedals.

We descended the ever-exciting Motorcycle Trail, on which there was plenty of brush (it’s not a sanctioned trail) and a dearth of traction. Thankfully, it’s sufficiently steep to allow enough speed to not see any snakes that we may run over. It’s also deeply rutted which makes it riveting enough to keep one’s eyes engaged on the trail. We debated, at the top of Joint Point North whether or not to attempt the wickedly steep descent in the overgrown weeds. Finally, Sally said she would walk down to the point of no return to assess how treacherous it would be. I said the heck with that, I’m not WALKING down anything. I knew if we rode down the first fifty yards, we would ride the whole thing…and, of course, we did.

Sally led the way, picking up speed uncontrollably on the hard, dry, trail and I attempted to follow her at a more controlled pace. When my back wheel began to pass the front I realized that maybe control was overrated. By this time my bike had left the trail and was headed across country, straight down, through knee high grass, rocks, and hopefully, no snakes. Naught to be done but hang on and try to steer a course back to the trail. A rut appeared between me and my goal, forcing me to continue to boldly go where no bike had gone before. I glimpsed Sally below, off the bike in the tall weeds, before narrowing my focus to the trail which had miraculously rejoined my path.

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Joint Point North

When I joined her at the bottom of the hill, she explained that she had caught her shorts on the back of her seat and couldn’t get back to her center of gravity when the hill leveled out. Note to the uninitiated: When going down something extreme, it’s a good idea to get behind the seat to keep your center of gravity over the cranks rather than over the bars, as nobody likes to actually be thrown over the front of the bike.

Sometimes when we ride this trail, we compliment ourselves on our skill and courage. Today we were grateful for simple luck.

I’m Getting Too Old for This $!@#

I read somewhere that people over the age of sixty fall on average once a year. Clearly, I’m way above average!

I understand that mountain biking is inherently risky and falling is just part of the package. I accept that, but dog walking shouldn’t be a high risk activity. Of course, that’s what I thought about cleaning my neighbor’s chicken run too and that got me cracked ribs. Lest you think me a complete klutz, allow me to explain.

Ever since the girls,working in concert, caught a rabbit,  I’ve been keeping one of them on one of those retractable leashes whenever I’m in an area where rabbits don’t have a 360 degree radius of escape. Once we get out to the river bottom, I can turn them both loose without much danger of them running anything down.

Today, we were walking along the unpaved water district easement where there’s a chain link fence about fifty yards away. Rabbits can get chased up against the fence so I had Sadie on the leash. Mollie stays fairly close to me so she can be loose. I was blithely enjoying the morning sunshine and listening to The Rise and the Fall of the Third Reich on my MP3 player when Sadie spotted something that needed chasing. It was something so exciting that she forgot she was on the leash. My German-made, 26 foot, retractable leash smoothly played out like a fishing pole with a marlin on the line as she sprinted to top speed in 0.24 seconds. My brain shifted from the Third Reich to the ensuing problem at hand perhaps a bit more slowly than optimal and I instinctively braced for the impact that would occur when she hit the 26 foot limit of the leash.

Now, I never took physics in school, but common sense would normally advise one that 65 pounds of German  Shepherd, traveling at a rate of speed of approximately 25 miles per hour, is going to have a rather catastrophic impact on a 120 pound, sixty-four year old woman. But of course, common sense had no say in this story.

I found myself being violently jerked off my feet and being dragged through skin lacerating rocks and gravel before I had the sense to let go of the handle of the leash. To be honest, I’m not sure I voluntarily let go.

I lay face up where I fell, pain radiating from every part of my right side. Being an above average faller, I knew better than to attempt to right myself immediately, even though I was mortally afraid that the heavy equipment operator who was working the spoil pile some 100 yards away might see me and wonder if he should investigate. How mortifying would that be?!

Eventually, I sat up and looked around for my dogs. Mollie was sitting about four feet away, looking deeply concerned. Sadie, leash tangled in brush some thirty feet away, was prevented from coming over to lick my face, fortunately. I regained my feet, blood dripping from my arm, pants torn and bloody, and retrieved my cell phone from my back pocket. It was dirty but undamaged. (Wow, that’s pretty good for a case that cost me $1.00 at the Big Lots store!) I called home, hoping Mike would come and get us but he had already left for a bike ride. There was naught to be done but limp home. Sadie was contrite and walked quietly by my side, never volunteering to take liberties. She seemed to sense that she was doggie non grata. Mollie too, stayed close, nuzzling my hand occasionally to assure herself that she was the good dog.

So, it looks like I’m going to be nursing yet another damaged rib and sticking to the sheets for a few weeks. It kinda sucks since there’s no glory in dog walking wrecks.

 

Addicted to Reading

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Being a person with almost no self-discipline, I have many pleasant addictions, but none as satisfying, or perhaps I should say insatiable, as reading. When I finish one good book, I immediately look for the next one and consequently, don’t always remember more than the gist of a book. I can happily read two or thee James Lee Burke novels, what I call TV reading, and forget the previous one as soon as I start the second. Then there are the books that mark you for life. Almost anything written by Barbara Kingsolver is indelibly etched into my memory.

In the last twenty years or so, my taste for historical fiction has evolved into historical non-fiction. No doubt, the recently popular form of narrative non-fiction gently lured me away from the Gone With the Wind of my youth to the stark realities of The Other Slavery – the Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. The trouble with reading books that chronical the past is that one’s view of the present is altered.

Most of the baby boomer generation, have never known anything but peace and prosperity in this country. Even the poor people, though horribly marginalized by comparison to my lower-middle-class life, are generally not poor by the standards of third world countries.  The wars this country has embarked upon in my lifetime have not noticeably impacted my idyllic routine. But, through the lens of  unflinching writers, my vision has been re-focused. My ideology is constantly being reshaped, refined, and questioned.

I was raised in a staunchly conservative, strictly religious family. The foundation of all of my ideas are based on the teachings of the church and my mid-western upbringing. My knee-jerk reactions are still reflective of that. Nobody was more surprised than I to discover that as my taste in reading became more eclectic, my views broadened and my alt-right ideas were turned upside down.

I believe I have an idea for bringing Americans together, to make America great, so to speak. Every voter, every teacher, every politician, and every blogger should read really good books every day. (Yeah, too many everys in that sentence, I know) Reading an article in a magazine or online is okay for reinforcing what you already believe; but reading a real book, written by someone who has no agenda other than to INFORM you of what has happened before you came into being, is enlightening in ways you can not fathom unless you do it.

I’m not suggesting that you suspend critical thinking when you read a book anymore than you should when reading online or watching news on TV. I’m just saying that when an author goes to the trouble to research a topic carefully, annotates his findings diligently, and presents them factually, without pandering to sentimentality, you can learn a great deal about the world. Even if the only thing you learn is how the people who voted for Donald Trump came to that decision, you have learned something valuable. Chances are, if they had read the same books I have, they might have still followed their deeply ingrained biases about gender and the status of this country. But they would have elected him with eyes wide open instead of voting on hope that he would make them safe from the nasty people who look and speak differently than we do.

Dog Days of Summer

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When you wake up to seventy degree weather at 6:00 in the morning, there’s only one thing to do: head for the hills. I loaded the dogs into the SUV (you know dogs, it’s their favorite thing, right up there with walks, meals, naps, digging holes, and chasing wildlife) and drove up to walk a section of the Santa Ana River Trail.

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A view of Slide Peak from the SART

 

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Lupine (I think)

 

The gnats were there waiting for us and quickly alerted their friends, the deer flies, that breakfast was ready. Although it was in the low seventies, the combination of humidity and bugs took the fun out of our hike.

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Sadie expresses her lack of enthusiasm.

We arrived back home just in time to save the garden.

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Tomato plant and wilted squash plants

 

Mike installed an air conditioner in the dog house.

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And unlike mad dogs and Englishmen, we all stayed out of the mid-day sun and took a nap. Molly and Sadie thought the air conditioner was almost as good as a ride in the car.

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Molly, the cutest & smartest dog in the world

 

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Sadie, the most beautiful, well-behaved dog in the world

Yeah, you kind of are…

So, I spent another $48 to renew my Xanga page but still can’t access it more than two weeks later. I’m having serious doubts about how important clinging to the past really is. This site, while foreign to me, is free and works consistently. I’ve found some really nice blogs to follow here, thanks to those who have commented on Michel’s page; so maybe I’ll just consider Xanga a thing of the past.

It occurs to me that my life is so uneventful that blogging at all is a waste of time. And yet, I find my days, while routine and comfortable, are still worth describing, even if only for my own edification.

Yesterday, Sally and I rode the wash trails and climbed one of the Conservancy trails we call Escalator. The wash trails have been created over decades by local hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. They are too rocky and twisty to be of much interest to people on motorized vehicles, but too often, some clueless motorcyclist or quad rider decides to try them out, which results in damage to the trail that takes years to heal.

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The nature of a mountain bike trail is to gently meander between the shrubs and rocks, always taking the way of least resistance and having the least amount of impact on the environment. The power of a motorized vehicle allows the rider to exclaim, “Damn the rocks; full speed ahead!” You can well imagine how heart wrenching it is to find a trail, that has been ridden for decades by hundreds of bicyclists, desecrated by one thoughtless motorist who decided to widen it.

Apart from the mayhem shown above, we were able to keep to paths less traveled and enjoyed the season’s meager wild flower offerings. Years of protracted drought have changed the texture of the foliage. Flowers are smaller and more sparse, and opportunistic species are appearing. We spent a couple of hours digging out Jerusalem Artichoke plants, in a probably vain attempt to keep them out of our area. Their prickly leaves and stiff stalks can quickly render a path un-rideable. I’ve ridden trails in the coastal hills that are under constant attack by this invasive species.

Sally was test riding a new Intense Spider as she’s in the market for a new ride. This year bike manufacturers are touting 27.5″ wheels (last year it was 29″) and we are still riding our tried and true 26″, so she wanted to see how the longer wheel-based bike would handle the switchbacks of Escalator. The difference in handling was primarily in her imagination and by the time we had navigated about half of the switchbacks, she was sold on the new bike. Unfortunately, she has only saved about $3,500 and the demo bike sells for $5,000. Those bike shop sales people are devious! They will probably end up convincing her that a 10% discount makes it affordable. Seriously, is it really that important that her kids go to college?

A day of no crashes, no rattlesnakes, and no flirtatious encounters with young, fit, cyclists…sounds pretty boring but it was actually quite fun. And BTW, the lunch at the Naan Café afterwards was fabulous. There’s nothing like a well-earned mango lassi.

 

 

More Doggie News

Sally, my regular riding companion, was feeling drained from a long and difficult hike she had done yesterday; so we went for a short, easy bike ride.

When I got home, I still had plenty of energy to work in the garden. I trimmed back the bougainvillea vines that had frozen a couple of months ago, and weeded, fertilized and watered the fruit trees that are in bloom. We planted an apple tree last summer and the poor little thing is so confused by the warm weather that it never dropped its leaves. I had never heard of evergreen fruit trees but both the apple and one of the nectarine trees never lost their leaves.

Then it was time to take the girls out for their daily walk.

Today I taught them to run along with the bike on a leash and off leash. They took to it like ducks to water. They were better on the leash because they kept stopping in front of me when they were loose.

We went down the abandoned, overgrown portion of Opal that’s almost invisible because of all the bushes growing up through the pavement. At the end of the pavement, I stashed the bike in the bushes and we walked in the wash bottom down below the bank that used to be the old dump back in the “olden days”. I discovered that Universal Rundle, the old toilet factory (long closed and probably moved to China) must have dumped their defectives there. The bank was maybe twenty feet high and several hundred feet long made up of layer upon layer of broken toilets. I also spied a couple of rusty cots that may have come from the old Cone Camp barracks. Back when the road was still intact, it was a mere half a mile or so away. Today one would have to drive about 15 miles to cross the wash on one of the bridges. It’s kind of fun to piece together the local history.

We won’t be able to walk down in the wash with careless abandon much longer as the days and nights are getting warm enough for the snakes to be active. I had both dogs vaccinated for snake bite but the vaccine only lessens the effect of a bite so snakes are still to be avoided. That coupled with the fact that I haven’t been vaccinated.

My sister took this picture of us yesterday.

Me & my girls

 

A Little Local History

I never tire of exploring the Santa Ana River bed which passes just little over a mile from my house. Most of the time, it’s dry or at most damp. During protracted rain storms, which happen with less frequency with every passing year, there will be some surface water; but usually the river flows underground.

I’m old enough to remember the floods of ’68 when a month of steady rain turned my playground into a raging torrent of muddy water that swept bridges away and stripped a mile-wide swath of every bit of vegetation. One could hear boulders being rolled towards the sea from a half mile away.

Today it was warm and clear, a perfect day for an exploratory walk. IMG_8441

We followed the denuded strip where the water district buried their pipeline a few years ago, looking for the old Cone Camp trail which had been bisected by it. The trail wasn’t obvious anymore but there were numerous wildlife paths that meandered in the general direction we wanted to go.

IMG_8444We came to an unusually verdant drainage which appeared to have been designated a habitat conservation area though I never found any other boundary markers.

Eventually, we came to a remnant the old Cone Camp Road which was washed out in the aforementioned floods of 1968. Following the road we came to what had been the gate and the foundation of the administration building.

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The camp had been built to house migrant works from Mexico who came to this country under the Las Braceros program. The program was established in 1942 when World War II created a labor shortage and immigrants were welcomed into this part of the country to tend the orange groves and other farming concerns.

By the time  I started exploring the remains of the camp (in the early seventies), there were only a few dilapidated buildings left standing. Today, there are only foundations, nails, and some remnants of plumbing which suggest the use of each pad.

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This one, I believe, may have been a barracks. There are slabs that have drains and what were probably showers and others that appear to have been kitchen facilities and dining halls. Most interesting to me, are the little personal touches the builders added, like decorative stones set in the mortar of the steps. It makes me think that the camp may have been built by the laborers who ultimately lived in them.

The U.S. government withheld pension money from the paychecks of the laborers and dutifully remitted it to the Mexican government. When the workers applied for benefits some forty years later, their earnings had evaporated. More information about the camp can be found at http://www.highlandnews.net/news/article_538a31a6-44aa-540b-aa77-0f1befe28ec3.html

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Building materials appear to have been local river rock.

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A short stretch of the old pavement remains but ends where the flood ripped through.IMG_8477

Beyond the road, nature has reclaimed the wash. With every rain storm it recovers its pristine beauty.

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