Sunday, August 30, 2009

Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart aka "Smoke, Flames, & Tears"

Today, Rebecca and I were to spend the early hours huffing and puffing up Mt. Lukens, a local peak known for it's ass-busting training qualities.

Not so, said the Station Fire.

Instead, we spent our second day in the greater Malibu area (the previous day having been spent in a swimming hole deep in Solstice Canyon), trucking straight up the Chumash Trail for 1,000 feet, the ocean at our backs, Mugu Peak beckoning in the sky. It was a great ass-busting substitute, as far as ass-busting substitutes go, with crashing waves as our soundtrack and the grassy La Jolla valley spread open wide to welcome us at the top.

After barreling back down, we grabbed breakfast, joined MaryEllen on the beach, and then on our way back East, quietly ruminated on the giant thunderdome A-bomb fire cloud filling the sky above the Angeles National Forest, shooting up higher than Whitney, just shy of Denali.

I've lived through three Southern California fire seasons, each one expected, yet awful in its inevitable destruction. I remember watching a large swath of Griffith Park burn in 2007, and walking up to Los Feliz Blvd. from my apartment to take photos, only to choke on large snowflake-sized ash. The sky glowed an eerie red, the air reeked, my throat burned.

I also remember when Solstice Canyon burned, taking away my favorite hiking spot - in fact, my first-ever California hiking spot - in an instant. When it reopened what felt like almost a year later, it was still Solstice, but it had been stripped of not only several research buildings, but also it's very essence; what once was lush was now a barren lump of scrappy chaparral and blackened sticks jutting out at eerie angles. I still go there, just like I returned to Griffith Park's denuded trails, but it chips away at my gut a little each time.

Looking towards that ominous cloud is more than a gut-chipping; it's a punch in the stomach. It's the realization that during the past three years, and especially over the past six months, those very mountains have become one of my absolute greatest joys, hosting moments of spiritual revelations, friendship strengthening, and limit-testing. To watch them burn - and especially to learn that two firefighters died today while trying to control the fire - brought tears this evening.

Whether this was arson or accidental, nature will always take her course, because she's the one with the most authority; she'll strip and birth as she sees fit. There will be other trails to walk, other mountains to climb, other peaks to bag, other treks to make, of course.

Just give me some time to mourn the ones we're losing.


Monday, August 17, 2009

REI Return aka "Awkward Moments In Retail"

I popped over to REI after work today to return a pair of North Face pants that just didn't fit right.

(Clarification: by "just didn't fit right," I mean, "creep up in the crotch because they are made for unnaturally proportioned women with concave asses.")

After confirming the excellent and unbelievable return policy (i.e. the ability to return pants that I bought in June and have worn at least 4 times, on verrrry hot days, in very dusty conditions, before I got the magical SmartWool undies), I set about trying on every pair of convertible pants I could find.

No. Nope. Not even close. Crotch creepers, every single one!

My head hung in defeat, I wandered past the overpriced yoga crap and floral dress vomitorium until I spotted them - the pants made for normally proportioned women with appropriately convex bums. I skipped downstairs, my prize in hand.

Cash register guy took the old pair, scanned the receipt, and asked why I was returning them.

Me: Well, they don't fit right.

Cash Register Guy: Oh?

Me: (Unnecessarily over-explaining) Yeah, you know - I've tried them out during several pretty long hikes and they just get...uncomfortable. You know?

CRG: Oh, I know. Sometimes they just don't feel right.

Me: (Thinking this is a natural place to end this conversation). Yeah.

CRG: (Thinking this is an excellent place to dive a little bit deeper, enters a full-on TMI-fest). I mean, sometimes you're walking and they just go up there. And it gets so uncomfortable - because they're, like, waaaaaaaay in there. So yeah, I totally understand why you'd want to return these if they're doing that when you walk. It's really the worst feeling when they get up there.

He then hands me my new receipt and I mumble "thanks" and trip, fully and completely out of embarrassment, as I head towards the door.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

SmartWool Saves My Butt aka "A Chafe-Free Stroll"

This is probably pretty early in the blogging process to begin divulging the intimate details of my lingerie collection, but considering my readership is probably "party of one, Rebecca," I feel comfortable enough to tell you this:

My butt will not be restrained by mere fabric.

She is a monster of bubbly proportions, a genetic gift from my mother that is both a well-padded blessing and a difficult-to-clothe curse. Whenever I go hiking, I have to carefully consider how best to clothe her so as to a) not create any unsightly (and uncomfortable) bunching, and b) minimize ass sweat.

The answer arrived to me in the form of a SmartWool sample sale, flush with socks, shirts, pants, and....underwear. I looked at them, stretched the waistband, rubbed the fabric betwixt my curious fingers. "Wool underwear?" I asked the hostess, my friend Lindsay. "Are they for winter?"

"Nope, you can wear them anytime. They'll help wick the sweat away."

I held them up to my waist (clearly the best way to figure out if they'd fit) and looked back at Lindsay. She urged me to go try them on (dressing-room-swimsuit-style, of course), sure I'd be won over by their wooly goodness. I was unconvinced - the She-Butt has a nasty habit of eating underwear.

I stole away to her bathroom, locked the door, and slipped them on over my pre-existing undies. I did a few turns in the mirror, resolved to pick up the ole workout slack a bit, and realized that dear gracious lord who art in underwear heaven, they fit! OVER MY BUTT! Flush with excitement, I pranced around a bit more, doing some squats and high kicks to test whether or not they would slide into the great divide during intense activity (yeah - high kicks - dude, you don't know when you're gonna need to defend yourself in the forest!)

I snapped up a few pair and finally had my first real test today, on a stroll through a trail in Altadena, when I found myself palpably excited when putting on my new underoos - so much so, that I felt I had to tell my hiking buddy Michelle and her boyfriend Trip that I was wearing new wool underwear. They were noticebly less excited than I, but that did nothing to dampen my spirits. It was time to sweat! BUT NOT ON MY WELL-OUTFITTED BUTT!

After an hour of light hiking, I broke free to enjoy the fine services of a campsite restroom. While approaching, I suddenly heard a kid's voice: "Moooooooom, I can't get out!" (Cue door jiggling) "Mooooooom. I'm stuuuuuuuuck in here!!!!!" I paused. I looked around and saw Moooooooooom down on the trail. I considered my options:

A) Help release child from outhouse prison. Look like a winner!!!
B) Help release child from outhouse prison. Look like a creeper trying to break into child's bathroom stall.

By now the kid was hyperventilating. I went all toilet commando and started jiggling the door up and down, urging the kid to keep jiggling on his side. Moooooooom ambled over as soon as we freed the door. She thanked me for executing the rescue, and the kid looked at me like I was a creeper, so it was a 50/50 split. I can live with that.

But finally! The moment of truth! I went inside the stall and dropped trou...

After an hour of walking, on a sunny, hot SmartWool undies were not only still securely wrapped around each cheek, but they were TOTALLY DRY!!!!!

File that under TMI, but damn. Go, go SmartWool!


What Would Ed Do?
Ed would already own the next-generation SmartWool underwear, with bionic sweat sensors and a time-release scent that smells like clothing drying in the breeze in your grandmother's backyard. Ed would not talk about his butt on the internet.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mental Preparation For Mt. Baldy aka "They Probably Call It Devil's Backbone For A Reason"

As I mentioned in the harrowing, sure-to-be-made-into-an-after-school-special account of our poorly executed traverse of the Eastern portion of the Tom Sloan Trail, Rebecca and I are preparing for a late summer climb of Mt. Baldy.

Stop the snickering.

I mean - we're actually pretty good with the (relatively) high-altitude, long-distance business. After dragging our poor, hobbled friend down from Cucamonga Peak to the Icehouse Canyon parking lot not too long ago*, we proved that we have the fortitude, endurance, and mental capabilities for long, high hikes...and that we are strong like bull.

Really, all that stands between me and Baldy is our insistence on doing the full loop, which includes the dreaded (at least in my super-active monsters-are-under-the-bed imagination) Devil's Backbone trail.

Because I am a glutton for frightening myself unnecessarily, I enjoy Google Image-stalking things like "most dangerous trail," "most dangerous hike," and "Devil's Backbone Trail." With the latter, I figured that if I was emotionally prepared for what the trail looked like, I would be fine when it came time to actually traverse it.

Bad idea.

I stumbled across this photo of the trail, and promptly decided that stamp collecting would be a much more reasonable hobby.

Me, in an email to Rebecca which includes that photo link: This is the part where I will throw up on you. Sorry in advance.

Rebecca's response, which includes this photo: It's not so bad. Look at all those trees! Trees are our friend and they protect us from sliding down the mountain and give us confidence that no harm can come to us.

Me: Just remember to repeat this often when I start breaking into a cold sweat, mumbling, "Rebecca, I don't like this," over and over again.


What Would Ed Do?
Ed is not a scaredy-cat like me. Ed would just cross the damn thing, probably doing cartwheels the entire time, with one hand pinned in a peace-sign formation behind his back.

* That's another story for another day; suffice to say it involves ill-fitting hiking boots, mysteriously leaking Camelbaks, and several choice curse words.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tom Sloan Trail aka "Rockslide Mountain"

One-third of my body is covered in Neosporin, which is in turn covering an interconnected network of deep scratches and stabby wounds. It kind of looks like I got into a girlfight on the playground in middle school, and the girl who won musta been sporting some mighty pointy Lee Press-Ons.

It all started innocuously enough: Rebecca and I, preparing for an upcoming ascent of Mt. Baldy and an eventual trek up Mt. Whitney, planned a "we'll wing it" hike from Eaton Saddle in the Angeles National Forest to either a) Bear Canyon Camp, b) Dawn Mine, or c) Mt. Lowe. It being the most mountainy of the three options, Mt. Lowe totally won.

The plan was for us to go from Eaton Saddle to Tom Sloan Saddle, then circle back up the East branch of the Tom Sloan Trail to meet back up with the Mt. Lowe Railway, and continue to Mt. Lowe from there. Log some miles, deal with some slightly hairy terrain, catch a little elevation, come out victorious. Done and done.

And wrong.

When we parked at Eaton Saddle, there were some mysterious signs posted on the lowered gate...but we didn't read them. Who needs signs when you have a keen sense of direction, intuition, and intellect? Not us! Signs schmigns! We coasted up the fire road and reached the tunnel, which had a bit fat yellow "FALLING ROCKS" sign posted outside. Well, falling rocks, schmalling rocks - we had a hike to do.

And then we saw it. The rockslide. Freakin' big chunk of rockslide blocking the trail at the end of the tunnel. "Hm, I don't know if we should cross that," thought I. "Hm, I don't know if we should cross that," thought Rebecca.

And then we crossed it, one at a time, the other person looking out for FALLING ROCKS. Rebecca went first and right after she buttslid down the far end of the slide to the trail, a rock fell. A freakin' FALLING ROCK. A FALLING ROCK the side of a baseball. Right where I had to walk. Gripping the mountainside in fear, I crouched and shimmied my way down without being bonked on the head. Rebecca and I exchanged a glance, then continued on our way.

We passed Markham saddle, descended through some switchbacks, and finally found ourselves at Tom Sloan Saddle. To Mt. Lowe it was.

Not ten minutes later: "OW!"

Spanish Bayonets. Yucca gone wild. Stabby little asshole plants. Blood sprung up from the back of my hand.

Five minutes later: "DAMNIT!"

Manzanita fortress. Stabby little bushes, forcing us to plow through them with elbows and knees and hats. Scratch, scratch, scratch.

Five minutes later: "SHIT SHIT SHIT!"

The Spanish Bayonets and Manzanita join forces on a rather thin, unstable section of the trail, as a gnat flew right into my eye, to stab me RIGHT BETWEEN MY PEACE-SIGN FINGERS. More blood.

We kept going, the trail got gnarlier, and we found ourselves leaping over gaps, sinking into scree, sending rocks careening over the side, and generally acting as one-woman adrenaline manufacturing plants. An hour into the hike, and we wanted to turn back, but "back" was a crap sandwich of a trail, and we just KNEW that the fire road had to be getting closer. So we kept going.

Then Rebecca uttered the two words I never want to hear her utter on a trail again:

"Uh oh."

And then some more words I'd rather never hear again:

"Um, I think we have a problem."

I rounded the corner of the washed-out "trail" and saw what she was "uh oh-ing": another freakin' rockslide, this one a completely diagonal slash of scree and rock pouring over the trail. I considered crying; Rebecca considered our options.

"I think that we can do it."

I protested. I did not feel like dying in a rockslide today. I started thinking about just staying right there until help came. And then I thought about how many bloody stabby scratchy wounds I had on my body, and about how delicious that might smell to a mountain lion, and I decided to listen to Rebecca's idea.

"I think that if I can hoist myself up and get a grip on that boulder, I can grab that tree and swing over the rockslide to the other side."

Um, no. Let's not and say we did.
Wait...cougar dinner.
On second thought...let's.

She planted one foot deep in the rocks and grabbed for the boulder. Then she dangled there, considering the tree branch. I considered peeing my pants a little. Luckily, Rebecca is full of the kind of internal fortitude that gets one through a situation like this (and gets me through a lot of situations like this), and in an instant she was swinging from a tree branch, wrapping her body around a boulder on the far side. And then she was over.

I stared at her. I stared at the rockslide. I stared at my battle wounds. I stared behind me at the hell-trail we just spent at least an hour navigating. I stared at the rockslide.

An eternity later, I went for it, thrusting myself through the rock, gripping the crumbly boulder with every inch of my fingers, hands, and arms, and found the tree branch. Then I froze with fear and my feet started sinking deeper into the scree. Rebecca coaxed me forward and as I gave my body one last swing to get around the boulder, I triggered a rockslide within the rockslide, which sounded like a small waterfall or herd of oxen and made me think that we were going to be swept into the shrubby abyss below, never to be found.

"LET'S GO," I said. And we went. And then Rebecca stopped. "Did you hear that? I think I heard something?" We stopped. I listened. She turned to me with a boatload of fear in her eyes: "So what are you supposed to do when you see an animal in the forest? Act big?" Instinctively, I threw my hands above my head and stared at Rebecca. She stared at me. I acted big.

We continued on the trail, clapping and shouting for a few minutes, until I convinced the both of us that it was just a lizard or something, even though in my head, I thought the mountain lion was coming to lick my wounds and enjoy a fine afternoon snack of Stupid Hiker.

We spent the last 40 minutes of Tom Sloan Hell-Trail mostly in silence, having entered the "Get Me Off Of This Mountain" portion of the hike. When we finally made it up the steep slope to the fire road, we collapsed in the shade. We would live to see another day, another hike...and we'd never take that damn trail ever again.


Ed would not have risked life, limb, and sanity by crawling through piles of loose scree and rock. Ed would have read the damn signs posted at Eaton Saddle and turned around.