San Jacinto Peak, the 'clouds' on our Cactus-2-Clouds hike from Palm Springs.
YEAR END 2016  

Ending On A High Note
Wow! What a year for affirmations!

Back in the summer of 2013, Bill accepted my challenge to at least train for an Italian mountain run that was all ‘up’. He thought I was nuts, but joined me in pushing our big hikes from 8-10 miles to 14-15 miles. Fast forward to March of 2016, and that new base allowed us to abruptly pop-up to doing frequent 20 milers without injury. Last summer, our weekly mileage briefly skyrocketed from our usual 20-30 miles to 50-75 miles.

We were running out of daylight hours to hike more miles and in October our 2 epic hikes were done with the aid of headlamps. Our 12+ hour hike between the north and south rim of the Grand Canyon netted our longest hike ever at 27 miles and 10 days later, we spent 15 hours making our longest ascent of 10,400’ from Palm Springs. It still grabs our attention that these unexpected feats owe their origin to noticing a plaza sandwich board advertising a mountain run the next day back in 2013, though we joined the pack a year later. Who would have thought we’d be where we are today because of it?

Our dazzling surge in athleticism this year was supported by discovering very targeted myofascial release technics using hard balls instead of foam rollers in early December of 2015. My rough estimate is that I invested about 500 hours in the smashing technic in 2016, almost all of it being focused on my lower body. To my delight, I transformed my feet, ankles, calves, knees, quads, and hips. Twenty, thirty, and forty year old aches and limitations slowly disappeared as ancient tissue wads were released and my fascial planes between muscles began smoothly gliding again as they were designed to do.

We upgraded from an informal exercise diary to a spread sheet in 2016 and now, for the first time, have a firm grip on our hiking stats. We hiked about 1,700 miles and did a total elevation gain for the year of 436,000’ or 83 miles of ‘up’. Bill keeps hoping to hit 100 miles of up, the amount needed to go into orbit. That pushed our weekly mileage to almost 33 miles with an average of 8,400’ of gain, even with a few weeks registering ‘0'. Cycling has taken a backseat to hiking on our activities calendar since 2011 and we only logged a bit over 1,000 miles and 65,000’ of elevation gain for the year on our bikes.
Tedious & painful but effective in cleaning up a 40 year old ankle sprain.

Increasing my performance and decreasing my pain spurred me to endure the torture of so much myofascial release work. Having had swollen knees for about 40 years left a lot of residue and imbalances in its wake and I was highly motivated to rid myself of them. Ever so slowly this year, my knee irritation decreased, my aches and pains diminished, and my speed and stability on the trails, especially when descending, shot up. Just as amazing was me feeling and Bill seeing that the wild figure 8 track that my knees traveled when pedaling was almost gone. My pedal stroke felt uncharacteristically smooth and vastly more powerful by summer.

The other potent motivator for the endless hours of distress with the smashing technic was remembering my mother’s pain with aging. When she was in her 80’s, I became aware of the crankiness of her body. At one mini crisis, I suggested that she needed to stretch. “I never used to have to stretch” was her retort and she rejected my suggestions and tools as well.  On one hand, her comment made me feel lucky: I’d had to stretch since my 20’s to be comfortable in my body and so I already had the habit and skills in place. Her lack of familiarity with her body’s pain sources and lack of remedies hardened my resolve to retain regular myofascial release as a lifestyle choice.

Reflecting on my mother’s cranky body while I smashed densities in my tissues clarified that I was spending most of my time on really old problems. There were the 40 year-old ankle sprain and swollen knees; the 30-some year old problem in my right glutes; the seemingly always tense calves and others. It dawned on me that many of the aches and pains that haunted my mother were also likely to have been ancient, in part because the old ones flare and recede but don’t go away on their own whereas newly irritated tissues are much more likely to completely heal. I surmised that I’d be far more comfortable at 80 than she had been if I had a relatively clean slate now.

This distraction technic was magical for improving the mobility of Bill's wrists.
Unfortunately, I witnessed a friend presumably immersed in the same scenario as my mother, a friend dealing with terminal cancer. Her only source of pain at this point seemed to be from very garden-variety muscle imbalances in one buttock and upper leg. Two simple stretches that could be done sitting in a chair would likely be a huge relief but she chose to deal with the intermittent pain with 3 drugs. She had lost her will to intervene and soon would also lose her physical capacity to do so. Perhaps she too would have been more comfortable if she’d been able to hit the “Reset” button on her tissue health a year or 2 ago.

Bill wasn’t as needy for fixes as I was but he too transformed his body with myofascial release work in 2016. He finally interrupted his years' long pattern of episodic calf, shin, and plantar fascia pains and disabilities with the release work. The increasingly painful and limiting ‘arthritis' in his hands unraveled enough with the tissue work to now basically be a non-issue, which was a huge, huge psychic and physical relief. And his headstand that jumped from being that of a frustrated beginner to a solid intermediate last February further improved by tending to an old pain-pattern in his shoulder. The release work added stability to his headstand, allowed him to resume mastering handstand, diminished pain associated with carrying a backpack, and made it possible for him to sit in a half lotus position. Yeah! This goes beyond being “Good for your age…."

Rise & Shine
We mastered the art of pre-dawn starts late in 2016 because of our desire to make our 2 epic hikes in October. Even though our standard wake-up time is 5 am, our typical out-the-door time is more like 9-9:30. There are the couple of hours of stretching and myofascial release work to be done; making and eating breakfast; making lunch; checking emails and the news; and other little catch-up, puttering activities. The few days a year that we had to make a snappy, early start, like to catch a flight, required a Herculean effort to both be complete and punctual.

But the prospect of 12-15 hour hiking days on our 2 big events was highly motivating. We didn’t quite have the new routines down in time for our Rim-2-Rim hike and started later than we’d planned, but having had that as a goal did eventually reform our regime and created new opportunities.

A day-break start served us well on this training hike in the Grand Canyon.
Now, when we anticipate a 10-12 hour hiking day or a pre-dawn start, we dedicate a couple of hours the evening before to preparation. We fill our water bags; do almost all of  the prep for breakfast and lunch and perhaps some for dinner that evening; and organize all of our gear. It’s tending to the little details that are easy to dismiss as “it will only take a minute” that has transformed our exit routine. Those little chores add up and doing them in advance often reveals unexpected problems like “Have you seen my other glove?”.

So, a nice gift to ourselves by the end of 2016 was getting early starts to our hiking days nailed. It was especially helpful in Tucson in December when we were out the door before sunrise and back to our trailer well after last night. It’s a new experience for us to be enjoying both sunrise and sunset from the trail. 

Unexpectedly, we cashed in again on our early start routine in Palm Springs when we hooked up with a hiking club. Probably because of the habit of beating the heat when it’s warmer than during our stays in December and January, they often converge at the trailhead at 7:30 or earlier.  We were especially pleased to make a necessary 5:40 am departure with confidence in our timing.

Climbing a dry fall near Palm Springs before the rescue operation.
Those Credentials!
Cha-ching! We cashed-in on our epic hike credentials when we hooked-up with the mid-level of the 3 main hiking clubs in the greater Palm Springs area in December. The top 2, most difficult hikes on their schedule for the winter season were occurring during our first week in the valley and I wanted in. I didn’t want to be forced into lesser hikes to be vetted, thereby seemingly missing the good stuff for 2016/17. 

I carefully crafted an introductory email to the hike leader to register for the first of the 2 hikes, in lieu of the requested phone call. I mentioned our Rim-2-Rim and Cactus-2-Clouds experiences as well as asked for an exemption from wearing the obligatory boots. It worked like a charm! The reply was “I’ve signed you both up for the hike”. 

Our first hike with the club became more involved than expected when a member overreached his ability on a dry fall scramble and finished his route in a Search & Rescue helicopter. Fortunately, what had the potential to be a deadly event left him with 3 broken ribs, a couple of smallish gashes on the side of his head, and no doubt quite a headache. It also left us with a highly favorable impression of the club members' professionalism, both during the triage and with the follow-up information the next day. In addition, our stature in the group increased because Bill deftly assisted in the man’s care.

The happier discovery on this first club hike had been that this was an exceptional group of hikers. One wiry mountain goat had just returned from a strenuous 2 week trek in Sikkim, an Indian state near Nepal. His 2 companions had to be escorted out early in the trek and he continued on with 3 non-English speaking guides/porters. While he was catching up with a friend about his trip, I learned she had just returned from 3 weeks on a Russian research vessel in Antarctica that hosts tourists during its 3 month off-season. 

Step aside! These women did the 48 mile Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim hike in 2 days & one is 74.
Then there was one of the 3 “Bills” in attendance that’s bagged 50 of the 52 high peaks in Colorado;  pulls his gear on a sled when he goes snow camping for a week in Alaska; and is no stranger to carrying 100 lb packs for climbing trips. “Patagonia, catamaran trip, Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim" were heard in the background as we walked. We were stunned: they were mostly 65 to 75 years old and were tough, experienced, and exceedingly friendly hikers and travelers. These of course were likely the top 10% in the club athletically, but we were still impressed.

After the long delay waiting for the rescue copter, an alternate hike leader took us on a forced march for about 3 hours. We learned later that she was on the verge of being late for an appointment, so she switched to speed hiking. Part way through, I was informed that our time for lunch had been burned up with the rescue, as had the afternoon break. 

We shut-up, got in line, and ran to catch-up when we had to stop to pee. None of the members batted an eye at the unexpected tempo shift. The cheery conversations became reserved for the downhill segments and there was no complaining. We finished the hike feeling like we’d hit the jackpot for a capable, spirited hiking community that no doubt would be a bottomless pit of insider information on adventure travel as well. All I’d hoped for as side benefits from being club members was some choice networking, like for local dentists and massage therapists….

New Year’s Resolutions
I usually don’t make New Year’s Resolutions and instead set intentions to do better throughout the year, but 2017 would be different. After feeling a bit humiliated by the 62 to 74 year old power walking women in the hiking club in December, I committed to stepping it up. 

Bill had rather suddenly become about 10% faster than me and that 10% mattered when with the hiking club. I’m particularly slow picking my way down rocks and had to run to catch-up after each rocky bit of descent on our group hikes. I also couldn’t cruise at their default pace and had to exert to the point of being inefficient to keep up. I could do it, it was good conditioning for me, but it wasn’t pleasant. This was a fun crowd and I didn’t want to miss out by being a tag-along.

I looked online for guidance but couldn’t identify any single way to take me to their level, so I settled for a handful of small interventions:
..No more strolling, I’d power walk to shower houses and market entrances.
..I’d “Hit it”, trying to increase my “zero to 60 mph" performance every time I went out the door
..We’d be pushing for occasionally maintaining 4+mph pace on the trail instead of being delighted when we touched 3.5 mph.
..I’d always push for a personal best on our neighborhood hike that has 1000’ of gain in 1.5 miles.
..I’d always use my poles on club hikes to intercept the predictable face plants that always accompany my efforts to move faster on the trail.
..”Lift, lift!” would be the mantra to reduce catching my trailing foot when going over obstacles.
..I’d start experimenting with my inhaler to assess if I was having more asthma than I realized.
..Side planks would be on my regular training schedule to buff up my core.

Whoosh! New, after-market speed laces; a more compact rain jacket; a better water bladder; & an almost weightless Z-pack.
I quickly re-learned that every pound mattered when I began recording my times on our neighborhood path. With a 1 lb waist pack, I could do the 1.5 miles and 1000’ gain in a little over 28 minutes. A 6 lb load slowed my  pace on the same trail by about 2 minutes; another 3/4 lbs slowed it even further. It was time to rethink my carefully selected pack contents.

Trimming the Excess
What perfect timing! My need to increase my hiking speed happened to follow the implementation of a number of unrelated, weight-saving changes.

Bill redoubled his weight loss efforts in early November and by the middle of the month, I realized that I too should shed a few pounds. It was only 4 lbs, but I’d achieved the drop by the first of the year and every bit helps on a hill.

About the same time in November, we’d purchased our ultra-lightweight ‘souvenir’ rain jackets noted on a Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) gear list. We actually used them on our 2nd club hike and felt like stars for being fully prepared. And unfortunately, we’ve used them since while in Palm Springs this unseasonably wet winter.

Bill was paying attention when I was ogling the PCT gear list and surprised me with an ultra-light day pack from one of the top 2 pack suppliers for through hikers. It looks like a olive drab garbage sack but I love it. It’s base weight was 3. 5 ounces and he customized it with some straps and pockets that brought the weight up to 4.3 ounces. He also included a new lighter and classier hydration bag that is a perfect companion for the pack.

A non-club hike so there was time to show off Barb's new featherweight pack on Christmas Day.
Upping My Game Further
After Bill tired of me whining about needing to monitor my hiking speed real time to achieve and hold a 4 mph pace, he decided that this was the moment for me to join another group, the Apple Watch Club. He enjoyed his Apple watch for monitoring trail performance stats and thought it was the best training aid for my current needs. The Christmas rush had cleared the local and online shelves but my new “coach" is on the way.

I’m not exactly looking forward to moving up the learning curve required of Apple watch owners but Bill recognized that my new training challenges were the carrot I needed to make the plunge. I’ll be glad to have it once I can do more than tell time.

Bill was correct in guessing that we would be tapped to be hike leaders and sure enough, only 2 weeks into our tenure with the club, it had come up. Bill’s skill with his phone app GPS system had simplified route finding for the hike leader on a long, rainy day and no doubt had been noted. I decided that I should be able to do the same, especially if I might be a hike leader. My need to travel this learning curve as well was underscored a week later when he sat out a club hike with a cold and there was some head scratching as to which way to go. I let out a little internal scream because I always relied on Map Man to find our way on unfamiliar trails and he wasn’t there. That was it, time to learn how to use the app.

New Year’s Motivation
We had wondered what would be our carrot for 2017, what would keep the pressure on to improve our performance. By early March of 2016, we had the prospect of doing the Grand Canyon’s Rim-2-Rim to prod our conditioning and improve our supporting skills. By mid-December of 2016, we had the hiking club molding our immediate future, especially mine. We’d depart Palm Springs in late winter but we knew that the impressive men and women in the hiking club would be defining the rest of 2017 for us. We’d have our eye on more comfortably matching their abilities when we rejoined them next winter.