TRANSITIONS (April-May 2017)

We’re never pleased about going home from either the SW or from Europe. Going home is always associated with unpleasantries—it’s all about shifting our focus from play to work. This year it, would be a colonoscopy and endoscopy for me and a tooth extraction for Bill, that kicked off our stay. 

We only saw this Thistle Sage in a small area in Borrego Springs, CA.
Our all-consuming outdoor activities, like biking and hiking, would be shoved from center stage to “Maybe, if we are lucky we’ll do a little, if the weather is good”. Numerical tasks, being calendar-driven, and being stuck in creeping traffic would shape our days. Fun times with friends would be interspersed, but this year even those would have to wait until we’d recovered from our respective procedures.

And then there was the weather. The Pacific NW had had a hideous winter and there were enough left-overs from the harsh season to dampen our spirits. In the SW, we’d been grazed by many of the storms which had created too many “in days” but they had also triggered a glorious wildflower season that was still spectacular when we left in early April. It was sad to leave them behind and have only a few deep forest flowers to fill the gap on our 4 outings. 

For 2 months, we’d practically seen a new wildflower species every day and spent many evenings sorting the day’s photos attempting to identify each one. On the trails, with notes in hand, we’d recite the family, genus, species, and common names each time we saw an identified plant and reviewed the same information for the ones not before us. 

Latin had become our second language. I was dreaming about wildflowers at night. The unusually green hillsides eventually turned yellow from the millions of Brittlebush flowers at the lower elevations and big purple patches of various Phacelia species made a colorful backdrop for many other distinctive flowers higher up.

We were leaving the stunning wildflowers behind us as we headed north and west towards the rain. Bill had tucked a 4 night stay in Zion into our itinerary to lift our spirits on the way home but it was not to be. The draw of the Easter holiday on the upcoming Sunday had all the RV slots booked for miles around by Wednesday night. We were shut-out. Even if we drove from St George, where we nabbed the last RV slot in town, we’d be stuck in long lines at Zion's gate.

Feeling both naive and frustrated, we planned to make the best of it at the familiar RV park in downtown St George, UT.  At least we’d be able to catch up on the news after not having TV for a month and do our internet chores, but no, the cable didn’t work and we were in a near-dark zone in the middle of town after Verizon upgraded the area to 4G. Harrumph!

We were down to about Plan F or G before we could smile again. A pickleball court was only 2 miles away and we had bought rackets and balls a few weeks earlier. We’d ride our bikes to the park, play for an hour or so, then continue riding. We’d search out a 15+% hill to intensify the workout. As we racked up miles exploring St George’s bike system, we’d stop to check internet speed along the way. 

I'd hoped to practice 'crabbing', my new slick rock descending technic, in Zion.
At lunch time, we’d pick one of the several little but very green parks to eat at a picnic table under the shade of a tree while we worked on our internet-dependent chores, then bike more miles. Luckily, service folks got the TV cable service working the next day so we could get our news while doing kitchen chores. In the end, we were quite pleased with our new mix of activities even though we’d have much preferred to have been hiking in the wilderness instead of engaging in urban play.

Contented, we left St George where it had been up to 90 degrees, to be flanked by snow-topped mountains while we drove north on I-15. Rain, rain, rain was in the forecast. We’d hoped to spend a day biking in Boise, Idaho but when I checked the forecast a week before our arrival, the greenway was flooded with no drop in the river level predicted. Hoping for an uplifting revision when I checked again, it was going to snow the day before we arrived in Boise and rain on our free day there. We scratched that off of the list and pushed our exercise day forward, hoping for a dry day in La Grande, OR to bike while our trailer was serviced.

The Bright Side
Our quick turn-around from hiking in the SW to hiking in Europe demanded keeping our focus on the moment, but that focus is what intensified our agony at home. Trip prep is no time to get drifty about the past or the future and too many of the present moments were wet and cold. 

The icky weather and icky chores made us feel, well, icky. But despite being cranky and distraught, we did manage to be adult about it all and we stuck to our plans on the drive home like never before. We actually did (for the first time) follow through on deep cleaning our trailer’s interior and presorting the ’stay in the trailer’ or ‘go to the apartment’ items while on the road. Being well organized would vastly smooth our re-entry and simplify unloading the trailer in the scheduled rain. 

Confronting the cleaning chores in advance of unloading allowed us to analyze how we’d configured our use of the trailer’s storage space and spurred new ideas to make it more efficient. We were committed to hauling out more in the spring than we hauled back into it in the fall, which created enough empty space to juggle things around like an empty chair in Musical Chairs. Needs were expressed and brainstorming ensued. 

Soon, we were beaming from the benefits of new arrangements, even before they were implemented. Like in our small apartment, there were the familiar confrontations between how we used to live or thought we would live and how we were actually living. A little firmness with ourselves went a long way in improving our use of space.

The morning of each driving day we dutifully hauled our January purchase of a vertical climber out the door for a muscle-annoying workout. Saturated grass and mid-30s temperatures or 25 mph winds could easily have deflected us, but we stoically followed through on our commitment to ourselves. The vertical climber is such a stunning workout that we praised the efficiency and effectiveness of it throughout the day, which helped motivate us to do it again. Finally, we had a way to do high quality conditioning on the journey home and our aching muscles kept that pay-off fresh in our minds. With nothing but rain in the forecast, we committed to keeping it up once home.

Another new fungus: we must be home.
Looking for things to celebrate, not having to watch for rattlesnakes in the cold, damp weather was at the top of the list. We’d seen our #4 practically under our feet on our last hike day on April 8th from Palm Springs.  Since our first travels in the SW in 2011, we are now forever on ’snake alert’ but even with that refresher, we knew we could let our guard down to the ’new normal’ level until fall. Rattlesnakes definitely live where we hike in the NW but it would be too cold for them—unfortunately, we and they like the same warm, sunny weather.


Cleaning the trailer and packing our gear triggered an unexpected reflection of our personal accomplishments during this traveling season. Running across a professional gel pack for icing my knees that we’d put into deep storage was yet another measure of how much my knee health had improved. It was #3 of 3 packs, with the other 2 still in the freezer, ready to go. Regular icing of my knees for the last 30 years had been a way of life for me, but now it was a rare intervention. When I did use them, it was no longer urgent but a ‘nice to do’ and I now, unlike in the past, I never needed 3 at a time.

The intensive smashing or myofascial release (MFR) project I undertook in December of 2015 to improve my knee health had worked and worked well. I hammered my knees in St George by abruptly riding 3 days in a row with steep hills and then hammered them again by equally abruptly hitting the vertical climber for 5 consecutive days. Both were after long breaks from those activities and my knees rebounded nicely. No icing required. It was my intention to hit them hard to flush out any lingering issues and there weren’t any. A little puffiness the first night, and that was it. I continued my maintenance level MFR to smooth the fresh aches and pains, but that’s all it took to have them ready for the ring the next morning. What a delightful affirmation of my self-healing journey.

Finding the pelvic adjustment foam blocks that were also in deep storage reminded me that I’d also recently declared my 2+ year struggle with my very irritated sacro-iliac (SI) joints as being over. The MFR work focused on my knees had necessarily spilled over into my feet and SI joints and that had been a huge benefit for healing both. Happily, the bulky blocks went into the “stay at the apartment” pile with gel pack #3. My confidence in my body being significantly healthier was so high that the SI joint stabilizing belts that I had either worn or carried in my pack for 2 years would be going into deep storage at home.

Fresh snow the 2nd weekend on Larch Mountain, but a delightfully clear, 360 degree, view of the volcanic peaks.
Knowing that in a few days that we’d be hauling piles of belongings out of our trailer reminded Bill of his hernia repair. He couldn’t have been more pleased with having the surgery done in Palm Springs in February. He had a rapid recovery and as hoped, it was a piece of old history as he anticipated unloading the trailer and then slinging luggage and bikes while overseas.

During this time, we began transitioning from memorizing Latin botanical names needed for our wildflower identification to refreshing our Italian for our summer hiking. Listening to Italian audio tracks was a welcome, OK, essential, distraction for putting in my 30 minutes on the vertical climber. It was a good bit of time slicing in our overseas travel prep. 

Going for the Yuck-Muck

We steeled our resolve. Never before had we headed up a mountain for a fitness hike on a day with a forecast of 0.87” of rain at the base, 30 mph winds midway, and snowfall expected after dark at the top. But this time we did. It was our traditional “Welcome Home” hike to the top of Larch Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge, our last day on the road after 7 months in the SW.

The forecast for our return home was hideous, with over 2” of rain expected over 3 or 4 days in a week of rain. It was a snapshot of what much of the last 7 months in the region had been. There was zero reason to believe that it would be better in a week or in 2 weeks. We’d done exceptionally well in keeping active on driving days by using our new-this-year vertical climber and we didn’t want to lose our edge by being washed-out of our anticipated hike.

Like true Oregonians, we felt lucky to be walking in anything less than an inch of rain. We reviled in the moments that it almost stopped raining, delighted in the fact that we neither sank or slipped in the mud, and were grateful that the unexpected old snow wasn’t icy.

The snowpack was a surprise (It’s easy to learn about forecasted snow but not the snow pack). About the last mile and a half of the 7 miles to the peak was in snow, with another significant patch only 30 minutes into the hike. Near the top, we sheltered under the outhouse’s extended eve to add layers to our wet and chilled bodies before making the final push to the nearby peak. We’d been walking, and occasionally sinking, in 3-4’ deep snow though the presumed drifts around sign board were about 6’ deep. The picnic tables were buried. Sadly, I discovered that the cuffs on my new fleece gloves were too tight for my now puffed and damp hands and I settled for a thin but waterproof over-mitt.

An unknown pretty little thing on the trail.
We stopped shortly after turning around at the socked-in peak to eat a portion of our lunch in a slightly wind sheltered spot before heading back. Luckily, our trail shoes gave us enough traction and though chilled, our waterproof socks kept our feet from becoming painfully cold in the snow. And since there was no ice, our treads and poles made us just safe enough.  After having put on the last of our warm clothes at the toilet shelter before summiting, our only excess gear were our ponchos and we were still miserably cold.

Pushing Too Hard?
I ruminated on that “just enough/not quite enough” state of our gear on this harsher-than-expected day as I recalled the trail running couple we’d leapfrogged near the top. They were new to this trail and asked us for guidance when the footprints in the snow finally vanished. The trail was totally obliterated by the snow and we too were scratching our heads, hoping to find our way without Bill further chilling his hands by pulling out his GPS in the rain. 

I thought about how cold the woman runner must have been in her soggy boxer shorts when her foot broke through the snow and she dropped mid-thigh into it—she had wet, bare legs; I had heavy pants and long johns on under my rain pants when I went through. I had a lined, waterproof cap, an insulated hood, and a waterproof hood; she had a lightweight baseball cap. Her cap and his knit beanie were no match for our head coverings in the rain and increasing wind.

With our new hike leader mentality fresh in mind, I realized that if they got into trouble and we had to stop to assist or wait for a rescue, that we’d rapidly be in trouble too. We didn’t have significant excess to share and even pausing on the snow at 4,000’ in the rain felt dangerously cold for us. There’d be no sustaining a fire in this muck.

We hoped they’d been making a GPS track though they hadn’t pulled out a phone on the way up. We finally had to rely on an old GPS track to find our way on the initial descent and we unlike them, we were familiar with the route. 

They turned around at the toilets where we had stopped to bundle up, and then we walked a bit farther to the peak and back, and ate some lunch. They should have been at least 45 minutes ahead of us, but were they? We wondered if they were still wandering around, if we’d hear their calls on our descent. It was slow-going in the snow and at this rate, we’d only have about an hour to spare before dark when we hit the parking lot. “Hmmm”, there was a lot to ponder about what could become a shared problem.

If we didn’t encounter them, we’d never know if they made it off the mountain. Finding them would answer that question but it would also bode ill for the 4 of us getting down before nightfall. We had headlamps, but they would only solve 1 in a potential string of problems. And what if one of them was injured and couldn’t go on?

The distinctive Pacific Bleeding Heart.
Quite unexpectedly, we passed an oncoming hiker who cryptically answered “A long time ago” when I asked if he’d seen 2 descending trail runners. That was a happy ending of the story for all of us but it was still sobering how their choice to push the edge could potentially endanger others who weren’t involved in their go-no go decision.

Two weeks later, I impulsively bought 2 bivy sacks. “For the trail runners,” I explained to Bill. Constantly shaving the weight and bulk in our day packs, it grated on us both to being going the other way, but we agreed that it was the right thing to do. It was one thing to rely on our scant resources for our own safety but it was an entirely different matter to interrupt the misjudgments of others on the trail compromising our safety.

Pressing On
My goal had been to hike Larch Mountain each of the 4 weekends we had available at home, but finally I had to yield. Bill had to skip one because of his extraction but I made the first 3 even though there was more snow the second week than the first. But the forecast for #4 was sobering, especially after the virtual trail runner drama. The freezing level would be down to 3,000’ with the peak being at about 4,000’ and we’d be walking in falling snow, not just fallen snow. It my book, that moved from being stoic to stupid and we settled for a 10 miler on muddy slopes in an urban wilderness park.

Stunning Differences!
What could be better than dropping the jaws of surgeons? It was after mobilizing the second jaw that it was clear that there was a trend: Bill, with at best a normal pain threshold, was experiencing essentially no pain after 2 surgeries in 3 months that required general anesthesia.

The most recent non-event was after the extraction of a chronically troublesome wisdom tooth. He was instructed to start pain meds as soon as he got home and to ice 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. He skipped the painkiller and remembered to ice twice the day of surgery. There was no swelling; no dreaded pain that was expected to peak by Day 3. After his hernia repair in February, he took one pain pill the day of surgery, and that was it. His pain and swelling were vastly lower that his previous hernia repairs. The recoveries after both recent surgeries were “no big deal”.

Perhaps a Redwood Sorrel in the Columbia River Gorge.
Anecdotal evidence reported on blogs reinforced our guess that the lack of pain must be a positive side effect of our ketogenic diet, perhaps due to its purported reduction in inflammation. It’s incomprehensible as to what is going on, but what a paradigm shifter for Bill!

I had a less dramatic event, though spectacular for me, with my upper GI study and colonoscopy. I brood all the next year after my annual upper endoscopy because I am a zombie for days afterwards from the anesthesia. This time however, the nurse anesthetist took my excessive reaction to the drugs as a personal challenge. 

The usual dose is 300 mg of propofol and he started with 50 mg and skipped the narcotic altogether. He went up another 50 mg when I became agitated from the pain and then stopped at 150 mg. I’d told him that I was extremely sensitive to drugs and alcohol and that pediatric doses of medications were usually all that my brain could tolerate and so it was with the anesthetic.

Unfortunately, I woke up before the scope was completely removed, but I quickly opted for a bit of pain instead of more anesthetic. Last year, the staff had to hang around me an extra hour in the recovery room while I resurfaced from the drugs. I was absolutely delighted: after 10 years, I’d been heard and accommodated. For both of us, rewriting the script around the after effects of medical procedures requiring general anesthesia was a huge, huge relief. We both now knew that we could approach procedures with the anticipation of a far easier and faster recovery.

Heading Out
After too many unexpected little dramas, like our second refrigerator failure in 8 years, it was time to cut-off our preparation and go. We are always simultaneously preparing for 2 trips, this time, for our summer in Europe and then for a prompt departure in our trailer to the SW in September. 

Time slicing a new racehorse Italian audio program with our morning mat work, our vertical climber, and P90X workout would stop. Nervously watching the refrigerator temperature with our new externally mounted thermostat would end. “This one or that one” decisions would abruptly be curtailed. Ready or not, we’d launch for England, a new pre-Italy hiking venue, to extend our time overseas. Sadly, the daily forecast of rain and cool temperatures extended across the Atlantic but at least we wouldn’t be hiking on snow and there would be no rattlesnakes.