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July 8, 2008

Road Trip

When I was on my way out to California in the company's Ford F350, my friend Brian, who was to be the recipient of the truck, asked if I wanted to buy his Volvo. He was about to move up to the Alaska office, and had a few things to unload. Well, Brian, funny you should ask. My car died in early January, just before I left for Ethiopia, and I've been borrowing my friend Nancy's car until her daughter turns 16 next month. So come next month, yes, I need a car. So. The price was right, and it sounded like a bit of an adventure. Why not.

On Tuesday, I flew out to Oakland. Andre, another UNAVCO employee, picked me up at the airport, took me to the car, put up with me while I grabbed something to eat--and then, back at the office, helped me check out the car. And proceeded to help me clean it. Andre. What a champ. We wiped it down, vacuumed it out, topped off the tires and the windshield fluid, and cleared out odds and ends Brian had left in the car. And at sometime around 7, after traffic on 80 had cleared a bit (a hay truck had caught on fire, which spread to the adjoining hillside, and the road was closed for a bit), I hit the road.

I had options. My friend Hilary, who moved away from Boulder last fall, was just off I-80 in Nevada City. Erica's brother, Nathan, lives in Reno. But I'd left late. And I didn't have Hilary's new number besides. I called Nathan to introduce myself (Erica had called him just the day before with the idea), and to say thanks but no thanks. I'd be arriving too late. He said to come anyway. Said I'd better. Said he'd be offended if I didn't. What could I do? Besides, turns out it was his birthday. I rolled in just in time to spend the last 15 minutes with him. Thanks, Nathan, for being so cool.

On Wednesday, I hit 50. I love 50.

I had a little bit of time built in for exploring. There were some dunes I'd remembered passing at night on my way out a few weeks ago, and when I saw them in the morning driving east I decided to check them out.

It was a recreation area, and apparently I wasn't the only one attracted to it. I don't even know what these things are, and once I spotted them I wasn't so inclined to get closer to find out.

I first turned off to explore an old Pony Express post, being taken over by the sand, and a short self-guided nature trail.

There were lizards. And a bunny. Okay, a hare. I didn't get a picture of the hare. It was too fast.

After my little walk, I headed over to the dunes. You can leave the dirt/gravel road and drive right up to them, but I opted out. I love the Volvo. The Volvo might not love soft sand. I parked and walked instead.

I'd seen someone on the dunes from my car cruising down the sandy slope. They're sledding, I thought. Sweet. But when I got out, I realized I was wrong. Vrooooooom vroom vroom vroooooooooooooooom. Right. *"Recreation area."*

I walked towards the other part of the dunes, a closer part, where there was a truck parked with what looked like a woman with a camera standing behind it and a little boy running across the dunes nearby.

As I approached, the boy ran back to the truck, they both hopped in, and the engine started. And revved. And revved. She was spinning in the sand. So I headed over, and offered a push. It doesn't seem like all that long ago that we were stuck in the sand in Ethiopia. Multiple times.

But I just wasn't strong enough to do it alone. I told the woman I'd go get some help and come back. There was a couple who, like me, looked like they'd just stopped to check the dunes out a bit. I got to them first, and asked if they had a few minutes. The started heading over, and I continued on. I had a loftier goal: The off-roaders. I figured they were probably strong, had some mechanical skills, and would be willing to show off a bit by helping someone less savvy get out of the sand. Especially a woman. So I knocked on the door of their RV. But no answer. There was a guy cruising around nearby in a dune buggy, but he didn't seem to see me. All the others (how many were there?) were out of sight, on the other side of the dunes. As I began to walk away, however, two of them sped up on their toys. One bike, one quad. Score.

Yep. Young, male, willing.

They agreed to help out, hopped on their quad and headed out, stopping to talk to their buddy on the dune buggy who skidded out to a stop and sent a cloud of grit drifting over me. Nice. But then he pulled a slow turn around and to the side of me, and stopped.

"Want a ride back over there?"

Didn't really have to think too much about that one. "Sure," I said. "I won't say no." I mean, I've never ridden in a dune buggy before.

We'd already put some rocks and wood under the back tires, and they weren't dug in very deep, and with five of us at the back of the truck it was no problem. She got out on the first try, continued on to the road and headed on her merry way.

The tourists turned back to take pictures. The boys on the quad sped off on the quad and the other cruised off in his dune buggy. I began the walk back to the car.

But then the guy on the quad, sans his buddy, made his way back over to me, and stopped just a bit away.

"Wanna go to the top?"



What would you say? I hitched up my skirt and hopped on. "Hold onto me," he said. "I just poured water on my shirt, so it should be cool. Lock your hands together."

I held on. I locked my hands together.

I was actually a little scared. How would we make it up without falling off?

We did. But I wasn't sure that we would until halfway up. Then I could feel that the momentum would actually carry us, and that I probably would not fall off the back, and a second later somehow the quad felt like it wasn't even touching the sand, that we were just floating up towards the sky.

We slowed and turned a few feet from the top, and dismounted. The guys were prepared: Shoes. I wore Tevas. The sand was hot. Almost ridiculously hot. It must have been around noon. I climbed quickly to the crest of the dune and shook the sand from my sandals, stepped gingerly to stay on the surface.

The view out was indeed pretty impressive. Hard to get a decent picture of it in the mid-day light, but I tried anyway. Out past the dunes, a salt surface where there used to be a lake. Nevada reminds me a lot of Afar, Ethiopia. And, in both places, the Earth's crust is being pulled apart. Not a coincidence.

[My new favorite person in the world, Carter. Chico, the guy in the dune buggy, is my second favorite. Not pictured, unfortunately.]

[It's impossible to get perspective on this, unfortunately, because of the mid-day light, but it's a ways down. And pretty steep in places.]

The rest of the trip was not nearly as exciting. I did stop several more times, but I was mostly ready to get back since I'd be leaving again for the weekend.

[My "new" Volvo.]

I had a late lunch in Austin, one of the four Nevada towns on Highway 50.

[I wasn't sure at first what made it "international," seeing as they served turkey sandwiches and burgers and such. But a sign outside said it was the first permanent building established in Austin--the International Hotel. Not sure what made it international back then, either.]

Just out of Austin, I had to stop to take a shot of these desert poppies. I don't know if they're really called desert poppies, but they look like it.

A ways down the road, when I was getting good and sleepy, I pulled off to check out some petroglyphs.

And wound up in Ely in good time for dinner.

This time, the Italian restaurant was open. (See June 16, 2008.) And it was great. The brothers were there, but looking busy, and I'd had enough excitement for the day, so instead of approaching them I just wrote a note of congratulations and headed on my way.

I didn't study a map after that one--I knew the next town was probably Scipio, Utah, and that seemed like a good enough place to end up, so I went for it. And it took forever. Dark, flat, long drive.

I christened my Volvo by putting down the seats in the back and sleeping in it behind a Chevron station.

Thursday, I was pretty set on just getting home. But I did have to stop to wake up a bit and stretch at a beautiful and familiar rest stop overlooking just another amazing Utah landscape--pretty sure I spent a day there babysitting a GPS instrument years ago.

[I did a little stretching/yoga on this rock. It didn't suck.]

[This was my view.]

And, I had to make my usual pilgrimage to the Devil's Canyon overlook to pay homage. Erica and I got lost down in there somewhere over Easter weekend a few years back.

I've been wanting to spend some more time in western Colorado, and a sign along the road reading “Trail Through Time” had caught my eye every time I'd driven through there. This time, I decided to take a look.

I won't say it was the most fantastic experience of my life, but it was indeed a nice self-guided tour and a nice walk. Plus, there were real dinosaur bones.

[Something died here. A long time ago.]

I had to visit a rest stop for a break somewhere not too far down the road to take a long nap under a tree. It didn't look like I was going to make it back to Boulder in time to play Frisbee that evening. But, I'd arrive alive, and I guess that's better. I guess.

I discovered my sun roof somewhere in the canyon on 6, between I-70 and Golden. Brian had pointed it out when I caught a glimpse of the car after dropping off his F350, but I wasn't really paying attention. I didn't really get sun roofs. I'd grown up without them and never understood the novelty of them.

On 6, though, I decided to check out the sun roof. I opened it. With a mere push of a button. Did I mention that I have electric windows? I have electric windows. Now when someone pulls up beside me on the passenger side to tell me something I don't have to lean across the seat to roll the window down. Such decadence. So I pushed on the button that had an icon with something like a sun roof on a car, and the sun roof opened. It's big. There was a big opening in the top of my car. I could see the sky, and the walls of the canyons. It was cool. And then—and I swear I wouldn't have been able to see this if not for the newly-opened sun roof—as I was exiting the canyon, I saw paragliders playing lazily in an updraft over a hill alongside the road. And that was cool too.

I arrived home before dark. As usual, happy to be here.

Posted by beth at 7:56 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 6, 2008

A Little Time in the Backcountry

My good friend Erica, who used to live in Boulder, came into town that afternoon. A small group of us ate and drank and watched fireworks. The next day, we went backpacking.

It’s kind of a tradition in some sense, since Erica and Barbara and I went hiking and climbing and camping over Fourth of July weekend several years ago, and Erica and I went backpacking over the holiday a year or two after that. We didn’t do it on purpose this time—it was just time for Erica to get her butt back out here and get out in the mountains.

We went into the Hesse Wilderness, not too far out of Boulder.

[Erica and Barbara carry small Thermarests. What happened to roughing it?]

The woman who issued Barbara the permit warned of snow, so we brought snowshoes.

Turns out it’s been melting quite a bit recently, though. Erica and Barbara actually put theirs on when we came to snow (they had tennies, Kacey and I wore boots), and… yeah. Took them off about twenty feet later.

Kacey brought her pup, Burrito, who is quite a good dog. Dogs are required to be on leashes in the wilderness area, but some don’t follow the rule the whole time, despite fines and such. Most dogs were nice and were within voice control. However, two dogs approached us on the path before their owner was in sight. The dogs moved forward to check out Burrito—who didn’t like them. Burrito growled. Kacey pulled Burrito in and backed up. The dogs followed. She backed onto a side path, up the hill, the dogs still following. “Whose dogs are these?” she called, tense, and the owner came into view. He didn’t call off his dogs. “Could you call your dogs? They’re attacking our dog.” He was unphased. He called his dogs. “They’re supposed to be on leash,” said Barbara, and he said, “Why don’t you mind your own business.”

Are you kidding me?

[Erica, Barbara, Kacey.]

We made it into King Lake, where we were all alone. Even on a busy holiday weekend, people don’t wander too far from their cars. Splendid.

[The top half of my wounds.]

Except that it started raining right as we started setting up camp.

And, we realized we forgot to bring the pots.

It’s not that we didn’t think of them—it’s just that we ended up leaving Barbara’s pots at her house, knowing Kacey would bring hers, and then took Kacey’s out of her pack and left them in Barbara’s car, because we had Barbara’s. Except we didn’t. Because we’d left them at Barbara’s because Kacey was going to bring hers.

We’d been in hustle mode, setting up tents and trying to get dinner going, and then there was Barbara sitting still and quiet in the middle of it all in disbelief. Thinking hot meal. There *has* to be a way, she said.

There was, as it turned out. After a spell of relaxing and snacking in our respective tents (Erica and Barbara in Barbara’s, Kacey and me in Kacey’s), Erica and Barbara came over and we fired up the stove.

First, we tried balancing and then holding the Tasty Bites over the flames, but that didn’t work so well.

Then, Kacey brought out her cup. Perfect. It even fit some water.

Eating the meal was a bit hilarious in and of itself. Tasty Bites are ready-made Indian dishes that just need to be heated in their pouches in water, open and pour over rice and there you go. But we couldn’t make rice. And we could only heat the Tasty Bites packages one at a time, and Barbara had gotten all different flavors besides, so we ended up splitting each packet among the three of us and eating about five bites worth of meal at a time. Barbara fussed over who did or didn’t have enough in their bowl. “I think you got half a bite more than me,” I said.

I mean, it’s not like we had any shortage of cheese and salami and peanut butter.

The next morning’s weather was still marginal. We had planned to hike along the continental divide for a bit before hiking out, and decided to still do it.

The outlook was not good, though, and we heard distant rumbles of thunder, so decided not to linger on the ridge. Ate a snack and headed down.

As we headed down, we spotted lightning, and the thunder boomed closer and louder. Not so good. Rain, and then hail. We took shelter in a patch of trees.

[I like that Kacey and Barbara are smiling, but I think Burrito and Erica capture the true mood.]

I was thankful for my rain pants. It had been a debate that morning, and I won. Score.

When the storm calmed, we headed back up and over the saddle and back to our gear, reorganized and started out. The thunder started up again, too, so it’s a good thing we made a break for it when we did.

[Our side of the divide was still pretty skanky. Bummer about the water on the lens.]

When it started to hail again, we stopped for whiskey and chocolate. We were well below treeline by that point, in a good spot, but, you know, a little something to warm the bones.

Despite it all, Barbara and Kacey were already talking about the next trip as we walked through the rain. Labor day weekend, perhaps?

Posted by beth at 11:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 3, 2008

Hitting the Trail.....Hard

On Thursday, the day before 4th of July, my friend Laurie asked if I wanted to do a short mountain bike ride before we met up with our friend Nancy for happy hour. Biking scares me, mostly because of the fitness aspect—I’m slow—but it’s fun too. And I hadn’t done it since last year. And I could use the exercise. So I really had no excuse.


Let’s note here that I don’t have much mountain biking experience. I’m not hard-core (yet). I have a bike that I love, but I only got out maybe three times last year. And no, I wasn’t going that fast, and no, the trail is not super hard.

This is what happened.

I wrecked within five minutes of the trailhead.

Laurie and I had agreed to just go, not to stick together. We knew she would be faster than me, so we decided to meet back up at the car. We’re just getting started, cruising along, and I’m loving it. Why am I afraid of this stuff? What a blast! Laurie’s already getting ahead of me, but that’s okay—I’m just enjoying the motion, the bike under me, the trail, the challenge, and then there’s this sort of wide downhill that’s a bit rubbly, with rocks and roots sticking up besides, and I’m thinking maybe I’m going just a little too fast so I slow down a bit and then I’m losing control and then I’m full on skidding out onto the ground, unable to unclip my shoe, and there I am on my side. Ouch. I call to Laurie, but she doesn’t hear me. As I’m standing up, a guy taking a break at the next curve calls to her, but she doesn’t hear him, either. I forgot that she had her iPod on.

I move my bike to the side and try to walk it out and assess damage. One (two?) very skinned up and dirty elbow/forearm (and shoulder?), bruises. I think about walking back to the parking lot, which is so pitifully close, but it’s all superficial, and I came here to ride, right? So I hop back on my bike and keep going.

And wipe out again about five minutes later.

I was going again, thinking how fun this was despite my scrapes and bruises, cruising downhill still, thinking wow this is even better than skiing maybe, and I could hear someone behind me so I pulled off and let two guys by. Got back on my bike, and—somehow, within probably two revolutions on my pedals, endo-ed. As in, went over my handlebars. I’ve no idea how I did it. Maybe hit the front brake? Although I’ve been on bikes enough that that’s completely out of my habit. Regardless, there I was on the ground again, on my right side again, with my bike caught over my leg. With some profanity. “You okay?” called one of the guys. I guess I wasn’t really sure since I hadn’t gotten up yet, but yeah, probably. “Yeah, I’m good, thanks.” I maneuvered my bike from on top of me and stood up. Again. Hopped back on my bike, but it wouldn’t go. The back break was jammed. Wouldn’t budge. The back wheel wouldn’t turn. I tried to investigate (feeling a little remorse for not knowing my bike better) but my arms started stinging. I had to move. I walked it off a bit and came back to it but I still couldn’t figure it out and again my arms were stinging like crazy, too distracting. I figured someone else would come by soon, and I could pick their brain, but no one did so I started walking. At first, I picked up the back of my bike since it wouldn’t roll, but that was too much work. I ended up pushing the bike along instead, letting the back wheel drag a divet in the dirt.

In a bit, I heard someone coming. A young guy, looking about as comfortable on his bike as I was, maybe not the most savvy, but I wasn’t feeling picky. I asked if he had a minute to help me out and he stopped. “Did you wipe out?” he asked. Which I found amusing, because how could it have been any more obvious. “Me too,” he said jovially. “I ran into a tree.” I turned my bike over and we looked, and he had no idea but I got it. Turned a red knob and voila, my wheel spun once again. Brilliant. I thanked him and we both headed on our way.

Needless to say, I was feeling a bit tentative. I can’t say I made the best time on the rest of the loop.

When I got to the parking lot, Laurie was waiting outside her truck. “I was getting worried!” she said. “Yeah, I had some issues,” I said. “I heard,” she said. Then, her eyes widening, “Did you wipe out?” Yes. Yes, I did. Twice. “He didn’t tell me that,” she said. “He just said that you had an issue with your back brake and that you were on your way.”

She put down a towel for me on the seat and we headed off to Nancy’s house on my request. Laurie said she just rinses herself off with her Camelback—“I haven’t done that to myself for about a month!” she said—but I was opting for a shower. I felt pretty grimy, and a little bloody. The shower was definitely not going to be fun. I had scraped up my left elbow and forearm pretty good, and my right arm even better—I had scrapes from the middle of my forearm all the way to my armpit, with a pretty good gauge out of my elbow and linear scratches along my upper arm. The inside of my forearm was swollen, as were a number of bruises on my legs—like, probably six, including a six-inch-long bruise across my left thigh from where my bike landed on and wedged itself on top of me in the second spill. (It’s still tight and raised now, over a week later.)

At Nancy’s, Nancy and her daughter, Sadie, were rushing around getting ready for a friend’s parents’ anniversary party that they were late for. I jumped into the shower as Sadie put make-up on in front of the mirror. I’ll get you some band-aids, she said, and I said not to worry about it. The water in the bathtub ran brown and pink and I refrained from shouting except to call to Laurie. “Yes?” “This f*in’ hurts!” She was all full of sympathy. “I know,” she said, and went back out to the living room.

When I got out of the shower, I saw that Sadie had indeed found some Band-aids for me. Not big bandages, but Band-aids. I had to laugh. Where to even start? I don't think I had any wound that one of those things would even fit over.

We met Nancy down on Pearl Street for some food and drinks. I tried not to touch my elbows to anything. “You need a stiff drink,” said a woman entering the bar. Eventually, I went in to find our waiter. “Do you have any paper napkins?” I asked. “I’m oozing.” He grabbed me a bundle. “It happens sometimes,” he said.

Just about as we were ready to head home, my friend Tara joined us, so I stayed out. And went to an after-party for the Fourth of July cruiser ride. (Lots of people riding bikes around, sometimes in costume, whooping it up.) There was dancing. My friend Mark convinced me to dance. I again tried not to touch anyone. Some people were wearing white shirts. It was a risky endeavor.

I excused myself to walk back to the other end of town to get my bike and to check the bus times. I walked the bike to the bus station, not having much desire to be on it at this point, but an oversight pushed the issue. It was Thursday, not Friday, which I’d forgotten, it being the night before a holiday and all, and the last bus had already left. Bummer. So I rode my bike home.

* * *

The whole thing was still funny until I went to bed that night. When I lied down, the stinging came on, and I just couldn’t get comfortable. There wasn’t really any position in which my arms were comfortable, in which they weren’t touching anything. I don’t like sleeping on my back, but I had to. At some point in the night, I got up to wet two washcloths to lay them on my elbows in hopes of some relief. I considered a middle-of-the-night run to the store to get some sort of antiseptic spray, something numbing, but managed each time to get back to sleep instead.

In the morning, I called my parents for sympathy. They also gave me some advice: Get arnica.

Arnica is a natural bruises-and-bumps-and-muscle-pain healer. I went to Vitamin Cottage but it was closed for the holiday. Whole Foods was not. I immediately sought out a professional.

“Could you show me where your arnica is?”

“Sure, do you want oral or topical?”

“What do you recommend?”

“It depends on what you're trying to treat.”

I held up my arms and pulled up my skirt to show a bruise or two on my legs.

“Let’s get you the combo pack,” he said.

And asked me to stay away from skateboards.

[Photo: Laurie.]

Posted by beth at 11:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack