My Website
TO THE DESERT: November 2019 - January 2020

Idyllwild, CA: November 6 - 20

The arrival of freezing temperatures made it a bit easier this year to leave the Grand Canyon area after 6 weeks on the high plateau, but it is always with heavy hearts. Like the Italian Dolomites, the Grand Canyon is a place we would like to linger longer than the weather makes inviting. And at both locations, the authorities have rules limiting our stays, so reluctantly moving-on from each is a familiar part of our reality.

Our new fall rhythm makes the San Jacinto mountains above Palm Springs our next hiking destination after the Grand Canyon. Even though it’s only a 2 day drive, it gives us a good chance at somewhat warmer weather. Again this year, we arrived at our rustic Pine Cove Campground, near better known Idyllwild, with wildfires on our minds. Fires had recently broken-out the length of California and we were acutely aware of our risk of being engulfed in flames whether in camp or when hiking at our new venue.

We began the 8 mph, rough, dirt road drive to a trailhead one day that would last for an hour but we turned around after a mile. My thoughts had turned to wildfires: this back road was no place to be should a fire break-out near us. And I had no interest in spending 2 hours of my day being jostled by a washboard road. After we headed back to the highway, Bill discovered that the downhill bouncing was brutal on his back that was still tormenting him with spasms after almost 2 months. We’d restrict ourselves to trails we could access by asphalt roads for better get-aways in case of a fire.
Stacks Image 40

Smoke from the many wildfires made for stunning sunsets from Idyllwild.

We shortened our 2 week stay in Pine Cove by 2 days in hopes of facilitating frequent dermatology appointments I was making because of an outer ear infection and it was none to soon. Snow began falling before we left the campground on our departure day. We’d gone from wildfire threats to snow hazards in 12 days and the hiking season was interrupted, if not over, on the mountain.

Banning, CA: November 20 - December 1
We nervously but safely made the all-downhill drive from Pine Cove, pulling our trailer, while the last snowflakes of the day fell, to nearby Banning at the low San Gorgonio Pass. We knew that our hiking plans for this next venue also had been dashed. Exactly like last year, snow fell on the area peaks the day we left Pine Cove for camping at the pass, snow that would make summiting those now, cloud-shrouded peaks on the opposing mountains unsafe.

Fortunately, 2 years ago, longtime hiking club members informed us that the snow was late that season and we should rush to summit 2 dramatic mountain peaks, which we did. A fellow hike leader showed us the ropes for summiting San Bernardino and San Gorgonio and we did each again on our own. They instantly became our new favorites in the area. The 10,500’ elevation gain summit of the nearby San Jacinto on the Cactus to Clouds route from Palm Springs was familiar to us and all combined, we made 7 summits of the 3 peaks before the first snowfall in early January that year.

Last year, we stubbornly summited both San Bernardino and San Gorgonio with ice on the trails but 2 hard falls on San Bernardino’s high, north facing trail convinced me not to push my luck again. This year, I bowed to sensibility and we instead spent our time revisiting trails in and around the nearby, low-lying, Whitewater Preserve. We settled for admiring our new favorite, snow-covered peaks from the safety of 3,700’.

To our horror, we learned that the Preserve had only reopened on November 1 after damage to its single approach road during the Valentine’s Day flood earlier this year. That reopening was a mere 3 weeks before we arrived in the area. Likewise, the road between Banning and Idyllwild that was also damaged in the February flooding had only opened November 1, a week before we arrived in Idyllwild, though there was a “long way around” way to get there.
Stacks Image 67

Hooked-up & ready to slowly roll down the hill from Pine Cove to Banning.

Our much-anticipated, high-peaks hikes from Banning were canceled for the year and 3 hiking days were immediately “x’d” off our calendar because of heavy rains and flash flood risks. It was an ominous feeling during our last hikes in Whitewater because it was at risk of another long closure: the Thanksgiving Day forecast included 2-3” of rain over 3 days. The February 14, 2019 event had been 5” in 24 hours at nearby Palm Springs. Luckily for all, the road repairs held.

Cabazon-Desert Hills Outlet Stores
During one of these torrential rain days in late November, we visited the highly popular outlet malls between Banning and Palm Springs on I-10 for the first time. It wasn’t a good day to hike and it wasn’t much better being at an outdoor mall.

We were bored with our choice of tourist entertainment for the day while we darted from one store awning to the next. We perused a few sporting goods stores, like North Face and Adidas, and some high-end shops. However, the entertainment value of the venue skyrocketed when we spotted an Asian group from LA that had stormed the Coach leather store.
Stacks Image 83

This young woman was one of the Coach store customers who we saw again in the food court.

We had inspected the large store, particularly ogling the pricey, Star Wars-themed tablet cases and the generally high prices and deep discounts. But we couldn’t take our eyes off of the young, frenzied international shoppers and discreetly parked ourselves on the sidelines to absorb the scene.

The Americans were motionlessly standing in line in front of one bank of cashiers with an item or 2 in hand; the busy tour group members each had mountains of goods imprisoning them before a second bank of cash registers. The Coach staff were bringing even more gift-boxed goods by the cart load to each traveler in their special line. It was like no shopping scene we’d ever seen before and was more fascinating to us than seeing big horn sheep on the trails. A little later, when taking a spin through the Prada store to warm ourselves, we noticed at least 3 Chinese-speaking saleswomen. We wondered if tour groups like the one we’d seen were a daily affair at this mall

Palm Springs: Winter Sports Camp
Back in December of 2013, when we resigned ourselves to a long visit in Palms Springs because of the succession of polar vortices instead of being on the road with our truck camper, we dubbed our unplanned stay as being for our Winter Sports Camp. It actually became just that, and we now look forward to repeating it every winter. Our 6 weeks in the Grand Canyon area is our “event”phase in the fall and in the dead of winter, we further our training for the next series of summer and fall events in our private, desert, sports camp.

This year, we extended our 3 year tradition of striving to hike 40 miles a week to make 2,000 miles for the calendar year, into Year 4. We re-upped for doing a 20 mile hike once a month and added in our new challenge of carrying a 20 pound pack once a week. The heavy pack conditioning got off to a wobbly start in the new year with Bill rebuilding after 4 months of muscle spasms in his back and then a cold, and my debilitating side effects from anti-hypertensive and anti-shingles drugs. But we knew those were temporary setbacks and that we’d both be back on track with our newest, highly effective, training technic soon.

I made 2 snowshoeing trips from the Palm Springs Aerial tram at 8500’ and Bill joined me on one before both the snow and the tram itself got sketchy. Warm weather caused rapid snow melt and additionally, the tram operators were about halving the number of riders in each carload and then shutting it down midday for hours of repairs, which wasn’t reassuring. In addition to the bit of cross-training in the snow when available, we often made weekly bike rides of 20-25 miles.
Stacks Image 99

Diana & Juergen during their annual visit from Switzerland.

Turn-over in our Palm Springs RV park resulted in fewer and fewer ready trail mates each year, so we were all the more happy for the decision to connect with a hiking club 4 years ago. Becoming hike leaders the first year and then hike leader recruiters the next year, bound us more tightly to the core of the group, which resulted in us being invited on the more interesting private and reconnaissance hikes, like the peaks near Banning. Continuing to be volunteer trail monitors for another group in the desert also added to our sense of belonging—nice for ‘drifters’ like us.

There was less graffiti to spray paint over on the trails compared to prior years but more big horn sheep to tally and admire. We were delighted to actually catch some in the act of eating barrel cacti for the first time. We’d seen the evidence in the past—the decapitated cacti—but it was amazing to watch them causally munch away and spitting out the clumps of spines. And also for the first time, we observed a group of 13 males, who were much chummier than when with females like we’d always seen in the past. We were mesmerized by the difference in the nature of their interactions in their all-boy group.
Stacks Image 114

Big Horn Sheep & what is left of a barrel cactus they were eating.

In addition to the fun of hooking up with the hiking club members again this year, we had the pleasure of the company of Diana and Juergen visiting from their home in Switzerland. Annual visitors to the desert with a long history of mountaineering, we always enjoy seeing them. In 2017, we met them when we were hiking the Cactus-to-Cloud route to the peak of San Jacinto where they frequently ran.

2020 Reset
Dispatching Old Problems
We chose to believe we’d hit the “Reset” button on a number of our chronic challenges with the arrival of the new decade. Bill was off to a good start with both his 2 year-old “tib-fib subluxation” and his recent, 4 month stint of back spasm.

Our Portland massage therapist did wonders for the knee-end of his tibiofibular joint sprain in the spring of 2018 after injuring it that January, but it took until January of 2019 for our new acupuncturist-massage therapist in Palm Springs to tackle the joint of those 2 bones at the ankle to really accelerate his path to healing. A collaborative effort by all, by January of 2020, Bill declared the injury fully healed and the knee function on his left side matched the uninjured right side.

Stacks Image 128

Barb at the Notch where we ‘pop-up’ when hiking Cactus-to-Clouds.

Fortunately, it was only a 4 month healing course, instead of 2 years, for Bill’s nasty low back spasms that began in September of 2019. There had been an inciting lifting event, but they were really the result of a lifetime of poor posture and chronic back muscle weakness.

Bill had thrown everything at the back spasms: ice, heat, ibuprofen, CBD ointment, massage, acupunture, rest, stretching, and physical therapist-prescribed strength exercises. It was a new remedy, using the Egoscue method of self-treatment for pain from a book, that finally fixed him. He found the deep relief he had sought for months in 2 days after starting the simple, easy exercises and never had another set back. Amazing! No doubt all of the months of preceding interventions contributed in big ways, but he finally found the missing piece.

I also celebrated the approach of the end of a long journey, years or decades, depending upon how you measured it. In my 30’s, I was aware of a hair-trigger in my right buttock that would set off painful muscle spasms. It was infrequent, but punitive once activated. Recently, I hypothesized that the tightness there was what had been tugging on my left sacroiliac joint for years.
Stacks Image 144

Improvising for an Egoscue resting position that Bill used to stabilize his back.

When I began successfully soothing that left pelvic joint in 2014, there was a cacophony from the other side, the right side. The right buttock muscles, lateral back muscles, inner thigh adductors, and tensor fascia lata (TFL) on the front of the hip took turns being the lead singer. At its worst, I had to support myself with my hands along the wall when walking to the bathroom upon arising from bed and would slowly limp home at the end of some hiking days. The chorus wasn’t 100% silent at the beginning of 2020, but it had lost its power over me.

I was also pleased to once again be reigning-in the vulnerability of my right knee, particularly on steep descents. Calming my buttock muscle issues allowed me to devote more time to using myofascial release on the muscles surrounding my knee, which reduced the “over-tensioning” on the knee joint. “Cleaning up” these right-side muscles between the top of my pelvis and the bottom of my knee did wonders for my power and fluidity on the trails, as well as my moment-to-moment comfort. To top it all off, almost all of the feeling had returned to my 2 injured left fingers after ulnar nerve damage almost 5 months ago.

New Beginnings
In the winter of 2019/2020, we followed through on an intention we set in March at the end of our 2019 season in the desert, which was to throw our lot in with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). We’d had a rocky road with western medicine of late and our new Palm Springs acupuncturist was working on his doctorate in TCM, so why not?

We emailed the acupuncturist that we were committing to 4 months of weekly appointments with him this winter, which in our minds, was signing up for the non-existent, TCM wellness package that would primarily be receiving acupuncture. Only a little more than a mile away, seeing Peter made for a nice, guaranteed, rest day each week. On Thursday mornings, Bill headed out first for his 70 minute appointment and then I arrived at Peter’s in time for mine. Bill walked or waited for me in the lovely new little downtown plaza with public seating, which also offered a delightful bit of people watching. We strolled home together, usually in 65-68 degree weather, checking out the snow on the mountains, after eating our picnic lunch in the plaza. Ahh….now that’s healing.

Days after the disappointment of learning that the fancy new hearing aids adjusted by iPhones would not fix our age-related, high frequency hearing loss, we rebounded with enthusiasm for “auditory training.” We were cautiously optimistic that some computer-driven, targeted, learning would sufficiently spruce-up niches in our brains to reduce some of our comprehension frustrations in conversations. Finding this resource also supported my fundamental belief that “there is always something more to try.”
Stacks Image 160

Bill tamed the charging cable tangle with the help of this little monster in our closet.

Bill dug-in and completed a number of trailer equivalent of “home improvement projects,” primarily by consolidating wires and cables and burying them out of sight. After extensive shopping both online and in the stores, he also found us narrow, compact, 3-drawer containers to better utilize the tight quarters of our trailer.

Still having a low tolerance for current affairs, we found ourselves listening to audio history books on some of our longer hikes and watching DVD courses while doing our morning exercise routines. It was a good way to collect new information about old things, which we could tolerate.

Continuing On
Our 2019/2020 winter in the desert was unseasonably cold, even into February, our last month in Palm Springs. But we and all the other snowbirds knew not to complain, to only comment, given the terrible winter weather back home for all of us.

We would depart for nearby 29 Palms, adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park, on schedule on March 1, though we wouldn’t be needing to do so because of the heat this year. Nonetheless, the change of venue and daily tempo would be welcome. We’d remain there for about 3 weeks, then drive home for appointments beginning on April 1. After just over a month ‘in residence’, we’d again be off for England and then Italy for our summer hiking season, ever grateful for our simple, low-stress life.