Don’t Change that Channel, Exploring the Channel Islands

Time for another girl trip!! G and I have been doing backpacking and camping trips since 2007. She is my friend from vet school and we started by hiking the grand canyon in ’07 and tend to have adventures together once a year or so. She is one of the coolest people I have ever met. She lives in Oregon, I live in Arizona.

We were talking on the phone and discussed doing another camping and hiking trip and she suggested hiking in the Channel Islands, off the coast of California. I jumped at the chance to see another national park. She arranged a ferry ride to Santa Cruz island from Ventura and arranged two nights of camping. As I was preparing for the trip my friend and neighbor stopped by, he was interested in the trip. He asked who I was going with because he was curious what other “rugged bitches” I knew. I took that as a compliment.

On Saturday I drove out to Los Angeles to pick G up at the airport. The airport area in L.A. is somewhere I spent a lot of time this summer during my work for G Adventures. I felt happy in the L.A. traffic in a Civic and not in a large commercial van with a trailer attached. I picked her up and from there we stopped at a Ralph’s grocery store directly across the street from the hotel that I had stayed in it so many nights over the summer.

We headed out around L.A. to do some sightseeing for ourselves. We went to the La Brea tar pits near Hollywood and to the Page museum which has displays of bones found in the pits and information regarding them. It was very fascinating. We went to the Hollywood walk of fame and posed with some stars and saw the Hollywood sign in the hills, then we headed toward Ventura to try to find a campsite for the night. We couldn’t find a site and ended up staying at a hotel for the night.

Our souvenir photo from the La Brea Tar Pits (Sabertooth tiger ate my middle)

Our souvenir photo from the La Brea Tar Pits (Sabertooth tiger ate my middle)

Display at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

Display at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

Hollywood walk of fame

Hollywood walk of fame

Hollywood stars!

Hollywood stars!

In the morning we got on the Island Packer’s ferry bound for Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. We had all of our camping gear and got onto the ferry. The ride was about an hour and a half from the California shore. We saw some California sea lions and a few dolphins along the way to the island.

 

Ferry to the Channel Islands

Ferry to the Channel Islands

California Sea Lions

California Sea Lions

When we arrived at the island all of the campers, a group of maybe 15 or so, were gathered together and greeted by a park ranger, Ranger Cole, who laid down some island rules. Ranger Cole seemed like a no-nonsense sort of guy, he was the only ranger I had seen who carried a gun and a set of handcuffs. He didn’t seem to be in a joking mood, and actually seemed quite sick of people’s shit. He was about 30 years old, tall, dark, muscular and handsome. G and I both noticed he didn’t wear a wedding ring. He laid down rules regarding obtaining fresh water, cleaning at the campsites, checkout times, fire restrictions, and talked about the importance of not littering, and about packing all trash back off the island. The island has no trash services and all trash must be taken back to the mainland by campers. He also discussed the importance of staying safe on the island and discussed how little emergencies can escalate into big problems due to our remote location. He told us to come to him immediately with any medical emergencies, even minor ones “like a sprain or a fracture.” G and I glanced at each other sideways trying not to snicker because we wondered how Ranger Cole could classify a fracture as a minor injury. He also talked about some of the unique wildlife on the island. The Channel Islands are sometimes called “the Galapagos of North America” because there are varied species on each island and many distinct species of animals are found on the Channel Islands that are found nowhere else on earth. Santa Cruz is home to the island fox, which is the largest predator on the island, there are about 1300 on the island. He also told us about the native people who once lived on the island and that there are sacred burial sites present. He told us to never disturb a site and told us that some sites are still being discovered, and if we think we discover one we should tell him. Ranger Cole didn’t smile once during his speech and dismissed us at the end of it. G and I shouldered our packs and started heading to our campsite, which was about a half mile away from the harbor.

On the way to camp we discussed some hiking options and we talked about packing out trash and we resolved to also pack out any other trash we found on the island as well. We decided we would leave the island cleaner than we found it. We also talked about how we wished we could see some more sea life, hopefully some whales and more dolphins and sea lions. We also wanted to see some island foxes. We joked that we had already seen one fox, Ranger Cole, and we debated about how often park rangers likely get laid. We had different theories on this subject. We joked about how Ranger Cole told us to find him for medical emergencies or if we discover a sacred burial site on the island, but he didn’t actually tell us where to find him. We wondered where he stayed. We wondered how often he used his handcuffs.

We set up camp and then went to the visitor center on the island. We learned about how the island used to be used as a ranch in the late 1800s, but then sheep and pigs got loose and became feral and took over the island and fucked up all the environment and threatened native island species. Eventually the sheep and pigs were trapped and relocated back to the mainland and all ranching activities were stopped. The island and its wildlife are still working on recovering from the insults of ranching.  After our learning experience at the visitors center, we hiked up to a viewpoint called Cavern’s Point, and out to another scenic point called Potato Harbor. The island scenery is stunning and the coastline of the island is very beautiful. We looked for whales but didn’t see any. After hiking we went back to camp and cooked a dinner of dehydrated food using water we boiled with a Jetboil and then made a dehydrated dessert. It was good. A scruffy looking fox with a limp and previously injured ears walked into our campsite. This fox obviously had been living off of food scraps and wasn’t scared of people. Ranger Cole had made it clear never to feed island wildlife. We sat and watched this fox as he wandered through our site, he even walked right up to G and waited by her feet for a moment before continuing on through the site. We called him Scar.

Huge eucalyptus trees near our campsite were fun to climb

Huge eucalyptus trees near our campsite were fun to climb

Near Cavern's Point on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

Near Cavern’s Point on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

View of Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Islands, Channel Islands, California

View of Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Islands, Channel Islands, California

View near Cavern's Point.  Channel Islands National Park.

View near Cavern’s Point. Channel Islands National Park.

This beat up limping old fox came into our campsite.  We called him "Scar"

This beat up, limping, old fox came into our campsite. We called him “Scar”

Island fox we nicknamed "Scar"  He is looking for a handout.  He came right up to G

Island fox we nicknamed “Scar” He is looking for a handout. He came right up to G

The next morning we got up and Jetboiled some water and made oatmeal and granola and coffee. We packed some more dehydrated food and a bunch of water and headed out for an all day hike to another shore of the island called Smuggler’s Cove. (I never found out how these different places on the island got their names.) We walked up and down hills in the sun and along the coast through stunning scenery to the other side of the island. We saw another island fox along the way. The fox wasn’t scared at all and I got very close to it taking photos and I made G pose with it. As we hiked we picked up garbage along the way and had a competition as to who could get the most trash or the most usual trash. We reached Smuggler’s Cove around lunchtime. There was a beach and a nice view of Anacapa Island, another of the islands of the park. We combed the beach for more trash and found some unusual items including a walkie talkie, some plastic letters, part of a camera and part of some glasses. We also found an almost full pack of Camel cigarettes in smokeable condition. We had also been finding numerous bones all over the island. The bones we suspected to be pig and sheep bones.

Island fox with mats on his back refused to look at me for his photo op

Island fox with mats on his back refused to look at me for his photo op

G with Island Fox

G with Island Fox

I was actually surprised by how little trash there was on the island overall, but we still managed to find enough to stress our small daypacks. (We didn’t take any bones but left those where they were.) Before we packed the trash all up we played with it and I decided it would be a waste if I didn’t smoke a cigarette. I lit one with the Jetboil flame and was immediately shocked by how disgusting it was. I think I forgot how gross cigarettes are. I took a drag but couldn’t bear to inhale any; it tasted like my chainsmoking grandma’s morning breath. I stubbed it out and packed it back with the other trash. G had no desire to try to smoke a cigarette, but we took some self timer photos posing with the cigarettes and other trash for fun.

Some of the trash we picked up off the beach on the Channel Islands.  We strove to leave the island and ocean cleaner than we found it.  Saving the world.

Some of the trash we picked up off the beach on the Channel Islands. We strove to leave the island and ocean cleaner than we found it. Saving the world.

Playing with trash we picked up on the beach

Playing with trash we picked up on the beach

We made backpacking dehydrated meals again with the Jetboil. G forgot her spoon and although I offered to share mine, she preferred to use a piece of a broken shell to eat soup and mashed potatoes with instead.

Gretchen eats soup for lunch with a seashell.

Gretchen eats soup for lunch with a seashell.

From the beach we headed past another building that used to be a part of the ranching operation on the island in the late 1800’s. We hiked up a trail called the yellow banks trail and enjoyed the views from there. We decided it would be nice to live there.

We hiked back to the campsite in the late afternoon and along the way discussed very important life topics, like having crushes on Bill Nye, the science guy. We also discussed having crushes on members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I have had a crush on Anthony Kiedis since I was in high school, and G made me feel inferior for this, telling me that I had blindly went along with the masses. She made it clear that Flea was clearly the better choice. He is a good humanitarian, a musical soul, free spirit and caring person. Anthony Kiedis was just plain hot. G recognized this from the beginning, when I took over 15 years to see it. We also discussed other important topics like viewpoints on sailing a sailboat, how we clean the bathtub, and how to protect pigs from getting sunburned. Oh and I found out that G actually proposed to Bill Nye via email when she was in high school…. more proof that she is cooler than me.

I made G take my photo at Smuggler's Cove Beach attempting to live out my dream as a "Globetrekker"

I made G take my photo at Smuggler’s Cove Beach attempting to live out my dream as a “Globetrekker”

Hiking in the Channel Islands

Hiking in the Channel Islands

Back at camp we Jetboiled more dehydrated food. Another island worker, Brett, came over to talk to us. I don’t think Brett was a ranger, but he drove a golf cart. He came to ask us if we were kayaking and told us that someone left their kayaks on the beach in a poor location where they would have been taken out to sea in high tide. He didn’t seem pleased about it, but he was very friendly and chatted and joked with us and was very personable and pleasant. Ah, forget Ranger Cole, we were now fans of Brett. Brett was cool.

Scar came to visit us again at the campsite, eating tidbits of unknown items in the grass as he strolled around the area. We greeted him warmly, but didn’t attempt to feed him or approach him.

The next day we swam and hung out at the beach. The water was cold. Our ferry came to pick us up at 3:30pm to take us back to the mainland. We rode back with a class of elementary school kids on a field trip for the day. We sat on the upper level of the ferry while the kids were on the lower level. Neither G or myself are big fans of noisy children. On the way back was were greeted by a very large school of dolphins who decided to ride in the waves from our ferry. It was hands down the coolest group of dolphins I have ever seen and I was so happy as I watched them. There must have been more than 50 of them. The kids on the lower level of the ferry were so happy and I thought to myself that it must be an incredible experience for these kids to go to the island. It was an incredible experience for me!

 

Scorpion Beach, Santa Cruz Island

Scorpion Beach, Santa Cruz Island

 

Dolphins swim next to our ferry

Dolphins swim next to our ferry

 

We camped on the beach at Point Mugu State park south of Ventura for the night. The campsite was on the sand of the beach and we made a fire on the beach and cooked grilled cheese sandwiches in a mountain pie iron.

Our campsite on the beach south of Ventura

Our campsite on the beach south of Ventura

The next day we met up with another friend, Joyce, from vet school. I haven’t seen Joyce since 2009 and G hasn’t seen her since 2005. It was amazing to see her. We met her at a beach where she was surfing and we spotted her riding a wave in. It felt like a celebrity sighting!!

Our first celebrity sighting!  Joyce!!  Our super smart board certified specialist friend from L.A.  :)

Our first celebrity sighting! Joyce!! Our super smart and beautiful board-certified specialist friend from L.A. 🙂

The three of us went to the Getty Villa near Malibu and had fun looking at all of the antique and historical things there but had the most fun “petting” herbs in the herb garden. We went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant afterwards. It was so nice. G and I went to Santa Monica beach, muscle beach and the pier, it was really fun.

Mini Vet school reunion in L.A.

Mini Vet school reunion in L.A.

Then it was over. I had to take G back to the airport. I had such a fun time. I can’t wait for our next adventure. Looking forward to continuing adventures of the rugged bitches.

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Happy Birthday to Me (and Biscuit)

It was just my birthday and I had a great time with friends! I had been wanting to get a piano for a few years. I took lessons as a kid and thought it would be fun to try to learn again. I found a cheap one on craigslist and my boyfriend, Rob, bought it for me. It desperately needs to be tuned, but I’ll schedule that and in the meantime practice on it anyway. It’s nice to play again.

Now I have a piano just like my mom and my grandma do, and in about the same tune... haha

Now I have a piano just like my mom and my grandma do, and in about the same tune… haha

During the day I got to relax and work on gardening projects. I celebrate my birthday with Biscuit, my dog, who I adopted 11 years ago on my birthday (best birthday present ever.) Biscuit is now 12 years old and we usually go for hikes or walks on our birthday, but this year it was too hot out and he can’t walk very far anymore. Instead we drove to the frozen yogurt shop up the road and I brought along some turkey for him and we got yogurt and toppings and ate it outside in a little outdoor seating area. Biscuit had peanut butter flavored yogurt with caramel sauce and reese’s pieces and turkey on top. I think he had a good day.

Biscuit eating his birthday frozen yogurt

Biscuit eating his birthday frozen yogurt

My new raised garden bed the Rob and I made

My new raised garden bed the Rob and I made

On my birthday some friends and Rob and I went to the Arizona State Fair. I’ve lived in Arizona for 9 years and actually never went there before. It was really great. I loved seeing all of the animals and LOVED the petting zoo they had set up. I think Rob and I spent more time in there than most kids. We ate shitty nachos and corn on the cob and drank beers and played stupid fair games. My friend Foz wanted to get me an “old timey” photo for my birthday and so me, Foz and Turner got dressed up and got our photo done. It was awesome! Weezer was playing at the fair and we got to see them for free. It was really cool. We road the ferris wheel afterwards.

 

I loved the petting zoo!

I loved the petting zoo!

 

Rob and a new buddy

Rob and a new buddy

 

Rob playing fair games

Rob playing fair games

We will seriously kick your ass!

We will seriously kick your ass!

Weezer show was great

Weezer show was great

 

La Grande Wheel is the largest portable ferris wheel in North America

La Grande Wheel is the largest portable ferris wheel in North America

Me, Rob and Turner in the car of the ferris wheel

Me, Rob and Turner in the car of the ferris wheel

Other friends in the next ferris wheel car (Foz is flipping us off)

Other friends in the next ferris wheel car (Foz is flipping us off)

View from the top of the ferris wheel

View from the top of the ferris wheel

 

In the spirit of enjoying every day to the fullest I will happily say that my birthday this year was one of the best days of my life! I look forward to the next year and look forward to learning to play the piano and continuing to enjoy every day as much as possible.

I want to choose happiness

I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I can say that I was busy, but I suppose I didn’t make the time either. Over the summer I worked as a CEO (Chief Experience Officer, essentially a tour guide) leading overland tours through the U.S. and Canada for G Adventures. I was very busy. I met some absolutely amazing people and had some amazing experiences. I worked usually 17+ hours per day and was utterly exhausted for most of the summer. I drove a van/trailer and had to set up camp and teach passengers how to camp.  I researched areas where I was touring and found the best routes and stops between destinations. I often had to choose between taking a shower or calling my boyfriend. I only showered every 2-3 days and called my boyfriend less than that. My boyfriend hurt his back over the summer and I feel as though I jeopardized my relationship with him between not calling him often and not being able to come home right away when he hurt himself.

Overall working in the tourism industry was an interesting experience.  I truly did love meeting all of my passengers and getting to know them a little. It’s funny that when I went on tours I always figured that the tour guides probably wouldn’t remember me and I’d be lost in the sea of other tourists in their mind. For me that isn’t so.  I remember all of them.  Meeting all of them and the other amazing CEOs that were my colleagues over the summer was the absolute best part of the experience and I lucky to have had the opportunity. Now the summer is over.

I’m back at home. I have picked up some veterinary work since I have returned. I’m not excited about it, in fact I dread it. I dread it more than is likely reasonable to do so.

The bottom line is this: Working in the veterinary field makes me despise the human race; working the tourism industry gives me renewed faith in humanity.

I was sitting at home looking at the veterinary classifieds when I got a message from my friend, who is a veterinary technician.  Her message was as follows: “We had a lady call in saying her dog was bloated. When it came had to carry it on a gurney, because it was completely unable to walk due to a steak knife in its abdomen.  The lady stabbed her dog 3 times to relieve the gas. We took it to surgery, it was a complete cluster fuck.  We euthanized the dog this a.m. of course.”

That is only one example of the many things that make life in the veterinary field difficult. My friend’s text was a bitter reminder of the world I will re-enter if I go back into veterinary private practice. I had the urge to burn the classified ads that I was looking at.

I ended up picking up some work in a small clinic last week, filling in for a veterinarian on vacation, then I returned to looking in the veterinary classified ads. Today I found out that a prominent and talented veterinarian, Dr. Yin Continue reading

Off to New Adventure!

On Wednesday I am leaving for my next life adventure.  Well, first I’m headed to a wedding on the east coast, but then flying clear across the country and re-locating to San Francisco for the summer.  I will start my training to work as a tour guide for G Adventures on May 5th.  I have long wanted to do this and tried hard to get this job.  I’m very VERY excited.

I’ll be taking a break from veterinary medicine for the summer.  Good-bye veterinary medicine, for a while….  I’m definitely in need of a break from you.  Don’t go away mad, just go away.

I’ve been crazily studying the California Commercial Driver Handbook as I will be required to possess a Class B Commercial Driver’s License with a Passenger Endorsement for this position.  I will be leading tours throughout the U.S. and possibly Canada for the summer.  G Adventures caters to adventurous outgoing travelers and offers reasonably prices tours in a sustainable fashion.  I’ve been on three G Adventures tours before and I’d dare to say they changed my life.  I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with the company.

Provided I pass all of the training program, I’ll start leading tours around the beginning of June.  I don’t know my tour schedule yet, or which sections of the country I’ll be going through.  Most of the tours involve camping, hiking and other adventure, and they seem to focus on national parks and fun cities: right up my alley!!

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I’m planning on blogging periodic updates.

I’m so excited!

I Vomited on a Shark!

Shark diving in South Africa – I gave my breakfast to a shark, and now I’ve got nothing to eat.   

Not far from Cape Town, South Africa, exists a place called “Shark Alley” it’s one of the few places that I know where tourists can get onto a boat and see great white sharks in the wild and it is also to get into a dive tank alongside the boat and see them from underwater.  In the summer of 2010 I decided to do this.  

My goal for the day started out: see a shark, maybe see one underwater. My new goal (after achieving the first two), was to puke on a great white shark. This goal was also achieved. 

Ok, ok, so I know I get sea sick. I KNOW this. I knew this ahead of time.  I also knew I really wanted to see sharks.  I also knew that Dramamine has helped in the past.  However, the key word here is in the past. Holy shit!  

I took two Dramamine before getting on the boat to head into the ocean. I felt pretty good, did fine for the entire ride out toward “shark alley,” but after arriving there, the boat was just sitting at seam rocking and lurching, then I started feeling green. 

While I focused on trying not to vomit, I was forced to ignore all instructions on how to get on the wet suit and how to jump into the shark cage.  Instead, I stared at the land, sucked on a lollipop (which is supposed to help with sea sickness but does not), and I had to sit for several minutes. 

The crew on the ship was a bunch of macho young men and they were very happy and throwing chum everywhere to attract sharks to the area. Within only a few minutes sharks appeared. It was really cool. I got to see them come near the boat and people were getting all suited up to dive into the cage and see them up close. I managed to take one picture of a shark fin protruding from the water and then had to sit down again. A really nice volunteer helper lady from England and another one from California basically dressed me in a wet suit, because I told them that I really wanted to see the sharks underwater even though I could barely stand up and function.  I laid on a bench like a small child and let them pull a wet suit over my body.  I handed them arms and legs as needed to achieve this.  I really thought that if I could just get into the tank in the water that I would not be as sea sick. 

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After being dressed by nice ladies, I had to spend several minutes deep breathing and fighting nausea.  I then managed to get into the cage and went down for a few moments at a time, the cage is near the surface of the water and one has to simply dive under the surface of the water with a mask on and look at sharks as they swim by.  Ok cool.  However I immediately realized that the sea sickness actually got worse in the cage.  I had a hard time breathing and felt as though I may drown.  Pumping adrenaline enabled me to manage to go under a few times and see some sharks.  It was really amazing.  One came right up near me and I looked into his huge black eye as he swam by. I felt safe in the cage and thought to myself that he looked just like sharks do on TV. He was very beautiful and amazing to see. But, after a few minutes I had to ask the crew to let me out; I was about to vomit in my mask.  It was a little nerve-wracking and scary to come out of the top of the tank right at the surface of the water with two very large great white sharks circling the cage. But I made it out, probably largely due to the fact that the crew pulled me out, I think.

Then, I had to suffer in my own personal hell for the next two hours.  It was  some of the longest hours of my life.   Ug, horrible horrible sea sickness that had no end. The lurching of the boat and the smell of chum and the young macho crew guys all screaming and shouting made me so sick.  I sat with my wet suit on, sitting in a pitching boat in the Atlantic ocean, freezing.  I managed to get my wetsuit halfway off and sat shivering and staring out at sea attempting to fight down the nausea.  It’s probably the first time in my life that I didn’t mind feeling as though I was freezing.  It didn’t bother me at all compared to the horrible nausea and waves of sickness.  In fact I wished I could only be freezing and not nauseated, freezing was so much better. 

Then the puking started.  I vomited over the edge of the boat, and all along side of the boat.  I’m pretty sure the macho crew men thought I was gross; I was gross.  I thought I would feel better puking, and I did, for about 5 minutes….  Then more puking.  Lots and lots of puking.  I saw a great white shark swim right under me.  I puked on him too.  Behind me I could hear the other passengers of the boat, they were so happy, they were so thrilled, they went on and on about how this was one of the most mind-blowing and amazing experiences of their lives…  It was one of the most gut-blowing experiences of mine.  The skipper handed me another lollipop, which I took one look and and vomited some more.  Then I tried to open it, oh why was it so god damned difficult to open, oohhhh, so frustrating.. more vomiting.  I managed to peel off my wet suit which was really bothering me at this time and I stood lurched over the deck of the boat in my bikini in the freezing Atlantic ocean barfing on sharks.  Small fish were eating my vomited breakfast.  Then I had nothing more to puke and was simply making disgusting retching noises and basically crying.  The lady volunteers were really nice.  The macho crew men sometimes stared at me in disgust and pity.  The nice English lady and the California lady tried to comfort me and they both told me that I wasn’t the only one to ever do this on the boat.  I didn’t really care or find that very comforting. I just wanted to get a few more pictures of the sharks or look at them a little more, but could not find the strength to get my camera or walk to the area where they were “chumming.”  I never made it back there before the end of the trip and never got another picture.  

I was happy that I at least did get to see the sharks, and that I was able to go in the dive take for even a short time and see the sharks near me underwater.  I was however and still am sad that I didn’t get to see them more or spend more time in the shark tank.  I think I would have really loved it if my stomach could handle it.  I think it would be great fun to do if I didn’t barf the whole time.  Good news is that I was given free ginger beer afterward to help settle my stomach.  I love ginger beer, so that was a bonus.

So, how many people can say they vomited on a shark? I suppose it was a good thing to check off a life’s list of goals!

Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, my story from July 2010

I think a lot about traveling.  I think about future travels and also about past travels.  When I travel I like to try to keep notes or a journal if possible.  Sometimes I’m better at it than others.  I plan on remodeling or posting some of my notes from previous trips on this blog occasionally.  I know I have shared this one with others in the past.  It was such an amazing experience that I decided to put it on this blog, so here it is: (some names have been changed)

 

 

This is something I wrote on July 8, 2010, after an epic journey through Africa!  

 

 

Holy crap! It’s hard for me to come to grips, but I just hiked the highest free standing mountain in the world! 5895 meters high!!! I just came down after 7 days on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. This was by far the most extreme hiking and camping that I have ever done. I’ll just have to say it again: holy crap.

So, I may as well get on with my story for those who have interest.

I was just dropped off from an overland truck tour and I waited in Arusha, Tanzania for the shuttle to take me to Moshi, at the base of the mountain. Of course the shuttle came an hour and a half late. I pondered life and my vacation as I sat and waited. The people at the shuttle station told me I could set my luggage outside the station, that it was safe.  The reason that it was safe was that a man in a beret with an AK47 was guarding it. I sat around for a while with Esteban from my tour group, he also got off in Arusha to do some volunteer work and will be hiking Kili later this month. We ate a buffet breakfast for about 3 hours straight, or well, Esteban ate for at least that long, it was a good way to kill time. Finally he took a cab to his hostel and I was alone for the first time in 40 days, still waiting for my shuttle. I really miss the people from my tour group a lot already, it was such a great travel experience.

As I sat there I watched large groups of people get on other shuttles and african men jump on the shuttles and tie luggage to the roof. People were walking around with live chickens in their hands and people in uniforms wandering about with large firearms, I smiled to myself that this seemed normal to me at this point, I fricken love Africa.

So anyway, I eventually did make it to the hotel in Moshi. Dana wasn’t there yet. She didn’t arrive until 11pm. I was very happy to see her. She brought some gear along for me that I packed for this hike two months ago and left with her to meet me with.  Now I had everything I needed except I still needed to rent a “warm jacket” from the hotel.  

 

We got some sleep for the night.  The next morning we got up early and went to look at rental items.  The rental room of the hotel was packed with what appeared to be people’s donated gear and clothing.  A man in the room offered assistance by digging through piles of clothes and letting me try them on.  I found a “warm jacket.”  It was a ridiculously huge puffy down coat, it took up half of my backpack.

We each had packed a daypack to carry and we could also pack a large backpack for a porter to carry. (The “warm jacket” took up half of my large backpack)
 
We met our tour guide, Abdi. We met Bill and Danny, who were in the group with us to go up the mountain. We had ourselves a little group of four hopeful summit achievers and we four hikers turns out needed 16 people to help us up the mountain. We had Abdi the leader, Godfrey, the assistant guide, a cook whose name I don’t know and Kitenja, who was our food server also working as a porter as we ascended, and we had 12 porters to haul shit up and down the mountain. Bill and Danny were from Colorado, but Bill has lived in Uganda the past 4 years and Danny lives in Taos.

Turns out I had booked not the easiest route (my mistake). I actually booked the most scenic route that had an extra day on the mountain for altitude acclimitazation and is known also as the “whiskey route”, as apposed to the much more popular “coca cola route”. The whiskey route is termed this because it is much more hard core (again, didn’t really intend to plan it that way – shit). I really had just picked it because it had an extra day and a fairly high success rate to reach the summit, as well and it said it was scenic. Really my only goal when picking a route was to pick the route that gets me to the top.  If I had known that the Machame route was considered for “the hardcore hiker” I never would have picked it.  But these are things that aren’t easy to know until you get there. 

The first day was hiking into the rainforest surrounding the mountain. The next several days were above the clouds and above the tree line. It was scenic, very very beautiful and was crazy to see the top of the mountain (kibo) from below. “Pole pole” was repeated over and over, it means slowly slowly in swahili. It was reported to be best to hike up Kilimanjaro (commonly just called “kili”) slowly for best altitude acclimitazation.

The porters were crazy to watch. They carried so much crap. Carried it on their backs and their heads. I saw my backpack go by on someone’s head while that person had another very large backpack on their back. The porters were carrying so much and would just stroll by us. They carried luggage, water, tables, chairs, some had portable toilets (our tour group didn’t use these), they carried food and of course their own personal items. The porters were all very friendly and would say “jambo” (hello), “pole pole” (slowly slowly), “hakuna matata” (no worries) and “mambo” (how are you?), and we were only taught to say “poa” (cool/good) in return, so I guess we needed to feel good the whole way. 

 

Overall I would say I excelled at the “pole pole” style of hiking.  We hiked a lot everyday.  We always hiked very slowly, which was exactly my style.

The third day on the mountain was ridiculously cold. I had decent gear, and did okay. I didn’t even need to use my stupid crazy “warm jacket” yet and was getting very sick of stuffing it into my pack repeatedly, as it was hard to do. We hiked with Godfrey as our leader most of the time and hung out in a mess tent and were served food by Kitenja. The food was pretty good, soup every day and a lot of fried stuff, lots of tea. I even got special food because I was the vegetarian. Unfortunately for me, I got stomach sickness, which was likely just a continuation from my being ill previously toward the end of my overland tour, but all the dirt on the mountain and lack of running water probably didn’t help my situation, blah blah blah, (what I’m trying to say is it was less than hygenic on the mountain), it all probably added to the sickness. Also, by day three on the mountain I noted mold growing in my camelback. I tried to kill it with chlorine tablets, but it was still there. I didn’t really have a choice but to continue to drink from it. So, the “runny tummy” continued. Fun times on the mountain (sarcastic voice).

Along the way up one day we saw a man with a huge gash/cut on his head, he had two doctors with him who were sewing him up while he sat there. We saw the sewn up man the next day still going, I think I would have turned back down if that were me. 

 

I had my own issues to attend anyway.  I had had diarrhea all throughout the hike and had to stop at about every “toilet” along the way and also make some other stops in various places to make my own “toilet.”  The toilets along the camps were sort of like outhouses in that they were little wooden shacks, only they didn’t have “seat” toilets, they had what was called “long drops,” which means they had a wooden floor with a hole cut into the bottom that one has to squat over and aim into.  The hole really weren’t that big, usually 6 inches by 12 inches or sometimes smaller.  These things were usually disgusting, with poop and urine around the hole from people whose aim wasn’t that great.  My aim wasn’t always that great either.  There are a lot of challenges to Kilimanjaro’s toilets.  Challenges include:  wearing multiple layers, having tired legs from hiking, slipping on pee or poop, feeling like crap, being very cold, and not breathing easily due to altitude.  I almost preferred to go behind a rock along the trail. 

We seemed to spend several days hiking “around” kibo, the peak or upper part of the mountain. I kept looking up at it and thinking it looked crazy high up there. The 5th campsite on the mountain was at Barafu camp, around 14,000 feet. We got there in the afternoon. We ate some dinner and spoke with Abdi for a while regarding the climb.  Abdi knew that I was frequenting the toilets and asked me how I felt.  I told him I felt ok.  I definitely didn’t want to tell him anything otherwise because I didn’t want him to tell me I was too ill to hike to the top.  Abdi asked me if I had a headache; I told him no.  He asked me if I had diarrhea; I said yes.  He then proceeded to ask me if I had it more than six times per hour or if it were bloody; I told him no.  He told me that I would be fine.  ‘Jeez,’ I thought to myself ‘if I had diarrhea six times per hour or if it were bloody that would be pretty extreme.  That’s his cutoff for ‘being fine?’‘   

 

We had to try to get some sleep and wake up at 11pm to hike to the summit in attempt to summit by sunrise. Me and Dana did manage to get some sleep before we left, but we were very excited, I was also pretty nervous. Nerves seemed to run high in the camp, as Dana and I were about to go to sleep we heard the couple trying to get some rest in a tent near us (the girl was very hard to hear):
Girl: “move over.”
Boy: “I am over.”
Girl: (too quiet to understand)
Boy: “I am fucking over, how fucking far do you think I can move over? I’m already halfway off my mattress, I cannot fucking move over any farther.”
Me and Dana heard this just busted out laughing, it was difficult to stop laughing. Anyway like I said, we did manage to get some sleep. 

 

Kitenja woke us up at 11pm, we got some tea and biscuits. It was time for my “warm jacket” to come out, I thought about how I hoped it would be worth hauling it around. (it was so worth it). I wore a long underwear shirt, one short sleeved shirt, one long sleeved shirt, a fleece and the ginormously huge and puffy rented “warm jacket” on the top half of my body. I had a balaclava (robber-type head mask) and a stocking hat and the hood from the “warm jacket” on my head. Long underwear bottoms, digusting hiking pants that I had worn the past 4 days and a pair of “rain pants” on the bottom. Two wool hiking liner socked and one pair of wool socks and my hiking boots. I wore very thick gloves rated “warmest” and designed for “those with cold hands”. I had my daypack with me. Abdi told us that any water outside of the pack would freeze, and water in the pack may also freeze. We were told to keep our cameras inside our jackets as the batteries would freeze and not work. My daypack had about three liters of water.

The summit climb:

So, at midnight we started out the hike to the summit of Kilimanjaro, Kibo is the name of the upper peak and Uhuru point the highest point and our goal, with Stella point being a high point where large glaciers are along the way.
So, like I said we were using the Machame route, and apparently the ascent to the summit along this route is more steep than other routes, much to my dismay.
But: We had our headlamps on and were ready to go. We started hiking following Abdi. Some other helpers were with us, including Godfrey, the assistant guide. The hike was very steep, every step was a pretty big effort. We were told it was about 5 hours to stella point and 1 and 1/2 hours from there to Uhuru point. The hike up was slow. Almost right away I started feeling too warm. I really felt way overdressed and my back was overheating where my backpack was. I felt the need to rest and catch my breath frequently. Abdi asked if I was okay. I said that I was, but that I felt too hot. Immediately Abdi told someone to take my daypack from me, which bruised my ego a little as I thought I’d be able to at least carry my own daypack to the top.   Abdi came up to me and unzipped my jacket and my fleece and told me to zip it up again when I was cold and told me to keep going. Immediately without my backpack I felt like a giant burden had been lifted from me, and it was much easier… but it was still hard. My headlamp batteries died, I hiked for a while using ambient light from Bill’s headlamp behind me. Every step was an enormous effort and it went very steeply up with absolutely no flat parts or easy sections.  I looked up ahead of me, there was a very huge line of dinky headlamps headed up the mountain, all other hopeful summiters ahead of us. I could not see the mountain itself as it was too dark, but the line of headlamps going up seemed to go on forever.  It seemed as though there were no end.  It was depressing. Abdi and the other helpers on the mountains were singing songs. I didn’t have the energy to sing, but I liked to hear them. I thought of Cake songs and The Darkness songs and sang them to myself in my own head, not even having the energy to mouth the words as I struggled to breathe at this altitude and steep ascent.  I looked at the moon, it was a very large yellow crescent hanging in a sky full of bright stars. It was very pretty. I told Dana, who was in front of me, “Look at the moon”, she did not respond. A few minutes later: “Dana, isn’t the moon pretty?” She did not respond. I started looking at her more closely, she looked very tired. I wanted to tell her to give her daypack to somebody. Within several minutes she did ask Abdi to carry it for her. I was glad, because I knew how much it helped me not to have mine on.
We stopped a few times for water breaks. During the first few stops my water was starting to freeze, but I could thaw out the mouthpiece of my bottle by sucking on it. I also got to replace my batteries in my headlamp, which was good. It was really starting to get very very cold. I had re-zipped my fleece and “warm jacket’ and pulled up my hood nice and tight. My feet were absolutely starting to freeze. I started to wonder if I could lose toes to frostbite within a 8 hour period in the cold on the mountain. I began to move my ankles more and attempt to wiggle my toes with every step. It helped only marginally. The trail then went from bad to worse. The trail had been very steep and rocky, but then became sandy. We were on a huge “skree slope” which I noted was just like hiking a sand dune. Every step up was very difficult and steep and with every step up, I slide about halfway back down to where I started. It went on and on. My feet felt like solid ice blocks. My hands were starting to freeze. I looked up at Dana and noticed that she had her hands in her pockets: totally genius, I did the same, it helped, however it made balancing more difficult. We stopped only for very very short breaks. I tried to wiggle my toes and move my ankles during the breaks. The porter carrying my daypack would get my water for me during the breaks. During one short break I was trying to defrost my mouthpiece to my water bottle my sucking and chewing on it like a dog, it wasn’t working. I was also trying to catch my breath. Before I could even get a drink Abdi said “okay, lets go”. I said “but I didn’t get any water yet, does anyone have any water that isn’t frozen?” Abdi grabbed my water from me and immediately scolded me for trying to use water that I stored outside of my pack, he said “I told you your water would freeze” I realized that I wasn’t thinking clearly and that I did have other water in my pack, but I didn’t get it, the porter did hand me my frozen water, but I didn’t think to ask him for other water. Abdi gave me some water and I drank it. It was so cold, it seemed to make me even colder. Porters and helpers helped me put my gloves on better. They helped try to warm me up by rubbing my hands and patting my back, they were very nice and encouraging. Me and Dana tried to be brave for each other and gave each other five.
We had to hike more. Abdi said if we didn’t keep moving that we would freeze. The steep and horrible skree just continued relentlessly. I was starting to get really really exhausted. I still had at least another hour of hiking it. My hands and feet were ice blocks. Each step was so difficult and so heartbreaking because I would slide down so much after exerting such a huge effort to make that step. I remember thinking: “this is so hard, each step is so hard” I was starting to lose my balance and not placing my feet as carefully which resulted in more backsliding with each step than previously. I said to Abdi “can we go slower and take more breaks?” He didn’t respond. “Abdi?!!! Abdi??!! Can we go slower and take more breaks?” He said “No!!, If you are allowed to make your own pace you will give up.  Just keep walking.” I really had the desire to beg him, I wanted to tell him that I promised I wouldn’t give up, but I just really wanted to go slower and take more breaks. I won’t give up, I promise, I promise. But instead, I just shut up and kept walking like he said. Holy shit, did the trail just keep going up. I made the mistake of looking up the mountain. The line of headlamps still went seemingly endlessly up the mountain, I could not see the end. I kept hiking up. Each step seemed monumental, it was so hard. I couldn’t believe how hard it was. The wind was whipping at me and I couldn’t feel my feet at all anymore, which was good because they didn’t bother me anymore, I stopped bothering trying to wiggle my toes. I started to slip more and more. I reached the point where I thought I might cry. Abdi then told me to hold onto Godfrey’s arm for support. Godfrey appeared on my right out of thin air and I linked my arm into his arm. I was grateful. Abdi helped Dana with support by having her hold her backpack (which he was wearing) from behind him for support. We continued to hike… up the skree….. forever….. I started to use Godfrey’s arm for support more and more until the point that I didn’t think that I could stand without him being there. Still we hiked up the skree. One step up, sliding 1/2 step down, over and over and over. Godfrey was so nice. We stopped for very very brief breaks, about 30 seconds at a time, Godfrey rubbed my hands and patted my back. Sometimes as we were walking he would rub or pat my hand that was holding his arm to help keep it warm. My other hand was in my pocket. I felt so helpless letting him help me like that. When I thought about how nice he was and how grateful I was for his help, I wanted to cry. Then I thought about how hard the trail was and I wanted to cry. Oh my god, it just kept going with no relief… at one point I looked up at Dana who was hanging onto Abdi heavily and I said “this trail is so horrible, every step is so hard” I don’t think she heard me, Godfrey did and he rubbed my hand.
I took huge gulps of air and occasionally fought the urge to cry. Godfrey told me that once we get to Stella Point that the trail will flatten out to Uhuru Peak and that it will be “very easy”. He said we only had about 20-30 minutes more of the steep trail to Stella Point. i told him I was happy to look forward to the easy trail.
Finally, oh FINALLY, we made it to Stella Point. The trail became flat and the wind picked up to a very very strong gust. Dana was there, she grabbed me by the arms and said “we are gonna do this, we are gonna fucking do this, it’s gonna fucking kill us, but we are doing this” I looked at her and didn’t have the energy to respond. I started to get tears in my eyes. I saw a very huge glacier right behind her. Godfrey was gone for the moment. It was still dark outside, but slightly lighter than pitch black. It was very very very cold. I started to have an upset stomach and thought that I had to have diarrhea.  I wasn’t sure, maybe I just had to pee. I walked behind a glacier to make my toilet.  Actually, kinda to the side of a glacier, it was so dark out that no one could see anything anyway. It was hard to take three bottom layers down with frozen hands, but I managed and indeed I had to have diarrhea.  I won’t even mention how difficult it is to deal with toilet paper with frozen hands.  Diarrhea on the side of a glacier?  Yes, now I get to check that off my bucket list.  Godfrey was waiting for me and he walked behind me for a while. Dana and Abdi were ahead of me. They waited for me.  I was previously told that Uhuru point was 1 and 1/2 hours from Stella Point. I discovered that although the trail was flatter and much much much much easier, it was still difficult for me to walk. Abdi offered his right arm for support, Dana was on his left arm. I started to feel extremely dizzy, I was trying to walk, but basically was hanging off of Abdi’s arm. I told Abdi “Abdi! I’m really really dizzy, I can’t walk straight” he held my arm tighter and said: “just keep walking, you will feel better in five minutes” and I did keep walking, and I did feel better in 5 minutes. The trail went in between glaciers, and then on top of glaciers. The trail seemed to narrow out and was too narrow for me, Abdi and Dana all at once. Godfrey again magically appeared and offered up his arm. I took it and walked with him, babbling on about how I liked the flat trail much much better than the trail up to stella point.
Much sooner than I expected, Godfrey told me: look, there is Uhuru Point. I looked ahead and saw in the distance a sign post and people gathered around it. I looked down at my feet on top of a glacier and saw the “trail” which was really a glacier, and it was fairly flat all the way to the point. Then it hit me: I was going to make it, I was going to make it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in the entire continent of Africa, the tallest free standing mountain in the entire world. This is something that I had wanted to do for so many years, something that I had decided that my life would not be complete without doing it, something on my life’s list of goals to accomplish. I was doing it today, right now, and I was going to make it. I was going to achieve this goal. I was doing it, it was 7-7-2010, approaching 7am. I am 33 years old, I wanted to do it before I turned 40. I am on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was so overwhelmed. I started crying, A lot. Tears flowed freely from my eyes until I couldn’t even see where I was walking. I still had quite a bit of walking to do. I had to fight the urge to sob openly. I didn’t want Godfrey to see, but I’m sure he did. I made it to the top. Dana was there about 30 seconds before me, she was all but hopping up and down. I was crying and couldn’t speak, and I couldn’t stop crying. I told Godfrey through sobs and tears “thank you so much for helping me, this is something I really wanted to do in my life” I wanted to say more, but I was too choked up. Bill and Danny grabbed me and hugged me. Oh yeah… I forgot they were with us. They made it up there too!! I was happy. We all did it!!! Abdi offered to take photos of us by the sign. I took out my camera from inside my jacket. It didn’t work, it said the batteries were dead. Abdi said that would happen in extreme cold. I had spares in my inside pocket. I changed them, they also didn’t work. He told me to take them out and he would warm them up and try again. He did and they worked for one photo of me at the top, then stopped working. Luckily, Dana had better luck and got some photos. I had my left glove off and was trying to mess with my camera and batteries and suddenly, I shit you not, my hand fricken froze in place and would not move, it was like a block of ice. The nice porter who had my day pack grabbed my camera from me and put it in my inside jacket pocket for me and put my glove on my hand for me, it wouldn’t go on completely. I had to use my right hand to shove my left hand in my pocket. Godfrey magically appeared again and walked with me to descend the mountain. The sun was rising, it was beautiful, the timing of the hike was actually quite perfect. I could not feel my left hand for at least 15 minutes, and when I began to feel it again, it was so horribly painful. The pain lasted about 20 minutes or so before it began to feel somewhat more normal. Godfrey and I made it to Stella point. It was there in the daylight that I got to look down and see the horror of what I had climbed up previously. It was a huge slope of sand and rock that went on and on and on. Godfrey offered up his hand and he and I walked, slid, ran down the skree of the mountain. Even at a near running pace down, it took over 2 hours to get down the sandy slope. It was baffling to think that I had just climbed up it. It was probably a good thing we did it in the dark. If I had seen that on the way up, I may have wanted to give up. Godfrey and I were quite fast in our decent. I made it down at least 10-15 minutes before the rest of my group. At the camp Kitenja was waiting for me with Gatorade. He exclaimed “Melissa!!!” and gave me a big hug.  After we were all back, we got to sleep for a couple of hours and then we hiked down to a lower camp for the night.
We came off the mountain today, the hike down was brutal, was very steep and my toes are suffering. A word of advise: trim your toenails before descending a giant mountain. I think my toenails may fall off.
On the way down we saw some poor young guy getting strapped into a large stretcher attached to a old crappy looking motorcycle wheel on the front, appearing sort of like a makeshift wheelbarrow.  We passed him and I felt sorry for him.   A short time later we heard screaming from behind and that very stretcher was coming down on the old motorcycle wheel with multiple porters screaming while hauling the guy. They guy was bouncing so much and seemed very very very much in pain. Abdi said they guy hurt his leg on the peak yesterday and was taken partway down yesterday and is headed to the hospital today. Then I remembered that I did see the red cross coming up the mountain on my way down it yesterday, it must have been for that guy. I felt sorry for him. The trail down the mountain today through the rainforest was very steep and slippery, and I very much didn’t want to end up in a stretcher being rolled down the mountain. (another group of people later reported that they saw that stretcher miss a corner and hit a tree on the way down). I had more help today from Godfrey (support in steep and slippery areas with a helping hand) and some teasing from Bill and Danny that I must have a crush on Godfrey.  Seriously, he was so helpful, and I was so grateful for his help.
I got a gold certificate today, says I made it to the top!!!

So, I did it! I was hard, it was the most difficult and extreme hiking I have ever done. I heard another hiker say: “I have a great sense of accomplishment but didn’t enjoy it”. I would agree with that for the actual summit day, but I really did enjoy the hike overall. The staff was great, the food was good, camping was fun, Dana was great company, Danny and Bill were nice guys to have in the group. It was a great experience.

I fly to Amsterdam tomorrow, and home the next day.
I’m going to be sad to leave Africa. I have loved this trip so much! Africa will hold a very special place in my heart.

 

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On the way up, Kibo in the background

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Our four successful summiters, July 7, 2010

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My victory picture!

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Me and Godfrey and Dana finally made it back off the mountain. 

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Me and Godfrey, my Kilimanjaro hero!

I must also make note of Abdi, who was a great trip leader, and his tough love, help and desire for us all to make it was fantastic, without Abdi and Godfrey and all of the other support staff on this trip, I wouldn’t have made it to the top!  

Mountain Bike Hero

The mountain bike trail   May 14, 2013

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Phoenix, Arizona in May.  It’s really getting too hot to go mountain bike riding at noon anymore.  This is the story of my biking experience in the heat and of Rob, my mountain bike hero. 

Rob and I decided we need some exercise and decided to go on a mountain bike ride.  There is this mountain bike trail along a park called Deem Hills that is close to our house.  We can bike to the park and then bike the trail, then bike home.   All together it usually takes an hour to an hour and a half from garage back to garage, probably 6 miles total, about three miles along the road and 3 miles of mountain bike trail.  This trail is probably “medium” in difficulty, but I’m fairly new to mountain biking.  The trail is rocky and the beginning goes on a consistent upward incline with a lot of rocks.  I have biked this trail many times, but it is not easy for me.  The beginning of the trail always kicks my ass, but usually in a good way.  Well on this day it was an asskicker in a big way and not in a good way.  I was already sorta tired just getting to the trail, it was a little too hot out, maybe 90F, and it’s dry and sandy.  I started out up the trail and was doing good, then got to the gnarly stuff and my front tire hit a rock and I just stopped.  Once I was stopped I could not get going again, I’d try to get on my bike and the back tire would “spin out” and I couldn’t get momentum going and would either stop or fall.  Repeat scenario.  Repeat scenario again…. like 20+ times.  I was so hot and exhausted.  I fell onto my bike a few times and jammed my leg and then my pelvis on the bike frame.  I was fighting for breath with sweat pouring off my face.  Rob was ahead of me, merrily pedaling along as though he was on flat ground.  Oh fuck, sometimes it sucks doing physical activities with someone who has more experience and is in much better shape than me.  Anyway, I could see Rob headed toward the top of the hill as I am spinning out, falling over, overheating, now in pain and generally suffering in my own personal version of hell.  Determined to ride the bike instead of walking it up I tried again, and again.  My heart was pounding out of my chest as I expended enormous amounts of energy to move only a couple inches at a time.  Finally I fell over and too exhausted to get back up, I vomited on the side of the trail…. just a little.  I just sat there breathing with my bike in the middle of the trail.  I sat there several minutes before I felt well enough to look up along the trail and see where Rob was.  Rob was waiting patiently at the top.  

I gave up and walked a section over the worst rocks, then got back on the bike and biked up to the top of the hill.  Rob sat there staring at me while I biked up; I was utterly exhausted.  As I biked up to him, struggling to breathe, he congratulated me:  “good job bud, you did really good”….   Hmmmm……   You know…  This should be something that I think is really nice of him, but I do think that it’s a little ridiculous that he always tells me stuff like this, even in a case like this day, where I obviously really couldn’t have done much worse.  I found his overly nice and encouraging attitude patronizing and annoying.  I told him so.  He told me that at was being ridiculous, and that at least I was doing it and not sitting on the couch.  He also told me that if he expects me to be as good at mountain biking as he is that it wouldn’t be fun for me and I wouldn’t like it, and he wants me to like it.  Ok, fine, I guess he has a point.  Ok, but just let me breathe before I go on the rest of the trail.  

I rested at the top of the hill for about 10 minutes before we continued on.  Rob waited for me patiently before we kept going.  The rest of the trail is fun.  It has some rocks and ups and downs, but at least has enough breaks to catch my breath as I go along.  We rolled along and it was really hot out and I still didn’t feel quite right.  I wasn’t doing very well, but I was determined to stay on the bike for the rest of the trail and not walk anymore.  

While cruising along the ridge of the trail, about halfway done, I hit a rock and my rear tire suddenly hissed and went flat.  I stopped to look at it.  One of the spokes broke and went through the tire.  It looked bad.  Rob came back to check on me.  I had nothing with me to try to fix this.  I frequently mountain bike alone with no repair kit.  Even if I had one I wouldn’t know how to use it.  Rob had a full repair kit with him.  He is trying to get me to learn how to do stuff, so he started unpacking stuff and telling me to get the tire off the wheel:  I’m going to put in an inner tube.  Of course I’m hot and tired and frustrated.  It doesn’t go well.  I take an extraordinarily long time getting the wheel off the bike and untangled from the bike chain, then can’t seem to get the edge of the tire off the wheel and I’m ready to cry.  Rob eventually gets frustrated with my inadequacy and takes over.  He gives me one job:  I need to hold some valve part for the tire as he works.  

He takes the wheel off the bike and the tire off the wheel.  He gets the inner tube in the tire and the wheel mounted back on the bike.  And then asks me to give him the part I was holding.  I went to hand it to him and immediately dropped it….  Into a rattlesnake hole.  It rolled along the trail and fell into a hole next to the trail.  Well, at least it looked like a rattlesnake hole.  “Oops.  Well, that probably is gone forever” I said.  I crawled along the ground and started digging at the hole to try to find the part.  Rob told me not to look for the part as the last thing we need is me to be bitten by a rattlesnake.  

Well, the tire had a great new tube, but it sort of needed that part to hold air in.  The tire could be filled with air, but it leaked back out through the valve.  Rob pumped the tire up with a hand pump to the best of his ability and then told me to ride it off the mountain as fast as I can before it loses all its air.  I start headed down the trail but the tire went flat within minutes.  Rob pumped it up again.  I rode it again for about 2 minutes and it went flat again.  I was hot, tired and frustrated.  I ran out of water.  I told him I’ll just walk the bike back home, which is about 3 miles off the mountain and along the road.  Rob didn’t want to do that.  He switched bikes with me and pumped up my tire again and then rode down the mountain putting most of his weight on the front tire, practically doing a front end wheelie all the way down the mountain.  The weather was getting hotter.  Rob managed to ride my bike home.  I rode behind him watching him get some momentum going by repeatedly pedaling on the flat rear tire and then coasting on the front tire doing a front end wheelie as far as he could.   When we finally made it home we were exhausted, hot and thirsty.   I took my bike to the bike shop and got it repaired.  While I was there I bought my own repair kit to carry with me on the trail.  Now I just need to learn how to use it, and to hold onto important bike parts while out on the trail.  

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