Skiing Cuyamaca Peak — Cougar Tracks

A year or so after the Good-X and I moved to San Diego (1984) we bought a 1972 VW camper van with a pop top. It was an awesome vehicle (until the block cracked) and we had a lot of fun with it. We also had moved our skis with us from Colorado. We had heard — though we wondered how it could be true — that the mountains east of San Diego sometimes got enough snow to X-country ski.

Sure enough.

The first time we went up there was with a couple with whom we were friends and from whom we rented an apartment. We went to the Laguna Mountains. Of course I had no idea at that time that the valley in which we skied that day (on 8 measly inches of snow!) would someday become as familiar to me as my hand, or that I would learn to regard those 6000 foot “hills” as mountains. I was, I admit it, a Colorado snob. Now I know.

From my high valley even the highest 14er rises only 7000 feet from the valley floor, no greater gain in elevation than the top of Cuyamaca Peak from San Diego. In fact, it’s just the same. I learned that a mountain is a mountain in relation to the land from which it rises, regardless of how a mountain is defined by geologists or geological surveys or Alpinists. I’m not a mountain snob any more. The Colorado fetish with 14ers now seems a little silly. If you want oxygen deprivation hold your breath. 😉 I’m joking. I know there’s a lot more to it than that.

Today when I look at Windy Mountain or Pintada from the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge I see snowcapped hills that rise 5000 feet from where I stand. Mountains, but…

There are two ranges outside San Diego, separated by one of the innumerable fault lines that criss-cross California. Between the two is a narrow valley with a fissure and a spring that, in time, I got to know well. The ranges are the Cuyamacas — in which I lived for eleven years, and, just 10 miles further east, the Lagunas, in which I hiked and skied. The Cuyamacas have a leash law. The Lagunas do not.

Sometimes you see photos of San Diego looking east from Coronado Island. You see ocean, town, bay, city and, behind everything, a snowy mountain. That mountain is Cuyamaca Peak.

Cuyamaca Peak with snow on it

The second time the Good X and I skied in San Diego County we headed to a trail head at Green Valley Falls (fantastic falls in spring and in a wet summer, idyllic with pools and slides to play in, drop down, swim in, wade). We parked, paid our $5 day use fee, strapped on our skis, and headed up a trail we knew nothing about. It wound around the north side of the mountain to the west where it looked down on San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. We climbed, and climbed and climbed until we got to where we could see San Diego, but that wasn’t all we saw. We also saw fresh cougar tracks.

I didn’t know anything about mountain lions then except that they are dangerous. I had no knowledge of that world yet and little curiosity. We high-tailed it down and headed home, stopping on the way to watch a movie and have dinner.

Twenty years later, I would live at the base of that mountain and see it on fire. Later, I would see that far western slope with fire weed blooming. I would hike the trails in the Laguna Mountains in all weather, and ski to the top of Garnet Peak against all sanity and all odds. I would see a mountain lion.

Garnet Peak (a fun hike in the Laguna Mountains) in the winter of 2003/2004 after the Cedar Fire, oil on canvas.

The skis in the featured photo are just like the skis I took with me in 1984 from Denver to San Diego. They are — were — wonderful back country skis. They needed to be waxed which I liked because I could control the “slide” depending on my adventure. I found these old skis three years ago in a thrift store here in Monte Vista. They aren’t my very skis, but when I saw them they seemed to call out, “Get us OUT of here!” I had not had my hip replacement (second one, different hip) yet and I wasn’t moving very well. I was with my friends. We’d gone for lunch but weren’t ready to go home, so we visited a new thrift store in town. Without thinking, I reached for those old skis and cradled them in my arms. Elizabeth said in a soft voice “Are you going to ski, Martha?” There was so much pity in her eyes that I set the skis back where they were and went back to shopping. I returned to the store alone a few days later, forked over $30, and brought them home. They stand in my studio along with many other very personal treasures from my life. In a way, that room is my “medicine bundle,” my little trove of talismans.

Looking back on my first forays into the San Diego mountains, it’s funny to realize all the things I didn’t know yet. Makes me wonder what else I don’t know yet.


P.S. I’m writing my ski stories because writing the stories is how I figure things out. Now that it seems I’ve reached the end of this moment in my life, I want to see it more clearly and understand it better. I hope it’s not too tedious. ❤

Winter Gets Legit, and Bear and I are So Happy

Bear and I have waited a LOOONNNGGGG time for what we like most: being outside in the snow. Not that any snow has fallen for about a month but it doesn’t matter as long as the temperatures never go above freezing, and they haven’t. It doesn’t look like they will, either.

Teddy — with whom I’ve decided to share my birthday because he was 6 months old when I got him last June — and I took off on Tuesday to celebrate and evaluate the packed trails. They were (and still are) beautiful

The nordic club grooms trails for walkers and skiers ❤

I finally skied (Langlaufed) the groomed trails yesterday and today Bear and I took a long snow ramble. The snow is at least 8 inches deep — fluffy, light, crystalline old snow. Perfect beautiful soft sweet I love it so much. Skiing yesterday was great except the stupid snow baskets came off my poles and weren’t cool about me putting them back. I dunno…

Finally, Martha.
I know, Bear.”

So today out there in boots with my best snow pal, I was able to evaluate the entire groomed course that I didn’t ski yesterday (having had to go back twice to retrieve snow baskets, grrr…) and make plans for tomorrow. My poles and their cheesy baskets will get a stern talking to in the morning, because I must seize the day. ❤

Roald Amundsen had nothing on me.



“Won’t you try a little bit harder, couldn’t you try just a little bit more”

Langlauf Update

Another beautiful day on skis. The snow was less great than the other day but the way I see it, the snow doesn’t owe me anything. If I’m going to engage with it, I’m the one who has to adapt. I have no problem AT ALL surrendering to the imperatives of snow. I’m honored to have the chance.

I had to break trail today and learned that my skis, which are named “back country,” seem to be mostly designed for groomed trails — but that could be my lack of skill at this moment. As I skied from snow to ice to some small patches of grass to deep drifts to the lanes I skied on Saturday, I thought about that a lot. I thought about all the skis I’ve owned and when, sometime back in the mists of time, I switched from “fish-scale” — waxless — to skis that needed to be waxed, I never looked back. Sometime I learned back then the advantage of skis whose grip I control.

Groomed trails are nice — you don’t slide sideways, you can predict the surface beneath your skis because it’s been packed and prepared. Breaking trail is often not skiing at all. I had forgotten that, even though in California when I had the chance to Langlauf, I always had to break trail — again, with different skis than I have now. Sometimes that was hilarious as it could mean navigating through low manzanita bushes. Once I skied up Mt. Palomar with the dream of seeing those beautiful white observatory domes in the snow. It’s a five mile trail, all uphill, and some of the trail is bushy and all of it is narrow. It was still fun. The reward came coming down the unplowed road, though. It was wide, snowy, steep — fun. As we whizzed past a family who’d driven there from LA to “Visit the snow” a kid yelled, “Mom, that’s what we should do!”

They’d gone to the snow with a beach umbrella, beach chairs and a cooler. They looked very disoriented. A boogie board would have been a good thing to bring, but they didn’t have that.

Langlauf tracks heading toward Garnet Peak in the Laguna Mountains, San Diego County, 2004. My painting. Not my tracks. 🙂 A fire came through that fall (The Cedar Fire) and burned down all the manzanita making a good trail for Langlauf.

Today I also thought how — last year — we didn’t get significant snow until January, and then we got A LOT. The San Juan Nordic Club went around grooming everything in sight — even the driving range! The temps stayed below freezing for a couple of months, so the groomed tracks stayed in nearly pristine condition — the only kicker (ha ha) was waiting until the highest sun of the day (1 pm or so) when any ice that had formed in the night would have surrendered.

It’s doubtful that I will switch back to waxable skis; it will depend how ambitious I end up being and how skillful. For now and maybe forever the waxless skis I own now are fine. It’s a poor workman who blames his tools, anyway.

The other “iffy” tool is “the foot,” but it held up again today, only mildly painful when we were in motion. The thing is, I realized, after nearly 3 months of not being asked to support my weight continually, it’s a little out of shape. It’s only been these last few weeks that I’ve expected it to hold me up for a whole day while I painted, or to keep me upright walking Bear as she checks her messages.

As I did my happy loop of the local golf course I thought, “The cool thing about this is I can get better, more skillful, stronger and as that happens, I will learn more and, I hope, take on a bigger challenge.” The golf course is — right now — all I can contend with. I’m so lucky to have it.

Now we just need another good snowfall. ❤

LANGLAUF!!!!

Here’s my jubilant little crooked lopsided bow-legged self out there in Blissland having NO problems skiing with my friend. (Yay foot!!!) We’ve talked about it for at least two years, but various problems kept it from happening. The snow was perfect — slick and fast. It’s been below freezing since it fell which means beautiful, perfect, snow. ❤

Replete, of course, by fox and rabbit tracks…

I have nothing more to say other than I’m VERY happy and looking forward to more adventures as the winter progresses, god willing and I’m not ambushed again by a perfectly flat harmless grassy trail.

Happy selfie

P.S. It seems that anyone who wants to know what my dad looked like can pretty much see from looking at me. Ah, DNA

Meandering Post about Writing

This is the first time I’ve been without a creative project in a VERY long time and it’s weird. Baby Duck consumed most of 2019 and the culmination was fantastic. The Price was finished at the end of 2018. Besides those projects, I had a personal project that I also finished, a little book for a tiny audience of me and two other people. Yesterday I cleaned up my “studio.” It was filled with Baby Duck stuff for the book launch. Now it’s ready for something, but I have no idea what. Painting is a sketchy (ha ha) thing for me. I have to really FEEL it to do it. No stories to tell at the moment, either, so my life feels like it’s in a holding pattern.

A huge curve in my life’s normal pattern is the injured foot. It hasn’t even been that long — five weeks, and I know a bad sprain can take much longer to heal.

So, in the meantime, the dogs have gotten used to not going on a walk every day — or at all. And I continue to ride the Bike To Nowhere because I can do that and it’s about the best training there is for Langlauf which is the purpose of life anyway. I discovered videos on Youtube with absolutely fantastic rides lasting an hour or more — sometimes I ride the whole time, sometimes just 10 miles of wind sprints, basically a chain of fifty yard dashes from the seat of my Airdyne. They are produced by “Ride the World.” Here’s my favorite so far. To get to this spot, you “ride” a narrow road of amazing hairpin turns…

Last week there was lots of exciting chatter after my front page spread and interview. The guy who runs the papers in the San Luis Valley asked if I would be interested in doing a column — weekly or monthly — and I said sure. He also asked if I had any ideas for such a thing and, honestly, I don’t, but I shared a couple of ideas. He wrote back saying we’d meet at the end of this week, but it’s Thursday afternoon and there has been no word. Once more it looks like my promising journalism career is nipped in the bud. It was nipped in the bud back in 1974 when I got my BA and went immediately to the Boulder Daily Camera and asked for a job. “Can you type 35 wpm?” as the guy at the desk.

“No,” I said.

“Sorry,” he said.

But I don’t really have anything to say in a column. People around me know this place better than I do. I’m not going to write about politics. I could write about writing or putting a self-published book together, but I’m not sure I’m even interested in that — or that anyone else is, either.

And what can you tell people about writing? After teaching it for more than thirty years, what I know about it comes down to only a handful of things. First, to write you have to write. Second, you have to keep writing, even if you have no reason to write and nothing to say. Third, you will, sooner or later, maybe, find yourself becoming interested in the words you use and the way you use them; but you might not. Fourth, you might start reading what you’ve written. This can go one of two ways — you can fall absolutely and uncritically in LOVE with it and, as we know, love is blind. OR you can think it’s such shit that you quit. Of the two, love is more dangerous BUT it will keep you going. And then…

Somewhere in there you’ll discover your voice. And you might discover your story, too, and after that? You have to stay true. Stories live apart from the writer. I think starting with a character is the easiest because, just like other people, characters carry a world with them and that gives you a lot of information you won’t have to figure out by yourself. A strong character will tell you a LOT about him/herself and where he/she is from and what he/she values in life, yet, in many ways, it’s like meeting a new person.

Since I write historical fiction, I have to do research to learn about the worlds in which my characters live because THEY take it for granted that I know already. Since it’s THEIR world, they think everything around them is normal and part of everyone else’s life. You can tell them, “Dude here’s the thing. I live in the future. I’ve never hitched a horse to a wagon,” but that guy is NOT going to believe you so you have to learn how he does it.

In a way, the same is true if you write about the future. That future guy is all, “Dude, you know about this, they’re all over the place,” and won’t believe you when you say, “No, I didn’t know you could use a Fardel Gambit to escape a Bastorian Jail!”

That part of writing a story is fun. It’s fun going back in time and discovering that in the 13th century there WAS no paper or that in the 12th century there was an enormous earthquake in Northern Italy and thinking of the effect that would have on the world in which your characters live.

I actually have a WIP (sounds nasty. Means “work in progress”) but I’m not convinced. Necessarily it echoes some of Martin of Gfenn because it’s the story of a young guy learning to paint, but I don’t want it to be a repetition of that story and sometimes it feels like it is. I haven’t figured out who the protagonist is, either. I have only a vague idea of the world in which the teacher lived/lives. Lots of stuff still kind like a fog. Sometimes things just start that way and you have to let them do their thing until you’re doing it with them.

My goal, though all writers are often required by the people in their stories to abandon the goal, is to show the OTHER medieval world, the one in which young men joined the church not to serve God, but to get an education the only way that was possible. I want to write about the wandering scholars, their art, their values, their world.

I read this quotation from Picasso yesterday. It pretty much sums up my feelings about the WIP. “You mustn’t expect me to repeat myself. My past doesn’t interest me. I would rather copy others than copy myself. In that way I should at least be giving them something new. I love discovering things.”

So maybe tomorrow morning I should just roll up my sleeves and see where Bro Benedetto and his illegitimate son, Michele, want me to go.

Dammit. I just got an idea for a newspaper column… I could interview a different artist in the San Luis Valley every month and write about that. Shit. See what happens when you “just write”? You get ideas.

Chionophile

Feeling like a total freak mourning winter’s passing while everyone around cheers the arrival of spring, I was stunned to see a word posted by a Facebook friend, a noun, for creatures like me (and my big white dog). Chionophile. OK, Chionophiles are mostly animals who live high up in the mountains or on either of the poles, but why not Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog and me?

There are also people who suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in spring and summer rather than in fall and winter. It’s rare, but the symptoms are anxiety, insomnia and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Funny that’s how summer makes me feel. People all around are all excited about what they’re doing in summer. I try, but for me, summer is a trial. I just try to make the best of it as I wait for it to end. Back in the day, I taught almost every summer. The money was great, but also I didn’t notice summer as much.

In doing my research into this yesterday, I discovered that Norwegians and Icelanders don’t suffer from winter SAD. Either they are incredibly stoical about the cold and dark, or they (as every article stated) like it. They even have a Norse god and goddess who represent winter and winter survival skills. Skadi (Goddess) and Ullur (God) live in the highest mountains, are expert hunters and go everywhere on skis.

I’m good with Skadi. She’s depicted on Nordic skis, hunting in the high, snowy mountains with a blue-eyed white wolf. It seems to me that getting through the seasons ahead will depend on training for the Birkebeiner and, maybe, getting a 4×4 car.

The Road Ahead

Because I’m in earshot of 70 years old (3 years away), and I just got Nordic Skis and have been out on them ten times in the six weeks I’ve had them, I’m concerned about the future. Nordic skiing makes me happy. It always has, but I have not always lived where I could easily find snow and I have — for the biggest part of a decade — been dealing with debilitating arthritis in my hips.

There’s nothing else I really want to do, honestly. As time has peeled away aspirations and goals, I stand here with only a couple of things that matter to me. I want to be able to *langlauf. I want to be able to hike in the mountains (because there is not always snow). I want to be able to do these things for a long time.

I already know what bad stuff can happen. I had my first hip surgery when I was 54. My second in 2018, at 66.

How does this happen? I always loved those things. Why did so much get in the way? Why didn’t I see as clearly long ago? No idea. But what matters is doing whatever I can to be able to keep going.

I did some research — tried to do some research — on how best to keep going as long as possible. The short answer is weight training. The long answer? Well, it’s long, OK?

I found a lot of articles written by young people about old athletes. There was no escaping that the whole idea of a geriatric runner or something else is kind of a freak show. This is strange, because I know people who are still running, hiking, and skiing well into their 70s. They don’t see themselves as a freak show and neither do I. It seems that some of the younger people looking at us have forgotten (or don’t know?) that it’s FUN to ski, it’s fun to race, it’s fun to hike. Sure, maybe not for everyone, but who would expect it to be? In all my years hiking, I was most often completely alone (in an urban wilderness park).

One article I read was a review of a photo book with an interview — Racing Age by Angela Jimenez. In this book, a former college decathlete documents several elderly track and field competitors. Jimenez goal is to blast the stereotypes of old folks, stereotypes that old folks — that is to say we are,

“…sick or vulnerable or kind of cute—I had seen those jokey greeting cards of a grandmother lifting a barbell or something—and I felt, as someone who was just starting to think about age myself, a sense of rebellion against that,” says Jimenez. “That’s something I’m always interested in doing with photography—countering visual stereotypes and thinking about how is a group of people being depicted in a simplistic way and what could I do to explore that.”

https://www.outsideonline.com/2153626/these-80-year-old-athletes-will-blow-your-mind


The photos included in the article are great. The photographer seems like an intriguing person. These athletes are completely engaged in their sports as any real athlete would be.

The sub-heading of the article says,

“The new photography book ‘Racing Age reminds us that it’s a whole lot of fun to be a competitive athlete for life.”

For me, that’s the whole thing. I don’t want to compete, I just want to play.

*Langlauf — German for Nordic skiing


“Multiple Sclerosis, Vikings and Nordic Skiing”

As I was writing my post yesterday about my sweet ski “adventure” I remembered a rune of a Viking on skis with a bow and arrow and I wanted to put it in my post. I googled it and found it, yay! (should I end this here?) I also found a program on PBS that caught my attention, “Multiple Sclerosis, Vikings and Nordic Skiing.” How could ANYONE not be caught by a title like that? For me it was especially provocative. My dad suffered from MS and, beyond that obvious hook, who isn’t fascinated by Vikings and, yeah, Langlauf. ❤

Wow.

I already knew that MS is more prevalent among people from Northern Europe. It has a much higher incidence in Scandinavia and among those of Scandinavian descent. Science has now tracked it across the North Atlantic, a disease of the central nervous system carried in Viking Ships. My dad’s mother was from Sweden, and Ancestry tells me I am mostly Scots, Irish and Scandinavian, all parts of the world where MS is comparatively common. Yay Vikings!

MS is an autoimmune disease that most often shows up in young adulthood, but people can have it for a long time without knowing it. The film goes into detail about the diagnosis and the science behind the progress of the disease. It can now be accurately diagnosed with an MRI, which didn’t exist when my dad was alive. My dad’s MS was diagnosed with certainty in an autopsy. If you’re interested, you can learn about MS here, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society webpage.

Dad, me, Aunt Martha 1963

The program followed six people in the United States and Norway who’d been diagnosed with MS. One of the points of the program was how exercise can help people with MS. The problem with exercise is that heat — even a rise in body temperature — can be debilitating, causing fatigue and a relapse of symptoms. The obvious sport for a person with MS is the national sport of Norway; Nordic skiing.

In 2012 and 13 (I believe) the American Birkebeiner worked in partnership with the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation to raise money for MS. Three of the skiers in the program did the American Birkebeiner race. At the same time, three Norwegian women skied the Norwegian Birkebeiner.

Both American Birkebeiner races drew Norwegian Olympic champion skiers to Wisconsin to race and raise funds. One of those champions has a mom who suffers from MS.

As I watched them race, I was lost, thinking, “Birki WHAT?” I had no idea…

It started in 1206. Birkebeiner skiers, so called for their protective birch bark leggings, skied through the treacherous mountains and rugged forests of Norway’s Osterdalen valley during the winter of 1206, smuggling the son of King Sverresson and Inga of Vartieg to safety. The flight taken during the Norwegian Civil War took the Birkebeiners and prince from Lillehammer to safety in the town of Trondheim. Inga of Vartieg never became queen as the prince’s father was killed before he could return for her in Vartieg. Norwegian history credits the Birkebeiners’ bravery with preserving the life of the boy who later became King Haakon Haakonsson IV and forever changed Northern Europes’ history by his reign.

The story and painting of the flight were the inspiration for the first Birkebeinger ski race held in Norway in 1932. To this day, Norwegian skiers still carry a pack, symbolizing the weight of an 18-month child, in the Worldloppet’s Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet race from Rena – Lillehammer. Thousands of skiers commemorate the journey with annual Birkebeiner races in Norway, Canada, and the United States.

The race known today as the American Birkebeiner began in 1973 as the dream of the late Tony Wise. Thirty-four men and one lone woman were on the starting line clad in woolen sweaters and knickers for the 50-kilometer race from the Lumberjack Bowl in Hayward to Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin. Nineteen more women and juniors would ski a shorter race from “OO” to Telemark. Few knew they were going to make history. There were no U.S. Ski Team members or foreign skiers, just a handful of enthusiasts from a couple of midwestern states, out to try something new. Many of the entrants were on cross-country skis for the first season – some for the first time.

Today, over 13,000 skiers of all ages and abilites and 20,000 spectators fromaround the world gather every February in the Cable-Hayward, Wisconsin area to celebrate “The Birkie”, a race which has become a legend in the cross-country ski world. We look forward to you joining us!

https://www.birkie.com/about/history/

The six racers with MS all made it. One of the Norwegian women said she hadn’t expected the race to be fun. “All along the way people cheered me on, gave me coffee, water, food. My time was better than I thought it would be, and I never felt alone. I had so much fun!”

Another Norwegian woman said that the race kept her training every day, even when she didn’t feel like it. When race day came, she was nervous, but ended up having a great time.

A young Wisconsin racer, a former competitive skier who’d been dismayed by her diagnosis (naturally) explained — as the camera followed her awkward little pink tight-clad form around the 25 mile course, “I stopped worrying about my time or competing. I was there to have fun and to make it all the way. It was wonderful. I hope I can keep having fun like this way into my 80s!”

A young man whose main symptom was arm weakness, said, “I felt my arms going about half way so, for a while, I just poled every other stroke.” He stood beaming with the Birkebeiner medal around his neck.

Getting Better at Langlauf

I’ve decided to use the German word for Nordic skiing — Langlauf. It’s easier than writing “Nordic skiing” all the time.

We got about an inch and a half or two inches of sweet wet snow last night and when I took Bear out for her walk, we went to the golf course mostly so I could assess the conditions. After about a half a mile, I knew the conditions were good enough for me.

One benefit of having lived in Southern California for 30 years is that this Colorado woman isn’t a snow elitist. If it’s skiable, I’ll ski it.

It was more than skiable. It was really great. And, my abilities have improved. What took forty minutes the first couple of times took only about 25 today, not that I’m in a hurry, but that indicates I’m getting my “ski legs.”

It’s really wonderful when, for so long, my abilities to do almost anything — even stand around — only deteriorated.

Last night I watched an episode of Nature (on PBS) called “The Wild World of the Vikings.” In it, a Viking skied, OK not a REAL Viking, a re-enacting skiing Viking, but I just thought, “That’s just so cool.” The whole program was fascinating and beautiful, but that was my favorite 30 second (if that) bit. I have always felt on “die Langlaufski” absolutely free, not tied to some chair lift or gondola, no lift ticket to buy, and nothing but the freedom of snow in the mountains. Because I’m getting better at it, I’m hoping that I will get on mountain trails this year. We’ll see.

____________________________

P.S. Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog has discovered that I enjoy it when she rolls in the snow. Her new thing is to lie on her back in the snow while I scratch her tummy. She’s really not like the other kids.