Kaboom! Right here in River City, in our own neighborhood, while we were eating dinner.
#7 Back Home (May-June 2012)

"What Next?"
A close encounter with a deadly Mojave Green rattlesnake in the Sonoran desert of Arizona and a relatively mild but disturbing case of acute mountain sickness at the Grand Canyon had made our recent time in the SW memorable, especially for Bill, but things quickly got exciting back home too.

While wrapping up errands close to dinner time a few nights after returning to the NW, Bill spotted a massive, dark cloud bank slowly approaching us from the east. "Tornados are spawned from clouds like that" was his comment, even though tornados, especially significant ones, are a rarity in our region. But we watched its slow progression, guessing that it might veer off before reaching us. Predictably the winds started wildly whipping the tree branches and we heard distant thunder while parking our truck at our apartment building. Almost an hour later the driving rains arrived and then there was a "Kaboom!" like we've never heard before.

We've watched our share of impressive lightning shows while living in the Midwest and traveling overseas and seen a few strikes hit ground but we'd never indirectly felt a strike like we did that night. The window panes rattled, our 3rd floor apartment in the 4 story building shook like we were in an earthquake, and car alarms in the parking lot went off. My perception was that the lightning whizzed through our apartment, though we assume it was an illusion created by being in sight of 2 windows of our corner apartment. We froze, waiting to see what was going to happen next: another blast? flames? we would have believed anything at that point. It was like a bomb going off but we knew it was related to the lightning. Fortunately, that was the peak event of the storm for us and there weren't any other 'events'.

The next day a friend explained that a conifer about 3/4's of a mile from our apartment had been struck and destroyed by the earth-shaking bolt. A little online reading revealed that it was estimated to have been a 100' fir tree that took the direct hit. The following day we walked down to see for ourselves. It was 48 hours after the strike and a steady stream of people like us were still coming to look at the carnage, some inexplicably taking souvenirs. Two women who lived even closer to it than us had my experience of perceiving that the lightning flashed through the room they were in and described even more severe shaking of their home from the strike.

On a calmer day, Bill caught this squirrel snoozing in a treetop.
News reports indicated that chunks of wood were strewn 200 yds beyond the tree and one passing car was damaged though the driver was uninjured. Together we were unable to lift a sizable chunk of the trunk that was more than 100' from its shattered base. An adjacent tree was also damaged to the point of needing to be felled. It certainly underscored why one isn't to take shelter under a tree in a lightning storm, though we have sheltered in stands of trees for lack of any other choices. And I was even more impressed by how far away from a tree one needs to be in order to escape injury from flying chunks of wood if it is struck.

I'd been closely watching the weather forecasts and hadn't seen any mention of possible thunderstorms or heavy rains but not only did we indirectly feel what we hope is a once-in-a-lifetime strike, about 24 hours later there was equally spectacular and unexpected downpour. Rain is the mainstay of our local weather but this was rain in a whole different league. It was pounding so hard on our east facing window that we couldn't see anything out of it. Looking out our south window, the intense rainfall was at about a 45° angle. About a half hour after it started, I checked online to see what clues I'd missed in the forecast and instead found an entry from a nearby amateur weather reporter of 3/4" of rain in 20 minutes. Flood advisories an been issued minutes before I got online. Wow!

We were relieved that both of these intense weather events had occurred during waking hours and we shuddered to think about how disorienting it would have been to awaken from either of these weather assaults. We tensed a bit when it suddenly started pouring about dusk on the 3rd night, wondering what it might portent after such dramatic closes to the previous 2 calm days.

Hazards on the Local Trails
After going for a local hike with friends shortly after our return home, we started feeling like we were stuck in "hazard mode." Dog Mountain, a favorite spring training hike for locals that was new to us, had its perils too. While driving to the trailhead we read in our friend's hiking guides that this popular trail was a favorite with rattlesnakes too. None of us in the car thought of the lower end of the Columbia Gorge as being 'rattler territory' but indeed an online search revealed 3 rattlesnake sightings within 3 days of each other right on the trail 13 months prior to our hike.

We all enjoyed seeing the Balsamroot in bloom on Dog Mtn (Western US native in the sunflower family).
The guide book warnings about the ever-attractive poison oak proved to be warranted because we spotted many of the distinctive clusters of 3 leaves arching onto the narrow trail. And just to keep it interesting, our friend reported that this was an exceptionally good year for ticks latching onto hikers in the region, with Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever becoming increasing threats. Like when hiking in the SW, we kept a high level of vigilance while on the dramatic trail while watching for snakes and the threatening plant life but unlike in the SW, we found ourselves doing some post-hike intervention work too.

Once home, Bill and I dutifully inspected each other's flesh for ticks and used a strong detergent on our outerwear that might have picked up oils from the poison oak plants to prevent the characteristically nasty, persistent rash. I'd had too many experiences with it as a child to want to risk another sleep-depriving itchy rash. My fears felt more well founded after reading in Wiki that the oil from poison oak, urushiol, causes dermatitis that "accounts for 10% of all lost-time injuries in the United States Forest Service."

Shifting Priorities
Additional hikes and our usual connecting with friends suddenly had to be put on hold when we both decided to pursue our "B" list health concerns that had us both putting in multiple 50 mile driving days in odd directions. While in the SW Bill had read about Provent nasal valves for treating sleep apnea and snoring and I reluctantly dove back into the realm of sleep docs in hopes that the new disposable medical device would help both of us get more sleep. Not covered by our ungenerous health insurance plan, it proved to be an expensive, sleep-disrupting, but promising journey for me though I'm still 'in transit'.

Bill on the other hand was spending his time pursuing an incidental finding in the Flagstaff ER of noisy and presumed reduced blood flow in the arteries in his thighs. The obvious explanation for a man of his age was arterial plaque, with the only other possible explanation being endofibrosis, a cyclist malady that results in scarring of the arteries. After 3 appointments, 2 different visits to the vascular lab, and a lot of driving around, a third and final diagnosis was made: tortuous arteries. Another blue ribbon for my lab rat: zero femoral artery plaque, zero fibrosing of his arteries, and instead he has arteries that have chosen to take the backroads instead of the freeway down his legs. The vascular surgeon said they were of no consequence and told Bill to "Go out and thrash yourself, without reserve".

Of course, these series of appointments had used up any surplus of time that we had to "go thrash ourselves" which was all the more frustrating when we discovered the explosion in minimalist shoes in the stores. I scoured the web for what I now know as minimalist shoes in 2009 after our first adventures in barefoot hiking in the Austrian Alps and found little but the Vibram 5 Fingers. Other products slowly appeared but were hard to buy because some were made to order, some were perpetually backordered, and others could only be purchased online.

But in 2012 the market had radically changed, especially for women. REI has been especially bad about only bringing new minimalist shoes into stock in mens sizes, but even REI was giving women more choice this summer. As a consequence, we are both heading to Europe with brand new, unproven Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail shoes that look and feel like great additions to our growing wardrobe of mini shoes.

A fun new fountain on the bike route to Mom's.
Gambling on P90X
Preparing for 3 months in Europe and following up on health issues relentlessly gnawed away at the time we should have spent conditioning for an active summer of hiking and biking in Europe. Our biking was whittled down to three 3-hour roundtrips to visit my mother and for general conditioning we relied on the P90X DVDs we used for the first time last spring. Once on our bikes in Europe last summer we were stunned by our performance, which was at its peak with next to no bike specific-training. It was hard to believe, but we were eventually convinced that 2 months of daily P90X workouts had put us in tip-top condition for touring. We'd intended to cycle while in the SW this year but it just didn't happen, with my knee issues being partly to blame.

Anticipating playing conditioning 'catch-up' by doing daily P90X workouts for the 5 weeks we were at home, I did alternating days of push-ups and pull-ups for the month before as pre-training for the demanding DVD routines. Luckily my pre-work gave me the boost I needed. I was doing 100 push-ups in sets of 20 and by the second week of P90X I was up to 175. My sports massage guy suggested that was plenty of reps and recommended switching to slow descents and holdings in the push-up position to vary my training. Once again, we could feel the boost in our strength every few days from using the DVDs and hoped that our even shorter conditioning period would deliver the power and injury-prevention we needed from training once back on the bikes.

Tucked Away
There was something new on the list for this, our 12th year of preparing for travel in Europe, which was storing our camper and truck. Having the camper in the apartment building parking lot is a violation of our lease though our manager allows it for a few days now and then, so a rented storage place was a 'must.' And given that our apartment is on the edge of a high crime area, keeping the truck in the lot for 3 months wasn't inviting, so we rented 1 spot to hold both of them. Yet another expense and complexity from being forced to give up our 9 month stays in Europe, but an acceptable compromise, we bit the bullet and paid for 5 months of parking. We cringed at the incurred expense for our pair of new rigs and then felt a bit sheepish when we saw people paying just as much for assets with a fraction of the value of ours. Perhaps we are out of touch….

Back on The Big Bird
Fox and Blue were tucked away together in storage for the summer, the apartment was buttoned up and put on 'suspend,' our bags were packed, and it was off again to the airport in a downpour. We still pine for our longer stays in Europe in which we covered more territory and spent more time in discovery mode but of course, who can complain about 3 months in the mountains of Europe? Like with last year's shortened stay, we'll spend most of our time in the Italian Dolomites and the nearby Austrian Alps. And the lack of our recently too-familiar US hiking hazards of rattlesnakes, poison oak, and cactus spines made our approaching time back in the Alps all the more beckoning.