A Fistful of Pharma

About three weeks ago my son came home from Thailand for a week. The last time he came I ended up in the hospital with life-threatening, utterly improbable pulmonary embolisms. This time I woke up with a massively sore throat.

Being a sports fan, when not visiting his friends, my son wanted to do little more than hang out and watch sports on TV. Conveniently the Nationals were on their march to a World Series title. My son is the master of timing.

The sore throat went away in a day but the accompanying cold lingered for over a week. I felt pretty good until two nights ago when the sore throat returned. Last night it woke me at 2 a.m. It was accompanied by a cough that brought up strange and nasty things from my lungs. I was up most of the night gargling and coughing and blowing my nose.

I suppose my son got his timing thing from me. Today I had a check up with my pulmonologist. I’ve been seeing her since she crashed my PE party at the emergency room.

The primary purpose of the visit was to see how much blow power my asthmatic lungs have. The test involved blowing into a tube that records how much air you can expel until your lungs are completely empty. The test is repeated three times.

I hadn’t been tested in over a year and, despite my cold, I easily bested my last test. Each effort made my head spin. I groggily moved to an examination room when my pulmonologist entered. She put on a mask. She was sick too!

Same thing. She checked my breathing and asked about my use of a rescue inhaler over the last three months. My breathing, despite my cold, was free of the raspy crackle that asthmatics have. I hadn’t used my rescue inhaler once.

Then she asked me about my cold. She examined my nose and throat and gave me a four-step program for survival. One of my tonsils had white spots on it.

  • Take Afrin to dilate my sinuses.
  • Add Sudafed, those little red decongestants, during the day to dry up my sinuses.
  • Toss in some Mucinex, an expectorant, to break up the junk in my lungs. (Don’t buy the kind with a cough suppressant.)
  • Finally, at my option, take an antibiotic.

She actually advised me to wait a day or two on the antibiotic to see if the first three medicines work. It could be that the source of my misery is a virus making the antibiotic unnecessary.

Well, why wait? I’ve been sick for two weeks. I haven’t had an antibiotic for 2 1/2 years. So I decided not to wait.

Within an hour I was feeling much better. By coincidence, I had decided to take today off the bike anyway. I canceled a visit to the gym in favor of a nap. The Sudafed as most athletes and college students know is a stimulant. My nap was less than successful but lying on the coach for a couple of hours with open airways was a treat anyway.

In a minute I’ll start doing my PT exercises. I went to the therapist yesterday thinking I had made great progress. She tested my muscle strength in my hips and butt. Long story short I still have work to do.

Hopefully I’ll be able to breath while doing it.

Better or worse

My father was an ophthalmologist. When working up a prescription for glasses, he’s swap out lenses and ask “Better or worse?” That’s what I’m wondering about my knee and hip.

I’ve been doing physical therapy for over five weeks. A few days ago I asked on Twitter how much more of this I should do because I seemed to be getting no benefit out of it.

Each week I go to see the therapist. Each week she adds another exercise. Last week she added a step over exercise. Suspend a pole or rod between two lawn chairs. Stand with your hip next to the pole. Step over the pole with your inner leg, then with your outer leg. Then do the reverse. I do 25 reps of this.

I’ll be damned if this hasn’t actually helped. Progress at last.

A couple of days ago I switched from Big Nellie, my recumbent bike, to Little Nellie, my Bike Friday travel bike. I was getting discomfort in my hip and under my knee cap. After ten miles I dismounted and raised the saddle about two millimeters.

This significantly reduced the irritation under my knee cap and allowed my hips to open up a bit. Much smoother. And I seem to be getting some power out of my left leg. Dang.

I’ll keep riding Little Nellie for a couple of hundred more miles. Then I’ll reach a thousand mile threshold and switch to another bike, either my Cross Check or The Mule. I’ll make sure the saddle position is similar to Little Nellie.

I’ve already noticed that going up and down stairs is getting less uncomfortable. The real test will be how my knee and hip handle a hike up the Blue Ridge. That will happen in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to slog away at my PT and yoga routine. An hour everyday. Sooo boring.

Cider, Donuts, and a Red Caboose

My phone said 33 degrees when I woke up. The coldest temperature since April. Time to break out the holey sweater because in an hour I’d be starting the fifth Cider Ride.

The Cider Ride is the last official bicycle event of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association calendar. The first couple of years had routes mostly on roads in the suburbs. Back then the event was held in early December. Leafless trees and hypothermia persuaded the organizers to move the ride into early November. The route was changed to a mix of trails along the Anacostia River and its tributaries leading to agricultural and forested lands outside the DC Beltway.

For the third time this fall, I was riding with Emilia. We met just before 8 am near the start. We had to cool our heels (pun intended) until registration opened at 8:30. We needed to pick up our cue sheets and metal mugs (for hot cider at the pit stops) as soon as we could so that we could finish early. Emilia had places to be later in the day.

This year’s 50 States Ride was marred by a very long line at check in. WABA did an admirable job of improving the sign-in process and we were underway after only a few minutes in line.

After wending our way through the streets of Northeast DC and Mount Ranier Maryland we joined the trail system and proceeded up river. The trails in this area are old and poorly signed. This year WABA put colored arrows on the pavement at all the turns. This  greatly simplified navigation.

My holey sweater was keeping me toasty inside my wind shell. Although Emilia was wearing two layers, she was uncomfortably cold until the sun rose higher in the sky. She forged ahead without complaint. We made steady progress and managed not to slip on the wet leaves on the trails.

We passed through the University of Maryland campus where parking lots were full of tailgaters prepping for the Maryland vs. Michigan football game that afternoon. Emilia is a native of Venezuela and found the whole scene amusing. She suggested in jest that we crash the parties to benefit from the heat of the grills.

On we rode through a 5K run on the trail. Then we went around the little airport at College Park and a small lake. We stopped at Proteus Bicycle shop in College Park where we filled our cups with hot apple cider. Emilia mastered the art of donut dunking while I enjoyed pieces of apple fritter.

Refreshed we soon were cruising through barren fields in the USDA agricultural research complex north of Greenbelt. This area had gently rolling hills and nearly no motor vehicle traffic. Now free of the narrow, windy trails along the Anacostia we made better time. Emilia commented how beautiful the area was. Despite the cold, she was clearly enjoying this ride.

Our northerly trek ended after a ride through the woods at the Patuxent Research Refuge where we stopped briefly. I took off the holey sweater and changed from long pants into shorts. Then we headed back toward DC.

I pushed the pace a bit for the next four miles to keep warm. Then we hit the one long hill on the ride which climbs out of the agricultural preserve and into Greenbelt. A mile later we arrived at the second pit stop for some apple pie and more cider. The sun was higher in the sky and we were both comfortable as long as we stayed out of the shade.

After our snack we headed out of Greenbelt back into the Anacostia trail system. We briefly left the trail in order to ride on the Trolley Trail in Hyattsville. This led us in short order to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, a relatively recent addition to the trail system. Th ART is wider and has better signage allowing for higher speeds.

Before launching ourselves into a brisk ride downriver we stopped at the final pit stop at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. While it may sound like we were pigging out, we each had only a half donut washed down with about four ounces of cider.

In a weird coincidence, we found ourselves standing next to a red caboose.

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After the photo op, we took off down the trail. We cruised by the Botanic Gardens, through some playing fields, along the cycletrack in the Deanwood neighborhood, and around the trash consolidation plant. After riding under four bridges we crossed the Anacostia River on the 11th Street bridge and reversed course.

We passed by the decaying hulk of RFK Stadium and headed up C Street into Capitol Hill. As we rode, two fighter jets roared overhead, en route no doubt to salute the World Series champion Washington Nationals at the parade being held in their honor on Constitution Avenue near the Mall.

We picked up the First Street cycletrack which led us to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. A mile or two later we were at the finish, about six hours and 54 miles after we started.

Emilia took off for home to get washed up and head out to a cabin to celebrate her birthday with some amigas. I headed into the Dew Drop Inn for a beer. I found a spot on the railing on the bar’s deck where I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

Many thanks to the folks at WABA who worked so hard to make this event a success. Special thanks for the improvements to the sign in process and the addition of arrows along the route.

Post Script: After I arrived home, I took a nap on the couch. When I went to stand up, my left calf went into a massive and very painful spasm. I felt like the Dr. Pepper guy turning into a werewolf in London. (Just google it, okay.) Mrs. Rootchopper brought me about 2 ounces of apple cider vinegar which is supposed to cure muscle cramps. I knocked it back in one go. I can’t remember tasting anything quite as nasty. And to add to the experience, it burned all the way down. Perhaps it was the diversion in my throat or maybe the stuff does have medicinal properties. Either way, my leg cramps went away. I am not sure the medicine was worth the cure.

Two Seasons

I am a baseball fan. Before the start of the season, I thought the Washington Nationals had a great chance to win it all. Then the games started. Players became injured. I went to game after game and watched them lose over and over. My bike tour took me away from the wreckage.

But as Joe Garagiola said, baseball is a funny game. The season unfolded like all baseball seasons. Ebbs and flows, just like a long bike tour. Pre-season hopes gave way to harsh realities. A series of injuries gutted the lineup for a month. A relief pitcher coming off surgery on his throwing arm threw 100-mile-per-hour pitches everywhere but over the plate. Other relievers did little better. The injured players returned. Gerardo Parra was acquired and taught the team to just have fun. The team started to win. Max became utterly unhittable. Baby shark boomed from the speakers at the ball park. Strasburg and Rendon quietly, steadily evolved into elite players. Howie Kendrick, a part time player who had spent nearly a year off the diamond with an injury, hit like a monster. Eaton wore out pitchers and played with his hair on fire. Robles vacummed the outfield. Soto played like a veteran, even becoming a decent outfielder himself. The catchers, acquired over the winter to replace the disappointing backstops of 2018, became anchors. Max got hurt. The team kept winning. Astrubal Cabrera returned and hit like a beast.  The team kept winning. Aaron Barrett returned from a hideous arm injury to pitch again and inspire. Zimmerman came back from a long struggle with foot problems. And he hit. More winning.

By the time they squeaked into the playoffs they had become the elite team I had hoped for in March. Then, impossibly, they won five elimination games, the last being Game 7 of the World Series.

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Red wine. Black sweats. Can’t lose

In a way, winning the World Series doesn’t matter. The long arc of the season matters. Watching games on warm summer nights, sharing a beer or three with my daughter matters. Doing Baby Shark matters. Seeing friends at the game matters. Riding home from the ball park in the dark after a mid-summer night game matters.

Yes, we will celebrate for a few days. There will be a parade.  Enjoy it. Already temperatures have dropped. Winds have begun to howl. Big Nellie soon will take her place in the basement where I’ll spin and read all those books I’ve neglected for the last six months. It will be reading season once more.

Meanwhile, a new team will take shape. Hopefully, my body will follow suit. Then sometime next spring, a flag will be raised and a new baseball season will begin. Maybe I’ll ride somewhere far, hopefully on two healthy legs this time. As Nationals manager Dave Martinez mother told him when he was growing up, “Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.”

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One Lame October

October was a pretty decent month off the bike. A physical therapist confirmed what I have suspected for months, I’ve been riding on one leg. My right leg is pounding out thousands of miles while my left leg freeloads.

So in October I rode 861.5 miles. I spent 528 miles on Big Nellie, and split the rest between The Mule and my Cross Check. My long day was 68 miles which included the Great Pumpkin Ride. That was one of two events I did with Emilia whose introversion and riding speed match mine well.

A few weeks ago I went hiking in Shenandoah National Park. It was a fairly tough hike but the foliage was great and, after going straight up a gorge, the last 4 miles were on a pleasant and smooth fire trail.

During the month, I passed the 9,000 mile mark for the year. I sit at 9,186 miles. This gives me a decent chance at 10,000 for the year. I’ll take what I can get.

As usual my attempts at winning the Coffeeneuring badge have been pathetic. I simply don’t like coffee all that much.

Hopefully by the time I hit 10,000 miles my left leg will have joined the festivities. Next week I get electrostim and a bike fitting.

The Lopsided Bicyclist

During my bike tour (and ever since) I complained about a wonky left knee and hip. In addition to pain and discomfort, I felt as if my left leg was contributing nothing to my pedaling other than going round and round. Sometimes my left hip seems to be popping out of joint to the outside. Sometimes it feels like my left leg will lean then collapse to the outside. My left kneecap feels as if it’s disengaged.

I’ve had cortisone shots in both my knee and hip a few weeks ago. I’ve been doing physical therapy every day. The knee and hip felt better as I rode the Great Pumpkin Ride three days ago. I had very little discomfort other than some grinding under my kneecap.

Last night the wonkiness returned. Today it was pretty bad. My left leg felt like it was collapsing to the outside again. I rode to PT. My therapist’s mentor was there. She examined me, repeating and adding to my therapist’s previous examinations.  Among other things she noted that I stand with my left shoulder lower than my right. My left hip is sticking out. My shoulder blades are rounded forward.

She put me on an exercise bike and stood behind me. The bike had a wide foam seat unlike my bikes. My right cheek was moving up and down as I pedaled; my left cheek stayed firmly on the seat. This confirmed to me what I had noted while riding this summer. All my power is coming from my right leg.

She also noted that I stoop while riding even an upright bike.

They added some more exercises to my routine. Next week I get electro-stim on my butt to try to get my left side to re-engage. They are arranging for a bike fit. Also, the mentor suggested checking out whether spacers on my pedals would help.

So my body is all lopsided and such. This is life when you get old. I am surprised body parts aren’t falling off in the road when I ride.

Somebody pass me a beer. It’s going to be a long winter.

 

 

Emilia and the Red Caboose

Yetserday, I rode the Great Pumpkin Ride in Fauquier County, Virginia with my friend Emilia. This was our fourth ride together. Our first ride together was the 2014 50 States Ride. She had a rough time. We did it again in 2017 and this time I had a rough time and she, despite missing several climbing gears, flew up the hills. She weighs about half what I do so it was reasonable to assume would bury my sorry old ass on a sod farm in the hilly Virginia Piedmont.

Lucky for me, the last ride she did was the New York City Century back in early September. Unlike me she skipped breakfast. So on an empty stomach and with legs that hadn’t spun a pedal in seven weeks, she insisted on riding the long, 67-mile route yesterday. She’s pretty tough.

We lined up next to the red caboose at the start/finish line. Soon we were off down a rail trail then onto country roads where we were treated to rolling hills, 60 degrees, calm winds, cloudy skies, and the occasional sprinkle as we cruised through the rolling terrain at between 12 and 13 miles per hour. The foliage was close to peak and every so often we oohed and aahed at natures show. The lifestock in the fields seemed utterly (pun intended) uninterested in our passing. I explained that during my ride across the northern plains last year, I could get cattle and horses to stampede. Their Virginia cousins were having nothing of it.

The police warned us not to ride side by side so Emilia followed close behind me for most of the ride. She rides a bit closer to the edge of the road than I prefer so there was little chance that we’d overlap wheels.

Emilia’s native language is Spanish. I take advantage by quizzing her about useful phrases that I typically forget. Mostly we just rode and listened to the voices inside our heads. It’s nice to have a riding partner who appreciates that.

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Just trees and hills and fresh air

 

Thanks to her layoff, we rode at exactly the same pace for nearly the entire ride. She’s a vegetarian and needed no prodding when we came to the first rest stop 19 miles into the ride. There she gorged herself on a thin slice of cinnamon bread and half of a banana. I noticed she had barely touched her water bottle. I thought “no bueno” but she was perfectly happy with her food and water intake.

 

We rode another 22 hilly miles before finding the next rest stop.  She was laboring a bit at this point so she gorged herself with a thin slice of pumpkin pie and a wee bag of potato chips. Then off we went.

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Emilia after pumpkin pie

The next thirteen miles were a bit hillier. I noticed at mile 50 she was laboring up a hill. Her thigh muscles were cramping. Her water bottle remained nearly untouched. No bueno. We slowed a bit and forged ahead. At an intersection with a busy highway she had trouble unclipping from her pedals and wobbled into the cross road. Fortunately no cars were coming but she knew that the little incident could have been bad news. I could see on her face that the layoff since early September was taking its toll. She was pretty tired.

The route to the final rest stop is out-and-back for about 2 1/2 miles. We saw riders returning from the rest stop turning toward the finish. Emilia did not have a cue sheet in front of her and got rather animated about following them. I briefly considered skipping the rest stop. That would have risked seeing her bonk all the way to the finish so I explained we needed to get some food in her and forged ahead to the rest stop at the Old Bust Head brewery.

Once there, she had pie, three small cheese quesadillas, a small portion of tater tots, a cup of pumpkin soup, and two cups of Gatorade. Smiles.

“Ok, John, I’m ready.”

Crisis averted. As we rode I counted down the next few miles.

12!

11!

Only tell me the single digits.

How do you say nine in Spanish?

Nieve!

Ocho!

She fell back on a hill, caught up, then fell back again.

Are we at seven?

No. Cinco!

You’re kidding.

No.

Big smile.

A few more hills and we found ourselves on the rail trail back into town. It always seems longer that it actually is. Emilia started looking for the caboose.

And there it was after 67 hilly miles.

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Emilia, her steed, and the caboose

Tired but todo sonrisas.

We hope to ride again next Saturday at the shorter and flatter Cider Ride in DC. There will be no caboose but the donuts and cider and pie will make up for it.

Riding My Life Away

I haven’t been doing much biking these days. Well, by my standards anyway.

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It’s Fall, y’all

I rode 15 miles to the start of the Tour de Mt Vernon, a local ride sponsored by our district supervisor, Dan Storck. (Roughly speaking, he’s the mayor of Mt Vernon.) He an avid cyclist. I also have a state senator, Scott Surovell, who rode his bike across the country either before or after law school. It’s nice to have elected officials who treat bicycling seriously.

The Tour route went into Fort Belvoir. The base security folks demanded that we provide them with our social security number and drivers license numbers as well as our date of birth. I found this to be obnoxious. The base used to be open to the public with just a valid government issued ID, but base security was amped up to Defcon ∞ in recent years. God knows, two wheeled evil doers must be everywhere.

On the way to the ride The Google was drunk and guided me onto a mountain bike trail. It was a fun little ride but took me in a big circle. The ride began at a former prison that now holds artists’ studios. The first riders were horrible escapees, taking a wrong turn after 0.1 miles. Because of my privacy protest, I rode about 27 miles of the 32 mile route. It was very hilly.  Down to the river or the bay back up. Repeat. For the ride home, I relied on my own bikey instincts. It all made for a 57 mile day.

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Love in the morning
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Guard tower for escaping cyclists

A couple of days later I came down with a sore throat which morphed into a head and chest cold. You know, a cold. Still, I stayed up late to watch two World Series games and rode to a physical therapy appointment. I also did a few rides just to keep my sanity. There were pretty leaves too.

Yesterday I rode to the Kennedy Center to check out The Reach, a new set of performance and practice spaces connected to a couple of bike trails. There was a dance rehearsal going on outside. It was modern dance. I understand modern dance about as well as understand poetry which is to say not at all. There’s also public art.

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Playful art at The Reach
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More art at The Reach

Today I rode to Friday Coffee Club. We sat outside because we are stubborn. I froze. Kathy showed up for the first time in ages. She’s a federal retiree like me. She told me about the ins and outs of retirement funds distributions and Medicare. Since I turn 65 next year I got some financial calculations to do. (I may have to take a bunch of money out of my retirement fund earlier than planned. Life is hard. Then you die.)

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On the way to Friday Coffee Club along the Potomac River

 

 

Coffeeneuring – Part Deux

On alternate Thursdays my wife and I go out for breakfast. Today we chose the Crystal City branch of a Northern Virginia institution, Bob and Edith’s Diner. As is usually the case, I had mucho cups of coffee with my meal.

Place: Bob and Edith’s Diner, 23rd Street S., Arlington VA.

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The Crosscheck made use of this fantastic bike rack.

Date: October 17

What I drank: one gallon of their drip coffee (not half bad I must say)

Ride Details: The forecast was for strong winds out of the WNW. With temperatures in the low 50s, I dressed in layers. Long rain (actually wind) pants, a short sleeve base layer, a t-shirt, a wind breaker jacket, a buff, and a headsweat. I was ready to put on long sleeve gloves over my mesh biking gloves. For the first seven miles I baked because the winds were moderate and at my back. Then, the wind changed. I got hammered. My clothing fit the bill. On the way home, I rode over the Memorial Bridge into DC and let the wind push me along Ohio Drive where I briefly chatted with #bikedc’s Randomduck (a.k.a Rudi). On the way hope I stopped to admire this just north of Old Town on the Mount Vernon Trail.

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Distance ridden: 30 miles.

 

Little Devils Stairs – Not exactly a day off

After 14 days of bike riding in a row, I decided it was time to take a day off. What better way than to do a hike in Shenandoah National Park.

My friend Chelli and her daughter signed up to climb 19,000+ foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. To get in shape, Chelli assembled a team of grad school friends to do day hikes outside DC. Most of these hikes were done while I was on my bike tour but I joined the team when I came home.

We did two hikes on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. After that, Chelli and her daughter went to Africa and conquered the big one.

Chelli called us together again for a Columbus Day hike. I chose Little Devils Stairs in Shenandoah National Park. According to the website HikingUpward.com this hike is rated at the same level of difficulty as the Sugarloaf hike.

I’d done Little Devils Stairs once before and remember it as challenging and fun. Somehow in the intervening years the trail became much steeper. I blame plate tectonics.

A full moon and fog on the river were indications of a beautiful fall day emerging on the way to Chelli’s house in Arlington. Chelli took the wheel of her car and we drove to the park, After about 40 miles the highway leaves the ugly urban area and enters splendid Virginia countryside.

Dry weather meant that the unpaved road to the parking lot made for easy driving. We parked and headed up the trail. Basically, this trail goes straight up a gorge along Keyser Run. The trail is rocky, increasingly so as we ascended. There were perhaps 8 creek crossings but these were trivial because the drought in this area reduced the creek to a trickle.

At one point in a particularly rocky section we lost sight of the trail blazes. No worries. We forged ahead and soon found the trail again. At a few points the hike became a rock scramble. I was huffing and puffing. We took some stops to gather ourselves. Then moved on and up.

The gorge was beautiful. The creek with a trickle of water, trees just beginning to take on their fall color, and sheer rock walls. I stopped a few times to appreciate how steep the trail was.

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After the rock scrambles there were some switchbacks. An Hispanic family of about eight people came down the hill toward us. One of them was carrying an unopened bag of tortilla chips. Somehow I refrained from assaulting him with my hiking poles.

Soon thereafter we reached Fourway, the intersection of four hiking trails. We stopped to eat lunch which Chelli had packed. Veggie burgers, crackers, and watermelon.

We were burning up on the way up the 2.2 mile climb, but now that we were sitting the cool breeze across out sweaty clothing brought a chill. Time to boogie.

We took a fire trail all the way back down the mountain. 3.8 miles. I was wearing new hiking shoes that were a half size bigger than usual. The extra room in the toes kept my feet happy.

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Along the way we passed an old graveyard. Several of the headstones indicated deaths in 1918. I speculated that the Spanish flu was the cause. Imagine being sick with that horrible disease up this mountain far from medical help.

As we left the graveyard the Hispanic family came hiking by.  Hiking down that gorge must have been tough but they seemed like they were having a good time. Their ten-year old boy was running up the trail. Don’t you just hate youth?

Walking downhill for several miles can really deaden your legs. We managed without too much difficulty. My wonky left knee and hip did reasonably well. I felt a pain in the side of my hip most of the way down the hill but my knee tolerated the descent without much discomfort.

Normally, getting out of the car at the end of a hike makes me feel like I’m 90 but today I felt okay. New shoes, cortisone, and PT to the rescue.

Not a bad day off.