#14 Touch-and-Goes at Home (mid-September to late October 2013)

Mt Defiance, Oregon Hike
Tackling Mt Defiance for the first time, a peak that is "generally accepted as being the highest peak in the Columbia River Gorge," was expected to be our single big athletic event while at home this fall and likely our only hike until we were in the SW. This late September outing 2 weeks to the day after our return from Europe was pushing it: we were de-conditioned by a 3 week hiatus from hiking and it looked like the winter rains were already settling-in. We decided it was a 'now or never' choice and went for it at our first opportunity.

Field testing our newest minimalist sandals on Mt. Defiance.
At close to 5,100' gain and in the 10-12 mile range, it was a vigorous workout on a cool day that was predicted to be sunny and warm. The breezy 45° temperatures near the top and the persistently soggy ground were chilling to our sandal-clad feet accustomed to drier hiking conditions. And we'd forgotten one of the hazards of hiking in the nearby Gorge until on the trail: getting wet even when it isn't raining.

The heavy tree canopy at the upper elevations had prevented the previous day's rainfall from evaporating and every brush against shrubs or branches soaked our clothing. Staying dry proved to be impossible but still being rash-free a week later meant that we had at least succeeded in dodging the poison oak.

Low clouds obscured the panorama of the many volcanic peaks that can be seen from the upper trails on Mt Defiance but we did spy some impressive fungi closer to our chilly toes. We were certain that the bright orange specimen that looked remarkably like coral would be a snap to identify online but learning later that there were 15,000-20,000 different fungi in just the Pacific NW cooled our jets. Bill valiantly attempted to identify it and several other photographed specimens but didn't get very far.

So distinctive & yet still hard to identify.
But despite our shortcomings as mycologists, we were pleased with our athletic effort in charging up the back way to the summit in about 3 and a half hours. Not having hiked for 3 weeks didn't show in our performance on the trail but was very apparent in the following days. My quads and calves were practically wooden to the touch and I had to use a handrail and descend sideways on stairs for the next 3 days. Self massage and stretching put enough ease into those muscles that I could do our DVD workouts but an hour later they were back to feeling like heavy bricks.

The horrible stiffness I experienced was another harsh reminder as to how difficult it is to maintain conditioning for strenuous activities when dry days are so sporadic. But we felt lucky to have made the hike at all because the trail was slippery in spots from the recent storm and it would be a miserable hike in the rain. And being alone on the trails suggested that the regionally more experienced hikers had had even more serious doubts about the conditions than we had had.

Hiking Mt Defiance, Larch Mtn, Mt Defiance, Table Mtn, Larch Mtn….
Upping the Intensity
Quite unexpectedly, our fall 2013 stay at home was the most active we'd ever had. We rushed to make the big Mt Defiance hike before we'd adequately reconditioned because we feared that the break in the weather would be the last for the year. Successive, subsequent storms initially validated that fear in us, and probably everyone else in the area, and then suddenly it was a different weather year. A string of lovely fall days drew us out hiking the next 4 weekends. Had our mid-week calendar not been so booked with appointments, we'd have squeezed in a few more hikes with another friend but unfortunately our calendars didn't mesh with his during the stunning late October weather.

In addition to happily bagging a string of long hikes with significant gain which nicely supported our mountain running goal, we acquired a temporary personal trainer. Bill's friend Randal let us challenge him on the uphills and he spurred us on during the descents. Apparently tall Randal with his big stride is a natural downhiller--no secret to his success he said--he has always been fast on the downhills.

At the top of Mt. Defiance with Randal on a better day.
Descents are our improving weak-suit but we literally had to jog to keep up with Randal when going down the Gorge trails. We declined his offer to let our preferred pace prevail because we viewed chasing him down the mountains as a rare opportunity to have a coach. Our best estimate was that we jogged nearly 2 hours of the 2:20 descent in our effort to keep up with Randal when coming down Larch Mtn.

Dealing with the Consequences
Not surprisingly, my quads were again like bricks for the better part of the week after our 7 mile downhill with Randal. And again I had to go down stairs sideways, hanging on to the rail. I also had to continue leveraging with my arms to use the toilet. My legs registered their ongoing protests after our 3rd big hike, which was the 2nd jogging descent with Randal. But stunningly, I wasn't injured, only overworked, so I stayed on Randal's heels for 3 hikes in a row. Bill faired well after the first downhill jog, but on the 2nd Sunday hike with Randal his old calf/Achilles problems kicked up and he had to drop back and make his descents at a more usual pace for the next month.

A wrong turn meant bushwhacking was the name of the game near the top of Table Mountain.
Staying in sight of Randal on these 2 hour Sunday downhill jogs made our mid-week running program look down right absurd. Usually on Wednesday's we'd go out for 8-10 minutes of jogging on a track in 1-2 minute intervals with several minutes of walking in between the bouts of jogging. It had become sort of a Jekyll & Hyde thing for me: reckless abandon downhill on the steep trails juxtaposed to restrained prudence on the track. We kept it up however: the easier, in-town jog effectively smoothed-out our achy, overworked muscles while keeping up our running training. And besides, we needed to be able to run on flat and uphill terrain for our 2014 mountain run event in Italy, not downhill like we were doing with Randal.

The hard workouts on Randal's heels also were timely because they promptly brought the next injury-prone areas in our bodies to our attention. The ache in my left low back and the one in my right hip were deemed "old issues" by my bodyworkers--crimps and jams from way back--not from recent overuse. I considered experiencing those glitches a net gain: better to have them revealed and dealt with sooner rather than later and while at home where I could get help instead of when on the road. And the recurrence of Bill's foot/ankle issues highlighted that it was time for him to get back on the program for fixing them.
Barb's new Altra trail running shoes & "Dirty Girl" gaiters at the top of Table Mountain.
Extra Help To Keep Going
Our favorite bodyworker was out of commission with an urgent surgery soon after we arrived home so I scrambled to book with new-to-us practitioners. What started as a crisis ended as a boon because we then had the benefit of access to 2 additional, excellent, bodyworkers. Each practitioner viewed our tissue challenges through a very different lens and each had different technics for tackling troublesome issues, so we were delighted with our expanded support team.

One thing lead to another and I made our last big hike with Randal on Table Mtn, Washington in SHOES. It was shocking because I essentially haven't worn shoes for about 25 years. But the rigors of trotting downhill on pointy rocks embedded in the trail and the cold, damp trails of the Pacific NW underscored that there was a place for shoes. Coincident with the new footwear need was learning that my favorite minimalist hiking sandal was discontinued and that a new running shoe manufacturer was actually making shoes for "Fred Flintstone" feet like mine. Buying a full size larger and discarding the insoles gave me just enough width to make the enclosures tolerable for a few hours at a time. The other benefit from wearing my new Altra trail running shoes designed for rocky terrain was their superior traction compared to that of my sandals.
Bill's newest balance challenge to keep fitness fun.
Hydrostatic Weighing
We followed Randal's lead off the trails too by having our body composition assessed by the gold standard, hydrostatic weighing. The physical therapist drooled over my P90X biceps, asking how I'd come by them and complimented us both over and over again for taking such good care of ourselves. Her enthusiasm for our fitness was almost worth the $60 price of the testing (she assumed we were triathletes!).

My body fat came in at 17.8%, which was just low enough to put me on the female athletes scale instead of my age group scale which began at 24%. I was both surprised and reassured. My hefty weight of 130 lbs always surprises people, which makes me wonder if it's too high but my low body fat underscored what I'd assumed was true: that it's just fine. Bill's body fat of 15.7% made him enviable in his age class at their facility and qualified him for "optimal fitness" on other scales. It also reassured us both that his lingering bit of belly fat is "just where he puts it" and that he need not fret about it. The tester was amused that we both carry the same amount of fat--23 lbs--based on her calculations.

There wasn't much to do with the body fat numbers but to glow about them in the moment and to have renewed confidence that our fitness focused travel was indeed keeping us lean. And the numbers will be a benchmark in the future should we choose to be tested again. Randal however had the assessment done years ago so had something more with which to compare his recent results.

Budgeting Our Time
Our time at home this fall was the usual tug-of-war between regaining and maintaining our fitness; increasing the orderliness in our lives; and improving the quality of our life on the road in our camper. Quad-burning hikes on the weekends, easy jogs on the track mid-week, and a few long walks and bike rides balanced our pre-breakfast, P90X DVD workouts to address our fitness needs.

"Culling" is the watchword with each home stay and once again more stuff went out the door than came in. Each round of culling requires a new motivating mantra. This time I focused on items that fit the notion of "it never fit very well/ it never was a good choice/it served its purpose and is no longer needed." It's hard to ignore the fact that we are getting older and downsizing it the right thing to do anyway we can get there. And like on our previous trip, the culling effort would be continued while on the road. Last year Bill hauled music CD's and old laptops to be processed and then discarded while we traveled; this winter Bill's 'take along' culling project was to sort through our old tax records, photo them, and then destroy the papers.
Our growing collect of exercise balls including Bosu the balance trainer.
We haven't ridden our bikes much when traveling in our camper and Bill set out to address that shortcoming for this season. He made the bold move of pulling the backseat out of our truck so as to make more room for the bikes while on the road. Making the bikes easier to access will increase the odds that they'll get used. Of course, needing to stash the truck seat in our little apartment increased the pressure on moving things out of it--permanently. Bill also bit the bullet and did a major overhaul on both bikes and topped them off with aero bars, all to make them safer and more appealing to ride.

Along the way, Bill also put a recently rebuilt bike pump to good use by pumping up our various balls that we use for exercises while at home. A few of the smaller ones made it into the camper as well. One of our new bodyworkers urged Bill to buy a Bosu balance ball to aid in recruiting some reluctant leg muscles, which we did. We bought the smaller version and hoped to stuff it in the back seat area with the bikes. Oops: no sooner did the seat come out of the truck than new things started filling the space. But tending to our bodies is the top priority, so we hoped to squeeze it in without sabotaging the accessibility of the bikes.
At 11 lbs., Bosu doubled as a medicine ball for core work.

Departing for the SW for 6 Months
Loading our camper is always hastily done because it technically isn't allowed in our apartment building's parking lot and this year we built that reality into the itinerary. We planned a short drive the first day--only as far as the Columbia Gorge where we'd been hiking. A 2 night stay in the Ainsworth State Park campground would allow us to squeeze in 1 more steep hike up Larch Mtn as well as organize our thrown-in pile of gear inside the camper.

The staged exit was all the more wise when we learned on our departure morning that my sister-in-law had had an emergency "5-er" (5 vessel) bypass surgery. With that scary news, we delayed heading to the SW for 3 additional nights until we knew that she was scheduled to be discharged from the hospital.

Ironically, while we were nervously waiting for her health crisis to ease, we had our own string of mini-dramas. First, it was inadvertently dropping our camera in a parking lot and then apparently nearly driving over it. A kind couple noticed the event and called us when they got to a phone using the number we'd taped on the back of our camera (and on all of our electronics). Suddenly we were burning up an afternoon driving our big truck and camper into the hill country to fetch our camera--something that we hadn't even noticed was missing.

Next, a drawer mechanism ripped out of the camper, which lead Bill to discover that our drill was kaput. The annoying repair was delayed until he bought a new drill and it had time to charge. All of this major and minor chaos created that critical window of time needed for the backordered new iPhones to arrive in Portland stores, resulting in Bill spending the better part of a day taking the light rail into the city to buy his long-awaited, first iPhone.

All of these unexpected events made for a very jarring beginning to our flight to the SW. We were acutely aware that we were experiencing a string of trivial dramas all the while my brother and his wife were dealing with a major life crisis. We couldn't put what they were going through out of our minds and their reality was a very sobering reminder to us to keep making fitness our #1 priority--forever--with no excuses.