not a ghost, just me beasting

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Yesterday I was so happy. Blue skies at last. Yay! The CZU fire is the one closest to us, not so close anymore, and it’s now 26% contained thanks to the thousands of firefighters working endlessly for a second week in a row. It felt so good to step outside and open our windows. The air purifier we ordered last week is still on its way so our apartment got pretty stuffy. We’ve tried to keep the doors and windows sealed tight. A few days ago our air quality was close to 250, which is very bad. Yesterday strong ocean winds took it down to the 20s. Now we’re back in the red.

Flights to the east coast are so cheap right now. I was tempted to fly back to play with my nieces, hike in the Catskills again and escape the smoke, but nooooo. Covid risk is the reason why flights are so cheap. Oh yeah, the pandemic. The fires were all consuming this last week; I almost forgot we’d be wearing masks outside anyway. I almost forgot now’s not the time to fly and visit family. Inside this apartment we stay.

My calves started to melt a few days in, that awful feeling of atrophy. I jogged around our apartment loop after loop. It didn’t go well. Grumpkins started making cameos. Moody Me takes over whenever I miss more than a few days of running. We decided to try some HIIT workouts on YouTube to get some cardio. I couldn’t do more than 10 minutes at a time because it’s so steamy in our apartment, but beasting 10-minute HIITs twice a day is equivalent to running up and down a dozen mountains. Didn’t you know that? Okay, we didn’t “beast” the workouts, but we tried. In order to “beast” a workout I think you have to be able to say “beast it” like you mean it.

HIITs are magical. I started feeling like myself again with a pumping heart and everything. Pamela Reif’s classes are my favorite. Her workouts are like eating too much wasabi – first very painful and then your whole body wants more and then you eat more and you’re like Why? But the after feels so good. It’s a brutal cycle.

Waking up everyday to heavy smoke outside and red dots over our area started getting to me this week. I’d check purpleair first thing hoping our windows were just dirty. Must distract myself. We do still have six boxes to unpack but now I have a block on that. Staying indoors, having zero physical interaction with the outside world makes life feel like one long bad news, steamy stale day. I miss the screams of kids playing outside and riding their scooters around.

What if we’re residual ghosts trapped here? We’re going through the motions while living people occasionally feel the floor shake from our side jump squats or the whoosh of heavy breathing after another burst of high knees. Disembodied voices chanting Higher! Beast it!

I shared this nagging suspicion with my fellow now that we’re once again in the triple digit air quality zone and back to being trapped inside, not expecting judgement because we did just watch Beetlejuice and I think the movie holds up. This would explain why we keep finding the cabinets open. It’d also explain the light over our dining table. Flick the switch and 90 minutes later it turns on. How is that useful? He made the point that if we were ghosts we wouldn’t be doing HIIT workouts in an apartment we just moved into. I like to think that’s true. I may be the one leaving the cabinets open but the dining light is a mystery.

Yesterday we were able to run a few miles and start shaking off this heavy feeling in my calves. Last night we watched Zombie Tidal Wave to keep our spirits up. Today I started crocheting Sam Hain dolls for the ones I love. Some positive local news is trickling in. Though fires are still burning, the marine layer seems to be helping the firefighters gain ground. They managed to save the Lick Observatory from flames of the SCU fire. Many of Big Basin’s ancient redwoods are reported to have survived the fire and that’s something to be thankful for.

People have lost their homes. Keeping our windows shut for a few days is nothing really. I think it was the first book I read on California since moving here, Trees in Paradise: A California History by Jared Farmer, that described the state as a land of extremes. Yesterday we ran with bay breezes and sea fennel. This morning my mouth felt like I’d licked a camp fire after watering the plants for 2 minutes. We’re already getting a taste of those extremes.

Walking among redwoods that have stood for thousands of years is a special experience I’m still hoping to share with my nieces if they ever visit. There’s a sense of protection and physical connection that stays with you and pulls you back. I’m hoping Big Basin and the communities impacted recover with the support of everyone who values them.

No exploring for us this weekend. Fingers crossed for open windows and heavy marine layers.

Inside a fairy ring in Purisima Creek
Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains

Smoke on the ridge and everywhere else

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I just told my fellow “I don’t need to smoke your ear” in response to his question “Do you want more coffee?” Smoke is in my head and outside our closed windows. The second big negative I thought about when he told me about his Bay Area job offer back in February was wild fire. Now here we are with fires burning north, south, east and southwest of us. According to the Chronicle, the Bay Area has the worst air quality in the world right now.

Smoke rolled in yesterday evening and we immediately closed all windows even though we’re in a heat wave. Dozens of fires were sparked by the thousands of lightning strikes that hit Sunday-Monday. The lightning was beyond anything I’ve ever seen. The sky rumbled and it felt like a dozen crotch rockets doing donuts around you. Lightning bolts cracked, throbbed and flashed with splintered bolts that lit up everything like flicking a light switch in a dark closet. It was mesmerizing to watch. I had no idea how dangerous lightning is here when it’s so dry. I was only thinking about how much I miss summer storms on the east coast.

The storm woke me up at 3 am Sunday morning. The sky was still ripping apart when we started our long run at 7, thinking it had to be almost over. Guess who turned around real quick? Suddenly all I could think about was what the lightning could be hitting. We saw some smoke on the west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains just south of Half Moon Bay on Sunday. We reported it, feeling a bit silly because maybe it was just a camper. We later learned dozens of fires by lightning had already been reported.

I had an appointment in Palo Alto this afternoon and watched smoke rise and spread from the ridge line while people went about their day. The doctor said the fires happen every year, but not usually everywhere all at the same time. Now we’re getting the smoke from the burning woods and hills. From where we can see it looks like some of our favorite places are burning, including Russian Ridge. Big Basin, California’s first state park is surrounded by fire.

Here’s a picture from our first Russian Ridge hike in May.

Russian Ridge on a foggy morning
Russian Ridge fog

Big Basin on a better day.

Big Basin redwoods
Berry Creek Falls trail
summer waterfall in Big Basin
Big Basin fairy ring

Our car had a layer of ash on it today. Little particles of ash in the air look like gentle snow. The sun was a bright red dot in a dark grey haze this morning and I realized before checking the news that the fires probably spread and more people were probably forced to flee their homes. Where do they go? Evacuation orders yesterday detailed which roads and directions to take. Some places provided evacuations centers but with Covid concerns I wonder where most evacuees go if they don’t have family nearby. Meanwhile there are empty apartments all over the peninsula and San Francisco.

I have a California folder and until this week it was full of only fun stuff: places to hike, eat, run, swim, ride, paddle and take people when they visit, as well as long road trips. I love bookmarking fun things to do later when Covid is a bad memory. There’s also a file for books, movies and shows about or set in California. I want to make the most of our time here because it doesn’t feel like a place to build a life in long term. Now I’ve added another no-fun but necessary file to fill with pragmatic things like emergency supply checklists and the Chronicle’s Air Quality Tracker.

I ordered an air purifier because this is all a first for us and we don’t know how long we’ll be sealed inside. It already feels like we’re living inside of our face masks, breathing the same hot still air. For the foreseeable future we’re staying inside as much as possible and wishing the weather would be as generous with cold rain as it was with lightning.

eucalyptus lifemarks and moving bookmarks

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Matt Davis trail from Stinson Beach

We moved into our new apartment two weeks ago. It doesn’t have vaulted ceilings or a fireplace. I know, life is tough. At first glance, it seemed like all Bay Area apartments were luxurious shoe boxes. What we really wanted was a little breathing room within our budget and we finally found that. Only after moving in did we realize the property is shaded by eucalyptus trees and therefore naturally smells like we tried to make our Brooklyn apartment smell via essential oils. The real thing is much preferred and also sounds comforting on breezy days. I made the mistake of telling my dad and he promptly smashed that comfort. This is why we call him DadSmash.

DadSmash strikes at random and not very often so I forget. I call to tell him something fun and sometimes he smashes it. Like when we were planning a camping trip on Lake George. The beauty of camping there is some of the spots are on islands you have to paddle out to. Bears don’t paddle and I’m afraid of bears soooooo I was excited to spend a few days hiking and camping on a lake without fear of bears. Then DadSmash calls to laugh at a fact I’d neglected to acknowledge: Bears can swim.

My father puts horseradish on everything. I brought him a jar of beet horseradish last summer thinking he’d like to try something new. DadSmash says beets’ll kill you. I didn’t exactly insist he eat his weight in beets, but now I can’t be trusted in the kitchen.

I sent him a picture of the eucalyptus trees outside our balcony and he responded with the subject line ‘LOOKOUT’ (all caps his) and a link to an article on wind knocking over limbs and whole trees in another part of the region. I can’t stop trees from falling, but I can enjoy inhaling through my nose after a decade of mouth-breathing. My only concern with the trees is in having a good time, positive associations since smell is the strongest memory sense. Eucalyptus will always remind me of our first year in California, like a lifemark, so it better be a good one.

It’s been a long time since I had to unpack in a new home. When we started cleaning, purging and packing in March and April moving often seemed impossible to do at all let alone during a pandemic. Yet people do it all the time. I tried to imagine getting here then getting past apartment hunting to this point, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see beyond uprooting our life in Brooklyn to us actually living here with our mugs and pans and blankets. Now we’re here and those things are here, too.

Now it feels real. This is where we live now.

The next challenge will be unpacking the rest of the boxes. We set up our living room, bed and pulled out what we needed to cook. Then we got tired and, inspired by Community’s pillow fort episode, made a fort with the boxes instead of finding places for the things inside of them.

We lived out of suitcases for two months and it was relaxing to have so few clothes to choose from, so few things in general. Moving made me very aware of our things, every physical object we hold on to. The movers said we were average in terms of the quantity and weight of our stuff, but I think it’d be nice to continue pairing down. Later. For now, I think it could be fun to work and eat and watch our stories in a box fort. Then again, we mostly used boxes from the liquor store so that might not make the best impression on new colleagues.

The suitcase I flew here with was stuffed with running clothes, hoodies (I thought it was supposed to be chilly here) and books. I was feeling very adult in our temporary relocation housing because it was so fancy. Then I hosted the first Harry Potter book club meeting via Zoom and it was my 9-year-old niece, as usual, who gave it to me straight. “We’re wearing the same play pants!” So not feeling very adult anymore. I should probably dig into the clothing boxes and put on something with structure.

The book boxes are what I’m looking. I knew I’d regret my lazy labeling in March and April, but being here was so far away. I spent hours at a time packing boxes and yet grabbing a sharpie and jotting down what was in those boxes was just too much work. So I’m sifting through boxes of Jameson and Sauza, looking for pencil scratchings. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a word like “dots” written in my handwriting because back in March I thought future me would remember wrapping my picture frames in polka dotted tissue paper. I guess I did.

Most of all I’m looking for my old bookmarks. I used to have a nice stack from Strand and libraries. Then we changed address and I fell to an old habit of using what’s within reach. My fellow took some pictures. Moving bookmarks have included the following.

a classy cookie wrapper
other books
They can’t tell there’s a snack inside.

Don’t fear the scissors

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I cut my own hair. I also cut my fellow’s hair and for some reason that’s socially acceptable, but, according to my sisters, cutting my own hair is weird. Maybe it was weird but I’ve done it my entire adult life. Considering the current global pandemic I don’t think it’s weird anymore. What’s weird to me is risking your health for a haircut. There’s not a vaccine yet. It’s just hair. Cut it yourself.

I was a freshman in college the last time I paid for a haircut. Where does a 17-year-old gal with a couple of crisp fives in her pocket and no clue go for a new look? Not 5th Avenue. I went up 5th Avenue past the elegant building where Richard Gere supposedly lived, past Art Deco towers and the Beaux Art style pre-war buildings of lower 5th Avenue. Oh, a marbled beauty boutique. Here’s the place for me.

I walked up to the mezzanine thinking the gold railing was a nice touch. I felt fancy and not at all out of place. There I spent 30 seconds with a woman I’ve never forgotten. Ten heads of red hair blew from her scalp. I still remember her pained face upon touching my dead sun-bleached hair and telling me it was very porous. I said, “Thanks!” She said she’d help me for $100. I said I’d be right back and headed far from 5th avenue all the way to 6th avenue.

Supercuts was on 6th Avenue. I love Supercuts. Never been back there since, but I’m pretty sure they’re the best salon in NYC. There I paid 11 dollars for a simple chin-length bob, and tipped another 11 dollars because that’s how I thought tipping worked at salons. I walked out after what felt like hours later with ear-length hair because my stylist was a student and I couldn’t keep my head straight. The haircut was great but was it worth having to look at myself in a mirror while a stranger touched me and talked to me? She washed my hair and I know this is standard but I was horrified. Nope. Never again. I began cutting my own hair and don’t see how it’s any different from cutting my own nails or washing my own hair.

Today, I read this in the New York Times email:

Haircuts have become a symbol of luxury during a pandemic that has shuttered many barbershops and hair salons. Waiting lists for $1,000 cuts are already swelling in New York…

NY Times

Hmm. Maybe my 5th Avenue frenemy was offering me a kindness. Maybe even then $100 for a fixing cut by a fancy pro was a good deal.

Also, I wish people wouldn’t risk their health for a hair cut. Protesting for Black Lives Matter, yes. Be safe. But don’t risk your health for a hair cut. There’s not a vaccine yet. I remind my sisters when they show off their stripes of purple, pink and blue. No problem coloring their hair but the fear of the scissors is real.

What’s the worst that can happen if you cut your hair yourself? I ask them this and they send me the worst pictures of me, those sweethearts.

Truth be told, home hair cuts don’t always turn out so well. They can go bad and when they’re bad they’re really bad. Sometimes you have to put the scissors down and wear a hat for a few days. Then you get back in there and even it out. I still have short hair and it figures itself out. My hair is a work-in-progress. I take breaks when my arms get sore.

A few tips:

Cutting my own hair comes out best when I’m in a good mood. Sometimes you get a dip in the back. This should be severed post-haste. It’s not cute. Don’t trust a significant other when they tell you it looks great. Especially if he can’t be trusted to warn you about giant coffee stains on your white shirt before leaving the house. Always use hair scissors and call them shears. Don’t cut your hair when you’re sleepy or emotional.

Anger = way too short

Frustrated = uneven

Stress = weird

Worry is okay. If you’re worried, cutting hair is a pleasant distraction, but do it a little at a time and don’t cut bangs. Don’t cut bangs.

Oh, yeah. Do yourself a favor and never tell anyone you cut your own hair.

First month in California

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We landed in California one month ago stunned that we’d actually made it here. Never while going through the motions of packing our lives did I fully believe we’d make it. I worried constantly that one of us would get sick, or the airports would close completely or we’d wake up one day to find all of the city sealed off from the rest of the world. That’s the way it happens in books. On the journey, I kept switching to the screen that shows the plane inching closer to the Bay Area, the growing distance between us and NYC. A guilty sigh trapped in my mask.

The virus is everywhere, but life was so much harder for us in New York. I thought things were tough before the Coronavirus took away the restaurants, bars, stages, museums, libraries, wanderings and people who consistently propped up our quality of life. Things kept getting worse. Numbers kept going up. Sirens sounded like sirens again after years of desensitization. Laundromats closed and we didn’t know how to clean outside germs from our clothes. We’d take drives at night to keep our car battery from dying. One night, we drove past a line of morgue trucks, a sight from post 9/11 days I’d forgotten, and I stopped obsessing over closed laundromats and accepted the pain in the back that is tub washing.

The red bucket was one of the last things we packed after futile attempts to wash clothes. This was not the sort of problem addressed by TV personalities in their spacious backyards or sunny living rooms worrying over touching up their hair color. I wanted to see the lighting guy or the person who waters the flowers in the studio crouched in the one sunny window in an apartment shared with two other people. That person wouldn’t have to say we’re in this together. One look would be the only thing needed to convey “I’m still here.” The viewer thinks “Me too” and goes back to packing.

commuting in plastic wrap

It took me 10 years to fall out of love with NYC and another 11 years to leave. My decade of inertia seemed full of highs and lows without a lot of in between, but that’s just hindsight. New York was home and I miss it. I like missing it more than I liked living there. I don’t like missing my family.

Tacos were my last meal in Brooklyn and my first meal here. After sheltering for the first 2 weeks, and aside from apartment hunting and getting back into the habit of working every day, we spent our first month pointing out hummingbirds like they’re shooting stars. We hike where and when we can and savor runs along the Bay Trail.

Sea fennel grows along marshy stretches and it smells so good.

We’ve also seen jack rabbits, kiteboarders and all sorts of lizards, which we learned eat Lyme disease-carrying ticks so bring on the lizards.

from Pillar Point Bluff

We visited the Pacific Ocean and found a new favorite tree.

California isn’t perfect, but a door opened for us and we’re glad to be here. Right now we only know it on the surface. It’s the well-adjusted, pretty friend sharing a fruit roll-up and offering us a place to live with our very own washing/dryer. All we have to do is sign the lease. Sigh, the lease. I got so used to looking at apartments, I forgot about the lease signing part. Sigh. It’s waiting for my signature and I don’t want to sign. It’s too soon. We barely know each other. What if California doesn’t like me? What if we’re living an ’80s movie or ’70s novel and California is only pretending to be our friend to dump a bucket of pig blood on our heads? I wish there were a mustachioed equivalent to signatures. That wasn’t really me who signed, it was mustachioed Hailey.

I don’t have a mustache. Got to go.

First hike in Briones, the curse continues

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I should’ve known to be extra methodical in preparing for a hike this weekend. Should’ve remembered Memorial weekends are cursed. It’s become our own special holiday tradition to flirt with doom. Not doom doom. My grandpa’s received Purple Hearts during World War II – doubt they’d use “doom” to sum up discomfort. We’re talking intense discomforts. Blisters, coffee headaches and I-didn’t-bring-enough-mango-strips intensity.

This year’s intense discomfort revealed itself as soon as well pulled into the Bear Creek Staging Area in Briones Park. I take off my sandals and ask my fellow to hand me my hiking boots from the trunk. He looks and says, “You’re not wearing your boots?” I say, “No, I wore my sandals this morning because you put my boots in the trunk. … Right?” He swears he never said he put my boots in the trunk. I swear he did. The only possible explanation is paranormal. Some supernatural monster sounding just like him told me my boots were in the trunk. “Wear your sandals in the car,” dirty monster says in my fellow’s voice. “I put your boots in the car already. You be comfortable.”

I remained in denial for a few minutes, staring in the empty trunk while my fellow refused to take responsibility for the fact that I forgot my hiking boots. You know the expression: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That’s not me. However, when I get up early to walk in the woods and remember to bring socks but forget my boots, I put my sandals back on and start walking.

“Like in olden times!” I told him every time five pointy rocks massaged my arches or a sticker stabbed my heals. Surely old timey hikers rocked purple wool socks in strappy Karrimor sandals.

Old Briones Road

We scrapped our planned route for the day and set off on the lovely and much exposed Old Briones Road. Past Memorial Day weekend discomforts have also included heat exhaustion, dehydration and helping another hiker in danger of heat stroke. As we continued down this picturesque gravel road, I kept thinking how quickly one bad decision leads to another and then we get in trouble. We decided to turn off on a more shaded trail and see if I could do some elevation in sandals.

This was our first trip to Briones. As far as discomforts go, hiking in sandals here wasn’t that bad. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it didn’t take away from our good time. In New York’s Catskill Mountains, hiking in sandals would’ve been a disaster, at least for me.

We lucked into getting a paper map at the kiosk when we first arrived. Trails here are clearly marked and we found it easy to figure it out as we went along. We wound up strolling the rolling ridge and other trails for just over 6 miles. Plenty of people were about hiking and biking, but it was easy to keep far apart.

The butterflies and humming birds seemed happy to have us. Baby butterflies fluttered around our legs for much of our last stretch along the Seaborg Trail. At first we thought it was one super energetic butterfly keep up with us. Then we realized where one would land, another would take off. Then we thought we saw one look back at us in terror and wondered if maybe they weren’t so much flying with us as away from us, running for their lives while we laughed and the purple-footed one waddled up a cloud of dirt with every I-think_i’m-getting-a-blister limp. Two blisters for me. Sorry, butterflies.

Note the cut off feet. That’s photographic denial right there. This is why we never learn from our mistakes.

Home is where the street finds are

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We’re into our third week of living in California and I’ve already slept through an earthquake. It hit Tonopah, Nevada early Friday morning, near enough to be felt perhaps by those not currently apartment hunting. Quarantining during our first 2 weeks here kind of ate into the 4 weeks we have to find a place. We were hoping to move in over Memorial Day weekend, which gives us all of 5ish days, 4 1/2 days. I’ve looked at 48 units in the last 4 days. I’m tired, tired, tired. One night I fell asleep on the balcony sitting in one of the camping chairs we’d stowed in the trunk of our car before it was shipped here.

We lived in our Brooklyn apartment for 13 years so it’s been a while since I’ve tried to project myself living in an empty space. Back then our list of must-haves amounted to 1.) Can we afford it? 2.) That was it. In NY, our budget and inclinations led us to certain neighborhoods based on local knowledge we don’t have here. In NY, we continuously carved our bubbles throughout the city – from running routes, to favorite bars, restaurants and special spots that felt like secrets. Time popped many of those bubbles and new ones formed without ceremony. Where we lived didn’t really impact our ability to inhabit them.

We were lucky to live in a relatively safe apartment with character and enough space to acquire and fill no less than 7 bookshelves. Moving makes you cringingly aware of how much stuff you have. At final count we donated over 250 books, 21 little shopping bags full of clothes and jackets, and not nearly enough shelves. So far the biggest relocation lesson I’ve learned for next time, if there’s a next time (and I’m hoping there is), is to keep pairing down. We held on to too many things that don’t mean anything to us and soon we’ll have the added task of trying to find a place and way to donate them. In Brooklyn, you can put a shelf on the street and within a few hours someone will likely walk off with it, paint it yellow and give it a whole new life. That’s basically how I furnished every place I’ve lived as an adult and my frugal heart loved it.

Trying to find the right place to live in the Bay Area in less than 2 weeks is like shopping for groceries when you’re ravenous, a task that never turns out well for me. My fellow learned this firsthand early on in our relationship. Already late, I called to say I’d be super late because I was hungry and had to get groceries. This sweet man was in my apartment by the time I got there, making me dahl and rice. The bag of “groceries” in my hand contained only Doritos and rainbow sherbert.

I keep hoping he’ll take the lead in our apartment hunt, but somebody is a little busy starting the new job that brought us here in the first place. So I’m looking and looking and trying not to come back with the apartment equivalent of empty calories. Most places are allowing self-guided tours, which means I show up with my mask and can give myself a little tour of the grounds and available units. Every place is referred to as a unit and described with the same bullet points and floor plans. My head glazes over. Maybe it’s best to detach and think of us as cogs looking for a wheel rather than a cluster of rooms where we’ll work, live and dream about choosing the haunted unit. But it’s affordable and has a water view and there was woodpecker on the tree right outside the window…

On the plus side, I found a radio station that plays Metallica and David Bowie. Problem is they keep playing “Under Pressure”.

David Bowie is a little too on the nose right now, but David Sedaris is helpful. One of the many books we rediscovered during the great book purge was Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. This one I not only saved to actually finally get around to reading, but kept aside for the carry-on. Reading his essay “Possession” was like having one of those effortless conversations with a friend. Sedaris writes about reluctantly apartment hunting in Paris with his partner, and then going to Amsterdam with buyer’s remorse, intensified upon walking through Anne Frank’s 17th-century canal house while still wearing the home hunting lens.

We’re not buying and I’m not quite to the point of envying the hidden rooms Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazi’s in, but I know where he’s coming from. My home hunting lenses are glued to my head and they don’t even fit. Not 1 of 48 units I’ve looked at have felt right. One lady working for one of the property management companies suggested we “consider re-branding ourselves as luxury people”. She was responding to one of my many variations of, “It doesn’t feel like us”. My guess is luxury people acquire antiques not street finds. I never should’ve looked at that place, but casting a wide net seemed like a good strategy at first. Now it’s becoming an existential crisis.

I thought all we wanted was a place to put our bookshelves, but granite is nice. I didn’t know I needed vaulted ceilings. A partial vault will do. I’m not picky.

sawyer_creek

Here’s from the Sawyer Camp Trail this weekend. We’re finally able to explore some of the area’s parks and trails. The vegetation is my favorite thing about this region so far. That and the abundance of in-unit washer/dryer machines!

Have Tin Foil-Will California

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Hi there. I’m writing from a desk that’s not mine, looking out a window to a place I don’t know in an apartment that’s not mine about 3,000 miles from NYC, my home of the last 21 years. New York isn’t home anymore – I keep forgetting. We relocated so my fellow could finally start the job he accepted back in February. Now we’re here, inside. We feel fine but are sheltering with any germs we may have brought with us or acquired on the plane. We considered driving, but after factoring in gas and food even a nonstop drive would’ve resulted in more exposure to others than the half-full plane.

Family is in good health, a fact I remind myself of constantly to tamp down everything else. The biggest challenge right now is trying to find a place to live while self isolating for our first few weeks. Virtual apartment tours don’t tell you what a place feels like, sounds like or what’s out the window. Soon we will step outside our temporary housing and find a place to live in the physical world.

Things were delayed and every aspect of the move complicated by the virus. Seeing neighbors taken from their homes in upright stretchers solidified the dangers of the virus in a way the news can’t. The hardest part was leaving without hugging or spending time with family first. We drove to their houses and waved from the driveways or parked far apart in parking lots.

Moving to the other side of the country gave me one keep-in-touch guilt card to play so I started a book club with my sisters and nieces. We can’t decide on a name so I call us They Who Must Not Be Named. Can you guess our first book selection? Two of my sisters are reading Harry Potter for the first time, as well as my little nieces. We had our first meeting last weekend to chat about the first few chapters and find out which house we each belong to. I’m a Ravenclaw? Much as I love Harry Potter, I read them so long ago I forget a lot.

So I get to read Harry Potter all over again almost as if for the first time. Once a week, I will forget about distance, see and talk to my favorite people, as well as cats and dogs that like to pop by. We will forget about the pandemic for a moment, and instead cheers me on my birthday with homemade butter beers (disgusting, btw). I’d intended to make everyone a cloak before the move. Then moving logistics swallowed all time and energy. An old hoodie will suffice for now. I don’t currently have much to bedazzle it with as most everything we own is in storage somewhere. The few possessions we brought in suitcases made sense when we packed them in Brooklyn: blank Christmas cards for pen-paling the nieces (in lieu of proper stationary), shea butter (to soothe raw-from-washing hands and tin foil. I don’t know what I was thinking with the foil then, but I do know I’m about to have the shiniest wand in the club who shall not be named.

Our should we stay or should we go discussion obviously went something like this:

Him

California, here we come?

Me

Sure, hon. I’ll just go a grab to foil first.

We’re watching these sketches for the hahas.

Listening to Tom Waits because he’s Tom Waits and this song is so good.

silver toes and Catskills fire towers

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Summer is gone and so are some toe nails. I never lost toe nails as a runner, but once we started hiking off they started coming, ever so slow and blackfully. Off they go to a better place, a place that is not my toes. That’s a rather sultry image but fear not. Pictures of my busted feet aren’t forthcoming. There’s not much to see anyway and that’s because my nephew got married at a beautiful farm in New Jersey. For this special occasion, I painted every toe with a dark silvery polish that now will not come off. On the two toes that were lacking in the nail department, I simply painted the skin where the nails once were. My pretty-if-you-squint toes were basically a wedding gift to them.

And now you know who to come to for beauty tips.

I’m also qualified, through on-my-feet experience, to offer advice on how not to buy hiking boots. For instance, when a teenage boy tells you men’s and women’s shoes are pretty much the same thing and that you should just buy men’s shoes because your size is sold out in women’s and the sale ends tomorrow you should … not. I go through pain so you don’t have to. My men’s hiking boots felt great in the store when I bought them about two years ago. I even tested them on the ramp. I loved those shoes for all the places they took me, but even the short easy hikes ended with pain, specifically blisters, bruised toes and throbbing arches.

Which leads me to suspect that men and women have different feet. Over Labor Day weekend, I lucked into a pair of Columbia hiking shoes made for women and the difference is glorious. Hiking doesn’t have to hurt. Hopefully I’ve resolved my shoe issue and will go back to merely stubbing the toe nails off my feet.

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We made it back up to the fire tower on Hunter mountain, this time we hiked up instead of cheating on the ski lift. You can hike the fire towers year round, but the top cabin parts will only be open for one more weekend until next Memorial Day I think. This view is from the last weekend in September. There’s much more color in the Catskills now. Hike the Hudson Valley shows the views around peak foliage and details the path we took. It’s steep and beautiful like so many places up there.

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We’ve been working on our 35er peaks, looking forward to joining the 3500 club some day. Right now I have a bit of a block on the peaks that require bushwhacking so we’re focusing on trailed peaks. Slide mountain (peak #1) and Panther mountains (Peak #2) were under our belts from a previous year. Hunter was our first fire tower of the year and peak #10 for us. The volunteer working the fire tower told us about this year’s Catskills Fire Tower Challenge. Hike up all five and you get pins. I love pins! Guess what we’re doing this fall?

Last weekend we hiked up the Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower.

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Balsam Lake Mountains is peak #11 for us and fire tower #2. This was by far our easiest Catskills hike, more like a storybook walk in the woods.

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Here’s the view from the top of the fire tower. Its also the westernmost Catskill 35 peak.

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This peak comes with its own soundtrack of continuous bird song. Heading back to the car, we passed dozens of people but it was still way less crowded than Hunter. At the top, a Jack Russell puppy sat in Raj’s lap while his human friend told us about the fire tower’s history. The clearing around the tower is shaded with plenty of warm rocks to have lunch on. The first and last two miles of this hike were on an old logging road so it’s a very gentle walk most of the way. Good for all fitness levels, with slightly more challenging trail over the last .7ish miles.

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Hiking mornings can be rough. We wake up in our Brooklyn apartment around 4 am, shower and we’re on the road before 5 am. After a few stops we usually reach the Catskills around 8 am then we get lost for about 30 minutes. During these early hours we’re tired and maybe a little cranky. In the moment it feels insane. Why are we waking up so early and driving all this way to walk in the woods for miles? Why are we doing this?

Then we finally have our shoes laced and packs on our back and within a few steps on the trail I am so thankful we give ourselves these hikes. I may not enjoy the before, but I love the during and after I’m good tired and all the negative stuff is wrung out. Then you hop on a country road, get lost again and eventually if you’re lucky you end up at the Bad Seed tap room and farm in Highland.

 

up and down Mount Washington

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We wanted an adventure and Mount Washington delivered. Three days later, my calves, quads and toes are still singing. In my head they sound like Tom Waits crooning ‘All the World is Green’.  Not quite all the world. The last half mile of Mount Washington is an endless pile of grey granite rocks wrapped in 50 mph gusts and thick grey clouds.

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I really wanted to reach the peak on a clear blue day. Who wouldn’t? Supposedly there are some nice views from the highest peak in the Northeast. We can confirm other rumors of the summit circus – the massive parking lot full of vehicles carrying clean people that chose to drive up. There’s also a cog railway and a visitor center with soup, cookies and pizza that looked awful but managed to tempt nonetheless.

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I’m remembering the hike backwards because I’m still surprised we actually did it. Leading up to the trip, we referred to the hike only as an attempt. We were making our first attempt of Mount Washington. It’s listed as the 8th deadliest mountain in the world, Everest is 7. Unlike Everest, Washington is free to hike and, at only about 4.2 miles to the top, far more accessible. Dubbed ‘Home of the world’s worst weather’, conditions near the top don’t make for easy hiking. It has snowed on Washington every month of the year.

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We took the Tuckerman Ravine to the Lion’s Head trail and back the same way. It offered some fun scrambles and allowed us to avoid the steep sections and crowds of the more popular Tuckerman Ravine trail. Like the rest of this monster, the Lion’s Head exceeded expectations. I thought we were above the treeline when suddenly the trail takes you through the alpine garden, a green oasis of protection with stubby pines hugging the trail.

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This was my favorite section.

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Don’t do what I did and start thinking you’re anywhere near the top. You’re not. It’s more than an endless mile away. Think a half mile ascent over stabby, sometimes loose rocks. Cairns help lead the way but there’s not really a trail. You just keep going up. This was the most mentally challenging part of the hike because it’s endless rock, you can’t see if you’re making any progress and the fog and wind made it hard to stop and rest for long because the chills would set in. A few seasoned hikers made it look so easy, a simple matter of hopping up a few rocks. I was not so steady on my feet and had to take every single step with care, announcing loose rocks with a Don’t step there. That’s a wobbly one. Raj was way ahead of me but talking out loud kept me going up, up, up. Then suddenly you’ve made it and you know you’ve reached the top because there’s a . . . . . . . parking lot.

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I like that this mountain has a road to the top because anyone can experience the peak regardless of age or physical condition. But in the moment of reaching the summit after nearing it for so long, when you really feel like you’ve been through something to get there, it’s jarring to breathe in a mouthful of mountain fresh exhaust. Ah well.

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Checking Mount Washington’s weather is a regular habit so it was fun to finally see the observatory up close. The visitor’s center was packed with people as expected on Labor Day weekend. I didn’t care. Raj grabbed a bowl of New England clam chowder and we found a warm spot downstairs to dry our hats and gloves and shake off the shakes. I’m wishing I’d thought to stretch my legs, but it was nice to sit and chat with other hikers.

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We had considered taking the Crawford path over to the Lake of the Clouds hut for the 1.5 miles of ridge trail then up another .3 miles to Mount Monroe then about 4.5 miles back down to our car at Pinkham Notch. It’s always tempting to grab another peak and we do love visiting the AMC huts. I didn’t have it in me this time. I was already feeling shaky from some combination of vertigo and exertion. I regretted this call at first, but had we pushed on we would’ve been hiking in the dark. As it was we didn’t reach our car until 6:30 pm. We did take our time, this hike is what we drove 6+ hours to do, but I’m not sure I could’ve gone much faster if I’d wanted to.

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After descending the half mile rock pile we were back below the clouds. I felt way more steady on my feet heading down. If I fell I knew I’d land on a rock about where my feet were. With the wind gusts against us going up I kept thinking about that fellow who was nearly blown off the mountain a few years ago. Scrambles that seemed tricky going up were more a matter of scooching heading down.

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This is a doable hike in the conditions we faced. I tend to obsess and this time over preparation made me my own hero. We almost made so many mistakes, like leaving our outer layers in the car because it was a warm morning and the hoodies only added weight. Thanks to the summit forecast, we knew to anticipate the wind gusts and cold, damp fog. I stuffed my pack with layers just in case. We wound up wearing winter hats, gloves and those hoodies for more than half of the hike. I’m also glad I actually paid attention to my body and knew my limits on that day. Mount Monroe and the rest of the Southern Presidential Range will still be there next summer.

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I think that’s Mount Washington in the distance. Didn’t see it up close, but I think we saw it from an overlook on the side of the road. Other than three bears by a hotel dumpster, we didn’t see much wildlife during our time in New Hampshire. We’re starting to think moose don’t really exist. Where are they?

With Franconia Ridge and Mount Washington under our boots, we’ve now hiked 3 of New Hampshire’s 4000 footers. Only 45 more to go. At this rate we’ll be done in about 45 years.