Bees, Chollas and Horses, Oh My!

Last week’s runs and the hike on Saturday went so much better than the previous two weeks. A few things changed. First, the weather is cooler which means there is more oxygen in the air and fewer bugs. I find it’s better to bring my own fuel rather than rely on the occasional gnat. They just don’t satisfy.

Second, I got over whatever virus or bacteria was feasting on my insides – probably swallowed a bad gnat. All the blood in my body was torn between fighting off the microscopic invasion and supplying oxygen to my muscles as I forced my legs to run. I should’ve known better when my vision got spotty, my head whirled and the bees buzzing the cactus flowers started to look like tiny fairies with blue hair.

“Mister, are you ok?” a kind passerby would ask.

“These must be the retired fairies.”

“Ok then. Have a nice day.”

And third, I stopped pushing so hard. The trail runs became slower paced hikes and my distance runs were done on the road. Once my body got the rest it needed, the runs became pleasurable again. I lifted my head to take in the sights again which, since I run in the evenings, include Burrowing Owls and the rare bat chasing a moth under the streetlight.

Twice last week my boys joined me for an easy two-mile run. Actually, they turned into walks when the little one got a side stitch after three blocks, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. I love it when they join me. The older one is a different story. He’ll literally run in circles around me because he can’t stand to go so slow. “Come on, dad. Where’s the next turn.”

“Save your energy, son, (huff, puff) so you’ll have something left (puff, huff) at the end.” Who am I kidding? The kid has boundless energy and weighs only as much as one of my shoes. He’s all knees, elbows and big feet. When he stands on his toes he shoots up another foot. When he sticks his tongue out he looks like a zipper. When he… well, you get the picture. He’s built to run. Wish I could convince him to join the school cross country team. “No way! That’s hard work.”

On my trail run last Saturday, I wised up and took the Turnbuckle trail loop the opposite direction from the last two times so I would be going down the switchbacks instead of up them. It was much easier as the incline (560 feet) was spread out over half the loop. I did stop to take several pictures, though. What did you expect? I may have to curb this photographic desire during the Ragnar relay.

I mentioned bees earlier. For some reason, the restrooms at the park attract bees. Flies I can understand, but bees? They buzz the toilets and sinks, scaring away small children (which might explain all the yellow bushes around there). I can tell you I won’t be eating any of their honey. So the park people put buckets of water behind the building in an attempt to attract them away from the toilets. The lure worked for a while as you can see from the bucket of dead bees below. But only the slow ones fell for it. The smart bees figured it out when their brother buzzers didn’t come back. “Don’t go over there, Harry! It’s a trick. You can’t swim!”

Here are some pictures from along the trail. Fall in the Valley of the Sun is different from other places. We don’t have it. But the desert has a rugged beauty that I appreciate more as I learn more about it and experience it.

turnbuckle-1turnbuckle-4turnbuckle-5turnbuckle-7selfieFor example, the below pic of a Jumping Cholla cactus. It looks innocent enough, but the mere name of it strikes fear into the hearts of hikers all across the southwest. I’ve heard countless horror stories of people and pets being attacked by these predators. Did you ever see the Star Trek episode where they’re on the planet and one of the red shirts gets hit by a flower that pops up and shoots tiny darts? Yeah, that’s this.

“Doug, I was walking by minding my own business getting ready to throw bread crumbs out for the cute little quail, when all of a sudden this cactus barb jumped out at me and stuck into my leg! It was horrible. Now my Hello Kitty tattoo is disfigured.”

jumping-chollaYes indeed. You have to watch out for these suckers because the needles have little hooks on the ends and pulling them out is far more painful than getting them in you. The pic below is a whole forest of them. They looked down on me ominously, daring me to pass. I felt like Indiana Jones running through the temple, leaping over skeletons with the little golden statue as poisonous darts and spears whizzed by overhead. At least, that’s how it was in my head.

cholla-forestBut once you know the warning signs – bits of clothing, flesh and tufts of fur on the ground – you can avoid them for the most part. Once, I saw a whole sock stuck to one. Poor guy, wonder what happened to his foot. [shiver]

After that, I quickly came to the high point of the trail where in the past I would take a short break and continue on down. But this time I felt good and decided to hike the extra .33 miles up to the vista point. It was quite a bit steeper and mountain goat rugged, and it began with this sign:

vista-trail-3My first thought was, how did they get this pole up here? Sherpa? Here is what the trail looked like:

vista-trail-1Yes, there is a trail there. I’ll admit I stopped a few times to catch my breath and look around. At one point, I heard voices behind me, “F— this! F— that! Blank, blank Fat Cat…” I stopped and turned around and saw a stream of teenage boys coming up the trail. One of them had a pack on his back with rap music blaring. I let them pass.

A few minutes later we all reached the top and were in awe of the view. Thankfully, they had turned the music off. It turned out they were from a local high school.

vista-point-2vista-point-3The trek back down was enjoyable. No trips, stumbles or resulting landslides. No cholla bristles in my tushy. Towards the end, I did come across some people on horseback.

“Beautiful day!” I said to the lady.

“It sure is!” she responded and stopped. I assumed she was waiting for me to pass, so I advanced, but her horse had stopped to pee. This thing was like the Old Faithful geyser, splattering shoes, socks, rocks and cacti. Bugs and beetles fled like rats. I would have gasped, but prudently closed my mouth instead.

I looked up at the lady. She said, “He does that. That’s my boy,” and gave its neck a pat then walked on or pranced or whatever horses do and we passed each other. I gingerly stepped over the Rio Grande with my now spotted shoes and continued around the corner to the end of the trail.

horsesThe entire hike totaled just over four miles with the vista point added in and I felt really good afterwards.

That afternoon, the fam and I went to a new theater in the neighborhood with the largest screen in Arizona – although we were in a smaller adjacent theater – and saw “Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life.” I wasn’t sure about the movie, but was pleasantly surprised. I liked the message it gave about releasing imagination and creativity. Plus, there was a bar in the lobby.

theater-with-barI got to bring my local microbrew ale into the movie and kick back in my recliner. Yes, the seats reclined. Ahh, what a great Saturday!

Cool runnings to you, my friends!

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