Wednesday, September 9, 2015

365 True Things: 164/Exhaustion

Today was a very hot day—approaching 100, if not higher—and my friend Lynn and I probably shouldn't have had the goal of clearing forty feet of trail of a few large oak trees. But that's what we did.

She explained that she's all packed for a trip to Nova Scotia on Friday and didn't want to sit around twiddling her thumbs. Me, I like spending time with Lynn and didn't think to think about the heat.

Silly us.

Our objective was Mt. Manuel Trail in Big Sur. Lynn had heard from a fellow wilderness ranger that a big tree was down and had caused hikers to create a serious diversion trail. Diversion trails are something Lynn can't abide.

So off we set from the trailhead a little before 8. It was already heating up, but the ridgeline still blocked the sun, so there was some shade. This photo accurately depicts the Mt. Manuel Trail in September: parched, exposed. Shade is a rare and lovely thing to encounter. There's no water at all, except at one point on the trail when you can hear the Big Sur River tumbling over rocks a couple thousand feet below. Nor is there much green.

Until you get to a band of woods about two, two and a half miles up the trail. That's where the culprit lay sprawled across the tread, with the diversion trail snaking upward to the left.

We immediately got to work, mostly with handsaws, cutting bits of limbs away until we could isolate larger limbs. It got hotter. The shade grew sparser. The green wood sawed easily, but the dead wood did not. I tend to saw vigorously. At one point I stopped mid-cut in some deadwood and realized . . . I didn't feel so good. Queasy and spent.

I'd been drinking water; I'd had breakfast. But the beating sun, perhaps combined with my age (I am not old, but I am no longer young and quite as resilient), seemed to be having its way with me.

I lay down in a patch of shade, closed my eyes, and remembered two other times in my life when I grew exhausted.

Our trip was through golden,
not green, hills
Once was on a bicycling trip in the Russian River valley and up the coast, then back over the coastal hills to the town of Healdsburg, with our French friend Frank. He grew up in the shadow of the Pyrenees; biking up steep hills was nothing to him—even in 100-degree heat. Foolishly, we thought we might find a pizza parlor on the road back to civilization. We were lucky to find a flowing spigot.

I remember getting to flat land and the final ten miles of our excursion and needing to stop and rest every mile: I couldn't do any more. When we finally did reach a pizza parlor, I was too enervated to eat. I ordered a salad, which, bite by bite, I forced into my mouth. Soon food began to do its magic, though, and I was okay again. But I still remember how thoroughly my body failed me that day. And how patient David and Frank were as they shepherded me back to normalcy.

The other time was while cross-country skiing at Badger Pass in Yosemite. We'd gone a good ways down the tracked Glacier Point Road, then decided to head back to the bus through the forest, breaking trail. We didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to break trail. Meanwhile, we had been given to believe the bus would leave at 4 p.m., with our without us. We worked very hard to get to the bus on time—which we did. And then it proceeded to sit there for another half hour! I just leaned against the window, exhausted. 

When we got back to our hotel (the Ahwahnee: our one and only time—so far—staying there, about which the best thing wasn't the room, which was a pretty standard hotel room, but the stunning view of Half Dome), I collapsed into a drawn bath. (And for the record: I don't take baths. So clearly I was not myself.) David, meanwhile, ordered an appetizer: crab legs with avocado (a special that wasn't on the menu). And he popped a bottle of champagne. Gradually, I came to and felt fit enough for dinner: which I remember still with gusto—filet mignon, medium rare (I don't eat steak either, as a rule), and a lovely bottle of Zinfandel. There were probably some vegetables and a potato in there too, but what I remember is the basic meal of steak and wine.

So today, Lynn happened to have some "margarita"-flavored Clif Shot Bloks. I ate one, and within five minutes felt much better. I drank some more water. I rested while she sawed. Then I put on my gloves and helmet, picked up my saw, and got back to work. And felt fine the rest of the morning. We continued to take frequent breaks in what little shade there was. Lynn had baked my favorite cookies—white chocolate–macadamia nut—and I'm sure they helped give me strength too. We cleared those two large trees with many tangled branches, neatened up the old tread, blocked off the diversion trail at both ends—and considered the day a success.

At the bottom, we dunked our heads and feet and arms in the lovely cold water of the Big Sur River. And then we went to the Maiden and had ourselves a beer, and a good chat.

All in all, an excellent day. Especially since I didn't have to call for Search & Rescue . . .


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