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SoCal #3: January-February 2021

Lego Success!
My New Year’s Eve Lego party for 2 was a bit of a bust but our reused Lego set was a resounding success. As planned, if the Lego’s weren’t a ‘take’ with us, we would give them away, and we did. The lucky recipients were 2 kids next door that were part-time residents. A few days after gifting them with our bright yellow box of bricks, Dad profusely thanked Bill because OUR inexpensive, small Lego set was the best ever!

We’d carefully avoided buying a Lego kit for building a prescribed object, like a tractor or dinosaur. I insisted that we have what I presumed was the original product with no specified design. My belief, right or wrong, was that the designer’s intent was to inspire more creativity than required when assembling a model following instructions. I wanted our brief dip into Lego-land to be authentic.

The family next door apparently had tons of Legos but always bought their kids kits and once the object was created, they didn’t want to dismantle it. Our free-lancer box triggered the kids to build and dismantle repeatedly, all day long. Poppa was thrilled with how much longer the kids were engaged. Mission accomplished!
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It’s a….

With a little luck, I hoped that the experience would shift the perspective of both the kids and the parents about attachment to objects and creativity. My fantasy was that the kids would tumble to cannibalizing their Lego kits for a massive pile of bricks from which to create objects that were bigger, better, more numerous or at least, different.

Grappling with Graupel
On January 25, 2021, The Desert Sun, the local newspaper, elaborated upon what Bill had experienced on his stormy hike immediately above our Palm Springs RV park:
By Monday afternoon, with unusually cool conditions from the winter storm, Palm Springs experienced a rare three-minute period of what appeared to be falling ice.
The National Weather Service confirmed the falling ice was a phenomenon called graupel, which is precipitation that forms when supercooled water droplets are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes. Graupel looks a lot like sleet or small hailstones, but the small balls are made of snow, not ice, and they are white. They almost look like tiny styrofoam pellets.
Graupel is "squishy; soft on the outside and hard on inside" while hail is sturdier and more solid, said Samantha Connolly, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
"It’s more giving. The outer coat is more melted in a sense. Hail is more hearty, you could say,” she said.
Meteorologist Alex Tardy said graupel's "fall rate is slow and somewhat sideways in light wind,"

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A storm approaching us from the south.

The California desert isn’t where one expects to expand their ice event vocabulary but Bill felt privileged to have experienced a unique meteorological phenomenon, though being caught in a graupel storm on what had been a sunny hike wasn’t ideal.

In deference to my disc injuries, I had done yet another “townie walk” in glorious weather for which I had headed the opposite direction, to the north, on neighborhood streets. I was horrified when making my turn around to see the heavy, threatening clouds that had suddenly built behind me and had surely engulfed Bill. We were both lucky: he was only briefly pelted in the storm and it stalled short of where I was. Palm Springs winter weather is quite the mix of conditions but, fortunately, the default is always sunny and dry and he finished his shortened hike under full sun.

Inauguration Day, January 20th, 2021 was one that will long be remembered by many, especially those of us who found it liberating and joyous. We watched from before Trump boarded the Marine One helicopter on the White House lawn until the last fireworks were extinguished, with a few hour’s gap in the early afternoon for some exercise.

Our jaws dropped, along with perhaps half the nation, when Amanda Gorman delivered her speedily written poem crafted for the occasion. Like with the other speakers of the day, she acknowledged where we were as a nation and as individuals and laced that sadness and pain with optimism and joy. Gorman’s presentation had it all for us: a powerful, timely message; an artful delivery; and a long, close-up look at an emerging star. She and I have little in common but I quickly adopted her as an idol, something I’m not prone to doing.

Inauguration Day also provided a long look at my other new idol, Kamala Harris. I had marveled at her boundless joy, her quickness to smile and to laugh, and her professionalism. I was delighted that American women, especially politicians, finally had a role model revealing the slender pathway forward for sharing their authenticity, their emotions, and especially their joy, without losing their personal power.
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Celebrating other women spreading their wings.

I continued to be fascinated by Harris’ ability to get bigger, not smaller, when she laughed or giggled. Most women recede and look child-like when they giggle, but not Harris. I loved it when she was about to be sworn in as VP: she went from her cute, impish smile and wave to someone nearby to her full-on, prosecutorial affect in a flash. Hours later on the Senate floor, she did it again but in reverse: she read out her official resignation proclamation from her Senate seat in the 3rd person and then convulsed in laughter, saying “That was weird!” and the audience echoed her amusement. Like my favorite yard sign “Biden and the lady that made Kavanaugh cry,” yup, Harris can do it all with grace and dignity.

On Inauguration Day, after the toxic rhetoric of the last 4 years, I consciously bathed myself in the healing words and energy of Gorman and Harris. I watched videos of them both from Inauguration Day over and over again and looked for more videos and stories about them to help displace the dark, depressing residue in me from the Trump years. I’d made a point to amplify joy as a pandemic survival strategy and over indulging in the power and joy of these 2 women was a perfect extension of my prior decision. Biden provided a deeply reassuring platform of leadership which freed me to focus on his optimism, optimism that these women infused with joy.

Biden’s First Week
Even with all of our own angst about the pandemic, I was alarmed to read about our normally upbeat, Swiss friend’s profound discouragement about it, at both the local and the global levels. We were heartbroken to hear that the pandemic and vaccination situation in Europe was imploding. It was all the more peculiar since, with the inauguration of Biden, we were beginning to pivot towards positivity.

Trump wanted to ‘make America great again’ by being regressive; Biden was instead anchoring us in optimism despite our plight in the country and in the world, by taking decisive action. In his first week, in regards to our optimism and hopefulness for the immediate future, Biden reversed the nosedive we had been in for 4 years and pointed the country on a successful trajectory.

At least for me, Biden almost instantly restored the “Of course, we can do this!” part of the American spirit that had been so potent for me in my own life. I was shocked to learn when we became regular overseas travelers 20 years ago, that that was not universal trait, but that it was in part an American thing.

We’d disengaged from the news a bit, but in Biden’s first week, there was a steady stream of presidential actions in a broad range of areas, from climate change to covid to racial injustice. Biden was taking on many big issues concurrently and with equal resolve and had recruited top notch people. The covid task force people had offices just outside his door and every department was required to look at their mandates through the eyes of climate change. “Integrated, orchestrated, energized” were the words that come to mind.

Biden immediately fired the White House butler that asked to be retained because the staff didn’t like him. Via Zoom, he told his 1000 incoming support staff that if he heard that any of them were being disrespectful to others, he’d fire them immediately. “Ah, to have an adult in charge.” At the other end of the spectrum, we all learned together that one of Biden’s 2 dogs was rescued from a humane society. Apparently Trump was the only US president for ages that didn’t have a White House dog: “too busy” he said.

Instead of leaving our heads in the sand like we had done for much of the last 4 years, we could again look up, look out, be proud, be hopeful, and feel like we were in good hands. I didn’t need perfection from Biden, only integrity. Joy, joy, joy!
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Bill’s anniversary card to me echoed our soaring spirits after Inauguration Day.

Suddenly, I found myself swelled with unfamiliar, patriotic pride. Having come of age during the Vietnam War and Watergate, I never took pride in being an American. And the popularization of the phrase ‘ugly American” at that time, didn’t help matters. I was glad to be an American, but not proud. Twenty years ago when we became nearly full-time, international travelers, both feeling ‘glad’ and ‘not proud’ became more intense. And certainly the last 4 years under Trump, those feelings all became more dark.

I understood that the “ugly American” image rightfully came from, among other things, the US being so big that many citizens were arrogant and clueless about the rest of the world. In an odd way, abruptly shifting from the leadership of Trump to Biden triggered a bit of that mindset in me: I felt like we were again afloat in a giant, buoyant ship and were no longer at risk of sinking, no matter what happened around us. Trump’s isolationist policies had made me feel less safe, less confident. It wasn’t about being dismissive of the rest of the world, but it was again believing that our mass, our culture, our good qualities that Biden was emphasizing, would make us safe again—not better than the rest of the world—just safe.

Quest for the Second Dose of the Vaccine
Dramatic events tend to be bonding experiences between strangers and securing the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine brought a handful of people in our RV park together even more than the quest for the first dose had. The county public health department was the first to offer vaccinations to the public and, initially, said that everyone would be booked for their 2nd dose at the time of the first. About a week later when we received our jab, the story had changed to “Get it wherever you can,” which was terrifying: other sites coming on line quickly stated that they’d only give 2nd doses to their own, first dose, patients. We felt discriminated against and victims of a bait and switch but at least had one dose onboard. We had devoted a huge amount of time and energy to obtaining our initial doses a month after the first vaccine was administered in the country and were overwhelmed by thought of spending the next 4 or more weeks stalking our second doses with the same intensity.

Despite our despair, I didn’t begrudge the county, state, or the federal governments for the generally chaotic situation. I was convinced that, after the inauguration, well intended people were doing the best they could at a time when the information about almost everything was changing daily. But it did feel at times like we were helpless little people in a well-heeled banana republic.
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Not everyone was worried about the virus: RV park neighbors sharing nachos & a toke.

One of the predictable, negative, consequences of the chaos was that desperate people like us were attempting to book multiple appointments for their next dose. Some had as many as 3-5 appointments scheduled because of their panic. There was a barrage of new information bits to keep us in rolling turmoil, things like 80% of the deaths from covid were in people over age 65.

Even if you secured an appointment, you knew it was an iffy situation. Anywhere in the country, weather could put the kabash on scheduled appointments. Where we were, a big storm system in January triggered the closure of inoculation sites because of the predicted land and mud slides whereas in the East, the same storm dumped snow that shut down vaccination sites. Sometimes appointments were suddenly canceled due to lack of vaccine, staff, or supplies. There was no guarantee that having an appointment would result in a vaccination, it only put you a step closer.

Our eyes bugged-out on January 27, half way through our waiting period for the 2nd dose, upon reading in the local Desert Sun newspaper:
The county follows up with those who receive a first shot at clinics run by the public health department, either by email or phone, to offer "specific appointment times or days," Leung said.

If true, I thought it should have been a blinking red banner at the top of the online version of the paper! Not many of the 65+ had first born children to offer up in exchange, but it would have been serious consideration if they did. The time and emotional energy hoards of people were devoting to securing their second dose would plummet if it was true, but the statement wasn’t echoed on the Riverside County website—all we could do was fret and keep scrounging for a shot.

In mid-February, the huge storm that blanketed the US and crippled Texas, closed vaccination sites and postponed the delivery of millions of doses across the country. During that same time, 3 RV park neighbors had their appointments postponed for 3 weeks by Rite-Aid because of a computer glitch. One county site ran out of vaccine. We wondered about our desert hiking friend who was flying home to Denver for 48 hours to receive her second dose the day after the Boeing engine shed fragments to the ground there. The high sense of urgency to procure the scarce resource made every deviation from plan, every unusual event, a catastrophe for all of us, even if we weren’t directly affected.

In The First 3.9%!
Counting down the days and then hours to our first, second-dose appointment, was taxing. We had pressed our luck by improperly making an appointment in the next county over. It was irresistible, however. The Walgreen’s pharmacy was inoculating with the 2nd dose even if you didn’t receive your first dose there, which had become rare.

Their county website was clear, you had to be a resident of San Bernardino County and we were snowbirds in Riverside County. Riverside stated that snowbirds were welcome to receive vaccinations in their county but San Bernardino made no mention of snowbird eligibility. The Walgreens national website on which we signed up for the jab, was ambiguous about both the residency requirement and the snowbird exception.
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Butting heads with the system like these rams.

We had about a 60% confidence level that we’d receive the vaccine at the San Bernardino Walgreens when we presented ourselves because California didn’t require residency, presumably to encourage illegals to get vaccinated. All we would be out was the couple of hours of driving time, so it was worth the gamble of brief humiliation to receive it on our first eligible date. The CDC ruled it was fine to receive the dose a few days early but we were certain none of the vaccination sites in our area would accommodate that possibility, so did’t try.

There was a little tension when the Walgreens’s pharmacy tech couldn’t find Bill’s name in their computer system and then she started asking too many questions, but nothing about our county of residence ensued and checking us in for our jab proceeded. It was about a 3 hour event, with an hour of driving each way and close to an hour in the pharmacy: waiting in the short, slow line of prescription seekers; the new tech sorting out the paperwork and computer issues; waiting for the pharmacist; and actually getting the jab. They didn’t make us sit in the store for 15 minutes for anaphylactic shock monitoring, so we happily and safely sat in our truck eating lunch instead. We’d done it! We were among the first 3.9% of people in the nation to be fully vaccinated!

A three hour turnaround was about the fastest we could have hoped for. Our other opportunities in Riverside County would have been 15-20 minutes less drive time each way but at sites processing hundreds or thousands of people a day. At most, the pharmacy was scheduling 1 person every 30 minutes, so it was calm and spacious feeling.

Once back at the trailer, we canceled our appointments with Riverside County that were in a week. We were delighted to have the saga behind us, to have the persistent uncertainty of actually getting the inoculation over, not just having an appointment.

Two other vaccination leads we had been pursuing had fallen through, which made the success at Walgreens all the more sweet. Bill had also registered us both with the State of Washington for appointments but by the time we had received our second dose, only Bill had been notified of a March appointment. Apparently I fell out of their system entirely, though I was later offered a March 7th appointment by the State of Oregon. That was a head scratcher; perhaps a physician's office had submitted my name.

In 2 weeks, we’d be almost bullet-proof to the current strain and would again wait for months with the anxious crowds for a booster to the variants to become available. We would maintain our obsessive-compulsive protocols but worry less about getting actually sick
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Smiling with his eyes.

Everyone is different but, based on our experience, don’t plan on accomplishing anything the day after your second dose. We both had a challenging night’s sleep after the shot and a terrible time the next day. Almost all of our symptoms came and went in waves, giving us little reprieves now then, which gave us hope we’d get through it. Headaches, GI distress, and severe muscle aches acted like a tag team.

I was delighted to have dragged myself out at 6:30 am the day after my vaccination for a slower version of my 4 mile fast walk; Bill settled for 2 miles at an even slower pace. Then it was off to Trader Joe’s for speed shopping at 8 am during their twice weekly senior hour. That did us in. The bending over to snatch items from awkward places was exhausting compared to walking upright. All of my aching muscles went into chaos with that simple motion. My head was clearer than Bill’s so I did the two, 10 minute drives, but I collapsed on the bed for about an hour upon our return. Bill brought the groceries in and then he collapsed. At 11 am, we were finally putting the groceries away and eating breakfast, which was about all we ate that day.

I’d had worse pain in recent months with my disc injuries and, prior to that, with shingles, but this immune-response pain was nasty. It wasn’t “white out” pain that completely snowed my brain but continuous pain that prompts one to futilely groan and groan some more.

I took 3 naps of about an hour each throughout the day and I never nap. We were both horribly hung-over for about 15 minutes after our naps. We would sit-up and motionlessly stare at nothing, hoping to feel better, but it didn’t happen. Between naps, we managed to finish the 2 hour routine of washing our clothes at the RV park laundromat, as planned. A walk, grocery shopping, laundry, naps, and buckets of pitiful complaining were all we accomplished that day.

We had GI upset and mild constipation, but there was no competition for our single toilet. Given we had no crisis in that department, I was glad we went through the side effects together on the same day because neither of us could have believed the misery and have had sufficient empathy otherwise. It was a stunning, viral-like response to a vaccine that contained no virus, which underscored that what we attribute to viral infection symptoms are probably symptoms of the immune response to the infection, a subtle but useless distinction.

We both had a miserable night’s sleep the day we received the vaccine but, amazingly, after having had a hideous day of side-effects, I awoke that Sunday night at 10 pm and knew it was over. Well, not really over, but the inconsolable-misery stage was behind us. On Monday, we did a 10 mile hike, though hardly briskly: I was dragging in the morning and Bill in the afternoon. It took several more days to feel well.
These mRNA vaccines have so much overkill in their effectiveness that if it takes a concentration of 1:100 to neutralize the virus, these products have the effect of 1:4,000-6,000. Bill was guessing that the extreme effectiveness of the vaccine was the source of our pain. The good news was that we were definitely getting a substantial immune response, something that tends to diminish with age, though not with these early vaccines. (Lucky us!)
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Pandemic Dance
In January, I made an abrupt change in my daily fitness routine because my lumbar discs were resistant to healing. I gave up hiking the trails entirely when, suddenly, walking 2 miles on city streets triggered “Don’t mess with me!” pain. I switched to doing 2 mile loops from our trailer, returning at the end of each loop to perform my cobra repetitions and the prescribed holding pose to reposition the discs, and then I’d launch for another 2 miles on the streets. I hoped that the frequent therapy, the ease of maintaining perfect posture on the level terrain, and absence of a pack on my back would promote recovery.

When walking in Palm Springs, it doesn’t take long to be reminded that people flock there to be outdoors in the middle of the winter, even in the pandemic with a modified stay-at-home order. They were everywhere and were the most reliable marker for good walking routes. I searched for nearby, visually interesting, quiet, streets and the best ones had more foot and bike traffic than cars. Almost all of the walkers carried masks with them and were quick to put them on when approaching me, especially if I was seating mine in place.

The most amusing characteristic of my new community was the social distancing dance. Most of the side streets were broad, often without sidewalks, so I and others were quick to move farther into the street and even half way into the traffic lane, to give a wide berth. Some were like me and preferred to ‘take a lane’ and skip the masks. One morning, I happily resorted to walking the center line for a short distance since 2 oncoming clusters of people were occupying the sides.

The folks out on these streets to rack-up miles were quite obliging. It amused me to see so many of us hopping into the street, crossing streets to yield, and doing other maneuvers to make it mutually agreeable. One situation was too crowded with walkers and their dogs while I was on the center line, so I turned around and walked a minute or two in the reverse direction to let it clear. Most of us had the same goal: get our miles in under the brilliant blue skies, stay safe from covid, and keep it calm, congenial, and simple. As I was scrambling to the other side of the street to dodge a couple whom I had passed and then, when out of sight, they had turned around, we all laughed when she said “Remember when we could just pass someone on the street and not think about it?” Yes, those were the days....
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Eating lunch out of our “Bento Boxes” (bike back rack bags) so as not to touch anything when in public.

Occupying the Mind
Staying fascinated, staying engaged, can be a challenge during our quest to hike 40 miles a week, week after week, year after year. The hot, dry, fall weather in the desert this year dashed hopes for wild flowers identification to cast its spell on us during the winter season. And confining myself to short walks on city streets in deference to injured disc issues limited my big horn sheep encounters and trail vistas.

I began my weeks of largely being self-sentenced to the monotony of city streets for exercise by seeking the adjacent Palm Springs neighborhoods with minimal traffic noise and interesting houses. I skipped the usual celebrity-homes routes because the fortress-like walls required viewing them from the double decker, open-air tour buses and instead, targeted understated-elegance neighborhoods. I knew from prior year’s visits to Palm Springs where to start and quickly added several more routes to my private “homes tour.”

I needed low traffic streets so as to listen to audiobooks to counter my boredom but quickly discovered visual ways to engage my mind. My first entertainment object was to examine the architecture of the predominately one story homes, quickly deciding that the prior A frame rage looked forced and didn’t fit in well with the general style. White A frame sections integrated with otherwise flat-roofed structures was a loser in my mind. I overheard mention of butterfly roofs in regards to bird feeders an RV park neighbor was making and quickly spotted the real thing on one of my upscale, tract home routes. I can only imagine the current price tag for Palm Springs, mid-century, tract homes.
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Classic Palm Springs architecture in a bird feeder: a butterfly roof.

After exhausting the entertainment value of evaluating the general architectural biases on my routes, I moved on to unusual doors and entrance ways, which didn’t take long to complete. Modest, mostly metal, yard art then became worth snooping for. A little rust-colored road runner up high in one yard, a low-placed metal hummingbird at the same house, and a metal flying pig and piglet behind a fence were top finds. A 3’ tall, colorful, metal, apple and a pear were a nice touch between 2 garage doors. The trophy find was actually in a distant neighborhood where I walked one day, which was a pair of life-sized, metal giraffes. Then it was on to noting desert-friendly landscaping with dozens of small, specimen plants. It was an engaging variety of different elements that successfully kept me from being bored when 2 old Cadillacs on opposite sides of a street and a $150,000 Mercedes, Jeep-like-thing down the hill, switched me to stalking cars.

Bill couldn’t believe my sudden fascination with cars given I’d never been into them and he was soon laughing “She knows them all”. Hardly true, but with the help of his lifelong preoccupation with cars, I moved up the learning curve quickly. I was entrained by the game of identifying makes or models by their shield or logo. Rather than only observing, I had something to work on, to learn, albeit useless.

Many vehicle manufacturers have stopped using text for their identification and, like Target stores, have moved to relying more heavily on symbols. I struggled to remember which one was the Infinity symbol and which was that of Acura. I’d pause and look for a word on the car or, less reliably, the license plate holder. I cheered my little victory when I found a data point to confirm an identity. I was on the hunt to learn logos and then spot them on the fly when they whizzed by me.
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The giraffes were a new addition to this yard.

Like looking for genteel homes and perfectly maintained landscaping, Palm Springs was a treasure trove of less common car makes. Palm Springs is the promenading community in the 45 mile-long, Coachella Valley and these streets with slower speeds and light traffic were safe places for showing off trophy vehicles.

Bill accompanied me on several of my walks and we spotted our first 2 Genesis’, which I later learned were made by Hyundai (and were made famous by Tiger Woods’ crash a week later), and an Abrath within a couple of blocks of each other. Bill recalled Abrath as a long-time manufacturer of auto parts but I discovered that they’d been making cars since 1949, a few years before butterfly roofs became the rage in Palm Springs. Within a few blocks of these novelties, was a dull gray, 1971 Jaguar XKE, a car we both knew from our childhood. On a different day, another cult classic from our youth, a red, 1964 Ranchero, was being photographed, a station wagon-truck hybrid like an El Camino.

Even as I graduated to more trail hiking, it was clear that I had a new obsession: car models. Bill would be driving and I’d start rattling off more interesting finds in traffic and then suddenly say “Oh, what’s that red one over there on the right?!” One bike ride, it was a pristine, white, Lincoln pick-up truck that had been out of production for about 15 years and a Rolls Royce SUV that turned our heads. And who knew Bentley made a convertible? By the time we left Palm Springs, I decided that the traditional barriers had been broken: just about any manufacturer seemed to make an SUV and a convertible, or perhaps a combo of the 2.

Bill kept saying “You won’t be satisfied with our Ford truck anymore!” but that wasn’t a concern. I really didn’t care a bit about the cars, just the mental stimulation from spotting them and sometimes a few tidbits about their history. For me, it was more like bird-watching and wildflower identification—something to do while walking. I lamented that my new game that was verging on an addiction, would come to an abrupt end when we hit the freeway on our way to Joshua Tree National Park; even the Ferrari and Corvette owners seemed to prefer cruising the quiet streets of Palm Springs to see and be seen over driving fast amongst the semi-trucks.

Leaving Palm Springs
I was surprised to feel towards the end of our 3 month stay in Palm Springs that we weren’t as ready to move on as we usually were. I eventually realized that it was because we hadn’t experienced much of what we expect to do when there.
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Why we move to higher ground on March 1: the (non venomous) snakes were coming out.

Our 3 priorities when in Palm Springs are enjoying the warm, dry weather for outdoor fitness activities; socializing while on at least weekly hikes with club members; and doing higher mileage hikes with significant elevation gain towards the peaks. This year, we’d only regularly experienced one of 3, the nice weather. The pandemic totally eliminated the club hiking activities and my only recently, fully-diagnosed, disc injury issues prevented serious hiking by me. At times, I could only walk 2 miles before disabling pain set in. No wonder we didn’t feel satiated!

But in the last days of our usual 3 months in Palm Springs, we celebrated our successes. We’d received both coronavirus vaccines and were at the 2 week, post 2nd dose, bullet-proof point when we left town, which was an ongoing source of joy and relief. I was finally able to do our signature hike, which was going ½ way to the Palm Springs Aerial Tram, twice in the 10 days before we left the valley and, after loosing ground, our final 4 mile speed walk was again over 4 mph. I was still intensely treating my disc injuries every day but I was slowly reclaiming my hiking capacity. Having failed to resolve my buttock pain while in Palm Springs, I hoped to achieve a complete remission of symptoms during our month of hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.