The Unreached Mountain

After our first Jeep trip to the Salton Sea, I thought our Wrangler was invincible. My husband, Frank, and I rode through sand, rocks, ditches, and narrow squeezes as easy as driving the freeways of Southern California. Sometimes even at the same slow speed.

The next trip we camped near Anza-Borrego State Park. The other four-wheelers with us had brand new Broncos and a 2003 tricked-out Rubicon. We were a little outclassed. Our 2004 Wrangler had 32” tires but otherwise was stock. However, we weren’t too concerned. The trails we planned were considered “easy” and “moderate.”

A few hours into the ride, Frank and I sat eating sandwiches inside our Jeep looking up with regret at our crew perched on the mountain.

Our day started out easy enough. Our group of four vehicles entered the windswept sandstone canyon and followed a creek bed. At first, we saw regular motorhomes and four-wheel drive trucks camped under the shade of the canyon walls. Other Jeep groups and single off-roaders passed by on this main part of the trail. I wouldn’t have camped there with all that billowing dust.

As the canyon walls closed in on us, we still saw a few Jeeps and trucks with popup tents on top of them. Full camping kitchens were balanced on rocks. People sat under EZ up canopies to block out the unrelenting sun. The trail became narrow with sharp rocks that poked out of the sand, waiting to pierce our tires.

We kept up with the rest of our group despite our lower stance. Jeff, our experienced leader, turned off the main trail and headed up a side wash. The rocks were a hand’s touch from the sides of our vehicles, especially the wider Broncos. We crawled over the boulders and inched past the protruding edges of the canyon walls.

The trail turned sharply to the left. A sandy trail led straight up the face of a cliff. There were many tire tracks showing the success of others before us. We all stopped and allowed each vehicle to climb the mountain alone in case they had to back down and try again.

Jeff in his Rubicon made it up there easily. Then one of the Broncos scaled it. It was our turn. Frank adjusted his gears and gave it some gas. I hung on and closed my eyes. We bounced up to the top. I turned toward our dogs in the back, and our border collie, Davey, had a wild look in his eyes. Our beagle, Harley, was buried in the seat.

Our group joined several Jeeps that were parked on a flat mesa overlooking the mountains and desert. We got out and took a break, talking about our next move. Should we go down and try another branch of the canyon? Above us was another trail that went up onto a sandstone ridge. I could see a few Jeeps parked up there. We decided that would be our lunch stop.

Jeff found the trail leading up and we followed slowly. The side of the cliff was deep soft sand with patches of rock. Frank and I got stuck a couple of times and had to drop back and try it again. One last section remained before the top.

Jeff parked and stood out on a rock with his radio so he could spot us. Our first Bronco went up and got stuck. Jeff gave him directions on the radio, and with a few adjustments he was up the hill. From our viewpoint, his wheels were all twisted different directions as he clung to the uneven surface.

It was our turn.

Starting on soft sand made it hard to get up the speed we would need. Frank threw it in low gear and we shot up. Near the lip there were several deep ditches close together. We hit the first one.

Clunk! Spin! We were stuck. Frank threw it in reverse and tried it again. Clunk! Spin! Jeff offered suggestions which we tried unsuccessfully.

We were too low to navigate the ditches.

Frank backed down and found a place out of the way of the other Jeeps coming behind us. The last Bronco in our group made it up the hill. I stepped outside to give the dogs a break, but heat radiated off the deep sand and the dogs were not interested. We decided to stay inside and eat our lunch.

After a while, Jeff radioed us that the group was coming back down. We joined them and completed the rest of the trip.

Were we disappointed? Yes. Were we embarrassed? Not really. Our friends are people we’ve ridden Harleys with for years. There was no condemnation. You ride your own ride.

Back at camp, we talked about our favorite parts of the day. Red rock sculptures and vast desert vistas unseen by regular roads. Old rusted minecart trestle covered in bright colored graffiti. Groups of people gathered to shoot their guns at a desolate mountain. A tiny bar filled with thirsty off-roaders.

Tomorrow we would go back to our regular lives, but for this weekend we were explorers and adventurers.

And I would have to complete a few more days of substitute teaching to pay for upgrades to our Jeep.

A witch’s loss

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Her magic was failing, and there was nothing she could do about it. It was her fate. When you were over three hundred years old, something was bound to wear out.

The witch knew this with her brain, but her heart still grieved. Magic had been her companion through broken hearts, wars, and witch hunts. Over many long years, she had loved and lost friends and familiars, but magic had remained a constant hum underneath her skin. Now it was a faint whisper.

The witch steam mopped her kitchen floor, her long tangled white hair hanging in her face. She took her time, making sure to get all the blood in the grout. Living in these times was a lot easier than when she first crossed the ocean. Back then, she lived in a dirt floor hut outside the village. It was convenient to have her own animals for spells, but her city condo these days smelled a lot better. And she could order the animals she needed from Amazon.

After she tucked her steam mop away in the closet, she turned her cleaning energy to her bathrooms. Her three-bedroom condo had two of them, a luxury unheard of when she first came to this country. She sprayed her natural cleaner on the toilet and sink and scrubbed with what strength she still possessed. As she wiped down the mirror, she avoided looking at her reflection. That shriveled up crone was a stranger to her. If her magic was strong, she would be able to smooth those wrinkles with a potion.

If her magic was strong, she wouldn’t have to work like a cleaning lady. She used to be able to mumble a few words and her home would be sparkling clean. These were humbling days when she needed to save her magic for the big things.

Spells that used to spill off her tongue now sputtered and failed. Last week, she used her scry bowl to see what her sister witch, Agnes, was doing. The water refused to show her anything. In her anger, she tossed the ancient ceramic bowl across the room. It shattered on the tile floor. She had to FaceTime with her instead.

Losing her magic made her so angry she wanted to transform into a bird and fly away. Usually, anger amplified her power. Now when she spoke the spell, all she got were a few feathers and a sudden urge to eat granola.

When the bathroom was clean, the witch turned her attention to the shelves in her work room. The small room, formerly one of the bedrooms, had one whole wall covered in wooden bookshelves, mismatched and of different finishes. Jars lined the shelves, some filled with liquids while others held dried plants. Using a microfiber cloth, she lifted each one and wiped it before returning it to its place. This took a long time. She needed to be careful as some of her ingredients were volatile in combination with others.

A tear rolled down her gnarled cheek. Most of these jars would never be used again. Maybe she could sell them to a younger witch.

Weakness overcame her, and she had to sit down at her desk. What would be left without her magic? An ancient crone, powerless and friendless. How could she live without her craft?

She glanced down at her phone on the desk. Maybe she was allowing her circumstances to overwhelm her. She still had sister witches who cared about her. Maybe her magic just needed to be recharged like her phone.

There was power in mingling magics. How could she have forgotten? She reached her trembling hand to grasp her phone. She scrolled through her contacts and clicked the phone symbol.

There was more than one kind of magic.

Twas the Night Before NaNoWriMo

Death ValleyJodi

 

I have to admit I’m a little nervous about participating in NaNoWriMo this year. If that sounds like gibberish to you, it’s the National Novel Writing Month. It’s a website and a bunch of people who want to break through barriers to write as much as they can in one month. Specifically, 50,000 words.

You may think that’s crazy, and you’re not wrong. But there’s great energy in joining with writers in your community and far, far, away to create new stories. My last book, Beach Witches, was birthed through NaNoWriMo. Granted, I generated 50,000 words, but it also took me two years of revisions to wrap up the book. Now it’s out on submissions, waiting for its place in the publishing world.

So tomorrow I start writing. It’s a new project titled The Overnighter, a YA fantasy novel about a girl who goes on a Harley Owners Group overnighter riding behind her mother. Here I go. About 2100 words a day if I want to take off Sundays and Thanksgiving.

Wish me luck.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Skiing Palomar on a Harley

Palomar

 

Although Mt. Palomar enjoys an occasional dusting of snow and ice, there’s not enough for a ski resort. The only way to ski its winding road is on a Harley. One simmering day in August, the HOGs answered the challenge of thirty-five miles of twisty roads that loop up to the observatory and back down to Lake Henshaw.

The main road dropped us off like a ski lift, and the ride began. Our front wheel cut through the curves like a set of skis navigating a mogul field. I couldn’t see Frank’s face but if I could, I know I’d see his huge smile. And it’s even more fun from the passenger’s seat, where I was free to look out over the spreading valleys with their guardian mountains while our bike swooshed back and forth on the relentless road. To keep my seat, I had to keep some attention forward as Frank moved his body into turns. The rhythm of leaning left and right turned into a dance accompanied by rock music in my helmet headphones.

Our group of seven bikes turned into a ride of one as bikes spread out into the mountain’s shadows. We rode together, yet the ride was ours alone. The series of curves seemed endless like the ocean, and Frank was constantly setting up our next turn, over and over for miles. He and I didn’t talk much on our coms during the twisties. Time to communicate with the road.

When the group reassembled at the stop sign, it seemed like we’d been on a journey even through it had only been about 15 miles. Every rider was tested through Palomar’s gauntlet. Our bike stopped, but my heart was still racing.

After collecting up our riders, we took off again, headed for the observatory at the top, an elevation of 6142 feet. I noticed campgrounds as we zoomed by, but seriously wondered how large RVs would make it up that road. Pine trees mingled with oaks on both sides, creating a spicy refreshing breeze, making us aware of our damp clothing. Upon arrival at the picnic grounds and observatory parking lot, we parked The Black Pearl in a row with the other bikes and hopped off. Definitely time for cold water.

After a break, what comes up must go down, and we headed down the East Grade road toward Lake Henshaw. This road seemed easier than the road up, the curves a little more relaxed. But maybe not. Maybe we were warmed up from the first batch. Halfway down the hill I caught glimpses of the lake, surrounded by brown fields dotted with cattle. The pine scent was replaced by a burnt desert smell marking our descent to the highway.

As we rode back on the 76, long sweeping curves swirled us back down to Pala. These turns held us longer than the short choppy ones on the road to Palomar. They pulled us in like a storm drain, a whirlpool headed for the ocean. When we reached Pala Casino and parked our bike, I still felt the sway of the road for a while.

Much later, back at home and sitting in our pool, Frank and I compared our experiences on the mountain. We both loved the ride, although my impression included fear and relief that the ride was completed. However, Frank was ready to go back and challenge the mountain again another day. Not many rides can compare with skiing with your Harley on Mt. Palomar.

On being published, and how it changed my life

i-am-a-writer

Two years ago, I got sick and tired of my pathetic longing to publish my novel. My book project was only one year into the revised drafts, and I felt like time was running out. Let’s face it –I’m not getting any younger, and if I want to be a best-selling author I need to get my first one on the New York Times bestseller list. So I sent out an army of queries to any agent that represented my genre. My submission spreadsheet grew into several pages with polite rejection notes. The agent I met at a very expensive writer’s conference never responded to my query. I was desperate for a new approach.

My critique group was supportive and gave great feedback, but they were not professionals in the writing industry. I wasn’t going to improve my writing without higher standards. Should I go back to school? Seeking to improve my craft, I enrolled in a local university’s online creative writing program. What I expected was that my writing would be pulled apart, equipped with upgrades, and become the shiny sports car I needed to catch a literary agent’s eye. What I experienced was a barrage of articles about writing that I could have Google searched myself. The students provided feedback on each other’s assignments, although most were not qualified or bold enough to give more than vague compliments. Curiously absent were concrete suggestions from the teacher. Although it was great to have structure and deadlines for creating short pieces, I didn’t really learn anything new.

However I did enjoy discussing the art of writing with other people interested in pursuing a writer’s life. There had to be other writers out there like me that wanted to be taken seriously. So I searched the internet and found the California Writers Club. It was a state club with local branches, so I checked out the Inland Empire Branch. What an exciting moment when I walked into a room with thirty other writers, most full time professional ones, and listened to a presentation about marketing books on social media. These people were living the life I dreamed about! I joined the group, and the members have become some of my dearest encouragers.

One of the club’s suggestions was to set smaller goals along the way to my big goal of publishing my novel. For my WordPress blog, I include articles about riding with my husband in the HOGs (Harley Owners Group). I found a database called Duotrope where you can find submission information for all varieties of print and online magazines and contests. A new submission spreadsheet was begun, and within two months one of my articles, “Backroads to Pioneertown” was accepted into an international travel journal called Coldnoon Travel Diaries. There was no money award, but my work was validated. Buoyed with my success, I continued to submit articles and last month “The Almost Grand Canyon Trip” was published in the literary journal The Courtship of Winds.

            My blog caught the attention of our HOG chapter and I was asked to become the editor of their newsletter The Handlebar Star. My responsibilities include collecting and editing articles written by the club officers and adding my own touches.

Success with my nonfiction writing sparked my creativity toward my novel project. Instead of giving up, I asked for help from my social media audience. One of my Twitter followers agreed to become a beta reader for me, and sent me seven pages of notes and revision suggestions. I was surprised to discover that the roots of my story were still alive, and I am weeding out unneeded sentences and watering my characters. I am learning to persevere in editing, long past the point where I’m in love with any of my sentences.

What began two years ago as a desperate search for help has shown some small victories. I’m not giving up on writing courses yet, although I will do more research on the best programs. Joining a professional writers group has given me a supportive family that helped me discover opportunities I never would have found on my own. And becoming an editor has reinforced the basics that I need to practice.

And so I start this year as a published writer. Did it change my life as I thought it would? Absolutely. Criticism and encouragement have sharpened my writing sensibility and I’m ready to do the work necessary to perfect my writing style. Today I’m even more dedicated to improving my writing and finding new ways to get my stories out to readers.

January Reset Button

retreat

 

I only have a few more days of winter break to procrastinate about my novel revisions before I return to school. With the New Year comes the reset button, the chance to make this year different than the previous. Feels a bit odd, as it actually hits halfway through the school year, where we’re not resetting anything, but chugging along down the tracks of education toward May state testing. (How many weeks until Spring Break?)

During the eight years we’ve been married, my husband and I hold back from giving each other Christmas gifts each year, especially considering we have six grown children and seven grandchildren. Instead we go away for a weekend in January, press the reset button and reflect on our personal, spiritual, financial, and couple goals. We write our goals down in a notebook and then look back to see how well we’re progressing each year. Some things we write down seem trivial a year later, while others become more focused and urgent.

Some of the goals are wishes, and many of those we’ve seen come true as the years roll by. But it’s not so much whether or not we hit our targets. Each of us has to search our hearts and share our dreams with each other. Saying them out loud gives them shape and writing them down gives them weight. Even if we don’t achieve a goal, we still feel validated by sharing it with each other, and holding each other accountable when needed.

When a couple wants each other to grow into the person they were made to be, it provides a nurturing environment for change. No judgment, only understanding. Forgiveness when needed and grace to cover our shortfalls. Our January reset button has helped us grow as individuals and in our marriage.

The Almost Grand Canyon Trip

amboy

Our first Harley road trip to Arizona was full of storms. When the trip was planned for May, we weren’t expecting any rain. It was unfortunate we couldn’t have made arrangements to test new motorcycle gear, since we experienced every possible weather condition, short of a tornado. In spite of extreme weather, it was an adventure that built friendships and trust.

At 6:00 a.m., things are not as easy as later in the day. Frank and I were layered up with thermals, sweaters, leather chaps and jackets, with rain gear over it all. We never rode with rain gear before, which became immediately apparent when I tried to get on the bike behind Frank. My leg, which never had the range of a dancer to begin with, would not go over the bike. My husband, who has terminal anxiety about being late, looked over his shoulder to see why I was taking so much time. Finally with his help, I was seated, perhaps permanently.

We met up with the brave riders who ignored the weather reports, and Frank removed me from the bike. Feeling like a scarecrow, I peeled off the rain gear. The other riders assured us that rain would hold off so we didn’t need to worry about it until after the Mojave Desert portion of our ride. The ride captain had checked the weather reports for the towns we were passing through, and he was somewhat confident that we could make it through the day.

The first leg of our journey was a blur, not due to excessive speed but the blasting wind as we fought through to Yucca. But my head did not fall off, and we finally reached Twenty-Nine Palms and the desert.

The real kind with sand and no vegetation. Nothing but sand and asphalt.

The old Route 66 went through here, and I tried to imagine cars with no air conditioning crossing the massive emptiness. Then I thought about horses and wagons coming out to California for the gold rush. Were we as crazy as them?

After nothing for miles, we stopped at an antique gas station in Amboy. Two pumps and some restrooms. A motel from the 60s era with a huge sign that said Roy’s welcomed us, but it didn’t look like anyone stayed there. We took a break in the bright sunshine, peeling off leather jackets and chaps.

Time that day was measured by gas station stops, the next one in Needles. The clouds that were threatening all day stretched above us like water balloons. The road captain consulted his phone for weather updates. We traveled a little while longer until we stopped underneath a freeway overpass. Leather and rain gear came back out, for we were headed up in altitude, towards Williams, Arizona.

Instead of taking the freeway, we continued to follow old Route 66 through wind-swept Native American reservations. Miles of scraggly bushes and cows stretched out in all directions. The mountains ahead were obscured by clouds. Bitter cold cross winds came up under our helmets and made our eyes water. Then the rain arrived as mist on our windshield.

As the line of bikes snaked its way across the rolling hills, rain caressed us gently, often mistaken as wind. Cold air pressed down on us as we rode directly through a low pressure cell. In the distance, I could see slivers of blue sky, but I couldn’t tell if our capricious road would loop away or toward the hanging clouds.

Onward we traveled down an endless road littered with the ruins of motels, gas stations, restaurants, and car repair shops that had closed up after the freeway had been built. Route 66 was a road through ghost towns, everything frozen in time.

Finally our road connected with the freeway which had killed it, and we stretched out on the wide, separated interstate that would lead us to our hotel in Williams. The mist continued to fall, but our rain gear did its job, and we stayed dry. The road captain threw up his arm to turn off, and we headed for the hotel. The rain had stopped when we arrived, and we went inside to check in.

Again Frank and I proved to be newbees as we tried to check in, and found our credit card cancelled. After a phone call, we found out that our frequent small purchases at gas stations along the way had created a fraud alert, which blocked our card. After we got that straightened out, we went outside to unload our luggage when it began to hail.

Huge gumball size ice balls pelted us as we grabbed our bags and headed for our room. However, by the time we were ready to walk down the street for dinner, the storm had stopped.

Our range of weather continued the next day as we rode to Flagstaff for breakfast. Instead of the relentless pelting of rain, we could barely feel the gentle caress of flakes. Our warm breath clouded the visors of our helmets and our fingers felt stiff. When we reached the restaurant, I realized I’d been holding my breath the whole time, praying that no one would skid out on the slippery road. But we made it to Cracker Barrel safely, and our troubles were forgotten with the help of coffee and pancakes.

During breakfast, the ride captain studied maps and conferred with his phone, weather again a concern. The Grand Canyon was at a higher elevation that included snow in the forecast.

After much deliberation and a vote from the group, we decided to take a scenic loop outside of Flagstaff that would head back toward Williams instead of proceeding to the Grand Canyon. As much as it was a disappointment, I was relieved that we were going to stay lower where we would face rain but not snow.

Our group rode into Flagstaff past the university and back out to the wilderness. The narrow two-lane road led us through woods and meadows, past ranches and houses that seemed like freckles on the huge expanse of land. Rarely did a vehicle pass us, and when it did, it was a Jeep or a four-wheel drive truck.

But the clouds had not forgotten us. A massive black one loomed to our right, a grey curtain of rain extended from its bottom. Would we make back to Williams before getting hit by a deluge?

On we rode and the road took us where it wanted us to go. The sky became more dramatic as sunshine hit us on our left. and the cold storm front pushed us from the other side. I felt like we were storm chasers, only without the protection of a van. Even if we stopped, there was nowhere to find shelter in the barren rolling land.

Suddenly, I felt a bucket of water dumped over my head. The storm had caught us! The ride captain slowed down as we were lost in a wall of rain. Only the yellow center line reassured us that we still followed the road. I shut my eyes for there was nothing to see. Surely we would stop somewhere and wait for the storm to pass.

But the road saved us as it turned to the left, away from the storm’s fury. We kept following it until it led us back to the freeway. Two short exits and we were back at the hotel, taking hot showers, and getting ready for dinner.

We all shared our stories that night. Some of us knew each other before the trip, but others, including us, were new. Some of it was more personal than the lunch conversations of a day trip. But riding through wind, heat, rain, sleet, and snow had changed our group. After surviving the storms together, we were ready to share the other storms of our lives as well.

 

 

Dancing with Mountains

Ortega

As our HOG chapter roared down the narrow road that paralleled Lake Matthews, the sky was bright with promises of cool spring weather. After previous days of thunderstorms, this blue sky only held wispy feather clouds, incapable of interfering with our ride. My husband and I were riding almost in the middle of the pack, with eight riders ahead of us and nine behind. Before we had left the dealership, the road captain had called for two sweeps, one that rode directly behind us and one at the back of the group, in case we were separated by traffic lights. He also reminded us that if we had difficulty and had to pull off, the sweep would stay with us until help arrived.

Such dire thoughts vanished from our minds as we followed the back roads down to Ortega Highway. As we turned onto the road, Lake Elsinore at our back, I looked up at the imposing ridge before us. I could see tiny cars moving in layers of road that switch backed on the desert side of the mountain. The pack spread out from its staggered formation to single, causing the group to stretch out past my line of vision.

That’s where the dance began. Through the twisted turns, our Harley obediently leaned to the left, straightened out, and then leaned to the right. The pattern had a rhythm that mesmerized me. The mountain had accepted our request for a dance, and he was leading us through the steps. On and on he led us to the beat of unheard music, over the top of the rugged mountains and into the shade of a small mountain community. We rode straight through a canopy of trees for a short time until we started down the other side of the pass.

Here the dancers dangled from the edge of a canyon, the road clinging to its side. Sometimes we were interrupted by an impatient sport bike that rushed past us, unwilling to join our dance down the mountain. Still we danced– riding the left turn, straightening out, and then riding the right turn. As the dance continued, I readjusted my position slightly, feeling like a human caught up in an endless faery reel.

Suddenly, the road shot out straight, and neighborhoods replaced rocky cliffs. We roared to a stop at the traffic light, shaking out shoulders, taking a deep breath. The group bunched back up into two across, sharing about the ride with smiles that peeked out under their helmets. I turned around and snapped a picture of the glistening white canyon behind us. Even though I felt like I had held my breath for the past forty minutes, I couldn’t help smiling with the rest. Good bye for now, and thank you for the dance.

Swimming

dive

The beginning of the school year is time for swimming. By the end of 10 weeks of summer vacation, I’ve finally wound down enough to smile naturally, and then, it’s Back to School.

That wouldn’t be so bad, except all Hell breaks loose. My home starts to fall apart- air conditioner fails, hot water heater breaks, although still under warranty, and showers back up. The cat scratches eight holes into my husband’s $300 Harley seat. My daughter rips her oil pan open under her car, and needs assistance.

And then there’s school. Again air conditioning fails- seems to be a theme. Perhaps we should start school after the 120 degree weather is over, maybe October. No recess due to high heat so no time for a break or to copy off that math homework you forgot. New students, new parents- don’t they read the letter I sent home about signing their child’s homework planner? Back to School Night, because I love to stay an extra 3 hours past my entire day without recess and a slammed lunch break.

It’s as if I’ve been thrown off a high cliff and land breathless in the raging river below. Paddling fiercely, I work to keep my head above water. But in the distance, I can see the bank of Thanksgiving break, and I swim toward it.

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