I felt cold yesterday!

It’s August in Phoenix, which means it’s still hot….and muggy….basically, July and August in Phoenix is like living in a desert sauna. Sure, we Phoenicians get a fantastic winter season, but our “tax” for that glorious winter weather is that “dry heat”/monsoon sauna each summer.

What do Phoenicians do to escape the summer heat? One of the most popular things to do is to drive up to Flagstaff and camp, hike, or bike. Flagstaff’s elevation is almost 7000 feet, which makes for drastically cooler temperatures compared to Phoenix. That said, yesterday, my friend Crystal and I drove to Flagstaff in order to hike the highest point in Arizona: Humphrey’s Peak. (Apparently, we were not the only ones with that idea, because we saw a lot of people on the trail). Also, I just learned today that yesterday (i.e. August 4) was the inaugural National Summit Day–what a serendipitous piece of news!

The weather was pretty much perfect: sun, no chance of thunderstorms or lightning, a brisk 46F/8C at the summit. Humphrey’s Peak stands 12633 ft/3851 m high and is actually not a difficult hike; total round-trip distance from the Arizona Snowbowl trailhead just outside Flagstaff (the easiest trail of the 2-3 different trails to the summit) is almost 10 miles and total elevation gained is 3303 ft/1006 m. The biggest variable is whether altitude sickness will hit you. Crystal and I had hiked Humphrey’s before, but it had been a few years for both of us. We were both out of hiking shape too, so we agreed to hike at a moderate pace with breaks, if necessary (of course breaks are necessary!).

I’m happy to report that we successfully summited Humphrey’s and got to enjoy being cold! No altitude sickness for us, although we did experience the expected shortness of breath and leaden legs as we neared the summit. We got to the top in 3 hrs and 50 minutes and completed the descent in 2 hours 50 minutes, i.e. going downhill was much easier and faster. One of the best things about hiking is the food afterwards and we celebrated with some Chick-fil-a and Starbucks. Yay for cold summer temperatures, good company, successful summits, and FOOD!



Blogging sabbatical is over?

So. It’s been a year since I last posted a blog on this neglected site. I wish I could say that the reason I haven’t blogged the past year was because life was so incredibly exciting! Nope. I’ve just been preoccupied with work and doing the regular home improvement stuff that first-time homeowners tend to get caught up in. However, this winter, there are a few good changes as compared to last winter. First, I’ve taken this season off from accompanying my choir, which means I have weekends off! Second, it’s winter in the desert, which means it’s safe to go outside! (Remember that “winter” in the southwest means “awesome weather” and “summer” in the southwest means “death due to heat exhaustion and dehydration.”) Third, because of reasons one and two, I’ve been doing some more hiking lately.

Two weekends ago, my SAT (“self-appointed trainer”) and I teamed up with our friend Ian to hike Wasson Peak, just outside of Tucson. This hike is considered to be a moderate trail hike: 7.5 miles (round-trip) and 1900 ft elevation gain. It was an overcast day, so temperatures were on the cool side. I enjoyed stretching my legs out and remembering what it felt like to do a long walk.


(1: pretty cactus pattern; 2: SAT and Ian near beginning of hike; 3: view of what we have hiked; 4: view from top; 5: view from top; 6: summit selfie)


Yesterday, SAT, Ian, and I successfully summited Quartz Peak in the Sierra Estrella mountain range. The top of this peak is made up of white quartz boulders, thus, the (unimaginative) name. This hike is a workout! It’s almost 6 miles long and gains about 2,550 feet in elevation (my legs hurt yesterday). From the top, you have great views of the Phoenix valley while relaxing on the pretty quartz rock. Two extra cool things about this hike include the scrambling that you have to do to reach the top and the many pieces of mica available near the top. The drive to the trailhead is a bit of a chore: the last 5-7 miles is on a dirt road that requires a high-clearance vehicle (preferably 4×4).


(1: our goal is the white peak!; 2: SAT peering at me through a transparent piece of mica; 3: sitting on top of the peak; 4: peek-a-boo!; 5: view from the top; 6: another view from the top; 7: I made vegan Oreos to enjoy at the top….and they were GOOD.)

What’s next? Well, my SAT and I are planning to visit White Sands Monument in New Mexico over Thanksgiving weekend, which should be really cool. Stay tuned for the trip report!

“She’ll be comin’ ’round the mountain with her bike…”

Thanks to work (daytime, full-time) and work (nighttime, part-time), I don’t have a lot of free time to play outside. But when I do, I play hard. 🙂 Over the past month, I have managed to hike my mountain bike up and down a trail with unicyclists, hike up a local peak without my bike (i.e., the “conventional way to hike!”), and ride my bike with my “self-appointed trainer,” i.e. my SAT.

My SAT is an enthusiastic proponent of mountain unicycling, or muni. The Arizona Unicycling Club hosted a mini muni-fest a few weekends ago that saw about a dozen unicyclists gather together to ride the trails in the Phoenix area. My SAT and I joined them one morning at the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area; he rode his one-wheeled steed and I rode, but mainly pushed, my two-wheeled steed up and down the rocky trail. The trail the unicyclists rode was way too difficult for me to ride, so I ended up getting more of an upper body workout than anything else. I joked that I was the “support vehicle” for any unicyclist who may incur injuries during the ride. Watching the unicyclists ride down the steep trail was pretty impressive and they got a lot of comments from the hikers we encountered along the way. The next day, I decided to hike Piestawa Peak with my friend Diane. After all, my leg muscles were primed for hiking thanks to the previous day’s hike-a-bike! Piestawa Peak, or “Squaw Peak” by which it is known locally, is the second-highest point in the Phoenix Mountains after Camelback Mountain and the third-highest point in the city of Phoenix.


(Top left: the unicyclists before their ride; top right: Steve, the unofficial spokesman for Starbucks; bottom left: Olof getting some air; bottom right: Diane and I at the top of Piestawa Peak.)

To get a sense of what mountain unicycling is, check out this video. Yes, that’s my SAT and his friend Chris. Both are crazy.


For the past 3 weeks, my SAT and I decided to set bike training goals for ourselves. His goal was to ride at least 10 hours each week for 3 consecutive weeks. My goal was to ride 8 hours each week for 3 consecutive weeks. My SAT met his goal. I was pretty close. The first week, I hit 8 hours and 7 minutes. The second week, I rode for 9 hours and 23 minutes. In week three, I managed to eke out 7 hours and 4 minutes. In my defense, I had rehearsals and 2 concerts in that third week! Overall, I rode 24 hours and 34 minutes, which results in an average of just over 8 hours per week. I can live with that. May I also add that the so-called highlight of week 1 was a 33 mile mountain bike ride? That was hard. It’s a lot more challenging to ride a mountain bike for 33 miles than a road bike. Those things called rocks and sand really make forward progress difficult.

Why did we decide to set those goals? Mainly to kickstart our fitness. We were both feeling lethargic and old and yucky and gosh darn it, we needed to change that NOW. I noticed that my coughing and wheezing and panting — and I am not exaggerating! I really sounded like I was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker riding a bike — is much better now. Instead of feeling like I was going to cough up a lung, I can almost utter a sentence or two without gasping for breath. My bike handling skills are obviously getting better and tonight, I successfully navigated all 3 tricky spots in our normal route for the first time. The most important thing? The more I exercise, the more I can enjoy eating!

(Left: big boulders on the Pemberton loop in McDowell Mountain Regional Park; center: mountain biking bling [that means “showy jewelry!”] on my gloves; right: pretty sunset)


Another cool little hike

Yesterday, my SAT and I hiked up Picacho Peak with our friend Julia. Picacho Peak is located in Picacho Peak State Park between Casa Grande and Tucson just off of the I-10. The summit is 3,374 feet (1,028 m) above sea level and the name means “big peak” in Spanish. Total distance is about 6 miles (9.7 km) and total elevation gain is about 1780 feet (543 m). Near the top, there are short steep sections that hikers have to climb with the help of steel cables and handrails . When you arrive at the summit you are rewarded with a beautiful 360 degree view of the surrounding Sonoran desert. Fun facts: Picacho Peak has been used as a navigational landmark for hundreds of years, was the site of Arizona’s only Civil War battle, and sits on top of an ancient volcanic lava flow!

(Top row, L to R: early morning light; Picacho Peak is in the top right of the photo; Julia and my SAT at the base of the first set of cables. Middle row, L to R: Julia and I posing on the first set of cables; more cable-assisted climbing; signage. Bottom row, L to R: many Saguaro cacti near the top; can you see the black, volcanic rock in the middle of the photo?; another photo from the summit.)

Beautiful day, beautiful hike, beautiful company…and sore legs. 🙂 I’m glad we did this hike in February; Picacho Peak is NOT recommended in the late spring and summer months, as there is no shade along the entire trail. Bring lots of water, snacks, sunscreen, and hat.

Better late than never

Thanks to the day job and evening music gigs, I haven’t had as much time for updating this blog. But I do now! Thank you, long weekend. 🙂

In early December, my SAT (self-appointed trainer), our friend Julia, and I successfully climbed Siphon Draw in the Superstition mountain range, about an hour’s drive east of Phoenix. The hike is located in Lost Dutchman State Park and is a popular one with hikers who want a good cardio workout and some rock scrambling, i.e. using hands and feet to climb up rocks. At the most strenuous part of the hike, you gain about 1800 feet in one mile. That is definitely a challenge! The trail is fairly easy to follow and the views from the top are stunning. There is a small detour near the top to what is locally called the “Flatiron,” which refers to the cliff face you can see when you start the hike.

One event that cramped my style during this hike was, er, a pretty bad leg cramp. I guess I didn’t have enough electrolytes or something…again. All I know is that after climbing that one mile with 1800 feet of elevation and reaching the saddle, my right leg suddenly seized up and cramped up to the point I actually uttered a small scream of pain. Sigh. I’m glad Julia had some extra magical electrolyte juice with her as I didn’t have any such thing with me. Lesson learned. After hobbling up the rest of the way to the summit, my leg seemed to calm down and *I* seemed to calm down!

(Photo 1: the flat rock formation in the top left is the Flatiron; Photo 2: rock towers along the hike; Photo 3: at the top!; Photo 4: otherworldly scenery.)


New Year’s weekend was a really fun one because we had friends from Vegas come and visit us. Carl and Lifan are avid mountain bikers and co-own a shop in Las Vegas called Irwin Cycles. [N.B. They are awesome people and make sick bikes better. I call Carl the “Bike Whisperer.” They also love dogs and their shop is very dog-friendly!] Anyway, while we lived in Vegas, both of them tried really hard to convert me to mountain biking, but due to lack of time, lack of funds, and lack of a desire to hurl myself onto rocks (haha), that desire did not become reality.

However, I rented a mountain bike (Giant Bikes’ Liv Lust) in anticipation of our weekend together and rode with them on some local trails and had a really fun time. In fact, I had such a good time that my SAT (i.e., self-appointed trainer) and I are presently looking for a mountain bike for little ol’ me. Let me say two things right here: 1) my SAT is beyond stoked (that means “really happy” for those parental types who may be reading this blog) that I am actually interested in mountain biking and 2) I can’t believe that I’m actually interested in mountain biking. After all, I am the “reluctant roadie” and didn’t give mountain biking a passing thought while suffering on my many road bike rides in preparation for my double century. After all, mountain biking meant I had to buy another bike, carve out time to ride said bike, and potentially get sucked into enduring conversations with my SAT about mountain bike parts, mountain bike races, mountain bike trails….I wanted to help my SAT expand his interests, not focus on one activity.

Turns out I’m the one whose horizons are expanding….!

(Photo 1: pretty Sonoran desert; Photo 2: I’m riding a mountain bike!;  Photo 3: Carl, my SAT, and Lifan riding down to meet me. )