Getting on with it
A bit of review is in order, given the long intermission in the Los Padres Expatriate mission. From the last post in this outpouring of nonsense:
… In 1983 I tripped in, of all places, Sespe Creek near Willet after hiking over the Red Reef trail. I cracked my left knee hard and hiked out that day and the next via Red Reef with my knee making an odd grinding sound…
… Over the years the knee has flared and been treated with anti-inflammatories via one method of administration or another. Finally, thirty years later, it was clear the time had come for more serious remediation. The MRI showed a significant tear in the medial meniscus where only a tiny nick had appeared previously…
July 17, 2013 the orthopedic surgeon said to me “Normally we send people your age home and prescribe anti-inflammatories, rest and physical therapy and see if they can return to an acceptable activity level. Given your activity level this is likely not a useful choice for you. So, you will need to decide if we should move forward with surgical intervention so you can get back to your life style.”
My first inclination was to question the statement “people your age” but I decided to let it pass, as there was no hidden message besides the obvious and there was no point in vanity on my part. So I said, “let’s proceed with the surgery.” The surgeon immediately produced the consent form and asked if I would like to be up tomorrow. I countered with one week from tomorrow (which would be July 25, 2013) and we had a done deal.
On July 25, 2013 at 6:00 AM I was in the sports medicine surgery center with an IV plugged into my arm through which a bit of Versed had been pumped as a pre-anesthesia calming agent. I was transported into the surgical theater; first case of the day. A gowned, masked and gloved cast entered, none of whom I recognized in costume. One of the cast members spoke up; “Hi, it’s Brigit,” who was the surgeon’s excellent physician’s assistant. I found that bit of connection reassuring.
Directly, it seemed to me, after Brigit identified herself, I woke in an empty room. Shortly a nurse’s face impinged on my tunnel vision and asked, “How are you doing?” I answered with my immediate, burning question, “Where am I.” “In recovery,” she informed me. To which I replied, “Oh, well, I seem to be fine. I guess this heavy wrap on my left leg should have been a bit of a clue.” I have never had a reaction to anesthesia and I did, in fact, feel perfectly fit and rested. I came to the conclusion that the anesthesiologist crept up out of my field of view and pumped the sleeping potion in me without ceremony. Perhaps this is a common surgical field practical joke. I did, in fact, find myself amused by my now clearing confusion.
The surgeon stopped by shortly after I regained what wits I have. He informed me that 60% of the medial meniscus of my left me had been arthroscopically removed. The tear was deeper than what could be seen well on the MRI but not terribly bad in an absolute sense.
I was informed that, with proper rehabilitation, I could expect to return fully to doing what I do. One of the residents involved in my surgery asked if he could present my case at a ground rounds as the paradigmatic example of an instance in which a “person of my age” might appropriately be moved rapidly to knee surgery rather than an anti-inflammatory, rest and physical therapy regime. The Principle Investigator of the Meniscal Tear in Osteoarthritis Research (MeTeOR) Study, a massive, randomized controlled trial to compare arthroscopic partial meniscectomy (APM) with physical therapy alone, would be attending this grand rounds. I would be a correlative data point for discussion purposes. I am always available to be a correlative data point for real science, so I gave my blessing. Then I asked, politely, if henceforth we could dispense with the “person of my age” verbiage.
Then began the physical rehabilitation process. Thousands of knee bends moved quickly to thousands of very lightly weighted and then lightly weighted squats. Easy rides on my road bike on a fluid trainer with the saddle set high became harder rides with the saddle set only slightly above standard position. Six weeks after surgery I rode back to back 35 mile days on the road. Ten weeks post-surgery I rode back to back 52 mile days on my standard loop course in Amish farm country.
At this point I felt I was as back to functional as I could determine without an actual trail test. Cycling on a road bike is not the same as hiking with a pack and photographic gear. My upcoming trip to Ojai had a built-in opportunity for an appropriately scaled stress test in the Southern Los Padres.
As has been the case for the last two years, I had business in California other than my “Los Padres Expatriate” project. Also as has often been the case, the good graces of the Los Padres raconteur, Southern Los Padres hiking guide author, and proprietor of craigrcarey.net provided me with opportunities to play “The Expat” with little logistical effort on my part.
The Cuyama Peak clean up and photography excursion
I had not been to Cuyama Peak for a visit with the old lookout since some time in the mid-1970s. The history of the lookout is well covered in a piece at craigrcarey.net and its current state of dissolution was documented first, to my knowledge, by extreme Los Padres adventurer David Stillman.
The objective for the day was collecting micro-trash which, along with being an unsightly mess, can be ingested by condors to the very great detriment of the big birds. My ancillary objective was to see if I could produce some passable photographs. I met the team at the usual Full of Beans rendezvous point in the Miramonte section of the west Ojai Valley near the junction of Highway 33 with Highway 150. The helm was manned by none other than the proprietor of craigrcarey.net: author, hiker, scout leader and fine whisky enthusiast; if you hike the Southern Los Padres, you need his book, Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara and Ventura.
After the scenic long drive through the mountains, we turned west off Highway 33 on Foothill Road and crossed the Cuyama River to intersect Santa Barbara Canyon Road as clouds gathered, promising good light for photography. We stopped briefly to consult with the two vehicles that met us as we turned off the Big Pine Forest Service Road onto the Dry Canyon Forest Service road toward Cuyama Peak.
Once on Cuyama Peak the work of collecting micro-trash commenced under a very soupy marine layer. The conditions were poor for photography at the outset, but I tried a few shots nonetheless, then proceeded to collect garbage. Fortunately, the amorphous marine layer-afflicted sky transitioned to very dramatic, cloud-structured and filtered light. So, as much as possible without complete dereliction of my trash duties, I endeavored to document the light and land from the lofty perspective of Cuyama Peak.
Sierra Madre ridge and the Salisbury Potrero trail reconnaissance
Next on my itinerary was a trip to the Sierra Madre ridge to document the Salisbury Potrero trail, 26W03, a route I never knew existed. The story of the trip is well described in a post on craigrcarey.net, The Hunt for 26W03. I was honored to be among a group that included an all-star assemblage of Los Padres veterans and Trailmaster Cobra, a tough, enthusiastic young pilgrim.
My personal agenda for this adventure was to spend a night camped on the Sierra Madre ridge, take a few pictures and test my repaired knee on the descent and climb of the Salisbury Potrero trail (assuming it was passable). I had some confidence that the knee was ready, given that I had been able to cycle my standard 52 mile loop course on consecutive days, but this was the necessary boots-on-the-ground stress test.
In the afternoon of November 1, 2013 Craig, Trailmaster Cobra and I arrived at the Alamo Canyon gate of the Big Pine Forest Service road to rendezvous with Los Padres VWR luminaries Kim and Mark, who would be arriving at the closed side of the gate to transport us onto the Sierra Madre ridge. Soon I was doing something I had never done: riding in a vehicle heading up the closed portion of the Big Pine Forest Service road. It is good to know people who know people.
Our camp for the night was a flat off the Sierra Madre Forest Service road not far from Pine Corral potrero. I scouted east of the road for a spot to frame a sunrise photograph the next morning. The hoodoos and ridges overlooking the Cuyama provide great foreground potential for a wide angle landscape shot. Such wide angle shorts absolutely require a strong foreground to work.
In the process of considering locations for a sunrise shot it occurred to me that this was a perfect opportunity to set up a multi-exposure shot of the night sky. With no light pollution and clear skies predicted one can anticipate a great star field. I set up the tripod with a leveling head and micrometer elevation clamp and placed it in a location with a largely unobstructed northern view. I attached the camera with a fisheye lens mounted and programmed the intervalometer for 85 30 second shots, with three seconds between shots to allow the file to be written to the flash card. Then I waited for darkness. At some point after dinner and a beer or two, I triggered the intervalometer and walked away. When I returned after the series was complete I triggered three more 30 second shots during which I used my headlamp to paint elements of the foreground with light.
We spent the night sleeping under the clear Sierra Madre sky, and I had the best night’s sleep of my stay in California. In the morning, November 2, 2013, the team broke camp and headed to Salisbury Potrero to complete the survey requested of us by the Forest Service. We parked outside the Salisbury Potrero ranch grounds and were fortunate to be greeted by the gentleman who runs the ranch. That ranch foreman is the well-known Mr. Dick Gibford; Cowboy Poet, horseman, story teller and Keeper of Salisbury Potrero Knowledge. He knew the trail we were looking for and pointed us in the right direction across the ranch property. I couldn’t help but think, over and over, “how cool is this?”
As described in the The Hunt for 26W03, the trail was in remarkably good condition. I had no issues with my repaired left knee on the descent or the ascent on the out and back route I hiked with Craig and Trailmaster Cobra. According to my GPS the one way distance was three miles with an elevation loss of 1337 feet which was, of course, regained on the return. Other than what is likely a permanent touch of stifness, my left knee performed without issue.
Young Trailmaster Cobra was an inspiration, completing the route with all of his enthusiasm and inquisitiveness intact. It seems the next generation is in process and well represented.
Bryan, John, Mark and Kim traversed cross country from the bottom of the Salisbury Potrero trail and returned via the Bull Ridge trail. I had hiked the Bull Ridge and Rocky Ridge trails from Lion Spring in times past; the closure of the Lion Spring trail head is a crime. I have written and said this before: these spectacular routes should not be denied to Los Padres hikers. But this was not to be my day to revisit Bull Ridge; this was the day I confirmed the functionality of my left knee.
Once the team members had gathered again at the vehicles cold beer and food were produced as the denouement to a successful day. Dick Gibford, mounted on his horse, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, returned from a task that involved the use of a metal detector, a juxtaposition of technology that was emblematic of something and one day I will decide what that is. He stayed to BS with us a bit, which was yet another high point in a day of high points. One of the team presented the Cowboy Poet with a copy of Craig R. Carey’s Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara and Ventura (have I mentioned yet in this post that if you hike the Southern Los Padres you need this book?). I took the liberty of firing shot after shot, all the while trying to maneuver sunlight, horse, rider and photographer to relative positions conducive to portraiture. I suspect Mr. Gibford thought I was nuts, but patient man that he is, he endured the process with great dignity.
And so, on November 3, 2013, I boarded a plane bound for great Northeast, optimistic that I could return west shortly and resume my self-assigned Los Padres Expatriate project.