Life Is A Teacher, Time Is a Healer

As I have sat in “bloody” quarantine (been watching British Netflix shows) contemplating the great outdoors and missing my wintertime treks into the desert, I have continued to read vociferously (between rounds of Spider Solitaire) and to watch some outstanding movies on a variety of smart tv apps. For the record, I was officiating high school basketball in AZ and knew something was not quite right so I went and got an instant Covid test that was positive on February 27 and I will address that at some other time.

Since my hiking times have been put on hold, I’m going to highlight a book and some “quarantined” movies that have deeply impacted my thought process on why Blacks in America just might be a bit angry and without any politics state that yes black lives do matter since that was not always the case in America. I will get back to hiking at the end as some recent articles allude to hidden racism in the outdoors. For the record, I am a rural guy having lived my formative years in rural Ohio, then my career years in rural Arizona.

My interest in the prevalence of racism in the USA has led me to some fantastic movies. I started with HBO Max and the new film Judas and The Black Messiah. It is a powerful, well acted film about Fred Hampton, (The Black Messiah) the young charismatic leader of the Chicago area Black Panthers in the 1960’s and how the FBI, used William O’Neal (Judas) to infiltrate the organization to keep tabs on Hampton. It is a powerful film and it sparked my interest in reading about the events and it appears to be fairly accurate and of course some events are glossed over which is to be expected in movie making. The movie clearly portrays the assassination of Hampton by the FBI and the Chicago police. The movie really did make one think especially given the times we live in with the focus on not only equality but equity amongst blacks and whites. Clearly in the late 60’s, Blacks were treated quite different by law enforcement in Chicago. Highly recommend watching and should lead to some interesting conversations with those around you. Also it should be pointed out that J Edgar Hoover and the FBI were the ones to call Hampton the “Black Messiah”. It has garnered six Oscar nominations including best picture.

Next up on my watch list, was a Matthew McConaughey film Free State of Jones. This movie is from 2016 and never got much traction but it is a hidden gem about Newton Knight and his desertion from the Confederate army and his fight against the Confederates as he leads runaway slaves and other deserters in stands against the army. Taking place during the Civil War and the end of the Civil War in Mississippi, Knight is seen as a white person who fights for equality against the racists who eventually enact laws that attempted to negate many freedoms that had been awarded to those of color. The movie also touches on the them of the poor southerners versus the rich elite southerners. Some interesting points in the movie include how the blacks when given the right to vote all registered as “Republicans” since it was the “Democrats” that opposed “equal rights”. They don’t sugarcoat that in the movie. Also laws preventing blacks and whites from legally marrying are mentioned and the movie ends with the great grandson on Newton Knight who is described as 1/8 black being found guilty for violating the law of interracial marriage in 1948 almost a hundred years after the end of the Civil War and we still had made little progress in the South for equal rights. The film I found to be very powerful on noting that the Civil War did not bring about equality in the Southern USA. It also reinforced in my mind that things may have been quite different if President Lincoln had not been murdered. The Reconstruction years were disastrous under President Johnson and the states in the south were basically allowed to put into places many laws limiting the rights of freed slaves. The film is quite touching and once again an eye opener for me on many of the “glossed” over parts of years after the Civil War.

Next on my film journey was a new docudrama Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal. Using transcripts from the FBI wiretaps and some real interviews this film touches on “White Privilege” and the wealthy elites who cheated and bribed and did many unsavory things to get their privileged children into what are considered the top-rated elite universities. Excellent film that really does point out how pointless it is that kids think they have to go to these specific schools when in reality it doesn’t matter where one gets a degree, it is only about prestige and privilege. It will make your blood boil at times especially when they list the punishments as being so little. Once again the white wealthy elites definitely get an unfair advantage in our court systems.

While searching for another film, I discovered another gem of a movie Mudbound. Mudbound is from 2017 and Netflix bought the distribution rights and it also received several Oscar nominations. Fantastic well acted film that takes place during WWII and at the conclusion of WWII in of all places, Mississippi. It follows two families, one black and one white, that farm the area. It really shows us how the racist mentality was running full throttle and the reign of terror on black people by the KKK and how blacks in the south had little rights as were still subservient to white people. The most telling part was how the son of the black family who served in WWII and was treated like a hero overseas had to return to Mississippi and be completely mistreated and denied basic rights simply because he was black. Once again a gem that really grabs a hold of you and should make you uncomfortable since this period piece takes place a mere 70 years ago right here in the USA. Fantastic film. Mary J. Blige is great as the mother and the song that she wrote and sang Mighty River is powerful.

Prior to being quarantined, I had picked up several novels by Jodi Picoult at yard sales with the idea of reading eventually as they sat in the garage collecting dust, Plain Truth and Small Great Things. Picoult is an outstanding “liberal” writer who really has a knack of writing about family and social issues. One of the most meaningful novels I had read was written by Picoult, Nineteen Minutes about a school shooting and the impact on a community by a 17 year old male that was bullied at school. Incredible story. I finished Plain Truth prior to quarantine and it is a great story that takes place in an Amish community in PA. It’s an amazing book.

Finally, I pick up Small Great Things and start reading. Picoult picked the title from a quote of Martin Luther King Jr. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”.

Wow, is an understatement. The book is the most timely novel that I have read concerning race, racism, equality, and equity. Told in her style through three main characters, Ruth Jefferson, a black widowed single parent labor and delivery nurse, Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, and Turk Bauer, a white supremacist who’s wife delivers a baby in New Haven, Connecticut. The book is tedious at times as she develops the characters but never becomes “preachy”. You might think it is about “overt” racism but Picoult gets into the often overlooked areas of racism that include the difference in how blacks might be treated from whites. For example, as a white person when I walk into a convenience store or even a high end department store I don’t have eyes following me around. Still happens where a black person walks in and they eyes may follow as if they should be watched. The idea of who do you sit next to on public transportation or how does law enforcement respond to a black man vs response to a white man. Picoult in telling this sad tale of Ruth Jefferson, gets into these things and how it impacts her teenage son. This story has a heart warming ending which is not always the case with Picoult stories. It is an excellent book that I’m glad I discovered.

Back to the outdoors. Is racism inherent in being an outdoors person? I read the following in an article “Racism In The Great Outdoors: Oregon’s Natural Spaces Feel Off Limits To Black PeopleCooper said when she did go out for a hike, she felt unwelcomed, invisible and that she didn’t belong. She said she was ignored by white people in these spaces. If she did interact with white people along the trails, she felt a sense of hypervisibility.

As a white person who loves to hike, I can assure you that when it comes to hiking I’m quite colorblind. Most of Carolyn and my hikes are away from people and we often discuss how few we see on the trails that we choose. I don’t go hiking to hang out with people. I don’t typically talk and strike up conversations with other hikers unless it is in area I’m resting. We always say hello when passing others no matter what the color or condition of the hikers. I take a bit of offense to the statement of feeling unwelcomed. I don’t hike many urban trails due to the sheer number of people on them because part of me being outdoors is just being away from others. Over the last 15 years, I have definitely noticed an increase in the number of people of color hiking. That’s a good thing. The outdoors is a wonderful place for healing, relaxing, and getting rid of stresses and should be colorblind.

No matter the color of hikers, what I most detest and probably show some contempt for are people who hike blaring their music. Sorry but it doesn’t belong on the trails. Trails are about connecting with your hiking partners, conversation, and the quietness that nature brings. Blaring music detracts from the sounds of wind rustling through the trees, the squawk of birds in their pursuit of food, and in the desert, hearing is essential for avoiding rattlesnakes. For me, diversity and racism is not something I would ever notice on my hikes due to the solitude of the trails we usually are on.

I would argue that due to Covid, it does seem that fellow hikers you encounter are much less friendly and often turn their heads and backs to avoid you. Also, if they are hiking with a mask and your aren’t (I don’t) you will often get “dirty” looks and being a white guy I don’t think it is due to race since all colors and creeds that hike with masks seem to give you a condescending look of contempt.

As soon as I feel up to it and my Covid fatigue has dissipated, my plan is to get back outdoors, away from as many as I can, and enjoy the feeling of being isolated and alone along the trails. In the meantime, check out Mighty River by Mary J. Blige. Great song about healing and coming together. After these weeks of solitude, I do believe that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism in America. Not certain why we think we have to honor those who fought against the Union and got beat. No where in the world do you see monuments honoring the ones who lost the war or ones who fought against democracy and the unification of the country. Just an honest observation.

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Well, I’m Running Down The Road

This blog is a tad different for me once the on again, off again, and back on again high school basketball season got underway in Arizona on January 19th. My hiking adventures have taken a backseat since the Arizona Interscholastic Association voted to allow the season to start and continue as long as masks were worn appropriately by all participants and limiting the number of fans. I was a tad bit skeptical about refereeing with a mask but it has worked out just fine. Having officiated for 30+ years, I put the uniform back on (tighter) and headed out the door and on the road again.

The season does cut into my outdoor adventures with Carolyn but I really wanted to get to work. The season started for me in an ominous way as my traveling partners are out for the season, one with Covid 19 complications and the other with various ailments. For me life on the road is many trips on lonesome highways by myself, late at night traveling anywhere from 180 to 300 mile round trip during various weather conditions. All for the joy of being part of a game that I have loved. The journeys have taken me to small towns throughout Eastern and Central Arizona. They include Eager, St. Johns, Show Low, Snowflake, Camp Verde, Cottonwood, and once in a great while I find myself refereeing in Payson.

After my first road trip to Winslow I battled foggy conditions with a dusting of snow on a lonely Highway 87 passing all of five cars, two snowplows, and three elk from Winslow to Payson, I was fairly beat down. Racing up and down a court at my age, sure beats up the body.

It is always interesting to run into the people I have known over the 30 years of officiating and this Covid season has been interesting. The responses to Covid vary in each and every place I have officiated. In Winslow, fans are very limited as in hardly a soul there to places where the crowds now approach 40% capacity. Some school districts have hardly missed a day of in person school while others have just returned to having students in the classroom from a total online experience.

In Round Valley I have talked with those who have had horrible Covid experiences even though they were by all appearances very healthy individuals. The in person learning continued with nary a complaint. In Snowflake, they have continued in person classes and St. Johns has only had one week that they stayed away from classroom learning.

Camp Verde saw a spike in their local Covid cases after their annual October festival but in school learning continued. Every place I go, has an interesting story. In the White Mountains, as officials, we are quite strict on players keeping masks covering the nose and mouth. In other areas, not so much. I have learned that you can run and adjust to physical exertion with a mask in place on your face.

Since there are no games on Sundays, Carolyn and I managed to get some hikes in that were close by our house in Payson and in and around the Phoenix area. On Sunday, February 7th Carolyn and I hiked along the Peach Orchard Loop with an add on hike along a ridge line. We ended up with close to six miles and decent elevation gains.

The following weekend, we met Jordyn and James at the Lost Dutchman State Park for a cookout on a very windy day and since it was later in the evening, we did a three mile loop hike that was nice and included 600+ feet of elevation gains. An added bonus was talking with the Sheriff’s Department and the number of rescues they had performed that day in the Flat Iron area. I believe he told us they had at least five trips and one we got to watch. It is amazing to know that they just these expensive helicopter rescues with no charge to the rescued.

Lost Dutchman State Park

On Valentine’s Day, Carolyn and I hike in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve as the weather is better with much less wind. It was a very nice desert hike close to our condo and not many hikers in the area we were. We ended up hiking close to seven miles with 800 total feet of elevation gain so it was a worthy Valentine Day trek. It was a great way to spend the day with my Valentine. Yes, we did also enjoy a Valentine Day Dinner at Picazzo’s in the Paradise Valley area. Our server was fantastic, the food mostly organic and great, as were the adult beverages. Don’t want anybody to think I’m a cheap Valentine.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve

These small adventures sure help keep me going as I soon returned to Payson for more basketball on the road. If I can stay healthy, the adventure will continue so stay tuned as we enter the final stages of the basketball season and I can get outdoors a bit more and yes back on the brewery tour. Next planned big stop, Tucson in mid-March.

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Phoenix Mountain Preserve to Sunrise Peak and Brewery Stops

At our condo in Phoenix, I often see some interesting looking hiking trails in a small section of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve just north of Northern Ave. The trails appear to have no name but they are clearly used and visible so I decided that I needed to find my way in and explore. Driving into a residential area, I found a sign for the preserve at a dead end spot on 16th St. parked my car and headed off into a smaller section of the preserve west of the 51, north of Northern, east of 12th St. and south of Dunlap. Surrounded by city but a desert paradise with mountains to climb, I spend a Friday afternoon exploring.

The trails are well defined but unnamed and easy to follow. I spend two plus hours and hike over four miles and gain 400 feet of elevation in and around with only a few encounters with other hikers. Beautiful views of the city and just a great day for stumbling around in the desert without leaving the city.

Saturday rolls around and I have decided to take Carolyn to the area that I had explored on Friday and added some different routes. It was so beautiful out and to think it was literally just down the road. On Saturday’s hike, there were only two people we encountered, social distancing without even trying. The trails are unnamed and none of the climbs to the peaks are named that I can see. That keeps the non-locals away I’m thinking.

It’s Sunday and we decided to return to NE Scottsdale to hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The weather is beautiful and we get a late morning start from Lost Dog Wash Trailhead. Carolyn has decided that I needed to get up on Sunrise Peak. Our hike is an out and back hike that starts at the busy trailhead but the further you go the less number of people you encounter. The trail is much smoother without to many jarring rocks to pound your knees, hips, and back. The views at the summit are great, looking out towards Four Peaks, or looking back to the city. Once again you can even see the Cardinals stadium out in Glendale. We even see some deer looking down on us, thanks to Carolyn’s observation skills. On all my hikes, I haven’t seen many deer in the desert.

My hiking attire includes a Packers’ hat and as we approach the summit, we meet a group that was hiking from the eastern side of Sunrise and they were all big Packer fans so it was quite fun conversing with the group. Our total elevation gains are over 1200 feet so it was a great workout on a beautiful day. Our hike back to the trailhead has few hikers until we get close to the start. Social distanced was not a problem.

A great day of hiking leads to the pursuit of craft beer and we decide to hit up a new to us brewery located off of Shea Boulevard in the Fountain Hills area, Bone Haus Brewing. What a great find. Carolyn had brought home a prickly pear ale from Bone Haus several weeks ago that she had found and we liked it but had no idea about the brewery. Our Pub Pass had a stop at Bone Haus where you can acquire a pint for a penny. It is a great stop where the theme is skeletons and they have some great looking logos on their cans. The people that work there are friendly and eager to serve. Plenty of open and outdoor seating areas with some tasty brews. Food truck was setting up as we were leaving.

We have to head west on Shea to get back to our Phoenix condo and we just happen to have our recoupon book from Arizona Craft Brewers Guild that gets us 20% off everything at Fate Brewing (North Scottsdale Pub). Social distancing is not an issue with some outdoor seating and indoor seating. We order us a pizza, the Jess, and the Farm Salad, to go with our drafts. I get something called the Hatch Chili Gatos and I was pleasantly surprised on how it was. Described as Bronze Medal 2020 Great American Beer Festival & Gold Medal 2018 World Beer Cup! Oh my Gatos Golden ale with the addition of roasted Hatch Chiles. Huge Chile aroma, mild flavor and very little heat.

What a great weekend of hiking and craft beer. January has got us off to a good start as my basketball season of officiating begins which is limiting for our adventures together. We shall make the most of it when given the opportunity.

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Socially Distanced on the Gateway, Bell Pass, and Windgate Loop Trail + Some Isolated Brewery Stops

Another weekend, another hike, another brewery. I must confess that we actually went to two breweries Saturday night on the western part of the Valley of the Sun. Carolyn and I put our Pub Pass and our Recoupon book into action and went to the Peoria Artisan Brewery for dinner and a craft beer. The food was excellent, service was great, and the beer was good. Nice setup with an outdoor patio. We split the “London Bridge” Beer Braised Beef | Brown Gravy |Mash | Peas & Carrots | Brioche plus a salad. It was awesome and we washed it down with a Kennett Farmhouse Ale. Great spot and just wish it was closer.

From there we went to the Throne Brewing Company Tap Room and Brewing Facility located in Peoria in a warehouse location. The Blood Orange IPA was excellent. The young lady working was fantastic and gave us lots of information about how Throne had bought out several breweries and rebranded just in time for the original Covid shutdowns but they are up and running and it was a great stop and end to our Saturday craft beer discovery day.

Looking out on Four Peaks

We got a late start on Sunday to our big 9.6 mile hike from the Gateway Trailhead in Scottsdale. Scottsdale has provided a great opportunity to explore the desert and the parking lots are packed. We head counterclockwise on our hike and there are many other hikers on the first part of our journey since there are multiple hikes and trails available. After three miles or so, there are few encounters with hikers until we are on our final stretch back to the trailhead. The hike is very rugged with plenty of rocks but the trail is in great shape. The desert scenery is fantastic with multiple viewpoints of the Four Peaks, and the city areas. It always amazes me that we can be so isolated but yet surrounded by several million people and still get to be out and alone. Out total elevation gains are over 2050 feet and coming down on trail is the tough part for me. Lots of wear and tear on the back, hips, knees. You can see all the way over to the Cardinal’s stadium. Our time on the trails are around 4.5 hours and the desert really is beautiful. No wildlife discovered today but one must always be aware of the snakes since these areas are noted for people seeing snakes in the spring and summer.

After finishing, we felt that we had earned another stop for a craft beer and headed to Loco Patron Brewery in North Scottsdale. Loco Patron has several Mexican food type restaurants but at this location they actually brew some of their own beers. Our server was fantastic out on the patio with a heater watching some Saints/Bears football. The seasonal “Holy Mole” was a nice dark ale and the “Local Gold” was also tasty. The tacos were very good and it’s happy hour all day on Sunday. Great finish to a great day hiking and great weekend of trying some new breweries.

Next stop is back in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve but this time we will be headed to Sunrise Mountain from Lost Dog WashTrailhead.

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A New Year, A New Day, A New Trail, A New Brewery: Wind Cave to Old Ellsworth Brewing

After a day of rest, Carolyn and I jumped right back into another day of hiking returning to the beautiful Usury Mountain Regional Park managed by Maricopa County. We had previously hiked Pass Mountain and this time we decided to tackle Wind Cave Trail that is listed as strenuous. For a Monday late morning hike, the park has many visitors. The day is beautiful.

The hike is about 1.5 miles to the “Wind Cave” that really isn’t a cave and the desert views are fantastic. Our elevation gain is around 800 feet and the trail is in excellent condition and not very rocky so easier on all the joints and extremities. The views are great and even though the hike is short, you still get plenty of aerobic exercise. With our later start, there were fewer hikers encountered on the most popular trail in the park.

You can extend your hike from the “cave” by scrambling up and over rocks but I’m not so fond of scrambling in my hikes these days so we passed on extending our hike up the rocks.

On our return we decided to take on another short hike in the park and knock another trail off our list of trails to do in the park. Our decision is to combine two short trails into a figure eight type of hike by doing the Merkle Trail and the Vista Trail. The total hike is only about 1.75 miles but we were once again rewarded with some beautiful desert scenery and views of the Superstition Mountains. Our total gain in elevation is only about 230 feet but the views from the Vista Trail are very nice.

Every hike deserves another brewery exploration, so Carolyn and I head to Queen Creek to the Old Ellsworth Brewing. Our Recoupon book from Arizona Craft Brewers Guild takes us to a new destination and we were happy to discover it. As an added bonus, the food was really good. Their beer menu constantly changes per our server and we just do the samplers and enjoy their selections. Good beer, good food, and great service. It was worth our time to go to this gem in Queen Creek and it appears that they have a pretty good following.

Our January has started off with some great hikes that are easy to access. Carolyn and I have purchased an annual pass for the Maricopa County Park System so we intend on getting out and exploring more of the county parks. Usury is a great example of what a county can do in the way of parks. Many different features that include camping, archery, biking, hiking, playgrounds, picnics, and so on.

Our tradition continues of hiking and having a craft beer from a local brewery. If you ever are in the Queen Creek area, check out Old Ellsworth Brewing. You won’t be disappointed. Next stop on our journey is Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

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New Year/New Adventures: From Safford Hot Springs to Tucson Breweries

The New Year started early for Carolyn and I as we drove to Roper Lake in the Safford, AZ area to meet up with Jordyn and James. They had rented a cabin for several nights and had invited us to stay New Year’s with them and check out some local hot springs. Carolyn and I both had ties to the area as we are both EAC Gila Monster graduates so we were looking forward to revisiting the area. It was very cold when we arrived but James and Jordyn made us some coffee and bacon so all was good.

The first discovery is that Roper Lake has filled in the tub for soaking due to Covid or a bad pump. It depends on who you talk to. Jordyn also found out that the hot springs, Hot Well Dunes, located way out on BLM land were now closed due to Covid concerns. So we scrambled for other options.

After breakfast we went over to Dankworth Ponds and hiked Dos Arroyos Trail to Dankworth Village, a recreated American Indian village located on BLM land. There are recreated huts, etc that were interesting to view. The hike was a total of about 2 miles and we enjoyed walking around the pond. From there we traveled on the road towards Mt. Graham and did a short hike to a creek that had a dam that was very pretty with running water.

I was amazed that vandals had found their way in to deface the rocks in the area. That always amazes me that people can be that stupid. After finishing our hiking we decided to go to some commercialized hot springs at the Essence of Tranquility. We had to wait around for awhile to a get a tub but it was worth the wait. Water was nice and warm and it was good to soak for that hour. Eight dollars a person for an hour soak. Glad we did it.

After soaking, we went in to Thatcher and ate dinner at La Casita Cafe. Small local place that has a good local following and with social distancing seating, we did wait but once again it was worth the wait. The end of day one was a success even though it did not go according to plan.

On our return trip the following morning, we headed towards Tucson with a stop in Wilcox at the Source of Coffee located in the old town area. A former house turned into a coffee shop and it is a hidden gem–nice looking with good coffee. Next stop is Benson for breakfast at Farmhouse Restaurant. Great service and good food with homemade muffins. Their cornbread muffins were the best I have ever eaten. They were incredible.

On Tucson for a mini brewery tour. Both James and I had received the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild Recoupon Book for Christmas. If you like craft beer and want to help out local brewers, this is a great coupon book for using on Arizona road trips since no road trip would be complete with out a stop at a couple craft breweries. First up is Moto Sonora Brewing Company. Great newer brewery located towards southern Tucson in an older area with an awesome outdoor seating patio area. We split a taster and Carolyn likes the Isle of Man a Juniper Pale Ale and I also like the Belly Tank Blonde Ale. Great service and beer.

Carolyn and I at Moto Sonora Brewing Company

Next stop is at Copper Mine Brewing Company a short distance away. This place does not disappoint with great service and beer. Carolyn gets the Hibiscus Blonde Ale and I go with the Copper Kolsch. Our coupons include a take home crowler so the Hibiscus travels back to Phoenix with us.

We head our separate ways and James and Jordyn head to Dragoon for their coupon special of buy a four pack get one free for taking back to Phoenix. Carolyn and I head to the South Tucson Costco (yes I know I’m addicted to Costco) and I find a bourbon/rye whiskey bargain as they are clearing out High West Distillery Christmas three pack of American Prairie Bourbon, Double Rye, and Rendezvous Rye whiskey. Bargain shopping done with lowest priced gas in the state from Costco and onward to Phoenix we go.

First weekend and first adventurous road trip complete with plans for more to follow. In returning to Safford, I was a bit disappointed with the downtown area as it appeared to be not as pristine as I remember. It looked like some places had closed up and just didn’t feel the same. Both Carolyn and I have fond memories of the area and they have experienced growth with a new Walmart and Safeway along Highway 70.

Stay tuned as Carolyn and I continue to find joy in a strange new world with no let up in sight for Covid and partisan politics and a disjointed union. Carolyn and I remain committed to celebrating life in any way we can with out distractions. Next up is another adventure in Usury Pass Mountain Regional Park.

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Looking In The Rear View Mirror: 2020 is in the books and on the screen

In a break from my norm of writing on various adventures, I decided to review what I read and watched in 2020. Believe it not, I do other activities besides hiking and drinking craft beers after hiking. I’ll be jumping back to some outdoor things but first some books and shows worthy of mention that were read and viewed in a Covid world by yours truly.

Over the years my neighbor Andy and I have been sharing books to read that we have found at multiple yard sales and thrift stores etc. This has turned into an informal book club as we have passed books back and forth and now include my mother in law Carol and my daughter Jordyn. Then our friend Conrad starting adding books to the mix and it has been lots of fun as we like many of the same authors and types of stories. This year was quite significant due to lack of work.

Since I became furloughed (unemployed) due to Covid shutdowns on travel on March 13 I vastly increased my reading of books from previous years. I’ve always been a reader but this year was a record breaker for me. I finished 53 books, mainly reading fiction as an escape from reality. I discovered some new authors that I hadn’t read before and now look for their books at yard sales and thrift stores, C. J. Box (Joe Pickett stories), Craig Johnson (Longmire). My Top 10 list of books read are not from what was released in 2020 but books that I picked up along the way and read so here are my favorites and in no particular order.

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, 2017. Excellent book looking at life in Shaker Heights, Ohio an elite community and was turned into a great Hulu TV show with Reese Witherspoon.
  2. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, 2016. Excellent memoir of Mr. Vance and the plight of the Kentucky Hillbillies that had landed in Middletown Ohio. The book was made into an excellent Netflix movie this year with Amy Adams and Glen Close.
  3. A Death In Live Oak by James Grippando, 2018. Great book about race relations that involves a hanging and is a timely read. Grippando is a great writer with stories that are relevant and relatable. Legal, action fiction.
  4. The Wife Between Us, by Hendricks and Pekkanen. 2018. Great thriller that was bought for movie rights. Very twisty and hard to put down.
  5. The Woman In The Window by A. J. Finn, 2018. This has been made into a movie with no release date but rumored to be acquired by Netflix and stars Amy Adams who was terrific in Hillbilly Elegy.
  6. The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter, 2017. Great stuff.
  7. The Guardians by John Grisham, 2019. Explores a black man wrongfully convicted for murder. Great timely read.
  8. The Poet by Michael Connelly, 1996. This was a reread for me. A classic crime novel that has you reading late into the night.
  9. Blue Heaven by C. J. Box, 2008. A standalone novel that won the Edgar Award. Cops gone bad in Idaho. Great escape thriller. Movie rights were sold and still waiting on a movie.
  10. The Perfect Mother by Aimee Malloy, 2018. Another book that has many twists and turns. Movie rights were obtained on this one as well.

2020 was also a year that I upped my consumption of tv by watching various shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO Max. My favorites for the year included binge watching many shows and are not listed in any particular order.

  1. Bosch on Amazon Prime. I have always loved Harry Bosch books by Michael Connelly and this is an excellent gritty series. Season 7 coming in 2021 which will be the final season. Rewatched all the seasons.
  2. The Sinner on Netflix. Originally on USA Network. Two seasons. Great mystery show.
  3. Reckoning Netflix Suspenseful and only one season
  4. Little Fires Everywhere Hulu Reese Witherspoon is great.
  5. Big Little Lies HBO Max Great all star cast and two seasons.
  6. Ozark Netflix Three seasons with another one coming. Didn’t think I would like it but I did.
  7. Bordertown Netflix from Finland. Three seasons. Gritty watched based on a recommendation from Aunt Em. Loved it.
  8. Rectify Netflix Four seasons and from Sundance. Very interesting. Starring Aden Young. He was great in Reckoning and great here as well.
  9. Chernobyl HBO Max. Great miniseries about the 1986 Nuclear disaster.
  10. Succession HBO Max Two seasons and hoping for another.

Watched many others that are worthy of binge watching but there was only room for ten so these are my top 10 for the year. Once again, they aren’t necessarily new in 2020 but they were what I enjoyed in 2020.

Up next will be my year in review staying active in tough times.

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Hiking With An Attitude of Gratitude: Pass Mountain and Granite Mountain Thanksgiving Week Hikes

After our quick San Diego trip, we returned to the desert for more hikes. The weekend before Thanksgiving, Carolyn and I went and hiked the Pass Mountain Loop Trail located in the Usery Mountain Regional Park. We hiked about 7.6 miles with total elevation gains of over 1000 ft and since it was a Friday, we encountered just a handful of hikers during our 3.5 hour journey. I did encounter a tarantula which I thought unusual.

Once again socially distanced in the desert yet close to 2 million people. We took the loop clockwise and about half way in, it does get rocky and on the way down the stepping down does take a toll on my joints but it was well worth the hike.

We started our day with some Hava Java coffee and ended with a stop at Barrio Brewing located at Gateway Airport. Both are excellent places and the brewery is located next to the runway where one can watch planes come and go. It was a great day from beginning to end.

Still on furlough with no end in site and not working Thanksgiving for the first time in seven years, I decided, with the help of Carolyn, to do thinks different this year. The Phoenix area weather was sunny so we decided on a Thanksgiving picnic at Cave Creek Regional Park with some turkey cranberry sandwiches from Sprouts with a growler from Huss Brewing.

We picked up Carolyn’s mother Carol and arrived in the early afternoon with no fanfare and few people in sight. Our picnic was not glamorous but it was a nice time outdoors together enjoying and thankful for the times together. I’ve never been a big fan of holidays so this was perfect for me. Sitting in the warm glow of the sunshine eating our simple meal and reflecting on the year and thankful for our health and being able to enjoy mother nature was perfect.

Once our meal and growler was completed, we took a nice short hike of close to two miles on the Overton Clay Mine Trail Loop. We have now been on every trail in the Cave Creek Park so our mission was accomplished.

For some time now, Carolyn and I have wanted to go to the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park located near Yarnell and to hike the trail to the memorial site. There are only 12 parking spaces so we arrive at sunrise to make sure we can park and it is cold with a strong wind blowing. Our trek takes us a bit over 6.5 miles and a total elevation gain of 1800 feet. It is a combination of two trails, the Hotshots Trail and the Journey Trail that goes to the Fatality Site. The state has built an excellent memorial park with 19 memorial granite plaques that share a photo and some detail of each of the fallen hotshots. It is a very strenuous and not an easy hike. The state built the trail since the only other access to the Fatality Site would be through private property. As we hiked we stopped and read each plaque. It is the most significant hike I’ve ever done.

The emotions one feels knowing the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots tragedy is at times overwhelming for me. I cannot describe the feelings knowing that these young men died after being overrun by the Yarnell Hill Fire is chilling. After reaching the overlook you will see a Tribute Wall that has many items placed on it from other first responders all across the nation and other countries. It is something to behold.

Carolyn and I pass only two people on our way to the fatality site. We spend a large amount of time paying our respects. It is moving to see the crosses with their names at the location of where they made their final stand.

As we hike out, Carolyn and I reflect on lives cut short by a senseless tragedy. We pass more hikers that are coming in as we are returning.

I struggle writing about it knowing the details of the story. When the tragedy happened on Sunday June 30, 2013, Carolyn, Jordyn, and I were listening to the news in Flagstaff as we were returning from our rim to rim hike at the Grand Canyon. I’ll never forget it when a breaking story came on the radio about a hotshot team missing and getting the update around 7:00 pm that they had perished. I was angry, confused, stunned, and emotional, thinking “Why?”. Having had the opportunity to fight wildfires during the summers of my years at NAU, it just hit me hard.

Six and half years later I pay my respects and this hike to the fatality site will always be something I will never forget. When we finished our hike, we met one of the young State Park Rangers and listed with him for awhile. What a wonderful representative for the state. He was filled with knowledge and quite passionate about his position and the park.

Carolyn and drive through Yarnell to Prescott reflecting on the hike. We finish our day by stopping at the Prescott Brewing Company for some Christmas Ale, Thumb Butte Distillery for a tasting of their spirits, and to Lonesome Valley Brewing for dinner.

Our final hike of the weekend was a sobering event for us and truly left an impact on our lives. Our Thanksgiving trip has been a significant trip reflecting on all that we have to be thankful for.

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A November To Remember: The San Diego Hikes

Friday the 13th of November, exactly eight months to the day that I was officially furloughed from my hotel position in Phoenix. (Friday the 13th of March) Since we were in San Diego on the day I was notified, Carolyn and I returned to finish the official Five Peak Challenge that we had started in January. Due to Covid pandemic concerns and the multiple shutdowns in CA, we were unable to finish what we started.

Quinn Ashton and I at Sky Harbor, Phoenix, AZ November 13

Phoenix Sky Harbor had more activity then we had seen in a long time. While at the gate, I had this masked man (yes everybody had a mask) approach me and ask “Are you Tim Fruth?” (something like that) Lo and behold it was Quinn Ashton from St. Johns, Arizona. I had actually refereed some of his high school football games he played in and later on we have officiated multiple high school games together. We got to visit for awhile since he and his wife were on our flight to San Diego to catch a plane to SLC to visit their son. For the record, everybody wearing a mask really throws me off. That was a cool start to our road trip.

Once arriving in San Diego, we decided to roll our luggage to the Little Italy area to pick up our rental car since we had plenty of time before our scheduled time. This 1.5 mile hike was a great warm up to what was ahead. Carolyn probably thought it was because I was being frugal but truth be told, it was a beautiful morning for a brisk walk and it the perfect warmup for my stiff joints.

Most people from Arizona, including Carolyn and I, visit San Diego for beach time. Carolyn and I have added some local hikes to our times in San Diego that have included Potato Chip rock and most recently the Mission Trails Regional Park Five Peak Challenge. We had previously hiked North Fortuna and South Fortuna in January 2020 on a beautiful day and on a rainy day on March 12, 2020 we completed Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak. We had planned to return and hike our final peak, Kwaay Paay Peak in April but Covid restrictions put that on hold. We would have traveled but CA had specific restrictions that basically prohibited us from going and staying in a hotel and transportation was problematic.

The morning was beautiful and Carolyn and I decided we would add some mileage to our hike be putting a loop together after our summit. We started our summit to Kwaay Paay be hiking from a parking area on the furthest SE side on a trail that skirts a housing area and then connecting back to the main trail and on to the summit. There were few hikers to be encountered making social distancing not just a saying but a reality. It seems that most of the ones we encountered were hiking with a face mask and we just weren’t going to do that. The elevation gains on the summit trail are about 875 feet over a well defined trail that is rocky in places and could be slippery when wet. At the summit we just enjoyed the view of San Diego to the south and west and the peacefulness of being at the top. The trail is rated moderate to hard but it is short so not too much of a struggle.

On our trip down the mountain we took the first fork in the trail to head towards the San Diego River and the Grasslands Loop Trail. Our hike ended up over five miles with a total elevation gain of 999 feet. The grassland areas are beautiful in their own way and the loop is a great way to see a different side of the area. We were able to avoid others and just take our time enjoying the warm sunshine and the time of being together out in mother nature.

Carolyn on the Grassland Loop Trail

Our next stop is the Hilton in Torrey Pines for a couple nights. It is a beautiful property by the golf course with views of the ocean but there is nobody there. It’s just different. After getting settled, we head out for dinner and a beer. No hike for us would be complete with out a stop for local beers so we head to Draft Republic located in La Jolla. Really a cool spot with a great selection of local craft beers and good eats. We get to enjoy one of our favorites from Latitude 33, Honey Hips. Great way to end Day One.

Day two starts with a strange way to do breakfast. No indoor seating and menu but we get a to go omelet and sit by the pool ready to start hiking in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, named for the rare Torrey Pine tree. It is a beautiful area on the coastline with some interesting history. During the day we log over 6.5 miles of hiking on a variety of trails and find some time along the beach. With highs around 68 and sunny, we stroll through a variety of terrain. There are many out on this Saturday enjoying the beautiful San Diego weather.

Since hiking and exploring craft breweries is one of our things, our first stop is the Viewpoint Brewing Company. The place is packed for having social distanced seating and we get to sit outdoors in a beautiful waterfront setting. This place is very popular with the locals and we were glad we found it. Excellent beer and some good fish tacos. We end up with an Eddie Van Lager and a Big Hat Blonde. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like my blondes, beer that is.

Our final stop of the day is New English Brewing another cool spot with a great patio. The sun has gone down and it has become cold so it’s just a quick top to try something new. One of the many things I’ve learned is that to remain open in California, patrons at all breweries (bars etc) must order food and just can’t have a drink. I’m not certain how this practice stops the spread of Covid but it is interesting. So we have to order food from the taco truck just to have a drink. If one was to go to multiple places it could get expensive and lead to some unnecessary and unhealthy weight gain. Carolyn and I manage to split food orders to keep our calorie intake down. Our choice at New English Brewing is the Blueberry Blonde. It is very tasty and has a great purplish color that adds to the experience.

Our trip is done with some great hikes and great beers as we have to get on the first flight out of town to Phoenix since it is the only one that has seats for us standby passengers. Our flight leaves in the six o’clock hour so it’s up early to drop off our car and catch Lyft to the airport. Another November adventure complete. With Covid numbers still on the rise, Carolyn and I are trying to get some outdoor adventures completed while still honoring social distancing and traveling with our masks. Mission accomplished.

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A November to Remember: Hiking the Desert

Socially distanced hiking in unseasonably warm weather seems reasonable to me. Since being furloughed in March, I refuse to be “locked down” indoors and have continued to enjoy simple adventures around the areas that I live.

Carolyn had been requesting that we return to the Superstition Mountain Wilderness for a hike near Canyon Lake on the Boulder Canyon Trail. Our first Friday adventure has been decided and off we head to the Apache Trail and the Canyon Lake Marina.

Our start to the day is a slow one due to my ADD as I was quite discombobulated due to this reoccurring disability. Scattered and lacking focus, we head out and I left my hiking poles behind. Thank goodness I did remember water and snacks.

Once arriving we start our hike at 9:20 only about an hour behind our planned start. Once again, we are socially distanced only passing a couple returning from their morning hike and we will not see anyone else until the very end on our return. The hike is quite strenuous for me due to the rocky nature of the trail. Walking on rock takes its toll on my back and hips but I get through it. The scenery is beautiful. Deep in the Superstition Mountains the trail heads up before descending down to a wash that you crisscross multiple times. We fail to see any wildlife (not including me) but it is very peaceful and the views of Battleship and Weaver’s Needle are simply amazing. We hike in about 5.5 miles from the road and we could have continued but I just knew getting out would take a toll on my joints. The elevation gains total about 1800 feet and it is the going down that pounds on my lower back and hips and I missed my poles. The climb out is significant so be prepared as it is strenuous.

The views of Canyon Lake are special. Our journey lasted about six hours with plenty of stops to take in the scenery. Even with the pounding, I was happy and glad that I did it but sure that I will have plenty of residual aches and pains.

Upon returning we stop in to the Well Done Grill for some fish and chips, (A Friday thing) and they just happen to have Barrio Blonde one of our favorite light craft beers. On our way back to the Dreamy Draw condo, we stop by Goldwater Brewing Taproom in the Longbow Marketplace in East Mesa. We had no idea that Goldwater had opened in this area but what a lovely stop. Talking about favorites, their Desert Rose is a Kolsch style brewed with organic prickly pear that we have always loved. Not only does it taste good, it’s got a beautiful color to it. What a great day of hiking and crafting our way through Arizona. For an ADD guy, my attention was quickly focused on enjoying a cold one.

Our second hike of November takes us to Cave Creek Regional Park easily accessible and a beautiful area that doesn’t get overcrowded. After the pounding my body took Friday, I still manage to move around willing myself to get outdoors with Carolyn and her mother.

Another beautiful day in the desert and our hike gets started around 1:30. For November, it is a cloudy day but beautiful hiking weather. Today’s mini adventure takes us over 3.5 miles on the Overton to Go John to Overton Loop trail. We gain about 500 feet and we remained socially distanced with only a few encounters with hikers. Very peaceful with some good views looking south towards Phoenix. Only about 35 minute drive from our condo and we are in this beautiful county park. It is amazing to me that we are so close to 1.7 million Phoenicians yet far enough away to find solitude and peace. The hike starts by the Visitors’ Center and heads north behind one of the mountains with a gradual climb and eventually meets up with the Go John trail which is probably the most popular trail in the park. From there we head towards the picnic area parking lot rejoining the Overton Trail to complete the loop.

Since it is Saturday and we still have some time for a little enjoyment, we drive to the Cave Creek/Carefree area for a craft cocktail at the Elysian Desert Distilleries Cave Creek Tasting Room. Elysian is very unique place owned and operated by a mother/daughter combo. The bartenders make up some great tasting and unique cocktails that uses their Carefree Bourbon and some of their other spirits. It was fun to hangout and enjoy a local small business. On our way home we stopped for a pizza at Oregano’s.

A great start to our November outdoor adventures escaping the stresses of this Covid 2020 year. There is always peace to be found in the desert, socially distanced by choice and circumstance. In other words, Get Outdoors!

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