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Joshua Tree National Park, CA  March - May 2018  

Bill’s Leg Recovery
Pool Work
The therapeutic interlude we’d hoped for during our 29 Palms/Joshua Tree National Park (NP) stay happened: Bill’s slowly but steadily healing leg noticeably improved after his first 30 minute pool walking session on our third full day there. Coincidence? Maybe. Finally ready to suddenly and dramatically improve after 6 weeks? Not likely. Then it did it again: the next morning after the 20 minute session the preceding night, his leg was again markedly better.
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Bill’s new neoprene shirt & his new iPad doing double duty as a pool clock.

I’d proposed pool walking in the familiar RV park's outdoor but covered pool only because it was something new to try for his painfully slow recovery. Bill likes swimming less than I do and he didn’t need CV work but he did need mobility challenges.  Walking in water would astronomically increase the movement buffet available to his legs. And unlike while swimming, we could entertain ourselves by watching the wind whipped palm leaves through the big patio doors and visit.

Within minutes, we ditched the simple walk-back-and-forth routine and went for serious play. One pool regular even gave our backwards walk a try. We were then on to side stepping, kicking, leaping, lunging, one-legged hopping, twirling, and other gyrations. The second night, we discovered a sensationally therapeutic sideways walking move with flat feet that rolled side to side as we progressed down the pool.  Our feet and ankles get a huge workout in our minimalist shoes and wiggling in new directions with less weight allowed safely working them in more vulnerable positions.  

After a week of pool walking, and the nightly post-walk reward in the hot tub, Bill felt confident enough to begin pushing into discomfort to regain more flexibility in his knee. The drive to avoid permanently surrendering even a few degrees of knee range of motion and to be durable for the upcoming overseas hiking made him bolder.

Amazingly, after the 8th night of his pool walking, hot tub rehab, and pushing through his flexibility work, Bill abruptly extended his planned, first post-injury 15 mile hike to 20 without issue. Being a bump-up from 12 miles, it certainly was overly ambitious. But since he had been well conditioned to 20 milers with 3 times the elevation gain before the fall, it was a calculated risk.

His only penalty was significantly more stiffness that night and the next day, but some stiffness had been a daily feature of this problem. He was comforted by reclaiming his long-hike distance and committed to aggressively countering the disquieting stiffness. At almost 8 weeks out from the undramatic stumble, he felt it was time to insist on more functionality.
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Everyone delights in Joshua Tree’s rocks.

Just like with the gains from walking in the pool instead of on the earth, Bill immediately noticed that the generally sloped trails in the National Park rather than stair-stepped, steeper trails around nearby Palm Springs, were perfect for his recovery. And with a little less anxiety about his footing, he resumed his frequent 3 mph pace on the smoother trails. Yes, things were looking up.

We were humbled by the steady, steep grade up the mountain into Joshua Tree  NP from our 29 Palms RV park 6 miles away. Our pleasant cycling route in Palm Springs had included some short, steep pitches with nice breaks in-between whereas our route into the park was ‘all up’. “It’s good for us” we kept saying and indeed, it was more similar to what our summer cyclotouring would dish-out. Bill felt his leg issue was just barely up to the challenge but he took it on.

The unwelcome cool spell with too many days of strong winds was annoying but the temperatures prevented overheating on the 12+ mile steady pull to, and into, the park. Picnics were hurried and we urgently descended in an un-forecast heavy shower one day. Luckily we had rain gear with us—largely for the wind—but longed for several more layers of clothing for the much needed warmth.

A huge pay-off for being on the less challenging Joshua Tree NP trails was indulging ourselves in hours of listening each week while we walked and walked some more. Our house rule is to not use audio devices when there is a credible risk of rattle snake encounters, which includes any and all trails in the greater Palm Springs area where we had recently spent 3 months. 

Surely the snakes are as prevalent at Joshua Tree but almost all of the trails are wide, smooth, and with little to no encroaching brush. With most of our 5 rattlesnake encounters, we’ve heard them before we’ve seen them and all have been well camouflaged in rocks or vegetation. But at Joshua Tree, the predominant trail surface materials of light colored sand or coarse grit made snakes highly visible. And when we did encounter the odd patch of more deeply textured terrain or narrowing paths, the audio distraction went mute and our snake surveillance skyrocketed.

Especially on the days when I was out 8 or more hours alone, it was delightful to study my Italian and German language lessons on the downhills and listen to a less demanding book on low carb eating on the uphills. And even when we hiked together, we’d take listening interludes. The scenery was pleasant in the park but not riveting, so catching up on our neglected language studies while walking was a pleasure.
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“Hers” & “His” new ISM split saddles.

New Policies
It only took a couple of nights at Joshua Tree to decide that rather than do the "should we/shouldn’t we" debate upon leaving Palm Springs each March 1, that we should always do a stint in Joshua Tree. The biking there delivers better conditioning and the larger, covered but chilly pool is more inviting than the one in Palm Springs.

We will however visit the pool in our Palm Springs RV park next winter—a pool that we’ve never used in the 5 years we’d stayed there. It’s so short that it hasn’t been enticing for swimming and we’d have to wait until the sun dropped behind the mountains anyway, but it could be just fine for pool walking. At least walking in the pool after our biggest hikes might be an excellent routine for keeping our muscles and joints at their best. Like with Bill’s rehab, the appeal would be cross training for mobility instead of strength or endurance. And we’d have our new neoprene short-sleeved shirts ordered while at Joshua Tree to stave off the chill like the ones we get in the 29 Palms pool.

Extended, Early Birthday Party
While Bill had been navigating the RV park roads upon our arrival in 29 Palms village, I spotted a high end bike saddle in the back of a cast-off biking magazine. Just that morning, I’d been pondering how to top my birthday gift to him last year for unexpectedness and was giving myself plenty of lead time for the challenge. We often agree to skip Christmas and birthday gifts if we can’t think of something clever, but we do still keep trying.

My mind was whirling while we set-up our rig. First, I was going to order the pictured, non-crotch-compressing, ISM branded, split saddle outright but discovered on their mobile app while still in the truck, that there were more than a dozen models. I shifted to brain-storming a birthday party shopping event for both of us that evening. Finding the right saddle can take years of trial and error and so we’ve both stopped trying. And I wanted this to be a fun, shared event instead of a chore.

Once the rig was parked and hooked up, I proposed the shopping spree to Bill while still designing it my head, an event to begin that moment. I suggested limiting ourselves to each selecting a saddle from ISM to keep it quick and easy, though that wasn’t an absolute requirement. The goal was to make it a fast and fun shared experience under the umbrella of surprise. 

After Bill accepted the invitation to play, we discovered that the manufacturer nicely supported our proposition. For a $20, nonrefundable fee, we could buy a saddle and test it for a month. We paid for the saddle, they paid for the shipping both directions, and we’d get a full refund when we sent the demo back if we didn’t want to purchase one. The opportunity cost for the 2 of us for our extended, and now joint, birthday party was only $40.
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This eye-catching Jimson weed in Palm Springs is another member of the nightshade family.

Better yet, it was a multi-day event. Late Thursday afternoon, we feverishly compared notes while we each ran through our top options using our different decision making processes. We each took brief scouting trips to other favorite manufacturers' websites searching for head-turners. Then it was back to work narrowing our choices from ISM. 

About 2 hours later, we each placed our orders with a high level of optimism. A phone call the next morning cleared up a credit card fraud alert at the Florida manufacturer's end and then our new saddles were out the door. They arrived Monday afternoon and our first demo ride was the next morning. The tough uphill effort into the national park was an authentic test course and the results were very promising. And better yet, we each could try 2 saddles. Regardless of our final 'buy' decisions, it had been a fun activity with more extended excitement that a simple gift giving.

We used 3 of the 4 weeks allowed for a demo return to fiddle with the saddle positions. The saddles weren’t perfect, as in eliminating 100% of the discomfort, but the saddles caused no genital compression and were dubbed by each of us as the best saddle we’d owned. And their more aggressive designs, as in less padding, were helping us both to unravel undesirable, chronic, slightly off-centered sitting positions which would have huge, long term  pay-offs. They both earned themselves a spot in a suitcase going to Europe later this spring. If we still loved them in August, another pair would be ordered for our stateside pair of bikes.

Sigh, more losses, more gains. We’d given up so many yummy flavor sensations in the name of good health, it was hard to confront the possibility of more losses. This time, it was testing our sensitivity to the members of the nightshade family by eliminating them from our diet in hopes of improving our finger osteoarthritis. The only lingering nightshades on our menu were red bell peppers and tomatoes, plus occasional flavor treats like green chilies. 
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Finding the views & fun at Pinnacles National Park, CA.

Four years ago, we’d severely limited our fruit and vegetable consumption to accommodate our low carbohydrate diet and the low FODMAP diet of foods that can trigger indigestion and these tasty, sweet, red veggies were the last of the luscious flavors. But having the function of your fingers melt away and be replaced by pain hadn’t been fun either, so we once again submitted to being lab rats.

The classic explanation for osteoarthritis is overuse, which had made no sense: our most severely involved fingers were on our non-dominate hands. For Bill, the worst was the little finger on his non-dominant hand; for me, it was my non-dominant forefinger joint that had deformed and turned into dysfunctional mush. Go figure. But, that is why the nightshades seemed like a possible culprit: the classic overuse wisdom didn’t make sense for the pain we were experiencing. We’d heard over the years from those who thought that nightshades shouldn’t be eaten by anyone, but we never wanted to believe it mattered.

We were stunned to both experience significant, visible improvement in our joints while we were still tapering off of nightshades. We’d quickly used up our fresh tomatoes and red bell peppers but continued eating our sun-dried tomatoes until the last of our seasonal, 12 lb supply, was gone. About the time we finished the sun-drieds, we learned that the cayenne in our curry powder and our chipotle powder were also nightshades. Sigh, more grieving.

We were both thrilled and disheartened with the rapid, significant reduction in pain and swelling in our fingers and markedly improved function as well. There was no decision to make, but we were saddened by the losses of our little palate pleasures nonetheless. And ironically, we realized that our consumption of nightshades had shot up when we switched to the low carb diet, a time during which we were devising new, compliant, menus.
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In the cool of the shade at Pinnacles, Bill reset his fibula & gained new understanding of his ‘knee’ injury.

End of Season
We both felt it; there was no escaping; the real hiking season would end for us when we drove towards LA from the Joshua Tree NP/29 Palms village area in the morning at the end of March. I’d done a 20 mile bike ride that day and we’d done a 20 mile hike the day before in 20 mph winds, keeping up the challenging hiking and biking tempo for 6 months. It had been grand. We’d again pushed out our edges for endurance and speed, creating a solid base from which to do even more, but that would have to wait for 6 weeks.
Just before leaving 29 Palms, Bill announced that he wanted to see an early photography exhibit at the Getty Museum and that simple redirection west triggered the obvious: visiting the bucket-list Pinnacles National Park, long time friends near Sacramento, and meeting my 2 four-and-under nieces in Walnut Creek, California. It all made for a fun mix of socializing and exploring new territory.

The 3 week meander home was designed to intermingle visiting and hiking, weather permitting. But for both, that interval and the 3 weeks at home, our outdoor sports would be at the mercy of increasing unpredictable weather. And then there were the fewer spring hiking options near home because the primer ones had been decimated by teenager-started forest fires last fall.

Pinnacles National Park
You are in good company if you haven’t heard of Pinnacles National Park in central California—even people living in the area don’t know of it. The Eastern Entrance is overrun with family camping and few visitors there venture far on the trails. Only because of itinerary convenience, we came in the Western Entrance. A difficult winding road to a “Day Use Only” set of more challenging trails limited the visitors to the more hardy. We hiked almost all of the maintained trails in our 3 days at Pinnacles, including the one to holiday weekend mayhem at the East Entrance.
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The 4 year old was too busy for a group photo.

The ‘Ah-Ha’ Moment 
It was at Pinnacles, on April 4th, that the lights came on, regarding Bill’s fall and peculiar leg/knee injury. That is when we made what was expected to be the definitive diagnosis. Bill had a clear case of "Joshua Knee”, an injury named by us back in March of 2012 when I had the same injury pattern while at Joshua Tree—an injury I supported in the 29 Palms RV park pool.

It wasn’t until his injury had calmed enough and Bill had retargeted his myofascial release work, that it became clear that it was the same "twisting out of place of the fibula and then getting stuck there” that I had had. Clarity started emerging while hiking down a steep trail in Pinnacles NP and suddenly his slowly improving leg injury got much worse. 

Bill pulled us off the trail into a bit of shade, folded his pole to use the hooked handle for a tool like he had done last summer to work on my irritated knee, and he railed on his outer ankle, which is where the lower end of the fibula resides. (The ankle bone is the end of the fibula, not a separate bone.) There was a pop and instant relief. It could have be a tendon rolling over a bone but the whole syndrome was now a compelling match for some degree of a fibular subluxation.

The next morning, almost 10 weeks after his fall, I pulled up the lengthy description of my Joshua Knee on our 2012 webpage and Bill went “Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh" while I read it aloud. I had had brief episodes of shrieking in pain with mine whereas Bill’s had been longer intervals of dull, slightly nauseating pain, but for both of us, the disability had been in the knee flexion and the perceived injury was in the quads. For both of us, the real issue wasn’t the decoy quads or knee, it was the slight rotation of the smallest of the 2 lower leg bones. At last, closure on this injury was in sight. Our massage therapist at home confirmed our diagnosis a few weeks later and added that unlike me, Bill had been very close to shredding his knee joint even though it hadn’t sustained any injury.
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Our longtime friends took us to the site where the California Gold Rush began.

Home Stay
My experience of our 3 week stay at home was one of my life’s low points. I had made a special appointment with my internist for a few days after we arrived to propose going on high blood pressure medication. It seemed innocent enough, but I was ill for our entire stay and beyond. In addition to having severe brain fog that made packing perilous, I was dizzy most of the time and had a half day of severe nausea. A medication change resulted in hours-long hot flashes, a different blend of brain fog, and basically a diagnosis of being a nut case because I shouldn’t have been having side effects. More about all of that for those who are interested in an upcoming side piece. 

On the flip side, Bill’s only let down while at home was getting a cold, which of course, delivered a different kind of distress with its share of sleepless nights as well. But he received the critical help and guidance he needed to largely fix his ‘fib-tib’ subluxation, so after 3 months of uncertainty, he felt confident to get back on any hiking trail. 

Bill delighted in starting and finishing a lighting project he’d been researching for months while on the road. Our little apartment now has almost all new light bulbs to eliminate blue light at night. The Philips brand Hue system bulbs are energy efficient, have a range of selectable colors of light, and can be dimmed. And of course, all can be operated from his phone. Two small light fixtures and more new ideas will move into our trailer in the fall.
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Broomrape, a Lousewort, in bloom at Pinnacles NP.

While at home, we had labs drawn for the research-grade NMR Lipid Panel we are now using and received the results from our 6 week experimental Butter Diet. In February, we replaced almost all of our olive oil, the primary fat source on our high fat keto diet, with butter. The short story was that I passed the test with flying colors and Bill failed.

All but one of about a dozen of my lipid measurements barely budged with the high consumption of saturated fat whereas Bill’s cholesterol and an important parameter dramatically went the wrong way. I was thrilled;  Bill wasn’t surprised because prior results hinted at that tendency, which is why we set-up the test. Happily, yummy butter remains on my plate and Bill is off on his next experiment as a low carb, but not keto, guy with some enviable additions to his diet. We’ll test again upon our return home in September for additional, concrete, feedback on our food choices.

On To The Coast Path
We would fly from PDX to London on Monday in mid-May, arrive in England on Tuesday, and would be on the trail on Thursday, picking up where we left-off last year in Port Isaac on the SW coast. The plan was to walk the 2 segments of trail planned for the end of our trek last summer that we cut-short because of storms and then continue on, generally going south and east and ending in Plymouth on the English Channel. We’d be in England about 3 weeks, then it would be on to the Alps for a summer of hiking and biking there.