Just a Little Social Jaunt.
“You can pick up one at the Salvation Army. I heard they had them for sale.” Deborah stared forward as she drove.
Vondra turned the metal stick around in her hands. A long, thin metal pole, plastic bits circled the pole at intervals. These were used as extenders to make the pole longer for a taller hiker.
She stared at the dull red surface. This hiking pole was old and beat up; it had seen some wear.
“Well, they also have them at Big Five and REI. But, the ones at REI are really expensive.” Deborah nodded knowingly at her friend in the next seat over.
“Yeah,” said Sue. “About $75.00 for a set. That’s how much I paid. But, I’ve had them for years and years!” She bobbed her blonde head enthusiastically.
In the backseat, Vondra placed the metal stick down on the plush grey upholstery of Deborah’s vehicle. Sorry, her CRV, as had been pointed out to her. Deborah had loaned her the stick for the day.
Deborah and Sue babbled on in the front seats. Vondra stared out at the rolling countryside they were passing on this old country road. It was green and all, but really a whole lot of nothing out here. Palm trees, brush grass, some old oaks here and there. Her co-passenger, Frank, stared silently out his window.
She knew she was going to have to get one of these walking sticks if she was to keep on hiking. But, she sure as hell wasn’t paying any $75! You’ve got to be kidding, she thought to herself.
“Here we are!” Deborah announced and turned into the narrow asphalt drive. They zipped past the little guard shack.
“I think we have to pay $5.00 in one of those envelopes.” Sue was anxious. Deborah waved a manicured hand dismissively.
“Pish. I don’t think they even check.”
Deborah pulled the CRV into a parking space and they got out. Frank got out and disappeared and then reappeared waving a little paper slip in the air.
“Here’s the ticket. I saw a park officer down the way, I think they are checking today.” He handed it to Deborah.
She snatched it without comment and stuck it into a corner of her dash. “Got everything?” she asked the collective group. They all grabbed for last minute items and walked over to the leader.
Slim Jim was holding court with a clipboard and marking off names. They each announced themselves and he dutifully checked off on the sheet.
Doty with her big fluffy dog showed up and she joined Deborah and Sue. The women immediately began whispering in low voices.
Slim Jim was done with the roll call and waved his walking stick forward indicating it was time to hike.
The weather was pleasant. A spring day; breezy, sunny but no rain. Light fluffy clouds moved lazily across a blue sky.
“It won’t be a very long trail today, about 2-3 miles is all,” Slim was announcing, “and fairly flat so that should be pretty easy for everyone.” Nods all around. “We will be going as far as the fish farms and then turning around and coming back.”
Slim always walked with walking sticks due to his bad knees. Vondra knew she could depend on this being an easy hike. She followed his lead as he good-naturedly chatted to members of the group and lectured about the terrain.
“…and the water is high right now since they are letting more out of the dam.”
“Why is that, Jim?”
“The snow pack is melting upstream in the mountains and starting to run downhill.”
In the far distance, the snow-capped Sierra Mountains could be seen. Today people hiked with sticks, long pants and boots. Windbreakers protected against chilly spring breezes. Most hikers wore hats against potential sun and water bottles hung around bellies and backs. The group could be considered from generally middle-aged to those in the softly declining ‘golden years.’
“And then the bathroom,” Jody was going on, “going to redo it in all tile and then maybe think about doing the kitchen. Good ol’ Mom, leaving me everything like that. Really makes retirement so much easier.”
Deborah nodded. “I know what you mean. I am thinking about redoing mine too, but I am busy with the trailer right now.”
“How’s that going?”
“It’s good. It’s over by the coast, you knew that.” Deborah glanced at Sue. Sue nodded. “So, I call them whenever I plan to go over. Then one of the guys gets out a forklift, pulls it out and sets it up. It is so easy.” She dabbed a Kleenex at some sweat beading on her makeup.
“Wow,” Doty added, skipping to keep up. “What a great a deal. What made you decide to do it?”
“Love the coast, always have,” Deborah replied as they trudged through tall grasses.
“I thought it was difficult to get financing on trailers,” Vondra put in, pulling up the rear. “Especially second homes.”
“Oh, I paid cash for it,” Deborah laughed. It sounded like a tinkling bell. “Of course,” she smiled and glanced sideways at her friend Sue.
“Oh, of course,” Vondra added with a lowered voice.
The women continued to chat as the group moved farther toward the river.
“Well, I have a new mobile home, did I tell you, Deborah?” Doty asked.
“No, tell us.”
“Well, it just went through. I am so excited. It’s by the beach too and I got such a great deal!’
“Wow,” Deborah nodded.
“The great thing,” Doty gushed, “is I can rent it out during the summer because it is such a popular beach. Probably $1200 a week!” She giggled. “I just can’t live on Social Security, it’s just not enough, you know?”
“Oh, don’t I know it.” Deborah replied. “If it hadn’t been for the alimony all these years, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“Isn’t being retired great?” Doty asked.
“It so is,” Deborah replied.
“Here are the falls,” Jim gestured with his walking stick. The group paused and made collective appreciative noises. The falls were a small but busy affair, gushing and bubbling cheerfully as they poured down stream.
“Up there will be the fish farm and we will turn around there.” Jim waved them on.
“How is the boyfriend?” Deborah asked Doty.
“He’s just great. I will be seeing him in a few weeks. Going back there to buy another car. This one is getting some miles on it.”
“The taxes and everything are less back there, are they?” Deborah asked.
“Oh, yes. I save a bundle registering out of state.”
“Good for you,” Deborah added. “So, who watches the mobile home when you are away?”
“There is an on-site maintenance guy and he takes care of everything. It’s great.”
“How about the dogs when you are gone?”
“Oh, the roommate does that. She takes care of them and the house. She and her boyfriend rent one room and she takes care of everything for me when I’m gone.”
“That is so convenient.”
“Yes, I know. It really works out well for them.”
“That is so nice. . .”
Vondra walked a bit faster and left the two women behind. She came up behind two of the guys in the group who were a bit farther ahead.
“… triple bi-pass it was. I don’t do too much anymore except these hikes.”
“Well, it’s good you can still get out. My wife can’t hike at all anymore. Knees bother her.”
“Yeah, but that’s the worst thing, staying at home. She needs to get out.”
The other man nodded, “I know, she just won’t.” They both sighed.
“What can you do?” Triple bi-pass was saying. His companion shrugged.
The group was approaching the fish farm. They straggled up to the fence surrounding the property.
“The park system,” Jim announced when he finally huffed up, “is building this new facility. They will have salmon in place by summer.” The group murmured again. They all stared at a bunch of construction equipment and piles of sand seen through the fencing.
“It will be great for the local fishermen.” Collective nods.
They all turned around and started back.
Vondra attempted conversation with triple-bi pass.
“So, do you fish?”
“No, never liked that much. Used to ride motorcycles but can’t do that anymore. Too much stress on the old ticker.” He smiled a grim smile and patted his chest.
“Ah,” Vondra responded. “Well, this hiking is nice.”
“Yeah, it’s about all I can manage anymore,” triple-pass, Frank responded.
“You ride bikes?” he asked.
Vondra shook her head. “No, never got into that, actually.”
Frank shrugged and trudged on.
Eventually, the group rambled back to the parking lot. They began pulling bottles of juice and water out of trunks and bags of various snack food. Vondra waited at the CRV and Deborah and Sue finally came into view. Deborah hit the fob on her key and the locks popped open. Vondra opened the door and dropped her bag on the floor. She pulled out apple chips and started munching on them.
Jim hove into view and people began to gather and chat up about the next hike.
Soon it was time to go and Vondra, Sue, Deborah and Frank got into the CRV to leave. Deborah started up and was moving out of the parking lot and hitting buttons on her cell phone which was attached to a gadget on the dash.
“And I just got this. Isn’t it great? Holds my phone upright so I can see it all the time.” She was chirping as the vehicle moved forward.
“Deborah. . .” Vondra said.
“See it’s this little button here….”
“Deborah, Deborah!” Vondra shouted as the 4×4 truck was swerving into their lane without stopping. Deborah jerked the wheel to the right. The vehicles passed each other side to side.
“Oh, silly, I knew he was going to turn!” Deborah waved her hand in the air. Vondra unclutched her hands from the front seat where she was sitting.
She never even saw him, she grimaced to herself.
They were on the road back to the meet-up site to get their cars.
Vondra dug through her backpack and grabbed her wallet.
“Is five dollars enough for gas, Deborah?”
“Sure,” Deborah glanced her way. “If that’s what you can afford.”
“If it needs to be more….”
“No, no,” Deborah laughed. “That’s fine, really.” She snatched the fiver and plunked it into the console. The other passengers started pulling out money too. She took their offerings without comment.
Back at the car park, they all got out and started to their separate cars.
“Can’t wait to go again.”
People started waving at each other and getting into cars.
Vondra got into her little used sedan. She threw the boots in the back and put on a pair of flip-flops.
She started the engine and waved at the others leaving.
“Okay,” she said to the little blue car with gritted teeth, “time to go get a pair of those damned hiking sticks. Shit!” She started the car and headed off.