Canyon Hike with New Friends

Nature + intelligent people + good conversation = a great time.

One of the reasons I’ve been so unhappy living in Wickenburg over the past few years is the lack of friends my own age who have similar interests.

As the years went by and Wickenburg shifted from being a ranching/tourist town to being a retirement community, all of our young friends moved away. There was Barb and Barry, who moved to New Mexico. Then Janet and Steve, who moved to Colorado. Then Lance and Keri, who moved to (of all places) Michigan. Some of our young, seasonal friends — John and Lorna come to mind — prefer hanging out with the old folks at the retirement community where they park their RV for half the year, opting for an ice cream social over a Jeep ride in the desert or a coffee gathering over a hike up Vulture Peak.

Because the town doesn’t offer enough employment opportunities for young people, it’s population continues to age, with more older folks coming here to retire, at least seasonally. I — or we, I guess I could still say — have quite a few friends old enough to be my parents. Sadly, most of these folks are not nearly as active as we are. And every year, when I return from my annual migration to Washington for work, I discover that one or more of them has died: Pete, Bill, Danny — rest in peace.

It’s depressing for someone like me who wants to remain active. While it was tolerable while I still had a husband at home — at least we could do things together on weekends — with him gone, the situation is bad. I decided to get proactive to find some friends.

I turned to Meetup.

Meetup

Meetup is a social networking service that makes it easy to find and meet up with — in person — people with similar interests for all kinds of activities. I’ve been a member for years and, in the past, have used it to hook up with a photography group based in the Phoenix area and a social group in the Wenatchee area. Last week, I worked it hard, looking for Meetup groups that might do activities near where I live. I didn’t expect to find any in Wickenburg — indeed, there are no Meetup groups within 25 miles of Wickenburg — but I found quite a few in the Phoenix area that do activities all over the state.

Last week, after hitting the Arrowhead Mall for a makeup consultation, I joined the 39 and Holding Club‘s “Hump Day” dinner, which was being held at Chili’s in Surprise, AZ. Although it was more than 30 miles from my Wickenburg home, it was still on the way home from the mall. It was a nice evening out with pleasant people. I met an interesting woman — I’ll call her “M” — who is also going through an ugly divorce that has been going on for two years now. (I sure hope mine doesn’t take that long.) M is the one who told me about Couch Surfing, which I linked to in one of my “Interesting Link” posts. So not only did I get to spend a nice evening out with new people, but I learned about some services I might want to take advantage of in the future.

I signed up with a bunch of groups for a bunch of activities ranging from wine tasting/pairing to hiking to archery lessons. My calendar is now quite full. And with new activities listed all the time, I don’t think I’ll have much trouble at all finding something interesting to do with others.

The Phoenix Atheists

I don’t usually blog about my religious non-beliefs because it results in a firestorm of comments by religious fundamentalists damning me to hell or worse. Of course, this means nothing to me because I don’t believe in hell. If you feel your anger rising now, take your blood pressure pills and move along. Comments blasting me (or others) for religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) won’t appear on this blog, so don’t waste your time posting them.

Yes, I’m an atheist. If you’ve been reading this blog regularly for a while and have somehow missed that point, shame on you. It’s not as if I hide it. If this is news to you and it upsets you, I’m sorry. I’d like to assure you that I have very strong moral convictions that don’t require an all-mighty being to supervise. I’m not a militant atheist — one who’s blasting believers all the time — I’m a live-and-let-live kind of person. If you want to believe in god, fine. Just don’t expect me to do it just because you and others do.

That said, I believe that atheists or “freethinkers” or “secular humanists” or “skeptics” — some of the names we apply to ourselves — are generally better educated, more intelligent, and better able to reason things out than the average person. I’m not saying all atheists are smarter than everyone else. I’m just saying that as a group, they tend, on average, to be brighter than the general population, better able to think before speaking, and better able to express their thoughts without offending others.

I’m not a dummy and I like talking to smart people. I like talking to people who are as smart as or smarter than me. People who can challenge me to think in a conversation. People who are able to discuss things deeper than what they saw on television last night, what’s in the news, or what they got in the latest Obama-bashing (or Romney-bashing) email in their in box. People who make me think about things that are interesting or important. People who can help me get a new angle on things, to possibly see things in a new way and build my own new conclusions. I like talking to people who can challenge me to think and to discuss things as an equal.

atheists.jpgI figured that a group of atheists should fit the bill. So when I found out that The Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group was going for a hike at Grapevine Canyon in Mayer, AZ, I decided to join them.

Because the trailhead required a 1-1/2 mile drive down a narrow, rough road, I took my Jeep and offered up rides to anyone who didn’t have a high-clearance vehicle. I got a call from another member — we’ll call him “D” — who was driving up from Yuma in his Toyota. We agreed to meet at the shopping area at I-17 and Carefree Highway, which was on my way north to Mayer. At 7:00 AM yesterday morning, I loaded up Penny, a fanny-pack full of frozen water bottles and snacks for both of us, my camera, and my monopod, and we headed out.

I got to the rendezvous point early. I topped off the Jeep’s gas tanks, then parked by McDonalds and started looking for others in the group. Another Jeep was supposed to meet there. What I discovered is that the McDonalds there is a popular meet up place for all kinds of groups of people. I’d stop at a small group and say, “Are you here for the hike?” (I didn’t want to mention atheists because some people get silly.) One of the people in the group would respond, “No, we’re going off-roading up by Crown King. You can come with us if you want.” Or, “No, we’re going scuba diving. Want to come with us?” Or, “No, we’re with the Miata Club.” (No invitation there.) I realized that even if I had nothing planned, I could go to the McDonalds, ask around, and go with the group that seemed to be doing the most fun thing. Whoa.

I finally found the other Jeep driver, “G,” and his companion. Then D. We chatted, loaded up, and headed north on I-17 to Mayer. I followed G’s Jeep.

I thoroughly enjoyed my chat with D during the 45-minute ride to Mayer. He’s a civil engineer who works with traffic control — light timing, traffic pattern design, etc. We talked about his work and mine and about each of our divorces. He was very supportive and offered some general advice from his own experiences. Although we didn’t talk much about that — I really didn’t want to — our chat helped clear my head and put me in a more positive mood for the hike ahead.

At the turnoff, there were more members of the group. I took on another passenger and followed a Toyota FJ Cruiser down a mildly rough road, with G’s Jeep taking up the rear. At the end of that little drive were more people and vehicles. I think our group wound up with a total of 14 hikers. A good sized group.

We parked and unloaded our gear. After a briefing from the group leader, we started off up the trail.

HikeArea.jpg
After driving down a rough forest road and parking, we did our hike in the area marked in red. We followed Grapevine Canyon most of the way.

We were on the eastern foothills to the Bradshaw Mountains. The Bradshaws aren’t very big — I think the tallest peaks might be around 6,000 feet — and the hills climbing up to them are mostly metamorphic rock and low bushes such as holly and manzanita. I kept Penny on her leash, mostly because there had been talk of mountain lions in the area and I didn’t want her wandering off. She walked with us like a little champ and only had to be lifted over one fallen log.

The trail started as a road, then narrowed to a wide trail. At a marked fork, we took the left fork, which was supposed to be level. It wasn’t. It climbed pretty steadily but not too steeply. Because we were hiking near a dry stream bed, there were some tall tress, including oaks and various pines. Scattered clouds and the trees helped keep the sun off us. Still, I’d dressed wrong in a pair of jeans instead of shorts. It wasn’t long before I was working up a good sweat.

Hand-carved Slingshot
We found this hand-carved slingshot hanging from the vertical poles of what may have been a hunting blind in a clearing along the trail. Magnificent workmanship! Of course, we left it where we found it; I hope other hikers do the same.

Members of the group split into smaller groups and chatted as they walked. Occasionally, the front groups would stop to let the stragglers catch up. It was very rewarding to me to be able to get into a conversation with any group I wound up walking beside. I was never excluded, other members seemed to go out of their way at times to engage me in conversation. It was exactly what I wanted from the experience: a good workout with good conversation.

Meanwhile, as the trail narrowed and climbed along the dry creek bed, it became tougher to follow. Soon, we were following cairns — piles of rock left to mark the trail. After a while, I was glad I’d worn long pants — others were getting their legs scratched walking through brush. Penny kept up very well, surprising me and others.

Eventually, we reached a dry waterfall with a seep-like spring. Thick green moss, which is rare in the desert, carpeted the rocks. Small flowers bloomed here and there. Butterflies flitted about. Facing an even narrower trail up the canyon, about half of us settled down to wait for the others to continue their explorations. Because various members had hand-held radios, we were able to keep in touch with all the groups. It wasn’t long before they’d had enough and began coming back.

Flower in the Sun
I captured this flower in a beam of bright sunlight.

The hike back was easier, probably because it was mostly downhill. Again, I found myself walking with different people along the way, talking about different things. It really helped keep my mind off my personal tragedy and the pain it was causing me. Being able to meet and talk to so many interesting people really pumped up my spirits.

Penny Resting on a Hike
We stopped for a long rest on the way back, mostly to gather the whole group together. I took this opportunity to give Penny some more water and let her rest.

Afterwards, we went to Leff-T’s Steakhouse in Dewey. The group insisted on us sitting on the outdoor patio so Penny could join us. I’m in the process of weaning myself off my diet — I’m very close to my final weight goal — so I ordered steak fajitas and ate about 1/3 of the portion, taking the rest home for the next two days. One of my companions kindly gave me a taste of his chicken fried steak — I love that stuff but will probably never be able to enjoy a full portion again. (Which really is a good thing, after all.)

We split up after that. D and I climbed back into the Jeep with Penny and headed back down toward Phoenix. Although it probably would have been closer for me to drive through Prescott, I admit that I looked forward to D’s company for part of the drive. We talked a lot more about what I was going through — he seemed genuinely interested and offered up all kinds of supportive words and advice. He also gave me some specifics about his post-divorce recovery process that I could apply to my own life and what I might face. It was extremely helpful to me.

After I dropped him off at McDonalds, Penny and I headed home. It was hot — seriously, I don’t understand how people could bear to live in Phoenix when the temperature is still hovering around 100°F on the first day of autumn. We made good time getting back and I was glad to pull the Jeep into the garage just as it was beginning to get dark outside. I gave Penny a much needed bath and took a hot shower to wash off the day’s sweat and dirt.

I was tired but I felt happy and hopeful for my future.

I’m really looking forward to my next outing with this group.

Postscript:
HappyThe hike leader, Al, posted a huge batch of photos that he shot before, during, and after the hike. Among them was this gem.

The ugly divorce I’m dealing with right now has been eating away at me day after day and night after night. But Al managed to capture the truth in this photo: my spirit is still alive and strong, I can still have fun, I can still be happy.

Thank you, Al. Seeing this photo really made my day.

Social Networking Fail

Come on, folks. If you mean it, get it right.

LinkedInI logged into my LinkedIn account today for the first time in a few months and found 16 invitations. Of those, I knew four of the people and accepted two of the invitations.

I don’t like LinkedIn. It seems like a feeding ground for “business people” trolling for new customers. Just too much bullshit, even for a hardcore Twitter user like me.

The odd thing about LinkedIn is that you’re supposed to know the person you’re inviting to connect. Somehow, people seem able to get around this requirement and still contact me. But do these people honestly expect me to link to them without any idea of who they are or what they do or how a link could benefit us? Most folks use the standard invitation message or simply no message at all, giving me no reason to want to connect.

But today I got a bonus invitation. One guy — a “Cloud Computing Professional” — got creative but still failed:

[redacted] has indicated you are a person they’ve done business with at [redacted,] Inc. · Hi Maria: I hope this email finds u well. I work with [redacted], a company proving business productivity software in the cloud and would like to get in touch with u to discuss possible collaboration on ur technical copywriting. Plz feel free to contact me at ###-###-####. Thanks, [redacted]

He wants me to collaborate with him on some technical writing?

What kind of writer uses “u” for you, “ur” for our (or your?), and “Plz” for please? Would I be expected to write that way, too? Not possible, I’m afraid. You see, I don’t think the word you has too many letters to type, so I tend to type all three of them when writing.

And how many other people who who may have included “writer” in their profile got the same exact message?

I’ve never heard of this person or his company and I certainly have not “done business with” either one of them. Although I was tempted to accept the invitation just to see what his angle was, I really don’t want to spend any more time on LinkedIn than I already do.

So I marked the invitation as the spam it probably was.

Top 13 Features of a Perfect World Twitter

Ah, if only the world were perfect!

Twitter LogoMarch 20, 2012 will mark the beginning my fifth year as Twitter user.

During that time, I’ve posted more than 37,000 tweets. I’ve seen Twitter evolve from the “microblogging” service it was designed to be to one of the top social networking sites and a major source of news and information worldwide. Along the way, I’ve authored three versions of a Twitter course for Lynda.com (with a revision to come soon) and dozens of blog posts and how-to articles about using Twitter.

I’m on Twitter just about every day, checking the tweets posted by the modest number of people I follow, responding to some tweets with @replies and retweeting others. I also respond to every [non-spam] tweet directed to my account — which is often how I find new people to follow. No, I don’t “reciprocate follows” and I don’t collect followers. I’m on Twitter primarily for its social networking aspects — to meet and interact with people all over the world. Indeed, I’ve met many of my Twitter friends in person and consider many of them more than just “virtual” friends.

I guess you can say I’m hooked on Twitter.

But with all that said, I’m sure any Twitter user can agree that Twitter is not perfect. I thought I’d take a moment to list the things I think we’d find in a “perfect world” Twitter.

  • No spam. None. Not any at all. Period.
  • Twitter users who actually try to read — and maybe occasionally respond to? — the tweets of the people they follow. Seriously: why are you following people if you don’t read their tweets? There’s nothing social in one-way communication.
  • Retweets that credit the original source of the tweet. That means using the Retweet feature on Twitter except in the very rare instances that you must add your two cents to the tweet. I don’t know about you, but I like to see the name and profile picture of the witty or informative person who originated the tweet you thought was so sharable. And no, that wasn’t you.
  • Links that point to actual content instead of links to content. Don’t tease your followers with link bait pointing to your paper.li “online newspaper.” Link to the actual content people want to read. (And don’t get me started on sites like paper.li or Pinterest or FourSquare and the auto-tweets they spawn.)
  • Links to the original source of the content. Someone created that content and put it out there for the world to read. Don’t link to the site or page that steals a paragraph or two of it — or, worse yet, the whole thing. Link to the freaking source.
  • Follow Friday (#FF) tweets that list one or two people actually worth following. Not every single person who might have tweeted to you in the past three weeks, shared with your followers (those very same people) in six or seven consecutive tweets. If I wanted to know everyone you were following, I’d look at your profile and check your Following list. And how about including a reason why these people are worth following?
  • Company twitter accounts that interact with customers or provide links to valuable content (or both!) rather than just broadcast promotional messages. Why would anyone voluntarily follow an account that was a nonstop stream of ads?
  • No @replies starting with a . (or other character), thus forcing all of your followers to see one side of a conversation that they may have no interest in. Are your conversations with others so interesting that you need to circumvent Twitter’s built-in filtering for @reply conversations? I don’t think so.
  • No tweets longer than 140 characters. If you can’t express a thought within Twitter’s constraints, post it on Tumblr or a blog. When you use multiple consecutive tweets to express a single thought, you look like you’re talking to yourself. Which, in effect you are, because no one is reading it. (See above.)
  • No tweets about follower count. Pardon me, but who the fuck cares how many people follow you? If you do, you have pretty screwed up priorities. Ditto for Klout scores and any other Twitter “ranking” value.
  • No “Thank you for following me” or “welcome new followers!” or “Thanks for retweeting!” tweets. These messages are noise and a serious waste of bandwidth. (Imagine if everyone did this for every single follower and retweet. Has your head exploded yet?) While you might want everyone on Twitter to know about every new follower or retweet you get, the rest of us don’t really give a crap.
  • No automated direct messages (DMs). I cannot think of a tackier way to abuse a social networking service than to use a computer to automatically generate a message to a stranger that might just end up on his cell phone as a text message. As I mentioned to someone on Twitter just today, I automatically unfollow anyone who DMs me with an automated message. Or even a message that looks like it might be automated.
  • No social media gurus. Seriously: if that phrase (or anything like it) is in your Twitter profile, you just don’t get it.

Got anything to add to this list? Pet peeves you want to share? Wish lists? Post ‘em here.

Dear Facebook, I Don’t Need YOU to Communicate with My Husband

Facebook is not that big a part of my life.

I use Facebook. It’s not because I really want to. It’s because one of my publishers wants me to be there. So I am.

So is my husband. It’s not because he wants to be. It’s because his friends talked him into it. He doesn’t know the first thing about Facebook and doesn’t care. I don’t think he’s ever posted a thing.

Big EventsYet today, in the sidebar of my page, I found this note from Facebook, reminding me of our upcoming anniversary and giving me a link I could use to send him a message.

Well, Facebook, let me explain something to you. Normal people with normal relationships don’t need you to help them communicate. If I wanted to “send a message” to my husband, I could pick up the phone and call him. Or, if we were together — which isn’t too often this summer — I could simply talk to him, face to face.

I find the idea of using Facebook as tool to communicate with my husband not only idiotic but repulsive.

Is there any part of a person’s life that Facebook doesn’t want to interfere in?

Social Networking Stupidity, Part I

Is your social networking activity making you look like a jerk?

I just had to blog this. It’s such a great example of someone really screwing up with social networking.

A local area magazine (I’d rather not mention its name since I don’t want readers to trace the idiot who is the subject of this post) did its annual article on the 50 best places to eat in the state. Just today, it posted on its Facebook page:

Since our April issue was published, we’ve received numerous emails from readers who have informed us that two of the restaurants we included in our “Best Restaurants” feature have closed: [redacted 1] and [redacted 2]. Both restaurants were open at press time, and we regret that our very long lead time might lead to some disappointed readers.

One of the page’s followers commented:

Sounds like you need a new contributing writer~I’m available!:)

After a few other comments from readers, the editor replied:

Doesn’t have anything to do with the writer, [redacted]. She’s one of the best in the business. It’s because of our long lead times.

I can understand that. The magazine is, after all, a print publication. It’s not as if you can create the content and distribute it a week later.

But the commenter didn’t stop there. She fired off two more comments in quick succession:

I would beg to differ! A good writer would have given the editor the heads up. It’s not just about coverage, it’s about follow up too. I know she can write, but is she paying attention?????

and

btw–EVERYONE who lives in [redacted 2 town] knows how long [redacted 2] has been closed, not buying the excuses.

Whoa. I couldn’t let that one go. I have a lot of respect for the publication and the difficulty of remaining up-to-date in print. So I replied:

Give it a rest, [redacted]. [redacted magazine] does have VERY long lead times. Stuff happens. Also, its not likely you’ll get hired on as a writer with an attitude like that. Cut them some slack!

Within an hour 8 people had “liked” my comment, so I know I wasn’t far off-base. Another commenter suggested she try Xanax.

The point of all this is, this woman posted a slightly critical comment that was basically asking for a job. When the editor defended his publication against the criticism, she fired away with more critical remarks. (And don’t even get me started on the idea of a “writer” using five question marks at the end of a sentence.) Is this the way she does her job hunting? Her comments make her look like a real jerk. Who would hire her?

This was today’s example; I’ll likely follow this up with more examples as I stumble across them on the ‘Net.