Though hiking five National Parks (Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Yosemite, Lassen, and Redwood) in California is a dream quintet, Hannah and I do love us some pickleball, too. A week into our national parks road trip for my 70th birthday (in December 2017), we found quality pickleball in Reno, Nevada, a town that was not even on our original schedule.
After a weekend in northern California hiking at Lassen Volcanic and Redwood National Parks, we are ready for a day off from the trail; pickleball to the rescue. Fact is, we are fried. After nine hikes in seven days in the Sierras, we need this Monday for chilling; and pickleball is our chilling of choice.
Turns out this day in Eureka, we scored an $89 promotional rate room to the classy Clarion Hotel by Humboldt Bay. Treated like royalty, we find the breakfast elite. Sit yourself down and prepare to have your mouth watered. For the first time on a road trip, there are flaky biscuits, and gravy for Hannah. Add freshly-made oatmeal in a cauldron as well as eggs that are not left on an island, but are accompanied by crispy home fries and crispier bacon. Heaven at Seven (AM that is!)
Our day away from the trail begins with morning pickleball at the Community Center in Arcata, minutes from the Pacific Ocean. Ambassador Jan organizes a few drills; since there are only eight of us, we play non-stop for more than two hours. Two other visitors, Rick and Eric, raise the level of competition and quality pickleball is had by one and all.
A day of chilling is followed by an afternoon walk through the campus of Humboldt State University in the aforementioned Arcata. I do have one plea for HSU. Both the men’s and women’s athletic teams are called Lumberjacks! WTF! Humboldt State could learn a thing or two from Northern Arizona University, where the men’s teams are the Lumberjacks and the women’s teams are the Lumberjills!
With temperatures going to the low 90s three hours to the south in Santa Rosa (an hour north of SF) this week, Hannah and I decide to spend an extra night in Eureka (Its summer temps are often in the 60s, winter in the 50s.) And yes, that is the same Santa Rosa that ten days later was devastated by wild fires.
So pickleball in Eureka it is. We know the gold standard of ambassadors in Laurie Lee of the Yonah Pickleball Club in northern Georgia and Roger Huppe in Springvale, Maine. Well, my communication with the Humboldt Bay Pickleball ambassador Colleen Foster has been nothing short of supportive and attentive. Her prompt and detailed emails kept us informed of the play in Eureka as well as play in the nearby towns of Arcata, McKinleyville, and Fortuna.
After two games with Hannah and two women on the Eureka courts, I step aside and wait to play with the guys on the last court, who look tough. They slam, they bang, and they dink (soft shots strategically placed just over the net) at a high level; I’m pushing it to play with them, but I think, what the hey.
Watching from the sidelines for a while, I see they are going to switch partners and continue playing as a foursome. Having more confidence than I ever did in high school, I approach them and ask to play. They welcome me in, as Luis, a thirty something, gives me his spot; I play with Javier against two accomplished 4.0/4.5 rated players.
In pickleball, beginners are rated 1.0 to 2.0. 3.0’s play more consistently and are beginning to learn that pickleball is more than just slamming the ball as hard as possible. 3.5’s play the finesse game. I think of myself as a 3.5 who, when on fire, approaches 4.0. 4.5’s and 5.0’s have it all. I’d have to practice eight days a week to even sniff those ratings; call me soft, but I am just not motivated to reach that rung. Being a three-days-a-week recreational pickleball player is just my cup of tea.
Playing with Javier, I see that our opponents have all the shots. I can play with these guys but for the first time in a long time it is clear that Javier and our opponents are stronger players than I am.
For a little background, when I play on the road, I am often one of the strongest players, and, on occasion, the best one on the court. At our home court in Saco on the coast of Maine, I am not Norm, the top player, but I hold my own.
Today is different as I am on the “competitive” court and these guys make me pay by smashing any shot of mine that was just a little too high above the net. I play four games with different high-quality players and never win once. There’s no denying it, I am the weak link. Once when my partner and I are up 10-7 in a game to eleven, our opponents talk strategy at the baseline, then drill me with their slams. It works; they win 12-10. Make mine a slice of humble pie!
Today, I take the long view and am so appreciative of the chance to sharpen my skills with these excellent players.
And it all began because of Pickleball Ambassador, Colleen Foster, who made Hannah and me feel that we had a home away from home on the Pacific Coast in Eureka, California.
Thank you, Colleen.