Dan and Hannah Play Tournament Pickleball Part 3 of 3

Click here for part 1 and Click here for part 2 to set the stage for this concluding blog.

Starting the first of our final three games of the tournament, we are up against the powerhouse Ellen and Mark duo.  We know Ellen from our weekly game in Westbrook.  She’s effervescent while he’s immediately likable with an easy-going manner.  As strong players, they are versed in the winning strategy for mixed doubles pickleball.  Ah, but we are up to the challenge with our third shot drops, reasonably reliable forehands, bountiful good luck, and Hannah’s lobs.  In our best match of the evening, we prevail in a tight one.

PBT Leesa and H with grid

Leesa and Hannah 

With our fifth win, Hannah and I are looking at being in the money.  I mean, literally, being in the money.  Each player paid $10 to play tonight with the winning team splitting $80, second place divvying up $60, and third dividing $40.  We are now looking at the possibility of a third place finish as we have only lost to Carolee and Tim and have yet to play the still undefeated, odds-on favorite team of Patty and Steve.

Up next are the athletic pair of Shannon and Gordie.  Shannon is a racquet ball player of the first order and Gordie is reliable and affable.  Being our seventh game after three hours of play at 9P, Hannah and I are riding high.  Shannon and Gordie wake us up as they knock us down a peg or two by taking charge immediately; all of sudden they are serving for the match at 14-8.

While Hannah and I figure what the hell, we’ve had a helluva run this evening, we do work our way back to 14-10, and finally down just 14-13, my serve.  Usually steady Eddy with my serve, I hit my serve long to lose the chance to tie!  My bad.  Perhaps, we are not meant to win.  Now Shannon and Gordie each have a serve to win the game.  Holding them scoreless, we quickly run off three points to win 16-14 in a comeback most would agree that is comparable to the Patriots 28-3 return from the dead to defeat the Falcons in the Super Bowl.

PBT group shot

Back row from left to right – Dan, Brandon, Norm, Steve, Mick, Carolee, and Tim  Middle row – Ellen, Mark, and Allen  Front row – Leesa, Erin, Carly, Janet, Shannon, Patty, and Hannah  (Not pictured – Gordie)

Third place is ours, no matter what happens v. Steve and Patty, our final opponent.  We are 6-1, and they are 7-0.  As savvy tournament-tested players, they have a winning strategy as well as our powerful players.   We make them only slightly uncomfortable and we fall quietly 15-7.

Having only two losses, Hannah and I are looking at a sweet third place pay day.  And then…

…we see Norm and Leesa still on the court v. Carolee and Tim, the team that crushed us.  Learning that Norm and Leesa are up 14-12, I am not surprised that any team with Norm has a chance.  After giving up a 13th point, they close out the match 15-13.

PBT h with winnings

Sixty big ones!

Immediately, I do the math [i.e. we are now second at 6-2 as Carolee and Tim have fallen to 5-3].  No lie, it was cool to win.   We are all humble on the outside and about to shit on the inside.

So what did I learn:

  1. Social pickleball works for me.  How can you beat the combination with delectable hors d’oeurvres with non-stop pickleball?
  2. Round robin play is my idea of a good time.  No waiting.  My pickleball-induced ADHD is satisfied with lots of play – eight games in nearly four hours.
  3. Even social tournament pickleball is about targeting the weaker player.  That’s life.  There were times I played the role of the coat rack.  There’s no crying in baseball or pickleball.  That doesn’t mean I have to like it.
  4. Bangers bang.  I could (and often do) look at the bangers banging as an opportunity to improve my soft game.  I’m still not a fan of banger-topia!
  5. We were so damn lucky tonight to come in second.  (1), we could have easily lost our first game [we won 15-13 after being behind], (2) and we could have easily lost our second game v. the top player, Norm and Leesa, and (3) we could have easily lost the game we were down 14-8 to Gordie and Shannon.  And then, (4), even if we squeak out W’s in all those games, we still needed Leesa and Norm to beat the team that beat us.  We were the long shot that left the ball with the silver slipper.
Advertisements

Dan and Hannah Decide to Play Tournament Pickleball Part 2 of 3

Click here for part 1 to set the stage for today’s blog.

Driving north on the Maine Turnpike on a rainy March Friday afternoon, I wonder what lies ahead for the first pickleball tournament Hannah and I will have ever played.  The uncertainty leaves me unsettled.  Will it be bangers galore; will people even hit the ball to me; and as team, how will Hannah and I react to tournament pressure?

PBT court with norm

Two of the courts at the Jordan Small Middle School gym

Arriving at the gym of the Jordan Small Middle School in Raymond, Maine, Hannah and I see four courts lined in the basketball gym; players are already warming up.  Leesa, the tournament organizer, has brought together nine mixed doubles teams in a round robin format, which means Hannah and I will get lots of play.

Hannah and I draw the spunky young couple (nearly 50 years our junior) Carly and Brandon for our first game to fifteen, win by two.  Being a first game, we four are all just getting our sea legs – hitting some winners and then knocking shots wildly out-of-bounds.  The lead goes back and forth, but soon Hannah and I find ourselves down 13-11.  Clearly, this is a game we could have won.  Through no fault of our own, we win the final four points in a game that could have gone either way.  I turn the self-absorption meter down just a little!

PBT D Norm and Janet

Norm, Janet, and the dude with a Fitbit

Still feeling the self-imposed pressure to play respectably, I come to the court with Hannah for our second game matched up v. Norm and Leesa.  Where we regularly play in Saco, Norm is at the top of the food chain.  He’s tough with all the shots.  She’s athletic.  Game on.

Feeling more comfortable with the gym’s indoor lighting, the closeness of the curtain dividing the courts, and remembering that everyone is thinking about themselves anyway, Hannah and I take a 5-3 lead, which surprises me no end.  Going on a run of six points after they tie the score at six, we are soon up 12-6.   It dawns on me that we could actually win against the best player in the gym.  I had figured this was going to be a designated L for us.  In a huge upset in my mind, we run out the game at 15-10.   Two wins.  I relax just a little more.

PBT Leesa and H with grid

Leesa with Hannah

Taking on the upbeat pair of Allen and Erin, we have a relaxing, easy going, and fun game where they hit the ball to me on a regular basis; we come away with a W.

Game four proves that we are not quite the hot shots that we are starting to think we are.  Carolee and Tim are formidable as the reality of competitive mixed doubles emerges.  Our opponents’ power, solid play, and tactics takes us down convincingly 15-6.  We are burnt toast left on the side of the plate.  With strong teams ahead, I can see us comfortably settling into the middle of the pack.  That turns down the pressure.

Next, we match up v. our pickleball friends from Saco, Mick and Janet.  Just good folks, they play a spirited game, hit some shots that leave us agape with their artistry, but we prevail.  With our fourth win, we are the surprise of the tournament (at least in my delusional mind).

Part 3 describes the final three games which concludes this three-part series on Saturday.

Dan and Hannah Wonder About Tournament Pickleball Part 1 of 3

Having recently returned from California where outdoor pickleball reigns, now as our snows melt, Hannah and I play regularly at the indoor XL Sports World in Saco, Maine.  A few days ago, our friend Janet asks if we would like to play in a social mixed doubles pickleball tournament.   The word social intrigues me.  That it’s round robin means lots of play.  It’s the tournament part that is the sticking point.

PBT Janet and Hannah

Hannah and Janet

We exchange phone numbers, but I’m still not sure.  Usually, my go-to response is, Tournaments are not my thing.  That often is enough to end the conversation.  But this time I hesitate rather than flat out decline.

My reasons not to play tournaments are six.

Numero uno!  Players sandbag (i.e. players who are rated higher play at a lower level).  For example, a 4.0 rated team plays at 3.5 level and crushes everyone.  Since this is a social tournament so that is not an issue as this will be an informal gathering of friends.  That’s one vote for playing.

Numero dos!  My goodness, there is so much down time between matches at a weekend tournament.  Who wants to blow a whole Saturday sitting around?   Since this Friday night will be round robin of nearly constant play, downtime will not be of concern.  That’s two votes for giving it a shot.

Tres!  It’s a tournament.  The point is to win.  I get that.  What I don’t like is the usual strategy in tournaments, which is to direct all the shots at the weaker player.  Many is the time when Hannah and I play together in recreation games, 80-90% of the shots are aimed at her; again and again, she is their punching bag.  It puts a ton of pressure on her and I play the role of the potted plant.

PBT pb logo

Quatro!  The reverse is true.  I hate, in an effort to win, playing entirely at the weaker player.  I like rec play when I can hit most of my shots at the better player to work on my game and be challenged by their superior play to mine.  My partner and I probably lose more than we should, but how else am I going to get better?  And what fun is it picking on the weaker player?  It’s not exactly a tactic to build community.

Cinco de Mayo!  Then there are the bangers.  Unable or unwilling to play the soft game of drop shots and dinking that top players use all the time, bangers smash the pickleball time and time again from the baseline.  It’s boring.  Boom, bam, thank you ma’am; the point is over in a flash.  I get that banging can be a successful strategy; for me, it lacks the nuances of the soft game which is why I love to play pickleball.

Seis!  Players become too serious.  Every point matters.  Winning uber alles.  The fun and comradery vibe of pickleball is lost.

PBT court with players

Two of the four courts at the Jordan Small Middle School in Raymond, Maine

But this tournament seems different.  It’s billed as social; there’s lots of play (round robin means we’ll be playing eight games).  We are to bring hors d-oeuvres to share.  Janet’s cool, and Hannah and I are sufficiently intrigued to see how we like a mixed pickleball tournament.

Part II describes how we deal with tournament play, which will be posted on Wednesday.

Dan Returns to Junior High on the Pickleball Court

pb logo

For the sixth year running, Hannah and I have come to the Central California Coast to take a bite out of winter.  Returning to the Santa Barbara area, we have come to hike its mountains, walk its bluff trails, renew friendships, lunch in the sun, write and rewrite, and play lots of pickleball.

sbp 2 d in action

Working on my third shot drop

On our first Tuesday of the new year, Hannah and I venture to the pickleball courts in Santa Barbara to see three players needing a fourth.  I offer to Hannah, Why don’t you play here?  I’ll warm up on the far court, where I see three others.

sbp 1 h in action

Hannah always at the ready

As I approach, one woman immediately asks, What’s your rating?  I am naked, blindsided by her question.  I expected to just hit a few balls as I did two days ago in Ventura and establish my pickleball street cred.  With no pretense nor subtlety, she lays it right out with her underlying message, Are you worthy?

Similar to my days at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in Fair Lawn, NJ, I feel exposed and vulnerable.  Will I measure up?  Am I good enough?  As a teenager, the answers were no and no back in 1962 .  Will today be any different?

Ratings in pickleball determine the pecking order of the sport.  Beginners are 1.0 to 2.5.  Intermediate players are 3.0.  The 3.5 rating gets us invited to the pickleball courts for advanced play at the Westbrook Community Center in Maine.  And 4.0 is cool, not as amazing as the 4.5s and 5.0s.

sbp 3 d and paula

One of the many 4.0 faces at Santa Barbara Pickleball

I say to her, 4.0, without choking or looking at my feet.  She is appeased but only slightly.  She wonders about tournament play and I nod 4.0. This is a modern day version of the junior high lunch room, where the cool kids determine who makes the grade.

Having stumbled on to the 4.0/4.5 courts in Santa Barbara, I team up with Paula v the killer team of Betsy and Jim.  Distracted by self-doubts on this outdoor court (I play indoors most of the year in Maine), I am having my feet put to the fire right away.

My first shots float over the net and fall at their feet.  I exhale and realize that they are not 4.5s who would eat me for lunch.  But they are good.  The game is both subtle with third shot drops and dinks as well as slams when any of us leave the ball just a little too high.

sbp 4 d and jim

Former tennis champion and another face of 4.0 in Santa Barbara

Down 4 to 1 in a game to 11, I hear Good shot Dan when I angle the ball out of our opponents reach at the net.  Soon it’s 6-4 our favor as my soft game of drop shots and dinks proves successful more often than not.  I’m starting to feel like I belong as I my serve, though not powerful, is consistent and my short game mostly on target.

Unbelievably to me, we win 11-8.  At the net, we knock paddles in appreciation of a good game; they smile and nod at the newbie.  As we walk off, Betsy adds with a smile, You belong.

Mon dieu, it’s not Junior High Part II!

 

 

PS  Two days later, I match up with a bevy of 4.5s and feel what’s it like to be chewed up, spit out, and picked clean.

PSS  After two months, Santa Barbara Pickleball has been a godsend with good play with good folks.  Two of my favs are pictured above (Paula and Jim), but many others have made me feel welcomed (Dave, E, Amanda, Paul, Sal, Juan, Andres, Brent, Tim, Venetia)

Dan and Hannah Mix Pickleball with Chinese Foot Massage

There are big T truths (e.g. one’s religious or spiritual beliefs) and there are small t truths (e.g. one’s personal beliefs).  I have two of my small t truths for you.

Don’t wait for friendship.  Though introverts by nature, Hannah and I roam beyond our comfort zone and make the effort to meet others wherever we go.  Relationships and friendships are possible.

Chinese Yes

Importance of saying yes.  Previously, I would do a cost/benefit analysis in my mind for new activities.  Worth my time?  Would I really like it?  Today, I generally make no calculations, and just say Yes, and sort out the details later.  Let me explain.

BA ventura guys

Dan, John, Leonard, and Rodrigo

Today, Hannah and I swim past our comfort zone into the deep end and drive 18 miles south from Carpinteria to the pickleball courts of Ventura to a place where we do not know a soul.  There, Leonard, the pickleball ambassador, greets us.  Ambassadors our usually genial, welcoming, and supportive, and Leonard is certainly all that.  Then, John steps up, introduces himself, and gets us into a game.

BA 1 PB group shot

Ventura Pickleballers

Throughout the morning, I pickle on the outdoor courts at De Anza Middle School with the guys, among them Bruce, Leonard, Jessie, Rodrigo, Jim, and Mark while Hannah slices and dices with some excellent women players.

Chinese image of loungers

Ready for action at Bamboo Creek Spa

As the morning of play wraps up, Mark says, some of us go to Ojai for lunch and then get a Chinese foot message.  Would you two like to join us?

That would be a quick Yes.

Jump forward to our final outdoor pickleball Saturday during our California month of February away from home.  As exclusively indoor pickleball players back in Maine, we learn of the challenges of playing in the open air.  Rain in the drought-stricken Central Coast is not one of the issues.  In this winter “rainy” season, we have had barely a tenth of an inch of rain the entire month.

Chinese windy palm trees

The winds of California under blue skies

Wind and sun are another matter.  Always checking my Weather Channel app for the wind speeds, I have learned that five to ten mph is fine for outdoor play, with little effect on my game.  Above 10 mph gets tricky and 20 mph is insane.  Being in California, we have the ever-present blue skies.  On one hand that makes for excellent tans for the New Englanders; on the other, hitting lobs into the sun becomes a roll of the dice.

Today, with the wind picking up throughout the morning, games become less about skill and more about dealing with the elements.  Players with the wind must temper their shots while those against the wind must muster all their power to get the pickleball (like a wiffle ball) over the net.  The comradery and sunshine trump the wind, as play wraps up for another Saturday.

Chinese 2B Mark and Lynne at BL

Lynne and Mark at Bonnie Lu’s

Looking to mix the pairs for our drive to Ojai, I suggest to Mark that he drive with me and Hannah drive with Mark’s wife, Lynne.  Just another stepping out of the comfort zone moment for us introverts.  For the twenty-minute drive, which turns into forty because of roadside power line repair, Mark and I learn of our north Jersey connection (he Hohokus and me Fair Lawn [I know it’s I instead of me, but I don’t like the sound and flow of I.) and learn of each other’s families and past working lives (both public school employees, he a business manager and me a teacher).

Chinese 2A we four at Bonnie Lu's

Pre-foot massage lunch at down home Bonnie Lu’s

Once in Ojai, we dine on the king-size sandwiches at Bonnie Lu’s and leave with half our BLT and Rueben for tomorrow’s lunch.

Properly nourished, we four head to the Bamboo Creek Spa in a store front just off the main drag in Ojai.  Learning that there is no talking during the massage, we also only whisper in the waiting area, which makes us three deal with life on Hannah’s terms (she with the hushed voice).

Filling out the registration, we sign-in with our first name, select the service wanted (i.e. foot massage), and decide from 1 to 7 how much hand pressure we prefer on our feet.  Being a first timer and soft, I opt for 3.

Chinese 3 H massage

Hannah mellowing out at Bamboo Creek Spa

First, Hannah and Lynne are taken to a side room, as I trail behind with my ever-present iPhone.  My blog does not wait.  Being as little annoying as possible, I snap and retreat to the waiting area to, well, wait and whisper with Mark.

Mark and I are soon taken to the front room and seated in adjustable lounge chairs with remotes.  In front of each of us are two-foot square ottomans; soon a towel is draped over the lower half of our bodies.  Removing my sandals and socks, I wait.  (nota bene – may I remind you that my socks have played two hours of pickleball)

Chinese 3D D zoned out massage

Soon, a bathroom size waste basket is brought out with warm herbal water in a plastic bag.  The foot soak begins my 30-minute massage ($21 per session seems like quite the bargain).  The theory is that massaging reflex points in the feet restores natural energy flow.  While Mark, a veteran of the foot massage, zones out, a woman approaches to dry my soaking feet and wrap each one in a towel.  She then squirts soothing oil into her hands and let the massaging begin.

Chinese 3C workng on my feet

My masseuse

After two hours of pickleball and a reasonably big lunch, I am ready to nod off, but I have a stronger need to see what she does.  Ever the photo journalist, I take pictures of the masseuse in action.

At times when she is working the sole of my foot, my foot involuntarily spasms as she goes from the front pad of my foot to the arch.  Ever the pro, she senses my tic and continues gently.

Fifteen minutes on the left foot and then fifteen on the right.  Delightfully refreshing, the massage has Hannah feeling that her sensitive and aching feet have never felt better.  Thankful and mellow, we tip our masseuses.

Chinese 3E D and H in waiting area

The look of foot massage mellow

Walking back to our cars with Mark and Lynne, I appreciate the new experience; the feeling of being among new friends made this one of the highlights of our month in February.

Our best experiences are always about the people, which happen more often when we head to the deep end and simply say yes.

 

 

Dan and Hannah Come to Ventura, California for Pickleball Magic

Every so often, Hannah and I talk about the words we’ll put on our tombstones.  It’s not a heavy at all, in fact, ironic and light.  Truth be told, upon cashing in our chips, we will donate our bodies to the Medical School at the University of New England (Maine); ergo, there will be no headstone.  Still, we think what words would capture our legacy.  Recently, Hannah’s latest thought is There.

BA he tried

For me, my latest is He Tried.  Let me explain.

Since coming to California, Hannah and I have been transitioning from a focus on hiking to one on pickleball; as we turn 70, we are focusing on growing relationships over the physical challenges of climbing mountains and hiking to waterfalls.  When hiking, it’s just the two of us, with the occasional brief conversation with others along the way.

On the other hand, pickleball opens doors for new relationships.  At new pickleball venues, we have two to three hours of playing, talking between games, and finding out what we have in common, athletically and individually.  Longtime readers of this blog know of the magic we had in north Georgia with the Yonah Mountain Pickleball Club.  That association led us a pickleball club party and overnights with two couples in their homes.  Click here for that blog.

BA ventura map better

Last year during our February month in California, we played afternoon pickleball in Santa Barbara.   Though we made no connections, I reached out and gave it a shot.  Though I came up empty, one could reasonably say, He Tried.

But this year in addition to pickling in Santa Barbara, we are branching out by playing in Ventura (18 miles south of Carpinteria on The 101) Saturdays on the outdoor pickleball courts at the De Anza Middle School.

BA 1 PB group shot

Ventura Pickleballers with the Mainers

Arriving in Ventura on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, we have a mix of men and women, mostly seniors.  Hannah and I eventually find our level, she with the women and me with the guys.  As indoor players, we are learning to adjust to the wind as well as hitting overheads with the sun in our eyes.

BA ventura guys

Dan, John, Leonard, and Rodrigo on the Ventura pickleball courts

Encouraged and sensing a good vibe, Hannah and I return the following Saturday for more play.  After our two hours, we sit in collapsible patio chairs, shooting the breeze with the other players.

BA 2 ventura pickleball design

Pickleballers Bruce and Anneli with the club logo

As Hannah and I walk from the courts, I spot Bruce and mention how much I enjoy his dinking soft game (i.e. hitting short shots just over the net) and thank him for welcoming us.  Exchanging business cards, we go our separate ways.  Later on the ride home after mentioning my conversation with Bruce, Hannah mentions her play with his wife Anneli, with the summation, She’s good.

With Bruce’s business card in hand and only two and a half weeks left in our stay in Carpinteria, I shoot off an email to add substance to my legacy of He Tried.

Hey Bruce and Anneli, 

Thanks for you all including Hannah and me in your Saturday pickleball games.  It’s been a treat.  We wonder if you and Anneli would like to have a cup of coffee or glass of wine in the coming week or two at our condo in Carpinteria or we’d drive to your place.   Just a thought, no pressure.  Look forward to pickleball again this Saturday.   Dan

(The next day, we get this email from Bruce.)

BA 1 at Snapper Jacks counter

Anneli, Bruce, and Hannah at the Snapper Jack’s counter

Hello Dan and Hannah,

 It is very nice to have you two playing with us while you are visiting California.  We would enjoy an off-court visit. Will your schedule allow a lunch time visit next week?  Since you offered to come to Ventura, perhaps a stop at our office next week followed by a walk into downtown Ventura? We have several preferred spots for fish or steak tacos if you like.   Bruce

It’s always easier staying home, sitting on the couch reading, watching television, or wasting time on the computer or smart phone; there’s no risk.  Ah, but there’s often little reward.  I want more than being homebound and gagged and give it a shot.  Hence, He Tried.

Ten days later, driving down The 101 right on the Pacific Ocean to Ventura, we meet Bruce and Anneli at their office.  Intrigued by his career as an architect, I find his explanation of the houses and businesses he designs fascinating.  Fortunately he has Anneli to run the show as the business manager.  In addition, Bruce volunteers to teach 3rd graders architecture (i.e. perspective drawing).

BA 1A Snapper Jack's sign

Having recommended fish tacos for lunch, Bruce and Anneli walk with us to Snapper Jack’s Taco Shack a few blocks away on Main Street.  Rocking at 1P, Snapper Jack’s is where we’ll have our very first fish tacos.  As you know, when in Rome…

Following Bruce’s lead, I order one soft corn and one crispy flour fish taco with a side of rice and refried beans with tortilla chips to boot.  Already, I am thinking we must bring our grandsons, Owen and Max, here when they visit next year.

BA 1B 4 eating fish tacos at snapper jack's

Al fresco in February with Bruce, Anneli, Dan, and Hannah.

Similar to our walk and talk in twos to Snapper Jack’s, the conversation over lunch flows easily as they are both interested in us as well as share their interesting, active lives.  A cliché works here.  Two hours fly and it’s like we have new old friends.  It’s magic.

Returning to their office, as they do have jobs, we hug good-bye, and part as Bruce says, Thanks for reaching out.  He gets it.  He appreciates the effort.  It’s always worth trying, especially if I am going to earn my epitaph He Tried.

BA 3B H on pier

Hannah a way out on the Ventura Pier

Taking Ash Avenue to the walkway across The 101 to the Ventura Pier and Ventura Promenade at Surfer’s Point at Seaside Beach, we see a lone female surfer, head to toe in a wet suit.  On a windy afternoon, we walk out the pier and celebrate another sunny day during the “rainy” winter season in southern California.

BA 4A D on ventura promenade

Palm-lined waterfront Ventura Promenade

Taking the stairs down off the pier, we have a wide waterfront walkway along the Pacific Ocean with the Ventura Fairgrounds to our landward side.  With the wind up, we are still comfortable in shorts knowing in two weeks winter is going to slap us in the face.  March is still real winter in Maine.

I wonder, were the fish tacos really that good?  Or was it the company while eating the fish tacos the reason why they tasted so good?  I’d go with door number two.

As a long-time believer in Davy Crockett’s Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you, I am content with my epitaph, He tried.

Dan and Hannah Hit the Pickleball Hotspots in Northern California

HC 1A group picture

Reno Pickleballers

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.

PB map 3

Lassen is 60 miles east of Redding and Redwoods are 40 miles north of Eureka

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!)

PB Arcata five

Arcata Pickleball

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.

PB HSU sign

HSU has an on campus redwood trail that we hiked!

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.

Eureka PB H serving

Hannah ready to serve at the Adorni Rec Center in Eureka

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.

PB ratings

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.

PB humble pie

Dan has seconds

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.

Eureka PB gang 1
Rockin’ Eureka Pickleballers

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.

Dan and Hannah Play Pickleball with their North Georgia Kin

When we travel, the trails matter, the weather matters, but it’s the people we meet that add quality and connection to our adventures.  Let me explain our connection to the American South, Yankees that we are.

LL map of cleveland

Cleveland is the county seat of White County

In our quest to hike in all 14 Appalachian Trail states, we had only Georgia to hike to complete our set in the fall of 2015.  In October of that year, after flying to Atlanta, we drove the back-country roads to hike at Springer Mountain, the start of the AT itself.  Later, we threw in a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and were hooked on hiking south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  And then it got even better.

LL H and L at her place

Laurie and Hannah

Returning the following October 2016, we again hiked the Great Smoky Mountains as well as the waterfall trails of northern Georgia.  But the added bonus was finding our own version of pickleball heaven at Yonah Mountain, near Cleveland in northern Georgia.   Yonah Mountain pickleball ambassador Laurie Lee welcomed us with open arms and the Yonah Mountain club players greeted us as family.

Woo girls outside

Woo Girls – Hannah, Wendy, Maxine, and Bambi

Then, when Hannah’s Woo Girls Reunion III (four grads of the College of Wooster in 1970) was scheduled for late April 2017 in Richmond, Virginia, we saw it as a golden opportunity to avoid driving 600+ miles to Richmond and rather, fly to Atlanta first.  We’d hike in Alabama and then spend three days with amigas and amigos in Georgia hiking and pickleballing before flying to Virginia’s capital city.

LL H and L on court 2

Hannah with Laurie at the White County Parks and Rec pickleball courts

One small monkey wrench.  Not with our hosts or with the hiking, but with the tendinitis in my right elbow this Monday in late April as we arrive in north Georgia.  Hannah and I love us some pickleball as we play three times per week.  But for me…pickleball, my love, had got to the point where it just wasn’t any fun because of the pain in my elbow.  Finally realizing I just needed to rest, which is hell on athletes of all ages, I took nearly 14 full days off knowing that doing that would give me the best chance to play in Georgia.  Still I was grumpy for a fortnight.

LL D and H and Billy and Marcia

Han and Dan with Billy and Marica

Knowing we were coming to Yonah Mountain to play pickleball, I pumped the ibuprofen, iced my right elbow, and, yes, rested; turns out, that’s just what I needed.  Arriving on Tuesday morning at the indoor pickleball courts, we were greeted by Billy and Marcia at the White County Parks and Rec Center.  Whacking the wiffle ball, dinking (hitting short shots just over the net itself), and just enjoying their friendship, I feel like I am back to my old pickleball self (Hallelujah, brother!).

LL new paddles

Looking to upgrade our paddles, Hannah and I borrow ones from Laurie and later Pat to see how they feel.  Trying out Laurie’s Onix and later Pat’s Triton, I find my shots solid and deep with no vibrating to aggravate my elbow.   Of course, when I want a new paddle, I can rationalize “the need” for one with the best of them.  I order a sweet Onix paddle while Hannah goes with the Groove, engineered for women.

LL Treehouse pickleball players with Pat

Pickleballers on the deck at Linda’s Tree House (She is in yellow.)

That Tuesday evening, our friends Laurie and Linda throw us a party of pickleballers to further make us feel a part of the community.  It works.  We are among kindred spirits; feeling special.

LL D and H at Immokaulee Falls

Dan and Han at Immokalee Falls

Each bringing a dish to share, the guests make the evening a community celebration, similar to what Hannah and I try to do when we have potlucks back home in Maine.  To kick off the party, 14 of us hike a half mile down to Linda’s tree house cabin, just below the Immokalee Falls.

LL Superior Health care

The next morning (Wednesday) before afternoon pickleball, Laurie arranges for Hannah to have a consult with a local doctor on her voice condition, spasmodic dysphonia.  Having tried 100 ways to improve her voice over the last 15 years, Hannah (and I) drive with Linda to Canton, GA to have Hannah checked out.  Their experimental voice rehabilitation program has potential; we will explore this option further in the months ahead.

LL Yonah Mt

Yonah Mountain

After the Wednesday morning consult, we return in time for two hours of afternoon pickleball.  My right elbow holds up for the second day as the rest, daily icing, and ibuprofen have made a difference.

With time for drills, Pat gives me some dinking pointers.  Basically, I am reminded of the value of the undercut cross court slice backhand that keeps the ball low and close to the net when dinking.  I feel like I have a new toy and can’t wait to practice.   As a recreational pickleball player, I just love the opportunities to improve my game.

On our third night (Wednesday), we dine with fellow pickleballers the aforementioned Pat and his wife Clarissa at their place in Cleveland.  With salmon on the grill, we have conversation like old friends.

Come Thursday morning, rain wipes out our planned hike up Yonah Mountain with Clarissa and Pat, but… the silver lining is that we are back on the indoor pickleball court by 730A to play for the third day in a row.   Playing mostly with the guys while Hannah crushes it with the women, I get quite the competitive workout.

LL Pat and Clarissa with Han

Hannah with Pat and Clarissa

After our pickleball, but before we head to the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta for Richmond, we feast with Pat and Clarissa on the breakfast of champions – oatmeal with all the fixings – nuts, seeds, and fruit.  Though the oatmeal is fantastico, the best part of morning is sitting over coffee, hanging out with new friends.

Thanks to seeking out the AT in Georgia, we have our Georgia family in the sunny South.

Dan and Hannah Pickle, then Hike to Black Hill at Morro Bay State Park

Mor map 3

Not every day do we hit a home run in California.  Today we doubled off the wall.  Though yesterday, we did hit a three-run homer on Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands off Ventura.  Click here for that blog.  Saturday past, we hit a grand slam at our first of two hikes to the San Ysidro Falls in Montecito.  Click here for that blog.

But back to the baseball analogy, we all know that a double is good hit.  We’re not complaining, but we have been getting used to four baggers here in California.  Let me explain.

Pickling

With the forecast for sun on this mid-February Wednesday, we drive one hundred miles north from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo.  We have a 9A date with pickleballers from the central coast of California.

Mor SLO courts

Pickleball courts at Meadow Park in San Luis Obispo

Arriving at Meadow Park, we are immediately included in a game of doubles.  Here, guests don’t pay (we pay $4 each time we play at our home courts in Saco, Maine).  We notice that we are among family (i.e. seniors), which gives us a break from the high powered juices of the thirty-somethings we play with in Santa Barbara.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.

When in Maine, we play indoors; today in the great outdoors, we have sunshine to deal with when hitting overhead shots.  With only ten players by 910A for the three courts, it looks like we’ll have lots of playing time.

Mor SLO D on court

Not so fast, my friend.  Alas, twenty more soon show up, so we wait and wait some more for our next game.  This is not an uncommon problem with the growth of pickleball over the past few years.

You may not know that most pickleball sites have ambassadors.  These angels have a challenging job as they try to balance the competing interests of the different levels of players.  Understandably and most appropriately, ambassadors want to grow the sport and are excellent in embracing newcomers.  Fact is, most pickleball players welcome new players.   That said, beginners thrive in a setting where they learn with other newbies and are supported by the advanced players.

Mor SLO H on court

Advanced players were once beginners and feel a kinship with those just learning the game.  But advanced players also like the competition of other advanced players.  It’s an extraordinary balancing act for the selfless people who choose to be pickleball ambassadors.

One of our Maine ambassadors has the wisdom of Solomon.  Check his email out.

Recently an advanced player wrote me to ask what my thoughts were regarding “picking on” the weaker player on the court.  The following was my reply to him:

“Identifying and attacking the weaker player is a strategy very often used and should only be used in competitive tournament play.  To apply that same strategy in recreational play is just not the right thing to do. It is demeaning and embarrassing for the weaker player.  Many players feel that winning is everything!  It serves no purpose to “smash” a weaker player.  It makes more sense to try to improve your game by feeding the stronger player and attempting to return his/her shot….in other words, challenge yourself!

A little common sense goes a long way….an attempt should be made to balance returns between both players.  All of us, including myself, at one time or another are probably guilty of consistently taking advantage of the weaker player on the court. Let’s try to remember that Pickleball is about having fun….and that includes all players.

Roger Huppe, USAPA District Ambassador, New England

Today we model Roger’s suggestions with the beginners and intermediate players; we know that in the days ahead back in Santa Barbara, we’ll have the competitive games we seek.

Hiking Black Hill

Mor 1 sign at black hill trail

Let the hiking begin

With still lots of hiking miles left in our legs, we drive to the northwest twelve miles along The 101 highway to Morro Rock State Park.  Morro Rock is a 581-foot volcanic plug  located just offshore from the resort town of Morro Bay.

Mor 1A H on trail

On the trail.  Not Black Hill

But before we head to Morro Rock, we’ll hike to Black Hill in Morro Rock State Park a few miles away.  With a mile or so to the top, we’ll get a fine workout with a decent 535’ of elevation gain.  The trail climbs easily through the sage brush with the mountain top always in view.

Mor 1D H near top

We like to hike trails where others hike.  One, we are less likely to get lost.  Two, we enjoy the connection with others, however briefly.

Mor 2 H at top with MB

Atop Black Hill with the Morro Rock in the background

Though the trail is basically well marked, we find a way to miss a turn and start heading around the mountain rather than up it.  As the path narrows through dense sage brush, we realize the error of our ways, backtrack, and find our way to the top.   The fact is, this is an easy peezy hike, to be enjoyed by hikers of all ages.

Mor 2 D at top with MR behind

Looking out to the Pacific Ocean from Black Hill

Throughout the climb, we have the massive Morro Rock as a backdrop.  Dominating the coastline, it reminds me of Beacon Rock on the Columbia River Gorge in the state of Washington.

Mor 4 MR explan 2

Driving a roundabout four miles to explore the base of the Morro Rock itself, we wonder if there is more hiking for us.  It turns out not.  To the north of the monolith, there is a surfers’ beach with families on this last sunny day before the upcoming weekend of heavy rain.

Mor 2A MR

Morro Rock

Around to the bayside, there is more parking; on this day, we see a class of middle schoolers acting the part, – cool, bored, and disinterested.   That said, three cheers for these public school teachers for their commitment and perseverance to extend the student learning beyond the classroom’s four walls.  Whether they know it or not, they are planting seeds of exploration that will likely grow in the years ahead.  These teachers are among America’s heroes.

Mor 3 H in crook of tree preview

Morro Rock State Park

With non-competitive pickleball and a modest four miles of hiking, we wait on second base with our double.  With no teammates around, we are stranded there and decide to drive ourselves home (you get the pun, don’t you?) to our cottage to the south.  Fact is, a double means we are still batting 1.000 this February in California.

Dan and Hannah Pickle, then Hike the Rattlesnake Trail in Santa Barbara

Pickling

Newbie!  It’s a word that shouts outsider, who’s the new kid, let’s see what you got.  I am not a fan of being the newbie – the fish out of water when everyone else knows the ins and outs; has their circle of friends, knows what’s up.  It’s the antithesis of Cheers – Nobody knows your name.

Today has all the awkwardness of a first week at college or a new job or moving to a new town.  You see, Hannah and I have come to southern California to take a February bite out of winter in New England to play pickleball in Santa Barbara.

Fact is, many of the best things that have ever happened to me were because I had the courage to step past the fear of being the new kid – transferring to Arizona State University as a college senior, not knowing a soul, 2500 miles from home; taking my first teaching position in Anaheim, California without a friend or family in the area; moving to Maine with Hannah and our preschool daughters Molly and Robyn with no job, basically sight unseen.

ratt-1-sb-pickleball-courts

The four dedicated pickleball courts in Santa Barbara

So today, Hannah and I buck up, put on our big boy and big girl pants, drive four miles, and just show up at the courts of the Municipal Tennis Center in Santa Barbara.  Showing up! which you fans of the Woodman (Woody Allen) know the truth that 90% of life is just showing up.  To our newness, today we’ll add playing pickleball outside, something we don’t do as indoor players of the pickle throughout the year in Maine.

ratt-1a-han-at-net-of-pb

The woman with the dynamite overhead smash

Arriving early to get used to playing outside on this first Wednesday in February, Hannah and I soon meet up with Brent and Wayne.  In quick succession, we hold our own and play games two and three; funny how no one seems to be paying much attention to us now, which they likely never were anyway.

Playing on a doubles team with Wayne, he turns to me and asks, Is that your wife, referring to Hannah?  What else can I say but, Yes, I’m the lucky guy.  He says, She’s good.  Something I’ve known for 50 since years since we first met as a first year students on the tennis courts at the College of Wooster in Ohio in 1967.

ratt-1c-h-at-the-net-pb

With the sun setting, Hannah moves in for the kill

After playing for an hour, I take a break and watch Hannah work her paddle magic.  Across the way, I can see three very good players in need of a fourth.  And soon of a gun, if my body just doesn’t elevate by itself and move over to their court to be their fourth.  Playing to 11,  I succeed in not embarrassing every pickleballer in the state of Maine.  Courage comes in many forms.

Rattlesnake Canyon hiking

ratt-map-of-sb

The next morning, our plan is to figuratively go rattlesnake hunting in the San Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara itself.  Click here for excellent directions from the website, Santa Barbara Hikes, to the Rattlesnake Trail as well as details of the hike itself.  We learn that our chances of seeing a slithering, scaly reptile rattling its way up the trail are lower than, well, a snake’s belly.

ratt-2a-h-at-another-trail-sign

Driving from our cottage in Summerland, we jump on the four-lane 101 highway, exit Olive Road, eventually driving via Canoas Road to Skofield Park.  Here in the Front Country, tucked among the multi-multi-million dollar homes is an open area park for youth groups.  A group of mostly Hispanic-American middle school kids are seated in a circle and calling out the gratitudes in their lives, as three of American’s saints – public school teachers – encourage them and add their positive energy.

In the overcast, we walk 200 yards along the Canoas Road, and then cross a stone bridge over Rattlesnake Canyon Creek.  On our climb of 1000′ feet of elevation gain, our mission is to see the creek waterfall on our way to a meadow beneath the San Ynez mountaintops.

ratt-3-h-on-trail

With Hannah in the lead, the rocky trail is easy to navigate with switchbacks taking us up the mountainside.  Soon we easily step stone across the flowing creek.  After six years of drought throughout California, and especially in Santa Barbara County, any flowing water is a victory of hydroponic-proportions.  The bubbling sound makes it seem everything is right in the world, despite the turmoil across the country along the turbulent Potomac.

ratt-3b-h-on-more-of-trail

Many times we see side trails that could be the main trail but aren’t.  Keeping the creek’s gurgling within earshot, we are unlikely to get lost.  Rating the hike moderate plus, we climb steadily, giving us the excellent workout we had hoped.

Creek crossings are easy as we climb into the mountain.  Seeing cascading water falling three feet over the rocks, we wonder does this pass for a waterfall in parched California?  It can’t.  That’s embarrassing.  We hike on.

ratt-4b-d-on-trail

Bombing along the Rattlesnake Trail

With the 2000+ foot mountains high above us we hope for some big time falls, but clearly to think that, we must be on that now legal California weed.   With the trail skirting the Rattlesnake Canyon Creek, we, weedless, see more rapids, a cascade or two, but definitely no waterfalls.

ratt-4a-mini-wood-chuck

Our little buddy, the pocket gopher

Soon, high above the creek switchbacking on to the mountain meadow, we spot a rattlesnake snack sticking its head out of its recently excavated tunnel.  It’s a pocket gopher, maybe four inches long who checks us out, stays put, and decides today is not the day he will push his luck.

At the meadow, we know that we can take the Rattlesnake Connector trail, another ¾ miles to the Tunnel Trail.  Click here for our hike of the Tunnel Trail during the Great drought of 2014.  But that’s a steep and rocky climb.  Why ruin a fine day of hiking by being rock climbing idiots?   Hiking for us is for the enjoyment of a good workout among nature’s playground, not battling the mountain into submission.

ratt-4c-d-at-meadow

The meadow at Rattlesnake Canyon

Taking a water and granola break at the meadow, we realize that we, in fact, have totally missed the waterfall, thinking it was a mere cascade.

ratt-4-really-a-waterfall

The quote waterfall

Upon our hike down the mountain, we spot the quote waterfall, walk down to the water’s edge, where I find a fetching woman to model our discovery.   See my 17 second video below.