Diary of a Mad International Solo Traveler

Dear Diary,

I did it.

I traveled solo internationally to the south island of New Zealand and came back both mentally and physically intact. Well, as intact as a mad baby boomer can be. Whatever.

I know it wasn’t a huge stretch. New Zealand shares an ocean with my homeland of California, it’s language is one I speak (except with a way cooler accent), and the crime rate is pretty much at a “sleep on the street and still be safe” level (mostly).

This is the first of many posts on New Zealand, because as you know, I’m a very human traveler and the mis-adventures must accompany the adventures in honest storytelling.

I need to preface this post by saying that I had high expectations of New Zealand. Having been #2 on my bucket list (It would just be too sad for me to go to Tahiti alone which as you know is #1, and you also know I have no illusions about actually getting there with my Wyatt Earp type hubby) for most of my adult life creates, over time, no small set of ideals. Now couple that with the cost of such a trip and the amount of gorgeous photos on the internet (learned through experience they are taken by professionals at a special time setting I don’t have, or Photoshop enhanced) and the bar is so high I had already started mentally preparing myself for some degree of letdown.

New Zealand in reality blew away anything I could have ever dreamed of. Like the Grand Canyon, there is no photo or prose that can accurately capture the ridiculous amount of beauty that has largely remained unarranged by the hand of man (I spent most of my time in the “bush”). Now add the beauty of the people of New Zealand (referred to as Kiwis going forward), and it is a place at “bucket list with value added” status. The stuff dreams are made of. Truly.

My trip however was not without a few hiccups.

My first stop on the itinerary of my two week adventure trip with a company specializing in the small group south island bush experience was to be spent in Kaikura, which just mere days before I arrived had been hit with a devastating earthquake. My heart broke for them.

Since I am from California, I am familiar with Earthquakes, even the occasional devastating one…which makes me also savvy of aftershocks. And since I was flying into Christchurch (which is just south of Kaikura and still recovering from a devastating Earthquake of it’s own) and spending a night there, I was a little on edge.

Much less devastating but still unnerving, my flight had left LAX 2 hours late and subsequently Qantas held a flight for me from Brisbane to Auckland (not on my original itinerary and definitely not on my checked luggage), and when I had to catch a puddle jumper sized plane from there into Christchurch, I had the sinking feeling my checked luggage hadn’t made the same trip.

It hadn’t.

BUT, my Qantas experience didn’t take away from the beauty of Australia that I managed to capture from my airplane window and boded well for the coming attractions of what I would find in New Zealand. This is an aerial photo taken outside of Brisbane but I’m not sure if it is the Coral or Tasman Sea…(untouched by special timing or Photoshop).

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CRINGE WORTHY MOMENTS

  1.  My hubby had purchased a special international data plan for me that should have more than covered my communication needs whilst on my adventure. As soon as I touched down in NZ, I got a message on my phone that I had used 80% of my international data plan. Turns out all those games I played waiting at the airports were not on a very strong wifi. Dang it. 
  2.  My first experience going through customs without a traveling companion was much more embarrassing than anticipated. My hands were full with passport, associated custom claim forms, phone with proof of return air booking, two outerwear jackets, and carry on pack…which did not make for a smooth transition from customs officer to inspection officer. You know how in comedic movies the clumsy actor drops some of his stuff and then as he walks forward to pick it up he kicks it even further away? Yep…that was me, and I was as surprised as anyone at my spontaneous Jim Carrey like performance. The customs officer watching me even left her post to help me move forward by carrying some of the stuff I kept dropping and kicking, that’s how pitiful I looked. Sigh. I never realized before how much of a pack mule my hubby is.

Moving on….

I didn’t have the luxury of sitting around a few days until my luggage showed up, nor could I afford to replace all of the specialty clothing I had packed in the “only slightly larger than carry on sized” polka dotted suitcase I affectionately call Dottie. Because Dottie is more than just baggage, she is like a very large purse to me. A friend really.

And she accessorizes what’s left of my city girl psyche. You know…like Legally Blonde or something. I may be a late blooming outdoor adventurer, but dang it, I’m holding onto a little of my inner Barbie.

I filed a claim for my missing Dottie and hailed a taxi to my hotel which was about 20 minutes away. Thankfully, Maryvale Manor did not disappoint.

maryvale

Truly lovely place and after 17 hours of waiting/flying/waiting/flying/flying, I was so happy to take a hot shower and have a cup of…tea.

My first inkling that I “wasn’t in Kansas anymore Toto” was the conspicuous lack of coffee amenities. 17 days later when I returned home, I kissed my hubby, my dog, and my Keurig in that order. Not sure of the order if the Keurig had met me at the airport.

My lack of travel savvy and old school authoritarian upbringing compulsively ensured I  followed the rules of the adventure company that asked you only bring 2 carry-on sized bags (silly me, it turns out nobody else did). In hindsight, I so wished I had packed like a Legally Blonde type city girl.

CRINGE WORTHY MOMENTS –

  1. Why oh why did I opt for the lesser expensive electrical adaptor? I plugged it into the wall outlet and felt quite smug about my planning. Then I plugged in my US iPhone plug with a USB port and the adaptor promptly fell out of the wall. I stared at it in disbelief. I had to find some random things to stack and prop the adaptor up to the wall outlet, then plug in my appliance to the adaptor. This turned into a nightly ritual for me during the trip, and since wall outlets are at much different lengths from the nearest surface, it was not an easy feat. It was also the first thing I threw into the trash upon landing at LAX.
  2. Why oh why hadn’t I packed my jammies into my carry on? With my Puritan upbringing I could not walk around my room in the nude (and I wanted to enjoy the sights outside anyway), so back on with the clothes I had worn for the last day and night already. Yes, the ones I also slept in that night in the event of an aftershock and I had to exit my room with haste. Planning people, planning.

The next early morning I had a cup of tea (ok, now I’m starting to get concerned about my daily requirements of caffeine) and took another expensive taxi ride back to the airport where I’d hoped my prayers would be answered and Dottie would be there. I was already feeling a bit cross from a lack of coffee and the thought of spending the next 17 days in an outfit not appropriate for hiking, biking, and kayaking.

I arrived at the airport and reported to the Qantas lost baggage claim area (I’m making that sound easy to find, it wasn’t) and handed the clerk my receipt of the claim form for the missing Dottie. This is how the conversation went after she looked up the claim number.

Clerk – “This claim was filed yesterday.”

Me – “Right, yesterday.”

Clerk – Hands paper back to me and says, “Well, there has been no activity on it yet.”

Me – “So when can I hope to see activity on it?”

Clerk – “When they find your baggage.” And gives me a dismissive look as she turns back to her phone.

Me – “Could it have come in on a later flight last night or an early one this morning and it just hasn’t been logged in yet?”

Clerk – “Probably not.”

Me – “Really? Could you look in your newest batch of homeless luggage and see if it is there? I’m desperate as I am being picked up this morning and won’t be back to Christchurch for 2 weeks.”

Clerk – Takes a long look at me. Luckily, I would find out that this person was not atypical of Kiwis, and likely was from Australia (according to Kiwi sources). “You know, luggage looks the same and I wouldn’t know what I would be looking for. You need to wait until there is activity on the claim.”

Me – “First of all, I won’t know when there is activity on the claim because I will be out in the bush off the grid wearing exactly what I have on for the next 2 weeks. Secondly, my little suitcase has white polka dots on a black patent leather background with a red ribbon tied around the zipper pull. Can you please just give a little look? Please, I’m begging at this point.”

Clerk – Groans, turns off her computer, and disappears through the door that I envisioned housed a warehouse full of luggage, but in reality couldn’t have been much larger than a small room. She promptly returns through the door carrying my beloved Dottie. I gleefully provide my luggage tag and virtually floated away rolling my beloved behind me.

It pays to accessorize.

Before leaving the hotel that morning, I had used some of the 20% I had left on my international plan to contact the adventure company and let them know to pick me up at the airport instead of the prearranged hotel. I checked the time on my barely recharged phone and noted I still had an hour before being picked up.

CRINGE WORTHY MOMENT –

With Dottie in tow, I headed to the nearest place that emoted a coffee aroma and checked the menu. I assumed that the menu was like Starbucks,  it said a shot of espresso under where the house coffee of the day was delineated – I happily ordered it and thought that my morning was turning out to be a rousing success.

When my name was called, they handed me an extra tiny shot glass of espresso. The panicked looks from my tiny little shot glass to the menu and over again instantly gave me away. I realized that everyone in the small shop was staring at me. I took my tiny little shot glass, grabbed a napkin, and sat down with grace and dignity and sipped it as if it was a proper cup of coffee with a shot of espresso IN IT.

No Toto, we are most definitely not in Kansas anymore.

To date – Qantas has an open claim on my dear Dottie, which really is no matter since after my trip home with them left me stranded in Melbourne for 13 hours at night with no Aussie money …they are dead to me.

Until next time dearest when the adventures and mis-adventures of a city girl turned late blooming international intrigue seeking mad baby boomer in New Zealand begin…

 

 

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Get Mad About It

Just get mad.

That’s what I tell myself when I feel like I can’t go on. Can’t take the next vertical step, can’t row another single stroke to move my kayak, can’t push one more pedal to keep my bicycle upright. And it works. I’m not proud of the amount of cussing that went into the last 1/2 mile of my first backpacking trip. It was solo, so nobody got injured from my verbal tirade except maybe my immortal soul.

When my hubby or kids make me mad, my house is cleaned in a snap.

Mad for me, is a motivator.

And yes, I use the term “mad” loosely. It can mean angry, crazy, tightly wound, or deeply passionate in my world. It’s a multi-use word. Like y’all.

And my blog. That’s why it’s called Diary of a Mad Baby Boomer. Not a happy, sleepy, bashful, dopey, or terrified Baby Boomer (Terrified was the 8th dwarf I think).

Mad means no mercy for myself.

I have mercy for all other things, in fact if you could have witnessed me catching a salamander in our shower just now, you would be laughing madly (see how I used mad  there instead of hysterically, and it works right?). I don’t know why, but lizards are particularly nerve-wracking for me.  Maybe I think it rather unfair of God to put feet on a snake. But…I did battle with that little bastard to get in a cup, and he did not go quietly (why so many times underneath the cup?).

Now he is happily residing in the garden. Mercy.

Besides, how many times could that poor thing take a shower with my hubby and have it not be cruel and unusual punishment?

But this is not a lizard post.

My greatest endeavors have been birthed after getting deeply mad about something. Like my trip up the west coast solo. It was born in madness, but ended in bliss.

About 7 months ago I got very mad. So I booked a solo action adventure in New Zealand. Right up there at the top of my bucket list. I was really, really mad.

Since then every hike, every kayak endeavor, every bicycle ride, every single circuit training exercise has been leading up to this trip. Don’t be too impressed about the aforementioned, they’re like little old lady versions of the real thing I’m sure.

Nevertheless, I have worked HARD! In fact, in recent weeks I broke through to almost double the weights in my circuit training.

And now, this trip is only a couple of weeks away. So what would I have to be mad about you say?

My body has been working against me every step of the way. It doesn’t mean to, it just gets confused on what it’s supposed to be attacking, so it attacks itself. Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (with autonomic involvement) is a little bitch. The Lupus link.

But this is not new you say. You’ve been on chemo meds for 10 years. Why get mad now?

Because I have Pneumonia! Arghhhhh. Some little snotty nosed, sneezing, coughing kid kept running an orbit around me at the grocery store and I knew instantaneously that this was not going to end well.

Not his fault. He’s just a kid. I just have a compromised immune system. And it’s just that time of year. A toxic recipe for an immune system that is already working double time to repair nightly from that circuit weight increase.

I’m slowly getting better, but my body is not my friend. And as much as I would like to jump right back into where I was, I run the risk of becoming truly debilitated as a result.

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I know this from experience. It takes me 6 months or more to recover from Bursitis when I decide to push my joints farther than they are willing to go.

So here I lay, 10 days in bed and counting. Losing muscle mass at a faster rate than I made it, and in terrible, inexplicable pain (ah, the joys of auto-immune disease).

So it has left me no choice. I am just going to have to get mad. Real mad.

 

And I will make it to my destination, both mentally and physically as a result of much prayer and even more madness.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

Bodie, California – A Wild West Wonder

Dear Diary,

It started out so predictably. We would go and see the ghost town of Bodie, California, and then check it off of our bucket list. But it was so much more than that.

Whether it was 150 years ago or today, I don‘t think anyone is able to walk out of Bodie the same way they went in.

Bodie piques an interest that will never be sated. It stirs feelings that will never be described. As a perfectly preserved window into the past, it portends our own future.

But first, it is important to note why Bodie stands so far apart from any other ghost town.

From anything else really.

Dearest, you know I am not new to ghost towns. I have been walking in the shadow of wild west history since I was a little girl being dragged along with her parents and their rock hounding club in Death Valley. I was only about 3 years old when my mother and I were shot at while exploring an old abandoned mine there. Evidently, it wasn’t so abandoned.

Since then, the web has provided information pointing us to ruins that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. I have explored so many more than I have shared here, so I would say I am a pretty good student on the subject of ghost towns.

So imagine my surprise when Bodie humbled any preconceived notion of what it would be.

Unlike its countless other ghost town counterparts, Bodie is truly frozen in time. It is maintained in a “state of arrested decay”, and has been preserved as such since each shop owner and/or resident locked their doors and walked away. Each business and residence has been preserved as it was left, I chose to take their word for it.

But I had to know more.

I couldn’t wait to get home and google Bodie to start trying to answer the whos, whats, whens, and hows. Let me forewarn you if you ever intend to do the same…your mind will literally explode with the volume of information.

The only problem is…even the information published at the time goes from accurate, to slightly embellished, to grossly misrepresenting the actual facts. Now add 150 years, and it’s like playing telephone across generations. So how does one determine what is true?

I don’t think anyone can know what is actually true except those who lived and died there.

But I have to say, http://www.bodie.com provides a plethora of information that seems to perform “due diligence” in providing as accurate data as they can, or at the very least, provide a platform from which to plunge into the web. Many of the vintage photos in this post are from there.

Take the man who the town is named after, which was actually spelled Bodey or Body. His wife changed the spelling to Bodie because she liked it better OR a sign painter misspelled it and it stuck. You begin to see what I mean already?

Another website that drills down to authenticating information is http://www.findagrave.com. I went to this website and put in “Bodie” and what followed was at least 8 hours of reading that I don’t mind that I’ll never get back. It lists all of the sections of cemeteries within the cemetery (Boot Hill, Chinese, and the three “respectable” areas of the main cemetery) with all information available for the known respective interments (and how they got there, if known).

Again, if there were hundreds that died in the winter of 1878 – 1879 alone, the interred list is under representing how many people are actually buried there. Not a surprise it is lost to the ages, since records have burned twice in the city’s lifetime and wooden headstones are long gone.

To paraphrase the answer to my original question (why is Bodie so intact)?

It appears to be thanks to one man and his family, James Stuart Cain.

James Stuart Cain

Jim Cain arrived in Bodie (originally from Quebec, Canada) at the age of 25 with his new bride Martha to make his fortune, and make his fortune he did. He wisely became a lumber baron ( wood being the single most required item in Bodie for living, dying and everything in-between), a mine owner (in which he struck gold, both literally and figuratively after suing The Standard Mine Company for pilfering his lode), bank owner, and ultimately the primary land owner of Bodie, California.

Jim and Martha Cain 1879

James and Martha Cain

An excellent article about the life and times of James Stuart Cain and his intrinsic connection with Bodie;

HEALTH02PELibrary

In the 1940s and 50’s there was a rush to pilfer anything that could be carried from old west ghost towns, in fact Bodie’s sister city of Aurora, Nevada was decimated. As a result, Jim Cain hired resident caretakers to ensure Bodie would not fall into the hands of hungry antiquities bandits. There they stayed until the California Park Service bought the town from Jim’s children in 1962.

Now, the town protects itself. There is an alleged curse associated to anything that is pilfered from Bodie. The park rangers get mail regularly containing items taken from Bodie (even something as seemingly insignificant as a nail), begging them to put the items back so their bad luck streaks will stop. I used to think that this was hype made up by the park rangers, but after reading some personal accounts of tragedy after taking items from Bodie, I’m not so sure.

A debris field like this (one of many) would not have survived in an “unguarded” ghost town.

debris field

I had no intention of taking ANYTHING from Bodie anyway.

But I was wrong about not taking anything from Bodie. I took home a renewed reverent respect for the hardships our ancestors endured. The fact that any of us are still here is a testimony to the grit of our grandfather’s fathers, and their women.

Bodie was extra harsh. At just under 8300 ft. in elevation and situated on a flat plateau with no trees or hills to block the wind, the weather is some of the worst in the lower 48. Bodie frequently boasts the lowest temperature in US cities. In the harsh winter of 1878 – 1879, hundreds of people perished from the bitter cold and disease.

Bodie Post Office in Winter

Bodie Post Office

When I visited the cemetery, I was reminded of how much we take infant mortality for granted in our modern day and age. Too many children there.

This photo I took of a bedroom was initially because of the draped curtain, but what resonated with me was the baby sweater on the dresser. Why didn’t they take it? Who did it belong to? Did they outgrow it or something much worse? Bodie created more questions than answers for me.

babysweater

Bodie, like most ghost towns, was remote even in its heyday. Getting supplies in and out of Bodie, especially in winter, was difficult to impossible as it is prone to “white out” storms and heavy snow conditions.

Bodie receiving a supply wagon in summer.

bodie supply train

Bodie was violent. Very violent. Besides having 65 saloons, a red light district, and more than one opium den, there was gold. Miners were paid handsomely, and did not hesitate to frequent saloons, gambling halls, and the company of like-minded women. With 6,000 to 10,000 residents (depending on whose calculations you believe) at its peak, Bodie was a bustling town.

“Saloons and gambling hells abound,” reported San Francisco’s Daily Alta California in June 1879. “There are at least sixty saloons in the place and not a single church.”

Bodie 1879 –

Bodie 1879

 

“Besides the business and professional men, mine-operators, miners, etc., there were hundreds of saloon-keepers, hundreds of gamblers, hundreds of prostitutes, many Chinese, a considerable number of Mexicans, and an unusual number of what we used to call “Bad men”-desperate, violent characters from everywhere, who lived by gambling, gun-fighting, stage robbing, and other questionable means. The “Bad man from Bodie” was a current phrase of the time throughout the west. In its day, Bodie was more widely known for its lawlessness than for its riches.” (Smith 1925)

Bodie – 1890

Bodie_California_c1890

Most of the opportunistic miners (and associated violence) left the town when it began it’s decline from the “bust” period, even before the devastating fire of 1892. Most of the miners and business owners who stayed and rebuilt were family oriented.

General Store in Bodie – 1880

Bodie general store 1880

General Store in Bodie Today –

Bodie Store

The town suffered a steady decline and was nearly deserted in 1927, but in 1928 a resurgence occurred when several big money mining companies invested in new processes and equipment. Within 2 years the companies suffered heavy losses and were gone.

Main street in Bodie  nearly deserted in 1927

Bodie 1927.jpg

Main street in Bodie after 1928 Resurgence

bodie resurgence 1928 to 1931

Then, as if on cue, in 1932 a devastating fire burned most of Bodie (started by a 2 ½ year old who was angry about his birthday cake and set his kitchen table on fire). The town never recovered. The remaining buildings represent only 5% of the original structures.

Bodie before 1932 fire –                                               Bodie After the 1932 fire

pre 1932 fireafter 1932 fire

 

Bodie died a slow death. Unlike its boom and bust counterparts, Bodie stayed alive (even if it was just a handful of miners and their families) until the last mine closed in 1942 as mandated by the federal government to close non-essential mines because of World War ll.

But true even until the end, Bodie’s last 6 residents were plagued by violence and mystery as 5 of them died untimely deaths. After one man shot his wife to death, 3 of the other men shot him dead. According to legend, the ghost of the murdered man would visit the three men, shaking his fist. Soon all 3 died of very strange diseases.

Here is my photo journey through time. I tried to include then and now comparison photos wherever possible.

Jim Cain and the Bodie Bank. Notice the distinct vault door behind him.

Bodie Bank Interior.jpg

Bodie Bank Exterior.

BodieBank-pre 1932

Jim Cain opening the vault after the 1932 fire –

Vault 1932

Bank vault now, notice the vault door characteristics are still easily identified.

Bank Vault.jpg

Bodie Safe in 1932 –

Bodie Safe

Bodie Safe now, it’s empty. Like mine.

Inside Safe

Fire house now.

Firehouse.jpg

Methodist Church then – not sure of the year.

methodist church.jpg

Methodist Church now.

Bodie Church

Inside the church then.

church-ten-commandments.jpgInside the church now. The Ten Commandments that are hanging on the wall were stolen. Let that soak in for a minute….so hopefully they read number 7  (Thou Shalt Not Steal) after they got home. Please note that church pews have not changed in a hundred years. Meant to keep us awake I guess.

church.jpg

The original school building was burned down by a boy who didn’t like going. This school house was originally a boarding house. At one time, there were over 600 children registered, but only about 100 at a time would attend.

Bodie Schoolhouse

I have the exterior photos now but forgot to upload them…here are a couple from the interior now. That poor globe has seen better days.

School

On the chalkboard behind the teacher’s desk, she (Ella who married one of the Cain boys) writes that 8 graders have an assignment due. It’s those small details that are timeless, and make Bodie a very special place.

school2

This shirt hanging on the wall in the doctor’s house. As if someone just hung it there.

shirtonawall.jpg

A home owned by someone with means. The furniture is still beautiful. The pictures still on the walls. It is rumored that the rocking chair still rocks, sometimes on it’s own, sometimes powered by a spectral woman knitting.  The multiple layers of wall paper were all they had as insulation from the cold.

rich persons house

An icebox with a stepping stool still under it in another home.

Refrigerator

If Bodie is on your bucket list, you might want to make plans sometime soon to visit. Homes like this one will not last too much longer. The state park is dedicated to keeping time suspended, but will not rebuild them when they cave in.

Urbandecayhouse

The undertaker’s shop. There were two children’s coffins, one in the front room, one in the back with the white expensive display coffin barely visible here. Very unnerving. There were a couple of fellas that were selling expensive coffins, then would go out and dig them back up and resell them. They were caught. Things didn’t end well for them. Karma I say.  Their story is on the Find A Grave site.

Undertaker

One of two hearses displayed in the old Union Hall building which is now a museum.

Hearse.jpg

The James Stuart Cain house. I’m not sure why the cupboard doors are open in every room. Maybe I don’t want to know. The place is allegedly haunted by a Chinese maid once employed by the Cain family who doesn’t take kindly to adults. Duly noted!

cainhouse

cainhouse2

Look how huge a simple radio used to be.

cainhouse3

Standard Mill in 1879 –

standard mill 1879

Standard Mill today –

stampmill

Bodie children in front of the Standard Mill, undated. I hope they all lived very long lives.

bodie kids on mule

These massive iron elevators would lower workers deep down into the earth via cables and mine shafts. There was no margin for error if you couldn’t keep your arms in.

elevators

I can tell you this, while I was walking through Bodie, I often got the feeling that I was the one being observed. I felt as though life was going on as usual in Bodie. Just as it did in 1880, just as it will forever more.

Bodie 4th of July celebration 1880 –

1880 fourth of july

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

Wallowing in My Bliss

Dear Diary,

I know it’s been awhile, but I’ve been busy conquering a mountain. A mountain you say? Yes. I conquered a mountain.

From the time I was old enough to look out of the window and take note of what was outside, Cucamonga Peak has loomed large over my very small life.

For 57 years, this mountain has given me assurance that some things are unchanging. And when I am gone and come back, Cucamonga Peak means I am home.

This peak and I go so far back that I long ago considered it mine. It may stand tall over millions of Southern Californians, but it’s my compass that Cucamonga Peak  provides a true north for.

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Now imagine my surprise when that flat topped source of a lifetime of comfort began taunting me.

“Beat me. I dare you.”

It’s no secret in this diary that these mountains have done nothing but teach this city girl respect. And terror.

Remember that time I was on an icy ridgeline and narrowly escaped sliding to my death 6 Things I Learned On the Trail – That Everyone Else Already Knows? Or how about the rattlesnake that was kind enough to teach me what one sounds like when they are mere inches away from my exposed chubby leg People are Funny, Rattlesnakes are not?

And all of these occurred before I ever got to set foot on the actual peak of my desire.

Why would a perfectly normal baby boomer who lives in a perfectly normal house, with a perfectly normal husband (ok, that one might be a stretch) keep self administering the pain and agony associated with hiking?

All I can do is tell you what I tell the women in my Bunco club, “It quiets the voices inside my head .” Then we all have a little laugh.

But the joke is on them. It really does quiet the voices in my head. The manic pace that thoughts race through my brain. The sheer speed and randomness make it impossible for me to grab hold of one and make sense out of it’s origin.

The only thing worse than those manic thoughts are the tired old thoughts that come back over and over again to crush me under their weight. To sneak through a crack in my carefully crafted wall of defense to demoralize me.

Besides, it might be rude if I answered the Bunco ladies question of why I hike with truths. Like; “I just don’t find cleaning my house over and over again fulfilling”, or this one “Having faced my own mortality, I would rather walk while I still can”, or the ever popular “Trapped on a ship with 5,000 other people is much like sitting in traffic 24/7 to me.”

That last one is super snarky I’ll admit. But since I’ve never really said it out loud, it doesn’t count.

Besides, for the life of me, I really don’t know why I wouldn’t rather be sitting in a stateroom waiting to be pampered by food servers rather than punishing myself on the slopes of a mountain that may not even like me.

But I wouldn’t.

So I hike, but I have no illusions about my limitations. I am used to being the slowest one on any given trail. I make myself feel better by remembering that just 3 years ago, I wasn’t able to even make it around my block. But still the mountain taunts. It doesn’t care about me and my little woes.

So last week I pack my 10 essentials and head up the same old worn out trail I have huffed and puffed up many times now. But today would be different. All the right elements (I didn’t even know what they were before they actually occurred) came into alignment like planets to the sun. 1. A couple of women my age played leap frog with me (meaning we had the same skill level) up the Ice House Saddle trail (that leads to 5 different peak trails) with me and were headed up to Cucamonga. 2. I made it up to the aforementioned saddle in new record time (for me), which meant it was still early enough in the day to actually consider making an assault. 3. I could still breathe after 3.4 miles and 3215 ft.

So I texted my husband that I was going to take on Cucamonga (for some freakish reason, I have phone coverage at the saddle) and on I went. The two ladies who shared my skill level were long gone once I finished my protein bar and considered actually taking on the mountain. I was alone.

So it was just me vs. the Cucamonga Peak trail. And it proved to be all that I had read about it. Painfully steep, terrifyingly narrow, with drops so far down I couldn’t see where they ended.

But both the manic and familiar destructive voices were silent. Only my breathing and balance mattered.

I adopted a mantra “if they can do it, I can do it” that kept cadence with my feet. Once in a while, I allowed myself to stop and take in the vista. The wonderment kept me buoyed to have the faith that I would make it.

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Of course, I made all the same mistakes. On the most narrow and terrifying parts of the trail, I froze instead of keeping my pace. But each time I would find the nerve to steady myself and move forward. Without falling. I can’t help but think that God has great influence in saving me from myself.

Being the slowest one up the mountain (except for a couple that quit early on, and thank you for that), has it’s surprising advantages. The view ahead is sometimes good too. But I digress.

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I caught sight of one of my greatest hiking fears (besides bears), forest fire. But it was far enough in the distance to not be a threat.

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Long past the point when both my legs and lungs had given up, I kept going by sheer will power. I could not quit. The damage done to my psyche would be irreparable. I made up my mind that even if I had to spend the night in a hollowed out tree, giving up was not an option.

I had to rest after each 30 or 40 steps on the last mile. The switchbacks went on for miles in that last mile. I felt like after every one of them the summit would be in sight, but just more switchbacks met my expectations. Even the seasoned hikers that seemed to fly by were groaning under the ascent.

After seven hours, the two women who had originally inspired me were on their way down. One said, “I thought we lost you at the saddle”. At this altitude, I couldn’t get enough oxygen to my brain to understand what that meant. All I could do was smile. It must have been painful to look at because she went on to say, “you are only 50 ft. away from the top.”

So like Dory from Nemo fame, I just kept swimming. And 50 ft. later I came upon the summit that had either comforted me or taunted me every day that I called the Inland Empire home.

But this time, I was the champion.

There were others at the summit so I refrained from actually collapsing. Well I collapsed, but I executed it in slo-mo style so it appeared that I was in control of my knees. I finally found the energy to ask a fellow peak bagger to take a photo of me. Even I wouldn’t believe it without proof. I had ascended 5,407 ft in 6.4 miles (according to my gps). I bagged one of the highest peaks in Southern California.

I win.

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No matter what happens in my life after this, I have only to look out of my window to remind myself what I am capable of. I shall wallow in this bliss for a very long time.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

That Time I Got Hit by the Crazy Train

Dear Diary,

I broke a bone yesterday. It’s ok though, the bone is a small one. I know what caused it too, I got hit by a train.

Even though I got hit by the Crazy Train 9 months ago…the physical manifestations of a hit that hard take a long time to show themselves.

Remember when I wrote about disembarking the Crazy Train back in October? No? You can read it here…Disembarking the Crazy Train.

I was woefully ignorant on how far the crazy engineer (my Narcissistic Mother) would go to make me pay for that.

Stupid me…acting all strong and thinking by disembarking the Crazy Train I could actually get away from it. Oh no…that’s not how the crazy train works. By disembarking I actually bumped the Crazy up to a whole new level. I should have seen it coming, but I got hit from behind.

After a lifetime of crazy, what could possibly have affected me so deeply that it has taken me 9 months to actually write about it? That’s easy. She hit me in the place where I am most vulnerable. By inviting all of the people I love the most to ride her Crazy Train. The people I hold dearest. Who are those people you ask?

My children and my deceased sister’s children (also my children I like to think).

She wrote one of her poison letters to me and sent copies to all of them. The most poisonous of all. She has outdone herself.

By the grace of God, I was out traveling when my copy came in the mail. My daughter picked up the mail, opened my copy and read it. Evidently it was so evil that she threw it away (or so she said), and never intended to let me know of it’s existence. She intended to try and protect me from my own Mother.

It worked for a few weeks evidently, but she felt guilty deceiving me and finally broke down and told me about it. My daughter said the letter was so bad that she was hoping none of it was true. She went on to say that we could  pretend it never existed, but there were copies sent to other family members.

With just those few words I was pushed, and started freefalling, into a deep crevasse. Like anyone who is falling, I tried desperately to self arrest the descent. Clawing at the sides of the deepest and darkest places in my mind to keep some sight of where the light might be so I could find my way back out.

I started with damage control. I called my niece to ask if she had received a copy of the letter. I could tell by the pity in her voice that she had. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went.

Niece – “Auntie did you read it?”

Me – “No, Daughter (not her real name ha!) intercepted it and threw it away.”

Niece – “Good for Daughter, nobody should have to read something like that.”

What? I thought I knew what my Narcissistic Mother was capable of, but how bad did it have to be that NOBODY should have to read it?

I assured her that none of it was true…but this rang hollow with both my niece and I since I hadn’t actually read it.

With that I was yet again sent spiraling down the rabbit hole even further.

I called my son. “Yes Mom, I got it.” I tried to downplay it with “well you know how Nana is.”

“Yes he said, I know how she is. I called her and she told me that she never wanted to see or hear from you again after how badly you abused her when you took her on vacation with you last June.”

WTF?

Trying to self arrest again I said, “You mean when I tried to take her to one of her favorite places in the world and make it perfect for her because she may never make it there again? That time?”

My son replied, “Yes, but Nana has a much different story Mom. She said you abused her, are evil, and you will bring us down with you into hell if we go around you. Don’t worry Mom, we know that can’t be true.”

Falling…still falling.

Before I bid him goodbye I tell my son, “Please don’t tell me anymore of what Nana said. Not if you love me and want me to stay on this Earth.” But he continued on anyway…”she said to tell you never to contact her again, and when she dies she doesn’t want you at her funeral.” I think he thought by telling me this he would be igniting a fire in me to fight back. But that’s not how this dysfunctional relationship ever plays out. I may be mad, but I know better than to get into the ring with a narcissist. They fight dirty.

I told my son I had to go and hung up the phone.

Injustice has always been something I can’t endure. And now…I stand accused and convicted of a crime I not only didn’t, but wouldn’t commit. Evidently there was much more slander in the poisoned letter, but who cares what it said. Just this little taste was so toxic I was rendered paralyzed. She played the “victimized little old blind lady” card.

So here I am. In a deep hole. So dark that I have no  idea which way is up. I am 5 years old again and so full of self loathing that I am quite sure that not even Jesus could love me. So enraged that if I have to share heaven with her, I don’t want to go.

Depression has always been an ugly word to me. I know it’s real, I have the suicides of my Daddy and little sister to remind me. But I hate the word because my dear Mother used it as a crutch to make everyone wait on her. “I’m too depressed to get up.” was her mantra, thereby (as the oldest) creating a overdeveloped sense of being responsible for EVERYTHING and EVERYONE around me. I loathe the word.

But a perfect storm was already set into motion and depression was bearing down on me. Just a couple of minor things happening at the same time as my Mother’s newest betrayal and I was down for the count. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t even get out of bed for a couple of days.

I normally am a master of disguise. I can fool even the most intuitive of audiences. So I feigned illness (well I feigned physical illness anyway), which is another of my taboos, while I desperately clawed at the sides of my dark prison to find a way out. The more I struggled, the deeper it seemed to get. Like a psychotic quicksand.

When I finally was able to get up and put on my cloak of normalcy, I was out of step with the world. Standing in line at a store, I looked around me and wondered if they could tell I was an illusion? Would they notice the real me was being held in a prison of pain with no hope of being helped back out?

That’s the conundrum of depression. When you need to be saved from yourself, you cannot ask for it. Depression steals hope. It steals even the idea that you might be worth saving. I didn’t even bother talking to God because I was sure he could not hear me from this place.

The more I told myself that I didn’t care, the more my auto-immune disorder was fueled into a full blown flare that even now is not quieted.

So the months passed in this suspended state of desperation. Going through the motions of daily routines so that the dark musings in my mind could not be detected. How often did I wish for death to deliver me? Every. Single. Day.

But as I clawed desperately at my prison walls, I remembered a familiarity of this place. I had been here before. Many times. In the past, when I finally made it out of this dark place, I would block out the memory that I was ever there. And now it is a slow realization that this is the place my Narcissistic Mother and Abusive Step-Father made me call home when I was growing up.

So I stopped clawing. I sat quietly and waited for redemption, if there was to even be any I couldn’t be sure. My mother had pulled the rug out from under me and I was left with all the dirt I had swept under it. So fresh I could still taste the blood in my mouth from the beatings, so real I could feel the terror as I heard my step-father’s car door close when he came home from work. And so alone.

But I kept still in my dark place. I knew that nobody would come for me. I was trapped deep in my mind. So deep, I couldn’t even find myself. I dared not look in a mirror. I would be looking at a ghost.

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And then I saw it, a tiny crack of light. Through the tiny crack of light, I heard a voice. A familiar one say, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Oh my gosh. I remembered how I got out so many times before now. I remembered that it wasn’t me that found my way of my own private hell, it was my faith. I remembered that nobody can be so far gone that they can’t be found.

Even though I thought I could never write in my Diary again (because remember I have to be honest), I remembered that I am already a MAD baby boomer …so I have set the bar low. I can’t really let you down then, can I Diary?

My daughter asked me to find something in her room for her recently (she is living somewhere else but hasn’t actually moved out of her room yet), when I ran across the letter from my Mother she said had been trashed.

On the back of the envelope it said, “I know you are prone to throwing things away, but you really need to read this.”

No…I don’t Mom. I really don’t. You are done here.

I promptly trashed it.

I am still deeply angry at my Momster for running me over with her Crazy Train. I am still paying for it through my dis-ease. My dark auto-immune passenger is not easily put back to sleep. But I remembered that the best medicine is also the sweetest revenge.

HAPPINESS.

So I do what I always do when faced with a long climb to get back to the top of the  happiness scale. I turn to my bucket list and book a trip. I can happily announce I have six months to get back into physical shape and be ready for hiking, biking, and kayaking NEW ZEALAND!

As for all of the kids? Nothing’s changed. Turns out that the letter really says more about her than it does about me. And the broken bone? It will heal. They always do.

Yay! I’m so excited and HAPPY! Did you hear that Mom?

I win.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piute Springs – A Trek Through Time in the Wild West.

Dear Diary,

How appropriate that on the last day of 2015 we took a trek back in time to the real wild west of old. To a place so far off the beaten path that one feels like they might be intruding on unseen activities going on has they have for a thousand  years.

We continued our quest of following sections of the old Mojave Road. We headed out to explore a place just off the “old government road”.

This road has been used by Native Americans, Spanish missionaries, explorers, Mexican traders, the Pony Express, American Cavalry, miners, and western settlers alike.

All with the same quest; to reach California.

Long before any non-native set foot in the area, legend has that bands of Paiute, Navajo, Apaches, Chemehuevi, and Aha Macav (Mohave) Indians fought for ownership of the most valuable resource in the desert.

Water.

And as we would find out for ourselves, Piute Springs has plenty of it. Cool and fast flowing water that comes up out of the ground only to disappear back into the desert in just a half mile.

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The native Americans used this route to trade with coastal Indians in California. The Mohave “Runners” could cover 100 miles a day in some of the most inhospitable terrain to be found.

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Just trying to hike amid the cactus is challenge enough for this city girl…I can’t imagine running through it for a hundred miles.

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Ok dang it, I’ll just admit that I can’t run a half mile anywhere. Even if someone was chasing me. With a gun.

The earliest recorded non-native traveled this road in 1776 in the form of Francisco Garces, a Spanish Franciscan missionary who would convert the first area native to Catholicism in what is now Hesperia, California.

Francisco Garces would be killed in Yuma just a few years later by natives as a punishment for Spanish settlers violating terms of their treaty.

The Mohave tribe first provided guidance through Piute Spring for Friar Garces into what is now known as Cajon Pass in 1776, and for many more  for the next nearly 100 years until the Mohave and settlers/soldiers/miners became increasingly hostile over what amounted to simple misunderstandings. As a result, Fort Mohave was erected at the Colorado River to keep peace and provide protection for white settlers.

Fort Mohave no longer exists.

Just 22 miles west of the Colorado River however, lies the ruins of what is now known as Fort Piute (originally called Fort Beale after the man that brought camels into the area as a failed experiment).

So off the beaten path we go to find this relic of wild west history. 21st century explorers replete with our spirit of adventure and a well appointed off road vehicle.

God bless GPS. Within just a couple of hours, we had traversed a very rough road (I actually have city girl bruises from foolishly trying to rest my arm on the door while being bounced around like a tournament ping pong) to reach our destination.

We parked the Jeep and equipped ourselves in preparation for going back in time. For peeling the layers of human habitation and walking among the remnants of those intrepids in whose footsteps we were about to follow.

The most obvious and looming is the ruins of Fort Piute, built in 1867 and abandoned in just 6 months.

Fort Piute

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I walked into the fort and as always, am filled with a certain reverence for those who came before me. Especially in a place as harsh as this.

As I looked back at our lone steed parked below and took in the beautiful vista, I thought about how this place had been a flashpoint of violence for generations of peoples.

View from the soldiers quarters room.

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Fireplace

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And I don’t feel alone. I feel as though there are still sentries here.

What looks like a fort is really just a single layer amid many layers of human struggle. Layers of time one on top of the other like an onion. The Indians, the Spanish, the soldiers, the homesteaders, all imprinting this tiny half mile of land with their own blood, sweat, and tears.

Just a few feet from the fort is the snapshot of a layer from 1929. The Smith family lived here and although it is overgrown, I can still see where their home sat.

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Really? They had a regular ole car that managed to carry them to and fro? I’m not feeling so good about my bruises from the Jeep right now. A little wimpy in fact. Nothing new.

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Members of this family still live in nearby Needles, California.

Just east of the Smith home lie the layers of ruins from two failed farms.

In 1928 Thomas Van Slyke homesteaded here to make a go of farming fruit and grapes. He patented the land and subsequently sold it in 1944 to George and Virginia Irwin who attempted a turkey farm. A letter from George and Virgina Irwin to a Mrs. Welsh in 1957 brings this couple to life with their own words…


George and Virginia Irwin to Mrs. Welch, 7/10/1957

This letter was found at a garage sale by Keith Collins.

Wednesday July 10, 1957
Box 247 Needles, California

Dear Mrs. Welch;

We have been the owners of Fort Piute or as it is known in the War Department records, Fort Beale, named after Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale who made the original survey in the year 1853, since 1944. The property was purchased from Mr. Thomas van Slyke who took a homestead and later patented the land in 1928. Mr. van Slyke told us that the fort was built in 1867 and it was one of six such redoubts that were established along the old Government Road from St.Joseph Missouri to Los Angeles (Wilmington – Fort Drum). This road roughly ran paralell (sic) to the 32 meridian and was surveyed as early as 1847 just prior to the finding of gold in California. After the news of the gold strike activity was increased in making roads across the country therefore these stopping places were established which were near water and were approximately one days traveling time between stops. There have been many articles published about this old Government Road and it would take a small book to elaborate on the history of this road. However we like to pass on any information that we have and we are in a position to refer you to Mr. L. Burr Belden who is the history editor for the San Bernardino Sun newspaper. He has at his fingertip pictures and the full story of this famous trail. May I suggest that you write him in care of the newspaper. I feel sure that he will answer any questions you might have. If you are ever out here near the fort drop in and see us and we will be glad to talk to you about the fort. We live at tne Metropolitan Water District switching station 25 miles west of Needles on Highway 66. As you no doubt noticed the area is replete with Indian writing petroglyphs. These writings are very old and even the Indians who live near here at this present date do not understand them nor can they interpret their meanings. Also there are numerous graves located along this trail and unless one were pointed out they would pass unnoticed.

We hope this information will be of help to you and would be glad to speak to you in person if you are ever out this way.

Sincerely yours,

George & Virginia Irwin

As for the ancient petroglyphs? Yes, they are there providing a deep time layer amid the more recent ruins of the turkey farm. Pet-Mojave-014

The ruins of the turkey farm and the home of George and Virginia (feel like old friends now don’t they?).

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Lastly, I add my own layer in the form of footsteps as we hiked the “old government road” (old Mojave Road) through Piute Springs and back again.

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What an ending.

‘Til next year dearest.

 

 

Hole in the Wall, Mojave National Preserve California

Dear Diary,

Some of the most memorable trips are those that you decide to take on a whim. This is one of those.

And very far off the beaten path.

In fact, this one is so far off the beaten path I questioned our sanity on the way there. I definitely questioned who in their right mind would want to live in such a harsh and unforgiving environment. But that would be a rhetorical question, because one thing never changes with the desert eccentric (also known as desert rats)…they’re just plain crazy.

My hubby is part of that tribe.

While I pine for the ocean and forests, he is most at home where there is no shade, no water, and temperatures are in the extreme.

This place was no exception.

We recently embarked on a quest to follow the Mojave road.  The road originally created by Native Americans as a trade route between tribes of the Mojave Valley and the Coastal California Indians.

One can traverse this road in 2 – 3 days,  but because of work commitments, we intend to take it in sections.

Hole in the Wall in the Mojave National Preserve was our most recent destination. While it is not technically on Mojave Road, it is a point of interest we didn’t want to pass up. I was as excited as I can get about a remote place within a remote place in the middle of nowhere.

The Mojave Road is noted in green, Hole in the Wall is circled in red.

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Since we were coming back to So. California from celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in Arizona, it was a perfect time to fit this little side trip into our itinerary.

I noticed this destination was between two places with pretty ominous names…Death Valley and Devil’s Playground. I don’t know about you, but I make it a habit to avoid anything having to do with Death or Devil.

Not my desert rat of a hubby, these kind of places are right up his alley, so off we go to camp between them. The soft creamy center of a Death and Devil sandwich.

Saints preserve us.

While I was busy wondering what he was getting us into, I thanked God it was winter time and not summer. Death Valley became the hottest place in the world on July 10, 2013 when it reached a record 134 degrees. Not hard to understand why it’s called Death Valley. I don’t even want to know how the Devil’s Playground got it’s name.

Upon arrival to the Hole in the Wall campground, I had to admit the campsites are very nice. I was pleasantly surprised that we were the only one’s there. We set up our camp and walked to the ranger station to get a map of the area in anticipation of hiking the next day.

This would be Lucy’s first camping trip in our posh rooftop tent.

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We hadn’t even gone 50 feet before I noticed that she had already attracted a large chunk of Cholla Cactus in her fur. Cholla cactus is a nasty foe and I try very hard to stay out of it’s way. It’s called the “jumping cactus” because you don’t need to be near to attract a painful hitchhiker.

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With Lucy’s fine hair, it was embedded so deeply that I’m sure we appeared to be performing surgery if there had been anyone there to witness it. Needless to say, I carried her the rest of the way to and from the station.

Such city girls her and I.

I was excitedly waiting to have a campfire. You can’t really have campfires in So. Cali so this was a real treat for me. We cooked our evening meal and settled down to wait for sunset. Now that all sounds pretty standard for camping folk doesn’t it?

Here’s the problem.

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I remember thinking that it would be nice to be in colder temperatures since I had spent most of the summer boiling.

That is until it actually got cold. Silly me.

As the sun went down the temperature dropped accordingly. By the time my hubby started a fire, I was already frozen through and through. Even my butt was cold, and I would have thought something with that much padding would be insulated.

In this photo I am considering actually jumping into the fire (don’t worry, I would have handed Lucy off beforehand). I am totally not joking.

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Evidently, the above applies to California dogs too. Lucy wouldn’t stop shivering until I put her under the blanket.

Needless to say I didn’t sit outside long to enjoy the campfire experience. Forget the smores.

We got into our tent and for only the third or fourth time in my life I could see the condensation coming out of my mouth when we spoke. I would have said I was in hell, but it wasn’t warm enough.

Thankfully we had brought a propane heater (I can’t say we, my hubby had the foresight to bring it). I also had brought my Kelty Ignite 20 sleeping bag, but I wondered about the rating. Is it rated for 20 degrees or for a 20 year old (and not a more “mature” woman). I suspect it was the latter because I was paralyzed with cold.

Even with the little heater going full blast, my hand was too cold to hold my paperback book so I could read myself to sleep.

Thankfully I had brought an extra blanket because the little Walmart doggy sweater I had gotten Lucy was not enough. I wrapped her up and tucked her between our sleeping bags.

My hubby and I laid there staring at each other like burritos in a freezer.

Finally Lucy and my hubby fell asleep with both snoring. I alone laid awake to battle the cold and cacophony of nasal noise. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I promise you it was not soon enough.

Where I live, I am accustomed to roughly 360 days a year of sunshine, but never have I been so happy and appreciative of it until I felt it warm the tent as it rose.

When I felt I could finally peek outside of our tent without suffering the loss of my nose due to frostbite, I noticed Lucy’s dog water had been frozen solid. Another first for me.

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The arid barren landscape belied how cold it was. I felt like there should be 10 feet of snow on the ground, but with an annual rainfall of only 3 inches a year, I reckoned that doesn’t happen much.

After a cup of tea (oh thank you for being so fast Jet Boil!) and hot oatmeal, we headed out to follow the only trail in the area. The 6 mile Barbour Peak Loop trail would meet up with the short 1 mile Rings Loop Trail, which traverses the Hole in the Wall canyon.

Having learned my lesson when we were stranded by the flash flood in the Grand Canyon just a few months ago, I brought the ten essentials. My hubby had to backpack Lucy since the area was full of a variety of cacti including the “jumping cactus”.

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I remembered what a friend from Nova Scotia said when laying eyes on the California desert for the first time…”it looks like the surface of the moon”.

I would have to agree. And just as inhospitable I might add.

I suspect that the area looks exactly the same as it did 150 years ago when Mojave Indian runners would cover as much as 100 miles a day on foot. With one exception…see those vapor jet trails overhead as I strike a pose?

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They are from maneuvers being performed by aircraft from nearby Fort Irwin (I’m assuming since it’s the closest military base).

One aircraft came so close to us that I’m pretty sure I saw him tell his co-pilot “look at those fools down there.”

The only sign of life was this pesky bull blocking the trail, or was he protecting the only tree?  He was quite large and immediately started to stare us down.

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No worries I thought, I have my trusty “loudest whistle in the world.”

I put it to my lips and blew out a disturbingly shrill sound that was so loud I thought the blast might bring down one of those jets.

The only way I knew the bull even heard it was the barely perceptible muscle twitch in his back leg.

Wait a minute, this isn’t supposed to be how it goes. The animal is supposed to run away in fright.

No way, no how. This bull was dead serious about standing his ground. I imagined how easily he could run me down and put one or both of those horns through my spinal chord.

My hubby and I carefully made our way backwards and took an alternate route that gave Mr. Horns a wide berth. I never turned my back on him, but made sure to not lock eyes either.

Lucy however, set a decidedly perturbed look on me that seemed to say, “thanks for assaulting my very sensitive dog ears for no good reason.”

We reached the Hole in the Wall canyon which was easy to spot, since it was riddled with holes.

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We sat at the foot of the canyon entrance in the photo above and ate our packed lunches.

There were interesting sizes and shapes of holes everywhere as we entered the canyon in anticipation of the Rings Trail.

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And finally we were upon it.

My hubby headed up first with Lucy on his back as I brought up the rear. There are 4 or 5 sections of ring loops that are straight up. This is a photo of the first section.

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He made it look so easy I scrambled up behind him. The first section wasn’t so bad. The second section wasn’t horrible either. The third section (I don’t have any photos since I was using both of my hands to keep from plunging into the abyss below me) was an entirely different story.

I put my left foot onto a rock, then found a foothold with my right foot, then another with my left. I realized that the next foothold was roughly half of the length of my body above me. I tried to move upward, but the absence of a thigh muscle prevented me from executing that “step”.

Dammit. I was stuck. I couldn’t go up or down.

I called out to my hubby and said I tried to make the Paul Bunyon step but I didn’t have enough strength in my left thigh muscle to make it happen.

He replied, “You can do it, just do it”.

You know what? Shouting down the Nike brand mantra doesn’t miraculously make my left thigh able to perform a giant leap in mid-air while my right arm tries to support my pear shaped body (in other words, a big butt) by holding onto a ring.

If I could do that, I would already be a medal winning rings gymnast in the middle-aged category of the Olympics (if they had one).

He should know that I already tried my damnedest before I had to admit I was stuck in the first place. How in the heck did he do it with a dog on his back?

Thankfully my Eagle Scout hubby had brought a rope and he was at a place in the trail that he could set down the dog, make a loop in the rope and throw it down to me.

I put the loop around me the best I could with one hand holding onto the ring, while he braced himself against the rocks to pull.

When I said I was as ready as I would ever be, he dragged me up while I did virtually nothing to help since I couldn’t get a foot or handhold anywhere.

By the time I made it up to the landing where he was, I was a sight to behold. My pants had been pulled down as I was drug up, and I sustained a bloody scrape on my knee from getting onto the landing.

Just call me Edmund Hillary.

I was horrified to hear voices coming from below me, I rushed to compose myself before they came into sight, but thankfully they were struggling and not making good enough time to catch sight of me.

That was a blessing for both of us.

I redeemed my pride in a small way by making the next section by myself (it wasn’t hard in other words).

Before exiting the canyon, I rolled up the rope and slung it over my shoulder and walked out like a boss that had actually been rock climbing.

Like this.

200166657-001

Not from being drug up the rings trail, definitely not like that. Never mind that bloody knee.

The trail took us passed the rangers station where my hubby went to use the restroom (and probably check for a hernia) while I amused myself in the main area where the ranger sat.

He took one look at the rope and the knee, and he knew. He knew.

I blurted out, “you should warn people that the rings trail is no joke. It’s very hard!”

He looked me square in the eye and said, “little kids do it all the time”.

Really? That’s how we are going to play it?

I retorted, “That’s only because they have muscles and joints that are still brand new right out of the box ya know.”

Take that Ranger Smart Aleck.

As my hubby and I walked down through the parking lot and onto the road that lead back to our camp, I noticed a middle aged woman in very fashionable high heeled boots (I presumed they were taking a side trip from Las Vegas) getting ready to take on the rings trail.

Good luck with that.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paralyzed Between Pleasure and Pain

Dear Diary,

I’m so sorry I have neglected to update you on my most recent adventures off the beaten path, but ever since the Paris tragedies I have been paralyzed between sharing the pleasures of my small little world, and the horrors of the larger one.

I was actually at the Inland Regional Center a few years ago at a Christmas party for San Bernardino’s foster children to hand out the gifts that my company had amassed through a drive that I chaired. The mass shooting at the IRC was both physically and emotionally very close to home.

The horrors of terrorism are not individualized in me, and I suspect not in any normal human heart. They accumulate one on top of the other, like a pyramid of pain.

For me they started with 9/11, when I actually watched on live TV the second tower attacked. An event so horrific that every American remembers where they were and what they were doing when it occurred.

An event so terrifying that every normal human put themselves in the shoes of those that chose to jump the 110 stories than perish by fire. In fact…most Americans cannot speak of it still because it brings it all back anew. So we don’t, because that is what the terrorists want.

But we remember, oh do we remember.

When Paris was attacked, every American wept on the inside (some of us on the outside) to live again through the agony of watching terror unfold before us on live TV. We put ourselves in the shoes of those innocents and their families.

I watched until I couldn’t take it anymore because I felt I owed it to Parisians and to France, to live through it over and over with them as an act of solidarity. As an empathetic American who had lived through the shock, fright, panic, and tragedy before. And the helplessness.

Why? Why? Why? Is always the question. We continue to ask ourselves this question over and over, and it goes unanswered.  Because nobody can make sense out of the insane.

I am not so naïve as to think that the US is capable of despicable acts abroad, like arming certain factions to satisfy their own agenda.

But we the people are not our government. We are the same people of any nation under any government that just want to raise our family, pursue happiness, and enjoy this gift of life while we are here in a relative state of peace (I say relative cause some of our relatives are just plain crazy ha!).

So when innocent people are killed to satisfy someone else’s agenda we get angry. A deep down roiling kind of anger that threatens to spill out through fear, paranoia, or just plain anarchy. I want to be angry at somebody. I want to blame someone. I want somebody guilty to pay.

But here’s the truth of it.

When I get angry, and I get fearful, or vengeful, and depressed at what is unfolding in the world, and I want to lash out at someone…I make my world very small and stand back for a minute.

Then I see what I should always see. Random acts of kindness everywhere. Just regular people being kind to other living things (humans and animals). And some of those acts were mine.

And then I remember…it is still America the Beautiful.

And Paris is still the city of light and love.

And San Bernardino is still a place where broken children are loved and healed.

And no terrorist can take that from us.

Thank you dearest for letting me get this off my chest, because I can’t wait to tell you about going WAY off the beaten path and what treasures we found.

Until next time…

 

 

A Summer Without Makeup OR This is Me Kicking Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder’s Ass

Dear Diary,

Dearest, you took these journeys with me in posts this summer 2015, but pictures are worth a thousand words. This is me pushing beyond the fear, the doubt, and the pain to conquer them all.

If I can do it, anybody can.

In order of appearance; Crystal Cove (So Cali), Icehouse Trail, Mt. Baldy (So. Cali), Toroweap Overlook, North Rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona),  Pink Coral Sand Dunes (Utah), Slot Canyon (Utah), Pine Lake (Utah), Red Canyon (Utah), Side Canyon, North Rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Point Sublime, North Rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Gold Bluffs Beach, (Northern Cali), Fern Canyon (Northern Cali), Cedar Glen, Mt. San Antonio (So. Cali), Havasu Canyon/Havasu Falls/Mooney Falls, All on the Havasupai Indian Reservation (Arizona).

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Until next time dearest.

Hello My Name is Chris and I Am…

Dear Diary,

Hello, my name is Chris and I am an alcoholic. That’s what I would say in front of a crowd of like folk if I were an alcoholic.

But I’m not.

In fact, I don’t even drink (except about twice a year to remind myself of why I don’t). I generally make such a huge fool of myself when I drink that the regrets linger far too long to make it worthwhile. But that’s a post for another day.

What I am is a craftoholic. That’s right, I have an addiction to crafting.

When I realized that my nest was empty (it wasn’t immediately apparent since all of my daughter’s non-essential stuff is still in her bedroom), I redecorated the upstairs bonus room that had been used previously as a game, slumber party, homework, and all around teenage symposium area…into my much anticipated craft room.

Having my own craft room has long been on my bucket list, but I have always had a craft area. A craftaholic has to have an area that is designated entirely to the pursuit of their addiction right? Like an alcoholic to a bar?

I’m not sure where it began. I suppose somewhere in elementary school when I was allowed to use scissors, paper, glue, and glitter with abandon. There was some deep satiation that came with creating something tangible from a vision that only before existed in my brain.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a great talent like a true artist. There are some genres of art I don’t even attempt. A great painting in my head turns into something a four year old would create whenever I have attempted it in the past. Trust me on this. I think I even messed up a paint by numbers project when I was old enough not to.

Painting, clay molding, woodworking…all of these have been attempted and after failing beyond redemption, set aside for less painful pursuits.

Writing has always been and always will be my first love. My crowning achievement is the memoir I have written. It took me 15 years to write it, and I am most proud of it. The only problem with poring heart and soul into my writing is…the end product makes me feel so exposed. So vulnerable. So breakable.

Consequently, my beloved memoir sits in our home office (also known as the “place of rare productivity”) and I pull it out when I want to take myself seriously as a writer. Which is not very often. Obviously.

So in order to appease the ever present compulsion to create, I let my right brain run free on less significant ground. Which is now in my craft room.

My craft room. The place where every little supply of so many different areas of crafting cohabitate like cherished members of an extended family. Where I have accumulated so many items (justified by being purchased on sale or clearance which is irrefutable evidence of it’s value) that if it were not for very strict guidelines of organization, might be condemned as hoarding.

Luckily, I produce just enough objet d’art to avoid the inevitable intervention that is required by most to quit their addiction.

It is a seemingly random process of when, how, and what I create when viewed from outside of my overly chatty right brain. Only I possess the very complicated key to the hidden birth place of an end product.

Confused? Let me explain.

When I was walking in the riverbed by my house as training for the Next Big Thing, I came across huge forests of bamboo. My left brain registered this as “free material” in a foot note of information, while my right brain took it as a sign from God that I must harvest some and learn how to make bamboo chimes. The end product was some  lovely bamboo chimes AFTER learning how to harvest, dry, cut, and assemble bamboo to make a “free” product that hangs outside on my patio.

Never mind the cost of building materials (bamboo saw, several different kinds of jute, fishing line, metal hanging rings, sand paper, several different colors of wood stain, etc.) of said bamboo chimes through trial and error.

Materials that now reside among all of my other supplies in…you guessed it…my craft room.

My latest craft obsession project was born out of a very sensible left brained idea to use some of the supplies I’ve had on hand for a long time to make Christmas wreaths to sell at a friends craft fair, thereby recouping my investment and hopefully (dare I?) making a surplus of funds to put toward future bucket list endeavors. Sounds like a pretty intelligent plan doesn’t it?

Whoa, not so fast.

After confirming the date and time of the craft fair, my usually fancy-free right brain went into a place of extreme insecurity. Instead of going to it’s usual place of creative joy, my right brain went to a place of overachievement, which I strongly suspect is where my left and right brains overlap.

Sooooooooooo, bottom line is that I have spent a ridiculous amount of money to use those “supplies I already had on hand”. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time second guessing any wreath making skills I may or may not possess in pleasing my imaginary customer.

Hence why I have been absent in updating you my dearest.

As proof of my wanton crafting binge…here is a sampling of what I have tangibly created from the tip of the iceberg of ideas in my mind. Especially since once untethered, my imagination is a very difficult thing to get back under control. It’s not easy being me.

Wish

gingerbread man

Christmas words

This one has mini lights…kind of hard to see…

cupcake santa

whimsy

peppermint dream 2

And so many more….

Do you think anyone will want them?

Just humor me dearest diary. I’ve got too much vested now for you to be objective.

This one I made just to see if I could with the intention of discarding it, but it took so much time to make I hung it up warts and all.

book pages

In my craft room.

Because my name is Chris and I am a craftoholic.

Until next time…