Disembarking the Crazy Train.

Dear Diary,

Seven years.

Seven years is how long it takes for me to think if I try hard enough, I CAN achieve that Norman Rockwell visit with my mother.

Seven years is how long it takes for me to forget that we can’t hope for Norman Rockwell, because we are more of a Norman Bates clan.

Remember that trip I took to the Redwoods earlier in the summer? I invited my mother to come along. In most families, that would be a good thing, but in mine that is a certifiably crazy thing.

My dear narcissistic mother.

Seven years is how long it takes for me to forget that she doesn’t like me. I shan’t forget again. Of course I said that seven years ago, and I did.

No matter how much I plan, how perfect I make it, how much money I spend, or how much I think all of that will make it Norman Rockwell…it doesn’t. In fact, I’m calling bullshit on you Norman Rockwell. I don’t think that ideal family picture exists for anyone. And if it does, I don’t want to know about it.

It started out so perfectly innocent, like in the horror films where you go on a family vacation and don’t expect that one of you will morph into a monster. A Momster I mean.

Except this is not new. This is not a virus. This is not the result of a rabid animal bite. These behaviors are based on a 57 year old dysfunctional relationship.

It’s always the same. She gets mad at me for some perceived slight and I cower and beg for her forgiveness. She stops speaking to me and I beg her to tell me why. I apologize over and over even though I have no idea what I did to warrant her anger.

So why did I pick the time my daughter and her fiancé were with us to stand up to my Momster? I haven’t got a clue.

Why did I choose to stand up to her in the confines of a Chevy Suburban where none of us were able to escape? I have no idea.

But I’m not sorry.

I am sorry that my daughter’s fiancé had to see me turn into a crazy person, but baptism by fire I say. Let’s see how serious he is about my daughter. Let’s see how much he can take. I am laughing as I type this. Crazy maniacal laughter.

My husband said it best when he compared my Mother and I’s relationship to fish. It’s good at first, but after three days it starts to stink.

I hate it when he’s right.

Ever since I have been home from that trip, I have been wracked with regret, anger, confusion, and worst of all…self loathing. So much self loathing that I imagine doing myself harm.

I don’t wonder why my sister committed suicide. I know why. I’m going to kick her ass when I see her again for leaving me here all alone to deal with our Momster.

I have healed just enough from our vacation to realize I may have gotten out of the Suburban, but I’m still riding the crazy train. And so is she. In fact, my Momster is the engineer.

And just like every time before, she is sending me the predictable hate mail. The follow up letters. The one where she uses bible scripture to outline why I’m going to hell. The one where she drudges up childhood failures. The one where she takes no responsibility whatsoever for getting angry for no apparent reason. She never remembers that part.

Luckily I was in Havasupai Arizona when the poison penned correspondence arrived. My daughter opened it and was horrified at it’s contents. She threw it away in an attempt to save me from it. Little does she know I already know what it says. It’s the same as all of the those before it, and the same as those yet to be written.

Because she is far from done with me yet.

But I am going to have to disembark the crazy train. I have reached the end of the line. As much as I have been trained (pun intended) to ride it out with her, I can’t do it anymore.

Until I forget again.

Only seven years to go.

 

 

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Supai/Havasu Falls Trip – And How We Survived the Flash Flood of September 2015

Dear Diary,

There are moments in time that forever alter the course of your life. Some are planned, some sneak up on you like a thief. This one was the latter, but what this thief took was all of my preconceived notions about FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), judgments of other peoples based on my own lifestyle bias, what a vacation may or may not be all about, and left me awash with a much different perspective. The chain of events leading up to our struggle for survival started out predictably.

Pre-Trip – We spent the night at Hualapai Lodge on Route 66 which is the last bastion of creature comforts before heading out the 60 miles of Indian Highway 18 to the Havasupai Hilltop Trailhead. Three notable things happened this night.

  1. No matter how hard I tried, I could not make a Native American smile back at me, or even acknowledge me passing through their world. I assumed they are still angry at Caucasians, and rightly so.
  2. There was an extremely loud and obnoxious group (hiding a little barky dog in one of their purses) staying at the hotel and I hoped they were not going down to Havasu Falls.
  3. My husband bought a hat at the gift shop and while checking us out, the Hualapai Native gave it an old Indian blessing that nothing bad would ever happen to my husband while wearing it. He didn’t really pay attention to it while I thought it was incredible, and took in every word and gesture. I was mad at him afterward for not taking it more seriously.

Day 1– We checked the weather one last time and noted a 30% chance of rain, with only a 10% chance the next day. We added rain gear to our daypacks.

We drove the 60 miles to Havasupai Hilltop early in the morning to try and get a jump on the desert heat. We had a 10 mile canyon trek ahead of us (8 miles to the Supai village, and another 2 miles to the campground) and had to drop off our backpacks at a designated area to be hauled down to camp by mules (there are no roads). We had daypacks full of water, food, and other essentials that wouldn’t fit into our backpacks. We were not traveling light as we felt it necessary to plan for any contingency during the 5 nights and 6 days we would spend in Havasu Canyon, which is on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the Grand Canyon, a world away from convenience stores.

Us at the trailheadTrailhead2

The trek down was long, hot, and humid (it rained a little along the way), but incredibly beautiful. I was so glad we had not opted to take a helicopter flight down. The vastness of just this arm of the Grand Canyon is so magnificent, you begin to get a small glimpse of how insignificant a human is on it’s truly grand scale.

On the trailTrail1

From research on other blogs…I knew to be aware and steer clear of the mule trains that traveled back and forth along the trail. It is the only way for supplies and mail to be delivered to the village (some supplies are taken by helicopter).

One of these mules would be swept away and drown the next day (I learned from the owner/driver of this train who took our gear out later in the week).

Muletrain

We got our first glimpse of the blue-green water in which the Havasupai get their name before entering into the village. It is a part of nature that defies being accurately captured in any photograph.

The blue-green water (natives don’t say turquoise).

BlueGreenwater2

My hubby entering into the village just ahead of me. hubby into village

Did I see the animals described in other blogs? Yes. Horses/mules so painfully thin that every bone in their body was evident, and I wondered how they were still standing. It haunts me still. But I also saw well fed horses and mules. I saw a young man intentionally trip a black dog that was at a full run and it went tumbling along the road for at least 6 feet, but got up and kept running unhurt. I tried not to be mad about it. I’m still trying.

Did I see the trash others described in their blogs? Yes. But I also saw neat and tidy homes. I intentionally did not photograph either what I thought to be the good or the bad, as photos tend to capture only a tiny fraction of what may be a bigger picture. More on this later.

The landscape kept getting more indescribably beautiful as we hiked past the village. Waterfalls were everywhere.

Little Navajo Falls on the way to the campground. Littlenavajofalls

Next was Havasu Falls on the way to the campground. We stopped and refreshed ourselves here. Despite the photo I was able to capture with no people, the place was quite crowded. We all eyed each other as interlopers on a personal dream. In other words…not in a friendly way. Along with the landscape, this would change drastically in just a day.

Havasu Falls in all of it’s spectacular glory pre-flood. Havasufalls

The campground was much more crowded than I expected for mid-September, but we were able to get one of two adjoining campsites creek side. We left our daypacks there to hold it and hiked back up to the campground entrance to wait for our backpacks to arrive by mule train.

While we waited, the obnoxious group arrived (just as loudly and with much fanfair as in the morning at the hotel) and headed into the campground. I knew it. The most I could hope for now is that they would not be within earshot.

Our backpacks arrived and we headed back to our spot with our gear and to set up camp. Who had set up camp right next to us? You guessed it, the obnoxious group. The cigarette smoke was noxious, barking of the little yappy dog was endless, and the incredibly loud voices ensured the conversations of the 6 people would drown out the sound of the babbling creek.

I was really mad about it and vowed to find another campsite the next day. How could I know that every decision being made this day and the next would mold the fate of each of the people making it?

Our camp taken from the side so as to block the OP (obnoxious people).

ourcamp

That night I slept with an awareness of rain off and on all night. The next morning we awoke to a glorious cloudless sky. The rain from the previous night had left not a trace of change to the landscape, and this contributed to a false sense of security of events in our very near future.

Day 2 (Flash flood day) – We dressed for the warm weather and for our 7 mile round trip trek to both Mooney and ultimately to Beaver Falls. I emptied my daypack of the ten essentials (except water and a water filter for some inexplicable reason) for the first time all summer as I was tired of carrying a load from the day before. A mistake I was soon to deeply regret and will never make again. Luckily my hubby did not follow suit.

As we headed out I noticed a campsite was still available that I had found the day before (when this photo was taken) in the middle of where the creek split that was perfect and far away from the OP. me on the brdige

I knew with new people arriving this day (Monday, September 14, 2015) it wouldn’t last long, but my hubby objected at the amount of work it would take to move our camp. I was mad about it, but to placate me he said we could move if when we got back from the day’s adventures it was still available.

Another fate molding decision to be sure. In just a few hours the people that were on islands would have to be rescued by both Supai and federal rangers. The bridge I was standing on would be tossed aside by a raging river.

As we started out on our trek my hubby snapped this photo. I would have you note the deceptively blue skies.

trek

We proceeded onto the vertical corridor of various gangways, each slippery and requiring a different skill set. The warning should be duly noted by all proceeding down it’s treacherous throat.sign

I proceeded with the necessary caution especially due to the wet conditions from the waterfall mist.

MF1

And down…

MF2

Note the still cloudless blue sky…MF3

 

And down…

MF4

Finally we reached Mooney Falls. Taller than Niagara Falls, this is as close as we dared get.

Mooney Falls

We didn’t tarry here but to take the photo and we were on our way to Beaver Falls another 3 miles down the narrow canyon. We were blissfully ignorant of the clock already counting down on a wall of water headed our way.

Onward we went, crossing the creek several times throughout our little trek. Fatefully I snapped this photo of the place that would be impassable in short order, and trap us in the canyon for over 15 hours. This shoreline would disappear under a seven foot swell that would roar and rage as swiftly as an over fueled freight train. creek crossing

We stopped to take photos of flora and fauna along the way, had a leisurely lunch near Beaver Falls, not knowing that every one of these moments would waste what little time we had left to make it out of the canyon.

Big Horn sheep trailside..big horn sheep

We finally made it down to Beaver Falls where we talked with two other groups…one group would leave the area slightly before us, and one group of 5 beautiful young Asian Americans we would pass as they made their way to Beaver Falls as we were headed back. I would worry myself sick about these 5 people all night, not knowing that they were rescued by helicopter, along with the group that had left before us. We alone would be trapped in the canyon.

This is a photo of me being all dumb, fat, and happy in Beaver Falls. The first clap of thunder and our first indication of a storm would occur just after this photo was taken. We hadn’t noticed that the sun had quite suddenly disappeared. Beaver Falls

How could we know that it was already too late.

We took off running as the skies were lit up with bone chattering thunder and blinding lightening that seemed to happen simultaneously. The rain poured down making every step muddy and making the trail increasingly harder to find.

running

Then we saw brown muddy waterfalls forming all along the canyon walls, and terror gripped me as the full realization of what was happening hit. In the same millisecond I took in how narrow the canyon was.

canyonwater1

We ran faster still clinging to futile hope that we could make it out. The canyon walls became monstrous spouts of water.

We were becoming surrounded by brown water as seen in this photo. canyonfilling

A rescue helicopter passed us several times and at some point I knew they saw me, but never stopped. I didn’t know they were busy with the 5 downstream. What we did know at that point is that it was up to us to save ourselves.

My hubby’s inner boy scout kicked in and we made our way further upstream where there was higher ground, but not high enough. We reached a point where we had to cross the rising water to get to a knoll my husband has spotted. I would not be more terrified than when he directed me to a point that he felt was safe to enter and I dropped into a hole with water up to my neck.

As I struggled to get my footing and felt the water taking me with it, I screamed for my husband and he was able to grab the hand I had held out and pulled me back and up to where he was while I got footing to keep following him. We held hands to steady each other and finally made it to the other side. We later learned from a Supai ranger that we should have held onto each other’s shoulders. Swift water rescue was not something I had learned for my summer of backpacking.

We reached the high point and settled for a minute to watch the water below. It continued to rise until nothing was recognizable. As it rose it started foaming like a mad horse charging blindly through the canyon. Then we saw debris. Lots of it. Huge logs and tree limbs and even cut lumber (later we would realize this was parts of picnic tables and bridges).

We sat there helplessly watching as the world transformed. I’m not sure if I withdrew into my poncho to retain body heat or to distance myself from the grim picture before me. ponchome

Always a person of action my husband suggested we move further down the trail to see if the water was passable.

When we came to the water’s edge, I stuck my six foot stick into the water and it disappeared. The waters edge kept collapsing into the roiling brown river that moved up and down like a swift moving canyon serpent devouring everything in it’s path.

To enter into it would have been suicide.

We returned to our vantage point and took stock of our situation. We looked for anything to take shelter under. Even though it had stopped raining (temporarily as it turned out), the river kept rising.

My enterprising hubby had noticed an animal den and we went back down to find it and see if we had to fight an animal for it

Luckily it was empty and we proceeded to move in and make it our own. It would be our home for the next 15 hours. And even though we were wet, cold, hungry and tired, we were thankful to have it.  caveme

I had 15 hours to think about the events leading up to this moment. We had made judgments about a 10% chance of rain based on our So. Cali knowledge (which means no rain), and we were paying for it.

I said prayers for God to preserve our stuff so I could someday have warm clothes and food. Then I realized that our ordeal was not over and I prayed for the rain to stop and the water to subside before I had to spend another night here. Then I just prayed that we would live. I also prayed for the animal that lived here to not return. It didn’t.

Our view before it got dark…cave view

At some point during our long night it did stop raining. We had to exit our cave about once an hour to stretch our cramped legs and to check the sky.

I pondered if the Indian blessing my husband’s hat played a part in our being able to survive thus far.

At one point I noticed that there were little points of light twinkling in the jungle outside our cave. I realized I was seeing fireflies. I hadn’t seen them since I was a little girl spending a summer with my Daddy in Oklahoma. I had forgotten about them since then. For a moment I was transported back in time and was with the Daddy that I miss so much. Such a magical gift at such a frightful time. I will remember it forever.

It was a long night and my hubby and I worked hard to make little jokes in an attempt to make the other laugh. Like me telling him I was looking forward to my spaghetti being rehydrated by the time we got back. We shared two packages of cheese crackers my hubby had squirrelled away in his daypack. God bless him.

Finally, the sky began to become light.

Day 3, 4, and 5 – When there was enough light to make out footing, we headed back up to our vantage point to check the water levels. In another answer to prayer, the water had receded but was still muddy.

We used our staffs to check water levels and made our way back to Mooney Falls and the vertical jungle gym that was now muddy in addition to wet.

We were tired so it was tough going back up, but we did it. I had imagined during the night that the whole camp would erupt in applause when they saw us making our way out of the canyon. We would be reported as missing by the OP when they noticed we had never returned.

The reality was much different.

There was a Federal Ranger filming the canyon at the top of Mooney Falls where we made our grand entrance. He was nonplussed at our appearance and seemed much more concerned with the landscape. We told him about the 5 young people we were worried were still in the canyon and he made a note of it.

Later I would put together when I heard that 9 people had been rescued out of the canyon. That would account for the party of 4 that left before us, and the 5 youngsters downstream from us.The ranger still sent down 2 others to double check that nobody else was left between Mooney and Beaver Falls.

He said, “The flash flood happened so quickly.” I thought that was curious and still wonder why he would tell us something that was so obvious we already knew. Don’t get me wrong…everyone entering the back country needs to take responsibility for their own actions. Period. But after I returned home and read that seven canyoneers  were killed by a flash flood in Keyhole Canyon “despite Ranger warnings of imminent flash flooding” I thought back on what the ranger said.

Were they really warned though? I wonder. I can’t help but doubt they would have gone in knowing that flash flooding was imminent. We wouldn’t have.

As we made our way through the campground we didn’t really notice the destruction as much as we noticed it was eerily empty. I dreaded seeing what had happened to our campsite.

Another prayer answered. Our campsite was one of only a couple creek side that was left untouched. The flood waters had eaten up shoreline before and after our tent but mysteriously went around our tent. Not mysterious to me. God had answered my frivolous prayer.

The OP’s had been also spared but were silently and quickly bugging out. They obviously didn’t report us missing as they never even looked our way. I didn’t care anymore if they stayed or not. I was just happy to be alive and to be able to get into dry warm clothes and eat!

This is how close the water came.closeness

We spent the rest of the day eating and sleeping. A few die hard campers returned and we learned that the camp had been evacuated and most campers bugged out that morning.

The route to Beaver Falls was closed for the duration of our stay.

The next day we offered to the Supai Rangers to clean up the trash around Havasu Falls, and from then on worked with the humble, hard working Ranger Ron who taught us the proper swift water rescue technique.

Here he is already at work on repairs. The two rangers to everything by hand.

Ranger Ron

We cleaned up Havasu Falls and then took a dip in the waters that were slowly turning back to it’s normal color. As if nothing had happened. The black dog I had seen being havasufallsafterabused earlier found me and we became fast friends.

As I watched Ranger Ron and other natives interact, I realized that I had completely misjudged their “niceness”. Their communications are quick and direct. Not filled with niceties or superfluous language. Nor do they feel the need to apologize for it.

We walked around the camp and took in the devastation. The zip line was still up from rescuing people from the island where I had thought I wanted to move. zipline

The campsites like ours just downstream from us. damage

The rangers have their work cut out for them for awhile…

damage2

My hubby’s victory pose over the flash flood of Havasu Falls Sept. 2015.

victorypose

On day 5 we rose early and took the helicopter out to the “hilltop”.

I left a much different person than who I went down the canyon as.

FOMO (fear of missing out)? Never again. Each journey is the one we are meant to travel, not the dream we build from other’s experiences.

As I sat in the helicopter waiting to take off I couldn’t help but wonder, how would we fare if our lives/community were laid bare for hundreds of travelers a day from all over the world to judge us based on their egocentric standards? I doubt that our lives would be as picturesque as we would like to think.

We don’t have the right to judge other peoples here or anywhere. Their world is not ours, and if we have been granted the privilege to travel through it, we must focus on the experience it leaves us with, not the one we bring with us.

As we parted, Ranger Ron told us we were welcome on Havasupai land anytime.

I had an incredible experience and it was a value added bucket list trip for sure, but I think once was enough.

Until next time dearest.

 

The Next, Next Big Thing

Dear Diary,

I seem to be sensing a pattern that some of my poorest decisions are made on the spur of the moment. Without THINKING them through. This last one was SO poor, it has cost me my next big thing.

What could have possibly been so bad that it would cost me so much? What could be so bad that it could not have been easily fixed for something so important?

Easy. Blisters.

I had gone to the city of Huntington Beach to enjoy my great nephew’s first birthday party, and to help my niece get ready for it. I finished early so decided to head down to the beach and do some training for The Lost Coast trek, which was supposed to happen at the end of August.

That in itself was not the poor decision. The poor decision was that I wore flimsy little fashionable flip flops to walk 10 miles. The rest is history.

The half-dollar sized blisters on the balls of both of my feet have been a serious bear to deal with. They formed under the hard part of my skin and have taken forever to heal. I won’t add a photo, I wouldn’t want to see it.

Whether it be God saving me from something worse that may have happened on the trek, or just an unfortunate series of events (as Lemony Snicket would say), the window for completing the Lost Coast solo has closed for this summer. That’s the bad news.

But here’s the good news…the Next, Next Big Thing is upon me! And for this one my hubby is going (’cause it’s on his bucket list). Next week we will be heading out to the Havasupai Indian Reservation (in the Grand Canyon) to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. Havasupai means “people of the blue-green water”, and you can certainly see why…(none of these photos are my own but I will have some soon!). Havasu_FallsThe calcium carbonate in the water is what gives it such an unusual color, and is ultimately why it is one of the most unique places to visit in the world.

The logistics of getting there is not easy.  I had to start way back in February to try and get a permit. It takes a bit of patience, since the Native Americans are inundated with calls (they open up the new year of reservations in February) and when they are done answering the phones for they day…they are done. So after 4 days of calling I finally got through and the only days they still had open were for September, which worked fine for me.

Permit number….check.

Being from LA though, it has been hard not to be able to go somewhere electronic (as in online) to reassure myself that my reservation number is good to go. This method of reserving doesn’t exist. The Havasupai do everything the old fashioned way. Which means I have to squelch my urges to reconfirm once a month (no I’m not obsessive compulsive, but I hang out in that neighborhood).

I am forced to admit here that yes, I have called to check (because once the permits are all gone, answering the phone becomes a bit more predictable) and they patiently laugh and tell me, “no we don’t want to check your number, the fact that you have one means your reservations are good.

Cool.

So next weekend we will be heading out to the old Route 66 out of Kingman Arizona, then a 2 hour ride down a dirt road, then park and hike down the 10 mile trail to the village of Supai, then another 2 miles along Havasu Creek to the campground where we will be making our home for a week. Supai is the only village left in the entire USA that still gets their mail by horseback. The tribe turned down the US governments offer to build a road down the canyon walls to the village. Consequently this little dot on a map remains remote. Very remote.

And all of the work will have been worth it to enjoy the five very different waterfalls. No matter how hard they may be to get to.

10981544_10203661697243340_6533061748091159209_nYou know me by now dearest, and will have known how much research I have already done to prepare for any known challenges.

Except one.

After having read blog after blog about this place I am resigned to the necessity of steeling myself for the inevitability of what we in LA would call animal abuse. The long steep trek in and out of the canyon is the only way to get supplies in and out of the area (including trash) so the horses who perform these jobs are driven hard. There are photos of sores from saddles oozing blood. Eeeeeeek!

Several of the blogs mention a horse being pushed off of the canyon edge by it’s owner in a fit of temper, and every tourist for months had to walk by it’s rotting carcass. Oh God help me, this is going to be tough. I’m such a softy for animals. There are also dog packs that roam the reservation freely (and I fully intend to take dog biscuits with me because they can be quite thin) and are not shown the affection we shower our dogs with (eeeeeeeek again!).

But I also reverently respect the ways of other peoples. So I will suck it up and try not to let anything I notice ruin my trip.

Nuff said on that. Let’s get back to the good stuff….

Mooney Falls

So with permit number in hand (geeez it’s hard not to be able to print something out) and pack on back…we will be heading out to our next destination off the beaten path.

Oh and while you’re at it…can you say a prayer for no rain? The canyon is narrow and if it rains hard or for any length of time, flash flooding is not only possible, but probable. Plus our waterfalls will look like this…

havasu_flood

So no rain dancing for the next three weeks ok? But then again…the adventure doesn’t start until the unplanned happens right?

Have you been there dearest? If so…what should I know before I go?

Until next time…

Lioness Pride

mara_lioness

This time, I am not writing to my diary.

I am writing to you.  You who so inspire me with your wisdom, heart, and bravery.

As I read the blogs from those who are willing to bare their souls, I see a level of self awareness that is unprecedented in generations past.  I sense not only a drive to overcome lifetimes of being told “girls can’t play outside” (especially the solo female travelers), but an embracing of the unknown with a confidence that is inspirational to all those that might come after her.

As with every woman in time immemorial, the fight to overcome your mantle is hard won. Although the battles are unique to their generation, the struggle is the same. And it is real.

The media’s influence on how women view themselves is more pervasive than ever but I see among you a growing collective refusal to apologize for who you are. You possess a radiance that only comes from liking who you see in the mirror, and that my young lion hearts, is not for sale in any magazine or makeup counter.

Bravo to you who persevere through your fears, self doubt, or when the world has beaten you. You are not alone. And as long as there are women on Earth, there is someone who will reach out to you when you cry out.

So don’t forget to turn the selfie camera outward to see what is happening around you young lionesses, for you must be able to see past the illusions to be able to help one another. For every act of kindness is like a ripple in a timeless sea of humanity that travels forever.

Always remember how ferocious you can be if you have to, but not because you want to. Don’t waste your power on those that would steal it.

Don’t forget all those that came before you, they blazed the trail that you now freely travel.

In spite of the pace around you, don’t hurry through your travels of life. The joy of you will not be found where you’re going, but where you are.

I am scarred, but not broken. I am weary, but at peace. My power no longer comes from might, but from wisdom. And God willing young ones, you will someday be where I am, as I am now where they were.

As a matriarch looking out at those who are coming after me, you give me great hope for the future of women.

Buen camino peregrino femeninas.

Until next time.

The Next Little Thing

Dear Diary,

I did it. This city girl backpacked.

In the wild.

Alone.

With wild animals.

I knew that I had to pull the trigger on backpacking just so I could answer the question, “am I able”? How can I proceed onto The Next Big Thing if I’m not able to backpack one night alone on the mountain that’s practically in my own backyard?

Obviously I survived because I am writing this post. But just barely.

I made some significant errors in judgment, but you probably already knew I would dearest.

I learned a tremendous amount about backpacking (but to be fair, just driving out of the city with a backpack in my car is new) but unexpectedly and uncharacteristically, the biggest revelations were about myself.

I did a couple of things right;

I chose Mt. Baldy because it’s close and there are no bears (I learned there actually ARE bears, but thankfully I was blissfully ignorant on this subject going in). The downside to this however, is that it is a MOUNTAIN which means my options were straight uphill or straight uphill.

San Gabriels

The camp I chose I have hiked to 3 times now (sans backpack) and it is only 2.75 miles from the trailhead where I parked my car, so I would not get lost and could easily bug out if needed. The downside to this is that if you are unable to walk, it doesn’t matter where your car is.

Proud of me so far? Me too. Things began to go downhill from here though (except the trail, as stated earlier).

I had packed my backpack a thousand times in my mind. When I actually did it however; I over packed. In fact, I think I shall change my style of backpacking to be called overpacking.

In my defense…

  • The first aid kit I assembled included supplies for every possible scenario. An EMT would have been impressed. Why? Because I’m a Mom. Being a Mom is like having a disease called “worry in advance”, and I’m afraid there is no cure.
  • I brought clothes to sleep in and a change of clothes for the next day. That’s 3 sets of clothes for one night out. I brought a jacket. Evidently I thought I might spend all of winter up there? In addition, I brought all the hygienic products that one would normally use to keep themselves clean and minty fresh. I have only one thing to say here…city girl. Duh.
  • Extra food. This is one of the ten essentials, so I packed 3 days worth of food. Thank God I’m not a foodie and Top Ramen and Cliff Bars were my choices. I brought my cooking equipment along with the largest butane fuel thingy they make. Because it was already used in the Grand Canyon this summer and why waste it?
  • Tent. Unfortunately I chose my tent when I still thought my hubby would humor my calling to the outdoors. It’s quite roomy and heavy for one person, but what the heck I took it anyway.
  • The largest and heaviest bear spray made by Counter Assault, on the off chance I would meet up with a hostile animal or a psychopath. And I like the product name. I also included a boat horn and a flashing beacon light for self defense. Because I read it on the internet.
  • I took all of the things my Eagle Scout of a hubby told me to which was; enough para-chord to circle the Earth (even though I can’t retain how to tie a proper knot), a knife (again, don’t know what for but it is part of the 10 essentials  so whatever), a large tarp (he says it’s important to protect the bottom of my large tent), extra tent stakes (not sure where I would lose the regular ones, but God bless him he’s just looking out for me), a mattress pad to protect me from the cold (because it’s Southern California in August for crying out loud where there IS no cold, not even in the mountains) so I dutifully packed it.

I’m even boring myself at this point, but you get the picture. Add in all of the hydration equipment (including filter), navigation equipment, sleeping bag, and a book for entertainment and you’ve got a” bursting at the seams” situation. I weighed it on my bathroom scale at 33 lbs without water. I thought that was doable.

I called one of my selfish kids that had a day off to watch Lucy (my little grand dog and BFF) overnight so that I could concentrate all of my efforts on this outing of mine. No dice. Why was I surprised?

So I had to take her with me.

This required more water storage for her and some snacks for later, but I decided she had to carry them herself. I attached her doggy bones in a baggy to her collar with a paper clip and hung her water bottle from the same. Problem solved.

Never mind that little strip of black on her back. She chased a lizard under the car. She’s ferocious like that. Lucy packI filled up my hydration bladder with 3 liters of bottled water and was ready to hit the trail.

I was feeling pretty darn accomplished at this point.

I drug my backpack into the car, all the while convincing myself that it wouldn’t feel so bad once I had it properly attached to my body. Ah yes…the optimist self. Where is my pragmatic self when I need her?

I drove up the mountain and parked my Jeep where it would spend the night.

I went around the back, opened the hatch, and sat down in the back so I could strap myself into the overpack (remember that’s what we’re calling it now). How could 38+ (remember I added 3 Liters of water) pounds be so heavy? I had carried children that weighed that much.

No matter…I could do this. I HAVE to do this.

I threaded the handle of Lucy’s retractable leash onto the waistband of the overpack and we were off on our adventure.

By the time we were half a mile in I was aware of the change in altitude, the unforgiving terrain (the first mile in gains about 800 ft. in altitude and includes some rock scrambling), how much longer it was taking than without a backpack (4x as long), and that Lucy looked like a little white fluffy Scooby snack in the great big wild.

At the 3/4 mile mark I hiked down to the stream that ran alongside us and took off the overpack to fill my 24 ounce reserve water bottle and Lucy’s water bottle. Once filled, I realized I would have to carry her water bottle too. She could still carry her snacks, and she got a big drink and cooled herself off in the stream. Lucy water

I sat down on the rock and tried to hoist the overpack over one shoulder and “holy crap” was all I could think. It felt like I was trying to strap a recreational vehicle on my back.

At the 1 mile mark I thought (my wimpy self did anyway) maybe I should just cut bait and find a nice flat place by the stream to spend the night. Turns out the wimpy self might have been the prudent one.

I probably should have listened.

I kept pushing myself up the mountain until I finally hit the 2 mile mark. At this time I realized that I am going so slow that I may end up racing the sun. But I kept going.

At 2 1/2 miles I was having to stop and rest every 20 steps or so. My legs and back were in so much pain, my mind was oxygen starved (it felt that way anyway), and I knew there was a possibility that I would not be able to go forward or back. The trail was only 2 feet wide on a ridge so camping there was not an option.

And still the sun was going down faster than I could move.

Every time I had to bend down to untangle Lucy’s leash from around my legs, herself, or my trekking poles with that recreational vehicle strapped onto my back, I became exponentially fatigued.

Even my personal coach self was waxing weak. There is nothing she could say to wring blood out of this tired turnip.

Still, I inched forward.

WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE

Then out of nowhere the seldom present “bad ass self” took over. Evidently she is a mad hiker, ’cause I heard myself yell “FUCKER” every time the camp was not just after the next bend like the personal coach self kept promising.

When I felt the need to rest after just 10 steps…the bad ass would yell in my head, “no way…you CAN’T rest your fat behind and make it before sunset. Keep going.”

So I kept going. Who knew this abusive bitch would be the one to get me to push myself so far beyond my limits? Never mind, the title of this blog says it all.

The bad ass promised I could drop my pack as soon as I saw the campground sign, and that’s exactly what I did. The sun had set, there was a little light in the sky, but I still needed to drag that overpack up a little bunny hill to my camp site.

I couldn’t do it. My legs were shaking, I was dizzy every time I stood up, my mind and body were exhausted by the superhuman struggle to get this far. I just wanted to lay down in the dirt and give up the ghost.

Thankfully, there was no one else around to witness that I had become the psychopath on the trail.

I disengaged my tent and tarp from the overpack and drug it up the hill. I picked up a small rock to pound in the tent stakes and could barely lift it far enough to bang it back down. It was not enough to drive them far, but I didn’t care.

As soon as the tent was up, Lucy and I fought to be first to get into it and lay down. A couple of chubby bitches that had been pushed too far.

I made myself get up and zip Lucy into the tent so that I could finally work without the leash.

I picked up the overpack and forced one last push up the bunny hill.

It was getting dark, and there was no moon. Crap.

I found my headlamp and switched it on. Then promptly broke the strap. Now I was working with one hand, but no matter. The hard part was done, the tent was up and my pack was in it. I would spend the next 2 hours unpacking what I needed and cooking my dinner of Top Ramen.

When my head finally hit the jacket (my pillow), I was grateful for the book because of the cacophony of sound coming from crickets and other insects and/or amphibians. There was an owl “who-who” ing in a tree overhead. I remembered my Grandma telling me that if an owl whoots only three times, someone in your family will die. If it is more than three, it is a lucky omen. So I started counting, and let’s just say I must be the luckiest darn person alive.

After an Ambien and a couple of more hours I felt myself fall into a delicious sleep, only subconsciously aware of giant heavy footprints outside of my tent, but very close to my head. Was it a good thing that Lucy began barking loudly to rouse me, but also to chase off a herd of what turned out to be big horned sheep? Not sure.

It was a long night for both Lucy and I. Unfortunately she could sense much more than I, so her constant unease, pacing, and occasional outburst of barking inside the large tent was not exactly soothing. She’s a city dog after all.

Finally she settled wearily on the sleeping bag, and I let her have it. Lucy sleepingbagAs I sat in my oversized tent going over all I had done in this day…I was finally able to move beyond whatever mistakes I had made, whatever sins I had committed (all that cussing), and I was left with a slowly burgeoning realization;  From what I thought was a little thing, I had accomplished something big. Really big.

I had pushed myself beyond any prior capability. I had accomplished my goal of reaching the camp, however unrealistic it had been. When I had a minute from pushing myself forward to take a look back, I had come a very long way.

Not just the distance from the trailhead, but a long way from the depression of my empty nest, a long way from the daily struggle with my auto-immune disorder and adjusting to the retirement it forced me into, a long way from trying to get my hubby to look up from his ipad, and a very long way from the city girl who always played the supporting role.

A very big thing from something I thought was a small step toward a larger goal.

The next day I dressed into my white shirt that became black when I packed up my tent and belongings. I only had enough water (Lucy still had most of hers…but I couldn’t live with myself if I used it) for a cup of coffee or breakfast…so I had the cup of coffee.

The best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.

I belatedly realized I had not packed anything to brush my hair with, so I did the best I could with my fork (thank you Ariel) and carried on.

I made it down the mountain in record time. I suspect it was because I told myself I had to be down before Del Taco quit serving breakfast burritos. Whatever works.

And I made it down off of the mountain with a new realization that the next small thing may be the next big thing in disguise. And to never, ever, forget to celebrate your accomplishments….no matter the size.

You and your bad ass self are pretty darn awesome after all.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

Gold Bluffs – A Beach Off the Beaten Path

Dear Diary,

Oh my goodness. How do I begin to describe a trek with sea mammals, land mammals, live animals, dead animals, and 10 miles of mostly inaccessible beach all served up on a plate of adventure? Easy.

Gold Bluffs Beach.

The deadline I gave myself for The Next Big Thing had to be moved up a month…which means I am almost in the month it was moved up to (August). Whoa there time, I’m not ready!!!!!!

I have yet to spend a night with all of my new fancy shmancy backpacking equipment. Or for that matter even hike in it. In the wild. By myself. With wild animals.

So there are many questions to be answered, nonetheless is the top one on the list – Can I even walk 8 miles a day in the sand?

I had an ulterior motive in camping on Gold Bluff’s Beach in the Prairie Creek Redwood State Park. I had to know the answer to that question. If the answer was no, why bother with any of the rest of it?

If the answer was no, I would simply dig a hole in said sand, and bury myself in it. Because where am I without hope? I didn’t want that to happen, so failure was not an option. Or so my personal coach self says.

The Lost Coast Trail (my next big thing) is just south of Gold Bluffs Beach, so I set aside one of our 3 days there to make an 8 mile trek (4 miles there and 4 miles back) along the beach.

I set out with the 10 essentials which consisted of my navigation equipment (compass, GPS on my iPhone, and iPhone charger this time), safety equipment (the bear spray I had forgotten the day before), lunch, layer of clothing (a puffy vest), matches, flashlight, sunglasses and cap, 3 liters of water, emergency shelter (one of those .69 cent foil looking things all folded up to about the size of a wallet in plastic, I have never actually opened it), and parachute line (I have no idea what that’s for) on my back and a great deal of optimism.

You have to have optimism when your only survival skill is finding parking in Los Angeles.

I also brought 3 different cameras. If I didn’t make it back, at least there would be some good film footage of whatever ate me.

I took off down the beach with some familiar companions; the very vocal personal trainer self, who keeps me focused from distracted by shiny objects self and whiny that’s good enough self.

Yes, they all reside inside my head.

The pain from my dark passenger (that’s what I call my Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder with Autonomic Involvement, formerly known as the Lupus Link) is real. I wondered if it would rear it’s ugly head, but it usually waits until after the personal trainer self has gone. I was feeling pretty darn good after my trek in the Redwoods the day before.

And Jesus of course. Jesus is real too. He’ll prove it once again on this trek.

I looked ahead to my destination…the end of the beach. Way down there where the land curves out to meet the sea.  Or 4 miles towards it anyway. I was giving myself 8 hours to make it happen. I told my daughter to not call the cavalry until after 10 hours.

Not that easy to discern where the end of the beach might be in this photo, but you get the idea, don’t you dearest? Destination

The weather in Northern California in July is simply divine. A perfect 79 or so degrees and with a little cloud cover, who could want for more?

Besides, getting to spend the day alongside my favorite (the ocean) would mean I could handle a lot worse than this. Ok, maybe a little worse than this.

Within just a mile or two, all sign of human footprints were long gone. When I looked behind me, the only thing I saw were my own. Now we’re talking.

footprints

Gold Bluffs Beach is only accessible from a few places, none of them are easy to get to (ok, 6 miles down a dirt road is relatively easy, but I mean by LA standards), and those were gone once I left the campground. I didn’t expect to meet anything or anyone along my way, but I would be pleasantly wrong in short order.

Another noticeable change was the cloud cover was completely gone. It was then that I realized I had not applied nor packed any sunscreen. DANG IT! That is one of the 10 essentials with sunglasses and hat. This would be extremely problematic since I am as fair as fair comes. I already have a million sun kisses (freckles) from tangling with the sun in my youth. I have no wish to burn today.

And there is a second, more deadly reason. That pesky dark passenger gets easily awakened by the sun. I DO NOT WANT THE DARK PASSENGER AWAKENED! The dark passenger does permanent damage when it is fully awake, and it is too hard to get it back to sleep.

I couldn’t bear to go back though. A lot was riding on this trek, and I should be replicating what I would be facing on the Lost Coast Trail. I wouldn’t have a camp to go back to then.

So I did the only thing I could think of, break out my puffy vest and drape it over the arm that was taking on the most sun. It was sleeveless so wearing it was out of the question. But I was on-trend.

I let down my hair to save my neck, and carried on. Soon the sun would be directly overhead though.

I noticed something in the water as I walked along. I stopped and waited to see if it would come back up…and it did. Up and down, up and down, over and over. Only skimming the surface to move farther up and down the shallow water. I thought at first it was a seal, but it was too small.

It was a sea otter. Oh my gosh what a treat! His little head finally stayed up long enough to get a photo, but not long enough to zoom in! Click for a closer look. Aviary Photo_130832156696986887

This completely took my mind off of any other little thing and shot me full of joy adrenaline. There were about 3 or 4 of them I think. I stayed and watched them hunting for awhile, they need to eat 30% of their body weight a day to survive. That’s a lot of crabs! The evidence of their handiwork was strewn all along the beach. I picked up a large claw that had just washed up from being discarded by the otters and packed it away for my daughter’s bf.

I’m a giver that way.

So merrily on my way I went. Then distracted by shiny objects self and the dreaded I must save the planet self made themselves known by taking on a peculiar habit I was unable to break for the entire trek. And that was picking up any and all trash that I found washed up on the beach and place it far above the high tide line.

Plastic shall be the death of Earth. Oh sorry…that was I must save the planet self butting in on my post. Ahem. Moving on.

Evidently this new habit was just fine with my personal coach self. It never said a word, but I detected the whiny that’s good enough self faintly and prudently protesting that I probably should be saving all of those steps for the trek. Poor “whiny”, nobody ever listens to her.

I was up to 3 miles now and to my left I sensed something larger than a sea otter popping up regularly, but every time I turned to get a better look, it was gone. I finally took my camera and while still facing forward, managed to catch my curious companion in the shot. A California harbor seal! Again, no time to zoom on this one. Seal and arrow

As it turned out, this little seal would follow me for the whole rest of my day, but for now I just felt blessed that I got to see another ocean mammal on my adventure. I hadn’t expected such happy luck. When I would look over he would dive, but very soon he realized I was no threat.

In fact, I’m sure he thought I was the slowest swimmer in the world. Curiosity got the best of him though, he couldn’t let me out of his sight. I loved that.

The sun was straight down on me now. I moved the vest back and forth over each arm, trying to temper what I knew was coming in short order.

On my right I saw two humans a little farther up. I could see they had spotted me and had walked into my path, clearly waiting on me.

Well now. I hadn’t banked on this either. I finally made my way up to the couple and we exchanged hellos. They asked if I had come from Fern Canyon. I said no, I had come from a little further down the beach at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. They said they had braved a long treacherous descent down the cliff from the Coast Road to get to this point looking for Fern Canyon. I told them they could get there from here, but that it would be about a 6 mile round trip from this point. In the sand.

This was clearly not good news for the female of the couple. After all, they were at least my age and had already had a long steep descent and a bit of a walk to get to this point on the beach. The male half was determined to see it though.

I asked them why didn’t they just drive down there?

They both looked at me with gaping mouths. The man said, “You can get there by car?”. I said yes and gave them the instructions. They were downright giddy.

Here’s where the Jesus part comes in. I blurted out, “you wouldn’t happen to have any sunscreen would you?”, without even thinking. This is so far out of character for me, it couldn’t have BEEN me. I can’t ask for help normally. I just can’t. I don’t know why.

The woman said, “yes I do” and promptly handed me some Neutrogena sunscreen out of her purse (yes, she trekked with a purse…I can respect that).

I was saved. Just in time to hopefully keep the dark passenger in check. Thank you God for that. I wasn’t greedy, but chose to take just enough to cover my arms. I would take my chances with the rest.

We cheerfully parted ways, each of us getting what we needed just in the nick of time. And people say there is no divine intervention. I most humbly disagree.

I carried on, knowing that my destination was just ahead. Then I came upon something so curious for a city girl. I didn’t know what it was at first but quickly realized it was the hide of an elk. Elk Carcass

My city girl self immediately said “yuck”!  But my silver lining self quickly followed up with “just think what it looked like before it was reduced to being Davy Crockett’s blanket though”. I love her.

About 20 feet down the beach I found a couple of it’s rib bones and a couple of it’s spinal vertebrae bleached clean and white from the sand, water, and sun. I packed those up for my scientist daughter.

I told you I was a giver.

And off I went, picking up random trash, and checking for Sammy the seal along the way. Yes, I named him. Don’t tell anyone.

I noticed a large (and I mean large) white thing on the beach. Not moving. No threat. So I approached with caution. All the while I could hear my whiny that’s good enough self  saying “why, why, why?”. Faintly.

Poor thing, nobody ever listens to her.

When I got up to it, I knew it had to be a ginourmous fish of some sort but like city girl self said, “how in the world would I know what this is?”. I was both horrified and intrigued at the same time. I took a photo of it to be identified later. You know, in case I should ever run across something like this again. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Turns out it is a Triggerfish. Who knew? I would have put my pack down as a size comparison, but um…no way. Not in this life.triggerfish

Before I knew it, my handy dandy little GPS app chimed out…4 MILES.

Yahoo! I made it! My ankles and knees were definitely feeling the effort of trekking in sand, but I was good to go otherwise. Fatigue was not yet a factor but I was beginning to be a little weary. No sweat. Time to turn around and go back.

Then my personal coach self demanded to be heard. “Look how close the end of the beach is or at the very least, an impassable bunch of boulders. You mean to tell me you are going to quit when you can go another mile and be able to say you did it?”. End of the beach

Whiny that’s good enough self said, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I only agreed to 8 miles there and back. Not 10 miles”.

“Fine. Then you don’t get to eat lunch.” my personal coach self fired back. Gosh, she can be such a bitch.

But all of my selves like lunch, so onward I went.

Almost there, I noticed a large rock that provided some shade on a meadow next to the beach. It was the only shade I had seen all day. I headed toward it to eat my lunch and give my legs and feet a little break. Rock by beach

As I climbed over the small high tide bank and toward the rock I saw something coming into view that seemed to be staring back at me. Something large. Very large. What the heck?

I grabbed onto my pepper spray and tried to grab my courage, but couldn’t find it.

I wanted the shade damn it. I cautiously moved forward, it did not move. But it was looking at me.

As I was able to see it a little more clearly, I believed it to be a Roosevelt Elk laying down in the meadow. Don’t be impressed, I learned it on the internet while researching the area.Elkandrock

I dropped to my knees in awe. I didn’t want to scare it away, or be any closer for that matter…this thing is huge.

As it turned out, kneeling down where I was turned out to be quite the error in judgment. I was in a sea of some of the worst stickers I have ever experienced. They were in my knees and the lower part of my legs I was sitting on, not to mentioned what happened when I tucked my shoes under my butt. Not good.

I needed the shade more than ever.  Luckily the sense of awe helped temper the screaming pain suffered by the stickers in my skin through the “moisture wicking” paper thin pants I had on.

I stood up into a bent position and slowly but doggedly “made for the shade” if you will.

When I finally got there I looked over and realized there was a herd of them eating and relaxing in the meadow. Oh my gosh. herd

There were more to the right, but to get a good photo of the entire herd I would have had to advance. Nope. Not going to do that.

I needn’t have been worried about scaring them. They were entirely indifferent.

How many people can say they lunched with a wild herd of Roosevelt Elk on the beach? My personal coach self can….and does. She never lets me forget that if it wasn’t for her pushing me (and denying me lunch), this wouldn’t have happened. She is intolerable. But right.

What magic!

I soon enough finished pulling those wicked stickers out, eating my apple and half a PB&J sandwich, and was back on my way. The end was in sight.

The boulders were indeed impassable, in fact where I climbed over to get to the impassable rocks was probably not accessible during high tide. I caught a glimpse of the shadow of myself when I was climbing to get a photo of what was on the other side.

I had already gone native. In just a few hours. I had completely forgotten that I’d picked up some pelican feathers and stuck them in my cap. Pocohantus

The view on the other side. Beautiful.

beachonotherside

But I had to go. Even my personal coach self was satisfied.

The end of the beach gave me a glorious send off.

Roughsurf

I looked over toward the meadow to say a mental good-bye to the elk when I nearly came out of my skin. One of the elk had moved directly onto the beach. I’m not going to lie, it scared me a little. Elkonthebeach

Maybe she was just bidding me goodbye in a glorious fashion as well. Thank you for that Jesus.

There came a truck driving down the beach gathering drift wood and unless they have an exclusive agreement with the State/National park, that would be illegal. That’s not what made me really really mad though. In many cases, the trash I had so neatly piled above the high tide line was right next to the drift wood they were collecting, but they never bothered themselves with the trash. Even now all I can do is sigh. I wish I had brought a trash bag so I could have taken it myself. Maybe I’ll make that the 11th essential. Never mind.

I was gong to get mad about the tire tracks ruining my photo shots, then my silver lining self pointed out what a gift (from my trekking partner Jesus no doubt) they were. They were so much easier to walk on. I thanked him but didn’t use them. I wouldn’t have them on the Lost Coast Trail.

If not for Sammy, the trek back would have been rough, but he was ever there. Sometimes swimming ahead, sometimes just staring at me while bobbing up and down or diving into a breaking wave. But never still.  Always moving. Which helped me do the same…er samey. What the fatigued mind comes up with is frightening isn’t it?Aviary Photo_130832169777237671

My little otter (no name) was on the beach this time, digging for sand crabs. He didn’t appreciate being interrupted.SeaOtteronbeach

When I finally headed into camp, I was elated, but more than a little sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I was over the moon that I was not only able to do the 8 miles, I could do 10 on my first try. But I was sad that an end had come to a most magical day.

I handed out my “gifts”, enjoyed a much earned hot meal, and headed back out to get a closer look at the sun lower itself into the sea.

And I gave tribute.

Sunset Until next time dearest.

 

Off the Beaten Path – A Trek in the Redwoods

Dear Diary,

I made the decision to continue on into the Redwood forest from Fern Canyon via the James Irvine Trail and the Miners Ridge Trail (not sure why it’s called Miners Cabin Trail on this map) for a complete loop back into our camp on Gold Bluffs Beach. My trek looked like this, luckily I can walk in between the lines better than I can draw but only if you click for a closer look.

PrairieCreektrailmapNow normal people would just do the loop and their 8 miles or so, but I had to turn it into about 11.5 because I decided to double back and do the loop after I had completed the Fern Canyon loop.

But it was some of the most beautiful 11.5 miles I have ever seen. I can only thank God that I found this place by accident on a prior trip, because it would be so easy to miss.

And yes, I have been to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks and they are impressive, but they are also where everyone else goes to see the giants. This trail is well maintained and easy, and best of all I only met a couple of people (who were very nice) the entire day during the height of tourist season….just my cup of tea.

I felt sure I had all of the things I needed in my day pack so off I went on my solo adventure. I’m getting used to the solo thing…it’s hard to talk city folk into accompanying me on my recent outdoor madness.

Not to mention there is such a freedom in having every decision be your own, especially for someone like me who has lived their entire life in a supporting role to loved ones.

As I entered into the forest, the trail took on a Tolkien-ish quality. I expected to run into a hobbit or at the very least, a few of their homes in the Shire. tolkiensteps

The air is damp and fresh, the aroma is of old redwood and pine, mixed with damp green flora that line the path.

As I followed the trail, the feeling of getting smaller that I had experienced in Fern Canyon continued as the trees and plants got larger. I felt I had entered into a mysterious but magical place.

It strains a mere human to see the full length of a Redwood tree. It cannot be done while in motion, a Redwood demands that you stop any other activity to gaze on it’s entirety. Then it mesmerizes you.

I think that these must be God’s favorites, because he made them so close to him.

Here is a photo of the trees as they started to get larger, again I can only capture the trunk in a photo, it is impossible for anyone to capture a mature tree in a still photo.

Looks like a normal forest photo you say? Look again at the one below it with my trusty daypack as the only thing I had available to show it’s true size.giantnobackpack

Now with said daypack.giantwithbackpack

Now you see what I mean? My daypack is anything but mini I might add. I gotta have things. Like water. And food. And a phone. And a solar charger for the phone (for GPS purposes you understand). I would discover later that my cord to transfer said power to said phone was back at camp…luckily the trails were so well maintained, I didn’t really need the GPS.

Back to the trees. They were big, but not the old growth I was hoping for. Not yet anyway.

The forest was completely silent. I could not hear my footfalls on the trail covered in moist redwood chips. The trees filter any outside noise out before it could get to me.

The silence was deafening for someone who lives with city noises 24/7. Traffic, kids, dogs, cats, people, trash truck, mail delivery, parcel delivery, car doors slamming, house doors slamming, trains, planes, lawnmowers, and on and on and on. You know what I mean. I don’t even really hear them unless something stands out (like a car alarm).

Just silence in this forest. Nature’s reverence for one of planet Earth’s greatest.

Then I remembered the trail training I learned about bears (from where I have learned everything else about the great outdoors – the internet). You don’t want to startle them. You don’t want to sneak up on them. I guess they get grumpy and seek revenge easily.

So I sang. Let me apologize now to the big trees that had to hear my voice. I sang the only song I know by heart in it’s entirety because it’s easy and short. And as a prayer, it’s not that far off for my own life. Don’t judge.

Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Song by Warren Zevon

  • Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The sky was on fire
    When I walked to the mill
    To take up the slack in the line
    I thought of my friends
    And the troubles they’ve had
    To keep me from thinking of mine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The moon has a face
    And it smiles on the lake
    And causes the ripples in Time
    I’m lucky to be here
    With someone I like
    Who maketh my spirit to shine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight

 

Luckily I was not in song mode when I met up with a few people this day. I am not that comfortable in my trail skin to not care if I look (or sound) crazy just yet.

As I continued to get smaller, I came upon a bridge that had a plaque inscribed by the most beautiful phrase that was far more meaningful than anything I could say about this place. It is the John Glascock Baldwin Bridge which spans a narrow chasm. I don’t know who you were John, except that you lived in Redwood City, attended Berkeley, and applied for a passport in 1923 at 21 years old, if it’s the same man (from a Google query, I’m not a stalker I swear).

Nobody could have said it better John, whoever you were. JohnGlascockBaldwinBridge

The stream below the bridge that offered the singing John referenced, indeed provided it for me as well. Stream

Have you ever been to a place where only a stream can be heard? No birds (I’m not sure why, maybe they are too high up?), no wind, no planes, no people, nothing but the singing of the stream and the majesty of the trees. Was this what it was like in early Northern California?  Will it still be here a hundred years from now?

Dear God above, please let it be so.

As I trekked deeper into the forest, all of the other cares of the world fell away. My soul soared.

I was shrinking at a fast rate now. Even the fern fronds and other unidentified flora (I am no Bear Grylls here) leaves were getting larger than my pack.

Then I was among the giants. The old growth. The trees that were born around the same time as Jesus Christ was.2giants

They defy description. I could only walk among them in awe.  anothergiantwbp

How does one reconcile walking alongside a living thing that has been here for 2000 years? What secrets do they hold? They have watched animal life evolve around them, yet are unchanging. They have seen 2,000 winters and summers. They have lived through how many fires? Been struck by how many bolts of lightening?

Until men came along, and wiped out whole forests of the old growth. According to the Save the Redwoods League, in less than a century 95% of ancient redwoods had been logged at least once. According to them, “The places that survived were either too difficult to get to, beloved by some family who made sure they were not logged, or purchased by groups like Save the Redwoods League.”

Thankfully the logging companies have gotten on board with more responsible habits, and the State and Federal Governments have worked together to set aside land for an aggressive regrowth program that will remain undisturbed…for now.

The ancient Ents in Prairie Creek state park are part of that 5% and are magnificent.big trees

Here is the size of a tree that the park service left alongside the trail, with the year it was born (by counting the rings). It was born in 1850, and my daypack looks normal against it. 1850treefixed

So how old was this behemoth when it fell?fallengiant

No pack in this one…I was starting to get a bit tired to keep running back to take the picture and strapping back in every time. Can you picture it by now though?

Remember the old riddle; If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a sound? I’m pretty sure this one did. A mighty big sound.

But even the fallen soldiers provide life. This fallen tree has ferns and other plants growing from it, along with another tree. fernsfromdeadtrunk

While this younger fatality is hosting mushrooms. shroomsThis is a more recently fallen ancient, and I can honestly say it was taller than the second story on my house. treerootI had stopped singing long ago. I was imagining how easy it would be to picture dinosaurs here. I was thinking how lucky I was to be in this place, and thanking God for the ability to do so. I was thinking about my dead phone and wondering how far I still had to go. I was thinking how dark the forest is because so little light is able to get through where no trees have fallen.

I was not however, thinking about coming upon a big old pile of steamy bear poo. I mean it had just pinched this poo log. Even a city girl could see that.

Oh crap. Literally.

I thought about the bear pepper spray I had left back in camp. Dammit…how come I can only think of 8 or 9 of the ten essentials when I pack my pack? I thought about the canned air horn I was going to get to throw in my pack as another deterrent in case the spray failed, and never did.

Crap, crap, crap.

It’s amazing how “un-tired” one can get in a matter of just a millisecond. With adrenaline pumping through my veins I took off at a good pace (never run…according to the internet) but honestly, if it wanted me it could have gotten me. I’m sure I just oozed fear in the air for miles. Not fear, terror.

I’m not sure what terror smells like to a bear, but I’m sure I was as aromatic as a cheap whore on a Saturday night to them. Er…I mean cheap meal.

I started alternately praying and singing as I made my thinly veiled panic of an exit. Luckily my hiking partner is Jesus and he saw fit to have me finished this trek unscathed. In fact, I never saw hide nor hair of the poo perpetrator.

But I suspect he/she knew all about me.

After I got home, I was able to identify the poo (or scat as it’s called by wild men) as being from a mountain lion.

Oh, I feel much better now.

Guess who took their bear spray (also can be used on mountain lions) on the next day’s trek down a mostly inaccessible beach? Yes, that would be me. But I forgot something even more important. Dammit with the 10 essentials.

I guess I’ll have to get the list tattooed on me somewhere.

Until next time dearest.

Off the Beaten Path – Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Dear Diary,

I am deliciously exhausted from my latest adventure into the unknown. Living in Southern California allows me access to just about anything a heart could desire…desert, mountains, beach, forest, you name it, we got it.

This time however, my sights were set on a much more northerly area of my state.

I loaded up the Suburban with everything one would need for spending a week in a magical place where the redwood giants meet the ocean. A place so special I hesitate to mention it for fear that by reference alone I would somehow diminish it’s enchantments.

Prairie Creek Redwood State Park and Gold Bluffs Beach.

Doesn’t sound so special you say? Nay nay mon frere, it is as special as they come.

I promised myself I would be back here when I discovered it on my Pacific Coast Highway adventure a couple of years ago. I vowed to return when I had more time to explore.

Having spent this summer’s first adventure in the Grand Canyon during a heat wave last month in June, I was ready for cooler, wetter weather.

So I hit the road with my daughter and her boyfriend for a long 13 hour drive to the very Northern part of California by a tiny town called Orick.

I have been to the larger tourist stops across California…and there are many. But these days there is a hunger in me to get off of the cement jungle highway. To bid room service good-bye (ok, that one hurts a little bit), and turn onto the lesser traveled dirt road.

If only the dirt road didn’t make everything so dirty. I’m still adjusting to leaving my city girl roots behind. It’s not easy, but I’m getting there.

Ahem…back to my story.

In the interest of time we took the inland freeway which provided us miles and miles of agricultural scenery. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, and finally the vineyards. We could chart our journey by what was being grown around us.

We cut over to the coast just before San Francisco. Ah San Francisco, how I love you but we had no time to stop. Even for those just passing through, San Francisco still holds reign over roadside wonders.

The Golden Gate Bridge.

No matter how many times I come to San Francisco, the bridge never, ever gets old.

Don’t mind that dirty windshield, it had seen a lot of miles by then (see what I mean about feeling the need to apologize for dirt? Such a city girl thing to do).

golden gateNot my photo…and a bird’s eye view.

california-golden-gate-bridge

But onward we went.

Onward as the trees got larger and more dense, and even during this particularly bad drought, the world around us became green. Something I’m not used to, even during non-drought times in So. Cali.

Then finally we came to the unassuming spot I remembered from my coastal trip…Elk Meadow. We turned onto Davison road and instead of parking we continued onto the dirt road that would lead us to Gold Bluffs Beach.

On the East Coast, we would have been through 5 states by now.

We had arrived. We had just set up camp when the sun bid us farewell over the Pacific Ocean.

GBBsunset

I thought I would not be able to sleep for the excitement of what lay ahead in the next 3 days, but the sound of the ocean surf puts me out like nothing else.

How could I forget that?

The next morning we headed out for Fern Canyon. The prehistoric-like setting for movies such as Jurassic Park 2, and Walking With Dinosaurs was filmed here because of it’s surreal properties as a narrow 50 ft. high canyon completely covered in ferns.

It is so unique that it is both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.

The floor of the canyon is a stream bed which provides for a contrast of water, rocks, and fallen lumber against the impossible green of the canyon walls.

FernCanyon

As we followed the stream further into the canyon…I got the sense that the surroundings were not getting larger, but that we were getting smaller. We had fallen through Alice’s Wonderland hole, but instead of an animated world we were in a tunnel devoid of time. We could easily imagine the presence of dinosaurs among us.

Without the terror of being lunch of course! Whew.

My daughter and her BF as tiny versions of themselves against the Fern Canyon backdrop.

SandTFernCanyon

The further into the canyon we went, the larger everything else became. Fallen trees became so large that they provided a kind of super sized jungle gym. Getting past these wooden fortresses was quite a challenge and again I felt the sensation of being not only small, but very young when everything is large and navigating over, under, and through  is so much fun.

I want to thank Mr. Red Vest for providing a size example.

Redwoodjunglegym

This is the spot where the less daring or less ambulatory were thinned from the rest of the herd. We kept going, and even when it seemed we were at an impasse, if we could make it over the hurdles, the canyon kept us in suspense by continuing on.

And of course, boys will be boys. Because it’s there, it must be climbed.

Troy

And on we went…over and under, beside and behind.

FC

Finally we reached a place in the canyon that would have required a little more climbing equipment than we had (which was none).

So we doubled back to a place with some ancient (seemingly) stairs covered with moss that would transport us up outside of the canyon and toward the second half of the Fern Canyon loop trail.

And even though we were in a new growth forest, still we seemed as smaller versions of ourselves.

newgrowth

And so we parted ways. The youngsters back to the beach, and I onto a solo trek through the magical forest known as the Redwoods. Home of the silent giants.

Another story altogether (and yes, there is a bear scare in there).

Until next post dearest…

 

Point Sublime – Off the Beaten Path in the Grand Canyon (Part 2)

Dear Diary,

I think John Wesley Powell said it best; ” The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail “.

In short, words or photos cannot come close to describing the beauty of this place.

We left Toroweap and moved on to a much higher elevation for the second part of our vacation week. Point Sublime was our next “off the grid” destination.

sub·lime
adjective:
  1. of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.
Of course the question was…would it live up to it’s name? Could it live up to it’s name? In a place that is already beyond description…what could merit such a lofty title?
We drove to the Grand Canyon North Rim national park entrance with our trusty Jeep and off road trailer. It was a great relief to be out of the 106 degree heat of Toroweap. This part of the North Rim is green and much cooler.
We didn’t go far until we encountered these monoliths from our American Great Plains past.
buffalo
A large herd of these guys grazing next to the road. According to the park service, there is no room for them here either. They are the ancestors of Charles “Buffalo” Jones ill fated attempt at transplanting the Bison in 1906 to breed with his cattle, but that failed.
The bison herd now numbers 300, and are eating the native animals out of precious food sources and fouling the ground water with their waste. The NPS is trying to relocate them, but may have to resort to lethal removal.
There is no room for this giant animal to roam freely in their native habitat, so where do they go now? Montana? Wyoming?
We move on to resume our adventure into the unknown.
We turn off onto a dirt road where we were prepared for the 14 mile trek into the back country. The road wasn’t bad at all, in fact we were thinking you wouldn’t even need a high clearance vehicle, but there were a few spots that would have been tough without it. Mostly deep mud from the rain a few days earlier. I wouldn’t have chanced it in the rain without a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
The Jeep pulled our little off road trailer like a boss.
Jeep and trailer 2
I was so grateful for the forest compared to the barren desert landscape of Toroweap Overlook. What a contrast, but then the Grand Canyon is all about contrasts.
We finally reached a narrow part of the road with drop offs on either side, and I knew we were close. When we finally pulled into Point Sublime, we could not have anticipated the grandeur of this place. Surely it is aptly named.
And we had it all to ourselves.
me on edge
I cannot capture the depth, breadth, and beauty of the Grand Canyon any more than I can capture the wind, or a sigh, or a dream. But click on the photo for a tiny representation.
11221373_10204387776914878_3996678945438741957_o
This is Point Sublime.
Away from the tourists. Away from the grid. Away from water. Wait…that last one might prove problematic (luckily we brought 12 gallons for our 3 day stay).
I could hardly believe we had left the crowds behind…but we only saw another couple for one day during our entire stay (and became fast friends before they left).
How quickly my hubby becomes redneck when we step outside of the rat race. By day two…this is how he took in our surroundings.
GC redneck
But the energizer bunny finally relaxed. Finally exhaled. Finally let the Canyon breathe it’s peace into his soul.
The Grand Canyon is carven deep by the master hand; it is the gulf of silence, widened in the desert; it is all time inscribing the naked rock; it is the book of Earth.   Donald Culross Peattie
The Grand Canyon is a place on Earth that surely God made for himself. It is too big, too beautiful, too wild, too unforgiving, too timeless to be made for us. Yet…it seems to beckon us to look over the edge. To breathe deep the rarity. Once we look upon the Grand Canyon…we are forever changed.
The Grand Canyon is an ultimate bucket list item, and Point Sublime is the perfect place to become intimate with it. I have but to think of it and remember, but pictures don’t hurt either.
Evidently I will do anything for the perfect sunrise photo…just look at that ensemble.
me in pjs
Bucket lists are made up of places we will go, but once we get there, are made of moments we will remember.
For a moment, it wasn’t about the bills or the kids, the future or the past. It was just about us. In this place that God made. For us. For now. Forever.
hiking boots
So I leave you now Dear Diary with a quote from Edward Abbey – “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds”.
sunset
Go find your moments dearest.
Until next time…

Toroweap Overlook – Off the Beaten Path in the Grand Canyon (Part 1)

Dear Diary,

I know I have neglected you dearest diary but I have been very far off of the grid (so hard to do nowadays) and living la vida loca. Well, maybe a G rated vida loca. But let me tell you where I’ve been…

The Grand Canyon.

There is a reason it is considered one of the 7 wonders of the world. There is no photo that can do it justice. Not one.

Everyone without exception does the same thing when they first look over the rim and that is an involuntary gasp. It literally takes your breath away. Nothing in the world can make me feel simultaneously insignificant and esoteric quite like the Grandest of Canyons.

Go ahead and click on this and then click on it again, and still it falls far short.

Panoramic Grand Canyon 2

It leaves me breathless every time I lay eyes on this magnificent marvel, whether it has been years or a moment.

I have been to the crowded South Rim on a few occasions now. The hotels and handrails are there for convenience, but I wanted more.

I wanted to see it without having to share it with busloads of tourists, all trying to get the perfect shot of one of God’s most amazing creations (I’m pretty sure he must have created it for his pleasure, since there is nothing else quite like it).

So with the appropriate amount of research (months literally) and a well timed request for a Backcountry Permit from the NPS, we packed up our Jeep and newly renovated (circa 1940’s) military trailer for parts previously unknown.

Jeep and trailer 2

We were not disappointed.

The first half of the week we had slated to camp in the Grand Canyon National Park at a remote campground in the north rim area known as Tuweep/Toroweap Overlook area (I’m still confused as to why it is referred to as either name).

This trip is not for the impatient. After leaving the paved road (in Utah), we traveled down a very well maintained dirt road (it would be hair raising if it were during wet conditions) for 61 miles. Note the sunning lizard on the mileage sign.

Lizard Sign 2

We were warned about there not being any services, food, or water available. Duly noted. We were prepared.

Warning sign

I’m not gonna lie, that last couple miles are rough. When they say high clearance vehicle, they are not kidding.

We made ourselves at home (at an empty campground, which to a Southern Californian is mind boggling) and set off to see the real attraction…the Grand Canyon via Toroweap Overlook.

Our home sweet home is pictured below. You KNOW me diary, I am a big city girl…so this is a bit of a redneck culture shock for me. That’s probably why I sustained a teeny tiny head injury while attempting to be useful at setting up. I think I’ll just stick to carrying my purse from the car to the tent next time (my usual MO).

But I am embracing it. If you knew me, you wouldn’t know me right now.

homesweethome2It was what I like to say…H – O – Double TT.

Hot!

We knew it would be hot with little protection from the sun, but the. Grand Canyon is formidable when it comes to teaching one humility with aridity. And it just happened to be during record heat in Arizona this week.

Out of the 12 deaths per year at the canyon, only 1 or 2 are falls (sadly they are already at this number for 2015), many more are due to environmental issues (drowning and heat). Still, with 4.3 million visitors annually, the Grand Canyon is a very safe place to be.

I have a theory as to why.

This place is so overwhelmingly immense in every way, the mind is immediately and automatically on high alert to self preservation.

With my teeny tiny head injury (the scalp bleeds so much for such a little cut doesn’t it?), a hat was out.  No matter, with water packs on our backs, off we went to see what Toroweap Overlook had to offer.

I shall let the photo do the talking, even if it does a poor job of capturing the grandeur.

Toroweap Overlook 2

It’s just too dang high up (over 3,000 feet) to stand on the edge. The mighty Colorado River looks like a small stream from this height.

Never mind that unlady like pose…I felt I needed to be planted pretty steadily.

See those white caps on the river that look like a babbling stream? Those are what is known as Lava Falls Rapids, a level 10 (the highest) for difficulty. The only clue we had to their existence was the roar of the water…even this far away. Oh, and the internet research we’d done beforehand.

Here is an example of what it looks like on the water…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38fzPEq2W1U. I will add that the 4 rafts we watched go through the rapids (they looked like tiny toys) successfully navigated it, but they all stayed to one side unlike the raft in this video.

My photos are unenhanced, sadly I don’t have a reliable program on this laptop to edit them, yet it is testimony to how beautiful the canyon is. Even an unenhanced photo is magnificent.

What a different experience than being among the masses on the South Rim. Other than the occasional gust of wind and very distant roar of the water, this place was silent. No railings, no cars, no voices, no phones, no signs, no anything but the majesty of the canyon.

But it’s true we had to earn it. If it was easy, everybody would be here.

There is a growing necessity to unplug. It is the only time the soul can push forward of the mind and get the food it needs. Beauty, solitude, and the rehabilitating energy of natural and spiritual life.

I know I sound alarmingly like a tree hugger, but don’t judge ’til you try it.

It was 106 degrees, but it didn’t matter. The canyon kept calling me like a beautiful song I know I may never hear again. So I kept answering.

Torweap Overlook hiker 2The vista changes with every movement of light. The sun and shadow play on every crook, cranny, and crevice like an ever changing canvass, never being the same painting twice.

The next day we explored our surroundings early since we knew the heat would be upon us. We discovered another beautiful overlook off of the Saddle Horse Loop. Beautifully alluringly treacherous like a femme fatale, we made our way as close to the edge as we dared. My hubby gave me a choice on which side of the rock I would like to stand in order to not block the river view. He’s hilarious like that.

Saddle Loop Hike Overlook 2

Here’s a much better photo (not mine) of roughly the same spot…this madman must have had an extension pole.

not mine

My manic spouse actually unplugged enough to read a book. I know right?

That night I was awoken by my hubby’s nasal symphonies (remember, no electricity means no white noise), so I crawled out of our tent and sat in silence. As I raised my eyes to the sky, I was captivated with a visual feast that I have never seen anything like before in my life.

The purest night sky. No light pollution, no moon. Alas, my photo did not come out, so I am using one that most accurately portrays what I saw.

Night Sky North RimShooting stars were everywhere. NOW I know why it is called the milky way, something I can’t see at all in So Cali. It was so incredibly beautiful I almost cried with joy.

And gratitude.

We cut our stay short by one day only because we found ourselves huddling in the shadow of rocks for respite. The heat was oppressive and relentless, but the beauty of this place will stay with me forever.

Until next time dearest.