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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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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.

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…

The Noob Files #1 – Out of Step

 

Dear Diary,

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

Who would have thought I would ever quote someone like Friedrich Nietzsche? Surely this is a sign of how topsy turvy my life has become since answering a call to the wild.

A city girl gone mad.

And I have a toenail to prove it. What’s that you say? Let me explain. After 40 years of successfully competing in the male dominated world of Logistics in suburban LA, a lifetime of raising children and cultivating a spousal relationship, all while keeping house, and finally to being sidelined by a devastating auto-immune illness…my time is my own.

I finally have time to listen to the inner voice that had been silenced so long by the manic pace of keeping up with my overdeveloped sense of responsibilities. So what was the first thing that inner voice said to me after a lifetime of silence?

“So what now genius?”

Really? My inner voice is a smart-ass? I should have known.

It has been 3 years since the sudden end of life as I knew it, and I have to say it has been a long lonely road to where I am today. I said lonely, but so deeply satisfying. It’s almost as though my life is beginning to come full circle. Once in a while I can feel the joy I haven’t felt since I was a child, the joy of just being alive. Really alive.

But…

This most certainly has caused me to be out of step with those around me.

I should say MORE out of step with those around me. More out of step than just being the only one of my friends that still has their original boobs, original flooring in their home, has not or ever will have appointments with botox, and now…can’t even get a pedicure, thanks to the toenail that has been lost to traning for The Next Big Thing.

And to add insult to injury, I have discovered that being a Noob is a thing. Not a good thing either. Geez, to think I am a Noob at this age to anything is both gratifying and insulting at the same time.

But the truth is what I don’t know about the outdoors is staggering. And there is not a single survival skill I have learned in my previous life that carries over into this world (ie; being able to find parking in Beverly Hills, being able to meet tight budgets, etc.).

But I’m learning.

2 years ago I took my first solo trip, up the west coast from LA to Seattle. An epic adventure that started it all. A year ago I started walking. 2 months ago I started hiking. Yesterday my toenail fell off (Oh my gosh…is that normal?).

And beginning in June, this Noob has an epic adventure a month planned for the rest of the summer. And at least half of them are solo. I have truly become a mad baby boomer.

June – The North Rim of the Grand Canyon

July – The Redwood Forest and Gold Bluff’s Beach

August – The Lost Coast

September – Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the Grand Canyon

And the rewards for all of the aches and pains of being an auto-immune riddled late blooming hiker? Too many to list, but a very tangible one is that my rare disease rheumatologist says in his entire career he has rarely seen not only a halt in my rapid bone loss, but a bone density gain of 10% over where I was last year.

The little engine that could.

I ran into one of my Bunco Club babes at Target the other day. We talked about the summer Bunco nights planned and I realized they were all in conflict with my epic summer plans.  When I stated so, my friend said…”Chris, you are so ADVENTUROUS (I put this in caps to illustrate her emphasis on the word)”.

I was stunned. Never in the history of the world would I have thought that I would ever be described as adventurous. The me who is afraid of just about anything that moves, the me who is a compulsive planner, the me who is an over-achiever, the me who is competitive, the me who dreads the unknown, the me who hurries to fill all of the expectations put on me along with those I put on myself, the me who is a chronic worry wart, the me who is frankly…pretty boring. Surely I am all these. But adventurous? Never.

Until now.

I am increasingly aware that I no longer belong in the manic world of keeping up with “fill in the blank”, nor do I yet belong in the natural world of the great outdoors. But I am embracing my in-between-ness.

And I understand now why nature calls me.

It does not care what I am wearing, how old I am, or how quickly I can scale it’s mountains. It doesn’t care that I am there, yet while I am it seems to be it’s most beautiful for me.

Nature is not embarrassed for me when I am gasping for breath or fall on my butt. It doesn’t grow impatient as I sit in wonder of it. It impassively awaits me as I work through my terror of heights and falling (there, I said it).

Nature doesn’t laugh when I accessorize my outfit with color. That’s right, I said color. Check out these gloves.

Pinkgloves

Thankfully Jesus walks with this Noob. So I may be solo, but I am never alone.

If the journey is the destination…then I am already home.

Where I can be found dancing to the music that only I can hear.

Finally.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mead’s Bay and a Chocolat Day

Dear Diary,

I had chosen Anguilla for it’s idyllic beaches first and foremost, but not far behind was it’s rich and unique culture. How many Caribbean island nations can say they launched a revolution to be independent as recently as 1967? And won! They are still distantly associated with the U.K. as a territory, but enjoy much more autonomy than “Pre-Revolution”.

You gotta love that spunk in an island of only 6,000 people (in that time, the population has swelled to 13,000 modern day).

I had only spent a couple of days on Anguilla and I already felt a panic that time was going too quickly. When you work 51 weeks to have 1 week away…how can you not feel as though Father Time is a cruel taskmaster by it not being the other way around?

I had done my homework and booked a day tour on a Catamaran called “Chocolat”. We were picked up in a dinghy with about 6 other folks to sail and snorkel for a day. I had lived on a Catamaran for a week on Bimini when I went to swim with the dolphins (I never did get to actually swim with them, but we chased them around in the Catamaran and they chased us which was good enough), but this was a first for my hubby and daughter.

What a first it was.

Chocolat

Captain Rollins is very seasoned which was a delight as we sailed around to nearby Prickly Pear Cays where we snorkeled and enjoyed lunch. We then sailed to Sandy Island where we again took to the water.

My daughter and I with Captain Rollins (seated) preparing to snorkel. The gentleman in the blue shirt is another tourist (my hubby is behind the camera). Isn’t the clear turquoise water alluring?

Captain Rollins

Very interesting coral as shown below, but  I shall not bore you with the countless photos of fish I took.

Sandy Island Coral

Except for this guy might prove interesting.  A Barracuda, but we were not afraid of each other and he moved on (thankfully because they have a nasty bite). They are masters of camouflage, can you spot him?

Barracuda

We had to cut the day short because of a fast moving storm coming in and we didn’t want to end up like this guy. Just kidding, this ferry was picked up and dropped here by hurricane Luis that devastated an otherwise temperate island in 1995.

Beached ferry

We headed to another nearby beach on my list to see (Mead’s Bay) but the storm moved in and the surf picked up so we walked along the shore until we came to Dolphin Discovery.

The day decidedly went downhill from there.

My husband is aware of my adoration of dolphins and whales, and knew I was lost to him for an undetermined amount of time at that point.

I love pretty much any ocean mammal, but especially dolphins and whales. Dolphins are second only to humans for brain power (recent studies indicate Dolphins may actually use more of their brain than we do).

I grew up watching the wild dolphins in the ocean in Hawaii. We were fascinated with each other, from a distance. Which is how it should be.

I am always torn when I feel a rant swelling up and wanting to come out on my blog. I’m torn because I think I should let it, then I squelch it because negativity isn’t good for anybody.

But what if it were good for dolphins?

So here I am wandering around the rusted tank where the dolphins are held captive (because I can here in Anguilla) just staring at them in adoration, admiration, and raw pain. It kills me to see them treated like circus animals. In the wild, dolphins live up to 40 or 50 years old while in captivity their mortality rates are staggeringly low at 8.2 years. I can get really, really mad about it if I let myself.

One of the dolphins swims up and rolls over so it can see me. We stand like this for at least 30 minutes. I wish I could know what it was thinking. Does it know what I am feeling for it?

Dolphin

I decide to walk around to a different spot, and here it comes, following me and rolling so it can see me eye to eye again. At this point I am spilling tears. I can’t help it.

Dolpin2

People who enjoy swimming with dolphins, or dolphin-assisted therapy, often say that the dolphins themselves seem so happy. Sadly, but understandably, they are misunderstanding the situation. The apparent smile on the faces of dolphins is actually just a physicality, not an emotive response. It remains there as part of dolphin anatomy, no matter how sad, upset or ill they may be.

Does it just think I am a source of food? Apparently not, because when one of the trainers walked by, it still focused on me.

I felt so bad that it’s dorsal fin was torn from giving people rides in the water (this is a big tourist draw from the cruise ships at St. Maarten). There are 3 dolphins that give roughly 30,000 tourists entertainment a year at this facility. That is a lot of shows, and a lot of dragging large people through the water with a little dorsal fin.

After an hour I tore myself away. I would give anything to be in the water with them, but will not propagate dolphin captivity by giving them my money to do so. So I leave.

As an update to the Dolphin Discovery environment, it has been moved to open ocean water, but is kept by the ferry station and is very shallow. They are subject to 24/7 ferries and associated gas, oil, noise, and trash that accompany the busy pier.

I think it poignantly ironic the Republic of Anguilla that so deeply values their freedom, has a national flag with three dolphins that are meant to symbolize Friendship, Wisdom and Strength.

2000px-Flag_of_Anguilla_(1967-1969)_svg

I think it is only when we are standing at the throne of God will we truly grasp at what deplorable stewards we were with the wondrous resources he entrusted to us here on planet Earth.

Maybe then I can swim with the dolphins.

Until next time dearest.